Right now, you don’t have a choice. There is no law in the United States requiring that genetically modified organisms be labeled. About 90 percent of the food products found in stores nowadays contain GMO ingredients, a representative for the billion-dollar GMO industry said last week,
Kaua‘i is debating whether to support changing the law and joining 21 countries and the European Union, which already have some sort of mandatory GMO labeling, according to County Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura.
“The federal government has let people down, and that’s why we are asking (GMO products) to be labeled,” said Ken Taylor, a Kapa‘a resident and former Kaua‘i County Council hopeful.
Kapa‘a resident Lonnie Sykos had harsher words. “We object to being human guinea pigs,” he said.
Siding with Maui County, the Kaua‘i County Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved including a proposal to label GMO products in the 2012 Hawai‘i State Association of Counties legislative package.
Council members reached the decision after hearing testimony on Nov. 16 and 23, and sorting through approximately 60 letters of written testimony from all over the state — 10 to 1 in support of the proposal, according to Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i.
Kapaia resident and private chef Ginger Carson supports labeling. Apparently her geese just won’t eat GMO foods. Carson said she tried to feed them GMO corn, but they wouldn’t even get close to it. With papaya peelings — normally a delicacy for the birds — it’s the same story. The geese won’t touch it, she said.
Despite many health concerns brought up during testimony, Councilman Tim Bynum clarified the issue.
“This isn’t about banning, this isn’t about testing,” he said. “It’s about giving people a choice.”
Carson, Taylor and Sykos were among a group of approximately a dozen residents who testified Wednesday in favor of labeling GMO products. Not one speaker on Wednesday opposed was to labeling.
On Nov. 16, the field was more level with several speakers — including a scientist, a GMO industry representative and farmers — vehemently opposed to labeling.
“I’m very adamant about this position,” said farmer Roy Oyama, speaking on behalf of Kaua‘i Farm Bureau. Oyama opposes labeling because he feras it would increase costs for farmers who are already struggling to make ends meet.
If the issue clears all hurdles and becomes law, Hawai‘i may not be the first or last in the U.S. to approve such restrictions. Next year, the state of California will likely put a similar resolution in a ballot, given that a little over 500,000 signatures have been collected. Oyama said he believes California will pass the resolution.
The full council is expected to give the issue a final vote next week. If approved, it will be on the table at the next Hawaii State Association of Counties meeting on Dec. 23.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said council members in the city and county of Honolulu stopped the proposal at the committee level, but he encouraged Kaua‘i residents to send written testimony to Honolulu, the same way testimony from Maui, O‘ahu and Moloka‘i was sent to Kaua‘i County’s council.
Letting people know what is in their food is very important, said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura. Although Nakamura agreed with Yukimura, she had some concerns.
Nakamura voted for the proposal but said she does not believe the state would be able to enforce such a regulation, which is more of a federal government deal. The state can’t even enforce its own regulations, she said.See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Non-GMO Shopping Guide 8/15/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Council argues GMO labels 11/17/11 Ea O Ka Aina: GMO-HFCS by another name 9/15/11 Ea O Ka Aina: Maui GMO Labeling 9/12/11 .
By Jan Lundgren on 23 November 2011 for Culture Change -
Image above: Occupy Wall Street encampment in Liberty Park, NYC. From (http://justpiper.com/2011/10/jp-recommended-eat-the-rich-anarchists-for-big-government).
There may well be a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, based on the outrageous income disparity perpetrated by greedy, non-civic minded capitalists. However, even if their vast monetary wealth were turned over to "the 99%," divided equally and put to good uses for future generations, the problem is that today's wealth is almost entirely artificial. It has become digital and is little else.
Of useful, lasting value is the land that can grow food, retain water, and withstand climate chaos on the rise. One can only hope that the Occupy movement will hit upon this and recognize that whether reforms or a revolution upset the apple cart -- allowing the common people to get their share of apples -- today's astronomical sums of funny money is not edible. Today it can buy a lot, true, but there is no future for a financially based economy propped up by inflated home values, loans, debts, and deficit spending. The cheap oil that built everything physical is now past its halfway depletion point globally, and oil's high price is hugely subsidized.
