Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Life and Times of the Banana

Continuing on the recent food theme, we find this interesting history of the banana, and (of course!) the suggestion that the universal availability of this tropical fruit may soon come to an end. The history being somewhat less benign than you would think, encompassing as it does the exploitation and manipulation of Latin American peoples and their governments by US multinationals (think United Fruit) and the shameful and embarassing record of US meddling in the Western Hemisphere for its own ends. Another interesting factoid reveals that the variety of banana currently eaten (yet another instance of monoculture) was previously considered a less desirable one than that eaten by people in the past, but that variety succumbed to a fungus, and an ominous hint that our current banana consumption may be merely a small point in time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Monoculture of Food, Explained

Chaos has, over the past couple of years, begun to realize just how toxic the American diet actually is, and why. In brief, the vast overproduction (caused in part by subsidies to agribusiness) of corn, soy, and other grains has resulted in a monoculture of food, wherein the same substances are introduced into the ingredients of food items or as feed for industrially farmed animals (chickens are referred to as "crops," for example in the referenced article), such that there is in fact, little variety in the highly refined carbohydrate/inferior meat diet foisted upon the unsuspecting public. For more reading on this most important subject, we fly, figuratively, across the Pond to read this excerpt from an upcoming book (nice title for the article: "Our Diet of Destruction"). If it's a surprise to you that a tiny number of gargantuan corporations control most of the food production, you need to do a bit more reading...start with Michael Pollan.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why The Capitol Remains Ignorant

Checking in on a seemingly innocuous local story, we find good reasons why the truth about peak oil remains hidden in plain sight. Ostensibly about the now becoming widespread practice of US motorists close to the border obtaining their liquid fuel from the "other side," thereby taking advantage of the lower (somewhat subsidized) price of our southern neighbor, the article delves a little deeper and even interviews some semi-local experts to give some context (emphasis is Chaos'):

"But [Mexico's] proven oil reserves are shrinking, and it lacks refining capacity, particularly for low-sulfur diesel being phased in under the North American Free Trade Agreement. (This mysterious phrase enables the author to dance around the fact that Mexico oil production has peaked and is in rapid, irreversible decline.)

"So even while the nation still exports crude oil, it imports about 40 percent of its fuel"


"Pemex has been having difficulties. According to the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration, Mexico's net oil exports dropped from 1.7 million barrels a day in 2006 to 1.46 million per day in 2007. A 28-year graph of proven reserves shows a sharp downslide." (Yeah, a 13% yearly decline in productions of one's largest oil field tends to produce a few "difficulties." And again with the proven reserves language. Did the author pick that up from some expert or what? Keep tapdancing...)

Concluding with some nods to the impact of higher oil prices on the poorer citizens of Mexico, the article ends on a slightly confused note, i.e., was the point the cheap Mexican gas, so attractive to American motorists close to the border, the declining production (although this word appears nowhere in the piece), the impact (and potential riots) on the poor, or something else?

Well. Chaos has many thoughts for such an article, most strikingly that it somehow left out some rather important facts about Mexico, one of the top 5 sources of oil for the US. How an article concerning itself with this subject could somehow fail to mention Cantarell, one of the largest oil fields in the world and source of a majority of Mexico's oil production. The field has peaked and entered a rapid decline such that Mexico is on track to move from an oil exporter to an oil importer in the next five years. New discoveries may slow the decline but will not affect the end result. Be assured, readers, that these facts are not unknown, or obscure in any way; a few seconds of "googling" will call them up. In Chaos' humble opinion, when the one of the top ten oil producers peaks and begins a catastrophic decline, it should in fact be a front page headline for pretty much the entire nation. The fact that it is not, and further, that this muffling by the so-called media "watchdogs" continues, serves to reinforce Chaos' view that, for whatever reason, the facts will not be faced in the US until they are so blatantly obvious that they can no longer be ignored, even by the most somnolent of the public. Want more proof? Check out this ridiculously irresponsible opinion (by a "business columnist") as to why $200 oil just won't happen. Really. It just won't. Look for the Faux News "kill the messenger" fallacies, the Las Vegas-style gambling that apparently constitutes the current corporate culture, the ad hominem attacks, and (get ready) even a reference to the viability of shale oil. Yikes! This columnist's solution for the public? "At a minimum, we'll buy a more fuel-efficient car or even go the extra step and car pool!" (Chaos cannot help but be stunned at this person's energy illiteracy, but then again, it's quite obvious that most folk in the Empire are equally delusional).

Monday, June 09, 2008

Morons, Marching Firmly Back To The Future...

Yes, another jaw-dropping, coffee-spewing moment arrived recently, when Chaos beheld the account in the local fishwrap of the approval, without comment or discussion of any kind, for an additional $34 million, give or take, to continue the expansion of the local airport. Amazingly enough, this is only a tiny part of the story, and like many items in the media, the most important part comes at the end, wherein we find that the World Capitol of Ignorance's entire aviation plans through 2015 comes to $635 million devalued US dollars. Chaos by now is used to the persistent demonstration of aggressive stupidity on the part of the local population and their leaders, but in light of current events, easily discerned from reading a newspaper article or two, and an acceptance that we live on a finite planet, and oil use is going the way of the buffalo, this latest example is just too ridiculous for words. Chaos just has to wonder what in the world these so-called "leaders" are smoking, if they believe that air travel is just going to continue, along with endless growth of everything else. The mindless clinging to business as usual will make the eventual pain of realization worse. In the meantime, such items are certain to increase, thus increasing Chaos' entertainment.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Yellow Journalism At It's Finest

Rare is the day, these days, when a piece causes Chaos to bolt upright, shocked and amazed that the nation's paper of record would endorse such wrong-headed drivel, and yet, that is exactly the situation recently. An editorial in The Times displayed such a contemptible lack of historical understanding, rationality, or a grasp of any sort of reality whatsoever, that Chaos believed for a moment that the Dallas Morning News, Washington Times, or Fox News was being displayed in the browser. Let's tune in for a few memorable lines from "Mexico at the Brink":

"The War on Drugs may be fading from memory north of the Rio Grande, but south of the river, bloody battles are threatening to overwhelm Mexico’s democratically elected government." (Seems like we've heard this story somewhere before...oh yeah, I remember now: Colombia....and I guess it's "fading from memory" because we have an actual war going on or something?)

