Tsunami reaches Hawaii

SUBHEAD: Kauai westsiders ride out tsunami with ohana. In Port Allen marina the water was five feet above the catwalk. By Dennis Fujimoto on 11 March 2011 for he Garden Island News - (http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/article_cb639e72-4c87-11e0-9c1c-001cc4c002e0.html) Image above: This high, said Chad Kubo, skipper of ‘Que Sera,’ indicating the level of water above the Port Allen, Kauai, marina catwalk, From original article.

Burt Nishida of ‘Ele‘ele said when they saw the river recede, they knew the water was going to come over the seawall at the Port Allen Small Boat Harbor.

“We saw the Hanapepe River go out and by the amount it was sucked out, the waves were going to go over the seawall,” Nishida said, surveying the goings on at the harbor, Friday morning. “We got here about 7 a.m. and the water was being sucked out, already. By 7:30 a.m., the harbor was under water.”

Outside of the debris, everything was fine, said Bill Georgi, walking his dog and picking his way among the debris littering the access road to the boat slips.

“But you have to see the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources Boating and Ocean Recreation Division people trying to fish out the trash dumpster,” Georgi said. “It washed from the loading area all the way to the sea wall.”

Chad Kubo, skipper of the “Que Sera,” a fishing boat, said the trash container was in between the catwalks at one point. “The water was about five feet above the catwalk.”

He indicated the height by his arm above chest-level.

“At one point, the boats were floating above the catwalk because there was so much water,” he said. “Our fish boxes which were on the catwalk got washed all the way to the seawall.”

Joe Borden of the DLNR Boating and Ocean Recreation Division said he had already gone to the Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor where he described the situation as being wet.

“At least it’s clean water,” he said after getting help from boat owners and fishermen in pulling the dumpster out of the water. “Things look pretty good over here.”

At the Port Allen Fishing Club clubhouse, Carol and Ed Horner had just returned their boat from the Martin Steele yard where the craft rode out the tsunami watch.

“There were a lot of people either pulling their boats from the water, or taking them out to sea to ride out the warning,” Carol said. “The water came up, all the way to about five, or six inches on the walls of the clubhouse. Ed is hosing down the back, now.”

Ed said the idea was to hose down the debris before it hardened so it would be easier to wash off.

At the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor in Waimea, there was indication of a surge, but no signs the water had risen above the catwalk.

Some of the guests from the Waimea Plantation Cottages joined the residents at Koke‘e while others spent the night at the Waimea High School cafeteria, a holding site on the Westside, said Stephanie Iona, manager of the Waimea Plantation Cottages.

“We want to thank the Westside residents for embracing our guests and making them feel like part of the family,” Iona said. “Our president went up to the Koke‘e Lodge to open it up for our guests and others either joined the line of cars on the road to Koke‘e or went to the cafeteria.”

She said the Waimea Plantation Cottage staff was really good about making sure the guests had hot coffee, bottled water, and kept reminding them to bring the blankets from their rooms because of the chill.

“Our security person stayed on property the entire time,” Iona said. “The police were really good — they kept coming to make sure everyone was taken care of.”

She said she left for about an hour just before 3 a.m. and when she returned to check in returning guests, they told her how everyone treated them as part of the family.

Oahu Video above: Tsunami empties and refills Waikiki swimming pond. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zNAXoHQbpI). Maui Video above: Tsunami waves retreat and return to Lahaina Harbor. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdS9lnBOhgI). Big Island Video above: Tsunami wave inundates street in Kona. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91Wh0_yNJhc).

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Japan's economy in melt-down

SUBHEAD: The cost of recovering after the earthquake, tsunami and failure of several nuclear facilities will be too much for Japan's economy to bear. By Steve Ludlum on 12 March 2011 in Economic Undertow - (http://economic-undertow.blogspot.com/2011/03/death-knell-of-waste-based-economy.html) Image above: Disappearance of #1 nuclear containment building in Fukushima Japan. From (http://www.earth-issues.com/2011/03/radiation-down-at-japan-nuke-plant-after-blast). One thing you can say about the waste-based economy as it exists the world's stage is that it does so with a certain swagger. The National Football League is shut down for the foreseeable future. Can the US government be far behind? What's more important to national security? Greek and Irish debt instruments are priced at default levels. Spain and Portugal are poised at the edge of the debt void. Italy's investment relationship with Libya looks increasingly faulty for both parties. The waves of uncertainty in the Eurozone reflects stress on credit market mechanisms resulting from competition for capital. This competition takes place between governments, oil dependent businesses, banks and motorists. This is EU's all-out war between cars and their human slaves. Right now the cars are winning. In Libya, the civil war intensifies. The revolt of the putative Middle-East's middle class is elsewhere on 'pause'. The propellant for unrest -- a Hollywood way of life that is vanishing fast and must be grasped for -- is intensifying. The events in Japan drive a stake through the heart of the idea that the world's economic dependency on consumer waste can be retrieved by adding more nuclear reactors. Right now there are an undetermined number of reactors on the ropes with one already subject to an explosion. You can come to your own conclusions about the severity of this current crisis. Several things are clear:
  • The establishment soft-pedals the event and its consequences.
  • The six reactors at one site and two at another are not going to be put back into service any time soon, if ever.
  • The money costs associated with these eight reactors have no practical upper limit. The reactor crisis is at the beginning. One reactor has already experienced core melting. How about all eight?
Here is what the New York Times says about the situation:
Heat from the nuclear fuel rods must be removed by water in a cooling system, but that requires power to run the pumps, align the valves in the pipes and run the instruments. The plant requires a continuous supply of electricity even after the reactor stops generating power.
Reactors do useful work the same way other steam boilers do, by exploiting or 'arbitraging' the heat differential between the reactor core and a heat sink or condenser. The Japanese reactors at issue are boiling-water reactors. This means the sink is a heat exchanger in line with the generator turbine and the reactor core. Heat flows from the reactor in the form of superheated steam, though generator turbines to a series of heat exchangers. The last of these is immersed in cold sea water. The heat exchangers cool the steam to water which is pumped back into the reactor. Work results from energy flowing from the core through the turbine to the condenser. Radioactive water is cycled through the turbine and the primary heat exchanger all of which are located within the reactor containment building. This is the structure that was destroyed in this morning's explosion. The Tokyo establishment suggests that little or no radiation has escaped indicating the shed surrounding the containment exploded instead of the containment itself.. The violence of the explosion and the response of the plant managers to flood 'the reactor' with sea water indicates that containment was damaged. The containment is a shell or vault of reinforced concrete walls several feet thick. There is an access door or lid that can be removed so that the reactor itself can be refueled and equipment replaced or serviced. The pressure vessel within the containment is a forged steel pot like a pressure cooker that is also massively thick and strong. Ironically, many of the world's pressure vessels are made by the Japan Steel Works, Ltd. Immediately after the quake hit, the turbines were shut down. The reactor computers automatically forced control rods into the reactor to quell the fission reactions. Heat still flowed though the condensers and heat exchanger loops but at a diminishing rate. Even as the reactions slow to a crawl the the fuel and water along with the pressure vessels and associated equipment are still intensely hot. A small amount of reactivity takes place inside the reactor due to decay heat. The heat sink must remain functional so as to remove the remaining heat from the core and achieve 'cold shut down'. This takes about 48 hours. The reactor operators rely on grid power to pump water needed to cool the core. Backing up the grid are diesel generators to run the pumps then batteries then a steam-powered pump that runs on the latent reactor heat. There is a lot of plumbing and vulnerable heat-transfer equipment inside the containment. If this equipment fails there is no way to take heat out of the reactor core. In order to effectively shed heat some complete heat transfer mechanism must remain intact. That is, a way must remain to cause cooling water to flow through the core to a condenser or heat exchanger with sufficient cooling capacity to pull latent heat out of the core. What has taken place in the two power stations at five reactors is the earthquake-related failure of the heat- transfer infrastructure. Grid power failed immediately, diesel generators failed after an hour and batteries died after four hours. The report last night was that a local fire department was pumping water into the reactor containment. Nothing was said about where this water went. No mention was made of the steam powered pumps failing but one or more obviously did. With the failure to take heat from the core, cooling water turned to steam and boiled off. Without new water flowing into the reactor core some of the fuel became exposed. One consequence is the failure of control rods to quell core reactions. The reactor fuel gets hotter and the fuel rods warp and buckle. The fuel bundles themselves spontaneously catch on fire. This is why water boiling off in the pressure vessel is so dangerous. Exposed fuel rods collapse and fuel pellets fall to the bottom of the vessel. The control rods are destroyed or hang uselessly above the fuel. The nuclear reaction and fierce heat caused the zirconium alloy fuel rod cladding to break down into component elements including hydrogen. The hydrogen bubbled to the top of the pressure vessel and vented into the confinement either as the result by managers aiming to relieve pressure inside the vessel or as the consequence of open valves or broken heat transfer piping. Hydrogen and oxygen buildup within the confinement structure along with steam caused the explosion. This is evidence that fuel in the reactor melted down and that the heat transfer circuits are broken. Even if the pressure vessel inside the containment is intact, the heat transfer connections between the pressure vessel and the condenser were sufficiently damaged to allow steam and gases to vent into the containment. The Time's report fails to mention the heat sink or condenser. Water pumped into the core must flow somewhere carrying heat with it. The only way to avoid a release of radioactive water is if the heat- transfer circuits are intact and electric power can be supplied to run the pumps to circulate cooling water through the core. The operators just now flooded the remains of the confinement with sea water and boron in an attempt to cool the core. This suggests the containment was not completely destroyed and that the pressure vessel is open. If the vessel is closed the pressures will build inside it. The explosion suggests that pressures within the vessel were too high for the backup cooling systems to overcome and new water could not be added to the pressure vessel. The explosion itself relieved pressure within the core: if the pressure vessel is intact adding more water will simply result in another explosion if the water cannot circulate between the vessel and the containment. Added water will flow through the pressure vessel filled with tons of intensely radioactive fuel in the now-damaged core and dump into the containment. There is no other way: either the pressure vessel is open allowing cooling seawater to flow into the vessel and out again carrying heat and radioactivity or the pressure vessel is closed and the reactor heat will cause further damage, perhaps a second explosion. This coolant loss scenario is exactly what took place at Three Mile Island in 1978. Water was pumped into the pressure vessel and allowed to flood the confinement through an open valve. Here are some differences between the current situation and TMI:
  • The TMI containment was not breached. The containment had the capacity for millions of gallons of radioactive water which was kept separate from the outside world. The Fukushima plant's containment is demolished and has unknown capacity for waste water. If the foundations are broken any radioactive wastewater will seep outside.
  • Replacement gear could be had at once from the surrounding area. TMI was not cut off by the earthquake and resulting tsunami.
  • There was only one reactor at risk at Three Mile Island, not five. (TMI #1 was shut down for maintenance in 1979.)
  • The TMI reactor was not where contaminants can easily flow into the ocean.
There has to be a flow of water to remove the latent heat from the core. The confinement floor and the atmosphere are the heat sink. The outcome will be a release of radioactive material through the confinement into the atmosphere and perhaps the sea. It is hard to say which technical outcome will emerge. Multiply this times five and you can see that the Japanese are up against a massive set of largely self-inflicted difficulties.
  • Nuclear power plants just became unaffordably expensive.
  • Japan faces an existential crisis. Prior embraces of modernity have ended badly for Japan. This one looks to end worst of all. Small villages and densely industrialized commercial zones were equally damaged. Small villages cost a farthing to rebuild compared to the massive expense of replacing refinery bits, industrial plants and the reactors. The industrial bits return 'foreign exchange', whatever that is. The price tag for this is a massive pollution event, the outcome of which is impossible to determine. When pundits suggest that 'another Chernobyl' is unlikely, that outcome becomes the most probable.
  • Japan's economy has just failed. Even if the reactor crisis can be managed, the costs of replacing the lost capacity and decommissioning the five failed reactors look to exceed what the deflation- battered Japanese economy can bear. Add to this the massive costs to clean up and rebuild after the earthquake and tsunami damage.
This natural disaster is the latest in a series of blows to the world-wide insurance industry. Modernity relies on a very minimum level of input/externality costs. Between protests, wars, oil input price hikes and the shrinkage of the skilled labor pool the input costs are being repriced with a vengeance. Everything 'Made in Japan' is going to get much more expensive. There is no choice since there is no other source of new money to the Japanese other than her customers. At the same time, the ability of the same customers to pay is diminishing. The earthquake and melt-downs do not add anything to purchasing power. It's just the costs are jumping. Video above: Footage of #1 Reactor at Fukushima nuclear facility exploding after earthquake in Japan. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJ1wFkayp20). .

