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

Hot Air Power and Libya

This Aero L-39 Albatross once flew for Gadhafi's Libyan Air Foirce. The aircraft is long gone, thanks to western air power. Gadhafi isn't. Hmmm. (Photo by Tark Siala/Flickr)

[Editor’s Note: At first glance this would seem to be not our line of country, having little to do with food, water, pollution, energy or the like. On second thought, however, it has everything to do with the collapse of an imperial industrial power.]

Enthusiasm for war increases exponentially with distance from war, whether that distance be measured as time, space or knowledge. Similarly, the belief that war can be prosecuted rationally — “surgically” is a popular adverb these days — dies on contact with actual warfare. Yet somehow the US has been led for decades now by people who love war, seek every opportunity to launch it, and believe utterly that technology can do it surgically. Continue reading

Free the Food: A Tea Party Worth Having

WARNING: Buying this produce from the person who grew it could be extremely beneficial to your health, and illegal. (Photo by pmulloy2112/Flickr)

Here and there around the United States, groups of activists are taking their country back from a tyrannical government and declaring their independence in a critical area of their lives. It’s not the Tea Party, and it’s hardly an Arab Spring, but it could be significant if it takes hold. Three towns in New England and one city in California have acted to pry the government’s cold, dead hands off their food supply. The New England towns have passed what they call a “food freedom” ordinance; and San Francisco had decriminalized urban farming. Continue reading

Saudi Oil Dreaming: “We Have a Lot of Capacity”

With prices spiking and riots erupting, the Saudis say: Don't worry, be happy.

The three biggest lies current in the world today: 1) “The check is in the mail” (still a favorite, after all these years). 2) “Lower taxes for the rich means more jobs for the poor” (well into its fourth decade as a popular inversion of reality). And 3), the newest and in some ways the biggest; “Don’t worry, Saudi Arabia will increase oil production to keep prices from going too high, OR to compensate for the loss of Libya’s/Iraq’s/Egypt’s production, OR to reassure the re-election of American politicians if their name is Bush, OR whatever.” Continue reading

Meat Industry: Have MRSA on Us

How to lose at Russian Roulette: 1) point this undercooked burger at your mouth, and 2) bite. (Photo by Marshall Astor, Food Pornographer/Flickr)

If the study released yesterday had found that half of all the bottled water on store shelves was contaminated with infectious bacteria, America’s streets today would look like Egypt’s Tahrir Square just before Mubarak fled. And if the industry had responded by saying, “Hey, it’s perfectly safe if you boil it, what’s the problem?” make that Egypt after the Six-Day War. Yet what the study found was in two respects much worse than that, and it has thus far produced mostly yawns of protest. Continue reading

Quinoa and the Ugly American Consumer

A quinoa salad, the latest sneeze among boutique eaters who are mostly oblivious to the consequences of their enthusiasm. (Photo by Karen and Brad Emerson/Flickr)

The epigraph for the book The Ugly American, an account of the destruction wrought by American good intentions in Southeast Asia, is a quote from Graham Greene (in which the word “dumb” means incapable of speech, not stupid): “Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.” A new incarnation of the syndrome, the Ugly American Consumer, wanders the world bestowing money on its natives, presuming that he is bestowing blessings. Case in point: quinoa. Continue reading