Wednesday, September 26, 2007

i ride my bike

Enough with the gloom and doom over peak oil and climate change you say. You want an empowering story of change? Alright here’s an example of a personal adjustment I’ve made in my own life in an attempt to address both the above events because after all, the basic answer to both peak oil and climate change is roughly the same. Stop using fossil fuels; or at least cut way back on using them. But that's so hard everyone says. It can't be done. Nonsense. Or as Tom Athanasiou recently said, “Change is necessary and because it is necessary it is possible.”

I decided 2007 would be the year I got rid of my car. Not completely, but I’ve known for some time that driving a car keeps me dependent on the oil economy and pollutes this planet. I’ve known I needed to cut back on my automotive oil addiction. But it wasn't until 2007 that I got serious about making change. Here are the numbers for the year so far.

At the beginning of the year I was driving 52 miles a day to work (round trip) in a larger city nearby, and roughly 40 miles on the weekend.

300 miles a week. 15,600 miles a year.

Then I convinced my employer to let me adopt a 4 day work week.

248 miles a week. 12,896 miles a year. A 17% reduction.

Then I found a new job closer to home, and convinced my new employer to let me keep my 4 day work week.

120 miles a week. 6,240 miles a year. A 60% reduction.

Then I got a bike and started biking to work which further reduced my time in the car.

25 miles a week. 1,300 miles a year.

A total reduction of 91% a year! Now in addition to spending considerably less time in a metal box driving over asphalt I getting more exercise, and spend thousands of dollars less per year on auto related expenses, not to mention gas. I should add that these miles reflect my daily car usage. I have driven to the beach for vacation and to visit my parents a few towns away on occasion. I have also taken a train to Washington D.C. for a conference- there is more still to do in changing my habits, but I think a 91% reduction in daily driving is pretty great.

What made such a change possible? My mindset. I don't live in an overly bike friendly town. I don't have professional experience that companies are clamoring for. I'm a fairly ordinary guy who just wanted to change. And I did and you can too. It is the idea that we can't change that is holding us back. That is all that stands between us and a reasonable response to peak oil and climate change.

"i used to fantasize about living in a healthier place, one where i could ride my bike, for example. then, one day, i started riding my bike. now, without having fled or escaped to anywhere, i live in a place where i can ride my bike." – heretic fig

Thursday, September 20, 2007

declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples

One of the topics given great coverage at last weekend's IFG teach-in was the recent passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On September 13, 2007 after more than 2 decades of discussion, the U.N. General Assembly passed this non-binding declaration. Now I find most of the folks actively involved in the issues of climate change, peak oil and resource depletion to generally be well informed and well meaning individuals. So at first glance it didn't seem strange at all that this group would be celebrating the passage of such a declaration. It "prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them." That is only a good thing no? But the emphasis of importance that accompanied this declaration seemed unusually strong until one of the speakers spelled it out for us.

The 46-article declaration establishes a framework for the respect of indigenous peoples’ rights, including self-rule, autonomy, land ownership, access to natural resources on lands they have traditionally held or used, and that the state provide these peoples with legal support to back their claim to these lands.

This declaration gives decision making power over to the native people who live on the lands containing a large portion of the developing world's remaining natural resources. Up until now that power has been held largely by the governments of those developing nations. And other than for a few exceptions it's easy to see how corporate powers have been able to manipulate governments in the global south to surrender those resources. Usually there's some talk about how parting with those resources will pull the citizens of those colonies- I mean countries- out of poverty. The truth on the ground though is that doesn't really happen. I heard first hand accounts of Nigerians living near the oil drilling not only still impoverished but now suffering from the pollution those operations produce.

There is no doubt that a certain rise in the standard of living of those impoverished in the south would be a welcome benefit. And to that end we should work to ensure that any resource extraction in an impoverished nation helps its citizens and doesn't just line the pockets of the elite. And while still non-binding, that is what this declaration might be able to do. If the people in these nations themselves have the power to authorize or not to authorize the extraction of resources in their own backyards, or what might happen to those resources once they're dug up, might there be a chance that this process might happen in a more equitable way?

