Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Peak everything: controlled descent or free fall?

Its not just oil we are running out of. Lotta links here 'cause I did my homework. Now its your turn. There has been an uptick in news about grain shortages this week. Its the tip of the proverbial ice berg and some of us have watched that shortage drifting into the shipping lanes of the global economy for quite some time.

Reading informed and smart conservatives does not require believing all they say. Hutchinson writes in the "Prudent Bear" financial column and he can see a broken Federal Reserve system a mile away. But Hutchinson lays all blame for grain price increases to tariffs and export restrictions which is a dumbly narrow pro-business view. Many others say transport, borrowing costs, fuel scarcity, global warming and plain old population explosion are all factors to consider...and I don't doubt more than one factor is at work in this misery for the subsistence level grain consumers of the planet. The facts are plain enough: staple grain prices have doubled or worse in about a years time. You and I are weathering our $3.20/gallon gasoline with some strain but what administration could long stand if something you needed as much as food and which cost up to half of the average voter's monthly salary doubled in a years time? Nothing will withstand that sort of political pressure. Voting itself would likely be put on hold. I remind Americans that they live in a country blessed with agricultural productivity but that alone does not explain costs which are much lower than other developed countries pay for basic commodities like should really be asking "where is the rest of the money coming from or when will the hidden strains snap and the full costs come due?" You think you live in a isolated and protected place? You think, for instance, it is insignificant to you that the graineries are near empty in the Philippines? Bear Stearns is not the only thing being bailed out by your tax dollar and your government's debt.

Of all the causes indicted by Krugman, the war in Iraq is the one about which we should most be outraged. And unlike dwindling oil stocks being sucked up by the Chinese, the war is something we can fix by merely voting intelligently this November. We should DO something before starvation and riots consume half the planet.

Is that overly pessimistic talk? Is the situation that dire? I don' t really know because I live a comfortable upper middle class life in a well watered suburb of Boston and haven't time to dig up all the news the MSM can't be bothered to tell me about boring places like Sudan, Bangladesh and such. But I do know it is not some fresh alarmist invention. I have heard these shortages predicted by scientists for years now,[IPCC 2001] not by politicians of any stripe. It may be that the difference between a liberal and a conservative is not that one is more apt to sense threats to their security than another but that one senses threats when the security of all is at risk while the other is only worried about personally getting hurt by a bad guy. In our own country, starvation will be among the very last symptoms even if only for the benefit of farm subsidies.

Even dumb 'ol Time magazine was calling this problem in August of 2007.

Unlike the treatment Bushdom gives NASA scientist James Hansen, in some countries scientists are not funded by the government as if global warming were a hoax... so they have been at work fashioning grains that can grow in a parched world . But that is not going to bear crops soon enough.

Global warming will hurt grain yield both by too little water and by too much.

Note the dates on these links...none of this grain problem was sudden or unforeseeable...our leaders just have their heads up their asses what with optional wars, elections, house-of-credit-cards economic crises in ill-regulated markets, people to be tortured, people to be spied upon, Justice Department attorneys to be fired for their political affiliation and oh so many other matters far more important than third world famine in a flattened world.

UPDATE: via Raw Story, this very timely [for my post, not for solving any problems] report from the Guardian in the UK.
UPDATE 2[24 April]: Wow, it didn't take long for that problem to come ashore!


cul said...

The chaos in the order, by which we christen ourselves owners of purpose and will, soon enough bear full bloom chastening and fat purple death to feed the fallen pit until balance is restored comes. Right now the gnashing is mild...just wait.

I vote free fall.

GreenSmile said...

With one hand pushing a BigMac into our maw, one hand pressing a cell phone to our ear, we have backed at full speed into the pit.

I too vote free fall. and like the melting of the arctic ice, its coming on faster than those poor cassandras in lab coats had predicted.