Monday, February 16, 2009

Crash Course

I came upon Chris Martenson's "Crash Course" site a little while back and I found it rather useful in understanding what is going on in the financial world. In fact, I think this is a "must see" for anybody trying to get their head around what is happening around the world at the moment.

However, Martenson not only focuses on the economy but also brings the other two major issues of our time, energy (peak oil) and the environment (climate change, shrinking resources, loss of biodiversity) into the picture and shows how all three feed into a crisis beyond anything we have ever witnessed in modern times.

It is worth watching the whole series at

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Droughts and food - are we heading for a food crunch?

The nexus between climate change, peak oil and food production has been one of my interests for a while. Is it really possible we could see a "food crunch" sooner rather than later? Part of me finds this hard to believe. The shops are full of beautiful produce, and while food prices have been going up, they are still quite moderate.

On the other hand, as those affected by the floods in Queensland can attest to, the plethora of produce in our supermarkets can be a bit of a mirage which will vanish very quickly if there is a disruption to supplies. In our "just in time" culture, few people have food reserves at home or know how to preserve food. Are we more vulnerable than we imagine?

Parts of Australia, which is a major food producer and net food exporter, have been in drought for a long time. Even in my carefully tended to garden I am experiencing a significant crop reduction due to the heat wave. However, food is a global commodity, and the whole idea of international markets is that if one part of the world experiences difficulties in production, another part will supply the shortfall. Prices may go up, and that would be catastrophic for the many poor people in the world who are already struggling to survive. But could there really be a "food crunch" similar to the current "credit crunch"?

This morning I came across this article on global food production on Market Oracle. The following two graphics (quoted from the above mentioned article) show how most of the world's main food producing areas are currently affected by drought. It should make us all stop and think.

According to Market Oracle, the credit crunch, low commodity prices, drought conditions and low food reserves now all point towards a dramatic fall in global food production for 2009. The author predicts that many countries will respond to a jump in food prices with currency appreciation:

"Appreciating a currency is the fastest way to control food inflation. A more valuable currency allows a nation to monopolize more global resources (ie: the overvalued dollar allows the US to consume 25% of the world's oil despite having only 4% of the world's population). If China were to selloff its US reserves, its enormous population would start sucking up the world's food supply like the US has been doing with oil. "

That sounds very serious to me. Obviously, there is not much any individual can do about grain output and major crop failures, but I think I will go back into my garden and try to grow more food. I hope you will, too.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Victorian bushfires

My heart goes out to the victims of Victoria's horrific fires.

So many lives lost, so many homes destroyed.

The Victorian bushfire appeal is one way of doing something to help.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gardening at the coalface of climate disruption

The temperatures have been soaring over the last two weeks, lingering around the 38 to 40 degrees Celsius mark in our area, and going even higher in some other parts of the country. The heat wave in South-Eastern Australia has not speared my garden, either - and it is disheartening to see the damage a number of days of intense heat can do. The potato plants are pretty much gone. I have harvested a few kilos of potatoes, but I suspect the total harvest will hardly justify the cost of putting the tubers in and looking after them for months. I have strung shade-cloth over my two main vegetable beds - which is sort of keeping plants alive, but only just. The zucchini stay small and shrivel up, the tomatoes almost seem to get boiled on the plant, as do the cucumbers. The corn is turning brown and the cobs remain only partially developed. My passion fruit vine which I had planted on the Northern (sunny) side of the house to protect it from frost literally looks boiled - I don't think it made it through. (This is kind of ironic, given that its predecessor died in minus 8 degrees Celsius last winter).

Even the trees are struggling, losing leaves and being weakened in the heat and thus more vulnerable to insect attack. All my vegetables need twice daily watering just to stay alive. A challenge in times of water scarcity and water restrictions! Luckily we had some decent rains before Christmas so there is still a good amount of water left in my water tanks, making me less dependent on public water supplies and giving me the ability to water when the plants need it rather than only on even-numbered days. But the intense heat is sucking all moisture out of the ground, despite the application of thick mulch.

Of course, those who have lost lives or property in the terrifying bushfires currently raging across Victoria are so much worse off than me with my wilting corn and drooping silverbeet that I feel I should not complain. I still have a roof over my head and my family is safe, even if I will have to buy some of my food instead of eating my own produce. And hopefully we will soon have a change of weather and at least some of my plants will survive long enough to start producing again.

But it does beg the question - how will we manage if widespread climate disruption and heat waves such as the current one become more prevalent? Climate experts predict we may get these kind of heat waves every couple of years in the future, rather than once every few decades. And the current heat wave is breaking all past records, too.

Even if we turned around our economies immediately, stopped emitting CO2 emissions altogether and went totally green, we would not be able to avoid some level of climate change. We are already too far gone to stop it completely. Unfortunately, it does not look like we are going anywhere near fast enough in the right direction. Add to that a looming oil crisis, water shortages and the destruction of our soils through industrial agriculture, and we will be in for a very rough time indeed.

I worry that in all the angst surrounding the credit crunch, we may not pay enough attention to the real crunch that is coming our way - the real prospect of a global food crunch which will make the credit crunch look like a walk in the park.