Peaked Oil: Waiting for the Swords to Drop

Damocles learned that when you know about the sword up there, it's hard to enjoy a life of luxury. Bingo.

Damocles learned that when you know about the sword up there, it’s hard to enjoy a life of luxury. Bingo.

In the fable that bears his name, Damocles was unnerved in the midst of luxury and power by the threat of a single sword (representing the ever present possibility of failure) hanging precariously over his head. We, who because of cheap oil enjoy luxury and power in our ordinary lives beyond the imagination of the kings of old, live beneath a veritable forest of deadly blades, all of which are just about to fall. Unlike Damocles, we refuse to look up, let alone move out of the zone of impact. When they tell our fable, nobody’s going to believe it. Continue reading

A Gazillionaire Looks to the Future: Sees Pitchforks

Rick Hanauer surveys his realm. On a clear day, you can see disaster.

Rick Hanauer surveys his realm. On a clear day, you can see disaster.

One of the Masters of the Universe — he bankrolled the startup of Amazon.com, for example — has peered through the bubble of wealth that surrounds him and has glimpsed a terrifying future. Now, the opinions of the rich and powerful have no enhanced value because of their status and deserve no special attention; to the contrary, they are highly suspect given their destructive record. But given the almost universal tendency to defer to people who accumulate money, it’s worth quoting them on the rare occasions when, like a stopped clock, they are in fact correct.

So when Seattle entrepreneur (from the French, meaning “between jobs”) Nick Hanauer publishes an open letter in Politico to his fellow .01-percenters, warning them that unless they change their ways they will come to a bad end, well, it’s worth a listen. Continue reading

Fishin’ Gone. All Over the World.

When the last factory trawler such as this one returns empty from an empty sea, just go ahead and tun off the lights. (Photo by Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

When the last factory trawler such as this one returns empty from an empty sea, just go ahead and tun off the lights. (Photo by Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

The headline in the Washington Post on June 3: “The End of Fish.” Not even the usual weasel question mark at the end to avoid the declarative statement. In mid-June the Global Ocean Commission stated its conclusion that the world’s oceans are on the brink of collapse, offering a Pollyanna-ish eight-point plan for their complete recovery (Step One: Every country in the United Nations agrees to stop plundering the oceans for profit and start working for their recovery. Just give us a call when you’ve done that, and we’ll move on to Step Two.)  In late June, Quartz detailed the $27 billion in subsidies from the world’s richest countries to the largest, nost destructive fleets of deep-ocean trawlers, without which they could not sail. The headline on the July 11 cover story in Newsweek: “The Disaster We’ve Wrought on the World’s Oceans May Be Irrevocable.” Continue reading

Who Goes Dry First? Vegas or Phoenix?

Lake Meade, water source for Las Vegas and Phoenix, shows its "bathtub ring" marking where its water used to be. It is less than half full and dropping fast. (Wikimedia photo)

Lake Meade, water source for Las Vegas and Phoenix, shows its “bathtub ring” marking where its water used to be. It is less than half full and dropping fast. (Wikimedia photo)

The title of first American city to be abandoned for lack of water will be awarded in the next decade or so, and it’s hard to decide whether to bet on Las Vegas or Phoenix. It could be a tie. Those among us who still like our stories to end with a moral are rooting for Vegas, whose demise would round out a lovely wages-of-sin, Sodom-and-Gomorrah kind of fable. Phoenix seems less blameworthy, but only if you think what’s about to happen is retribution for sin. If you lean more toward the inevitable-consequences-of-stupidity theory, then there’s not much to differentiate between Dumb Phoenix and Dumber Las Vegas. Continue reading

From Insecticide to Genocide

Dead_bee_winter

A world soaked in insecticides is not a place where bees can live. We’re really going to miss them. (Wikimedia photo)

Call it the Return of Silent Spring. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book of that name aroused the world to the dangers of soaking the world with insecticides (at the time, primarily DDT). Her dark vision of a spring in which no birds sang nor insects buzzed gave impetus to the environmental movement. What better evidence that that movement has been rolled up like a cheap rug than the news that after half a century we are back where we started?

