Saturday, April 22, 2006

Happy Earth Day!

"This order [i.e. capitalism] is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with the economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt."
—Max Weber, 1905
In case you missed it, Saturday, April 22nd is the 36th Annual Earth Day and boy do we have problems. For this we'll need a list (with a little help from the book Powerdown by Richard Heinberg):

1. Resource depletion, notably oil and natural gas. Oil went up to $75/barrel on Friday and some gas stations on the east coast ran out of gas (something about MTBE). The price of gas has "unexpectedly" risen in the past ten days and the media seem clueless as to why. Howard's Prediction: Gas will soon go over $3/gallon to stay when the travel season picks up in May, and within a year these will seem like the good old days. But in addition to oil and natural gas depletion, we're also facing depletion of fresh water resources, wild oceanic fish stocks, phosphates (used for agriculture), and topsoil loss.

2. Continued population growth. In 1998, the world's population was six billion, and in eight years since we have added 500 million more -- equal to the population of North America. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, which made the case that world food production couldn't keep up with population growth, which would lead to massive die off. At that time there were 3.5 billion people on the planet. However, food production grew tremendously, fed by enormous inputs of oil (mechanical efficiencies) and natural gas (fertilizers). The day of reckoning was deferred. Which leads us to...

3. Declining per-capita food production. For nearly the entire 20th century, food production outpaced population growth. However, world grain harvests for the past seven years show that the trajectory of per-capita grain production has leveled off and may be beginning to fall, probably due to loss of arable land due to urbanization, fresh water shortages, and increasingly bad weather. As prices of oil and natural gas increase in coming months and years due to increasing demand exceeding production and supplies, food production will begin to fall. In nature, when a habitat's food supply grows, animal populations grow. When the food supply dwindles, populations dwindle as well. Are humans immune from nature's laws? We'll soon find out.

4. Global climate change. Civilization will surely suffer due to less favorable, less stable, and less predictable weather patterns. Melting Greenland glaciers are raising sea levels, and may soon inundate coastal cities, particularly Bangladesh where millions would be left homeless. Also computer modeling suggests that glacier melting could soon halt the Gulf Stream which tempers weather and fish production for the northern Atlantic and Europe. Ironically scientists are predicting that global warming could thrust Europe and much of North America into a new ice age. A new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, will be released in theaters in May featuring Al Gore telling us all the things about global warming that Al Gore has been saying for decades. I sense the beginning of a re-election campaign. As well as great gnashing of conservative teeth as Al Gore is proven right all along.

5. Unsustainable levels of US debt, a potential dollar collapse, and the bursting of the real estate bubble. The current level of American debt--internal and external--is unprecedented and unsustainable, and US Treasury officials have made efforts since 2003 to gently lower the value of the dollar in relation to other currencies. However, if the dollar is devalued too much, other nations (including China and Japan) may decide to cease investing their savings in American stocks and Treasury securites, triggering a dollar collapse. Additionally, real estate prices have escalated so much since the late 80's--the time of the last real estate price "correction"--that many economists and real estate experts are telling us we've begun another bubble busting. When prices tumble, millions of Americans newly upside-down on their mortgages and second mortgages and debt-consolidation loans and credit card debts, will be financially devastated.

6. International political instability. Iraq is already in a low-grade civil war, but the real tripod of vulnurable nations include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Attacks on oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia and the threat of invasion in Iran loom on the horizon which would guarantee worldwide oil market panics, threaten Israel, and increase the likelihood that any or all of the tripod nations would collapse into anarchy, vicious ethnic cleansing, and micro-nuclear weapons use.

7. Natural and man-made catastrophes on an unprecedented scale. The San Andreas fault zone and New Madrid seizmic zone are overdue to devastate, respectively, portions of the California coast and the central Mississippi valley north of Memphis, extending over five states. Damage from such earthquakes could eclipse that experienced by Hurricane Katrina. FEMA would be helpless and impotent. Again. And speaking of hurricanes, it is theorized that global warming will spawn ever larger and more devastating hurricanes. The threat of terrorist attacks on American targets using much deadlier weapons than jet airliners grows. Comets and asteroids flit about the solar system, occasionally plunging to earth and if large enough, potentially striking with enough force to cause global extinctions. For example, the Bible Codes as cooked up by Hebrew mystics based on analysis from ancient Torah texts state that such a devastating comet will strike the earth in 2012, which is also the last year of the Mayan calendar -- December 21st, 2012 in particular. Not much we can do about that, I suppose. But perhaps everything else I list might be preventable or tempered.

Wow. Sucks to be us, huh?

If you believe any of this (and I think you should believe some of it), what to do, what to do? [coming in another post soon]

Happy Earth Day!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait for your next post.


