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January 30, 2008

Wendell Berry On The "Environmental Crisis" Activism  Environment

Had some time on my hands today as I spent the day hooked up to an IV, which gave me the opportunity to do something that's been on my to-do list for a while — type in a passage I love from Wendell Berry's essay "The Idea of a Local Economy":

The "environmental crisis" has happened because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of nature. We have built our household on the assumption that the natural household is simple and can be simply used. We have assumed increasingly over the last five hundred years that nature is merely a supply of "raw materials," and that we may safely possess those materials merely by taking them. This taking, as our technical means have increased, has involved always less reverence or respect, less gratitude, less local knowledge, and less skill. Our methodologies of land use have strayed from our old sympathetic attempts to imitate natural processes, and have come more and more to resemble the methodology of mining, even as mining itself has become more technologically powerful and more brutal.

And so we will be wrong if we attempt to correct what we perceive as "environmental" problems without correcting the economic oversimplification that caused them. This oversimplification is now either a matter of corporate behavior or of behavior under the influence of corporate behavior. This is sufficiently clear to many of us. What is not sufficiently clear, perhaps to any of us, is the extent of our complicity, as individuals and especially as individual consumers, in the behavior of corporations.

What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the "developed" world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly giving proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of "service" that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities. Our major economic practice, in short, is to delegate the practice to others.

The danger now is that those who are concerned will believe that the solution to the "environmental crisis" can be merely political — that the problems, being large, can be solved by large solutions generated by a few people to whom we will give our proxies to police the economic proxies that we have already given. The danger, in other words, is that people will think they have made a sufficient change if they have altered their "values," or had a "change of heart," or experienced a "spiritual awakening," and that such a change in passive consumers will cause appropriate changes in the public experts, politicians, and corporate executives to whom they have granted their political and economic proxies.

The trouble with this is that a proper concern for nature and our use of nature must be practiced not by our proxy-holders, but by ourselves. A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life. The "environmental crisis," in fact, can be solved only if people, individually and in their communities, recover responsibility for their thoughtlessly given proxies. If people begin the effort to take back into their own power a significant portion of their economic responsibility, then their inevitable first discovery is that the "environmental crisis" is no such thing; it is not a crisis of our environs or surroundings; it is a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and as citizens. We have an "environmental crisis" because we have consented to an economy in which by eating, drinking, working, resting, traveling, and enjoying ourselves we are destroying the natural, god-given world.

I usually highlight the important bits in bold, but in this case that would mean highlighting the whole thing. It's a deeply considered and beautifully expressed set of ideas. Each sentence, each thought, is well worth savoring and reflecting on. That's what I think, anyway. I love it.

I don't take it to mean we shouldn't be acting politically to rein in the corporations, rather that just reining them in (or getting some leader to rein them in) isn't enough. We need to replace them with something better, something more on a human scale, something sustainable that nourishes us in the deepest sense of the word and that truly belongs in the "natural, god-given world."

There's a lot more that could be said — about the bizarre legal doctrine that grants corporations the same legal rights as persons, for example; or that they, unlike persons, can live forever, amassing enormous wealth and political power; that they don't need clean air to breath or clean water to drink, they're just machines programmed to maximize profit, and they behave accordingly; that they have almost limitless powers of persuasion via advertising and media generally, so the struggle of persons versus corporations long ago stopped being anything resembling a fair fight. Those are important issues. But for now, let's just read Berry's words and take them in. We'll come back to them.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

During the State of the Union address, whoa what a rowdy crowd. Crazy crowd. At one point, Cheney had to fire a couple of shots in the air. It was such a riveting speech, the State of the Union speech, Senator Larry Craig only took two bathroom breaks. — David Letterman

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January 29, 2008

Chemo Tomorrow Health

Starting chemo tomorrow. First of six infusions, three weeks apart. Some people feel like crap during this process, some don’t. I hope I'm one of the lucky ones. It's all somewhat unreal, since I continue to have no symptoms whatsoever. On the contrary, I feel better than I have in a long time. Let's hope that's a good sign. After tomorrow, I'm guessing, it’s going to start seeming a lot more real.