"The timid assistance package proposed by the Bush administration and pared down by Congress suggests that Washington doesn’t grasp either the scale of the danger or its own responsibilities." (And what responsibilities would those be? Wait, it's coming...)

"The United States has a clear interest and a clear obligation to help. This country is the main market for the methamphetamine cooked in Mexican labs and the cocaine moving through Mexico from the Andes. It is also the source of the traffickers’ weapons. And no fence will stop the gun battles from moving across the border." (Hmmm...'help' with the Drug War....let's think about that one. Seems like the US has been having a 'drug war' for quite awhile, and what have we to show for it? More people imprisoned for consuming natural substances which are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, but not much else, besides the enormous amounts of money being spent.)

"The Bush administration is right to acknowledge the shared threat and the common responsibility. But the three-year, $1.4 billion aid package it proposed doesn’t do the job. It is too small, notably so when compared with the billions the cartels earn in the United States. And far too much of the aid is military hardware when Mexico has other more urgent needs."(Well, how much would it take, you know, to actually win? Do we have a ballpark figure? No? Maybe because that would be money down a rathole, to use a colloquialism...)

"Above all, Mexico needs help rooting out corruption and creating a well-equipped, well-trained and respected civilian police force. The Mexican police need help improving their skills in forensic investigations, prison security and witness protection. And Mexico needs a transparent, fair and competent judiciary to prosecute traffickers as well as officials and members of the police who have been bought by the traffickers or are guilty of human rights abuses."(Mexico may indeed have problems with corruption, which may or may not be related to the drug trade, but offering to 'help' with those is kinda, oh, hypocritical, when you think about the corruption that seems to be endemic in the Empire these days. The monies spawned by the prohibition on drugs know no boundaries in inducing law enforcement corruption; witness the number of public officials in South Texas indicted for accepting bribes from drug traffickers. But let's let the patronizing attitude slide, and consider again what metrics this amazing editorial would like to use to consider this 'aid' a success.)

"Washington’s role does not end there. Mexico has no hope of defeating the traffickers unless this country is also willing to do more to fight the drug war at home — starting with a clear commitment to stop the weapons smugglers and to do more to take on the narcotics networks on the American side of the border." (Actually, nobody should hope, after all this time, money and effort, that defeating drug traffickers has even the remotest possibility, short of legalization. The violence which so scares the Times is the direct result of the illegality, and hence the markup, of the substances. Let us say it one more time: the 'War On Drugs' is a stupid concept. It cannot be 'won'. Resistance to this concept, as they say in a memorable Star Trek film, is futile. It does, however, divert one's attention from more serious matters, which lurk on the edge of the Matrix, and for that, perhaps the piece has actually served its purpose. Sleep now, children.)

Air Travel Update

We do so enjoy remarking upon the gradual but inevitable demise of the automobile and airline industries, exacerbated by the ridiculous, bone-headed decisions made by their respective managements. To the point then, are the latest developments in air travel. As chronicled by the McPaper ("Fliers in for pain as airlines pack it in") the industry is cutting cheap flights to vacation destinations (after all, who can afford to go anyway, with the price of gas and food?), smaller cities are losing their service, and the cost of flying will inevitably increase quite a bit. Those who have become used to moving about the country with little regard for cost will just have to stop. Vacations will become more local.

Water, Water, Everywhere?

Taking a short break from observations of the current high and higher oil prices and their effects, we find our friend Lester Brown of the Earth Institute with this interesting article on how we are drawing down the world's supply of "fossil water" (that which has accumulated underground over oh, say, several million years). Anyway, a brief pondering of the implications will suffice to make one realize that goofy stuff about humanity's "footprint" is probably understated, and things are tending more towards the dieoff than you probably realized.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

If I Ran The Circus...

Since people, upon hearing doomer talk like that discussed here at the Edge, tend to devolve to the question, "what shall we do?" it occurred to Chaos recently that a list of solutions might be in order. (Chaos has deliberately left out those who, upon hearing that their cherished way of life might be unsustainable, simply throw up their hands and decline to read, listen, or take action of any kind, much like the deer trapped in the proverbial headlights...) So, herewith, is Chaos' prescription for local (and somewhat national) change, for a peak oil-aware population:
1. Stop building roads. Period. Existing roads will be maintained, but no new roads of any kind will ever be built again, save bicycle trails.
2. Existing roads will have at least one full lane devoted to bicycles, scooters, and small motorcycles. Said lane will be physically separated from the motor vehicle lane.
3. Any personal motor vehicle with mileage rating of less than 20 mpg highway will be taxed at a 35% rate. This tax is not deductible from federal income tax.
4. 55 mph speed limit for highways is mandatory. 35 mph speed limit for all other roadways.
5. .50/gallon gas tax imposed immediately, rises by .25/gallon every 6 months until it reaches the average of OECD nations. Proceeds of said tax will be devoted exclusively to building rail/light rail.

If the above solutions seem improbable to you, perhaps it's time to ask why that is...which, of course, leads us back to the issue of national character. What is it, in fact, of the US character which prevents even the discussion of rational response to inevitable depletion of finite resources?

A Couple Of Visuals To Keep The Mood Going...