Shock Doctrine American-Style

SUBHEAD: This is a frontal Assault on American democracy, it is a corporate coup d’etat. By Naomi Klein on 9 March 2011 in Democracy Now - (http://www.democracynow.org/2011/3/9/naomi_klein_on_anti_union_bills) Image above: Still frame of Naomi Klein on Democacy Now! from video below.

As a wave of anti-union bills are introduced across the country following the wake of Wall Street financial crisis, many analysts are picking up on the theory that award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein first argued in her 2007 bestselling book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In the book, she reveals how those in power use times of crisis to push through undemocratic and extreme free market economic policies. “The Wisconsin protests are an incredible example of how to resist the shock doctrine,” Klein says.

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Rallies for workers’ rights are spreading across the country. In Michigan, over a thousand people rallied at the State Capitol in Lansing to oppose a measure allowing the breaking of labor contracts by placing schools and districts under emergency management. In a scene reminiscent of Wisconsin, hundreds of demonstrators packed the Capitol Rotunda chanting slogans. Protests were also held against anti-union bills Tuesday in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Florida and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, the state legislature has given final approval to a measure restricting the collective bargaining of public school teachers. The bill would limit teachers’ collective bargaining to salaries and benefits. It also ends teacher tenure, limits teacher contracts to one year, and removes seniority as a factor in determining layoffs.

As a wave of anti-union bills are introduced across the country in the wake of the Great Recession, many analysts are picking up on the theory that award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein first argued in her bestselling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it, she reveals how those in power use times of crisis to push through undemocratic, radical, free market economic policies.

Nobel Prize-winning economist, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, recently referenced the book in his column called "Shock Doctrine, U.S.A." He wrote, quote, "The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority [in Iraq] was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book 'The Shock Doctrine,' which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.

"Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display," Krugman wrote.

Well, Naomi Klein joins us today in our studio for the hour. In addition to The Shock Doctrine, she’s the author of two previous books: No Logo: Taking Aim at Brand Bullies and Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate. She’s currently writing a new book which focuses on the public relations campaign distorting climate change facts.

Naomi Klein, welcome to Democracy Now!

NAOMI KLEIN: Hi, Amy. Great to see you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Let’s talk Wisconsin. What do you see is happening in this uprising?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, it’s such an incredible example of how to resist the shock doctrine. And it should not be in any way surprising that we are seeing right-wing ideologues across the country using economic crisis as a pretext to really wage a kind of a final battle in a 50-year war against trade unions, where we’ve seen membership in trade unions drop precipitously. And public sector unions are the last labor stronghold, and they’re going after it. And these governors did not run elections promising to do these radical actions, but they are using the pretext of crisis to do things that they couldn’t get elected promising to do.

And, you know, that’s the core argument of and the thesis of the book, is not that there’s something wrong with responding to a crisis decisively. Crises demand decisive responses. The issue is this backhanded attempt to use a crisis to centralize power, to subvert democracy, to avoid public debate, to say, "We have no time for democracy. It’s just too messy. It doesn’t matter what you want. We have no choice. We just have to ram it through." And we’re seeing this in 16 states. I mean, it’s impossible to keep track of it. It’s happening on such a huge scale.

Teachers’ unions are getting the worst of it. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. This is—you know, as you pointed out on your show, it’s overwhelmingly women who are providing the services that are under attack. It’s not just labor that’s under attack; it’s the services that the labor is providing that’s under attack: it’s healthcare, it’s education, it’s those fundamental care-giving services across the country, which could be profitable if they were privatized.

AMY GOODMAN: In Ohio, more than 20,000 people marched to oppose the Republican Governor John Kasich’s attempted anti-union legislative putsch. Kasich recently defended his policy proposals on Fox & Friends.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: It’s part of a big piece of reform. Come March the 15th, we will be reforming Medicaid, K-through-12, higher ed, prisons. It is going to be a reform agenda in Ohio like no one has ever seen, all designed to get us in a good position. In terms of unions? I respect unions. I come from a union family. I mean, the idea that we’re attacking anybody is—look, what we’re attacking: poverty, joblessness. OK, that’s what I’m attacking. And all I’m doing is saying to everybody, participate. Everybody jump in this. Together, we can make Ohio stronger. If we do not do that, you know, then we’ll continue to lose jobs, and that means misery for everybody. That’s not going to happen. We are going to be successful here.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Governor John Kasich, going back to his old haunt. He was a commentator for a long time for Fox and, before that, a conservative congressman.

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, the reason why this isn’t working and why people are so outraged by it and why they’re in the streets and we’re finally seeing the resistance in this country that we have seen in Europe, with this chant, "We won’t pay for your crisis," that really started in 2008 in Greece and spread to Italy and France and England—and, you know, the rest of the world has been waiting for the United States to—you know, how much are Americans going to take of this? It seems that Americans were willing to say, you know, "We will pay for your crisis, and would you like a tax break with that?" Right? And finally, they went too far. And so, that resistance is finally happening.

And this attack on collective bargaining, the reason why people won’t take it is precisely because they understand that this is not shared pain. It is not being shared equally. The people who created the crisis in the first place are not sharing the pain. And the injustice of this response is so blatant. This isn’t just any economic crisis. This tactic has worked. And this is, you know, what I’ve tracked over a 30-year period, that it is really easy to use an economic crisis—people panic, hyperinflation, issues like that. In the '90s, when Newt Gingrich was Speaker, it was possible for him to argue that the source of the budget crisis really was so-called entitlement programs. You cannot do that in this moment in history because everybody understands that the crisis was created on Wall Street, it was created through speculation and greed, and a decision was made to bail out the bankers with public money and to pass the bill on to the public. And they're seeing the bonuses back. They’re seeing the outrageous salaries. They’re seeing corporations not paying their taxes. And it’s just too unjust. It’s just so morally outrageous. And then to turn on the television and talk about everybody sharing the pain? I mean, people are just not that stupid. Thankfully.

AMY GOODMAN: And where does the Obama administration fit into this?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We have played that clip of President Obama when he was running for president, saying, "If anyone challenges your collective union rights, I will be walking with you."

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, this is the irony of this moment, and this is—it really is about democracies. Scott Walker was not elected with a mandate to bust unions and to strip collective bargaining rights. He did not mention that in his campaign. He talked about balancing the budget. He made some vague statements, you know, about shared sacrifice. But he absolutely did not campaign promising to do what he is now doing. Obama, on the other hand, campaigned promising to strengthen union rights. He promised, again and again, whenever he had a labor audience, that he was going to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and he promised to stand with them.

