Monday, June 30, 2008

2 million

I heard on NBC nightly news last night that 2 million people are expected to 'fall behind on their mortgage payments' next year. I guess that's the new euphemism for being foreclosed on. Add that to the one million + who are going to have lost their houses over this year, and that's 3 million people. Ok, that's probably a low ball estimate but even if its accurate, 3 million is 1% of the population of this country! That's a recipe for disaster.Or rebellion.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Crisis Update

I write this update just about every month for a newsletter I run, and I thought this month I'd post it here as well.

Unless you’ve been living (or hiding –hey, I for one would understand! And if you’ve got any room, would you like a roommate?) under a rock for the past few months you might have noticed that the world has plunged into multiple crises. One each for energy, the food supply, the economy, and the environment. These are separate but intertwined crises which each have multiple effects on the others. I’m not going to call them the Four Crises of Doom as some less optimistic (yes, its possible) commentators have but I will note that they bear an odd resemblance to a certain set of horsemen Americans have tried to forget about over the past century or so. Jokes aside, this is serious stuff, and I’m going to attempt to give an update on each of these crises over the next few paragraphs so we can get a good idea where we stand.

Food –let’s start with the basics. Food is as basic as you get. There is nothing more vital than food. And it’s getting harder to come by. Prices are skyrocketing and supplies are running short. Earlier this year a report came out that said we’d need record crops this year to prevent famine. Guess what folks? That’s not going to happen. Not only is the U.S. hit hard by floods and all manner of whacked out weather but Australia lost 90% of its harvest to drought, and Africa is expected to lose virtually all –that’s right ALL –of its wheat harvest to the stem rust that has now also blown into Iran and Pakistan and is expected to debut in India and China soon, followed by the U.S. in a few more years. One report projected that if the U.S. can’t get some of the flooded fields replanted and some kind of harvest uptick we may run OUT of corn before the harvest in 2009. And we’ve added something like 70 million people to the planet in the past year. Not good. This is a recipe for disaster folks. A lot of people are going to die. Some selected food headlines:
Floods cause food prices to surge: He’s wrong about one thing. The corn growing season isn’t young; most places that are flooded absolutely have to replant by July 4th to have any hope of a harvest –and the fields have to be dry for at least 10 days before they can plant. Let’s do the math: we were on schedule to produce 11.7 billion bushels of corn this year (out of a needed 12.5 billion). Reduce that by 15% and you get roughly 9.95 billion bushels, for a total shortfall of 2.55 BILLION bushels of corn. Of course, that assumes the harvest is only down by 15%. Given the weather so far this year, that’s a bet I wouldn’t want to take. So, what’s going to give? Oh yeah, and Australia’s harvest is down too.
One Billion Hungry: It bears repeating: one billion hungry. And if they don’t get fed, eventually they’ll die. The death certificate may not read starvation; it rarely does and instead reads pneumonia or some other condition that wouldn’t be fatal if you weren’t starving, but lack of food will be the reason. One billion people. If this doesn’t get straightened out soon, I see a LOT of dead people.
Food Supply Must Double by 2030: Oh yeah, that’s going to happen. We’ll never hit the 9 billion population number; we can’t keep feeding what we’ve got now.
U.S. Has NO Grain reserves left: Or anything else for that matter.
Hunger in the U.S.: This last line is worth remembering: “It's not dignified, but we are hungry, and hunger is ugly."
With Hunger Comes Anger: And this is only the start. Governments are going to fall over this.
How far is the U.S. from food shortages and riots? A good article but now outdated: we had our first ‘food riot’ last week over free food vouchers in Minnesota.