Think of it this way: if there are 100 people in a community, and one person owns several times as much wealth as the average person among the other 99 based on the industrial, material and financial system, what happens if the community is faced with a permanent cessation of key resources and most output? Before the cessation there could be redistribution, but an unsustainable economy based on endless growth -- when resource constraint has terminated growth -- will sustain no middle class splendor for the other 99 (or 72 or 35, what have you). You can picture the wealth running out for everyone -- even if it were not the digital, inflated money that formed Wall Street fortunes based on "financial instruments" that compounded and multiplied bundles of debt down to the local and individual level.
So the timing of the Occupy revolution -- whatever it becomes, if it succeeds somehow in redistributing today's material and digital wealth -- happens to come not only when income disparity is at an all time extreme, but when population size is at an all time high, and the unusustainable economy is teetering. It is not teetering because "the 1%" took more than their share (although the greed aggravated symptoms of unsustainability), but rather because the natural wealth of healthy land, clean water, stable climate, rich biodiversity, have been severely depleted.
Global greenhouse gas emissions are unabated, and climate scientists are now saying that turning the warming trend around is probably not possible. So, how can redistributing the pie of consumption solve anything, unless an accompanying lifestyle change and massive tree planting take over?
The New York City greater metropolitan area has over 25 million people. Their ecological footprint is about 19 times the area of the land they occupy. So where are the resources, such as food, energy, materials, water and air coming from? Answer: from healthier land far removed.
The idea of a transition to a sustainable, steady state economy is beautiful and sensible. But with such high numbers, and almost no effort happening on a large scale to conserve or restore nature for local food production, for example, even a wildly successful Occupy movement or Transition Town program cannot care for 25 million people depending on a huge footprint. Today only 5 out of 6 people in the U.S. are not going hungry, but it is accomplished through expensive and subsidized petroleum, dwindling clean water, and food imported from afar. Money from the super rich would not change the big picture long into the future.
Given all of the above, one must conclude that the Occupy movement should recognize that economic and ecological collapse are in the pipeline, and that redistribution of land is more important than stripping the super rich of most of their money. Because, that money won't do much to sustain people in today's damaged, overpopulated and depleted world. Even if "the 1%" let go of most of their wealth voluntarily, and saw to it that there was even redistribution, today's modern world cannot keep up the massive consumption going on and on with no end in sight.
One could crunch numbers to arrive at various levels of sharing or redistributing wealth in order to bolster or refute the thesis that shutting down greed will not change much. If wealth redistribution were to happen before petrocollapse and climate collapse, the redistribution itself could bring on socioeconomic collapse or financial chaos. Regardless, there is no disputing that the consumer economy and our population size are unsustainable. No matter how you slice it, the vast wealth today generated for the enjoyment of the few, even if re-routed, is not going to allow for a happy, enlarged middle class who could be indefinitely satisfied with one nice car, one spacious or comfortable home, etc. An apt comparison is that Western Europeans consume half the energy that North Americans do, per capita -- that's admirable and superior, but also unsustainable.
So it is too late for mass exuberance, as Overshoot author William Catton termed our modern lifestyle and economy. To demand, as some Occupiers do, "our economy back" or to criticize the banksters for "wrecking our economy" is to cling to the American Dream, as if it were obtainable by everyone forever. Similarly, to imagine that the U.S. corporate state was a democracy working just fine until perhaps 1980 or 2001, the basis of the nation's power structure is forgotten or never learned. These delusions merely glorify the prior decades up to now that were unacceptable then, too, and assuredly were leading to the more aggravated class distinction we see today.
A non-exuberant lifestyle and a common set of realistic, nature-loving, cooperative aspirations need to take the place of the dominant paradigm that has been faulty and unfair from the start. Expansion was able to take care of much potential discontent for many decades, and with no more expansion or bona fide "recovery" it's no wonder that discontent is rising now in the streets when the curtain has come down on growth.
