China Hosts Development Celebration. No, Really.

China_Steel_Industries

This Chinese steel factory demonstrates what a boon it is to the Chinese people. And why it must be shut down while the Chinese people have visitors.

Remember when the Marlboro Men, the rugged, cowboy-looking actors hired to glamorize cigarettes, kept dying of lung cancer? Or imagine if they made the overweight Ron White (the Blue Collar Comedy guy) host a TV fitness program while swilling bourbon and puffing on a cigar. Now you have an idea how China feels this week, as it prepares to host the growth-mad Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation organization. It’s hard to glamorize something that’s actually killing you.

Instead of a celebration of unfettered development, a my-project-is-bigger-than-your-project bragfest, a sky-is-the-limit orgy of optimism, the attendees are going to be strangling on the effects of unfettered development and holding hands with a would-be Marlboro Man of countries who is, in reality, terminal. Most people die when they can no longer breathe; in China, you’re in danger if you do breathe. The air is that bad. Continue reading

Peak Bullets: the Weirdest Shortage of them All

(Photo by Mojave Desert/Flickr)

Once, this is what you bought for a buck to deal with rats. Now it’s a priceless commodity? (Photo by Mojave Desert/Flickr)

During the past six years or so, I have had occasion from time to time to go into a WalMart, or a Gander Mountain store, or  some other sporting goods establishment, wherein I have asked the question: “Do you have any .22 caliber ammunition?” On every occasion, the answer has been “No.” Each time I asked, “When are you going to get some in?” and was told, “Don’t know.” If I went even further and asked, “When was the last time you had some in stock?’ the answer was along the lines of, “Three months ago, on a Monday morning, for about 15 minutes.” I thought it was odd, the first few times it happened. Then I found out the same thing was happening all across the country. And was going on for year after year, and that weirded me out. Continue reading

Global Warming Problem Solved

Yes we can keep our environment cool and pristine. The medicine, however, is a little strong. (Photo by Mohri United Nations University)

Yes we can keep our environment cool and pristine. The medicine, however, is a little strong. (Photo by Mohri United Nations University)

The paper was published in 2009, and those who have not ignored it since, have ridiculed it. (Sort of like Darwin’s theories, or plate tectonics, or Hubbert’s view of peaking oil.) Odd, because in a way it confirmed the fervent hope of millions that technology, which has sickened the world with its pollution — never forget, please, that climate change is a pollution problem — would restore our health with a magic pill we could take, and wake up to find the problem gone. The paper, by Tim Garrett of the University of Utah, applied the laws of physics to the cumulative behavior of human civilization, and thus discovered the magic pill. Unfortunately, it was cyanide.

But let’s focus on the good news. Continue reading

2014: The Last Good Year

For what we are about to lose, Dear Lord, we thank You. (Photo by Terren in Virginia/Flickr)

For what we are about to lose, Dear Lord, we thank You. (Photo by Terren in Virginia/Flickr)

Thanksgiving is coming, and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and New Year’s, and we should make the best of them. These are the good old days, and we should celebrate them well, because we are probably not going to see their like again. Gas is cheaper than it was, and we should go to see the relatives this year, because next year will be different. Food is a little more expensive than it was, yet we should eat hearty nevertheless, because next year will be different. We still have plenty of water (if we don’t live in California, or Brazil, or North Africa, or any of a multitude of other places being seared by implacable drought) but, because of changing climate and advancing pollution, next year could be different. The lights are still on, but the aging grid is creaking and groaning with the effort of meeting our burgeoning demand, and next year could well be different. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet. Continue reading

Insurance Companies On Climate Change: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Great, you lived through Hurricane Sandy, now just call your insurance company. What do you mean, it’s an unlisted number? (Photo by Wavlan/Flickr)

Great, you lived through Hurricane Sandy, now just call your insurance company. What do you mean, it’s an unlisted number? (Photo by Wavlan/Flickr)

Property-insurance companies are just like politicians in that they don’t want to talk about climate change, because if they did they would be expected to explain what they are doing about it, and they aren’t doing anything about it. Unlike politicians, who seem to be getting away with pretending ignorance, insurance companies are being presented with ever more claims, that are ever more expensive, for more and more losses. To stay in business, they are finding, they have to not only appear to be doing something, which is all we ask of politicians, they are going to have to actually stop the hemorrhaging. Tricky, when you can’t admit the patient has been injured.