Energy –This is our second horsem –er, crisis. (I promise, I’ll stop.) Oil has peaked. That’s just the plain out truth, folks. Denial can only go on so much longer. We’re on the bumpy plateau where output is relatively steady while demand keeps climbing. Any day now we’ll tip down on the other side. Prices have gone up so far because demand has out run supply. Demand destruction has been taking place for a couple of years now; I’ve seen pictures of countries that have gone dark because their electricity was generated by oil and they stopped being able to afford the oil a while back. What’s going to happen when output starts noticeably shrinking and no matter how much we drill we can’t get it back up to what it was? Remember peak oil doesn’t mean that we’re out of oil –it means we’re at half a tank and the half that’s left is harder to get at, more expensive, and more ecologically destructive. Thus supply will keep going down and demand will be forced to match. Tar sands won’t save us; not only do they require almost as much energy to extract the oil as you get out of the oil, but they require massive inputs of water and natural gas. The former is hard to come by in the locations of the tar sands and the latter has peaked too. Uh-oh. Drilling off shore won’t save us; no 200,000 b/d field is going to replace mighty Cantarell, which is crashing so hard and fast Mexico might be out of oil to export next year. Not only that, but the U.S. alone uses 21 million barrels a day and the world, 84 million. Divide 200,000 into one of those figure and what do you get? Spare change.
Heating oil. Heating oil comes from oil. It’s about $4.50 a gallon right now. People may freeze to death in the northeast this winter because they can’t afford to heat their houses. Others may turn to electric space heaters which some project could bring down the entire northeast electrical grid. Why? Not only is it all ready at capacity, but its as antiquated as a Ford Model-T. (As are all the grid in the U.S. btw, which is one of the main problems with electric cars.) Hydrogen cars are a joke. Natural gas has peaked, and most of what’s left on the continent is in Canada –how long will they keep sending it to us when they need it to heat their own homes? Next we’ll be invading Canada.
Electricity. Most electricity in this country comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear, or oil. Aside from the problems with nuclear it requires massive amounts of water. They almost had to shut the nuke plants here in the southeast down last summer because the drought had lowered the water tables so much. But at least we have enough coal to last a lot longer –right? Right???? I hate to break it to you, but we don’t have nearly as much in the way of coal reserves as we’ve been led to believe. A report I read not too long ago suggest that coal may peak in as little as 30 years. That ‘peak’ word is going to become a four letter word soon, huh? That’s what happens when you base your society on non-renewable resources. Basically we’re…nah, I won’t say it. You get the idea. Some recent headlines on energy:
The U.S. at $200 a barrel oil: A good look at the impacts of oil at $200 a barrel. (Here’s a hint: it ain’t pretty. It’s also just about inevitable.),0,5808547,full.story
OIL: Problems, problems, and more problems Check this out: China imported 25% more oil in May, oil production fell last year, oil stockpiles dropped in the U.S. for the 4th week in a row. Can anyone spell higher prices?
$150 a barrel oil, happy 4th of July: Analysts are now saying oil will hit $150 a barrel by July 4th. Others are also predicting $200 a barrel by New Year’s. I see even more dead people.
Coal in the U.S.: From Richard Heinberg.

Credit and the Economy –ok, the globalized economy is going down the tubes. That’s the way it is and there won’t be any changing it. A lot of this is due to the rising price of oil. The projections I’ve seen suggest the airlines will be dead (at least for ordinary folks) within two years with oil this high, much less higher. Not only do we have the housing collapse, but we have the beginnings of what may be a greater depression than the ‘great’ depression. A lot of people are going to lose their jobs and/or their homes. Some manufacturing is starting to shift back to the U.S. because the shipping costs bite. Paradoxically, other jobs are starting to be off-shored precisely because they don’t have any shipping costs, and these are the jobs that have always been ‘safe’ before: engineering, accounting, management, etc. A lot of people are going to be in a race to see whose finances collapse first: theirs or the banks.

Climate –Climate change is rapidly becoming an out and out crisis. Sea level is rising at an inch a year, the weather’s gone completely crazy in many places, and temp’s are going up, up, up. This one is only going to get worse . Buckle up, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Projections range from a rainy day at the park to Armageddon; the reality will be somewhere in between but probably slightly closer to the latter. Some relevant headlines:
North Pole May Be Ice Free This Summer: So long to the polar bears (and thanks for all the fish).
Oceans warming 50% faster than thought: This partly explains the higher than anticipated sea level rise. Of course, the rest is explained by the faster than anticipated glacial and ice cap melt.

