LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 11 no 1, September 2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times (ISSN 1440-4966) & Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor: Anne Roberts

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Peak Oil, Lead & Everything

By Ian Smith, Systems Analyst for The LEAD Group Inc.

Into the garden with the sunrise, and a deep sense of belonging arises along with the rising of the bird chorus and the dissipation of darkness. A mythical simpatico, being in the garden grants a free access-all-areas pass to the higher powers of humanity from proximity to absolutes (or lack there-of, as you will) inherent in nature.

This wisdom from the garden is now a calling to action.

Peak EverythingAlong with apparently peak everything (Heinberg, 2007, Robinowitz 2009), comes peak lead. This is the point in history where the amount of new mined lead will start to decrease. (See Mudd, 2010, preceding this article.) Not as immediately as fossil fuels availability will slow, but as inevitably. Equally inevitably, food too must be at or near its peak production and soon to decline As the decline in cheap available fossil fuel progresses, the ability to fertilise and then transport vast quantities of food all around the world will also decline.

The current situation of local supermarket shelves full of fresh food from around the global village will cease, to be replaced with a less widely ranging array of local produce to chew upon while we contemplate our position.

Our position is that we’re living in the time of the maximum of new mined lead entering the world. We’re contending with the centuries of bygone ignorance of chemistry and medicine and the lack of lead management practices. We’re looking to a future of still more lead and heavy metals (though decreasing) entering the biosphere, but now with less energy available to conduct mitigation strategies.

With Australia adopting the ‘clever country’ approach to economics, specialising in being the world’s hole in the ground for metals (sarcasm – bazinga!), the numbers of people living in or affected by contaminants from mining activities is significant. Adding the cleverness of shipping those metals overseas to countries without even our OH&S practices and environmental protection legislation and the people negatively affected by this mineral wealth is far greater than just the population of Australia. It is documented through the ‘free-rider problem’ that these health costs are not picked up (to the satisfaction of those badly affected) by those positively affected by the dividend payouts of the mining companies.

Our position is one of reducing fuel energy available for food transport (which will result ultimately in reduced food) and significant and increasing heavy metals contaminants in soils where we may grow our own vegetables.

Sounds bleak? Back to the garden…

To the urban concrete and steel dweller, the idea of producing food yourself rather than getting it from the mall sounds stupid. Not even wrong. But a very modest vegetable garden patch can provide a decent part of your fresh food intake, and more than enough herbs to give away to friends and family (stoopid parsley just takes over everything!)

CollapseBut when Cuba’s economy and society was floundering after the fall of the USSR, the people staved off starvation and (more) hardship through community gardening every un-concreted space (Ruppert, 2009).

In “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (Kingsolver 2007), a modern day rural family could feed themselves and live comfortably from food they grew themselves or grown from farms within a short distance. While not practical for everyone, it pointed out the petrochemical energy content in food as a consequence of the globalisation of agri-business.

Local food contains the energy of the food taken from the soil, the water & the sun. From an energy economist’s view, the imported food contains all the transport costs too. Each calorie of supermarket food took 10 calories of fuel energy (Ruppert 2009) to get it to you. When food can be imported from China for less than the cost of local produce, fuel is so cheap, too cheap… its cost is not indicative of the energy content. Using 10 times as much energy as food is worth to get it to you requires much, and accomplishes little. Do you really need those out of season strawberries flown in from Portugal?

Animal, Vegetable, MiracleOrganisations are forming around organic farming, farmers’ markets and home delivery to attempt to find commercial value in minimising pesticides, fertilisers and fossil fuel use inherent in large scale farming. In Australia, Australian Community Foods: for people interested in healthy, local foods provides web search tools at www.communityfoods.org.au/ The Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2010) website provides links re local food in the USA and UK: www.animalvegetablemiracle.com

Before getting your hands dirty, you want to know what the ‘dirt’ is. The dirt is that the dirt can be full of some nasty stuff you don’t want to put on yourself nor on your vegies. This is particularly so in the backyards of houses that were formerly industrial areas in the days before Occupational Health and Safety legislation. Also in contemporary mining and smelting towns (Kachenko 2004), along the railway lines and in the sea port towns around the country where the mineral wealth is extracted, smelted, moved & shipped by those who can become physically poorer as a result of all that mineral wealth passing them by.

The mistakes of earlier centuries –adding lead to paint (Rosner et al 2005) and to petrol (Shy 1990) – ensure that all heavily-trafficked areas and areas with old buildings, especially those once / being renovated or demolished, are very likely to have lead-contaminated soil (Calvert & O’Brien 1997, Calvert et al 2008).

