Mississippi Rising: Act of God, or of the Corps?

A US Army Corps of Engineers map shows the area that will be flooded when the Morganza Spillway is opened, probably tomorrow.

Long before it faced Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Chinese Army in Korea, the North Vietnamese or Saddam Hussein, the US Army Corps of Engineers was at war with Mother Nature — that’s the way the Corps describes it in its publications. No battle has been more expensive, or consumed more of its energy, than its fight to control the Mississippi River. The system it has built to do this is a monument to the industrial mind-set, and a testament to the inevitable crash of industrial over-reach. Whether this is the week that this particular edifice will fall remains to be seen — and will be a very close thing. Continue reading

Natural Gas, or Drinkable Water? Choose One

In a scene from the Academy-Award nominated documentary GasLand, a Pennsylvania resident ignites the water flowing from his kitchen tap, a trick he could not perform before natural-gas fracking came to a field near his.

A new study published by the National Academy of Sciences belies industry assurances that they can retrieve natural gas by hydraulic fracturing without affecting adjacent water supplies. The report provides more evidence that what industry ads portray as a safe source of abundant energy via new technology may in fact be an unacceptable tradeoff between the fossil fuel we want and the water we need. Continue reading

Fire and Rain: While Some States Drown, Others Parch

While the Mississippi River rises in historic floods a few hundred miles to the east. extreme heat and drought continue to afflict Texas with wildfires that so far have seared a thousand square miles. And there's more to come. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

While the central and southern states are disappearing under floodwaters of historic immensity, a searing, lengthening drought is crisping the prospects of the American West and Southwest. Two recent major reports — one of them from the Department of the Interior — sounded strident alarm bells about the coming Big Thirst, while the loudest voices in Congress continue to decry climate change as a “hoax.” Continue reading

Industrial Agriculture says: Put Photographers in Jail

Pigs resting comfortably in a farm field after being transported according to industry standards. If you looked at this picture, you may have committed a crime (Big Ag may make the animal-porn legislation retrooactive). (Photo by CALM Action/Flickr)

Industrial agriculture is salivating over its latest Big Idea for preventing scrutiny of its brutalization of animals, mistreatment of employees, contamination of the food supply and emissions of pollution. The big idea: make it a crime to know about the practices. The industry-owned legislators of four states are promoting bills that would make it a crime to make, transmit, or even possess audio or video recordings of agricultural operations. Continue reading

Killing Waters in the Heartland

Farmer Fact of Life: You can't get seed into a field like this one in Iowa, and if you did it wouldn't come up. And most of the fields in 20 states look like this. (Photo by David Morris/Flickr)

While the nation largely ignores the developing, historic flood of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, it is totally oblivious to the rising threat of ordinary — well. perhaps not ordinary, but certainly less dramatic — rain to current and future harvests in the nation’s breadbasket. The fact that the Corn Belt is soaking wet, where it is not completely inundated, does not bode well for food prices, or for the food supply, in the US or the world. Continue reading

The Flood Last Time: Almost Apocalypse

Floodwaters (right) overflow the flank of the Old River Control Structure (left foreground) during the flood of 1973.

The Mississippi flood of 1973, which is about to be eclipsed in size and duration, came within a hair’s width of changing the history of America by changing the course of the lower Mississippi River. To understand the threat posed by the gathering flood of 2011, we need to know what happened, and what almost happened, nearly 40 years ago at the Old River Control Structure.  Continue reading

Hedge Fund Guy Says Brace for Impact: Believe it Now?

There is more than one way to figure out the future. As this chart clearly shows.....

Jeremy Grantham is the chief investment strategist for the Boston firm GMO, one of the world’s largest asset management companies ($107 billion in the portfolio at the end of last year). The title of his current newsletter to investors is “Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices are Over Forever.” In other words: Brace for Impact. (Okay, he is not saying that the crash of the industrial world has begun, but he is saying, and backing his opinion with the kind of data analysis that made him a gazillionaire, that the main benefits of industrialization — plenty of cheap stuff — are gone.) Continue reading

Are You Fracking (and) Kidding Me?

That's a natural gas fracking well. You'd be well advised not to drink the water. (Photo by Daniel Foster/Flickr)

Pennsylvania’s largest practitioner of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, Chesapeake Energy, has suspended operations in the state — not because of any government action, but voluntarily, after a string of violations, accidents and blowouts. In the most recent and one of the most serious, Chesapeake lost control of a well for more than 12 hours after a blowout on April 20. Thousands of gallons of toxic drilling fluids spilled onto farm fields and into streams, and seven families were subjected to sudden, middle-of-the-night evacuations. Continue reading

Mississippi Rising: Update

The Mississippi out of its banks in 2008, in what will seem in retrospect a minor event in comparison with the great flood coming. (Photo by Kevin Dooley/Flickr)

A surge of water greater than anything seen in nearly a hundred years is gathering in the upper Mississippi River today. It is moving slow, and will work its will on the river states during most of the month of May. If, as forecast, it crests at 53.5 feet (the height of a six-story building) above normal at Vicksburg on May 18, it will be the greatest flood seen on that river since 1927. Because it is moving slowly, its high waters will linger in some places for eight days. Continue reading

Mississippi Rising: Apocalypse Now?

 

The little known Old River Control Structures (bottom center), a frail line of defense between the raging Mississippi River (top) and a total dislocation of the US economy, by way of the Atchafalaya River (bottom).

The Mississippi River, its tributaries swollen by snowmelt and stormwater, is rising toward a flood level that could equal or exceed anything in its recorded history. The threat to Cairo, Illinois — just above the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers — is so grave that the US Army Corps of Engineers is about to blow up a levee just downstream at Bird’s Point, Missouri, to relieve the flooding in Cairo by deliberately inundating 140,000 acres of farms and towns. The emotional controversy that has arisen over this move obscures a real and rising threat to the economy of the United States. Continue reading