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Quick jump to below stories:
'Get Off The Fucking Freeway': The Sinking State Loots its Own Survivors
Peak Oil and Japan's Food Dependence

[Read this story and weep; not just for the callousness and brutality of it. This is what FTW has told you was coming for a long time. This is the meaning of Peak Oil and all of “our” post-9/11 legislation from the Patriot Act, to Bankruptcy Reform, to the Energy bill, to the Homeland Security Act. This is on our map, so do not weep for that.  Be grateful for it because it confirms your position on a landscape that is known to those who can see it. New Orleans was a dry run for a national triage (with a totally immoral decision tree) that will begin this winter.

Weep instead for the fact that most of us will experience many of these challenges very soon ourselves. Weep for the fact that someone had a taste of the real thing, learned something from it, taught us something about how to deal with it, and shaved a bit from our learning curve.

Weep in gratitude for the eloquence of true human spirit. Weep because in all the darkness this – and this alone – gives you hope. Weep because you understand that this is best the part of the human race worth saving and you see what a bitch of a job that’s going to be.– MCR]

'Get Off The Fucking Freeway': The Sinking State Loots its Own Survivors

17 Sep 2005
By Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky
Republished from MetaMute

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

This first-hand account gives you an intimate look at the complete failure of the system to provide for the victims of hurricane Katrina. Racism, ignorance, disinformation, and hostility faces them everywhere as they attempt to evacuate the city. At one point the local sheriff’s department steals their rations at gun-point. It is also a story that needs to be heard, of community and of local heroes that helped wherever they could.

Two paramedics stranded in New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina give their account of self-organisation and abandonment in the disaster zone

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen’s store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City.

Outside Walgreen’s windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen’s gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen’s in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with “hero” images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the “victims” of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, “stealing” boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had.

We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the “imminent” arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute they arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the “officials” told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard.

The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City’s primary shelter had been descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City’s only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, “If we can’t go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?” The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile “law enforcement”.

We walked to the police command center at Harrah’s on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, “I swear to you that the buses are there.”

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O’Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let’s hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. “Taking care of us” had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct.

Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, “Get off the fucking freeway”. A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of “victims” they saw “mob” or “riot”. We felt safety in numbers. Our “we must stay together” was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners.

In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be “medically screened” to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.

Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

Back To Story List

[Two months ago I wrote in FTW’s pages:

In my view, the Japanese are more screwed than anyone in the region.  Indonesia has its right wing CIA proxies, Islamic monoculture, and anti-Timorese genocide.  But Japan is one vast city; Peak Oil is going to destroy it.  Japan has no natural resources left.  It's got more dollar exposure than anyone else in the world, and the American military is living all over it.  It seems Japan is controlled by three intertwined forces: the Pentagon, the right-wing Yakuza organized crime gangs, and international capital.  None of those three gives a damn about the Japanese population.  If the United States can use up Japanese wealth and Japanese geostrategic position -- rather than preserving those things so Japan can continue to consume energy -- they will.  Surely the Joint Chiefs would be pleased to have China exhaust itself in a struggle with the Japanese.  The Pentagon and Langley and the White House used Iraq as a war proxy against Iran for ten years and then threw it in the garbage.  How great it would be to repeat this on a truly grand scale, and use Japan as an enormous sacrificial shock-absorber in an anti-China war. –JAH]


Peak Oil and Japan's Food Dependence

By Andrew DeWit

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

“Energy will be one of the defining issues of this century, and one thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over.” -- Chevron

Over the past year, benchmark oil prices shot up from a little over US$40 per barrel and reached just over $70 a few weeks ago. As of this writing, prices have fallen back to about $64, but that probably reflects the end of the summer driving season in the US, which somewhat reduces pressure on gasoline supplies. A lot of optimism also animates the markets, in spite of the havoc Hurricane Katrina wreaked on American oil production and refining capacity. The markets look to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) early September decision to coordinate a release of 2 million barrels of oil and oil products per day, for at least 30 days, from its 26 member countries' strategic reserves and supplies.