If you know you live in a contaminated area, then further precautions need to be taken in gardening (Cross and Taylor 1996). Certainly, in heavily contaminated areas, any gardening should be done in raised beds (eg Birdies, Tankmaster). Further mitigating actions should be taken in washing, peeling produce and the exclusion of some vegetables or tuber species wherein the heavy metals are absorbed into the skin, and in establishing soil acidity which can drastically affect the uptake of heavy metals in some plants. Adding organic matter (compost) to the soil is also critical in reducing the uptake of heavy metals into plants.

While your future garden site may have no contamination, the possibility that it may, and the health effects if it does, are too likely and too disastrous to ignore. Not when lead testing is both cheap and easy using The LEAD Group test kit (Roberts et al 2010) , or when full-spectrum soil testing is available (SESL, NSW DPI, etc).

A way to get around a contamination problem is to get above the problem using raised garden beds. Firstly, if you’re going to be in the garden, you don’t want to have to be bending down all the time. Very boring. Secondly, importing fresh soil or composting gives you the power of control of the soil and its nutrients, essential for known contaminated areas. Interestingly, raised garden beds using water tank style tubs are appearing at my hardware ‘bahn’, where only high-turn-over products are stocked. This suggests the ideas of ‘gardening for victory’ previously a patriotic diversion of the war years away from agri-business, is again climbing in the collective consciousness, although this time under a collective impetus rather than the war-propaganda machine.

Still, it’s hard to see whether manufacturers are fully aware of the problems. There is often no clear concise indication as to the material’s suitability for food. Just what is in that made-in-China plastic or weed-matting? Is that a galvanised (lead-contaminated) iron water tank? Are these garden tubs made without contaminants?

While many deer are floundering in the headlights of a failing commercial-capital paradigm and the three year political cycle is mismatched to the gazillion-year cycle of climate change and peak oil, many other dears are starting to notice. The future is here already, it’s just not evenly distributed.

Small is BeautifulModern industry “requires so much and accomplishes so little. Modern industry seems to be inefficient to a degree that surpasses one's ordinary powers of imagination. Its inefficiency therefore remains unnoticed” (Schumacher 1973).

It’s hard to take economists seriously when the market god they praise, moving as if by an ‘invisible hand’ to optimise efficiency is visible in the banking and finance sectors to the extent of being 45% of market capitalisation. In other words, 45% of the world’s resources are tied up in making nothing better than money.

Contrary to the bleakness of the peak everything situation, this is not a call to run for the hills. The hills are not everyone’s cup of tea. More effective will be a collaborative effort using man’s innate sociability.

The energy now loaded up into current civilisation from fossil fuels and from the mass of humanity is phenomenal. That energy can be dispelled chaotically through war, violence & anarchy, or we can choose to direct that energy, choosing uses for energy that are commensurate with its one-time use value. The vast human capital can be directed to changing the way we think in order to change the way fuel energy is directed into establishing self-sustaining highly efficient systems. Given the pitiful efficiency of the current delivery systems, vast improvements are only as hard to make as changing your mind.

Bill Mollison’s permaculture garden designs were an early application of general systems theory, raising efficiency via allowing nothing to escape, nothing to be wasted. Raising the concentration of life within the garden, once it reaches a critical mass, creates a highly efficient engine in yielding food energy with just sun and water as inputs. Rather than using chemical fertilisers, everything is composted. Once a good bio-mass is in your soil, it will produce good plant life above it. Permaculture and today’s organic farming methods are both attempts to return the nutrients to food. The more life and energy (and life energy) flowing through the system, the more is available to be creamed off for your use. The more nutrients in your food, the more you are protected from the ill-effects of heavy metals (Taylor 2010).

The wisdom from the garden is calling you to a “new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful” (Schumacher 1973).

Undoing the globalisation years with an effective return to an efficient, localised food production system is a clear and present imperative. If ever you needed a better reason to get back to the garden, this is it. Just be sure the soil isn’t suffering from past follies, so that you don’t create more.

References, Suppliers And Further Reading

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website, (2010) Weblinks for Finding Local Food in the USA and UK, updated periodically, AVAILABLE FROM www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/LocatingLocal.html AND www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/LocatingLocal.html#UK Accessed 3rd September 2010.

Australian Community Foods: for people interested in healthy, local foods (2010) Find local food organisations in your State: Farmers' Markets: Community Gardens, Seed Saver Groups, Grassroots & Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Co-ops, Cafes, & FarmGates, Organic Retailers [GeoSearch by suburb/postcode & distance away], updated periodically, www.communityfoods.org.au/

Birdies Garden Products - makers of corrugated steel modular raised garden beds, www.birdiesgardenproducts.com.au Accessed 19/9/10

Calvert, Michelle & O'Brien, Elizabeth, (1997) Is your yard lead safe? The LEAD Group Inc., 1st September 1997.

