March 31, 2010
Professor gives gloomy energy use forecast
Cortland Rotary Club hosts series of speakers focused on global warming, energy consumption
Americans consume far more food and energy than they need to, while the world is running out of enough oil to sustain agriculture.
One answer is for each person, and each family, to conserve more and waste less.
As a society, and as a collection of societies, the world’s people need to find alternatives to oil-based energy.
Those were key messages to the Cortland Rotary Club from Tuesday’s lunch speaker David Pimental, a retired Cornell University professor who studies energy use.
Pimental’s forecast was gloomy. He said fossil fuels will run out in 30 years, affecting agriculture that is driven by oil-based fuel. In a century, the Earth will have only enough resources to sustain 100 million to 2 billion people, where the population now is 6.8 billion.
“What will happen to the rest of those people? It’s a terrible situation,” Pimental said to about 35 people at the Cortland Elks Club.
Malnutrition and disease will reduce the world’s population, he said, since 60 percent of the world is malnourished now.
Pimental was the Rotary Club’s fourth speaker in a series about the world energy crisis and global warming, said Bill Cadwallader, the club’s speaker coordinator for March. Pimental spoke twice.
The other speakers were Homer dairy farmer Bill Head, discussing energy conservation on farms, such as converting manure into electricity; Bob Herdt of Freeville, who talked about using solar energy for half of his home’s energy, supplemented by propane and wood; and Alfonso Torres of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, on energy-saving measures Cornell used in building a diagnostic lab.
Pimental, a professor emeritus of entomology, is an expert on corn ethanol and a critic of those who think it is an alternative to oil. He contends it is too expensive to make and requires too much energy to be a long-term solution.
“I’m an optimist, and there is not much we can do about this, but I want people to think about it,” Pimental said, suggesting that each U.S. household could reduce its energy and food consumption.
No politician will deal with the situation, he said.
Pimental said one Stanford study shows that in a century the planet will be able to sustain only 100 million people. A Brazilian study says 1 billion people and his own studies say 2 billion — with solar energy combined with enough soil and water for that many people.
The problem is that 99.7 percent of the world’s food comes from the land and only 0.3 percent from the oceans.
Another problem is that statistics show how much agriculture depends on oil, as fossil fuels allow U.S. farmers to harvest crops faster than their counterparts in third-world countries
Abundant energy allowed American farmers to increase their corn yield from 30 bushels per acre in 1945 to 140 bushels in 2009.
Rotary member Warren Eddy asked Pimental why he thinks oil reserves will be gone by 2040, when natural gas and oil reserves are known to exist in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and the Marcellus Shale formation. He said the bleak prediction comes from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“But plenty of other studies say the same thing,” Pimental said.
Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper asked whether new technology could not be discovered, that might help the situation. Pimental said it might but he is not optimistic about that.
Another problem, he said, is that for 30 years less and less land has been devoted to agriculture.
“It is what it is,” said Rotary Club member Jo Ann Wickman. “The tough part is, people don’t think about this. Part of that is, what does one person do to help the situation? Even this lunch we just ate here, did we need such big portions?”
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