By Tom Murphy on 23 November 2011 for Energy Bulletin -
Image above: Solar electric Club Car golf cart. From (http://www.solargreencompany.com/Solar_Cart_Rental.html).
If you like the sun, and you like cars, then I’m guessing you’d love to have a solar-powered car, right? This trick works well for chocolate and peanut butter, but not so well for garlic bread and strawberries. So how compatible are cars with solar energy? Do we relish the combination or spit it out? Let’s throw the two together, mix with math, and see what happens. What Are Our Options?
Short of some solar-to-liquid-fuel breakthrough—which I dearly hope can be realized, and described near the end of a recent post—we’re talking electric cars here. This is great, since electric drive trains can be marvelously efficient (ballpark 85–90%), and immediately permit the clever scheme of regenerative braking.
Obviously there is a battery involved as a power broker, and this battery can be charged (at perhaps 90% efficiency) via:
- on-board internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline or equivalent;
- utility electricity;
- a fixed solar installation;
- on-board solar panels.
First, let’s examine the requirements. For “acceptable” travel at freeway speeds (30 m/s, or 67 m.p.h.), and the ability to seat four people comfortably, we would have a very tough job getting a frontal area smaller than 2 m² and a drag coefficient smaller than cD = 0.2—yielding a “drag area” of 0.4 m². Even a bicyclist tends to have a larger drag area than this!
Using the sort of math developed in the post on limits to gasoline fuel economy, we find that our car will experience a drag force of Fdrag = ½ρcDAv² ≈ 250 Newtons (about 55 lbs).
Work is force times distance, so to push the car 30 meters down the road each second will require about 7,500 J of energy (see the page on energy relations for units definitions and relationships). Since this is the amount of energy needed each second, we can immediately call this 7,500 Watts—which works out to about ten horsepower. I have not yet included rolling resistance, which is about 0.01 times the weight of the car. For a super-light loaded mass of 600 kg (6000 N), rolling resistance adds a 60 N constant force, requiring an additional 1800 W for a total of about 9 kW.
What can solar panels deliver? Let’s say you can score some space-quality 30% efficient panels (i.e., twice as efficient as typical panels on the market). In full, overhead sun, you may get 1,000 W/m² of solar flux, or a converted 300 W for each square meter of panel. We would then need 30 square meters of panel. Bad news: the top of a normal car has well less than 10 square meters available. I measured the upward facing area of a sedan (excluding windows, of course) and got about 3 m². A truck with a camper shell gave me 5 m².
If we can manage to get 2 kW of instantaneous power, this would allow the car in our example to reach a cruising speed on the flats of about 16 m/s (35 m.p.h.). In a climb, the car could lift itself up a grade at only one vertical meter every three seconds (6000 J to lift the car one meter, 2000 J/s of power available). This means a 5% grade would slow the car to 6.7 m/s, or 15 miles per hour—in full sun. Naturally, batteries will come in handy for smoothing out such variations: charging on the downhill and discharging on the uphill, for an average speed in the ballpark of 30 m.p.h.
So this dream of a family being comfortably hurtled down the road by real-time sun will not come to pass. (Note: some Prius models offered a solar roof option, but this just drove a fan for keeping the car cooler while parked—maybe simply offsetting the extra heat from having a dark panel on the roof!) But what of these races in Australia? We have real-live demonstrations.
The Dream Realized
In recent years, the Tokai Challenger, from Tokai University in Japan, has been a top performer at the World Solar Challenge. They use a 1.8 kW array of 30% efficient panels (hey—my guess was right on!), implying 6 square meters of panel. The weight of the car plus driver is a mere 240 kg. As with most cars in the competition, the thing looks like a thin, worn-down bar of soap with a bubble for the driver’s head: both the drag coefficient (a trout-like 0.11) and the frontal area (I’m guessing about 1 m², but probably less) are trimmed to the most absurd imaginable limits. From these numbers, I compute a freeway-speed aerodynamic drag of about 60 Newtons and a rolling resistance of about 25 N, for a total of 85 N: about 35% of what we computed for a “comfortable” car. Solving for the speed at which the combination of air drag plus rolling resistance requires 1.8 kW of power input, I get 26 m/s, or 94 km/h, or 58 m.p.h., which is very close to the reported speed.
