Flood Insurance Follies

Darn. Wiped out. Let’s do it all over again and expect a different result. There’s a government subsidy for that. photo by Pam Andrade/Flickr

Imagine an insurance program that lost so much money in private hands that the government had to take it over, that the government forces people to buy (Really? Is that constitutional?) and that is $19 billion in debt with no hope of ever achieving solvency. If that sounds like the worst of socialist tendencies in the hands of big government, it is. Odd that it is not an issue in the campaign for the presidency, like Obamacare is. But wait. Health insurance benefits the sick and the poor. Flood insurance, on the other hand, restores vacation homes.

Continue reading

Superstorm Sandy: Tasting Apocalypse Now

Lower Manhattan, lights out (except for that one building) watches Sandy approach and Braces for Impact. photo by Stefan Leijon/Flickr

Sandy has done us a great favor by giving us a preview of our new normal — a future in which storms assume the size of continents, “waterfront home” becomes an oxymoron and life — even the lives of the rich and famous — becomes much more tenuous.

Here’s what should happen now. First, there should be a national day of thanks for the climate scientists who braved our scorn and disbelief to insist we look at the reality and realize that superstorms like Sandy were going to be frequent from now on. Sandy has shown us in terms not up for argument, nor adjustable by one belief system or another, that those men and women of science were not Chicken-Little Climate Hawks,  they were American Eagles, harbingers of a bitter future we are bringing on ourselves. But wait there’s more. Continue reading

Choosing a New Captain for the Titanic

Never mind the iceberg. Should we steer mostly to the left, or to the right?

The Titanic has struck the iceberg and is down at the bow, so we passengers are conducting a feverish election to select a new captain. There are two evenly matched candidates, the incumbent captain, who wears a blue uniform, and the challenger who wears a red one. In the campaign thus far, neither has mentioned the fact that the ship is sinking. The closest they have come to bringing it up is when the challenger avows that he does not believe in icebergs, and the incumbent points out that he was not on the bridge when the collision occurred.

Continue reading

Sunday School: What TV Taught Me on the Sabbath

Pretty much the only experiences we share as a nation come to us via television. But what is it, exactly, that we’re sharing in the commercial breaks?

In the olden times, when the world was young, we would gather around fires and listen to the elders tell us about how the world was made, and how the people came to be the way they are. It was a way of teaching the children, and reminding the grownups, how to live in the world, and how to be one of the people. Later, when we had churches and town halls, we would go there to talk about what was happening, and how it had come to be that way, and what we should do. Now, there is only one place where the people learn what is happening to them and what the elders think of it. Television. Especially Sunday morning television. Continue reading

Report: US Fisheries Crashing

We live in a country in which every household has two TV sets, most of them receiving hundreds of channels, and two cell phones, many of them “smart.” One of every two households has a computer connected to the Internet. This country is currently in the middle of a hotly contested presidential election. And yet among the things that have almost completely escaped public attention is this: last week the US government declared fisheries disasters on four coasts.
Continue reading

Fossil Fools Ignore Arithmetic

These oil wells were thick as fleas along the Texas coast in 1978, when America was awash in oil. But production has been declining since 1970, and simple-minded hype will not change that. (Photo by Roger Wollstad (Roger4336)/Flickr)

If you don’t believe in arithmetic — if your political or religious tenets require you to deny that 2 + 2 always equals 4 — then by all means stop right here and go read something by Glenn Beck. For the remaining minority, then, of people clinging to outmoded faiths in things like gravity and mathematical truth, here’s the headline: we are running short of oil. There is no renaissance, no triumph of technology, no sudden reversal of the rules of the universe. And it is still true that running short is almost as bad as running out. Continue reading

Virginia: The State of Denial, Sinking

The harbor at Norfolk Virginia

Norfolk, Virginia, on one of the world’s great harbors in the world’s largest estuary, has long prospered because of its proximity to the sea. That tide is changing. (US Navy photo)

The rising waters of climate change are lapping at the foundations of Virginia’s second-largest city, and are repeatedly rolling over one of its premier tourist attractions. Norfolk city officials and National Park Service managers on Assateague Island are trying desperately to deal with the rising threat. But they get no help or even encouragement from the state government, whose official position is that there is no such thing as climate change, therefore the sea cannot be rising. Continue reading

Romney’s Energy Plan: I Have a Dream

Oil pump jacks drawing oil from the Lost Hills Oil Field in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. Romney’s prescription: get more of them, and make them go faster. (Photo by Richard Masoner/Flickr)

From the folks who brought us Newt Gingrich’s promise to deliver $2-a-gallon gas if we just let him play president for a while — never mind how, just trust him — comes now from the grownup in the room, the actual candidate for president, an energy policy for the country that is equally grounded in realism. If we let him be president for a while, says Mitt Romney, he will deliver energy independence for America in seven years. Never mind how. All we have to do is trust him and the oil companies.
Continue reading

Corn Growers Suffer Quintuple Whammy

Drought-stressed corn, maybe also toxic, bug-bit and weed-plagued, in Kentucky last week. (Photo by CraneStation/Flickr)

The failure of industrial agriculture is on display everywhere in America’s “breadbasket” — now we should probably call it the ethanol basket,  or the high-fructose-corn-syrup basket — and the consequences are already spreading around the world. You thought it was just a drought? It would be bad enough of that’s all it was, but it is much, much more. The count so far: Continue reading

Top Hedge Fund Guy Sees Worsening Global Food Crisis

Famine, as visualized by sculptor Rowan Gillespie on Custom House Quay in Dublin, Ireland. Famine is what hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham is really talking about in his latest investor letter. (Photo by William Murphy/Flickr)

The skipper of one of the larger hedge funds on the planet — $100 billion under management — has just laid out, again, in wonkish detail and with financial sophistication, the evidence that the industrialized world has fallen to its knees and is about to topple onto its face. He says, in short, Brace for Impact, and anyone who has  any interest in surviving the next couple of decades on Planet Earth would be well advised to read his report — and act accordingly. Continue reading