Calvert, Michelle & O'Brien, Elizabeth; Chinese translation and additional information for China by Zhu, Dr Hugh Xin Xi, (2008) 如果你住在中国 - 你的院子是铅安全的吗?In  CHINA - Is your yard lead safe? [IN CHINESE] The LEAD Group Inc., 22nd September 2008.

Cross, Sue J and Taylor, E R. (Roscoe) (1996) Human exposure to soil contaminants through the consumption of home-grown produce, Contaminated sites monograph series no. 6, South Australian Health Commission, Adelaide. www.publications.health.sa.gov.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=envh ; DOWNLOADABLE FROM www.publications.health.sa.gov.au/envh/11/

Heinberg, Richard (2007) Peak Everything: WAKING UP to the CENTURY OF DECLINES, New Society Publishers, First printing July 2007, BOOK AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE FOR US$24.95.

Kachenko, Kachenko and Singh, Balwant (2004) Heavy metals contamination of home grown vegetables near metal smelters in NSW, SuperSoil 2004: 3rd Australian New Zealand Soils Conference, 5 - 9 December 2004, University of Sydney, Australia. Published on CDROM, 9th December 2004, 

Kingsolver, Barbara; with Hopp, Steven L.; and Kingsolver, Camille (2007) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, HarperCollins Publishers, May 2007, EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK  ARE AVAILABLE FROM ABOVE LINK.

Mollison, Bill (1988) Permaculture: Designers Manual, Tagari Publications, Tyalgum Australia, AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE FROM www.tagari.com/store/12

Mudd, Gavin (2010) The Arrival of Peak Lead: Peak Environmental Impacts? LEAD Action News vol 11 no 1, September 2010.

NSW DPI (Department of Primary Industry) (2010) Soil Testing [available at the lab of] The Department of Primary Industry NSW, updated periodically, www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/aboutus/services/das/soils Accessed 3rd September 2010.

NSW DPI (New South Wales Department of Primary Industry) Soil Testing, www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/aboutus/services/das/soils Accessed 19/9/10

Roberts, Anne; O'Brien, Elizabeth and Widjonarko, Adrian (2010), LEAD TEST KITS AD for TLG website. [includes "Four videos showing how to use the sampling kits are now available on You Tube"], The LEAD Group Inc., 29th June 2010.

Robinowitz, Mark (2009) Peak Minerals: Peak Ore [bibliography with extracts and links], published on www.oilempire.us/ - Peak Oil Wars and Global Permaculture Solutions - a political map to connect the dots: ecology, energy, economy - the choice for civilization: cooperation or collapse, 15th October 2009, www.oilempire.us/peak-minerals.html

Rosner, David, PhD; Markowitz, Gerald, PhD; Lanphear, Bruce, MD, MPH (2005) Special Report on Lead Poisoning in Children (intro), table of contents and J. Lockhart Gibson and the Discovery of the Impact of Lead Pigments on Children’s Health: A Review of a Century of Knowledge (Feature article) Public Health Reports / May-June 2005 / Volume 120. www.publichealthreports.org/archives/issueopen.cfm?articleID=1473 ; DOWNLOADABLE FROM www.publichealthreports.org/archives/issuecontents.cfm?Volume=120&Issue=3

Ruppert, Michael C; Foreword by Colin Campbell, PhD (2009) Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World - A 25-Point Program for Action: The Book That Inspired The Movie "Collapse", Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont USA, BOOK EXCERPT [AND BOOK PURCHASE] AVAILABLE AT www.chelseagreen.com/content/michael-ruppert-beware-the-green-investment-bubble/

Schumacher, E.F. (1973) Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Blond & Briggs. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_Is_Beautiful

SESL (Sydney Environmental and Soil Labs), Thornleigh, NSW Independent laboratory testing of soil, water, plant tissue; environmental assessments for Australian conditions. www.sesl.com.au Accessed 19/9/10

Shy, Carl M (1990) Lead In Petrol: The Mistake Of The XXth Century, World Health Statistics Quarterly 43 (1990) - 43(3):168-76

Tankmaster – makers of corrugated steel raised garden beds called “Earth Rings” / “Planters Steel”, www.tankmaster.com.au/mast_earth_rings.asp Accessed 19/9/10

Taylor, Robert (2010) Nutrition to Fight Lead Poisoning - research article in "Food, Nutrition and Lead Absorption" LEAD Action News vol 10 no 2 June 2010.

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