And, you know, one of the things that’s so important for us to understand about why—you know, there are many reasons why the resistance is so strong in Wisconsin and why they’ve become this beacon for not just the rest of the country, but the world, and so much of it, I think—you know, my colleague at The Nation, John Nichols, has written beautifully about it this week in a cover story where he talks about the rich sense of collective history, of collective memory, and the fact that people know their progressive history in Wisconsin, so they’re harder to exploit. You know, they’re not going to fall for the latest Fox News messaging, because they know their history. But, you know, this is—there’s something else that’s going on here. And, well, I mean, I’ll just let you take it from there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about Michigan.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And then we’re going to go to a break.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: About a thousand people rallied in Michigan—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:—reminiscent of Wisconsin. Talk about the proposal there.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I just found out about this last night, and like I said, there’s so much going on that these extraordinary measures are just getting lost in the shuffle. But in Michigan, there is a bill that’s already passed the House. It’s on the verge of passing the Senate. And I’ll just read you some excerpts from it. It says that in the case of an economic crisis, that the governor has the authority to authorize the emergency manager—this is somebody who would be appointed—to reject, modify or terminate the terms of an existing contract or collective bargaining agreement, authorize the emergency manager for a municipal government—OK, so we’re not—we’re talking about towns, municipalities across the state—to disincorporate. So, an appointed official with the ability to dissolve an elected body, when they want to.

AMY GOODMAN: A municipal government.

NAOMI KLEIN: A municipal government. And it says specifically, "or dissolve the municipal government." So we’ve seen this happening with school boards, saying, "OK, this is a failing school board. We’re taking over. We’re dissolving it. We’re canceling the contracts." You know, what this reminds me of is New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the teachers were fired en masse and then it became a laboratory for charter schools. You know, people in New Orleans—and you know this, Amy—warned us. They said, "What’s happening to us is going to happen to you." And I included in the book a quote saying, "Every city has their Lower Ninth Ward." And what we’re seeing with the pretext of the flood is going to be used with the pretext of an economic crisis. And this is precisely what’s happening. So it starts with the school boards, and then it’s whole towns, whole cities, that could be subject to just being dissolved because there’s an economic crisis breaking collective bargaining agreements. It also specifies that—this bill specifies that an emergency manager can be an individual or a firm. Or a firm. So, the person who would be put in charge of this so-called failing town or municipality could actually be a corporation.

AMY GOODMAN: Whose government they dissolve, a company takes over.

NAOMI KLEIN: A company takes over. So, they have created, if this passes, the possibility for privatization of a whole town by fiat. And this is actually a trend in the contracting out of public services, where you do now have whole towns, like Sandy Springs in Georgia, run by private companies. It’s very lucrative. Why not? You start with just the water contract or the electricity contract, but eventually, why not privatize the whole town? So—

AMY GOODMAN: And what happens then? Where does democracy fit into that picture?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, this is an assault on democracy. It’s a frontal assault on democracy. It’s a kind of a corporate coup d’état at the municipal level.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Naomi Klein—yes, the journalist and author. Her latest book is called Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. You can go to our Facebook page, and you can post questions there for her and just continue to participate in the dialogue. Let me ask you a question that came to us from Facebook. This is a question about the Madison protest for you, posted on our Facebook page. Kevin Williams—Kelvin Williams asks, "Are there any specific ways that Wisconsin workers can use the ideas in [your book] 'The Shock Doctrine' to go on the offensive and force true fiscal responsibility, perhaps even rolling back the compromise contract?"

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm. It’s a great question. I think what’s finally starting to happen, and this is—Wisconsin has really been going from one victory after another. This started off with an attack, but people have been—have just found such incredible reserves of resolve and dignity and collective history that the ground is shifting. So, the situation under which those compromises were made, those concessions were made, it’s changed. You know, people are feeling their power and their possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s amazing now. The Governor, who was just elected, Scott Walker, a few months ago, is now—his popularity has dipped to the 30s.

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: And even the conservative newspapers are asking serious questions.

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, yeah. I mean, he clearly made a real miscalculation. I mean, what was obvious is that he was really playing to the national stage. He’s clearly a very ambitious guy. He’s got real national political aspirations. I think that’s clear. You know, in that conversation with fake David Koch, the prank call, he compares himself to Reagan. He compares his actions to Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers, that sort of "shot heard around the world" moment. That’s what he wanted, you know? And he is not getting that.

AMY GOODMAN: And then he said, first he fired the PATCO strikers, and then the Berlin Wall came down. He made that link.

NAOMI KLEIN: He said it. And it’s not a crazy link, in the sense that it was part of a frontal assault on labor and the left, and it continued for many, many years. But, you know, it’s not the ’80s anymore, and people are on to these tactics.

And I do think—you know, just coming back to that question—that it is possible. But the real key is that we have to be having the debate about where the money should be coming from. I mean, if there is a fiscal crisis—and in Wisconsin, there’s a crisis that was created by tax cuts, and this is why there’s so much outrage, because it comes back to that false claim that there’s shared sacrifice here. There isn’t shared sacrifice here. There are gifts that are being handed out to the elites. Scott Walker is governing based on this radical free market ideology that if we just create the perfect, most hospitable, most gentle, less demanding conditions for corporations to do business, then we’ll have a booming economy, and it will trickle down, and everyone will benefit. And that is exactly the ideology that Obama campaigned against—and won—saying we can’t keep giving more and more to the people at the top and waiting for it to trickle down. And that was a message that really resonated with voters.

One thing I wanted to come back to that I was starting to get at earlier about why what’s happening in Wisconsin is happening in Wisconsin and what we need to take from it is that when bad things are happening, it’s helpful to have a bad guy. And Scott Walker is a good bad guy. And he has galvanized progressives. And people have, you know, an enemy to organize around and to point out these disparities. It hasn’t happened at the federal level, despite the fact that Obama is also involved in attacking labor rights with his pushing of charter schools and draconian budget cuts. He’s not a good bad guy for progressives. So, we’re still in a situation where Obama is getting away with, in my opinion, shock doctrine-style tactics, because people don’t—still don’t want to believe that Obama is doing it, too. So, when you have an easy bad guy, a Republican governor who’s obviously trying to be the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, you can mobilize the left. But it won’t just work if we are only going after the Republicans and if this is fought along just partisan lines, as opposed to being fought based on principle. No matter who is doing it, we need to be mobilizing, if it’s Obama, if it’s Scott Walker.

AMY GOODMAN: And the people that President Obama surrounds himself with, especially when it comes to the Wall Street insiders, especially as we move into the 2012 election, when it’s said Obama will raise more than a billion dollars for the presidential election?

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of denial, still, about who Obama is and who he surrounds himself with. And, you know, we’re going to talk a little bit later about Tim DeChristopher, but I’ve said it many times: Obama is fundamentally a centrist. And I do think that when there is a mobilized progressive movement in the United States that is putting pressure on him, on Democrats in Congress, they will respond.

And that’s another lesson that we can take from Wisconsin. You know, I was talking, once again, to John Nichols the other day, and he said, "What’s really working here is that we have the inside-outside pincer." Right? You’ve got people in the streets, but you also have Democrat—Democratic lawmakers willing to put themselves on the line, being surprisingly courageous, leaving the state, and blocking it. So it isn’t just the people in the Rotunda. It isn’t just the protesters at the rally. It’s a kind of a partnership that’s going on. Why is that happening? Well, they looked out the window, and they saw their voters in the streets really committed and really mobilized, and that gave them courage.

And that’s something really important to remember about how—you know, so many liberal groups are involved in this gentle backroom lobbying, a token protest here and there, which says, "I’m willing to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday, but I’m not really willing to fight to win." And what’s going on in Wisconsin is something very different. It’s not just a rally on a Saturday afternoon. It is people really upending their lives for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. That sends a message to politicians who want to get re-elected that this is a big issue, a top priority. And they hear that.

Video above: Interview with Naomi Klein on Democracy Mow!. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60StkQk7Y94). .