Bring on the Batteries: Just Add Sun
We have seen that a practical car operating strictly under its own on-board power turns in a disappointing performance. But if we could use a large battery bank, we could store energy received when the car is not in use, or from externally-delivered solar power. Even the Australian solar racers are allowed 5 kWh of storage on board. Let’s beef this up for driving in normal conditions. Using today’s production models as examples, the Volt, Leaf, and Tesla carry batteries rated at 16, 24, and 53 kWh, respectively.
Let’s say we want a photovoltaic (PV) installation—either on the car or at home—to provide all the juice, with the requirement that one day is enough to fill the “tank.” A typical location in the continental U.S. receives an average of 5 full-sun hours per day. This means that factoring in day/night, angle of the sun, season, and weather, a typical panel will gather as much energy in a day as it would have if the high-noon sun persisted for five hours. To charge the Volt, then, would require an array capable of cranking out 3 kW of peak power. The Tesla would require a 10 kW array to provide a daily charge. The PV areas required vastly exceed what is available on the car itself (need 10 m² even for the 3 kW system at a bank-breaking 30% efficiency; twice this area for affordable panels).
But this is not the best way to look at it. Most people care about how far they can travel each day. A typical electric car requires about 30 kWh per 100 miles driven. So if your daily march requires 30 miles of round-trip range, this takes about 10 kWh and will need a 2 kW PV system to provide the daily juice. You might be able to squeeze this onto the car roof.
How do the economics work out? Keeping up this 30 mile per day pattern, day after day, would require an annual gasoline cost of about $1000 (if the car gets about 40 MPG). Installed cost of PV is coming in around $4 per peak Watt lately, so the 2 kW system will cost $8000. Thus you offset (today’s) gas prices in 8 years. This math applies to the standard 15% efficient panels, which precludes a car-top solution. For this reason, I will primarily focus on stationary PV from here on.
Practicalities: Stand-Alone or Grid-Tie?
Ah—the practicalities. Where dreams get messy. For the purist, a totally solar car is not going to be so easy. The sun does not adhere to our rigid schedule, and we often have our car away from home during the prime-charging hours anyway. So to stay truly solar, we would need significant home storage to buffer against weather and charge-schedule mismatch.
The idea is that you could roll home at the end of the day, plug up your car, and transfer stored energy from the stationary battery bank to your car’s battery bank. You’d want to have several days of reliable juice, so we’re talking a battery bank of 30–50 kWh. At $100 per kWh for lead-acid, this adds something like $4000 to the cost of your system. But the batteries don’t last forever. Depending on how hard the batteries are cycled, they might last 3–5 years. A bigger bank has shallower cycles, and will therefore tolerate more of these and last longer, but for higher up-front cost.
The net effect is that the stationary battery bank will cost about $1000 per year, which is exactly what we had for the gasoline cost in the first place. However, I am often annoyed by economic arguments. More important to me is the fact that you can do it. Double the gas prices and we have our 8-year payback again, anyway. Purely economic decisions tend to be myopic, focused on the conditions of today (and with some reverence to trends of the past). But fundamental phase transitions like peak oil are seldom considered: we will need alternative choices—even if they are more expensive than the cheap options we enjoy today.
The other route to a solar car—much more widespread—is a grid-tied PV system. In this case, your night-time charging comes from traditional production inputs (large regional variations in mix of coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro), while your daytime PV production helps power other people’s air conditioners and other daytime electricity uses. Dedicating 2 kW of panel to your transportation needs therefore offsets the net demand on inputs (fossil fuel, in many cases), effectively acting to flatten demand variability. This is a good trend, as it employs otherwise underutilized resources at night, and provides (in aggregate) peak load relief so that perhaps another fossil fuel plant is not needed to satisfy peak demand. Here, the individual does not have to pay for a stationary battery bank. The grid acts as a battery, which will work well enough as long as the solar input fraction remains small.