These developments appear to have helped the global economy avoid becoming instantly impaled on the over $100 per barrel oil "superspike" predicted by Goldman Sachs last April. Yet supplies of refined products remain tight everywhere, leading Japanese producers for example to look askance at their government's commitment to ship gasoline to the US where refineries are unlikely to be brought online again very soon. On top of that, damage from repeated hurricanes, including Ivan last year and Dennis nearly two months ago, greatly set back production in new fields in the Gulf of Mexico. An anticipated new flow of 600,000 barrels per day by 2007 has been slashed by half. Moreover, as we head towards fall and winter, current projections are that heating oil and natural gas prices are likely to climb by as much as 24 percent from their current elevated levels. These developments have led energy analysts, who last year predicted an average oil price of $39 per barrel for this year (as of mid-September the average is $54.77), to revise their estimates. For example, after looking at supply constraints and the continuing expansion of demand, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's chief economist now estimates that oil prices are likely to average $84 a barrel in 2006, $93 in 2007, and $100 in the fourth quarter of 2007.

In short, there is clearly something fundamentally wrong with the oil supply, something that allows temporary disruptions from political unrest, storm damage and the like to become increasingly serious crises. The recent damage from Hurricane Katrina, for example, will depress American oil production and refining by several percentage points of total capacity. In the past, this spare capacity would have filled the gap. Yet now, in spite of the IEA's efforts to coordinate a fix on a global scale, the shortfall in American production threatens instead to ripple around the world and generate further upward pressure on prices.

Many credible analysts and experts suggest that a large part of the problem is peak oil. The peak is from a model of oil production named after the geophysicist M King Hubbert, who worked for Shell Oil. Hubbert estimated total US reserves and calculated when output from them would be at maximum, based on the observed rate of depletion of individual oil fields. Contrary to what a lot of people - especially hyper-optimistic economists - appear to believe, oil fields are not underground lakes of petroleum, waiting to be sucked up like the contents of a milkshake. Rather, they are formations of oil-bearing rock under pressure, and without maintenance of sufficient pressure around the area where a given well is drilled there is no economically feasible way to extract the oil. Oil fields are said to be depleted when it takes an equivalent amount of energy - through injecting water, natural gas, and so on - to extract the oil as is obtained from the extracted oil itself. There is thus plenty of oil - sometimes nearly half of the initial deposit - left in depleted oil fields. Hubbert determined that the exploitation of fields followed a bell-curve shaped trajectory from the initial drilling through to depletion. After the peak of the bell-curve, there is a gradual but inexorable decline in production.

Based on his model, Hubbert predicted that American oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970, approximately 40 years after the peak in US oil discoveries. He gave a paper on his theory in 1956 at a meeting of the American Petroleum Institute, and was regarded as crazy. But he turned out to be right, as American oil production peaked in 1971. Subsequently, about 50 oil-producing countries have reached their production peak. These countries include the former Soviet Union (which peaked in 1987), Brunei (1979), Libya (1970), Iran (1974), and Indonesia (1997). The peak in global oil discoveries occurred in 1964, and new applications of Hubbert's model suggest that global production should be reaching its maximum rather soon and then start falling. Optimistic studies suggest that 2020 will be the peak; more realistic models indicate that it will arrive later in this decade. The peak oil hypothesis is, therefore, that global oil production is at maximum output already, or shortly will be, and that oil production will subsequently decline. One expects, in this scenario, that easily recovered and cheaply processed oil is the first to peak out, followed by deposits in hard to reach areas (such as beneath the oceans) and/or with plenty of sulfur and other impurities.

Shell Canada, for example, has announced that it will increase its investment in the Alberta tar sands to $7.3 billion from $4 billion, in the hope of producing an additional 100,000 barrels a day. This is a huge capital expenditure for a relatively small increment in output. This and other examples suggested, as peak oil theorists warn, that we are at the end of an era of plentiful and inexpensive hydrocarbon-based energy, which will require a massive commitment to conservation and finding alternative energy sources.The threat of peaking oil output is made all the more serious by demand that continues to surge, driven not only by expanding US consumption, but by rapidly rising demand from China, India and other developing nations. Analysts note in particular that over 40 percent of recent increases in global demand for oil is from China, and that it is driven by the growth of income and almost insensitive to price. According to the IEA's own data, global oil demand of about 84 million barrels per day is running smack into an equivalent production capacity, leaving no spare capacity at all in the event of unforeseen problems.

