Another Reason to Plant a Garden This Year

January 26, 2009

Consumers may pay more for spring lettuce and summer melons in grocery stores across the country now that California farmers have started abandoning their fields in response to a crippling drought.


This reminds me of Kunstler’s rant about the ‘3,000-mile salad.’   We rely on areas like California’s Central Valley for fruits & vegetables more than most Americans realize.  Economies of scale are great when they work in our favor, but the flip side is that when these huge farms fail to deliver the crops we expect from them, we have few other options to explore.

This is also starting to bring water resource conflicts to the front of the news as well:

With such a grim outlook, many California farmers including Giacone are investing millions to drill down hundreds of feet in search of new water sources.

Depending on how much it rains this winter, federal water supplies could be slashed down to nothing this year, forcing farmers to rely solely on brackish well water. But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation won’t make an official decision until late February, said Ron Milligan, the agency’s Central Valley operations manager.

Since it isn’t raining, farmers that are trying to stay in business are drilling further and further down to find & drain underground reservoirs.   For those that may not know, the term ‘brackish’ indicates that there’s more salt in the water than in normal freshwater, which means that in order to survive, the farmers are increasing the salinity in their fields by irrigating from this source… extracting perhaps more yields over the next few years but drastically reducing the long-term fertility of the fields.

It’s been a cold winter here, but one of the things I’m thankful for is that I live in a state with abundant fresh water… assuming we can stop polluting it.


Holding Back the Dam

December 30, 2008

I’ve added Jesse’s Cafe Americain to the blogroll… another excellent site for in-depth financial commentary that you’d have a hard time finding in the mainstream media.

The latest post is quite good, in which the author describes his increasing belief that there will be a hyperinflation event in the USA at some point.

A choice quote:

That has now changed. The dollar is a Ponzi scheme, the waters of debt are overflowing the dam of artificial support, and only a few countries, two of them somewhat unstable, are holding back the deluge.

If this comes to pass, we may all pay off our credit card bills and mortgages in record time yet still have trouble paying for food.

For a picture of what a hyperinflation might look like, check out these pictures from Zimbabwe covering the last year or so.

If something like this comes to pass, having basic sustainable living skills like gardening, mending clothing, etc. will become more valuable than ever.  As Steve Solomon states in his book, being able to grow one’s own vegetables can be the difference between barely surviving and maintaining good health.   I for one plan to make it a goal to get a few square foot gardens in this spring, and to start learning how to save seeds.

Holiday Gifts

December 10, 2008

It’s that time of the year again when people are compelled to buy gifts for others to show how much they care about them.   Sorry… just channeling my inner Scrooge… as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less & less interested in Christmas, excepting the excitement my small children have at the thought of Santa coming.    Both my wife and my family insist on the adults buying presents for each other, though, so I have to come up with a list of things people can buy for me.  This is getting harder every year.  I thought about putting a Glock 19 on the list (not that anyone would spend that much), but decided my wife would simply redact that entry.

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Recommendations for Books on Sustainable Homes?

December 5, 2008

A question for the experts out there… Christmas is coming, and that usually means I’ll get a few gift certificates to places like Amazon, Borders, etc.   My library has plenty of titles for cooking, homebrewing, gardening and things like that.  Living in Minnesota, one area I think I need to read up on are ways to keep a house warm in the wintertime without relying totally on natural gas and HVAC systems.

I live in a new house that’s pretty tightly constructed… there are a few tweaks here & there that I could do to keep the cold out, but overall I don’t think that’s the big issue.  What I’m wondering about are ways to keep homes warm that make sense in a low energy future.

Anyone have some recommendations for books dealing with this subject?  I’m looking for ideas about retrofitting existing homes as much as new sustainable construction methods.

Thanks in advance…

The Dark Side

October 24, 2008

Another down day on the markets… the price of almost everything is collapsing it seems.  Stocks, bonds, commodities, gold, oil, you name it.  OPEC declares they are cutting daily production by 1.5 million barrels per day and no one notices or cares as oil continues to drop in price.    Financial firms and large corporations are hemorrhaging staff every day.   People fret over their portfolios, their house’s value, and their retirement funds.

Sounds pretty ominous to many Americans, but in reality, we’ve still got it pretty good compared to much of the world.   While the first world worries about how to keep the stock markets liquid, people in many parts of the world are trying to figure out what they are going to feed their children for dinner this evening, or if there will be any power to be had anytime soon.   There are millions of desperate people in the world, and their number is growing daily.    It is situations like this that, left unattended, can lead to chaos, famine and war.

Most of the problems are happening right now in far away countries that many people haven’t even heard of.  There are no guarantees that it will stay that way.  A major humanitarian catastrophe in, say, Mexico would have a much more immediate impact on Americans.  Perhaps it will come to that, or perhaps it will even hit home here in the US at some point.

A down side of our modern way of life is that many of us urban folk are completely dependent on an intricate delivery system that needs to function well to work.   Imagine how quickly grocery store shelves would be depleted if truckers couldn’t get diesel fuel for one reason or another… or if the grocery store chain couldn’t get the short-term loans that businesses often rely on to keep distributors happy or employees paid on time.

The financial crisis we are facing is global, and it’s good to remember that it affects more than just stocks, bonds and housing prices.   We are all linked, and if we don’t get this under control relatively soon, things could get very ugly indeed.

Finally, someone’s using the ‘C’ word

June 30, 2008

‘C’ as in ‘conservation.’  This one must’ve snuck past the business editors… or perhaps the paid censors from the oil industry were on coffee break when it was posted.  🙂

Want to help the country save a quick million barrels of oil a day? Drive 5% less. Slow down. Inflate your tires.

Those three steps would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.3 million barrels a day immediately, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a conservation group running an efficiency campaign backed not only by environmental groups but also the auto and oil industries.

That’s nearly twice the estimated daily oil production that could come from drilling in the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.

Shocking stuff, I tell you.   Stating that using less energy, or just using it more wisely, seems contrary to the American way of life.

The Rebirth of Urbanism

June 16, 2008

Interesting short news piece on CNN about the sudden resurgence of the ‘New Urbanism’ movement.   Amazing how rising gas costs will make American think again about the radical idea of livable, walkable cities & towns.

For what it’s worth, the New Urbanism movement was one of James Howard Kunstler’s main writing topics prior to his jumping on the peak oil bandwagon.  He cranked out three non-fiction books dealing with the subject in the 1990’s.