Sunday, November 30, 2008


Warning Bells on Food Supply

If you care about eating, the state of the world’s agricultural system should be of great concern. There are signs of trouble in the US breadbasket zone, and this description of the unfolding drama (and soon-to-be tragedy) in the Dakotas is a hair-raising read. We can see where this is leading, of course: Not only will the US cease to feed many people in food-importing countries, food shortages could well develop within the US itself. It is said that the diesel tractor feeds the world, but the tractor is supplemented by an extensive panoply of other equipment and infrastructure that is ultimately dependent on a steady supply of fossil fuels.

The linked article merely touches on the credit crisis that is pummeling American farmers, but this is another major factor dragging industrialized agriculture down. And it’s not only in the US. Farmers in Brazil, another big food exporter, are also starved for loans.

And finally, the energy industry itself — which underpins industrialized agriculture and everything else — is also taking a beating owing to the lack of cash. And now we see that America’s biggest natural gas producer and Brazil’s Petrobras are suffering cash-flow problems.

With a little netsurfing, anyone can find more such information, but you get the idea. A highly optimized system dependent on long and increasingly undependable supply lines is breaking down.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


More on the Consequences of Cheap Oil

In previous posts I have noted the downside of cheap crude primarily in terms of how it hampers the development of new oil fields. Another downside, described in this article, is that it spells big trouble for public spending by oil-producing countries, which depend heavily — or in the case of some countries, almost exclusively — on oil revenues to run their economies. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the consequences could be very serious, or even catastrophic, not only for those countries themselves, but also for the whole world because restive populations mixed with economic woes are an explosive mix at home, and the resulting strife could likely disrupt their oil exports. And needless to say, that would just drag down the entire world economy all the faster.

So again, cheap oil is nothing to be especially happy about, for it offers only momentary relief from the inevitable supply crunch.

On the other hand, should energy demand rise again, oil producers will enjoy increased revenues and a respite, but at the same time, the prices of crude and other commodities are bound to spike again as they did earlier this year. That would of course precipitate a repeat of the current crash. In short, we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.

Whatever you may think of Team Obama, or any other government for that matter, they are now going to have their hands full just trying to keep parts of the machine from flying off all over the place. For the rest of us, it will be paramount to keep working on preparations to weather the storm while dodging those flying parts.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The Big Prize of Iraqi Oil

You’ll hardly find anyone now who still denies that America attacked Iraq in the hopes of taking over its oil. After all, Iraq is indisputably one of the last places on the planet where so-called “easy oil” is still available. If you are looking for lots of high-quality and relatively easy-to-drill oil to power your economy, and especially your modern military, Iraq is definitely going to be on your shopping list. Here is a nice review of the Iraq oil situation.

Unfortunately, increasing competition for this high-quality easy oil is setting the stage for escalating geopolitical conflict, and it’s my prediction that, if the Iraqi people have not already realized their oil is a curse, they will in the future.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Asphalt Shortage and Road Maintenance

In the US an asphalt shortage is cutting into road maintenance plans. This article on the problem also includes some other interesting facts, such as the number of barrels of asphalt that are needed to pave a mile of road (5,500 average). This should give the reader an idea of the large amounts of materials and energy invested in just a short length of road. And as I’ve noted in other posts, the problems of maintaining the infrastructure of industrial civilization don’t stop there.

Another item of particular interest in this article is that refiners are shifting to heavier, cheaper crude oil. Apart from the part this plays in the asphalt shortage, it is yet another indication of the changes brought about by peak oil.

When you start adding up all the costs of resurfacing roads, rebuilding and repairing bridges, upgrading the electrical grid, repairing and rebuilding public water systems (many with very old and leaky pipes), and maintaining all the other elements of infrastructure, any rational person can see that — combined with the economic meltdown, higher prices for energy and resources, the cost of never-ending wars, and of course peak oil — it is all downhill from here for the infrastructure of industrial civilization.

Enjoy it while you can.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


President Obama: No Change

Throughout the US presidential campaign we’ve been fed the usual rubbish about how we’re going to have “change,” but of course as everyone knows, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that also goes for President-Elect Obama, whose new job it is to put a black mask over the same old program and pull the wool over the eyes of gullible Americans.

Just check out those links for starters. See any signs of change there? So the “change” we are offered is purely cosmetic. Mr. Obama is committed to The Program, which is of course a prerequisite for running on one of the two Republicrat tickets.

American pundits and indeed authoritative, pontificating commentators around the world are now filling the media with joyous pronouncements about how putting a black man in the White House shows how America has overcome its race problem, as if Obama’s fantasy declaration that blacks have come 90% of the way were actually true. Please.

Barack Obama is smooth, urbane, assured, an accomplished talker, and handsome — indeed, just the kind of person that America’s elites now need to occupy the Oval Office after eight embarrassing years of the tongue-tied and befuddled Dubya. Obama was the perfect guy to rake in the white liberal vote because he is a feel-good, non-threatening choice for liberal whites. In other words, he will surely not upset the current social order, so liberal whites can vote for him in that confidence, and tell themselves that race equality is really here, and gee, we voted a Black man into the White House! Feel good, baby!

You can put sewage in a white bottle, a black bottle, a yellow bottle, a red bottle, a brown bottle, or even a purple or green bottle if you so desire, but that does not change the sewage into perfume. Yet, that is the hocus-pocus that has been perpetrated on the American people in this election. How much did we hear about candidates who really promise change, like Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader? Virtually nothing, and of course they weren’t allowed to debate, either. That’s of course because they are not with The Program.

I hope Mr. Obama is happy with his role, assuming he realizes what it really is. But for the discerning, there is no hope for “change.”

Monday, November 03, 2008


Redefining Development

Developing countries are working hard at remaking themselves in the image of the industrialized countries (which can most often be characterized as “overdeveloped,” but that’s another story). Poor countries take on heavy debts and sometimes agree to conditions such as those for economic “restructuring” in the expectation that they too can become like North American countries, Japan, and European countries. To that end, they embark on programs to build factories, road networks, airports, and consumer societies whose members will supposedly make lots of money and attempt to buy happiness despite the clear failure of people in industrialized countries to do so.

What’s wrong with this picture? Many people, starting years ago, have observed that the Earth lacks sufficient resources to let everyone live such an extravagant lifestyle. So there’s no need to repeat that here. What too few people still overlook is that there isn’t enough energy for industrial development to continue. Indeed, we can readily see from observing industrialized countries that industrialism is a dying system. Renewables, which are themselves dependent on the fossil-fuel bootstrap, cannot deliver the high-density energy needed to keep the aircraft flying, the factories humming, the fleets of motor vehicles running, the road networks maintained, and homes centrally heated and cooled.

So where does that leave developing countries? Simply put, they are wasting their borrowed money and resources on trying to achieve what is already beginning to fail in model countries. They will build factories that will turn into empty hulks, road networks that cannot be maintained, airports from which aircraft will cease to fly, and consumer societies whose members will have all they can do to keep themselves fed, let alone shopping for the latest products at the mall.

Make no mistake about it: Poor countries need development. Something must be done to feed people and lift them out of grinding poverty. But clearly, the industrial model of development must be abandoned, and the development community needs to redefine development so that people aren’t made dependent on an energy source we know is going to dwindle from here on.

A report issued this year, The Impact of Peak Oil on International Development (PDF), recognizes this challenge and addresses some of the concerns. It is one place to start when considering how to approach this problem and redefine development.

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