There is always the danger of the 'Iced Tea' phenomenon. That is what some Alaskans call the money they are paid as a part of the agreement to drill for oil in that state. Each year each Alaskan gets a check for a certain amount, a percentage of the oil revenue derived from that industry's presence in Alaska. They get this money not from 'Texas Tea' as oil is known in that state but from a chillier beverage in a chiller state, their 'Iced Tea'. For this reason while working in Alaska I found many Alaskans quite happy about the drilling of oil in their state. Of course accidents like the Exxon Valdez spill have put a dent in that happiness. I haven't' been to Alaska in a decade so I can't tell you what the citizens of that state think now, but from my experiences there I would guess that many of them share the opinion of their Senator, Ted Stevens that ANWR should be drilled and more oil extracted; and more Iced Tea money paid out to Alaskans, even if it greats a tremendous ecological disturbance in on of the most untouched areas on Earth and only gives us a few more months of the fossil fuel party.

While working on a project in the City and Bureau of Juneau Alaska, I had occasion to spend time with quite a few of the natives of the area. Some too shared the sentiments of the non-natives of whom the majority liked oil drilling and its revenue (there were non-native exceptions to this). But more often than not the natives I spoke with were not in favor of wholesale resource harvest, even as a way to bring about financial improvements to the many Southeastern Alaskan communities who experience high levels of poverty. They were not totally against using natural resources or developing to fight poverty (many were strongly interested in tourism as an alternative) but they seemed to have more of an aversion to the selling what nature has blessed that part of the Earth with. It is the most beautiful part of the world I have ever visited. And I welcome any thoughts about my experience shared above concerning the people there. It has been a while. Much might have changed.

My point thought is that I believe those people who have a strong connection to their land, not hundreds of years but thousands, will probably be more willing to tread likely on that which has sustained them and their ancestors. Who better but these people to decide how to use what they have been given. And further who are we, thousands of miles away, to tell them what to do with their resources. This declaration came at a time when resource depletion is pushing the corporate peddlers of consumerism further into the dwindling areas of our planet in search of the last fix of a drug that is by now becoming increasingly known for what it truly represents, a temporary turn from the true sources of happiness that include our relationships with ourselves our family, our friends and our wider world. It is my great hope that the indigenous peoples of Earth might just be able to help show us the way back to the balance we have been missing for quite a while.

More on this declaration

4 day work week

Originally posted at The Oil Drum and Groovy Green, here is the original essay.

The Four Day Work Week
by aaron newton

The notion of our standard work week here in America has remained largely the same since 1938. That was the year the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, standardizing the eight hour work day and the 40 hour work week. Each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday workers all over the country wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work. But the notion that the majority of the workforce should keep these hours is based on nothing more than an idea put forth but the Federal government almost 70 years ago. To be sure it was an improvement in the lives of many Americans who were at the time forced to work 10+ hours a day, sometimes 6 days of the week. So a 40 hour work week was seen as an upgrade in the lives of many of U.S. citizens. 8 is a nice round number; one third of each 24 hour day. In theory it leaves 8 hours for sleep and 8 hours for other activities like eating, bathing, raising children and enjoying life. But the notion that we should work for 5 of these days in a row before taking 2 for ourselves is, as best I can tell, rather arbitrary.

The idea of a shorter work week is not a new one to anyone old enough to have lived through the energy shocks of the 1970’s. It should be fairly obvious to anyone interested in conserving oil that reducing the number of daily commutes per week would reduce the overall demand for oil. There are about 133 million workers in America. Around 80% of them get to work by driving alone in a car. The average commute covers about 16 miles each way. So let’s stop and do some math:

133,000,000 workers X 80% who drive alone = 106,400,000 single driver commuter cars each day.

106,400,000 X 32 miles round trip = 3,404,800,000 miles driven to work each day

3,404,800,000 / 21 mpg (average fuel efficiency) = 162,133,333 gallons of gasoline each day

Each barrel of crude oil produces, on average, 19.5 gallons of gas. (It is important to note that other products like kerosene and asphalt are produced from that same barrel)

162,133,333 / 19.5 = 8,314,530 barrels of oil each day.

What this shows is the impact a 4 day work week could have on crude oil imports. I’m talking about a 40% reduction in the amount of oil we need Monday through Friday simply by rearranging our work week. No wonder this idea was utilized in the 70’s.