I wish I had the time and talent to write about this whole experience in depth. It's been an education. First, University of Wisconsin Hospital, then Mayo Clinic, now back to UW. Everybody's well-meaning, everybody's trying to do the right thing, but it's startling to see the degree of tunnel vision in the doctors I've encountered. It's all about the technology. I've talked to five oncologists of various flavors and not one has ever asked me a single question about what I eat, how I live, etc. It's just not on their radar screen. But to me it seems axiomatic that it's essential to make my body my ally in this, to enlist its abilities to heal itself, and that anything that promotes my overall health is crucial. Not to my docs, though. They've got three tools in their bag – surgery, chemo, radiation – and that's it. Given the extreme toxicity of chemo and radiation, it's hard to believe there's not a better way. Someday there will be. In the meantime, I'm doing everything I can to make myself as healthy as I can, and my doctor will do what he knows how to do.

More to come.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

This week marked the one-year-left point in the Bush presidency. Folks, I'm with you, but stop cheering. He is still allowed to touch things. I pray he doesn't have one more giant f***up in him, because, you know, he does keep trying. He tried to screw up Social Security, right? He tried to appoint his cleaning lady to the Supreme Court. He tried to get a war cry going to attack Iran. It's not like he's going to quit. He's going to be the worst president ever to the very last minute of the very last day. So I'm still nervous about this last year. I have the same feeling about this last year of his in office as I have when I'm on the highway and I have to go to the bathroom and I just passed a sign that says "Next Rest Stop: 28 miles." — Bill Maher

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January 22, 2008

How Many Priuses Does It Take To Cancel Out A Range Rover? Energy

We Prius owners tend to view hybrid SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, which gets only about 20 MPG, as some kind of sick joke. But the laugh's on us. If you really want to increase fuel efficiency, the place to concentrate your efforts is at the bottom end. Nerdblog explains.

Consider a hypothetical Range Rover (10 MPG) vs. a Prius (60 MPG). Naively, we think the Prius cancels out the Range Rover, since the average of 10 MPG and 60 MPG is a respectable 35 MPG. But this is just bad math. The thing we want to minimize is gallons used, so we should be averaging not miles per gallon, but gallons per mile.

Suppose, for example, the Range Rover and Prius each drive 60 miles. The Range Rover would use 6 gallons, the Prius one. So we've used 7 gallons to go 120 miles. 120 miles divided by 7 gallons is about 17 MPG. The Prius hasn't come close to cancelling out the Range Rover.

How many Priuses would it take to cancel out the Range Rover (i.e., move the average up to 35 MPG)?

Answer: six. Do the math.

Converting your 60 MPG Prius into a 100 MPG plug-in hybrid makes almost no difference in the fleet average, because your 60 MPG Prius is already using such a relatively small amount of fuel. It would probably do a lot more good to take the time, effort, and money that would have been required to do the conversion and use it to campaign for higher CAFE standards. Increasing the efficiency of the least efficient vehicles is what really matters.

[Thanks, Dennis]

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Fed Hits The Panic Button Economy

In Asia, Monday's stock market slide continues. The Fed has hit the panic button, cutting interest rates 3/4 of a point, eight days ahead of its next scheduled meeting. WaPo:

Today's declines in Asia were even more severe than those on Monday, and several markets hit multiyear lows. Indian shares plunged so quickly — nearly 11 percent — that its stock markets halted trading soon after opening. In South Korea, volatile futures prices prompted the main Kospi market to briefly suspend program selling orders at midday. The Australian market suffered its worst one-day fall ever, while Japan's Nikkei fell 5.65 percent to its lowest point since 2005. It is down nearly 18 percent this year.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was down 8.65 percent today, after dropping 5.49 percent yesterday. It's off 19 percent this year and is 30 percent lower than a peak in late October.

"This is an expression of panic — really nothing less than panic about prospects for the U.S. economy," said Stephen Green, senior economist with Standard Chartered Bank.

Salon's Andrew Leonard has a couple of reactions:

First: Ben Bernanke has proven, once and for all, that juicing the stock market is now considered Job #1 for the Federal Reserve Bank. The material effects of rate cuts do not show up in economic growth statistics for months or even years after their enactment. By making an emergency "inter-meeting" cut a mere eight days before its regularly scheduled meeting, Bernanke is conducting economic policy in order to appease market psychology. The fragile psyches of Wall Street traders who played such a pivotal role in creating this mess by romping through the derivatives wonderland, are now in control of government strategy. That can't be good.