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It’s been raining here a lot yesterday and today. Not a harsh rain; a nice gentle soaking rain. We needed it so badly. The land seems to be singing today, as flowers open under the gentle caress of water droplets and butterflies frolic in the pauses between showers.

Rain is one of the differences between a natural society and an industrial society. A natural society welcomes rain, rejoices in it, because the people know that without the rain they –and the land –can not live. We depend on the rain for so much. Even when there is too much and a flood occurs, a natural society recognizes this as a natural process and one that must happen. Most natural societies simply don’t build in flood plains, or if they do, recognize that they will be flooded occasionally.

Industrial societies, on the other hand, view rain as a nuisance, something we can’t yet control, that hampers our preferred activities such as washing the car (hello, its rain) or fishing. All of nature is treated like that: as something outside of ourselves that should be tamed and controlled. We do not recognize that we are a part of the natural world and seek to dominate it, to bend it to our will. But one can not escape the natural world; even in space there are natural forces to be dealt with. And nature always has the last word. Somewhere Mark Twain is laughing at our arrogance in the Midwest right now, to think we can tame what can not be tamed. He got what so many in industrial societies never do understand: that we are part of the great circle, not outside of it.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Collapse Hitting Home

The slow moving collapse of western society is finally hitting home. Two weeks ago my neighbor across the street got foreclosed on. A sheriff’s deputy and a goon squad showed up early in the morning with the foreclosure notice and an immediate eviction notice. There not required to give you any time to vacate the premises here, so they didn’t. The deputy gave her the notice and the goons started hauling her and her son’s things to the curb. She still hasn’t got a permanent place to live.

Three of my neighbors moved out today. Just on my street. I know that it’s moving season but that’s a little excessive. Two of them left in a big hurry and left a bunch of stuff behind. A partial list of the things I got off the curb at one house (incidentally next door to the one across from me where the foreclosure happened): two big bags of garden soil, several good shelves, a nice expensive looking coffee table, a TV, a printer (still in the box!), and an unopened bag of charcoal.

More and more homeless are appearing on the streets. The missions and shelters here are overwhelmed. The food pantries are running on empty. As soon as something comes in it goes right back out again. Food prices are skyrocketing right along with the price of gas. And this is only the first of the shocks on the long road down from the Age of Oil.

How am I coping? Mostly by storing food. Don’t laugh. It’s an utterly practical endeavor. Today I froze a bunch of things. One pint each of blueberries and blackberries, half a pint each of raspberries and plums and a bunch of apples, grapefruits, and tomatoes that were given to me. I froze rather than dried the last because there weren’t enough to dry or can and the tomatoes were all ready too ripe.

Another incident happened today that is worth mentioning. I was preparing to leave home to go clean a house and had just checked my mail. I was walking back to the car when suddenly I saw a hawk come winging out of the forest. The hawk is one of my spirit guides. This hawk flew out of the forest and over the neighborhood, then swung back towards me. For several minutes it hovered above me, circling over my head. It was maybe twenty feet in the air. Then with a cry it went on hunting. I watched it for several minutes before it went out of sight and then I went on my way. What it means I have no idea, save that I felt much more relaxed and peaceful after that. Maybe it was trying to tell me something I remember my great aunt saying when I was very young, before she died: this too shall pass.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

To The Last Drop

So, let's look at how desperate our country is for oil. We've invaded one country to get their supplies. There's sabre rattling over Iran, and I doubt its because of their nuclear program (which all the intelligence says can't make a bomb anyhow). There's a move to drill in the most environmentally sensitive areas of the world, where the slightest mistake (perhaps even just the mere presence of such equipment) would be an utter disaster. We've created an ecological nightmare out of Alberta and some want to repeat that in North Dakota. None of this even takes into account the disaster (and ecological travesty) that is ethanol, both sugar and corn based. And for what? A thick black liquid that is the biological remains of long-dead algal blooms.

