A healthy dose of optimism
Changing world requires shifting to sustainable technologies.

Posted August 10, 2006

This letter is in response to a reader response to Lester Brown’s June commentary about peak oil.


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I'd like to respond to Stu Rose's concerns in his letter of July 13, 2006.

I'm sure we share similar concerns, but my nature is to have an optimistic outlook.

Rather than a point-for-point reply, I think the biggest single factor to realize is that much of the world never learned or adopted best practices in agriculture, before the Green Revolution short-circuited them to tractors and pesticides.

What areas today still dependent on human power could not benefit greatly by the introduction of horses, allowing for more timely and proper cultivation (not to mention fertility)?

What areas today reliant on tractors and/or pesticides could not benefit from a more sustainable approach, building soil health to achieve not temporary maximum yields but long-term, stable and predictable yields?

The U.S. moved to tractors partially as a response to continuing loss of manpower available for agriculture. It's my impression that this is not an issue in much of the developing world - manpower is available, and matching that to horsepower should allow them to dramatically improve their output for relatively low costs.

Of course, this all takes developing stable politics in some areas. It requires developing best practices for horse-powered farming in non-temperate areas, and it requires developing extension services for developing countries. It probably also requires micro-banking oriented towards developing these farms.

But in response to climate change and increasing energy costs, I see the potential not for a world-wide collapse but doing what humans have for millennia—use their heads to adapt their actions to a changing world. And in this case, expanding draft animal husbandry may hold the key for developing nations.

Matt Kivela
Brooklyn, Connecticut