Second: When the "mild" recession of 2001 hit, it was tempting for some to blame George Bush, although fairer minds, no matter how partisan their inclinations, had to acknowledge that, economically speaking, one couldn't pin responsibility for the inevitable fluctuations of the business cycle on a newly arrived President. All one could do is critique how the new president handled the situation. But if the current economic downturn gets anywhere near as bad as some of the more gloomy observers are suggesting, there will be no escaping the verdict of history on this administration. The worst recession since World War II? Just another line on Bush's resumé, highlighted, underlined, in bold and italics.

There's an old saying on Wall Street that fear is a much more powerful emotion than hope, and more contagious, too. Which is why markets go down much faster than they go up. At times like this, you can think of the stock market as a giant theatre that's suddenly on fire. Except in this theatre, you can't leave your seat until you find someone else willing to buy it from you. When the building's on fire, you've got to slash prices in a hurry to find a buyer. Meanwhile, all around you, other people are desperate to get out of the building, too. Hence the P-word.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Saudi Arabia has pledged to fight rising oil prices. Let's hope it works out better than their pledge to fight terrorism. — Jay Leno

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January 21, 2008

Brace Yourselves Economy

Investors heard Bush's economic stimulus speech, and they're unimpressed. Stock markets around the world are in free fall:

US stock markets are closed today for MLK Day, but Dow futures are down over 500 points. Tomorrow's going to be ugly.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:44 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Scientists announced today they have been able to grow rat hearts in a lab. Finally, some good news for Dick Cheney. — Jay Leno

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January 15, 2008

American Taliban Extremism  Politics  Religion

Digby points to this, in which Mike Huckabee shows his true colors:

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

That's the GOP front runner, and he's not joking. Theocracy here we come.

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January 11, 2008

Hard-Wired For Fear 9/11, "War On Terror"

Fear trumps reason. It's hard-wired in the brain. Newsweek (via Bruce Schneier):

The brain structure that processes perceptions and thoughts and tags them with the warning "Be afraid, be very afraid!" is the amygdala. Located near the brain's center, this almond-shaped bundle of neurons evolved long before the neocortex, the seat of conscious awareness. There is good reason for the fear circuitry to be laid down first, explains neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux of New York University. Any proto-humans who lacked a well-honed fear response did not survive long enough to evolve higher-order thinking; unable to react quickly and intuitively to rustling bushes or advancing shadows, they instead became some carnivore's dinner. Specifically, fear evolved because it promotes survival by triggering an individual to respond instantly to a threat — that is, without cogitating on it until the tiger has pounced. [...]

The evolutionary primacy of the brain's fear circuitry makes it more powerful than the brain's reasoning faculties. The amygdala sprouts a profusion of connections to higher brain regions — neurons that carry one-way traffic from amygdala to neocortex. Few connections run from the cortex to the amygdala, however. That allows the amygdala to override the products of the logical, thoughtful cortex, but not vice versa. So although it is sometimes possible to think yourself out of fear ("I know that dark shape in the alley is just a trash can"), it takes great effort and persistence. Instead, fear tends to overrule reason, as the amygdala hobbles our logic and reasoning circuits. That makes fear "far, far more powerful than reason," says neurobiologist Michael Fanselow of the University of California, Los Angeles. "It evolved as a mechanism to protect us from life-threatening situations, and from an evolutionary standpoint there's nothing more important than that."

Fear is not only more powerful than reason, however. It is also (sometimes absurdly) easy to evoke for reasons that also lie deep in our evolutionary past. Reacting to a nonexistent threat, such as fleeing from what you thought was a venomous snake that turned out to be a harmless one, isn't as dangerous as failing to react to actual threats. The brain is therefore wired to flinch first and ask questions later. [...]

The results of targeting the amygdala in a way that overrides the thoughtful cortex can be ludicrous or tragic, but frequently irrational. In a classic experiment, scientists compared people's responses to offers of flight insurance that would cover "death by any cause" or "death by terrorism." The latter, of course, is but a small subset of the former. Yet the specificity of the word "terrorism," combined with the stark images the word evokes, triggers the amygdala's fear response in a way that "by any cause" does not. Result: people are willing to spend more for terrorism insurance than death-by-any-cause insurance. [...]