According to a major new study, the world is so saturated with insecticides (especially these days, the pervasive neonicotinoids) that bees and earthworms are vanishing. As they go, they will take our food supply with them. Continue reading

Former Treasury Secretary Sees Climate Crash Coming

Henry Paulson (right) speaks at his nomination as Secretary of the Treasury. He lived through one crash. Now he sees another coming.

Henry Paulson (right) speaks at his nomination as Secretary of the Treasury. He lived through one crash. Now he sees another coming.

The man who was at the center of the global financial crash of 2008 — Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson — knows a thing or two about crisis. And he sees another one bearing down on us. He wrote about it in a hair-on-fire op-ed piece in the New York Times last weekend. The headline: The Coming Climate Crash. And he’s a Republican! Continue reading

The Fall of the House of Cantor Cards

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), heir to the speakership, forgot the rule: dance with the ones what brung ya.

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), heir to the speakership, forgot the rule: dance with the ones what brung ya.

The punditry that has arisen since the primary-election defeat of Eric Cantor, Republican Majority Leader (and Speaker-in-Waiting) of the House of Representatives, has mostly subtracted from the sum total of human knowledge. So, naturally, I want to contribute. (At least no trees were killed in the promulgation of this analysis.) Since a stunned David Brat, economics professor and novice candidate, acknowledged his victory over Cantor last Tuesday and immediately went into hiding, the Chattering Class has been having convulsions. Continue reading

Indian Summer: Apocalypse Rehearsed

Australian heatwave causes wildfiresThis is a shape of things to come: intolerable heat persisting for unprecedented lengths of time; failure of the electric grid when it’s needed most; hundreds of deaths from the searing heat; unreasoning violence spreading across the county like fire. India had it all last week, and the relief brought by the (late) onset of monsoon rains may be scant and temporary. This is the specter of climate change made real, made explicit, in the present tense. And still the world acts as if it’s the other guy’s end of the boat that’s burning, no worries here. Continue reading

Natural Gas: Flaming Out?

Seen from above, natural gas being flared at night bears a remarkable resemblance to the ill-fated Hindenburg. (Photo by Phudpucker.com)

Seen from above, natural gas being flared at night bears a remarkable resemblance to the ill-fated Hindenburg. (Photo by Phudpucker.com)

A little known crisis is approaching in the world of natural gas, one that threatens the most successful part of the largely imaginary New American Bonanza (NAB) in oil and gas brought on by hydraulic fracking. The gas frackers did manage to increase domestic supplies, so much so that two things happened: every electric generator that could switch from coal to gas, did so; while the glut drove the price down so far that the gas producers started losing money. Their output, which had grown by seven percent in 2011 and five percent in 2012, managed to inch up one percentage point last year. Now the entire industry has an iceberg just off the starboard bow. Continue reading

Big Ag Fights Small Ag: We Lose

Farms like these in Vietnam are the ones that feed the world, provide work and security for families, and preserve the land. We're stamping them out. (Wikipedia Photo)

Farms like these in Vietnam are the ones that feed the world, provide work and security for families, and preserve the land. We’re stamping them out. (Wikipedia Photo)

Just as it has become crystal clear (as confirmed by a new United Nations report) that the world made a terrible mistake when it entrusted its future to industrial agriculture; and that the only hope for a sustainable global food supply rests on small, diverse, family farms; now Big Money is weighing in on the side of Big Agriculture and is in the process of snuffing out the last best hope for food.

There are two parts to this problem. The ravages of industrial agriculture — the ruined land, poisoned water, sick animals and rampaging, mutant weeds and diseases — are becoming well known. We were told not to mind these things because it was the only way to keep up with a growing, hungry population. Turns out it wasn’t even one of the ways. Continue reading