Don’t Like Global Warming? How About Global Rioting?

You thought the unrest in Ukraine was all about Russia? Or the West? Try food. (Photo by Yaruslov Kharandiuk/Flickr)

You thought the unrest in Ukraine was all about Russia? Or the West? Try food. (Photo by Yaruslov Kharandiuk/Flickr)

The boiling point of a country is 210; not degrees on a thermometer, but points on a scale of food prices devised by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Reach that mark, and your population, on the brink of starving, will be in the streets kicking ass and taking heads. Pundits natter on about masses yearning to be free, loving democracy, spurning Islam, suddenly intolerant of dictators they were fine with for decades. In reality, the flame that lit the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War and the Crisis in Ukraine was a food price index of 210; and the same torch is spreading the flames around the world. The outbreak, according to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed (a security expert and writer for the Guardian of London), is a tsunami of civil unrest  “on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone [February] has seen riots kick-off in Venezuela, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland, and Thailand.” Continue reading

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again: Recession Redux

This was then, but retail stores are right now closing at a rate not seen since then. Just one of many signs that the recovery is not recovering. (Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

This was then (2009), but retail stores are right now closing at a rate not seen since then. Just one of many signs that the recovery is not recovering. (Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

Would it not be a hoot if we who expect the crash of industrial civilization, while we are staring intently at the usual suspects (peak oil, climate change, food shortages, grid failure, the San Andreas Fault) and waiting for one of them to start the avalanche, get sucker-punched by the Masters of the Universe? Would it not be excruciatingly funny if the very same people who almost burned the world alive in the first decade of this century managed not only to escape repercussions but to incinerate it in the second? The dial is moving from possible to likely as the ethically challenged whiz kids of Wall Street continue to play, unsupervised by adults, with the same matches in the same gasoline-soaked structure. Here’s what they’re doing, compared with what they did. Continue reading

US Officials Blow Up Oil-Boom Myth

Go ahead and drill some more. The oil, says the IEA, is simply not there.

Go ahead and drill some more. The oil, says the IEA, is simply not there.

The story broke last night. 9 pm. By now every mass media website should have it as the lede and every cable channel should be wall-to-wall with it. Why? Because it is a mortal blow to the five-year myth that America is in the midst of an oil-and-gas revolution that will return us to world supremacy, make us an exporter again, and bring us closer to energy independence.

Of course, some of us knew that these were all lies, all the time. But gullible people, especially gullible investors (who were the targets of the hype) bought the bogus claims. Chief among these — the biggest, most persuasive lie — was that the Monterey Shale in central California held a vast treasure in oil reserves, Continue reading

Too Big to Pay: WV Coal Industry Flouts Law, Miners Die

Modern coal miners go to work knowing that their employers have afforded them the best equipment (note flaming lamps, otherwise known as methane detectors), the safest materials (note shattered beam) and all the medical care they can get from their fellow miners. (Photo by Janet Lindemuth/Flickr)

Modern coal miners go to work knowing that their employers have afforded them the best equipment (note flaming lamps, otherwise known as methane detectors), the safest materials (note shattered beam) and all the medical care they can get from their fellow miners. The photo is circa 1914. Close enough. (Photo by Janet Lindemuth/Flickr)

You have to hand it to West Virginia. [Irony alert] Some states might well lie down for an industry as big as Big Coal, might refuse to regulate them in order to keep that lush stream of money coming (no, silly, not the trickle of severance taxes to the state, the fire-hose of campaign contributions to the candidates).  And that might have been the case in West Virginia prior to 2010, the year 29 men died in an explosion in a mine that was being operated, the subsequent investigation found, in a “profoundly reckless manner.” Well, West Virginia had had enough, and to make sure such sacrifice to unmitigated greed would never happen again, it [end-of-irony alert] did absolutely nothing.

President Obama, however, had had enough. He ordered a sweeping review of mine safety regulations and a crackdown on those who regularly flouted them. Continue reading

West Coast Marine Ecosystem May Be Crashing

Now you see them, now you don't. And when you don't see sardines, the whole web of ocean life falters. (Photo by Juuyoh Tanaka/Flickr)

Now you see them, now you don’t. And when you don’t see sardines, the whole web of ocean life falters. (Photo by Juuyoh Tanaka/Flickr)

This is not a drill. A profound crash in the web of marine life in West Coast waters is under way, and may have gone on for two years already. Current observations that are setting biologists’ hair on fire include:

  • the sardine population from California to Canada is vanishing — the worst crash in generations;
  • starving sea lion and seal pups are washing up on California beaches in unprecedented numbers for the second straight year;
  • brown pelicans in the same area are showing signs of starvation and have not raised any chicks for four years;
  • a massive bloom of toxic algae in Monterey Bay is poisoning sea lions, fish and shellfish, and poses a threat to human health.