"Negative emotions such as fear, hatred and disgust tend to provoke behavior more than positive emotions such as hope and happiness do," says Harvard University psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert. Perhaps paradoxically, the power of fear to move voters can be most easily understood when it fails to — that is, when an issue lacks the ability to strike terror in citizens' hearts. Global warming is such an issue. Yes, Hurricane Katrina was a terrifying example of what a greenhouse world would be like, and Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" scared some people into changing their light bulbs to energy-miserly models. But barely 5 percent of voters rank global warming as the issue that most concerns them. There is little public clamor to spend the kind of money that would be needed to change our energy mix to one with a smaller carbon footprint, or to make any real personal sacrifices.

A big reason is that global warming, as an issue, lacks the characteristics that trigger fear, says Gilbert. The human brain has evolved to fear humans and human actions (such as airplane bombers), not accidents and impersonal forces (carbon dioxide, even when it is the product of human activities). If global warming were caused by the nefarious deeds of an evil empire — lofting military satellites that deliver carbon dioxide into the stratosphere, say, rather than the "innocent" actions of people heating their homes and driving their children to school — "the war on warming would be this nation's top priority," Gilbert wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Besides needing that human component, events loom scariest when they pose a threat next week, not next decade or beyond. Climate change is already here, but the worst of it would arrive if the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melt, which is decades away. "The brain is adapted to deal with the here and now," says Gilbert — the lethal-tusked mastodon right over there, not the herd of them that will migrate through your encampment next spring. It's little wonder, then, that warnings about the eventual insolvency of Medicare or Social Security fail to move voters, and that global warming "fails to trip the brain's alarm," he says. But the prospect of illegal immigrants' changing the face of neighborhoods today does.

The primitive nature of fear means that it can be triggered most powerfully not by wordy arguments but by images that make a beeline for the brain's emotion regions.

Images are the key. No images in history had such a high-voltage effect on the amygdala of the world as the World Trade Center images from 9/11. The planes hitting the towers; the towers collapsing. Those images made 9/11 the most successful psyops operation of all time, turning the country around on a dime, rechanneling it in a radically different direction. Whoever dreamed it up, it was genius. Evil genius, but genius.

And they've been whanging away on that fear circuitry ever since. Which is why this message (also via Bruce Schneier) is such an important one to convey to our elected officials, wherever we live:

I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.

Send it to your elected officials, or at least take it to heart. Refuse to be terrorized. Just because you have an amygdala doesn't mean you have to act like it.

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

With all this talk of hope and change and idealism and getting the country back on track, it was a friend of mine, an old friend who — he wanted to say something to you. Is he ready to say it? [on screen: Pres. Bush saying, "Iran is a threat to world peace."] Boo! That's former president ... What is that? Oh, he's still... Bush's warning to Iran was sort of a nice reminder for all of us here in the country that he's still the president. And to drive the point home, he's actually going overseas. The president has taken on an ambitious Middle East eight-day, six-country, 12-war visit. I assume he's going to the Middle East like kind of one of those post Katrina surveying of the damage kind of: did I do that? — Jon Stewart

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January 09, 2008

Got The Flu

I've got the flu, but I hope to be back soon.

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January 07, 2008

Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

The whole damn state of Iowa is littered with the detritus of winners. Iowa is winner-tastic.

Obviously, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are winners because... well, they won. And that’s what winners do: they win.

But you’d also have to say that John Edwards and Mitt Romney are winners too, because even though they came in second, they called themselves winners, and as big time national politicos — you got to assume they know what they’re talking about.

Hillary Clinton is apparently a winner, because in her speech, after coming in third, she never gave the slightest impression she hadn’t won, so maybe she knows something the rest of us don’t, which is another characteristic trait of winners.

Fred Thompson won because he came in third after canvassing the state with the energy of a three-legged tortoise on reds.

John McCain won because he spent no time in Iowa at all and still came in fourth. Which, in some books, makes him a double winner.

Ron Paul is a big winner coming in a strong fifth, if there is such a thing, when most experts didn’t even expect him to be able to find Iowa on a map.

Rudy Giuliani, the Mayor of 9/11, won, because he spent no money in Iowa, which can now be used to frighten people in states with more foreigners.

Bill Richardson wasn’t really try to win anyhow, and he didn’t, so he’s a winner.

Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd may be the biggest winners because they don’t have to do this anymore.

