Speaking at Sonairte
Last Sunday in spite of the snow, I sallied forth to take up an invitation to speak at the Christmas Fair in Sonairte, the National Ecology Centre in Laytown, Co Meath. Some wonderful food and crafts supported by the brave members of the public which included Ian Lumley of An Taisce and James Nix, writer on sustainability issues and broadcaster.
VOICE, the environmental organisation had a very good display there too, explaining the way our food supply depends on a huge use of fossil fuels. On average, for every 1 calorie of food we consume, we require 10 calories of fossil fuel energy. So unless we revolutionise the way we feed ourselves, the queues at petrol pumps will be overshadowed by food riots.
The fossil fuel energy embodied in our modern food production requires more debate if humanity is to survive. Talk of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources are a start whereas throw away remarks I hear such as ‘something will turn up’ are too flippant to be seriously considered.
The scale of the energy/food challenge is illustrated best by trying to imagine a store of solar energy in a very hot world. Between 360 and 286 million years ago, (the Carboniferous Period) the conditions existed to turn dead plants and animals on land and in the sea, into mineral oil, gas and coal. In the last couple of generations we have used most of the easily accessed fossil fuels which resulted from that 74 million years of solar energy.
Apart from not having any more cheap fossil fuel in years to come, the burning of this ‘ancient energy store’ is re-creating the hot atmosphere and extreme climate of the Carboniferous Period, a period too hot for humans or even for dinosaurs.
At a time when people feel let down and disempowered, growing food to save on money and fossil fuel use and growing trees to lock up the airborne carbon and provide fruit and timber, are practical measures to create a better world than the one into which we were born.
Right now the time is right to collect leaves for leaf-mould. Fill up a few plastic sacks, punch in some air holes, and store away for a year or two. After a year the leaves have broken down enough to be used as a weed free mulch on the permanent beds, where roses and asparagus grow etc. If the ground is not frozen, this is a good time to divide rhubarb crowns. When I get a chance, I’ll be pruning the apple tree and blackcurrants in this dormant season.