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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was lively.

Just to add to your four horse-events. Add this to the brimming cauldron of wake up events: Bee Colony Collapse Disorder.

Something pretty intense is going on with our pollinators. And, yes, another reason our food supply is in "MAJOR" jeopardy. No bees = Very limited supermarket selection. Another reason why we have to pay more attention to the condition of our biosphere. And what we are doing to it.

I left a large swath of Dandelions in the lawn of my rented home, just for the native pollinators to have something to find pollen/food upon. I would have left the entire lawn to flowering Dandelions, but as a renter, I only have so much say in educating landlords about the value of sustainable weeds, versus a "Martha Stewart" lawn...

Must love Dandelions. All the pollinators love them, all year long. Too bad chemical companies and advertising agencies have made weeds the enemy, and make us slaves to eradicating them... at the expense of our natural life sustaining insects.

Yes, everything is connected. And getting more so.

Pray for rain, insects and farmers. And really good compost.

6/29/2008 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And on the same vein of chaos and anarchy, looking at the positive side of the news. The calmest, and one of the most hopeful parts of my day today was watching, yes watching, the late season container planted potato seedlings sprout. That was magic. Or should I say that was like watching the universe talk.

As in "She" universe.

Same she that I heard someone reference and say that, "Potatoes are like money in the bank, when they are in the ground!"

Potato credit....?

6/29/2008 11:54 PM  
Blogger Kati said...

From a reader in North Pole, Alaska (just outside Fairbanks by 14 miles).... The North Pole (ice cap, specifically) may be melting, but we're having an astonishingly cool summer here. The warm days have been warm, but we've been having some incredibly cool days as well. Yesterday (June 28th), it didn't get warmer than 50 deg. all day. Yes, that's 50 deg. F. in the central part of Alaska. This time of year, it should have been about 80. With "Global Warming", it should have been well above that. Maybe not global warming, definitely climate shift. We've been having incredible thunder & lightning storms in more recent years. More rain. Warmer summers (except this one, so far). Warmer winters. Climate shift is a reality and even the most conservative of long-term Alaskans (like my Father-in-law) recognize that.

That's what scares ME most: My father-in-law saying that our country (and possibly the world) is facing a coming revolution (ACTUAL revolution, not a peaceful one either) due to the lack of available fuel and the lack of food, the inadequacy of our political system, the stupidity of the schooling our children receive. Four years ago I started believing the same, but it's scarier hearing the FIL say it, than when it was just me quietly believing it. It's scary because while he's a smart guy, he's also rather reluctant to admit that anything except the status-quo could be coming down the rails at us. He's saying as much as I have been, which means even the smart, conservative baby-boomers can see the hard times coming. He's terrified for his son (my hubby), me and our daughter because he knows we've got hard (VERY HARD) times a-coming. He's doing all he can, while he can, to help us make a means of surviving the hard times (gardening, teaching the hubby to hunt & fish, working on our properties for long-term benefits).

Anyway..... I found you through Sharon Astyk's blog (or maybe it was Greenpa). "Hi" from another pagan wishing she could hide (but knowing that it makes more sense to face it head-on) from the coming GREATER Depression.

6/30/2008 3:01 AM  
Blogger RAS said...

Potato credit. I like that.
Thanks for the comments. I'm not used to getting a lot of comments.

Kati, I've noticed that many more people are waking up, including conservatives. Its a little frightening. I seem to have a lot of pagans migrating to my blog lately. It's kinda cool.

6/30/2008 6:10 PM  
Anonymous murph said...


Until you posted it, I didn't know about this site.

Excellent summation on this post. Keep it up lady.

7/14/2008 12:26 PM  

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