Revolts in the Middle East

SUBHEAD: A handy guide to the revolts in the Middle East—and their likely effects on us. By Gonzalo Lira on 10 March 2011 in Gonzalo Lira - (http://gonzalolira.blogspot.com/2011/03/handy-guide-to-revolts-in-middle.html) Image above: Map of Middle East and North Africa. Click to enlarge. In 1848, protests and revolutions swept through Europe. The specific causes were different in each country, but the underlying cause was the same everywhere: The middle and upper middle classes—politically powerless in these absolutist monarchies—wanted more control over their lives.
We are having an 1848 moment in the Middle East: Autocratic governments in two of these countries have been overthrown outright (Tunisia and Egypt), one is sliding into civil war (Libya), and a host of others are teetering. A few other undemocratic governments beyond the Middle East are very worried that their restive populations might get ideas—China, I’m looking at you.
The immediate spark for these revolts has been the rising price of food—but the fuel for this bonfire has been decades of political marginalization for large swathes of the educated population of these Middle Eastern countries. Autocratic regimes never fare well during economic downturns. The Global Depression that began with the financial crisis in 2008 is slowly but surely picking up a head of inflationary steam, which has been squeezing the middle classes in these countries. A middle class being squeezed economically eventually oozes out political unrest—as we have been seeing throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Now, in early March 2011, with the fate of these various revolts still unclear, it would be wise to go over them, and see where they are in each country. And it would be wise, too, to examine how these various revolts in the Middle East will affect the rest of the world in the short- to medium-term.
So to begin:
Tunisia: One of the things we forget is that, when history decides to move, it can move fast. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had been in power in Tunisia since 1987, winning crooked election after crooked election, all the while supported by the United States and especially France.
All was copacetic for decades—until one morning, December 10, 2010, a 26 year-old vegetable vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi had his cart confiscated by a policewoman in the city of Sidi Bouzid. She insulted him and reportedly spat in his face. When he tried to get redress from the local municipality, he was rebuffed. Out of frustration, humiliation, and likely impulsive foolishness, he doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire, in protest at the unfairness of it all. The outrage this triggered in the rest of the Tunisian population is remarkable. Protests started in Sidi Bouzid, then quickly spread throughout the rest of the country, even as the government of President Ben Ali tried very seriously to quell it: Tear gas, riot police, the whole shebang. But it didn’t work. Ben Ali found himself fleeing the country for his life, and settling in Saudi Arabia with (allegedly) one-and-a-half tons of Tunisia’s gold. Interpol put out an international arrest warrant against him. What was key in the Tunisian revolt was that the middle and upper-middle classes joined in the protests: Their sense of disenfranchisement made the revolt happen. Why did they join? Because of food prices: They had been steadily rising, crippling the middle classes’ ability to feed itself. That’s the reason for all protests, all revolts, all revolutions: Food, not freedom. Freedom is just a nice bonus.
Egypt: Inspired by the Tunisian revolt, and sparked too by rising food prices, Egyptians started their own revolution on January 25. Emphasizing non-violence, the revolt—really just a series of strikes, work-stoppages and peaceful marches and demonstrations centered around Tahrir Square in Cairo—achieved its objective in short order: On February 11, President Hosni Mubarek stepped down, after more than 30 years in power. (There had been prior disturbances involving Coptic Christians, who had been targetted by radical Muslims, up to and including a New Year’s bombing of a church, which killed 21. Certainly the Coptics—feeling that justice was not being accorded them—joined the protests against Mubarek’s regime. But they weren’t a decisive factor in Mubarek’s resignation. Violence against Coptic Christians has resumed, but it is clearly separate and distinct from the revolt that brought down Mubarek.)
The Mubarek regime was unprepared for the revolt—but it certainly had the military and the men to put it down. By all calculations, the Mubarek regime should have been able to quell the revolt—easily. The problem was, it lacked both the will to violently defend itself, and the support of any large sector of the populace. Because Mubarek didn’t have the will or gumption to order the military to quell the protests, the military wavered—and that was Mubarek’s doom. He fled Egypt on February 11, leaving Egypt in political tatters. The military formed a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—basically an 18-man junta—which immediately guaranteed that Egypt would live up to its international treaties and responsibilities, and further guaranteed that there would be free and open parliamentary and presidential elections within 6 months. Before the revolution, presidential elections were scheduled for September; likely this will be when the general election will be held. As of last week, the Prime Minister installed by Mubarek, Ahmed Shafik, was forced out by the opposition and by protestors, for being too closely allied to Mubarek. The caretaker administration is being run by Primer Minister Essam Sharaf. There is still a heady feeling in Egypt, but according to friends on the ground, the country is slowly getting back to normal. The Egyptian revolt showed the rest of the region just how easily an autocratic regime could be overthrown, even after decades in power.
Libya: Protests against Col. Muammar Gaddafi began in early February, sparked by the success of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. On February 20, the revolt spread to Tripoli—from then on, it was game on, with the protestors taking control of the eastern coastal cities and towns, while Gaddafi held on to Tripoli on the western coast, and the all-important oil fields to the south. Since then, there has been sporadic fighting—more like tussling than a real, bloody civil war.
The reason Gaddafi has not been able to put down the revolt quickly and effectively is because his military is not what people thought it was. For the last 40 years—really since he took power in a coup d’état—Gaddafi has consistently kept his military weak so as to prevent it from becoming a threat to his power. Because of this policy, his weak military is keeping him from putting down the revolt swiftly and outright. Gaddafi’s air force is the only military resource that has been proving effective in doing any damage to the rebels. That’s why the so-called “international community” has been toying with the idea of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya—that air force is the only strong piece Gaddafi has on the board. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is practically doing hand-stands, pushing for a no-fly zone—but so are the Brits and the French. The GCC—essentially a regional conference dominated and controlled by Saudi Arabia—wants a no-fly over Libya zone because it’s the next best option to what they really want: An American and allied forces invasion of Libya. Since the GCC know they can’t get that—yet—they’re pushing for a no-fly zone. The GCC are afraid that Gaddafi victorious will export trouble to the GCC states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE) in retaliation. So they want him gone. Britain has the most awkward diplomatic situation, with regards Libya: When the troubles there broke out, the Brits wanted to simultaneously protect their oil interests—which they realized would be damaged perhaps irreparably by a prolonged civil war—and at the same time wanted to make up for the embarrassment of having been in bed with Gaddafi for so many years, up to and including releasing the Lockerbee bomber in 2009. So the Brits have de facto sequestered Gaddafi’s assets in the UK, while egging on the Libyan rebels. Problem is, Gaddafi hasn’t fallen as quickly as Mubarek. Indeed, the fact that Gaddafi is still holding on means that he might overrun the rebels and regain control of Libya as a whole—and where would that leave the Brits? In a very deep bind. So Britain has to make sure that Gaddafi is deposed one way or another—they cannot afford to have Gaddafi regain control of Libya, and then extract revenge on the Brits. A no-fly zone—which would deprive Gaddafi of his best weapon against the rebels—is the cheapest, easiest solution. The United States has been on the fence about Libya because of a combination of surprise and conflicting interests: The surprise was that Gaddafi was internally a lot weaker than anyone anticipated. The conflicting interests is, the U.S. doesn’t want Libyan oil production disrupted—which would force up worldwide prices. A continuing Gaddafi regime would ensure Libyan oil production. At the same time, though, the U.S. wouldn’t mind seeing Gaddafi gone—U.S. antipathy towards him goes back to the Nixon administration. Meanwhile, as the days pass and both sides dig in, it’s looking increasingly that a civil war will break out in Libya. Scratch that: A civil war has already broken out in Libya. Gaddafi controls the western coast, the rebels control the east, the dividing line between the two somewhere between the towns of Surt (also Sirte) and Ra’s al Unuf (also Ras Lanuf). Refugees (mostly migrant foreign workers) are fleeing by the thousands. American and European nationals have been evacuated. Oil production, refining and shipping has been disrupted—Gaddafi’s own planes and artillery are attacking the oil processing and refining capabilities of the eastern coast. And though Libya produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a day (barely 15% of what Saudi Arabia produces, a bit more than a third of what Iran produces), it is mostly light sweet crude. So any disruption will have a larger impact on the world markets than the number of barrels would imply. We are already seeing this impact in oil prices. Bottom-Line: Libya is key to the whole region. If Gaddafi goes down, or if the rebels succeed in forming some sort of more-or-less stable regime in the eastern half of Libya (as they seem quite capable of doing, considering how they captured a British covert team literally the second they landed on Libyan shores, and then placidly handed them back), then every other mutinous nation in the Middle East will have a clear, compelling example of how to topple a hard autocratic regime, and organize a new one to take its place. In other words, if the Libyan rebels win—either by taking over all of Libya, or by creating a stable eastern enclave—the rest of the Middle East will follow into open rebellion.
Saudi Arabia: A lot of knowledgeable people say that an uprising in Saudi Arabia would be a disaster. Fact is, it is already happening—the only question is whether the uprising will interrupt Saudi oil production and supply.
There are two focal points to the problems in Saudi Arabia: One is the minority Shia Muslim population in the north east, especially in and around the port city of Dammam—smack dab in the middle of the Saudi oil fields. The second focal point of unrest is spread throughout the country, and comprises the disenfranchised Saudi middle-class, who have been bought off over the decades by the Saudi royal family (who of course control the oil), but who have no say in the destiny of their country. The Shia population in Saudi Arabia—concentrated historically exactly where the oil is, in the north east and along the shores of the Persian Gulf—have been traditionally treated like shit by the Sunni royal family. (The differences and antagonism between the Sunni and the Shia almost perfectly encapsules Freud’s dictum about the narcissism of small differences. But before we get all condescending and arrogant towards Muslims for hating and killing one another over paltry religious differences, let’s be honest enough to recall how much hatred and murder was committed between Catholics and Protestants over our own paltry religious differences. Let’s recall how even today, some of us still dismiss members of the opposing camp over nothing more pressing than the virginity of Mary and transubstantiation.) One would think that the Saudi Shia would be in league with (or at least allied to) the Iranian Shia just across the waters of the Gulf—but that’s not necessarily the case. The Saudi Shia are Arab, whereas the Iranian Shia are Persians. Think of the differences between, say, French Huguenots and German Calvinists—religious affiliation doesn’t necessarily trump national antagonism. Besides, the Saudi Shia have found a better ally in the disenfranchised Saudi middle-class. The middle-class’s lack of real political power in Saudi Arabia has been assuaged by the freebies the oil riches have allowed the Saudi royal family to give them—the free education (through university overseas), free health-care and subsidized housing. But all these freebies have not erased the cold hard fact that the Saudi middle-classes do not have control over their destiny—they are for all intents and purposes chattel of the Saudi royal family. One must keep in mind how corrosive this can be—in fact, the United States has experienced first hand the results of this neo-serfdom: The majority of the terrorists who carried out the hijackings of 9/11 were members of this disenfranchised Saudi middle-class. These terrorists identified the United States and American capitalism as the ultimate reason the Saudi royal family controlled their destinies—that’s why they wanted to strike a blow not just against American military and political symbols (the Pentagon and the White House and/or the Capitol), but also against American economic symbols (the Twin Towers). So this Saudi middle class anger—diffuse though it may be—is nothing to take lightly. The Saudi royal family certainly isn’t—that’s why they’re gearing up. Dissident and protest groups have called for a “Day of Rage” on March 11 in Saudi Arabia—this coming Friday. A lot of talking heads and mouthpieces of the Saudi regime say that it will be a “non-event”. Maybe, maybe not. But then, if the Saudi regime really believed that the March 11 Day of Rage would be all-wind-no-thunder, then they wouldn’t be sending 10,000 troops to the north east and Damman, now would they. Will the U.S. intervene if a Saudi rebellion really gets going? Yes—no question. And the United States would side with the Saudi royal family. The U.S. has bases in Saudia Arabia, men and matériel primed and ready—all of it to defend Saudi oil. If (and perhaps when) American soldiers start putting down and killing Saudi Arabian rebels in order to save the corrupt House of Saud, that would be the moment America loses every single Muslim from Morroco to Pakistan.
