Provision #492: Planetary Predicaments

Laser Provision

If you were looking for a light, entertaining read then stop here and go no further. This Provision looks at wellness from a planetary perspective, and there are many indications that we are not doing any better on that level than on the level of individual health and wellness. Global politics, conflicts, climate changes, and agricultures are all conspiring to erode the quality of life on planet earth. This Provision documents that erosion and offers one small step in the right direction: co-producing (rather than just consuming) our food.

LifeTrek Provision

On Wednesday, December 13, 2006, I attended a briefing on the situation in Iraq and the Middle East by someone who should know what’s going on: Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002-2005 and who served, prior to that, for more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. Here is my interpretation of his scary and sobering remarks:

  • The USA will withdraw its forces from Iraq into defensible bases from which it can commence more tactical training and support of indigenous forces.
  • The situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate until it spills over into other countries and becomes a wider, regional conflict.
  • The likelihood of another catastrophe that disastrously impacts US sovereignty and/or strategic interests, such as 9/11, is high.
  • The above factors will lead to an escalation of the Middle East conflict, requiring 2-3 million US armed forces throughout the entire region.
  • The armed forces of the USA are in no way prepared for this escalation. They lack the necessary personnel, infrastructure, and budget.
  • The USA will seek to bring back the draft and to levy more taxes in order to accommodate the burdens of war.
  • The balance of power is shifting in the world to those who control the world’s debt.
  • The USA, the world’s largest debtor nation, may soon find itself at the mercy of countries, like Russia, who are flush in petrol-dollars.

“Now what in the world,” I can hear you asking, “does this have to do with Optimal Wellness?” The answer is hidden in the code words, “strategic interests.” Although there are many such interests, none are more important than the need for fossil fuels. Without oil and gas, the world grinds to a halt. The most powerful military machine in the world, that of the USA, can do little without oil and gas. The planes don’t fly, the boats don’t move, and the troops don’t roll.

Beyond the military itself, no country in the world uses a greater percentage of the world’s petroleum resources than the USA. Our entire lifestyle depends upon the steady, secure, and affordable procurement of those vital assets. Fortunately or unfortunately, the USA does not control sufficient reserves to meet our ever expanding requirements. As a result, we must use economic, political, and/or military means to keep the pipelines open and the oil flowing. The more oil we require, the more stress we experience when the price of oil goes up or the supply of oil goes down. With enough stress, there’s no telling how the system will respond.

The more we can reduce our consumption of oil, the more we can stave off or even avoid Mr. Wilkerson’s dire assessments and predictions. The more we can also stave off or even avoid the march of global warming and climate change. I recently saw the DVD movie starring Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth Click. I recommend it highly. The assessments and predictions are no less scary and sobering than those of Mr. Wilkerson. The vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is real and that it is the result of human activities. As a result, to quote statistics from the movie:

  • The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.
  • Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes, 7,000 feet above sea level.
  • The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade.
  • At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles.

If the warming continues, we can expect catastrophic consequences.

  • Deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years • to 300,000 people a year.
  • Global sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet with the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating coastal areas worldwide.
  • Heat waves will be more frequent and more intense.
  • Droughts and wildfires will occur more often.
  • The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050.
  • More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050.

All this, global politics, global conflicts, and global warming, is within our power to change and to mitigate by reducing our consumption of oil. To do that, many people think of the obvious: for example, driving less often, driving more fuel efficient vehicles, saving electricity, insulating buildings, and setting back thermostats. Such obvious strategies are good things to do, but they are not enough to turn things around, in and of themselves. We need a collective strategy that touches on every area of life and work.

Part of that collective strategy involves reducing the use of fossil fuels in our food supply. Many people are surprised to learn that conventional fertilizer and other farm chemicals come from oil. That accounts for why we have been able to dramatically expand our food supply.  Were it not for fossil fuels • calories stored from ages past • the planet literally could not feed even the current human population of 6.5 billion people, let alone the billions yet to come. We use those fuels to develop, fertilize, pesticize, cultivate, package, transport, store, and deliver the vast majority of our food supply. If we are what we eat, and all that goes into what we eat, then most of us on this planet are nothing more than oil. To share one more list of scary and sobering statistics, found in recent books by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Jane Goodall (Harvest for Hope):