As reassuring as it is that we’re dealing with a possible—if expensive—transportation option, I must disclose one additional gotcha that makes for a slightly less rosy picture. Compared to a grid-tied PV system, a standalone system must build in extra overhead so that the batteries may be fully charged and conditioned on a regular basis. As the batteries approach full charge, they require less current and therefore often throw away potential solar energy. Combining this with charging efficiency (both in the electronics and in the battery), it is not unusual to need twice the PV outlay to get the same net delivered energy as one would have in a grid-tied system. Then again, if we went full-scale grid-tied, we would need storage solutions that would again incur efficiency hits and require a greater build-up to compensate.
A Niche for Solar Transport
There is a niche in which a vehicle with a PV roof could be self-satisfied. Golf carts that can get up to 25 m.p.h. (40 km/h) can be useful for neighborhood errands, or for transport within a small community. They are lightweight and slow, so they can get by with something like 15 kWh per 100 miles. Because travel distances are presumably small, we can probably keep within 10 miles per day, requiring 1.5 kWh of input per day. The battery is usually something like 5 kWh, so can store three days’ worth right in the cart. At an average of five full-sun hours per day, we need 300 W of generating capacity, which we can achieve with 2 square meters of 15% efficient PV panel. Hey! This could work: self-contained, self-powered transport. Plug it in only when weather conspires against you. And unlike unicorns, I’ve seen one of these beasts tooling around the UCSD campus!
Digression: Cars as the National Battery?
What if we eventually converted our fleet of petroleum-powered cars to electric cars with a substantial renewable infrastructure behind it. Would the cars themselves provide the storage we need to balance the system? For the U.S., let’s take 200 million cars, each able to store 30 kWh of energy. In the extreme, this provides 6 billion kWh of storage, which is about 50 times smaller than the full-scale battery that I have argued we would want to allow a complete renewable energy scheme.
And this assumes that the cars have no demands of their own: that they obediently stay in place during times of need. In truth, cars will operate on a much more rigorous daily schedule (needing energy to commute, for instance) than what Mother Nature will throw at our solar/wind installations.
We should take what we can get, but using cars as a national battery does not get us very far. This doesn’t mean that in-car storage wouldn’t provide some essential service, though. Even without trying to double-task our electric cars (i.e., never demanding that they feed back to the electricity grid), such a fleet would still relieve oil demand, encourage renewable electricity production, and act as load balancer by preferentially slurping electricity at night.
Image above: All terrain solar powered "Monsta Cart". From (http://www.granbytrading.com/solarroofpanel).
Full Speed Ahead! I Want a Solar-Powered Car
I also want a land speeder from Star Wars, a light saber while we’re at it, and a jet pack. And a pony. But unlike many of these desires, a solar powered car can be a practical reality. I could go out tomorrow and buy a Volt or a Leaf and charge it with my home-built off-grid PV system (although I would first need to beef it up a bit to cover our modest weekly transportation needs). Alternatively, I could park a solar-charged golf cart in the sun—or charge an electric-assist bicycle with a small PV system, for that matter—to get around my neighborhood. Slightly less satisfying, I could install a grid-tied PV system with enough yearly production to offset my car’s electricity take.
The point is, I could make stops at the gas station a thing of the past (or at least rare, in the case of a plug-in hybrid).
So solar powered cars fall solidly on the reality side of the reality-fantasy continuum. That said, pure solar transport (on board generation) will suffer serious limitations. More reliable transport comes with nuances that may be irritating to the purist. You can apply a bumper sticker that says SOLAR POWERED CAR, but in most cases, you will need to put an asterisk at the end with a lengthy footnote to explain exactly how you have realized that goal.
Around 300 French anti-nuclear activists trying to stop the departure of a train loaded with nuclear waste faced off against riot police yesterday in Normandy. 12 were arrested and many more sprayed with tear gas, but not before the protesters damaged a section of train track and set multiple vehicles on fire, including a police van.
The train, stopped in the town of Valognes, en route from a regional power plant to Germany, left an hour late. The shipment consisted of recycled uranium, the last of its kind to be sent from the power plant at La Hague to Germany.