A liquid which is also poisonous, which heats the planet, which destroys the enviornment whenever it gets loose and is just nasty in every sense of the word.

Can anyone say addiction? This is the classic behavior of an addict. We will do anything we need to -kill, destroy property, sell off everything we own, even foul our own nests -just to get another fix of this nasty black liquid. What is wrong with us? Can't we see what we are doing?

I have to get to work. I have to go to the store. I have to take the kids to soccer practice, or band, or ballet. And all of that requires that I use gasoline made from oil. That is the refrain we tell ourselves. And yet -look at the results of this lifestyle that is 'non-negotiable'. This lifestyle is destroying the very planet on which we depend for our lives, and our children's lives.

But it is non-negotiable? Again, I bring up the addiction argument. Only an addict would risk their children's very lives for their own selfish short-term comfort. For that is, in the end, what we are doing. When our actions are phrased in such a fashion, it is hard to argue that going to the store everyday or band camp is a requirement. It is hard to see what we are doing as anything but a crime and a sin. I do not use those labels lightly, as I have been accused of "sinning" so many times for doing nothing to hurt anybody that I could vomit. In my book, the only 'sin' is something that harms another. And that is just what we are doing. We are harming ourselves, our planet, our children, by this addiction to oil. And when someone points out that we are addicted we act like spoiled children and scream about our 'right' to use the oil, how we 'need' it, and how no one should be able to say otherwise.

Nor am I any better than anyone else in this race. I too am still addicted to fossil fuels. But its time to break the addiction. Its time to stop this madness. For ourselves, for our planet, and for our children. After all, in the final analysis it will be them we answer too. How are we going to explain this to them?


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This Year's Garden

Between the food, credit, and energy crisis, gardening makes more sense than ever this year. Here's what's growing in my garden right now:
Three kinds of summer squash: zucchini, yellow crookneck, and white patty pan
Two kinds of garlic and two kinds of onions
Swiss chard
Pole beans, almost ready to harvest
Three kinds of peppers: Green bell, cayenne and sweet bananna. I harvested my first cayenne peppers last week.
Ichiban eggplants.
Several tomatoes: Yellow Brandywine, Arkansas Traveler, Roma, Cherokee Purple, German Johnson Pink, Yellow Pear, and Gold Nugget. I've all ready harvested some of the Gold Nugget and the Romas are coming into production.
I'm about to put in my pumpkins and watermelons.

One weird outlier: I have a corn plant growing out of the middle of one of my compost heaps. Its nearly as tall as I am now, and I don't have the heart to cut it down. Yes, I'm weird.

Speaking of weird, we've had weird weather all year. Warm, cold, warm, cold. The first couple of weeks of June were in the upper 90s here. Now, we've always had a few days in June over ninety, maybe even one or two in a row. But two weeks in the upper 90s???? Now it's cooled off, and last night the temps drifted down to the lower 50s. Climate change, anyone?

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I haven’t written for a while. It’s always easy to get out of the habit of posting, and I am really bad about it. Signs of the ongoing decline of our society are all around us, from the $4+ gas to the number of foreclosures.

My neighbor across the street was foreclosed on today. She’s a single mom, lost her job a couple of months ago and has been having a hard time. She’s been trying to make arrangements with the bank to give her a bit of time but this morning the sheriff showed up, foreclosure and eviction notice in hand, with the goon squad at his heels. Here they aren’t required to give you any time to vacate the premises –not 24 hours, not 48, not 72, and certainly not 30 days as in some places. No, they can order you to leave immediately and have goons enforce it. Which was what they did. Several big guys simply went in once the sheriff handed her the paper and began throwing all their stuff out on the lawn. They were none to gentle about it either –broke a bunch of stuff. What kind of society have we become that allows such callousness without a second thought?