Author Archive: Brynn Jacobs
is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.
We’ve now been in Afghanistan longer than we were in Vietnam, with a similar amount of progress. American casualties are again on the rise, along with the power of the Taliban. The new general in charge, General Petraeus, assures us that he will continue to try to minimize civilian casualties, so long as that doesn’t interfere too much with his plans to bomb the hell out of the country. Our rules to protect civilians were a bit too “bureaucratic” for his liking–not that they actually worked, in any case. The now-infamous Rolling Stone profile of General McChrystal has this to say:
In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent[!] from the same period in 2009 – a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” McChrystal recently conceded.
The Rolling Stone piece mysteriously left out the next part of McChrystal’s statement. Here’s the full quotation (emphasis mine):
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”
The events since the BP well exploded and began spewing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico have forced President Obama’s hand. No politician wants to be the one to catch the Peak Oil hot potato, but it looks like it’s landed right in Obama’s lap. In his Oval Office speech the other night, he came the closest any president has yet to frankly discussing the challenges we face (emphasis mine):
So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.
For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.
The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight.
For the other philosophy geeks here, the Onion has got another humorous story you’ll enjoy, rooted in existentialist themes:
In an ultimately futile act some have described as courageous and others have called a mere postponing of the inevitable, existentialist firefighter James Farber delayed three deaths Monday.
“I’m no hero,” Farber said after rescuing the family from a house fire on the 2500 block of West Thacker Street, and prolonging for the time being their slow march toward oblivion. “Like any other man, I am thrown into this world, alone and terrified, to play a meaningless role in an empty life. In my case, that role happens to involve charging through towering blazes to pull helpless individuals from a sea of flames before they suffocate or are burnt alive.”…
In a speech given earlier this year, the Chief Economist for BP made his case that fears about peak oil were overblown.
“One factor is resources. They are limited, and a barrel can only be produced once. But ideas of peak oil supply are not true. Doomsayers have exaggerated the issue. The bell-shaped curve of production over time does not apply to the world’s oil resources,” he told the seminar in Alkhobar city.
“Those who believe in peak oil tend to believe that technology and economics don’t matter, and I think this is false.The application of technology, the innovation of new technology and economic forces especially mean that recoverable oil resources can increase. If there is a peak in oil, it will come from the demand side. There are always fears, but these remain overstated and exaggerated.”
A barrel can only be produced once, this is true. And technology has allowed us to tap into oil reservoirs that were unthinkable a few decades ago. Yet as the catastrophic ongoing oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico shows us, technology is not the savior the oil majors would have us believe. Advanced technology may allow us to drill for oil a mile under water, but it obviously does not offer any easy solutions when things go horribly awry as they have on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which has been spewing hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month.
[More . . . ]
Now a new study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, links pesticide use with the rise in ADHD disorders among children. The study’s authors examined data on over 1,100 children, and determined that elevated levels of pesticide metabolites in the urine was associated with a diagnosis of ADHD. In fact, children with levels higher than the median of the most commonly detected metabolite (known as dimethyl thiophosphate), were twice as likely to be diagnosed as ADHD compared with children that had undetectable levels of the metabolite. The elevated risk factor remained even after controlling for confounding variables like gender, age, race/ethnicity, poverty/income ratio and others.
The pesticides studied belong to a class of compounds known as organophosphates. Time explains:
[Study author Maryse] Bouchard’s analysis is the first to home in on organophosphate pesticides as a potential contributor to ADHD in young children. But the author stresses that her study uncovers only an association, not a direct causal link between pesticide exposure and the developmental condition. There is evidence, however, that the mechanism of the link may be worth studying further: organophosphates are known to cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain — that’s how they kill agricultural pests, after all. The chemical works by disrupting a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholinesterase, a defect that has been implicated in children diagnosed with ADHD. In animal models, exposure to the pesticides has resulted in hyperactivity and cognitive deficits as well.