But the clear fact that a 4 day work week would save such a precious non-renewable resource is just the first of 16 reasons why I think it’s time to revive the idea of reducing the numbers of days we work each week.

Reason #2 The 4 Day Work Week would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.

As you pull out of your driveway on your way to work your automobile has already begun to emit Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides, Hydrocarbons, Ozone, particulates, Lead and Chlorofluorcarbons. Some of these compounds are responsible for the greenhouse effect that is warming our planet and throwing our global climate system into increasing instability. Others of them contribute to air pollution that causes everything from dramatically rising rates of childhood asthma to cancers, heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Sometimes I drive to work too, so don’t think the whole thing is your fault. But it’s true that we’re playing fast and loose with our ecosystem and poisoning ourselves with our autos. 60 – 70% of urban air pollution is caused by cars. Taking 20% of them off the roads during the most heavily traveled time of the day would obviously reduce the overall amount of pollutants produced by our autos. And this is key, if a worker transitions to a 4 Day Work Week and then spends all day off driving around when he or she would have be at work, then the savings in terms of fuel and pollution will be lost. This is not a plan to provide everyone with more time to drive around but a plan to bring people back into their homes and their local communities. It’s an effort to give them more time with family, more time to exercise, more time to write the great American novel or learn to keep bees, or get another degree, or start a garden.

Reason #3 The 4 Day Work Week would reduce workers exposure to pollutants.

A recent study by the California EPA says “50% of a person’s daily exposure to ultra fine particles (the particles linked to cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses) can occur during a commute.” A report by the Clean Air Task Force in 2007 found diesel particle levels were between 4 to 8 times higher in commute vehicles than in the surrounding air. It makes sense when you think about it. The pollution coming from the tailpipe of a vehicle is mostly likely to affect you while you’re sitting directly behind it, especially if you’re stuck in slow moving traffic where the concentrations of such particles can build up.

Reason #4 The 4 Day Work Week would mean less traffic congestion.

Rush hour exists because everyone needs to get to work at about the same time. Anyone who’s lived in a city of size can tell you that early in the morning and late in the afternoon the roads fill up. The average 16 mile commutes takes 26 minutes each way. That’s 52 minutes a day traveling at roughly 35 miles per hour. Imagine if 1/5 of the cars suddenly disappeared? If the work week was staggered so that 1/5 of all workers took a different day off, the U.S. commuter would see a 20% reduction in rush hour congestion without building a single new road. Which leads nicely to the next reason…

Reason #5 The 4 Day Work Week would reduce money spent on new road construction and existing road maintenance.

With 1/5 few cars making the commute each day, fewer new road projects would be necessary and existing roads would last longer with less maintenance. This is not to say that we shouldn’t take advantage of this cost savings to invest in alternative transportation systems. In fact it’s the opposite. This could be a gift to the tax payer who would receive new and better options for travel without any rise in taxes.

Reason #6 The 4 Day Work Week would result in a reduction in personal expenses.


“2002 annual household private vehicle expense is $7,371. This is divided into $3,665 for vehicle purchases, $1,235 for gas and oil and $2,471 for insurance and misc.”

If workers used there cars 20% less often to drive to work, they would see a reduction in the frequency of oil changes, tune ups and the purchase of new tires just to name a few savings. The above numbers also reflect the price of gasoline in 2002. We all know it has increase since then and will continue to increase now that global oil production has peaked. Remember those 162,133,333 gallons of gas we’re going to save?

162,133,333 X $2.75 per gallon = $445,866,665.00

This would save US workers a lot of money! And because our cars would be driven less frequently, they wouldn’t need to be replaced as often. That’s not to say that would shouldn’t try to replace inefficient older cars with more efficient new ones, but this could give the auto manufactures time to wake up to the global peak in oil production and make changes in the types of vehicles they offer. It could also give communities time to respond with planning strategies that favor other types of transportation including walking, biking and mass transit.

Reason #7 The 4 Day Work Week would mean fewer auto accidents each year.

I don’t have statistics on the number of automobile related deaths and injuries that occur specifically during rush hour but almost every radio station on the dial offers a regular update of car crashes throughout each morning and evening commute. It seems safe to assume that fewer cars on the road during those periods of time would result in fewer accidents and the injuries that result from them.

