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All Down Hill for Energy and More in Iowa?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009   

ANKENY, Iowa - It's all downhill from here - and that's not good news. An author and journalist who specializes in ecology is urging Iowans to become more self-sufficient by becoming less dependent on imported fossil fuels.

Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, says evidence is growing that world oil production peaked in 2008 and that coal supplies have also been dramatically overestimated. He believes it is inevitable that energy prices will rise again, forcing Iowa farmers to pay more for their diesel and fertilizer needs.

Heinberg is convinced that a sustainable and affordable food supply is driven by energy costs, and says Iowans must start thinking long-term about ways to become less reliant on imported energy.

"Communities in Iowa should start thinking about how to be more self-sufficient in terms of their food, rather than assuming that all of their fruits, vegetables and nuts are going to come from California and Florida. And meanwhile, Iowa just produces corn and soybeans - we have to start thinking about regional food self-sufficiency."

Heinberg predicts that, despite claims the world is rich in coal, actual production will peak in the next 10 to 20 years and is expected to have a tremendous impact on the economy and climate. He points out that estimates of the amount of coal available in the United States have changed dramatically over the years, from a 5000-year supply cited in the first scientific survey taken in 1907, to less than 250 years today. British Petroleum, in its 2007 annual report, estimated a 147-year coal reserve.

"We have to think, not just of taking the total amount of coal we think we'll get and dividing it by how much we use on an annual basis and saying we have 'so many years' worth.' We have to look at the low-hanging fruit principal - we're getting the highest-quality coal out of the ground first, going after the coal that's easiest to access. So, as time goes on, what we'll have left is lower and lower quality resources in less and less accessible places."

However, he notes that Americans are adaptable - and says, if the energy squeeze is handled correctly, communities across the state and nation will become stronger with better-quality jobs.

Heinberg speaks at the Iowa Environmental Council's annual conference in Ankeny on September 25. More information about the event is available online at

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