Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sharon's Grim Picture

Sharon Astyk writes at Casaubon's Book about unrest in Libya and other oil producing nations. And the picture is grim.

As Sharon states in a comment,

Saudi Arabia announced it was phasing out wheat production a few years ago, so this is largely expected, and Saudi Arabia has been a major new landowner in the global land grab for grain-growing land. But yes, it is a factor because Saudi Arabia absolutely needs to be able to buy grain on the world markets - as does China and several other major nations with deep pockets. So what happens when the entire Canadian Wheat harvest, say, is needed on the marketplace?

My answer to Sharon:

You paint a grim picture, Sharon. If China and other major nations are bidding up the price of wheat and other grains - what does that mean for the poor and those in less affluent countries?

As for where we would be now, having started to take things seriously in 1998? I would like to think we wouldn't be shipping milled steel at junk prices - i.e., old model cars and farm equipment, some of which is repairable - to China, instead of letting China spend the energy we will have to, to mine and process steel and iron to replace the implements and material we are now throwing away. We might all be living within walking distance of work, or at least see the average commute distance - via public or private transport - diminish significantly each year. We might see communities and cities denigrate the entertainment and shopping centers in favor of neighborhood, around the corner stores and services. We might be seeing more green (planted garden/grassland habitat) roofs and insulation-clad siding projects to make current structures more energy efficient.

We might see Washington, D.C. have to report not just the dollars they spend, but the energy loading for each program dollar (fuel, support for administration, material procurement and maintenance, support for each government employee, etc.). Heavens, we might have and actual, court-enforced, national energy budget, that even the President and Congress would have to honor. That might make an interesting Constitutional amendment, actually: Require the budget to 'balance' energy consumption without consuming any foreign energy or any hydrocarbon fossil fuel or other non-renewable mineral source.

Unfortunately, people are willing to drive longer distances to commute to work in this tough economic climate. Employers are even less interested in keeping employees energy usage under control. Stores can hardly afford to worry about the fuel their customers consume in getting to the store. And the government wastes energy in profligate amounts on projects with little actual use (that is, high speed rail, intended to address a wrongly perceived issue from a couple of decades back). Oh, and the nation and world want to buy their way back to living the way we did back before we ran into food, money, and energy constraints.


I look at how long ago the space shuttle program was supposed to be a brief transition to an efficient transport to space. I look at how long now they have been 'retiring' the space shuttle, and how the Hubble telescope was in use years after it was supposed to have been replaced. And I really have to wonder if any project that takes longer than the 12 months between swearing in a Congress and the next campaign season could have made a difference.

Kennedy's adventure to put a man on the moon, that happened in what? seven years? That built on technology already in development, and McNamara's predecessor to today's big government 'Federal Acquisition Regulations' hadn't really kicked in yet. Today the government cannot do anything without first creating a new bureaucracy (to assure that all hindrances and regulations are observed, with added costs rolled into the expected program over-runs). What won WWII was the ability of contractors to talk to the military, and come back with a plane or ship, and say, "What do you think?" "We'll take a thousand!".

I have lived much of my life being told that the US Dept of Education has outlived its purpose - yet it is still a bulwark of union teachers and Democratic social engineering.

I don't think starting in 1998 government would have accomplished much, nor allowed industry to accomplish much, either. My fear is that with the weak economy threatening national security, and the rising tide of violence (with food prices and oil prices), that we may not be able to depend on the government to keep hostile forces out of our back yards.

Because I don't believe for one minute that the unrest in the oil producing nations is an accident, or that they are each spontaneous. Nothing I have read in history, or that I have read of our world today, imputes stupidity to all those people. There is no reason for anyone to believe that changing the government will change food and energy prices - so, where did the organization come from to raise all the protests? And is there any reason to think they aren't aimed at weakening the US for future hostile actions?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Federal Budget, and Peak Oil.

I sent the following message to my US House representative.
Every thousand dollars of budget represents a finite and measurable amount of oil, coal, electricity, and other forms of energy.

The US budget to date has depended on unfettered access to cheap energy - oil, coal, hydroelectric, and to some extent, natural gas.

Other forms, from nuclear to wind and solar power, are forms of energy - but not cheap. Not cheap to build the structures, not cheap to operate. Most forms seem to burn tax dollars to produce energy.

The world faces a change, as the ability to produce expected amounts of oil in a day was passed back in 2005, by some estimates. As demand in the developing world continues to increase, nothing America does to conserve will have an impact - worldwide demand for oil will continue to outpace the ability to produce oil on any given day. Federal expenditures represent energy usage. Fuel used in the course of doing business, energy used to produce vehicles, structures, material and supplies - and to maintain, dispose of, and account for each.

Energy is consumed in the private lives of every government employee - diverting energy from the economy, as well as talents not being used to produce goods and services to maintain the America we have come to know.

A sound, sustainable energy plan has to begin with accepting the energy burden of government employment and government expenditures. The security of the nation demands that we move to a lower-energy economy, and form of government, now - while we still have access to the energy needed to build the structures and infrastructure needed for the future.

The security of the nation has always depended on a strong US economy. While not moribund, today's US economy hasn't yet begun to face a future of restricted access to cheap energy. We risk losing the ability to stand strong in the face of foreign competition.

The federal budget, as monstrous as it has grown, is but the tip of the iceberg. I see no way around the debt deflation facing the nation as the artificial wealth represented in the housing bubble and especially the banking and security shenanigans continue to collapse. Throwing tax dollars (energy and talents diverted from productive use in the economy) at the collapse won't help the nation.

Funding big government is a luxury of the past, that perhaps we never could afford. Today over-spending is a risk of our nation and our way of life.

Compare "Big Government" to an alcoholic, and the federal budget is the bottle. Get the picture?

Tax dollars = energy expended. Government employees have been pulled from the available work force just as if they had moved to a foreign country.

We cannot afford the brain drain or energy expense of big government.