Reason #8 The 4 Day Work Week would mean less time spent in VSC or Voluntary Solitary Confinement

Now some people tell me the time they spend alone in their car is relaxing. Personally I think if that’s true then what those people are really enjoying is time alone on uncongested roads. Rush hour on a busy street is not relaxing. Personal time away from other people can be a positive experience. But we don’t have to spend our time alone in a metal box burning nonrenewable resources that heat the planet. If less time was spent commuting each week, people would have more time for themselves to enjoy, even if they wanted to enjoy that time alone. It seems to me that as a nation we are experiencing an epidemic of disconnect. Ever see those people early in the morning on their way to work at 6:30am talking on their cell phones? Just who are they talking to? Maybe some of them are already working (before even arriving at work) but I bet many of them are talking to other friends and family who are, quite possibly, out in traffic too. How many of you have ever made a cell phone call because you were bored or lonely in your car? I have friends who will call me and announce that’s what they’re doing, calling me to get some company. The car is an insulator that keeps us from interacting and as naturally social creatures this isn’t a good practice. Less time spent in cars can mean more time spent with other human beings living life.

Reason #9 The 4 Day Work Week would mean a reduction in absenteeism

A recent survey found that 43% of respondents admitted to playing hooky last year. That is they stayed home from work even though they weren’t sick. Another day scheduled during the week to address the needs and wants of workers would give people more time to complete all sorts of activities. It could keep them from taking their own day off. It could also give people a day to schedule appointments like medical, dental, tax, attorney or other. A Four Day Work Week would mean fewer random interruptions when workers must leave the office to take care of these matters. Even the occasional summer day spent hiking with a child sounds like a good national exercise to me.

Reason #10 The 4 Day Work Week would increase productivity

Yes I said increase productivity.

In 1930 famed cereal maker W.K. Kellog had this to say about his decision to decrease his companies work week from 40 to 30 hours.

"The efficiency and morale of our employees is so increased, the accident and insurance rates are so improved, and the unit cost of production is so lowered that we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight."

Peak oil and climate change could make for turbulent business waters ahead. This country needs more business leaders willing to navigate these waters not by burdening their workforce with limitations or restrictions but with a willingness to try new strategies. Ideas such as this one should be strongly considered by corporate America or maybe it’s time for the Federal government to revisit this issue through law. New ways of working really could benefit both businesses and employees. It’s important in the time ahead not to simply saddle the workers of America with the rising costs of energy and ecological destruction.

There are lots options concerning the number of hours a 4 Day Work Week could contain. Employees could work 10 hours a day and keep a 40 hour work week. Or they could simply eliminate an entire day and drop down to a 32 hour work week. In between is the idea of working 4 days a week, 9 hours a day. But regardless of how many hours people work, the important part to remember is that most tasks are going to get accomplished each week just as they did before. A recent survey by of over 10,000 American workers revealed that on average, we waste more than 2 hours each day surfing the web or making phone calls to friends. Might these distractions be activities that workers must be willing to trade for an entire extra day off to spend surfing on the Internet? I say that tongue in cheek as there are better ways to spend your new day off but the point is that the inbox is never empty and that important tasks could probably be completed in a shorter work week if time spent at work was all about work. A shorter work week would sharpen this focus and make the workplace more productive.

Reason #11 The 4 Day Work Week would give us more time for family

60% of Americans say they do not have enough time for family. To be sure we could change that statement to read, make time for family, because time is after all what you make it. It’s important to note that we work more hours than any other nation on the planet. But why? Why do we work? I think this question is at the heart of support for a shorter work week. We work so we can support our families right? But is more money and the always increasing amount of stuff that money buys really supporting our families? We have to pay bills but would your son rather have you at home or have a new flat screen television? 7 out of 10 teenage pregnancies are conceived at the home of the young girl between the hours of 3pm and 5pm. It is my view that what might be in my daughter’s best interest isn’t me working 50 hours a week so I can buy her a sweet sixteen car. It might be spending more time at home with my daughter talking to her about her future. A shorter work week would give this nation an opportunity to spend more time at home with our families.

