The current financial meltdown offers a good model for other, far more serious disruptions that are on their way. If you think the greed-maddened, amoral stupidity of the investment bankers was unique, take a closer look at the masters of our supplies of food, water and energy.
Remember the television ads (which have apparently eaten out any sense of communal identity and intelligence our nation once had) that depicted investment banks as bastions of integrity and reliability — really just large versions of George Bailey’s bank in It’s a Wonderful Life? Now we know that the reality was closer to Casino, a bunch of crazed crooks gambling with other people’s money until time and chance happened to them all, with substantial collateral damage.
It’s time to look behind the curtain of those smarmy farm scenes you see on TV whenever the Farm Bureau or Cargill wants something from Congress. The growing of crops and the raising of animals for food in this country is in the hands not of those nice families of actors you’re shown gathered around kitchen tables in modest farmhouses, but of the same stripe of greed-crazed corporate idiots as is the financial system. Industrial agriculture is destroying seven tons of topsoil for every ton of food or fiber it harvests, and has been since the 1970s. Agricultural chemicals are poisoning our water supply and have created vast dead zones off our coasts. Industrial concentration camps in which animals are confined and force-fed yield enormous quantities of protein of steadily decreasing quality and increasing probability of contamination. When this bubble bursts it won’t make it hard to get a loan. It will make it hard to find food.
Then there are the smart, elegant and just so nice people on the Exxon commercials, soothingly assuring us that the nice company has everything under control, and all will be well if we just let them drill more American wells. What claptrap. If we could access every known or suspected drop of American oil immediately (we can’t) and if we could bring it to market immediately in sufficient volume to replace all imported oil (and we can’t) we would then achieve energy independence for just about 39 months. While Exxon is soothing us, the oil production of just about every oilfield in the world is steadily and irrevocably declining while demand, just as steadily, rises.
Our water supply is so far off the radar there aren’t even any TV commercials about it. Yet the aquifers and reservoirs that supply our farms and cities are shrinking, in many cases without any possibility of replenishment. (Yes, if the droughts miraculously end, and global warming stops, and the mountain snow packs get built up again, some of the surface waters would come back. But there is no string of miracles possible that would restore the Ogallala Aquifer, the rapidly shrinking underground source of water for America’s Midwest.) Maybe you can imagine life without mortgages, with reduced food supplies, and no car. But no water?
Look at the folks who are running the ag industry, the oil bidness, the water companies and the energy companies, and you are going to find the same combination of greed, blind faith in technical wizardry and eternal growth, denial of plain realities, and contempt for the common people as you now see in those who brought us the financial meltdown. Look at the folks who are discussing these problems in Congress — and you won’t find any.
What’s going on now they’re calling the worst since the Great Depression. What we need to know, but will not learn from TV ads, is that the worst is yet to come.