  • Nearly one fifth of the USA’s petroleum consumption goes to producing and transporting our food.
  • To grow a single steer to slaughter weight in an industrial feedlot takes approximately one barrel of oil (turning that steer into just what we need: another fossil-fuel machine • only this time it’s a machine that can suffer).
  • It takes between 7 to 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate. Talk about unsustainable!
  • It takes three times more fossil fuels to grow conventional foods than organic ones, as long as the compost is local (after that, the energy requirements of conventional and organic foods are about the same to package, process, store, and deliver).
  • From farm to plate, food in the USA travels an estimated 1,500 to 2,500 miles (25% further than in 1980).
  • Worldwide, conventional farming uses about three million tons of chemicals, most of which are derived from fossil fuels, each and every year. In addition to the fossil fuel concern, these chemicals have many other far-reaching and long-lasting environmental impacts.

So what’s a person to do? Fortunately, the best strategy for individual wellness is also the best strategy to resolve our planetary predicaments: strive to eat as much local, organic food as possible. Become a co-producer and not just a consumer of food. Foods that are both organic and low-mileage save our health as well as an enormous amount of fossil fuels. Who knows, if enough of us were to accept the challenge of becoming “locavores” • people who eat primarily local foods • we might even prevent another World War and global warming along the way.

That’s not as difficult as it sounds. Up until last week, my wife and I were still eating local produce from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to which we belong. In addition, our local farmer’s market is still in operation (although with a more limited selection, due to the onset of winter). Smart locavores, like the squirrels outside my window, have already stored their foods for the winter. Local meats, for example, are easy to freeze. Like anything else in life, it’s a matter of becoming aware and taking action.

Here are a few internet resources to help you get started:

  • LocalHarvest.org. This is a great resource for people in the USA who want to locate nearby CSA farms, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, restaurants, and other establishments that support local agriculture. Once you find one resource in your area, they will help you find others. Just ask! It’s a fast-growing community. In 2006, there were 4,385 farmers’ markets on record with the National Farmers Market Directory; that’s 2.5 times the number in 1994.
  • 100MileDiet.org. This site, which includes a free email newsletter, was started by a couple in Vancouver, British Columbia who decided in the spring of 2005 to eat only food grown within 100 miles of their apartment for a period of one year. That proved to be quite a challenge even as it launched their personal claim to fame (and is, of course, leading to a book). For starters, they recommend trying to eat a 100-mile meal, a 100-mile day, or a 100-mile week. Every little bit helps.
  • FoodRoutes.org. Similar to Local Harvest, Food Routes is a “national nonprofit organization that provides communications tools, technical support, networking and information resources to organizations nationwide that are working to rebuild local, community-based food systems.” I love their simple challenge: spend $10 per week on locally produced food. Now that we can do.
  • EatLocalChallenge.com. This site is “a group blog written by authors who are interested in the benefits of eating food grown and produced in their local foodshed.” It’s a vibrant site with lots of great material and resources. I especially enjoyed the report on a recent Michael Pollan speech Click. Quotable quote: “Americans ship sugar cookies to the Danes and the Danes ship sugar cookies to Americans. Wouldn’t it be cheaper if we just swapped recipes?”
  • SlowFood.com. Although slow food does not limit itself to local food sources, it’s emphasis on enjoying the flavors and savors of regional cooking has that effect. They also make a clear statement that slow-food people are co-producers, rather than just consumers, of the foods we eat. The more we know about and participate in how our food is produced, the better choices we will make both on our own behalf and on behalf of the planet. It costs $60 per year to join the movement and to subscribe to the magazine in the service of local foods and food traditions.

Michael Pollan writes, “The industrial revolution of the food chain, dating to the close of World War II, has actually changed the fundamental rules of the game. Industrial agriculture has supplanted a complete reliance on the sun for our calories with something new under the sun: a food chain that draws much of its energy from fossil fuels instead. (Of course, even that energy originally came from the sun, but unlike sunlight is finite and irreplaceable.) The result of this innovation has been a vast increase in the amount of food energy available to our species; this has been a boon to humanity (allowing us to multiple our numbers), but not an unalloyed one. We’ve discovered that an abundance of food does not render the omnivore’s dilemma obsolete. To the contrary, abundance seems only to deepen it, giving us all sorts of new problems and things to worry about.”