Yemen: About a month ago, in sympathy to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts, protestors began gathering in Yemen, demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A New York Times story, reporting on how security forces in Yemen opened fire on protestors on Tuesday, inadvertently says it all:
Tens of thousands of antigovernment demonstrators have assembled outside the [Sana] university, and the number of protesters appears to increase each day. The gathering now stretches for more than a mile. [. . .] In addition to growing in size, the demonstrations here have become more diversified. Students and unemployed young people initially dominated the rallies, but now people from all segments of Yemeni society have joined in.
To repeat: People from all segments of Yemeni society have joined in. Ominous. Yemen produces about 300,000 barrels of oil a day—not Saudi Arabian-league production (9 million per day), but very respectable. However, the real issue is, the Obama administration has been carrying out a covert war there—much as Nixon did in Cambodia once upon a time. The U.S. alleges that Yemen has become a training ground for terrorists—and has been carrying out drone strikes, which have killed Yemeni civilians.
Bahrain: Not a big oil producer, just shy of 50,000 barrels a day—Cuba produces more. But as Reuters reports, “The majority of Bahrainis are Shi'ites but the island, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, is ruled by the U.S.-backed al-Khalifa family, who are Sunnis.” The street demonstrations going on in Bahrain have been aimed at toppling the government and giving the Shia majority a voice in Bahrain’s governance. (Khalifa family members sit on the throne and in the prime ministership, along with most other important cabinet posts.) Again, the protests were sparked by food price inflation, and inspired by the successes of protestors in Tunisia and Egypt. With all due respect to the wonderful people there, Bahrain in and of itself is trivial—a tiny island nation of less than 1.25 million, with meager oil supplies. But its strategic location—smack dab in the middle of the Persian Gulf—makes it essential. “Home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet”—need I say more? Kuwait: The Associated Press is reporting “Police barricaded a main square in Kuwait's capital Tuesday before planned protests for greater political freedoms.” The Kuwaitis are basically a single tribe—but some of this tribe are in the money, and the rest are not. Like the Saudis, the Kuwaiti royal family essentially bribes the rest of the population to keep them docile, while controlling the riches of the country. But crucially, the Kuwaitis have a huge non-national population—only about one third of the 3 million people in the country are actually Kuwaiti: The rest are expatriate workers. Only about 7.5% of this non-Kuwaiti population are American or European—the rest are Arab, Palestinian, Indian, Pakistani and assorted other Asian. And unlike native Kuwaitis who are not members of the royal family, these migrant workers have no rights, no free anything, and no security of any sort. (Imagine if two out of every three people in the States were illegal Mexican migrant workers, and you get the awful, creepy picture.) So political protests in the emirate are very, very dicey. On the one hand, political protests by Kuwaitis against their government are for greater enfranchisement of the Kuwaiti middle class. On the other, this political protest could conceivably spread to the migrant, non-national population—who easily have the numbers to take over the whole place. And this would really matter—Kuwait produces 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. Is the revolt and takeover of Kuwait by its migrant population even possible? Sounds outlandish, absurd—but it could well happen. After all, three months ago, no one would have dreamed that Mubarek would be deposed, and Gaddafi embroiled in a civil war. If Saudi Arabia becomes a flash point, then literally anything is possible. Iran: They’re cool—they got rid of their authoritarian strong man back in ‘79. And the disturbances last year notwithstanding, the ayatollahs running the Islamic Republic are fairly secure in their position in Iran—and they have the Western democracies, especially the United States, to thank for their security. After all, if the U.S. hadn’t been so hell-bent on sanctions and various forms of retaliations and annoyances against Iran, the Iranian people might have focussed their economic disatisfaction on the ayatollahs. Instead, because trade sanctions and other such punitive measures hurt no one except the common people—and since the U.S. has been so blatant about imposing sanctions—the Iranian people in their majority view the United States as the enemy, not the Imams. Hey, if some foreign power—say the Chinese—kept railing against Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner, and kept imposing sanctions on the U.S. for allowing them to remain in power, wouldn’t you hate the Chinese with a passion, a hatred which would override any dislike you might have of Pelosi or Boehner? Of course! That’s what’s happening in Iran—thanks to the blind and idiotic American foreign policy. Is This An Islamic or Religious Revolution?
In a word, no: The events happening in North Africa and the Middle East are not religiously inspired, or led, or even religiously influenced. Lazy Western media pundits, and certain Western politicians with interventionist agendas might want to portray these revolts as being Islamic in nature—especially Radical Islamic: That bugaboo always sells. But they are not. These revolts are secular through and through, because they are born out of middle class frustration at their political disenfranchisement, and the economic squeeze that they are currently enduring. This is why China is so concerned. Like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, China has a tacit agreement between the people and the leadership, in China’s case embodied by the Communist Party: We will run the country autocratically, but we will deliver economic progress—so you will keep quiet and go about your business while we hold on to political power. That tacit agreement has worked like a charm—so long as China has been growing, and people’s material lives have been improving. But with rising consumer inflation in China—especially as regards food—the Chinese Communist Party is very afraid of the people revolting, and demanding a voice in their governance. But back to the Middle East and North Africa: The reason some Western pundits and politicians are eager to paint the revolts as potentially “radical Islamic movements” is that it would give a justification for the West to support the continuation of these autocratic regimes—the corrupt, despicable Saudi royal family most especially. If the rebels in the Middle East and North Africa are seen for what they are—middle class people sick and tired of corrupt regimes keeping them down—then it becomes virtually impossible for the Western democracies to support the autocracies as they are overthrown by the people one after the other. This points to the key question:
Why Is This Happening Now, Instead of Before?
The immediate trigger for these revolts and protests has been rising food prices.
Why have food prices been rising? Because of the inflation Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has been exporting by way of his easy money policies and Quantitative Easing.
Because of the money-printing that Bernanke has been doing via Quantitative Easing, the dollar has weakened against other currencies around the world.
This has bouyed up asset prices in the United States—it’s why the stock markets are at the levels they are, following their collapse back in 2008, and why housing prices haven’t sunk as far down as they should.
But it’s also made commodities—including food—exceedingly expensive, in nominal dollar terms.
Because the dollar is the reserve currency, when food prices go up in dollar terms, it is more expensive for food importers, regardless of whether or not the food is from the United States or some other country.
The reserve status means that, via QE and its iterations, Ben Bernanke has been exporting inflation to the rest of the world—which has made food more expensive, and therefore triggered the revolts in the Middle East that we are seeing. But that’s the specific reason as to why the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa are happening now. The more important question is:
Why Is This Happening At All? The Bible tells us: You reap what you sow—God is not deceived. In the case of the Middle Eastern and North African revolts, History is not deceived: Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarek, Libya’s Gaddafi—they were all supported by the United States and Europe. The same goes for the other regimes in the region that are teetering, including most especially Saudi Arabia. The democracies of the West betrayed everything that they stood for—they deliberately, calculatedly supported these strong-man regimes, against the will of the people of these countries. Why? Simple—the price of oil. Strong men and autocratic regimes allowed the exploitation of the region’s oil resources by Western companies practically for free—that’s why the various Western democracies installed them, or allowed them to remain. Had the oil been in the control of the people of the Middle East and North Africa, higher royalties would most assuredly have been paid. Thus a gallon of gasoline would long ago have been in the US$7 to US$10 range, if not higher.
Because of the cheap oil, the West and the rest of the world did not need to develop any sensible alternative to oil. The depressed prices—bought and paid for by sacrificing the aspirations of the middle classes in North Africa and the Middle East, and propping up autocrats and corrupt royal families—ensured that oil remained the cheapest source of energy. And it made it uneconomical to go research and implement alternate fuel sources.
That’s why the U.S. and Europe supported these Middle Eastern and North African strong-men: For the sake of cheap and dependable oil.
(The exception to this rule was Egypt: The U.S. was bribing Mubarek to the tune of $2 billion a year not because of oil—it was so that Egypt would play nice with Israel. Turns out that much of this U.S. pay-off made its way not to the Egyptian people, or even to the Egyptian military, but to Mubarek’s pockets. Which is the same story across the region in the oil rich countries: The autocrats took the money, the people took a big fat bagel.)
In order for this system to work, of course, the strong-men had to keep a lid on the people. The Saudis and the Kuwaitis tried to bribe their people, the other countries with larger populations tried to intimidate them by military force and the threat of a secret police. But in the end, no amount of bribery or intimidation was enough to wipe away the fact that all of the illegitimate regimes of the region had to keep their boot on the shoulder of the people in order to stay in place. This worked okay, so long as food was affordable, and there was at least the illusion of material progress. But now? With food prices spiking? With a general downturn in the global economy? Not so much.
Which leaves us with the $62 trillion question ($62 trillion being roughly the total GDP of the world):
How Will This Affect Oil—and the Dollar?
After all, that’s what really matters in the short- and medium-term: How will these revolts affect the production, supply and price of oil. The answer is, it depends: It depends if the protests peter out or don’t. Libyan oil production is for all intents and purposes halted—but Saudi Arabia is making up for it by pumping an additional million barrels of oil a day. So Libya doesn’t matter, for now. However, if the Gulf states—especially Saudi Arabia—suffer disruptions in their oil production? Oh boy . . .
In January 1979, the Revolution that overthrew the Shah interrupted Iran’s oil production. When it came back online, it was half what it had been before the Revolution. As a direct result of this, worldwide oil prices shot up catastrophically, bringing with it rising prices across the Western economies, culminating in March 1980, when inflation reached an annualized rate of 14.8% in the United States.
The only way this spiralling inflation did not turn into hyperinflation was because of the mamoth interest rate hikes of the then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker. He had to hike interest rates almost 5% above the rate of inflation, in order to halt it—and he was only able to rein in that beast after three years of high interest rates. The cost of this killer interest rate hike was the worst Post-War recession ever, up to that time. Consider the following chart.
The current Fed chairman Ben Bernanke seems to think that curing inflation is a snap. He said so on 60 Minutes this past December. But the fact is—and to be perfectly vulgar—inflation is a bitch to bring to heel.
If oil production is disrupted because of the problems going on in the Middle East—which is completely within the “possible-to-likely” category at this time—or catastrophically, if there is a disruption of oil production in Saudi Arabia—then we would have a repeat of 1979.
Oil prices would spike quickly to $200 and beyond—how far beyond is anyone’s guess. But the immediate nightmare would be the ripple effect of that rise in oil prices: Food prices would be soon to follow.
In other words, the inflation Bernanke has been exporting will come back at the United States like a boomerang, and clock him upside the head.
But unlike Paul Volcker, who could raise interest rates 5% above the rate of inflation in order to halt it, the U.S. Federal government’s fiscal situation is too weak. With the current $1.6 trillion deficit, the Federal government now borrows more money via Treasury bonds than it takes in via tax receipts—it simply cannot afford to pay higher interest rates for the money it borrows to fund its continued operation.
If the Federal Reserve were to raise interest rates in order to halt inflation, it would make further Federal government debt so expensive that the government would literally go broke.
Bernanke and the members of the Federal Reserve Board know this—so they won’t raise interest rates in order to halt rising consumer prices. Therefore, if the generalized revolt in the Middle East affects production and supply of cheap oil, then inflation in the United States will ramp up just as quickly as it did in 1979–‘80 following the disruptions caused by the Iranian Revolution. But unlike in 1980, the Federal Reserve will not have the bullets or the balls to halt inflation by raising interest rates. Which means that inflation in the United States will spiral relentlessly, catastrophically out of control. From the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia, to the collapse of the reserve currency: 2011 is looking to be quite the year. • If you’re interested, you can find my recorded presentation “Hyperinflation In America” (http://hyperinflationevent.blogspot.com). I discuss in detail what I would do, if and when the dollar crashes. .