There is no precedent for this situation, as previous energy crises have been the consequence of deliberate restrictions on supply. Oil - and especially cheap oil - is of course a finite resource, but for more than a century, production volumes have always matched demand. The IEA and other organizations' projections of demand and supply simply assume that increased demand will be met, mostly from the fields of Saudi Arabia. Until recently, Saudi production was even confidently expected to double over the next two decades. Yet neither the IEA nor any other non-OPEC organization has credible data on Middle Eastern reserves and output. To get a measure of how high in the sky this pie of limitless production capacity was, consider that analysts at present are reduced to guesstimating Saudi output by counting the number of tankers that leave the country's oil ports. Saudi authorities continue to promise that they will expand production to meet world consumption needs. But confidence in their ability to do so has waned sharply in recent months, as promises are one thing and performance is another. Worsening supply constraints appears to confirm skeptics’ claims that the Saudis lack the production capacity to continue playing their longstanding linchpin role in global oil markets.

Peak oil theorists thus argue that with recoverable reserves of oil limited, energy costs are likely to increase. However, the serious peak oil warnings are coming from people like Matt Simmons, chairman of Simmons and Company International (, an oil investment bank and an advisor to US Vice President Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force. In other words, he's an oil industry insider. He even supports drilling in the highly fragile ecosystem of the Arctic, for example, which is anathema to most people outside of the oil industry. But he's also an intelligent and principled player in the oil markets, who began wondering a few years ago if optimistic outlooks for oil production, especially from Saudi Arabian oil fields, were realistic. Saudi Arabia, as noted above, is the only producer with the potential spare capacity to supply increasing demand. The key issue for Simmons was that 90% of Saudi production comes from just 5 big fields, about a half-century old, and there has been no credible data on production for over two decades.

We are, of course, talking about the world's most strategic resource, one used in so many products and processes - transportation, plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc - that you can see dozens of examples without having to get out of your chair. Indeed, probably much of your chair is made out of oil. So ubiquitous is oil in the modern economy that sustained supply constraints can lead to price increases that flow in with the unstoppable force of a storm surge. Oil provides 40% of global energy and over 90% of transport fuel, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides and fuel that make possible the intensive, large-scale farming that feeds the roughly 6.3 billion people who live on the planet. Confronting declining production is an enormous challenge that we should be actively preparing for.

A Blind Eye to Peak Oil
Japan's mainstream media has studiously avoided addressing the issue of peak oil, even though the country has essentially no oil reserves. Searching the databases of the major Japanese newspapers yields one lone Asahi newspaper piece from last January 16. And searching google with the various Japanese translations of “peak oil” renders only a few hundred hits, whereas searching in the original English produces about 1,700,000 hits.

Indeed, there appears to surprising complacency in Japan in general concerning oil prices. Even as China scours the world in search of energy deals, Japan seems content with far less. Moreover, in negotiating energy deals with Russia, for example, the Japanese state seems as concerned to limit supplies to China as it is secure its own needs. This complacency is perhaps based on the belief that the energy price increases are temporary and are just as likely to be followed by a glut, as Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and several other analysts argue. If one believed this line of thinking, then heavy investment in expensive new supplies - as the Chinese are doing - would make little sense except as an expensive form of insurance. It could be that Japan, with the OECD's highest public debt as a ratio of GDP, is reluctant to spend money and thus very open to arguments that it really does not have to.

In addition, the Japanese are rightly proud of their proven ability to weather oil-price increases by increasing fuel efficiency. Static calculations suggest that Japan is far better equipped than the US and EU to deal with another round of price hikes. In its September 12 edition, Morgan Stanley's online newsletter reviewed recent calculations by the Cabinet Office’s Maeda Akira. The calculations indicate that oil would have to go to US$129 per barrel before Japan suffered a shock comparable to the 1979 second oil price shock. By contrast, the US and EU were far more vulnerable, as prices would only have to go to US$81 or US$77, respectively, before they suffered damage on the scale of 1979 and afterwards. Before prices went to those latter levels, the EU and the US would presumably do their utmost to bring them down. Japan could thus count on its western allies to act as tripwires and mobilize on oil prices long before it was forced to.