“There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the President’s Food Safety Working Group to lower the danger of foodborne illness. The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter,” announced Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Monday.
Under these new proposed regulations, 7.5% of the chicken at a processing plant may test positive for salmonella. In 2009, average salmonella levels were at 7.1%, so I guess these giant food conglomerates won’t have to stretch too hard to meet the proposed rule. I suppose it’s better than the 20% salmonella contamination that’s allowed under current regulations. But perhaps current regulations are not the best standard with which to judge the new rules, given that they don’t regulate campylobacter at all. Campylobacter causes diarrhea, cramping, fever, and there are no federal standards governing how much of it can be in your food. Under the proposed regulations, companies may not have more than 10% of their carcasses “highly-contaminated” by campylobacter, and no more than 46% may be contaminated at a “low-level.” I feel better, don’t you?
If you were looking for a quick, 4-paragraph introduction on the subject of Peak Oil, Bloomberg News has you covered:
Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Plc and Total SA are investing in assets that previously weren’t worth their time or money after oil-rich nations reduced access to reserves and exploration drilling faltered.
Efforts to find new sources of crude and natural gas are failing more often, with San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp.’s exploration failure rate jumping to 35 percent last year from 10 percent in 2008. Countries such as Venezuela are making it more expensive for companies to develop their resources, if they’re allowed in at all. And previously developed fields are drying up, reducing oil companies’ future supplies, or reserves.
“Their No. 1 problem is reserves replacement,” said Nansen Saleri, chief executive officer at Quantum Reservoir Impact in Houston and former reservoir-management chief at Saudi Arabia’s state oil company. “That’s the elephant in the room, so that’s what they have to address.”
To compensate, major producers are investing in projects they once eschewed, including geologically complex oil and gas fields, called “unconventional” by the industry to distinguish them from the easy-to-get oil and gas of earlier years.
And that is Peak Oil in a nutshell. It is real, it is here. All the cheap, easily accessible oil has been used up; the low-hanging fruit is gone. The remainder of the planet’s oil, of which we still have plenty, is going to cost a great deal more to extract and refine, leading to higher prices at the pump, at the grocery store, or anywhere else that requires oil to function.
Joseph Stiglitz is one of the greatest economists in the world. He’s held professorships at Yale, Stanford, Duke, Princeton and Oxford Universities, and now teaches at Columbia University. He was the chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors under Clinton. He served as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the World Bank from 1997 to 2000. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001. There should be no disputing that he is eminently qualified in the field of economics, which is all the more reason for you to pay attention to what he says about the Federal Reserve.
Speaking at a conference held by the Roosevelt Institute, he said that if a country had come to the World Bank under his tenure seeking aid, while maintaining a financial regulatory system like the Federal Reserve, it would have raised very big alarms:
“If we had seen a governance structure that corresponds to our Federal Reserve system, we would have been yelling and screaming and saying that country does not deserve any assistance, this is a corrupt governing structure,” Stiglitz said during a conference on financial reform in New York. “It’s time for us to reflect on our own structure today, and to say there are parts that can be improved.”
I know that my past few posts have been bleak (see here and here), but now I must temper that sense of despair with some hope. Things are bad, and will probably get worse, but that’s not to say that they will not get better.
But here’s the trick: we all have to stop relying upon someone else for solutions. Forgive me if I sound like a politician for just a moment: we must “be the change” we want to see in the world. I cannot tell you how to solve the peak oil problem, or the unfolding economic collapse, or climate change, or the corruption which has become endemic in our political system– you have to figure it out for yourself. I’m not selling a prepackaged kit which contains all of the answers, and I would probably distrust anyone who was.
But that’s precisely why I still have hope. If we are going to make it through the challenges facing us, we must learn to pull together again as a community and actually attempt to create our own solutions. There can be no more delegation to those in Washington. We cannot afford to wait for decades as they attempt to muster the political will to combat the flood of money which has so damaged our electoral and political processes. We simply don’t have time to fix the system that’s been damaged beyond repair.