In the wake of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Germany decided to go 100% nuclear-free by 2022. The French anti-nuclear movement has grown as well, but its calls to wean the country off the energy source have not been heeded by those in power. 75% of French electricity comes from nuclear power.
The normally sleepy town of Valognes is an unlikely source of the latest news of police wielding batons and hurling tear gas at protesters come from, but images like these are becoming much too common.
More protests are expected as the train will travels to Germany over the next several days.
Image above: Demonstrators hold signs in multiple languages protesting French nuclear energy. From (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/french-police-clash-with-anti-nuclear-protesters-trying-to-stop-shipment-of-recycled-uranium/2011/11/23/gIQAKzK2nN_story.html)..
SUBHEAD: Altogether, Hawaii’s economy is especially poorly adapted to the currently emerging reality of scarce oil and credit.
[IB Editor's note: Highlighted areas below show impact on Hawaii of a continuation an APEC-style of dependence on globalization.]
By Richard Heinberg on 21 November 2011 for the Post Carbon Institute (http://www.postcarbon.org/article/588948-islands-in-an-expanding-sea)
Image above: View of Gau Island east of Fiji from the sea. From From (http://www.usp.ac.fj/ioi/photos/slides/Gau%20Island%20-%20view%20from%20sea.html).
The following is the text of an address by Richard Heinberg to the Moana Nui Conference in Honolulu, November 12, 2011. Honolulu was concurrently hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference; as a response to that secretive international trade meeting, the International Forum on Globalization and Pua Mohala Ka Po collaborated to organize Moana Nui.
Expansion of trade depends not just upon favorable trade rules, but financial and monetary integration between nations, as well as the availability of affordable transport fuels. I will argue that current APEC negotiations to increase trade within the Pacific region are a hollow exercise because the preconditions necessary for expanded commerce are disappearing. The peoples of this region therefore need to develop alternative economic plans and strategies.
1. The global economic context
The global economic context for the current APEC meetings is not being described publicly in plain, understandable terms by policy makers. That context consists of the slowing, ending, and reversal of the economic growth that was seen in most nations during the past few decades. This reversal of growth is happening due to the convergence of two factors: the deflation of history’s biggest credit bubble, and the depletion of the fuel that made the economic miracle of the 20th century possible. That fuel, of course, is oil.
The world’s petroleum is not about to run out, as the oil industry never tires of reminding us. However, we are indeed seeing flat-lining of production of the cheaply produced, easily accessible crude that has heretofore enabled continuing growth in world economic activity. World crude oil production has failed to increase significantly for the past seven years, while prices have doubled and tripled. The cost to the industry to develop new oil production capacity has soared from $20 per barrel just a few years ago to roughly $85 today.
Meanwhile, high oil prices have become a drag upon general economic expansion. This occurred previously in the 1970s; but now the situation is different: no moderation in prices, and consequent economic rebound, appears to be in the offing. Modern economies can slowly adjust to rising oil prices, but costs of production are rocketing more quickly than economies can adapt. Older industrial nations, such as the U.S. and members of the E.U., are particularly slow to respond; China appears more readily able to withstand higher prices, and so demand for oil is shifting away from North America and Europe toward Asia.
At the same time, the amount of oil available for export is shrinking: many oil producers are seeing rising domestic demand, so even if their total production remains constant or increases gradually, the portion they are able to export is decreasing. Thus competition for oil imports is ratcheting up, and China appears to be outbidding America and Europe.
Oil is also implicated in the credit crisis. During the 20th century, cheap oil helped enable higher rates of production of goods. The problem, then, was of over-production, and it was solved by the development of the modern advertising industry and the expansion of consumer credit—which has in turn led to the current Debt Spiral, which can be described as follows.
The Debt Spiral
This will require a few paragraphs, but they constitute a highly distilled overview of a very complex situation; and without a background understanding of the Debt Spiral, it is hard to see just how futile the APEC talks really are.
Money is debt. If that statement seems curious or shocking, I urge you to read David Graeber’s recent book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, which details this inherent and universal identity. During the 20th century, the process whereby money is created came to be delegated almost entirely to commercial banks, which call money into existence when they make loans.