Tsunami could hit economy hard

SUBHEAD: The prognosis doesn't look good. What is clear is that the disaster could not have come at a worst time for Japan. By Richard Tanter on 11 March 2011 in Radio Australia - (http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/asiapac/stories/201103/s3162124.htm) Image above: Cars and rubble piled up after tsunami in Japan. From (http://www.christianpost.com/news/quake-tsunami-devastate-japan-49376).

The full scale of the damage wrought on Japan's economy by the earthquake and tsunami is hard to gauge. But what is clear is that the disaster could not have come at a worst time for the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has inherited an ailing economy and just this week grappled with a political crisis. Reporter: Sen Lam Speaker: Richard Tanter, senior research associate, Nautilus Institute

LAM: Barely a week after losing his foreign minister, Seiji Maehara, to a political funding scandal, Prime Minister Naoto Kan has a bigger crisis on his hands. The powerful earthquake which rocked the country, buckling roads and sending a major steel plant ablaze, wrought havoc in Miyagi prefecture. A tsunami reportedly ten metres high, hit the port city of Sendai. Already, the Bank of Japan has pledged to do everything to ensure financial market stability, as Nikkei stock futures fell over three percent. Japan analyst, Richard Tanter, is senior research associate at the Nautilus Institute in Melbourne. Dr Tanter has been following news from Tokyo all afternoon. TANTER: I think it's actually unprecedented in a peace time economy in any of the advanced industrial countries. I just heard the prime minister of Japan and the chief cabinet secretary advising people in coastal areas of Japan to move to higher ground, wherever they can, and to not make the judgement themselves. That means that effectively, if we just look at the Pacific coast side of Japan, the population of most of Tokyo, on the plain, most of Osaka and many cities on that Pacific side, will be responding very quickly to try and move. That in itself, that mass evacuation will cause extraordinary chaos. But of course, almost all the important industrial assets of Japan are located on those two big plains around Tokyo and Osaka and point north and south of there. So to the extent that the tsunami and the earthquake effects are felt even more than a kilometre or so from the coast. There'll be huge damage to the Japanese economy. LAM: As you said, it's an unprecedented peacetime disaster. The yen's fallen, the Nikkei index fell over three percent. Is there likely to be an emergency budget? TANTER: Well, I think Japanese politics has already been in such flux that it's very hard to know what will be done. I'm sure there will be to a certain extent some bipartisanship, but how long it will prevail I don't know. Prime Minister Naoto Kan is dealing with it very effectively on television at the moment, which is important for calming people's fears. Certainly there will need to be urgent budgetary expenditures, how that will handled is not yet clear. LAM: The disaster could not have come at a worst time, with the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan facing a political crisis. He lost his foreign minister barely five, six days ago, and now he's also struggling to revive an ailing economy. How do you think the government will cope? TANTER: Well, it is extremely hard to know. Really, people could be reacting in one of two ways. Either this is the disaster that breaks the camel's back, so to speak. Or it could, as actually did happen around the Kobe earthquake, reveal the resilience of the society and the economy and that's very much what we should be hoping for. But the economic effects, whatever the political context, they're going to be extraordinary. One example of that, is the question of the nuclear power stations which run all along that Pacific coast, particularly north from Tokyo, through Sendai, through Miyagi prefecture itself, going further north, right up to Almori on the tip of Honshu. There are very important nuclear power stations. The government has reported that as designed, they are closing down automatically, but the economic effects can be gauged by from happened the last time there was a major earthquake in Japan, in September 2007, on the other side, the Japan Sea side, which closed down the largest nuclear power plant in Japan for more than year and a half. And so, Japan is highly dependent on these nuclear power stations. They may well have closed automatically and hopefully, there's no radiation problem, but the economic consequences of them closing, and we don't really know the damage yet, but from the 2007 example, these could be out of action for a very long time. And for the world's second, third largest industrial economy, that's an extraordinary prospect to face. LAM: And so they're facing a potentially huge energy crisis? TANTER: They are indeed and this is at a time when the economy was just beginning to stutter and go a little better than had been. In fact Japan outperformed most G7 countries recently, but this has put an end to that. LAM: Japan specialist Richard Tanter of the Nautilus Institute in Melbourne. And as Richard says whether or not an energy crisis is imminent for Japan remains to be seen. But certainly the prognosis doesn't look good. The Hokuriku Electric company reported that it's closed all three reactors at its Onagawa plant. The JX Nippon Oil and Energy Corporation, Japan's top refinery, is also reported to have halted operations at three of its giant plants in Sendai, Kashima and Negishi. Early Japanese paintings and woodblocks have shown us that tsunamis have been hitting Japan for hundreds of years. But the descendants of the Ukiyo-e school are now hoping this latest tsunami won't knock the country back into the last century.

Video above: Scenes of Japan tsunami inundation provided by Al Jazeera. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80CH_XkpSCE).

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Impact of Middle East Unrest

SUBHEAD: Energy is not a segment of the economy; it IS the economy. By 6 Energy Experts on 10 March 2011 in Post Carbon Institute - (http://www.postcarbon.org/blog-post/275142-6-energy-experts-address-the-economic) Image above: Dubai lit up at dusk. From (http://thenakedgardner.com/?p=123).

With instability in the Middle East driving oil prices higher, huge cracks are widening in the global economy. In an effort to broaden the conversation about Middle East unrest and its impacts on oil prices and economies, the Post Carbon Institute offers six informed perspectives on what to expect in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Individuals, businesses and policy makers are made aware of the speed with which seemingly incremental price gains can topple global dominoes.

(In what should be a startling wake up call to industrial society, the Korean government ordered power to be shut off in the bustling metropolis of Seoul to save on fuel costs. Violators face $2700 fines.)

1. THE GLOBAL ECONOMY UTTERLY DEPENDS ON CHEAP OIL

CHRIS MARTENSON (Post Carbon Institute Economy & Personal Preparedness Fellow)

The unfolding social and political unrest in the Middle East/North African (MENA) region are emblematic of changes that will be visiting the rest of the developed world in the near future. Yes, dictators, corruption, and weak justice all play into the MENA situation but underlying those insults is a deeper structural flaw that rests on the relentless math of energy depletion and its relationship to economic growth. The short version of the story is this: the global economy utterly depends on cheap oil to function. Without cheap oil, the economy will not work quite the same as it did before.

We have irreversibly slipped into a world of ever-increasing energy costs and those, predictably, are dragging down the weaker players first. By failing to appreciate the fundamental and irreplaceable role of energy in fostering economic growth, the world’s high priests and priestesses of monetary and fiscal policy have placed the developed world in the exact same situation as the MENA countries.

No, printing more money and manufacturing more debt to promote more consumption will not help anything. In fact these efforts are harmful because they distract us from what’s really at the heart of the issue; instead we should honestly admit to ourselves that we have a gigantic energy-based economic and monetary predicament on our hands. One that requires a clear-eye diagnosis, and adult-sized conversations about what sorts of intelligent responses make sense here.

Assuming the west fails to heed the warnings and lessons being served up by the MENA region, the predictions are easy enough to make. Fiscal and monetary crises will sweep inwards from the weaker regions towards the center. Markets will violently gyrate but ultimately destroy wealth. We still have time, but not a lot, especially considering that the leadership of the developed world is, for the most part, operating with the wrong narrative in place. The right one would consider energy and other critical environmental resources equally alongside economic goals.

