Oil, Credit, Global Warming (with pollution)–all coming together for the perfect storm.
Oil hopefuls still dream of oil returning to $45/barrel. The $90/barrel (and rising) they say is nothing more than a geopolitical event: Turkey and the Kurds, Bush and Iran, Israel-Leiberman/Syria.
But supplies are growing tight. The spigot may soon not meet the demand. China, after all, has the pedal to the metal. Nothing will deter it from its goal of being a frontier nation. And then there is India. Actual world oil production—even with the increase in rigs—seems to have flattened. Of course Congress will blame it all on those greedy oil companies.
The credit crunch is starting to hit the U.S. consumer–, he whose spendthrift ways gave the “oomph “ to the party. Subprime carnage continues. We never know where the next head of this hydra will appear. And, of course, the dollar falls. Cheapening the dollar makes some debts easier to pay: All those countries that bought T-Bills, etc. For the U.S. consumer, though, it will be a nightmare. Cancel the trips abroad. Worry about the oil bill. And wait for the price of those cheap imports to rise.
Oh, and don’t expect our manufacturing plants, resource centers, and research facilities now happily sitting in developing countries to return home. Labor is still cheaper there; tax breaks are still better. At some point, of course, freight costs are going to be passed on. But in the interim, profit margins will lessen. At what point will freight costs outweigh labor costs and tax benefits? Many of our imported goods have very high profit margins: Lots of shrinkage possible, assuming the world supply of well-heeled buyers does not decline too much.
Global warming? Well, one interesting statistic is worth mentioning: The recent Arctic ice-melt is thirty years ahead of the IPCC schedule. The IPCC claimed that sometime in 2040 we would reach the present Arctic sea ice melt. Mother Nature has her own schedule, apparently. Meanwhile some areas predicted to experience more and more extreme drought conditions are starting to get a glimmer of what that might mean. CNN used the time it had assigned to its special “Planet in Peril” to cover the fires in California.
Those who claim that these fires—and the serious water shortages we are now experiencing—are because of poor planning and over-population—have a good point. We have not planned well. On the other hand, the ice-melt proceeds apace. I wonder if Greenland has some surprises for us. If the IPCC missed the ice-melt by thirty years, what else have they missed?
For me, global warming is never just about balmier days and sweaty nights—more sun tan oil and drilling in Arctic waters. There is the pollution that simply grows and grows. Every time I think of China, I just despair. Yes, we in the West have done poorly. We have nothing to brag about. But China is so much bigger. In following our footsteps, it will sink the entire planet. And China had the chance of doing it differently, of learning from out mistakes, of growing intelligently. Now it is a runaway machine…out of control of its own planners. When Wuxi decided that its pollution could not longer be tolerated, other Chinese cities stepped forward. “Send the factories here,” they said. We would rather be rich and polluted than poor and clean. The phrase “filthy rich” now has a new twist, I think. But maybe it always had that twist. We never stopped to notice.
We will certainly stumble on for another five or six years, but the stumbling will get worse. Movie Guy often told me, “2012, that’s my year for the shit hitting the fan.” He may be right.
It is hard to tell people now in their 30’s or 40’s what they have missed…or how our environment has dramatically worsened. They simply live with it, not knowing anything else. Water and air and land become increasingly polluted. It’s all they know. So it gets a bit worse each year; hey, that’s progress. But I remember laughing about bottled water. “You got to be kidding! Bottled water! ” I drank out of lakes and streams or pumped water out of a well.
All places are microcosms of what is happening. I have three or four about which I regularly think. Yes, I see the documentaries about the rest of the planet, but in the last analysis, my own experience is just as informative.
I grew up in the 1950’s on Cape Cod: Farms, small towns, lakes filled with fish always attracting a crowd of swimmers. And the lakes were potable. Now, few lakes are swimmable. Salt water coves and inlets were pollution free.. Now, the coves and inlets often are polluted. The farms are gone, replaced with wall-to-wall traffic. The houses are still beautiful, but the thirst for water is threatening the water table. As the aquifers disappear, the salt water encroaches. Red tide, rarely a problem when I was young, is now a serious problem. Areas once always opened for clamming and shell fishing are now more often than not closed. Progress? I guess. Sensible planning? No. Those that live there now think it a great place. I would never live there.
As a young man, I lived in Westchester, NY. In the 60’s and 70’s it was quite rural. Air was clean, plenty of walking space. Traffic, while at times difficult, was not the nightmare it has become. Smog and pollutants once reserved for New York City have now spread to northward. Clean air? I don’t think so. Power plants are alive and spewing throughout New York. Suck an exhaust pipe.
I used to swim in Long Island Sound, if you can believe it. But before I left, I had to stop. The filth was unbelievable.
My experience has to be multiplied a million times over. No place is as pristine as it was in the 1950’s. Occasionally we make inroads; but they are temporary.
The last place I lived before moving to Canada was the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay within living memory was once clean. Billions of oysters filtered the water. You could see ten or fifteen feet down. Now, you might see a foot into its cloudy depths. Large areas are anaerobic; blue crabs struggle to the surface for air. Oysters are almost gone; the blue crab is on its way. Close friends of mine were waterman; they made a living crabbing and tonging. One by one they have left the bay; one by one they have moved off the shore. Crab picking houses now have to import crabs to keep busy. Talk about “Saving the Bay” is always present, always ineffectual. The pressures are too great; the ignorance too pervasive.
Once a waterman asked me to help him with his trotline. I happily obliged. When we took a break for a beer and refreshments, he blithely tossed the garbage overboard: beer cans, plastic…everything. “Oh,” he responded to my alarm, “don’t worry. Crabs eat everything.” Beer cans? Plastic holders? There was no arguing with him. Another waterman friend schemed as to how he could increase the number of his crab pots. Increase them he did. A few years later, he could no longer make a living crabbing or tonging. He left. Happily some rich dude from Washington bought his house: It had a great view of the Bay. The rich dude liked the idea of living among the watermen.
Conservation simply does not make sense to those who want more, from large corporations to single individuals. Each sees his livelihood in very short terms: today, tomorrow, may a few months or a year at most. We should not be surprised.
But the perfect storm is approaching. It is of our own creation: A monument to our success and creativity, to our science and ingenuity. We can scrape the ocean floors faster; drill deeper and better wells. Put air filters in our homes; buy bottled water. I don’t think the market is working. Slowly but surely we are being driven into a corner. Take the long view and you will see what I mean.