Tag Archives: inflation

LA Times Examines Impact of $200 Oil

As we’re all painfully aware, during the ’00s the US media have become ardent defenders of the status quo, generally unwilling to discuss harsh realities that might threaten that status quo unless absolutely forced to do so – Hurricane Katrina, for example, or the reaction to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Perhaps the most significant issue not being discussed in the media is peak oil – which, in its simplistic form, explains why the high fuel prices we are seeing today are going to be a permanent feature of life.

Gas prices are NEVER coming back down – rising demand is meeting a shrinking supply and the result is the end of the cheap oil that modern America was built upon.

As gas prices remain high more media outlets are discussing energy policy but only lately are they beginning to acknowledge that the era of cheap oil is over. Today’s Los Angeles Times starts examining the topic with a front-page feature, Envisioning a world of $200-a-barrel oil. It focuses on how consumers, transportation, and global trade will be affected, and even tries to examine the “upside” to this, particularly the eventual localization of American life, perhaps the closest a major American media outlet has come to embracing the ideas of Jim Kunstler.

The article is a good beginning, but it avoids the key question of how we ought to respond. Videoconferencing and staycations are not substitutes for statewide initiatives to deal with the crisis. The article discusses the airline crisis but doesn’t discuss ways to provide alternative forms of transportation such as high speed rail. Nor does it discuss ways to encourage more renewable energy sources, or local food production, or urban density.

Still, just as it took Al Gore’s movie to convince Californians to take even the small step of climate change action embodied in AB 32, so too will it take the media’s willingness to tell Californians that cheap oil is over to produce action on shifting our state away from an oil-based economy.

Cheap oil was responsible for much of the prosperity of the postwar era, especially in California. It enabled people to find an affordable home to purchase, even if it was distant from their workplace. It enabled them to buy inexpensive food without needing to grow their own. It enabled the development of global trade networks that provided markets for Californian products and services.

The end of cheap oil is welcome from an ecological perspective but it will finish off working Californians if we don’t proactively work to build a post-oil infrastructure to provide for prosperity, just as we spent the 1950s and 1960s building an infrastructure around oil to provide for prosperity.

Newspapers like the LA Times could help show Californians the need for and value of such projects. It will require them to break with the status quo – but Californians are already doing so in practice, riding mass transit and even their bikes in much higher numbers than ever before. In the absence of media coverage of our changing state, we in the blogs will do what we can to keep up.

Global Food Shortages Come to California

I was wondering when this was going to happen (h/t to Suburban Guerilla):

Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.

“Where’s the rice?” an engineer from Palo Alto, Calif., Yajun Liu, said. “You should be able to buy something like rice. This is ridiculous.”

The bustling store in the heart of Silicon Valley usually sells four or five varieties of rice to a clientele largely of Asian immigrants, but only about half a pallet of Indian-grown Basmati rice was left in stock. A 20-pound bag was selling for $15.99.

“You can’t eat this every day. It’s too heavy,” a health care executive from Palo Alto, Sharad Patel, grumbled as his son loaded two sacks of the Basmati into a shopping cart. “We only need one bag but I’m getting two in case a neighbor or a friend needs it,” the elder man said.

The Patels seemed headed for disappointment, as most Costco members were being allowed to buy only one bag. Moments earlier, a clerk dropped two sacks back on the stack after taking them from another customer who tried to exceed the one-bag cap.

“Due to the limited availability of rice, we are limiting rice purchases based on your prior purchasing history,” a sign above the dwindling supply said.

Part of the issue is that in the face of rice shortages, Asian nations have begun rationing exports. California, one of the nation’s leading rice-growing states, has seen problems with rice production, especially with seawater intrusion in rice paddies in the Delta.

And although the article focuses on rice, it also notes problems with grains. Grain shortages have hit the rest of the globe hard, causing riots in Haiti and severe bread shortages in Egypt. Americans used to believe themselves to be immune to such “third world” disasters but our sense of privilege isn’t going to save us. Climate change, the idiotic biofuels policy, and financial speculation in commodities are all contributing to the shortages, and it’s only a matter of time before Californians face growing problems with the food supply.

Because agricultural policy is largely in federal hands it’s not clear what we can do at the state level to help mitigate this worsening problem. Advocacy around the national Farm Bill – still under debate in the US Senate – might be the best approach. Increased attention to levee repair in the Delta would be useful too.

Perhaps the best thing we can do here in California, though, is encourage local food production and consumption networks. Most towns now have farmers markets, and many folks (like me) subscribe to a local CSA. The next step would be to encourage community gardens for food production. It worked in World War II with the victory gardens and would be useful today – but will require state support, especially to secure rights to land on which to grow crops, and to override idiotic limits on gardens in various planned suburbs.

This is also ultimately an argument against the bad Prop 98 – cities need to be able to use eminent domain to take vacant or abandoned land and turn it over to the public for local food production. Prop 98 would severely limit the ability of cities to do this.

Sure, we may think Costco’s abundance is limitless, but we’re finding out that it is not, and we had better start preparing to do without it.