2. OIL SPIKES UNDERCUT ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PROGRAMS

DAVID FRIDLEY (Post Carbon Institute – Renewable Energy & Biofuels Fellow)

Since 2008, oil demand in the developed countries of the OECD has declined by 4 million barrels/day. Over the same period, oil demand in the rest of the world has risen by 4 million barrels/day. In 2011, the world has returned to the precarious balance of oil supply and demand that we faced in 2007 and 2008, when rising demand and stagnant production sent prices soaring to nearly $150.

The uprising in Libya, removing 700,000 b/d from the market, yet sending crude oil prices up 15%, reminds us both of how fragile that balance is as well as of how little has changed since 2008 in terms of our preparedness for such price shocks. If unrest were to spread to the core of the Middle East producing area in Saudi Arabia, disruption of exports from there could produce a price spike unlike any experienced in the past. And with the spike would come another economic crash.

The events since January highlight important vulnerabilities: one is the mismatch between the long lead times of our programs to develop alternatives to oil and the rapidity with which crude oil supply can be disrupted, sending markets into turmoil and undercutting the same programs attempting to mitigate such impacts. A second is reliance on strategic and critical inputs that are sourced from a small concentration of producers. As the US looks to move away from oil for transportation, it is at the same time moving to import dependence on other critical inputs such as lithium for batteries and rare earths for hybrid-car motor magnets from a small concentration of producers. This leaves our energy system open to the same types of supply and price shocks as we are witnessing today.

3. LIBYA & MIDDLE EAST UNREST WIDEN A VICIOUS CIRCLE

COLIN J. CAMPBELL – Post Carbon Institute Adviser

Oil and gas were formed in the geological past, meaning that for every gallon used, one less remains. Although the details are masked by unreliable data and ambiguous definitions, it becomes evident that Oil Age is about half over. Growing oil production during the First Half facilitated the rapid expansion of industry, transport, trade and agriculture, allowing the population to grow six-fold. Declining production during the Second Half will likely give a corresponding contraction.

Shortages appeared following the peak of Regular Conventional oil production in 2005, and led to a surge in oil price in 2008, which gave an economic recession and financial crisis, killing oil demand. Prices then fell back to 2005 levels before Governments intervened to stimulate consumerism under outdated economic principles. Oil demand recovered to again threaten the supply barrier, such that prices had risen to almost $100 by the end of 2010.

The transition to the Second Half threatens to be a time of great social, political, financial and economic tension, as recent events, ranging from student demonstrations in London to revolutions in North Africa, confirm. Some of the affected countries, including Libya, are important oil producers, run by authoritarian regimes controlling underlying tribal conflicts. Oil revenues allowed the elite to amass colossal wealth but also bred a corresponding resentment, which exploded when the people at large faced soaring food costs and rising unemployment.

Oil production will fall in Libya whatever the political outcome, and it will not be easy to replace it elsewhere. Oil prices are accordingly likely to rise again prompting a certain vicious circle: the higher the price, the greater the social tension and the risk of further cuts in supply. A critical element is of course Saudi Arabia, responsible for more than ten percent of the world’s supply of conventional oil, and it is significant that tensions have been rising in Bahrain, an island off its coast, and in the neighboring countries of Yemen and Oman.

If this vicious circle widens, it will represent a turning point for mankind of historic proportions.

4. HEY TEACHER: LEAVE THOSE AUTOCRATIC REGIMES ALONE!

RICHARD HEINBERG (PCI Senior Fellow-in-Residence)

Many in the US cheered as decrepit dictators in Egypt and Tunisia fell. But now that more democracy for North African and Middle Eastern nations seems to translate to higher gasoline prices for American motorists, the real motives for, and costs of Western nations’ decades-long support for autocratic regimes in oil-rich nations are becoming apparent. This was a strategy to control the world’s most important resource, but it was wrong-headed from the start because it could not be sustained on the backs of millions of people with rising expectations but declining ability to afford food and fuel.

If somehow the uprisings can be confined to Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain, oil-importing nations may be able to weather 2011 with minimal GDP declines resulting from $100 oil prices. But that is a big “if.” It is really only a matter of time until Saudi Arabia is engulfed in sectarian and political turmoil, and when that happens we will see biggest oil price spike ever, and central banks will be unable to stop the ensuing economic carnage.

It’s both comic and sad to see certain economists insisting that a 10 percent rise in oil prices will translate only to a certain smaller percentage of decline in GDP growth. There are thresholds—such as $5 a gallon gasoline for US motorists—that will make hash of such forecasts. Energy is not a segment of the economy; it IS the economy.

I think we’re probably in for a very nasty ride these next few months.

5. CHINA & THE INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY: BOOKS BALANCED?

TOM WHIPPLE – Post Carbon Institute Peak Oil Fellow

Prior to the unrest breaking out in the Middle East, all eyes were on China for an answer to the question of “How high will oil prices go in the next year or two?” In 2010 the demand for oil surged ahead by 2.8 million b/d, much more rapidly than had been expected. Much of this increase in demand came from China where a number of factors converged to push demand to new highs.

To avoid predicting a growth-killing price spike this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) decided that the increase in demand for oil in 2011 would be only 1.5 million b/d. This forecast assumed that the seriously overheated Chinese economy would have to cut back markedly on the annual growth of its oil consumption this year in order to control price inflation.

In order to balance the books IEA envisioned OPEC slowly increasing production in 2011 out of its spare productive capacity. The IEA now recognizes that production from newly opened oil fields is very close to balancing declines in production from older fields, so not much increase in total world oil production is expected in the future.

We have a whole new game. After working through Tunisia and Egypt, the Middle Eastern unrest came to a significant oil producer, Libya, which had been exporting circa 1.3 million b/d of the world’s best crude. Now it is exporting little if any oil and world prices are $15+ a barrel higher.

As it became apparent that the loss of Libyan crude exports was going to be a major economic problem for the European economy, the Saudis stepped in to say they would increase production from what they claim to be 3 or 4 million b/d of spare productive capacity. As the Saudi’s are reluctant to announce production above their OPEC ceiling, they have relied on leaks to get out the message that they are now producing somewhere over 9 million b/d – various reports have their output at 9.2, 9.3, or even 9.4 million b/d, up from 8.4 million in January. A few other OPEC states with spare capacity are said to be increasing production by another 300,000 b/d. All this makes it look, on paper, that should Libyan oil production remain shut-in for weeks or months, the missing oil output will be replaced and oil prices should move lower.

This happy scenario, however, does not take into account China and its voracious appetite for imported energy. Should the IEA be overestimating OPEC’s real spare capacity, or underestimating the size of China’s demand for imported oil, or should unrest force another Middle East producer to slow or halt its output, the global oil world will be a different place by the end of the year.

6. ADDICTS EVENTUALLY PAY THE PRICE

DAVID HUGHES – Post Carbon Institute Fossil Fuels Fellow

We need to prepare for the inevitable crises that will upset the apple cart on oil supply. Macondo was just an appetizer. So far, the Libyan revolt is only an unforeseen precursor that has caused indigestion in the oil importing countries. The Saudi’s are numero uno when it comes to a major case of the oil deprivation flu. If they go at it, all bets are off. And if Iran goes, watch out world.

The worst case scenario I usually toss out in my talks is the obvious: If Israel takes aggressive action against Iran, Iran will in turn shut down the Strait of Hormuz, shutting off 20% of the world’s oil supply.

If the Libyan revolt is contained and either someone sane or maybe even Gaddafi retains power, then oil prices will stabilize—for awhile.

American’s are broke and hopelessly oil addicted–this could be the wakeup call needed in terms of high oil prices and potentially even supply restrictions that will make Americans believers in the vulnerabilities of their current lifestyle.

The implications of the current unrest for the global economy and the industrialized world, which imports over half of its oil consumption, should be obvious.

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Why Growth Won’t Return - Food

SUBHEAD: Food producers’ ability to meet growing needs is being strained by rising human population.  

By Richard Heinberg on 10 March 2011 in Post Carbon Instutite -
(http://www.postcarbon.org/article/272062-earth-s-limits-why-growth-won-t-return)

 
Image above:Photo of women on food line. From (http://hillary.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/08/24/clinton_and_irish_foreign_secretary_to_host_food_conference).
 
This article is the fourth excerpt from Chapter 3 of Richard Heinberg’s new book ‘The End of Growth’, which is set for publication by New Society Publishers in September 2011. In the previous installment, Richard discusses water as one of the various factors external to financial and monetary systems that is effectively choking off efforts to restart growth. Below, Richard discusses the role of FOOD as a limitation to economic growth. 

Chapter 3, Part 1.
Chapter 3 Part 3.
Access previous chapters here.
In addition to water, people need food for their very existence. Thus food is also essential to economic growth.

Problems with maintenance of far-flung and intensive food production systems played a role in the collapse of previous civilizations, including the Roman Empire.[1] Mesopotamia, the green and lush center of the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations, was largely turned to desert as a result of soil erosion. The Mayan civilization likewise succumbed to declining food production, according to recent archaeological research.[2]

Industrial societies have skirted what would otherwise have been limiting factors to food production using irrigation, new crop varieties, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and mechanization—as well as expanded transport networks that allow local abundance to be shared globally.

In terms of productivity, 20th century agriculture constituted an unprecedented story of success: grain production increased an astounding 500 percent (from under 400 million tons in 1900 to nearly two billion in 2000). This achievement mostly depended on the increasing use of cheap and temporarily abundant fossil fuels.[3]

At the beginning of the 20th century, most people farmed and agriculture was driven by muscle-power (animal and human). Today in most countries, farmers make up a much smaller proportion of the population than was formerly the case and agriculture is at least partly mechanized.

Fuel-fed machines plow, plant, harvest, sort, process, and deliver foods, and industrial farmers typically work larger parcels of land. They also typically sell their harvest to a distributor or processor, who then sells packaged food products to a wholesaler, who in turn sells these products to chains of supermarkets or restaurants.

