When Highways, not Vehicles, Crash and Burn

On a normal night, the Capital Beltway around Washington DC looks like this; it’s going to get worse. (Photo by trekkyandy/Flickr)

On a normal night, the Capital Beltway around Washington DC looks like this; it’s going to get worse. (Photo by trekkyandy/Flickr)

Its merits as a highway aside, the Capital Beltway (the 64-mile-long ring road around Washington, DC) has served this nation well, for more than half a century, as a metaphor. There simply is no better, quicker or less obscene way to describe a political hack than to invoke “inside-the-beltway thinking.” Or to plead for common sense than to suggest someone take a look at things “outside the Beltway.”  Now the Beltway is dying, and in doing so is providing an even better metaphor, for the entire crash of the industrial age. It’s almost as good as the Titanic. Continue reading

FAA Protects Exxon Oil Spill with No-Fly Zone

A frame from  the video that seems to have prompted the no-fly order.

A frame from the video that seems to have prompted the no-fly order.

Hours after pictures like the one at right began appearing on the Internet, showing the scope of the Exxon pipeline oil spill in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, the Federal Aviation Administration clamped a no-fly zone over the town. The FAA order is to be in effect “until further notice,” and exempts only aircraft under the supervision of an Exxon  employee. Any questions about who owns America? Continue reading

Dry and Drier Meets Dumb and Dumber

drought decal

(Photo by James Mallos/Flickr)

The consensus of climatologists (be warned, these are scientists, not real Americans) is that the drought now affecting almost all of the US west of the Mississippi River — more than half of the 48 contiguous states — will be at least as bad this year as it was last (when it was in many places the worst in a generation), and may well be worse. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, most agricultural operators in the worst-hit regions probably won’t pay any attention to the forecast. This is the equivalent of the captain of the Titanic, on being told there are icebergs ahead, saying “So what?” Continue reading

Energy Independence for Sale

Energy independence for sale, as soon as Cheniere finishes building these LNG holding tanks at Sabine Pass, Louisiana. (Photo by Roy Luck/Flickr)

Energy independence for sale, as soon as Cheniere finishes building these LNG holding tanks at Sabine Pass, Louisiana. (Photo by Roy Luck/Flickr)

The natural gas (from fracking) “boom” that has been touted as the key to America’s energy independence is being sold abroad as fast as deals can be cut. The British gas company Centrica announced this week it has contracted for nearly 90 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas (LNG) a year for 20 years from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass, Louisiana, terminal, at which a gas liquefaction plant is now under construction. That’s enough gas to supply 1.8 million  UK homes, and according to Centrica’s CEO Sam Laidlaw will help “to secure the UK’s future energy security.” Continue reading

Chinese Solar Industry Proves Unsustainable

A rooftop solar installation like this one could power a house or a small business sustainably, relieving stress on the power grid, reducing the burning of fossil fuels and encouraging energy independence. Not interested, says America’s (formerly) largest solar panel manufacturer. (Photo courtesy Wayne Natrional Forest)

The Chinese companies that cornered the world market for solar panels are now, apparently, cornered. (Photo courtesy Wayne National Forest)

Yet another much-hyped energy “renaissance” — that of the global solar-power industry — is looking less like a rebirth and more like a zombie invasion. The Chinese company Suntech, until recently the largest manufacturer of photovoltaic panels in the world (it is still number two), on Friday defaulted on over half a billion dollars worth of debt. It is the first mainland-Chinese company in history to default, and it is also the best known Chinese company in the world. It is thought that China will find a way to keep the company alive — or at least looking as if its alive — but its fall is spreading terror through the solar “industry.” Continue reading

“Canaries in Coal Mines” Dying Fast: Evacuation Recommended

Warning: The conditions that killed this (parrot) canary are detrimental to your health, too. (Photo by Secret Tenerife/Flickr)

Warning: The conditions that killed this (parrot) canary are detrimental to your health, too. (Photo by Secret Tenerife/Flickr)

In case you missed the memo: when you are mining coal, and the canary in the cage you brought with you to the work face indicates the presence of deadly methane gas by dying, you are directed to get the hell out of the mine. The canary’s death gives you time to save yourself. Ignoring the canary’s death would be really stupid. Now, consider the number and variety of “canaries” that have been dying in such droves, in the past few weeks, as to command headline treatment here and there:
Continue reading

Wait, What? Congress Fixed Flood Insurance?

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

Superstorm Sandy did this to Fire Island, NY. Government flood insurance used to make it easy to do again. Not any more. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

What were we doing in July? Oh, right, Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced he had proof that President Obama’s birth certificate was a fake. And the FBI report on the Joe Paterno thing came out. And they discovered evidence of the Higgs Boson, aka the God Particle. Small wonder then, that Congress picked that month to pass a piece of legislation that actually made sense. How else could they protect their cherished, hard-won reputation  as a Congress that hasn’t done anything and isn’t ever going to do anything? Continue reading

Plainview, Texas: Dead Town Waking

Longhorn beef cattle made Texas, as the statue suggests, and are killing Plainview, Texas, where the statue is located. Whose fault is it? (Photo by Brykmantra/Flickr)

Longhorn beef cattle made Texas, as the statue suggests, and are killing Plainview, Texas, where the statue is located. Whose fault is it? (Photo by Brykmantra/Flickr)

An all-time favorite movie line (The Missouri Breaks), uttered by Jack Nicholson leaning over Marlon Brando, who is starting up from sleep: “Do you know why you woke up? I just cut your throat.” That is the way Plainview, Texas, woke up the other day to some bitter truths, and a shortened life. The food industry giant Cargill on February 1 closed the Plainview beef processing plant that employed 2,300 people, ten per cent of the town’s entire population, representing nearly half the town’s families. The exodus from Plainview (Jimmy Dean’s hometown) has begun, and the town will probably soon be a ghost. But who, exactly, cut its throat?

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Farmers Renounce Industrial Methods, Get World-Record Yields

This is how you set world records for growing rice in rural India -- no machines, no GM seeds, no chemicals. (Photo by yogendra174/Flickr)

This is how you set world records for growing rice in rural India — no machines, no GM seeds, no chemicals. (Photo by yogendra174/Flickr)

The grotesquely misnamed “Green Revolution” that since the 1960s has been replacing traditional farming around the world with genetically modified, mechanized, chemical-intensive, debt-ridden industrial agriculture has worked so well in India that a quarter of a million farmers there have committed suicide in 16 years. The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice calls it “the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history.” Now a group of small-plot farmers in Northeast India has rejected every tenet of modern industrial agriculture, and has stunned the world with unprecedented yields. Continue reading

Math Unmasks Oil and Gas Boom as Bubble

a natural gas well using hydraulic fracturing

In the midst of a natural gas “boom,” fracking rigs like this are fast becoming an endangered species. The reason? Mathematics.

There are three kinds of people in this world: the kind who understand mathematics, and the kind who don’t (Irony alert). You can find the latter buying lottery tickets, leaning over casino tables and conducting news conferences about the new American oil boom.  It has become conventional wisdom (oxymoron alert), an assertion not even worthy of discussion by Serious People, that the United States is, as an NPR program host said offhandedly the other day,  “on its way to energy independence.” Here’s what mathematics has to say about this titanic (metaphor alert) scam. Continue reading