Economic growth requires ever more money, and therefore more debt. However, it is possible for debt to grow faster than GDP; this is generally a strategy for pushing consumption forward in time (consume now, pay later).
In the U.S., as globalization took hold in the 1980s, workers found themselves competing with their counterparts in Mexico and then China; the result was stagnation in hourly wages for American workers. In order to consume more (as they were constantly being urged to do by ubiquitous advertising messages), households took on more debt. The financial industry helped out with new products—credit cards, subprime mortgages, home equity lines of credit—that made it ever easier for consumers to borrow. As a result, debt has grown faster than GDP in almost every year since 1980.
For the debtor, a bank loan is an obligation to repay; for the bank, that same loan is an asset. As consumer debt grew during the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s, so did the assets of the financial industry, which found ways to leverage those assets through securitization and the selling of derivatives. As this happened, the burgeoning financial industry also acquired greater political power by contributing strategically to political candidates; it capitalized on that power by successfully lobbying for the deregulation of banking. In addition, presidents began routinely appointing financial industry representatives to run the Treasury and relevant regulatory agencies.
Financial deregulation in turn led to a series of credit bubbles (a housing bubble in the late 1980s, a dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, another housing bubble in the 2000s), each larger than the previous one. But in an important sense, the entire exercise of debt expansion constituted one big bubble.
If debt is growing faster than salaries, interest payments take up an ever-larger share of income. This is effectively a time bomb at the heart of the economy. Growth in total debt cannot continue for long if incomes are not also rising. With the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble in 2007-2008, the bomb detonated as trillions of dollars in home equity value held by American households vanished over the course of a few months. The banks suddenly found that a large portion of their assets were worthless.
The bursting of the U.S. real estate bubble led to defaults, foreclosures, unemployment, declining income, and sharply lowered household net worth. American consumers were now in no position to take on more debt even if they wanted to.
This meant that, in order to keep the economy from imploding, government had to step in and become the borrower and spender of last resort. Government borrowed to stimulate consumption, but also to bail out the banks and to help them hide their “toxic” assets—many of which consisted of second mortgages and home equity lines of credit based upon house values that were now purely fictional.
But as government borrowed and spent, tax revenues were declining. This created a situation in which high levels of government debt became problematic. As government payments increase relative to tax income, investors may grow nervous and demand higher rates of interest on government bonds. This has become an especially nasty problem for smaller nations that already had high debt levels prior to the crisis—such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy—but it also plagues states, counties, and cities.
In order to make bond purchasers happy, governments now must cut back on spending. But in a situation where unemployment is high, this simply causes the domestic economy to contract, further eroding tax revenues.
With widespread defaults, trust will decline within the international economic arena. Global economic integration—symbolized in APEC, the Euro, and the international currency and bond markets—is headed for a historic reversal. A crash could come sooner or later, and it could be milder or harsher (depending on the actions of governments and central banks), but the general trend of events is inevitable.
2. Growing competition for resources
In July 2010, at a meeting of Asian countries in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that the United States would support smaller nations in resisting Beijing’s efforts to dominate the Sea, and stated that that the peaceful resolution of competing sovereignty claims to the disputed region constitutes a U.S. “national interest.” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi characterized Clinton’s comments as “an attack on China.”
China is at the same time exceeding its domestic coal production capabilities. This winter, China is projected to see nationwide power shortages, as power companies post losses due to soaring coal prices. The nation now burns half the world’s coal—roughly 3.5 billion tons annually, with the amount growing at about 7 percent annually. China has begun importing coal from Australia and Indonesia; however the entire global coal trade is only 700 million tons, an amount that China could absorb with only a few years of growth in coal consumption. Even the U.S. is now considering exporting coal to China. But since U.S. domestic supplies are not as robust as generally assumed, this would be an exercise of dubious practical value for both parties. Higher coal prices, supply shortfalls, and infrastructure bottlenecks are inevitable.