The ultimate consumer of food is thus several steps removed from the producer, and food systems in most nations or regions have become dominated by a few giant multinational seed companies, agricultural chemicals corporations, and farm machinery manufacturers, as well as food wholesalers, distributors, and supermarket and fast-food chains.

Farm inputs have also changed. A century ago, farmers saved seeds from year to year, while soil amendments were likely to come from the farm itself in the form of animal manures. Farmers only bought basic implements, plus some useful materials such as lubricants. Today’s industrial farmer relies on an array of packaged products (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, feed, antibiotics), as well as fuels, powered machines, and spare parts. The annual cash outlays for these can be daunting, requiring farmers to take out substantial loans.

The path to our current food abundance was littered with incidental costs, most borne by the environment. Agriculture has become the single greatest source of human impact upon the planet as a result of soil salinization, deforestation, loss of habitat and biodiversity, fresh water scarcity, and pesticide pollution of water and soil.[4]

Fertilizer use worldwide increased 500 percent from 1960 to 2000, and this contributed to an explosion of “dead zones” in seas and oceans, upsetting a process of nutrient cycling that has existed for billions of years.[5]

There have been some environmental improvements to agriculture in recent years: U.S. farming is more energy efficient than it was a couple of decades ago, fertilizer use has declined somewhat, and more effort goes toward soil conservation. But in general, and especially on the global scene, as food production has grown, so have environmental impacts.[6]

Now, further expansion of the food supply appears problematic. World grain production per capita peaked in 1984 at 342 kg annually. For many years production has not met demand, so the gap has been filled by dipping into carryover stocks; currently, less than two months’ supply remains as a buffer.[7]

The challenges to increasing production come from several directions simultaneously: water scarcity (see above), topsoil erosion (we are “mining” topsoil with industrial agriculture at almost four times the rate we are mining coal—over 25 billion tons per year versus 7 billion tons), declining soil fertility, limits to arable land, declining seed diversity, increasing requirements for inputs (pests are developing resistance to common pesticides and herbicides, requiring larger doses), and, not least, increasing costs of fossil fuel inputs.[8]

But as the energy required to run the food system becomes more costly, food is increasingly being used to make energy: Many governments now offer subsidies and other incentives for turning biomass—including food crops—into fuel. This inevitably drives up food prices. Even non-fuel crops such as wheat are affected, as farmers replace wheat fields with more profitable biofuel crops like maize, rapeseed, or soy.

Mineral depletion is also posing a limit to the human food supply. Phosphorus is often a limiting factor in natural ecosystems; that is, the supply of available phosphorus limits the possible size of populations in those environments. That’s because phosphorus is one of the three major nutrients required for plant growth (nitrogen and potassium are the other two). Most agricultural phosphorus is obtained from mining phosphate rock: organic farmers use crude phosphate, while conventional industrial farms use chemically treated forms such as superphosphate, triple superphosphate, or ammonium phosphates.

Fortunately, phosphorus can be recycled, as the Chinese did in their traditional food-agriculture systems, where human and animal wastes were returned to the soil. But today vast amounts of what might otherwise be valuable soil nutrients are flushed down waterways, and wind up being deposited at the mouths of rivers.[9]

In 2007, Canadian physicist and agricultural consultant Patrick Déry studied phosphorus production statistics worldwide using Hubbert linearization analysis (a technique used to forecast oil depletion rates) and concluded that the peak of phosphate production has been passed for both the United States (1988) and for the world as a whole (1989).

Déry looked at data not only for phosphate that is currently commercially minable, but for reserves of rock phosphate of lower concentrations; he found—no surprise—that these would be more costly to exploit from economic, energetic, and environmental standpoints.[10] Déry’s conclusions are echoed in a recent report by Britain’s Soil Association.[11]

There are three main solutions to the problem of Peak Phosphate: composting of human wastes, including urine diversion; more efficient application of fertilizer; and farming in such a way as to make existing soil phosphorus more accessible to plants.

Food supply challenges extend from farms to the world’s oceans. Fish like cod, sardines, haddock, and flounder have been favorites for decades in Europe and North America, but many of these species are now endangered. Global marine seafood capture peaked in 1994.

An international group of ecologists and economists warned in 2006 that the world will run out of wild seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue at current rates. They noted that as of 2003, 29 percent of all fished species had collapsed, meaning they were at least 90 percent below their historic maximum catch levels. The rate of population collapses continues to accelerate. The lead author of the group’s report, Boris Worm, was quoted as saying, “We really see the end of the line now. It’s within our lifetime.

Our children will see a world without seafood if we don’t change things.”[12] According to a more recent study, many types of fish have great difficulty recovering even if over-fishing stops. After 15 years of conservation efforts, many stocks had barely increased in numbers. Cod, for example, failed to recover at all.[13]

Here, then is the overall picture: Demand for food is slowly outstripping supply. Food producers’ ability to meet growing needs is increasingly being strained by rising human populations, falling freshwater supplies, the rise of biofuels industries, expanding markets within industrializing nations for more resource-intensive meat and fish-based diets; dwindling wild fisheries; and climate instability. The result will almost inevitably be a worldwide food crisis sometime in the next two or three decades.[14]

The challenges to increasing global food production or even maintaining current rates are linked not only with the other problems discussed in this chapter (changing climate, energy resource depletion, water scarcity, and mineral depletion) but also with the problems discussed in Chapter 2: Modern agriculture requires a system of credit and debt.

Unless farmers can obtain credit, they cannot afford increasingly expensive inputs. Food processors and wholesalers likewise require access to credit. Thus a prolonged credit crisis could devastate the world’s food supply as dramatically as any imaginable weather event.

The solution often proposed to these daunting food system challenges is genetic engineering. If we can splice genes to make more productive crop varieties, more nutritious foods, plants that can grow in saltwater, fish that grow faster, or grains that can fix atmospheric nitrogen the way legumes do, then we could reduce the need for freshwater irrigation, nitrogen fertilizers, and overfishing while growing more food and nourishing people better.

It sounds too good to be true—and probably is. In reality, most currently patented plant genes merely confer resistance to insect pests or proprietary herbicides; the promise of more nutrient-rich crops and of nitrogen-fixing grains is still years from realization.

 Meanwhile, the designer-gene seed industry continues to depend on energy-intensive technologies (such as chemical fertilizers and herbicides), as well as centralized production and distribution systems, along with financial systems based on credit and debt.

So far, gene splicing in food plants has succeeded mostly in generating enormous profits for an increasingly centralized corporate seed industry, and more debt for farmers. As for gene-altered fish, ecologists warn that while these are meant to be raised in enclosed areas, if even a few accidentally escaped into the wild they could quickly displace remaining related wild populations and upend fragile and already compromised ecosystems.[15]

It’s worth noting that for the past few decades a vocal minority of farmers, agricultural scientists, and food system theorists including Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Vandana Shiva, Robert Rodale, and Michael Pollan, has argued against centralization, industrialization, and globalization of agriculture, and for an ecological agriculture with minimal fossil fuel inputs.

Where their ideas have taken root, the adaptation to Peak Oil and the end of growth will be easier. Unfortunately, their recommendations have not become mainstream, because industrialized, globalized agriculture has proved capable of producing larger short-term profits for banks and agribusiness cartels.

Even more unfortunately, the available time for a large-scale, proactive food system transition before the impacts of Peak Oil and economic contraction arrive is gone. We’ve run out the clock.

References
1. In his book, Dirt, David Montgomery makes a powerful case that soil erosion was a major cause of the Roman economy’s decline. David Montgomery, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007).
2. T. Beach et al., “Impacts of the Ancient Maya on Soils and Soil Erosion in the Central Maya Lowlands,” Catena 65, no.2 (February 28, 2006), 166-178.
3. Richard Heinberg and Michael Blomford, The Food and Farming Transition, Post Carbon Institute, 2009, available online http://www.postcarbon.org/report/41306-the-food-and-farming-transition-toward.
4. Jonathan Foley, “The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Land Use,” Yale Environment 360, posted October 5, 2009.
5. “World Fertilizer Consumption,” spreadsheet for “Food and Agriculture,” Earth Policy Institute Data Center, posted January 12, 2011, http://www.earth-policy.org/data_center/C24; Robert J. Diaz et al., “Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems,” Science 321, no.926 (2008).
6. David Tilman et al., “Agricultural Sustainability and Intensive Production Practices,” Nature 418 (August 8, 2002), 671-677.
7. Scott Kilman and Liam Pleven, “Harvest Shocker Rattles Wall Street,” The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2010.
8. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Protect and Produce: Restoring the Land,” in Dimensions of Need–An Atlas of Food and Agriculture (Rome: FAO, 1995); Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture,” Environmental Health Perspectives 110, no.5 (May, 2002).
9. Patrick Déry and Bart Anderson, “Peak Phosphorus,” The Oil Drum, posted August 17, 2007, www.theoildrum.com/node/2882.
10. Patrick Déry, Pérenniser l’agriculture, Mémoire pour la Commission Sur l’Avenir de l’Agriculture du Québec, GREB, April 2007.
11. A Rock and a Hard Place: Peak Phosphorus and the Threat to our Food Security, (Bristol UK: Soil Association, 2010).
12. Juliet Eilperin, “World’s Fish Supply Running Out, Researchers Warn,” The Washington Post, November 3, 2006.
13. Corinne Podger, “Depleting Fish Stocks,” BBC World Service, posted August 29, 2000.
14. Julian Cribb, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010).
15. R.D. Howard, J.A. DeWoody, and W.M. Muir, “Transgenic Male Mating Advantage Provides Opportunity for Trojan Gene Effect in Fish,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 101, no.9 (February 19, 2004), 2934-2938. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Why Gowth Won't Return - Water 3/5/11 .