Duncan Hunter is what you call a winner in reverse, since he polled just 500 votes. Which is only 500 votes more than you or I got, and we weren’t even running. Which certainly makes us winners. — Will Durst

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January 04, 2008

Peak Food Development  Environment  Future

Canada's Financial Post (via Cryptogon) on the developing global food crisis:

A new crisis is emerging, a global food catastrophe that will reach further and be more crippling than anything the world has ever seen. The credit crunch and the reverberations of soaring oil prices around the world will pale in comparison to what is about to transpire, Donald Coxe, global portfolio strategist at BMO Financial Group said at the Empire Club's 14th annual investment outlook in Toronto on Thursday.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," he warned investors. "It's going to hit this year hard."

Mr. Coxe said the sharp rise in raw food prices in the past year will intensify in the next few years amid increased demand for meat and dairy products from the growing middle classes of countries such as China and India as well as heavy demand from the biofuels industry.

"The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 oil; it's getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically," he said.

The impact of tighter food supply is already evident in raw food prices, which have risen 22% in the past year.

Mr. Coxe said in an interview that this surge would begin to show in the prices of consumer foods in the next six months. Consumers already paid 6.5% more for food in the past year.

Wheat prices alone have risen 92% in the past year, and yesterday closed at US$9.45 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.

At the centre of the imminent food catastrophe is corn - the main staple of the ethanol industry. The price of corn has risen about 44% over the past 15 months, closing at US$4.66 a bushel on the CBOT yesterday - its best finish since June 1996.

This not only impacts the price of food products made using grains, but also the price of meat, with feed prices for livestock also increasing.

"You're going to have real problems in countries that are food short, because we're already getting embargoes on food exports from countries, who were trying desperately to sell their stuff before, but now they're embargoing exports," he said, citing Russia and India as examples.

"Those who have food are going to have a big edge."

With 54% of the world's corn supply grown in America's mid-west, the U.S. is one of those countries with an edge.

But Mr. Coxe warned U.S. corn exports were in danger of seizing up in about three years if the country continues to subsidize ethanol production. Biofuels are expected to eat up about a third of America's grain harvest in 2007.

The amount of U.S. grain currently stored for following seasons was the lowest on record, relative to consumption, he said.

We've got some big, snowballing trends bearing down on us: peak oil, peak water, peak grains, peak fish, peak topsoil. Just coasting along on the path of least resistance isn't going to be good enough. Not even close.

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee demonstrated how he hates negative campaigning by showing journalists the negative ad he refuses to air. Kind of like proving your virginity by parading the hooker you won't screw. — Will Durst

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January 03, 2008

Waste Not, Collapse Not Environment  Future

Via EuroTrib (from whom I stole the wonderful tagline above), an excerpt from a Jared Diamond (author of Collapse) NYT op-ed. Diamond says people in North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia consume about 32 times more resources and produce 32 times as much waste as people in the developing world. This is, putting it mildly, a problem. Diamond:

Among the developing countries that are seeking to increase per capita consumption rates at home, China stands out. It has the world’s fastest growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the United States population. The world is already running out of resources, and it will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates. Already, China is competing with us for oil and metals on world markets.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level. Let’s also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens to increase world consumption — that is, no other country increases its consumption, all national populations (including China’s) remain unchanged and immigration ceases. China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

We Americans may think of China’s growing consumption as a problem. But the Chinese are only reaching for the consumption rate we already have. To tell them not to try would be futile.

The only approach that China and other developing countries will accept is to aim to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the world. But the world doesn’t have enough resources to allow for raising China’s consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our levels. Does this mean we’re headed for disaster?

No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too. Most of the world’s fisheries are still operated non-sustainably, and many have already collapsed or fallen to low yields — even though we know how to manage them in such a way as to preserve the environment and the fish supply. If we were to operate all fisheries sustainably, we could extract fish from the oceans at maximum historical rates and carry on indefinitely.

The same is true of forests: we already know how to log them sustainably, and if we did so worldwide, we could extract enough timber to meet the world’s wood and paper needs. Yet most forests are managed non-sustainably, with decreasing yields.

Just as it is certain that within most of our lifetimes we’ll be consuming less than we do now, it is also certain that per capita consumption rates in many developing countries will one day be more nearly equal to ours. These are desirable trends, not horrible prospects. In fact, we already know how to encourage the trends; the main thing lacking has been political will.

Diamond has a point: we produce enormous amounts of waste and useless crap that do nothing to improve our quality of life. Who needs it? We can do much more with less — and be much happier in the bargain — if we focus on the stuff that really makes our lives better. Instead of using ever more resources and producing ever more waste, we need to redefine economic growth as making ever more efficient and effective use of a sustainable level of resource consumption and waste production. No doubt.