Reason #12 The 4 Day Work Week would decrease labor costs

Long work hours increase the worker turnover rate which leads to more money spent on acquiring and training new employees. Employees who have almost as many days to spend on their own as days they spend working will be much happier and more loyal. These are employees who will work harder and stay longer at any given company.

Reason #13 The 4 Day Work Week would decrease operational costs

Depending on just how a company chooses to structure its 4 Day Work Week, any number of operational costs could be reduced. The energy savings from the climate control of unoccupied buildings could be enormous. Fewer security or maintenance issues could result from having a smaller number of people in the office each day. A shorter work week could mean more infrequent cleanings and less information technology service calls.

Reason #14 The 4 Day Work Week would mean a reduction in the cost of childcare

If a two parent household were to switch to a 4 Day Work Week then their childcare costs could be reduced by 40%. Childcare ranges in cost depending on the type care and the specific location in which a worker lives. Estimates range from $3,000 to $15,000 annually per child. A family spending $5,000 who could reduce the number of days their child is in care from 5 days to 3 could save $2,000 a year. This also means more of the child’s time spent with parents which fosters stronger families. It is important to note here that childcare that exceeds the normal 8 hour work day is more expensive. If both parents switched to 10 hour work days their childcare costs might not decrease.

Reason #15 The 4 Day Work Week would provide time for a transition into the informal economy

There are a lot of reasons why consumer culture is bad for us. It focuses not on people and their relationships to one another but instead on things, on stuff, on cheap plastic crap from Mal-Wart. It’s worth pointing out that not only is our habit of consuming mass quantities of junk toxifying our lives and our environment with all sorts of chemicals and pollution, it’s also using up a number of nonrenewable resources at an alarming rate. It seems reasonable to assume that we can’t continue on this ride of infinite growth for a whole lot longer. The coming era will be one of a decline in the availability of all sorts of resources we take for granted right now. Learning how to reshape and relocalize our lives will be an immense effort for both communities and the individuals living in them. Having an extra day each week to begin this process could prove invaluable. Need time to learn how to cook or garden? Have you always wanted to start a new cottage industry business from home? Maybe you’d like to be more activity in volunteer efforts in your community to address peak oil and climate change. This extra day could be our ticket as a nation to scaling back on our consumption while we reconnect to local life.

Reason #16 The 4 Day Work Week feels great!

I write this proposal not as an academic making a theoretical suggestion but as a participant in the new 4 Day Work Week movement. At the beginning of 2007 I renegotiated my contract with my employer and started staying home on Fridays. I now have more than a two day speed bump on the highway of American employment. I get to enjoy almost as many days at home each week as I spend working at my job. And it feels wonderful. Since making the change I have even taken a new job and was still able to continue with my shorter work week. 25% of U.S. companies already have some sort of policy towards alternative work schedules.

Telecommuting, cell phones and the Internet are just some of the other tools that can offer more flexibility to the outdated idea that we should all be at the office from 8 to 5 on Monday through Friday. I can tell you from experience that this feels great. I am able to spend time on projects that are important to me. I get to see my young daughter more. Lately it’s been a Friday bike ride together. And I have a chance to share my ideas with more time to write proposals like this one.

Changes require action. Our nation is at a point where we need change. Not politicians talking about change but an actual change in the way we live our lives. The 4 Day Work Week could be a catalyst for a change from a nation that lives to work into a nation that works to live. Come join me won’t you?

Monday, September 17, 2007

rob hopkins "at" the global triple crisis teach-in

Rob's presentation in absence got quite a round of applause. There were many other excellent speakers and my mind is full and I have an updated sense of fear, hope and awareness. One thing's for sure, the next few decades will be an exciting stretch of human history. Buckle up.

You can watch the rest of Rob's presentation by clicking the following links.

Part Two

Part Three

More about Mr. Hopkins at his website Transition Culture.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

$80 oil doesn't translate

There is a reason that, as the price of oil rides a new high, the mainstream media avoids the term peak oil. Surely by now at least some of those reporters have investigated Hubbert’s Peak, the prediction of an all time global maximum in oil output that is happening during this decade. And the peak oil community is partly to blame for this quiet response. I should follow immediately by including myself wholeheartedly because I have done what other regular folk have done as we’ve stumbled onto the idea that in the near future we will see less fossil fuel energy available to human race. As a movement I think we’ve freaked out a bit.