Yet with prices nearing those tripwire levels, much of the world is waking up to the threat. Though lagging far behind the internet, the mainstream international media certainly is catching on. On August 3, the Wall Street Journal ran an online special concerning peak oil with two experts, James Hamilton of the University of California at San Diego and Robert Kaufmann of Boston University's Center for Energy & Environmental Studies. Kaufman noted that "the peak isn't just an economic problem, it is one of the biggest social and political challenges for this century" and Hamilton agreed that "it's critical that we put all our resources to their best use" in confronting it. In short, these two mainstream economists (with reputations to protect in a very conservative age), went so far as to argue that there is a large role for government in organizing the response to peak oil. When two prominent American economists tell the Wall Street Journal that there's a big role for government in dealing with a problem, you know that the equivalent of a mountain-sized asteroid is on the way. And on August 21, the New York Times ran a long and well-researched article on the essential issues.

Unlike America, Japan's challenge isn't upping gasoline taxes in order to encourage fuel efficiency and discourage unnecessary driving in the world's most wasteful society. Japanese and European taxes on petroleum burden a barrel of oil by about $US80 to 90, while American fuel taxes are a very light touch at about $US11. Japan thus already has high fuel taxes, which in turn promote fuel efficiency and encourages use of mass transit. It also has perhaps the best record of cutting energy use per unit of economic output. Data for 2000 compiled by the Japanese Natural Resources and Energy Agency indicate that if Japan’s unit energy consumption per GDP in the industrial sector is set at 1, then that of the US is 1.65, the UK 1.33, France 1.1, and Germany 1.17. On the other hand, Japan has the worst performance among the industrialized states.

Eating Oil

How are food and oil related? They're actually intimately related, because we use oil for fertilizer, to fuel farm machinery, to make the plastic wrap and packages, to transport the produce, and so on. We literally and figuratively eat oil. For every calorie of food we eat, probably 10 or more calories of energy have been used in producing it.

Japan only produces 40 percent of its food supply. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ranking 28th out of the 29 OECD countries. By comparison, the UK's food self-sufficiency ratio is 74, Germany's is 96, America's 125, and that of France is 132. Moreover, FAO data show that Japan’s self-sufficiency is declining, having dropped from 60 percent in 1970 to its present low level. By contrast, the UK has gone from 46 percent self-sufficiency in 1970 to its present ability to supply about three-quarters of its consumption. And German self-sufficiency in 1970 was a relatively low 68 percent compared to its nearly complete self-sufficiency today. These data underline the failure of Japan’s postwar agriculture policy. The self-sufficiency rate for rice in Japan is 100 percent, but only 14 percent for wheat, 6 percent for beans, 82 percent for vegetables, 44 percent for fruits, 54 percent for meat and 57 percent for seafood.

As noted above, Japanese consumers already "eat" a very great deal of oil. Not only is there much domestic haulage, but the more than 60 million tons of food imported annually is transported over great distances as in the case of North American grain and fruit, and Australian beef. Japanese attention to the food problem, however, has thus far centred on the amount of food wasted and the environmental impact of the greenhouse gases give off. For example, Japanese government calculations indicate that in fiscal 2002, 725 kilocalories per capita of food were thrown out per day. The cumulative total represents about 11 trillion yen in wasted food, which is about twice what Japan will spend on national defence in 2005 and thus hardly small potatoes. A Food Recycling Law passed in 2001 will compel food-related businesses to trim 20 percent from the amount they discard by fiscal 2006.

The food-waste focus of this law has deflected Japanese concern from the fossil-fuels consumed in producing and shipping the country’s food. The UK became a world leader in studies of energy use and food transport in the wake of the 1994 release of the UK SAFE Alliance’s “Food Miles Report". Some of the research results stimulated by this report are striking. The British group, Sustain, authors of a 2001 report, "Eating Oil" ( calculate that 127 calories of fuel are burned for each calorie of lettuce flown into the UK from Los Angeles. In effect, oil is being squandered to distance airlift a product that is essentially water. Japan is hardly alone in failing to produce data on these critical issues. But the magnitute of the problem for Japan is acute.

