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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Intl. Energy Assn. chief economist: Oil peaks within 10 years

Hindenburg DisasterThe zeppelin is our economy. The photo is of our economy reacting once the implications of ever-scarcer oil supplies at ever-higher prices sink in and make the recent credit collapse look like a Sunday picnic. Image by e-strategyblog.com via Flickr

Given the incendiary nature of the warning -- essentially an announcement that all global economic growth ends when its key ingredient starts becoming more and more scarce -- you can't fault him too much for trying to get in via sleight of hand of saying that it was still a future event foretold (rather than a recent event becoming more evident every day). We can expect all similarly situated experts to continuously sound the warning about the "impending" problem right up to the instant that they start saying that, "Wups, it appears we peaked a few years ago." At which point our economic bubble doesn't just burst -- it acts as if it was a Hindenberg-sized bubble of hydrogen all along.

This is going to have an effect on Salem (and everyplace else in the developed -- read, oil-addicted -- world) that is impossible to overstate. For starts, since all human activity starts with food, it means that distant food is going to quickly become an unaffordable luxury for most of us . . . a distant memory as it were. It also means that we have only a few years to invest real money and, even more important, a lot of time in learning to do agriculture without abundant fossil fuels, and to build soil health as much as possible wherever we are, because that is the true foundation of our economy.

It's time for us to act with dispatch and purpose, because it will be much harder to act when the economy is collapsing around our ears. Dmitry Orlov's prescient book "Reinventing Collapse" has much to offer here, based on the example of the collapse Soviet Union. We need to start preparing ourselves for having the props drop out from under what we think of as "the way things are." That phrase needs to be excised from our minds -- because "the way things are" is going to be undergoing a tremendous upheaval in the next decade.

One thing we very much need is to start reducing the resources that we're squandering on the military and start redirecting them towards enhancing our capability to feed ourselves using minimal or no fossil fuel inputs.

I propose that Oregon start by establishing an OATC (Oregon Agricultural Transition Corps) program along the lines of the Pentagon's ROTC programs: full ride scholarships + books + monthly stipend + summer internships to students who would major in low-input agriculture, horticulture, and animal husbandry and commit to serving some time (one year for each year in the program, for example) working in county extension offices supporting local farmers and gardeners throughout Oregon. Think of this as Master Gardeners on steroids, or "education as if eating mattered." Because we need a whole lot more people to be a lot more intimately involved with their food once we can no longer make up for our ignorance and disconnection from our land with fossil fuels.
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Imagine bountiful fruiting street trees

CherryImage via Wikipedia

A local writer sent a note to the Salem-Locavores list asking about urban foraging:
Does anyone forage fruit on public land or neighborhood trees that overhang sidewalks, fences, etc.? I'm working on a story . . . about urban foraging, and I was hoping to talk to some folks about it. I know there are a few projects up in Portland like the Portland Fruit Tree Project, but I wasn't sure if there was anything organized in Salem or if there are people just doing it on their own.
Which again caused me to think that Salem -- the Cherry City -- should promote and encourage this with a sustained effort to use fruiting trees as street trees. Many people look askance at that, but if we had an "adopt a tree" program like we have "adopt a highway," "adopt a park," "adopt a classroom" and similar programs, we can ensure that each tree would have a caretaker.

The idea is that, whenever a street tree -- a tree in the parking strip between the sidewalk and the curb, the area the city controls -- needs to be planted or replaced, we offer the resident or business at that address the option of having the city plant a fruiting tree suitable for this area, selected by a local nursery and the city's urban forester, paid for by the would-be adoptive parent(s).

People could also have "joint custody." Say a resident/business at the address wouldn't mind a fruiting tree but isn't interested in caring for it (or is physically unable to do so). In that case, the resident and a neighbor could ask for "joint custody," with the neighbor providing the care and the resident providing the water.

Figs, plums, cherries, apples, pears, peaches, asian pears, persimmons, etc. There are a wealth of varieties that are well-suited to this area. By having a managed program coordinated throughout the city, we can ensure that only suitable, disease-resistant varieties are selected and that the eventual size of the tree is properly considered for each spot (along with sun requirements, etc.)

This would be a formal city urban forestry program -- the city would keep an "adoption registry" linked through the city website and offer, with the OSU extension and the Food Share, training and support for people who adopt a tree. The Extension and the Food Share could offer classes on caring for fruit trees, pest management, and preserving and using the food.

If a tree's "parent" moves away or can no longer keep caring for the tree, or if the person is not doing a good job, it goes on the adoption registry for a new "adoptive parent."

The signups and coordination (and much of the training) can all be done through a website, and every adoption would be listed on the website, so residents and caretakers would be encouraged to take good care of the trees they adopt (and could post pictures, harvest yields, etc.).

Think of how much good local fruit we could be enjoying in ten years using only the space we already have available near our homes and businesses. Think of the benefit to community health and wellness from having an increased supply of affordable local fruits, and the educational benefits. Imagine the benefit to local pollinators of an abundance of fruit trees throughout the city.

What's not to like? Totally voluntary, paid for by the participants, and an increase in the supply of fresh, local fruits from trees thoughtfully chosen to be right for the spot and cared for by motivated urban residents.
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