Thursday, September 14, 2006


Oil Lamps and Potatoes

From the (probably not quill) pen of Dennis Mangan:
The main impediment to more drilling, discovery, and exploitation of reserves is environmentalism, which in its extreme form wants us all to go back to whale oil lamps and growing potatoes in our gardens.
On behalf of my fellow extreme environmentalists, I must state for the record that we abjure the use of whale oil in lamps. Haven't you seen the bumper stickers on our gas-guzzling cars? Save the Whales!

Shortly before I read Dennis' words, my copy of Lehman's Non-Electric Catalog 2006-2007 arrived in the mail. It offers many types of oil lamps for sale, but no whale oil. Aladdin Lamp Oil (odorless, unlike kerosene) sells through the catalog for $23.95 per gallon. It ain't cheap, being green.

There are no potatoes growing in my garden this summer, although there are tomatoes, squash, and melons. "Il faut cultiver notre jardin" is advice worth taking literally.

But assume that we primitivists have grown, stolen, or bought our potatoes. How do we cook them? Lehman's has a variety of wood cook stoves for sale, but they too are expensive (e.g. $5065.00 for the Enterprise Monarch). Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping (1926), gives this advice in his chapter on The Tramp as Cook:
Potatoes are difficult to carry, but when obtained can be easily cooked under the seemingly dead ashes of your camp fire. They are greatly enjoyed, as all know who have even on a picnic roasted them and dandled them timorously in their fingers. It is just as well to hoist them out of the ashes on the end of a sharpened stick. If the stick will not go in, the potatoes are probably not yet cooked.
Dr. Nick Brooks of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences speculates about the shift from "primitive" to "civilized" life and whether it was an unmixed blessing:
"Civilisation did not arise as the result of a benign environment which allowed humanity to indulge a preference for living in complex, urban, 'civilized' societies," said Dr Brooks.

"On the contrary, what we tend to think of today as 'civilisation' was in large part an accidental by-product of unplanned adaptation to catastrophic climate change. Civilisation was a last resort - a means of organising society and food production and distribution, in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions."

He added that for many, if not most people, the development of civilisation meant a harder life, less freedom, and more inequality. The transition to urban living meant that most people had to work harder in order to survive, and suffered increased exposure to communicable diseases. Health and nutrition are likely to have deteriorated rather than improved for many.


Dr Brooks said: "Having been forced into civilized communities as a last resort, people found themselves faced with increased social inequality, greater violence in the form of organised conflict, and at the mercy of self-appointed elites who used religious authority and political ideology to bolster their position."
Thanks to Phil Flemming for information on Brooks' theories.

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