Food Mileage

The extent of this transportation of foodstuffs can be calculated as "food mileage" by multiplying the transportation distance with the volume of food transported. The higher the food mileage, the larger the burden that a particular country places on fossil-fuel resources, as well as the global environment. In the era of cheap oil, these burdens were negative externalities that were largely ignored. But as the costs mount and become more visible, increasing questions are being raised about food mileage and other energy issues shaping food consumption.

Japan's total food mileage in 2001 was a massive 900 billion ton-kilometres. This was more than three times that of the United States. But the numbers are even more startling when seen in per capita terms. Each Japanese consumer annually consumed 7093 ton-kilometres of food whereas consumers in the US consumed 1051. Even Britain, another island nation, took only 3195 ton-kilometres per capita.

And note the cost in CO2. Intuitively, we assume that the heart of the carbon problem is associated with auto emissions. Probably this is because the US, with 4 percent of the world’s population, produces about 25 percent of CO2 emissions and has an enormous number of very polluting automobiles. Yet even in the US, automobile emissions make up only 20 percent of the total. We can see why if we look at the UK’s "Eating Oil" report again. It turns out that the family car is not the biggest domestic culprit in producing CO2. For the UK, "The food system is a significant contributor to climate change. A typical UK family of four would, each year, emit 4.2 tonnes of CO2 from their house, 4.4 tonnes from their car, and 8 tonnes from the production, processing, packaging and distribution of the food they eat.” Though comparable data apparently do not yet exist for Japan, the relative breakdowns are probably comparable to Britain’s. If anything, the relative amounts emitted from the average Japanese family home and automobile are perhaps less than in the UK, while Japan’s much greater food mileage likely means that more CO2 is emitted getting food to their tables.

Moving towards food self-sufficiency will not resolve Japan’s food mileage problem. Imports are unlikely ever to be displaced entirely, and it is not even clear that they ought to be in a number of bulk commodities. Yet increased food self-sufficiency is a reasonable goal for Japan. Other countries have boosted their self-sufficiency in the interests of food security and for other reasons. Even with cuts in food miles, the long-distance transport of produce in domestic markets would remain, in spite of Japan’s emerging boom in “chisan chisho” (produce and consume locally) activism. Yet the fossil fuel consumed by – and pollution emitted from - domestic transport can generally be greatly reduced through the use, wherever possible, of rail transport in place of air, water and road transport. Marine shipping is regarded as energy efficient; but it generally involves very long distances and consumes the dirtiest fuel available, bunker oil, making a large bulk carrier as polluting as about 12,000 cars.

Of course, even to talk of the need to promote agricultural self-sufficiency in Japan is to elicit guffaws or even outright condemnation in an era when leaving things to the market is generally seen as the only responsible and realistic course.

Promoting agricultural self-sufficiency is seen as particularly wasteful and pointless because it generally requires subsidies and higher prices than the free market. The clear threat of peak oil, however, makes it unwise to wait and see whether accelerating oil prices will make domestic production more attractive. In 2001 Japan produced a “food crisis manual” that envisioned a crisis of supply due to abnormal weather in Japan, poor harvests overseas, reduced agricultural production due to global warming, and disruption of world trade due to regional conflicts. The manual essentially advises that potatoes and other starchy tubers be grown virtually everywhere and even in place of the rice crop. Surely it would be prudent to use this ongoing crisis to save oil and build up a sustainable agriculture sector to boot.


Oil and Peak Oil

The Oil Drum is a regularly updated blog, managed by academics in the energy field and the social sciences.

The Energy Bulletin is a regularly updated index of articles, sorted into a wide range of useful categories.

Matthew Simmons, Chairman of Simmons International, uploads his presentations here.

Food Mileage

The UK Food Miles site is managed by Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming

The BBC introduction to food miles

A new Japanese site Japanese site on food mileage and CO2 emissions (rather than oil consumption)
(This site is run by the "daichi wo mamoru kai" or "association to protect the earth"; their home page is

Notes on Japan's food mileage in English can be found in a translation of the Environment Ministry's 2003 report

A Japanese government page on the "local production, local consumption" movement is

Andrew DEWIT is associate professor of Economics at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and a Japan Focus coordinator. He wrote this article for Japan Focus. Posted September 20, 2005. The author can be contacted by e-mail at

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