The 2006 movie "Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" is one of those underground things here in DC – with screenings in private homes of would-be revolutionaries, like enclaves of the American Communist Party in the ’30s. So I jumped at the invitation and joined 20 other would-be rabble-rowsers to watch and then discuss a movie that goes waay beyond easy tips for "going green".
"Peak oil" refers to the moment at which the world oil resources max out permanently, after which they decline forever. And Cuba went through an abrupt version of it in 1991 with the demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of its oil subsidies. The Cuban economy and the entire society were radically transformed – a drastic reduction in the use of cars, a switch to sustainable agriculture (from farming methods that were even more industrialized than in the U.S.), and a change in diet and health for all Cubans. Nothing like a crisis to get things done, huh?
Too bad it took famine conditions and an average weight loss of 20 pounds per adult between ’91 and ’94 for Cubans to change the way they grow food and eat. Food was actually rationed for the first five years. And it’s hard to imagine the disruptions caused by their 14-16-hour power black-outs.
So a group called The Community Solution has put together their plan for food in the post-peak-oil world and made this documentary about the amazing changes in Cuba – a possible model for the rest of the world.
So how DID Cuban agriculture become even more industrialized than ours? The movie didn’t tell us and I’d love to know that back story. But the movie does describe their decidedly unsustainable practices, like the use of massive amounts of pesticides, complete reliance on synthetic fertilizers, and the use of imported inputs. Today oil-based fertilizers and pesticides are a thing of the past. Lands formerly used for large conventional agriculture have been
distributed – free if you grow food on it. Over a period of 3 to 5 years the soils have become fertile and productive again through
the use of compost, green manure, and crop rotation. Eighty percent of
Cuba’s food is now grown organically, and permaculture practices are commonplace. Oxen
save fuel and cause less compaction than large equipment, so they’ve made a comeback. And of course there are backyard and urban community gardens everywhere, with all vacant space used for growing food.
I wonder if Americans are open-minded enough to learn anything from our Commie heathen neighbors to the south.