Ah, but will we? Diamond thinks it's a matter of summoning the political will. If only. Unfortunately, it's a whole lot bigger than politics. A lot of people make a lot of money on waste and useless crap. They're not voluntarily going to stop. Everybody pursues his or her own individual short-term interest and, in the aggregate, the result is collective suicide. Hard to see what's going to turn that around. We're like bacteria in a petri dish who grow like mad until they run out of nutrients, then die off. We like to think we're smarter than that, but we sure haven't proved it yet.

The 21st century question: are people smarter than bacteria?

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

[Today,] of course, is the Iowa caucus. As you may know, caucus is a Greek word which means, "the only day anyone pays any attention to Iowa." — Jay Leno

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January 02, 2008

Fillin' 'Er Up With Other People's Food Development  Energy  Environment  Ethics  Future  Peak Oil

$100 oil prices poor folks out of the market for energy. But worse than that, it prices them out of the market for food. It's already happening. IHT:

In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned [December 17].

The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The agency's food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before - a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year.

At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world's total consumption - much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period.

Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at record highs, Diouf said Monday. Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel for the first time [December 17], the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil.

Diouf blamed a confluence of recent supply and demand factors for the crisis, and he predicted that those factors were here to stay. On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

"We're concerned that we are facing the perfect storm for the world's hungry," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, in a telephone interview. She said that her agency's food procurement costs had gone up 50 percent in the past 5 years and that some poor people are being "priced out of the food market."

To make matters worse, high oil prices have doubled shipping costs in the past year, putting enormous stress on poor nations that need to import food as well as the humanitarian agencies that provide it.

"You can debate why this is all happening, but what's most important to us is that it's a long-term trend, reversing decades of decreasing food prices," Sheeran said.

Climate specialists say that the vulnerability will only increase as further effects of climate change are felt. "If there's a significant change in climate in one of our high production areas, if there is a disease that effects a major crop, we are in a very risky situation," said Mark Howden of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra.

Already "unusual weather events," linked to climate change - such as droughts, floods and storms - have decreased production in important exporting countries like Australia and Ukraine, Diouf said. [...]

Sheeran said, that on a recent trip to Mali, she was told that food stocks were at an all time low. [...]

[R]ecent scientific papers concluded that farmers could adjust to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) to 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees) of warming by switching to more resilient species, changing planting times, or storing water for irrigation, for example.

But that after that, "all bets are off," said Francesco Tubiello, of Columbia University Earth Institute. "Many people assume that we will never have a problem with food production on a global scale, but there is a strong potential for negative surprises." [...]

Part of the current problem is an outgrowth of prosperity. More people in the world now eat meat, diverting grain from humans to livestock. A more complicated issue is the use of crops to make biofuels, which are often heavily subsidized. A major factor in rising corn prices globally is that many farmers in the United States are now selling their corn to make subsidized ethanol.

The world's food stocks are rapidly shrinking. Could anything be more fundamental? And yet there is almost no awareness of this situation in the world's wealthier nations.

By being energy hogs, we make other people go hungry. It's really that simple. Picture it next time you fill your tank: some of what's going in there is other people's food. Either directly, in the form of ethanol from corn, or indirectly, because our profligate energy use drives prices up and fuels global warming. This is a central moral issue of our time: will we in the world's wealthier nations continue to use our wealth to maintain a way of life that is increasingly deadly to everyone else on the planet? In other words, will we make other people starve so we can drive our SUV to the mall?

Posted by Jonathan at 05:04 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

$100 Peak Oil

To get the new year started, oil topped $100 a barrel today for the first time ever.

You gotta love all the rationales analysts come up with. CNN:

Oil prices kicked off the first trading day of 2008 by hitting a new high of $100 a barrel Wednesday on violence in oil-rich Nigeria, the prospect of more interest rate cuts, a halt in Mexican imports and the expectation of yet another drop in U.S. crude supplies.

Whatever. Or maybe it's the obvious: there's no longer enough oil to go around. Demand exceeds supply, so prices rise to the point where enough people are priced out of the market to make supply and demand equal again.

Someday soon we'll look back with nostalgia at the days when a barrel of oil was only $100.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Mike Huckabee said he knows there is duck hunting in heaven. Wow, doesn't sound like duck heaven is in the same place as human heaven. — Will Durst

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