In the best traditions of American Free Enterprise, the insurance companies are striding forward into the far distance, girding to protect their policyholders against any risk except those which actually exist. These are some of their favorite methods: Continue reading

Epidemic: Countries Falling Ill from Oil Anemia

Oil: we can afford to buy it now, but they really can't afford to sell it to us.

Oil: we can afford to buy it now, but they really can’t afford to sell it to us.

An epidemic of oil anemia is spreading around the world with the speed of an airborne virus, leaving scores of countries gasping for breath as their financial arteries shrivel for lack of cash. The price of oil has dropped to about $80 a barrel from $100 just a few weeks ago. And just as oil burning countries begin to shrivel when they have to pay more than $100, oil producing countries start to suffocate on anything less. The sickest examples: Continue reading

Bulls Running: Frackers Getting Trampled

It's bulls v. bears on Wall Street, and the collateral damage is substantial.

It’s bulls v. bears on Wall Street, and the collateral damage is substantial.

Overtaken by arithmetic and logic, the Wall Street bulls are trying to find a place to hide their money, and while they don’t agree on where to put it, they are beginning to agree that it definitely should not be in the fracking patch. The stock of fracking operators has been in bear country for weeks now as the strain of trying to pretend everything is all right gets worse by the hour.

A Ponzi scheme requires the operator to get new suckers in the door fast enough to use their money to pay off the old suckers, so they don’t blow the whistle on the  con. Continue reading

Twin Peaks: Stock-Market Fear, Oil Panic

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, turn your screen upside down.

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, read from right to left.

Gasoline is below three dollars a gallon and the stock market is at an all-time high. Well, yes, that was last week but still. What could be wrong with this picture? Like a face that has had way too many plastic surgeries, this one is stretched a little thin, with eyes bugged out and droplets of sweat all over it. The market, which all concerned promised would go up and up and never come down (Does anybody remember them saying the same thing about real estate? Anybody?) has lost 7% of its value in a week and, yesterday at least, could not pull out of the nose dive. A 10 percent drop is a correction. Twenty percent is a crash. And the low gas prices are being celebrated by everyone but the frackers who brought them to us. For them, low oil prices mean almost-immediate ruin. Continue reading

Letting Go of the Tar (Sands) Baby

A tar sands mine and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The recipe is simple: scrape the skin off the earth, boil what you find, wash the residue, dilute it with explosive fluids and send it 3,000 miles to where someone can make an inferior product with it. For some reason, the business model isn’t working. (Wikipedia Photo)

A tar sands mine and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The recipe is simple: scrape the skin off the earth, boil what you find, wash the residue, dilute it with explosive fluids and send it 3,000 miles to where someone can make an inferior product with it. For some reason, the business model isn’t working. (Wikipedia Photo)

Just as is the case in the American tight (shale) oil plays, things in the Canadian tar sands are breaking down fast, and for the same reason: wringing the last few barrels of oil out of the earth is proving to be far more expensive than hoped. Two weeks ago the Norwegian energy giant Statoil postponed for at least three years building a new tar sands project designed to pump 40,000 barrels a day; earlier this year Total SA of France, the fifth-largest oil company in the world, suspended operations at its $10 billion oil sands mine while it tries to figure out a way to make a profit; and Shell announced in February indefinite suspension of work on a prospective 200,000-barrel-a-day mine. (The same Shell that has been quietly folding its 13-billion-dollar hand in the US shale-oil bonanza and tiptoeing from the building? Yes, the very same.) Continue reading

California: Desperation Rising as Water Runs Out

Gravity sensing satellites have measured the withdrawal of water from the aquifer underlying California's Central Valley. It's almost over. (NASA images)

Gravity sensing satellites have measured the withdrawal of water from the aquifer underlying California’s Central Valley. It’s almost over. (NASA images)

In more than 500 households in Tulare County, California, over a thousand people have been without running water for months. The reason you have not heard much about them is that they are poor working immigrants who labor in the Central Valley’s pastures of plenty to give us this day our daily lettuce and cilantro. They are homeowners whose homes are now worthless, dreamers of the American Dream who are now forced to buy bottled water to drink, to shower from coffee cans and flush with buckets filled at community tanks (with water from wells in imminent danger of going dry). Children are being kept home from school because they are too dirty. Proud cooks are feeding their families from cans. One resident told the New York Times (in a rare example of industrial media paying attention) “It’s a slow-moving disaster that nobody knows how to handle.” Continue reading