Sunday, April 27, 2008


As a sort of companion piece to the Doug Fine video I posted yesterday, here's the lead paragraph to Wendell Berry's characteristically eloquent essay "Faustian Economics," featured in the May 2008 Harper's:

The general reaction to the apparent end of the era of cheap fossil fuel, as to other readily foreseeable curtailments, has been to delay any sort of reckoning. The strategies of delay, so far, have been a sort of willed oblivion, or visions of large profits to the manufacturers of such "biofuels" as ethanol from corn or switchgrass, or the familiar unscientific faith that "science will find an answer." The dominant response, in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving, as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

The buzzword in the world press over the last several weeks has been the "silent tsunami." In the May 2 issue of The Week magazine there is an article on the global food crisis that points out that the prices of corn, wheat, and rice are at record levels, and that one of the contributing factors is the the increasing demand for biofuels: "The U.S. produces 40 percent of the global corn crop, but about one in five ears is now used to make ethanol. Record oil prices have also boosted food costs, since so much food is now shipped long distances, via trucks, ships, and airplanes." That, combined with exponential growth in demand for food and consumer goods in China in India, is leading us into a world in which "food will become an increasingly precious commodity, with food riots, massive starvation, and even wars spreading across the globe."

As a resident of Hawaii, I'm more than a little concerned about where we are going with all of this. Something like 90% of our food from elsewhere. More than 90% of our electrical energy is generated from fossil fuels. The largest part of our economy is based on tourism. And the only way to get to or from these islands is by boat or by plane. And yet there is next to no serious dialogue in the state — in the papers or in the legislature or anywhere else that I can see — about limiting growth, or about adjusting expectations or even about doing something as simple as making bike travel — surely a no-brainer on an island the size of Oahu — safer and easier. None of our leadership, least of all our governor, seems to be taking an interest. And meanwhile, back on the mainland, our would-be presidential candidates are being asked about why they aren't wearing American flag pins. Hello? Hello?

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