One of the new things that we have to worry about thanks, in part, to the abundant but unhealthy food generated by industrial agriculture is another planetary predicament: the planet cannot sustainably support the current human population, let alone the anticipated increases in decades ahead. It took 650 years for the human population of the planet to double from 250 million to 500 million (950-1600). It took 202 years for the population to double again to 1 billion (1600-1802). We reached the 2 billion mark 46 years after that (in 1928), the 4 billion mark 51 years after that (in 1974), and, it is projected, the 8 billion mark 54 years after that (in 2028). For a species that all goes back to a single pair of hominid ancestors, that’s a truly prodigious amount of growth.

But it’s really no different than any other species, and the end game may be very much the same. High school biology teachers have long used fruit flies to demonstrate the path of overpopulation. Fruit fly eggs hatch in about 30 hours. After feeding for 5 to 6 days, the resulting maggots crawl away to dryer areas to pupate. One day later the adult flies emerge from the pupa to start the cycle all over again. Every week one female fruit fly can produce 500 offspring.

What a perfect timetable to fit into one term of education! Put two fruit flies in a closed environment, like a bottle, and after an initial lag they will multiply like crazy until the environment becomes overpopulated. Eventually, such overpopulation leads to a mass extinction. They all die.

When it comes to human beings, spaceship earth is our bottle and it’s only in recent decades that the size of our population has started to push up against the limits of the bottle. That’s why the rate of doubling has started to slow down (48 years, 51 years, and 54 years respectively). But it will have to come way down, and eventually reverse course, or the human population will crash like those colonies of fruit flies in a closed environment.

So what’s a person to do? We can exercise the power of choice. Just as we can choose to eat healthy, organic, local foods without overeating, so can we choose to reproduce ourselves without overpopulation. Replacement-size families would enable the planet to gradually recalibrate without the pain and suffering associated with a mass extinction. That has already happened in many countries. It needs to happen everywhere in order for the planet to heal and to support a high quality of human life for one and all. As co-producers on the planet, it’s not too late and it’s not beyond us to make that happen.

Coaching Inquiries: What choices have you made when it comes to eating and family size? Are you aware of where your food comes from? How could you find out? How could you discover the locavores in your own community? What would have to change about your lifestyle in order for you to experience and to enjoy the benefits of local foods? Who could become your partners on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..


I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I enjoy reading your Provisions.


I often read and refer to your articles when offering constructive suggestions for individual subjects being discussed with coaching clients. I am a member of ICF and IAC who appreciates your experience and knowledge. I would appreciate your permission to include information from your Provisions in my resource files that can be referred to or shared with them. I will definitely include your contact information and copyright information. (Ed. Note: Permission granted. Thanks for asking and thanks for including the attribution.)


Will you share what it costs to take the supplements you’ve described? I took Dr. Weill’s packaged supplements for a while, but it didn’t include some of what you take; and I included prostate, joint and heart-specific supplements. My cost was about $135 per month. I think the quality has dropped significantly and have discontinued them, but I do believe supplements help. (Ed. Note: My cost is a little less, but I am able to order my products directly from PureCaps.com. The cost would be significantly more if you were paying retail prices. As I indicated in the Provision, quality supplements are expensive. If money is an issue, skip the supplements and stay with fresh, local, colorful, and organic plants and animals.)


I looked at your list of daily stuff at PureCaps.com, but could not find lactobacillus acidophilus powder or phytosterols. What brand(s) are you using and do they have an internet source? Also, are you drinking the whole pitcher of smoothie each day or do you share it with your wife? (Ed. Note: I use the PureCaps.com brand. I mix the ProBiotic 123 Dairy-Free powder in my morning fruit smoothie and I take the CholestePure phytosterols twice a day with meals. The fruit smoothie recipe on my website serves 2-3. I share it with my wife every morning.)


Is LifeTrek Coaching a mentoring service? I work as a children’s counselor and case manager, but I want to do life coaching full time, soon. I have limited funds to contribute to a new business. Any tips on how to get started in a new area to me? (Ed. Note: Yes, LifeTrek offers mentor coaching for those interested in becoming a coach or in developing their abilities as a coach. Learn more by visiting our website and submitting a contact form .) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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