During the past decade, China was able to corner the global market on rare earths through lowest-cost production; Beijing then announced that exports of the strategic minerals would be restricted. Today other nations are working to again ramp up their mining of rare earths, but prices will inevitably rise. Meanwhile, China’s example is likely to be followed by other nations, leading to export tariffs in some instances, and in others to efforts on the part of powerful resource importers to exert control over domestic policies in weak, resource-rich countries.
3. Vulnerability of Pacific island nations to energy scarcity
Each country has its own problems and prospects. Two nations in particular—the U.S. and China—will dominate most narratives of the unfolding drama. However, a more nuanced view of the situation can be gained by focusing on energy resource importers, as exemplified by Indonesia; and energy importers, as exemplified by the state of Hawaii.
Indonesia has a long history as an oil exporter, and has been invaded and exploited for its petroleum. Indeed, conflict oil from what was at that time the Dutch East Indies was the fulcrum of the war in the Pacific from 1941 to 1945. Today, this country’s oilfields are largely depleted and the nation has become a net importer. As a founding member of OPEC, Indonesia sold most of its oil for between $10 and $20 per barrel; recently it resigned from OPEC and now must import oil at the current world price of $112 per barrel. The country’s domestic food production is substantial, yet it is a net importer of all of its major staple food commodities, including rice, maize, cassava, soybeans, and sugar. Agriculture is the country’s largest employer, but manufacturing (mostly for export) provides the biggest source of income.
Hawaii, in contrast, imports 85 percent of its food. For the U.S. as a whole, food travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate; for Hawaii, average food mileage is double that figure. About 90 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is derived from burning bunker oil, naphtha, or diesel fuel—all of it imported. Tourism is one primary engine of the economy, with many salaries relying directly or indirectly on a steady stream of kerosene-gulping jets full of tourists carrying wallets crammed with debt-dollars, arriving daily. The other main economic driver for the state is federal military spending. Altogether, Hawaii’s economy is especially poorly adapted to the currently emerging reality of scarce oil and credit.
Indonesia and Hawaii demonstrate several distinct kinds of vulnerability to the world’s emerging financial and resource constraints. While Indonesia suffers to a significant degree from what has been called the “resource curse,” Hawaii exports little other than coffee, macadamia nuts, and apparel, while importing nearly all its energy and most of its food. One set of islands is an independent nation, while the other is a distant extension of the world’s current global superpower. Much of Hawaii’s resource dependency is effectively hidden by U.S. military spending, a substantial subsidy to its domestic economy, while Indonesia spends to maintain an army to put down armed separatist movements.
The only really meaningful response to these emerging trends for Pacific nations, be they resource importers or exporters, would be to bolster regional economic self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on resource imports and exports. Contrary to the globalizing doctrine of APEC, economic survival in the era of depletion and deleveraging calls for local resilience, local resistance, local conservation of resources, and local sovereignty over resources.
their economies dis-integrate.
But with peril comes opportunity. Smaller nations may find that this period of global financial turmoil presents an opening to seize greater self-determination and economic self-sufficiency. This would be advisable from several standpoints.
The Pacific never really offered a proper growth medium for globalization, given the distances between nations and the disparities of their economies. The region is dominated by two leviathans (the U.S. and China) and several second-tier big fish (Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Chile); most other countries are tiny minnows by comparison, and cannot realistically defend their own trading or cultural interests.
Cheap oil, easy credit, and expanding trade effectively shrank the Pacific Ocean during the 20th century. Peak oil and peak debt will re-expand the Pacific, as transportation becomes less affordable and international commerce less certain. The process will certainly be hazardous for people who have come to depend both on imported food and fuel, and on foreign markets for their products. However, small nations and indigenous communities should not miss any opening to repudiate the failing APEC model and regain economic and cultural self-determination.
- What is biochar, what does it do, who thought of this, why is it important.
- How to build and use a 1-gallon size biochar maker, a simple device and method for making small quantities of consistent, high-purity and easy-to-use biochar, suitable for home gardeners for use in potting soils and gardens.
- How to use biochar to improve your gardening and potting soil.
- |Other uses for biochar.
- Questions and Answers.