Continue reading

The End of (Environmental) History

Of course it's empty. Forbes says there's nothing more to learn.

Of course it’s empty. Forbes says there’s nothing more to learn.

Forbes Magazine, assisted by the Heritage Foundation, has declared an end to the environmental movement; not for the reason you might expect Forbes to embrace, but because, and I quote, “we are all environmentalists now.” Likewise it has declared an end to worry about the effects of climate change, because, and again I quote, “many people see global warming as a problem for the future, not the present.” (This is optimism of the same stripe as the man who, having fallen 50 floors from the roof of a 60-story skyscraper, says to himself “Well, nothing bad has happened yet.”)

The motivation for this amazing piece of op-ed propaganda is perfectly clear. Forbes exists to pander to gazillionaires who made or inherited their money from enormous industrial enterprises. The Heritage Foundation exists to help ultra-conservatives spray their political emissions with a gloss of academic respectability. As we shall see, the shine does nothing to improve the smell. Continue reading

Peak Medicine. It’s Here, Too

If global warming doesn’t get us, global sickening might; microbes like these are shrugging off modern medicine’s tools to control them. (Photo by Carlos de Paz/Flickr)

If global warming doesn’t get us, global sickening might; microbes like these are shrugging off modern medicine’s tools to control them. (Photo by Carlos de Paz/Flickr)

According to the World Health Organization, the planet is about to enter a post-antibiotic age in which minor infections kill us because the tools of modern medicine, which have been effective for a century and more, no longer work. The organization’s first global survey of drug-resistant disease found that in addition to antibiotic resistance by infectious bacteria — now well established everywhere in the world — resistance by viruses such as HIV, parasites including malaria and fungi is also spreading fast. All in all, says WHO, it is “a major threat to public health” whose “implications will be devastating.”

The report focused on antibiotic resistance among seven bacteria responsible for some of the most common serious infections. Its major findings: Continue reading

Peak Food. It’s Here.

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans -- food shopping -- is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans — food shopping — is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

High food prices — which have been destabilizing (and in some cases, vaporizing) governments around the world — are coming belatedly to America. The prices of beef, pork, shrimp, eggs, dairy products and produce are all reaching record highs right now. Overall food prices are up almost 20% this year. The reasons appear at first glance to be varied, but in almost every case the root cause turns out to be either climate change or the practices of industrial agriculture. Indications are that there is no relief in sight. In fact the days of cheap and plentiful food, like the days of cheap and plentiful oil, may well be over for good. Continue reading

Democratic America is Dead. Say Hello, Oligarchy.

Dollar FlagMany years ago a friend of mine, a long-haul truck driver, was in a terrible accident. He almost died, and when he recovered it was with severe, permanent physical and neurological damage. A year or so after he came home from the hospital his wife told me that she was living with a stranger, whose dark moods, frequent eruptions of anger — even his manner of thinking and speaking — were foreign to her. She still loved him, she supposed, although more and more it seemed to her that she loved the man he had been, not the man he became after the accident. She wondered about her duty to the man he had become.

Many of us feel that way about our country. We loved it once, without reservation. But that was before the accident. Continue reading

States Moving to Penalize Home Solar Installations

Freeloaders live here. According to ALEC, they must be punished. (Photo by John Hritz/Flickr)

Freeloaders live here. According to ALEC, they must be punished. (Photo by John Hritz/Flickr)

Oklahoma’s legislature has now followed Arizona’s  in authorizing a penalty to be charged people who install small solar arrays or wind turbines and connect them to the grid. This is happening as a result of a campaign by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed group (backed heavily by the Koch Brothers, among others) that writes and distributes “model” legislation for state governments. This is the equivalent of the crew of the Titanic systematically smashing holes in lifeboats to make sure everybody does their best to save the ship. It is utterly wrong-headed, but its unintended consequences could be quite good. Continue reading