Energy accounting is really an old story and I think outgrew its usefulness
a while back. It is not really surprising to discover that 'primitive'
agriculturalists are energy efficient, nor does it take a degree in rocket
science to see that industrial agriculture spends far more calories in
fossil fuels than it generates in food energy.
Where this is all laid out quite well is in the work of Pimentel and others
in the 1970s, probably one of the most successful application of Odum's
original idea. The reference I can dig up is:
Pimentel, D, L.E. Hurd, A.C. Belloti. M.J. Forster, I.N. Oka, O.D. Sholes y
R.J. Whitman. (1973). Food Production and the Energy Crisis. Science, Vol.
though I believe their were other publications based on this work.
Another classic presentation is that by Roy Rappaport "The Flow of Energy
in an Agricultural Society" that provides a complete characterization of a
'primitive' agricultural system and discovers it to be highly energy
efficient. (I don't have the citation to hand but I seem to recall that a
version was published in Scientific American)
These studies are interesting, as far as they go, but one is left with a
feeling of "So what?
A problem arises whenever we postulate a single yardtstick to measure all
aspects of a complex system such as an agroecosystem. It may be
intellectually attractive but it inevitably violates the complexity of the
situation. A kilocalorie of gasoline just isn't the same as a kilocalorie
of sweet potato or even a kilocalorie of human effort. If we were going to
use a single yardstick we might as well stick to money as it reflects the
social and politcal aspects more accurately.
What is important about our agriculture is not energy or money, however, at
least those are not the only important aspects. We want quality food,
accessible to all, not just 'cheap' food, be that energy cheap or money
cheap. It has become clear that quality is not be measured along a single
Mexico, D.F. & San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas
Tel. y FAX 525-666-73-66 (DF)
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