8:46 AM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Saurabh Barve said...

Yes, it is a sign on The End Times, isn't it? Get ready for The Rapture (TM). You ask what are we to do? Repent, man, repent. Amen.

11:47 AM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Mr. Barve,

Good luck with that. I had other more practical strategies in mind. Coming soon...

6:00 PM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Saurabh Barve said...

Well, on a more serious note, as far as the phenomenon of global warming affecting hurricane frequency/intensity, most of it is unsubstantiated. There just isn't enough (and reliable) data to prove that global warming is a major contributing factor for the horrifying hurricane season.

As far as the food shortages go, I think reduced production is not the only reason. For example, 30% of India's vegetable and fruit produce rots at the point of manufacture due to bad/inadequate storage and transportation. Improvement in the infrastructure that we'll be able to feed more with the same level of production. Plus, not all countries in the world have the same efficient and mechanized food production facilities that the US does.I think that if all Indian farmers had access to the most modern irrigation and harvesting factilities, there's still a lot of untapped potential there. Maybe US can pressure Monsanto to lay off the backs of Indian farmers, then we can produce bigger better grain. It might create a trade imbalance, but I think we'd prefer that to Armageddon (or not).

Plus, someone told me that the US had been able to increase grain production at the same time that it decreased actual harvested land. So, there's still a potential for increase there.

As for the unsustainable level of US debt, I guess that's an issue for the US. I'm not an economist, but I think that as long as other countries stay focused on the basic industries of production, only the currency of trade may change.

As far as the international instability goes, I think it just depends on how crazy the heads of states get. Unless someone makes the decision to go nuclear, it will only be low-grade warfare that will not result in worldwide annihilation.

Limited fossil fuels are a big concern, but I don't think anybody's going to reduce consumption anytime soon. There are millions of people in India and China who want to buy that new car. And no matter how much everybody else complains, they want their share of fuel.

Even then HR, your vision is way too gloomy for me. Interested to know what your strategies are though.

7:25 PM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Mr. Barve,

Lotta good points you make.

My friends in the Atmospheric Trades do indeed tell me that as oceans warm, hurricanes increase in intensity since heat and resulting moisture feed the beasties. You are right to state that it is not known whether the frequency of hurricanes has a relationship to Global Warming, but I only mentioned "larger and more devastating hurricanes," which computer modelling does demonstrate.

As for food storage and distribution inefficiencies, I can recall back in the mid-70's when I was on my high school debate team arguing the merits and possibilities of saving the world from impending famine by storing and shipping food better to prevent waste and mouse infestations. The percentages of wasted food was impressive then too. I'm sure that there are dozens of good reasons why the near-doubling of the world's population DID NOT result in The Great Die-Off as predicted by the experts of my day. But the point I made was that per capita world food production has been carefully measured, graphed, and analyzed since forever, and the stats experts (hopefully not the same experts as in the 70's) tell us that per capita world food production is now in decline, despite all our 21st-century efforts and research.

As for the US debt and the US dollar, this issue concerns itself with the cost of money. Treasury bill rates and home mortgage loan rates are incestuously intertwined. As an architect, I must be concerned about the real estate industry. As a nation of homeowners, the US should be too. The real estate bubble that we read about is built on easy and cheap credit. The whole North American economy is built on real estate wealth and the energy industries. Change any part of that and life gets hard for tens of millions of Americans. And a few architects.

While you didn't mention it, I personally have no problem with exporting jobs overseas. Everyone needs goods, everyone needs wages, everyone needs food, clothing, and shelter. Don't get me started about Americans and their precious American Rights -- there are only Human Rights. To say otherwise is to invite torture, war, and genocide into ones heart. However, not everyone needs a car. Wants a car? Okay. But America built its own addictive dependancy on oil and the automobile that will ultimate cripple itself, most likely critically. If a billion Indians and another billion Chinese want to emulate that fatal flaw -- and perhaps exacerbate the oil crisis as well -- then jump on in, boys and girls, the quicksand is fine! The more the merrier!

Finally, all this gloom and doom is not my "vision". I just Googled "Peak Oil" about a year ago and read everything I could find ever since, applying my own critical judgment where helpful. Either a worldwide Peak Oil crisis happens to all of us within the next two or three years or it happens within the next four or five years. I'm personally thinking it's already started. But, whatever, it will happen. I can't be responsible if your reaction is one of emotional gloom. That's entirely up to you. I share it, of course.

11:06 PM, April 23, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

By the way, Mr. Barve, my picture is prettier than yours. But only a little bit.

11:10 PM, April 23, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

When ones own words fail, use the words of smarter people:

Hurricanes Due to Global Warming

"The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," said Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Holland told a packed hall at the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw."

11:03 PM, April 25, 2006  

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