The impact of peak oil isn’t to be taken lightly but the framing of the issue, in hindsight, could have been a bit more productive in my humble opinion. Personally I could have done a better job of discussing the possible positives of the response. Instead I have responded fearfully at times. Angry at others. Mostly though people just want to know how to cope. They want to see some examples of positive change.

But the G & D response can’t help but be expected, in our defense. If you go rearranging the future of almost anyone to an extreme degree, that individual is likely to respond with some sort of negative emotion. My wife sometimes kiddingly explains that I am planning for the end of the world, which is not at all true. But seen through the eyes of others who do not better understand our society’s utter dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil, this massive wave of chatter about everything and anything ‘peak oil’ must seem as quite the gloomy doom prophecy- ‘The End of the World’ indeed. We’ve focused largely on the negatives and who wants to be a part of that?

Regardless it looks more certain now that Crude Oil plus NGL peaked in May of 2005 and all liquids peaked in July of 2006. In other words it seems increasingly likely that the world’s oil supply will be unable to increase and meet world oil demand; no matter how many majick wands the traditional economists wave. Still though few among the regular media want to be the bearer of bad news. And such a harsh reality visited upon the western world won't be favorably received. So we get coverage of an event like to day- the historic high price of oil at more than $80 per barrel- without a mention of peak oil. Oh the author hints all around it but won’t come out and say it. The emphasis of course is mine.

“The combination of robust long-term demand growth and lagging non-OPEC supply suggests that strong support for oil prices is set to remain a feature of the markets beyond 2010,” he quotes Deutsche Bank chief energy economist Adam Sieminski as saying.

“The tight supply and demand picture is the main reason cited for oil’s price surge since 2002, when it traded at just $20 a barrel,” article author Hargreaves goes on to mention.

“High demand in the United States, as well as developing nations like China, India and Brazil, has not been met with a similar increase in oil supplies," Hargreaves says before adding,

“That means the difference in what the world could currently produce and what it consumes has narrowed, which magnifies the effect of any supply disruption - such as a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico or even a possible war with Iran - as there is less spare capacity elsewhere to pick up the slack.”

In other words since we can’t get more oil out of the ground than we did this time last year, the growth economy is going to groan under this new limit.

I would like to pause and add that the author of this article did his home work and recognized that the price of oil is still below the all time high when adjusted for inflation. That number, which he does offer, is approximately $90 per barrel. With an increase in oil prices this year alone of around 30%, I’ll let you guess when we’ll pass the majick $90 per barrel mark. And I’ll let you guess as to if that new peak in price will offer enough incentive to those writing for the mainstream media to come out and say peak oil is here. Or if it will scare them further into avoiding the truth.

Sam explains that the Economist (yes that publication) has mentioned peak oil.

Ok so I haven’t heard of Peak Oil either.

Alright so what do I do about peak oil?

What else?

Enough already. You’ve mentioned gloomy doom. Tell me something cheerful about peak oil. Please…

Saturday, September 08, 2007

please come and join in the change

This coming weekend, September 14 - 16, 2007, the International Forum on Globalization is hosting a Teach-In with an incredible line up of speakers at George Washington University in Washington D.C. There's also a pretty big anti-war demonstration going on that weekend in D.C. so here's your chance to express yourself and get educated about the effects of America's imperial nature. See you there?

More info here

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

national hoarding

What are the odds that this blog has influenced Russian domestic policy? I would estimate somewhere around 0%. I did read with interest though when a little birdie told me about an article in the Financial Times entitled, Moscow Considers Wheat Export Ban.

Russia is considering a ban on cereals exports in a move that exacerbates fears that wheat prices, already at an all-time high, could surge further on reduced supplies, European cereal traders said.

Russia, the world’s fifth largest wheat exporter, is concerned about rising local bread prices and inflation ahead of legislative elections in December.

The first interesting aspect of this article is the way it seems to suggest that the Russians are learning from past mistakes. In a previous post I suggested that USSR's inability to *grow* enough grain, not Russia's inability to buy it, led in part to the instability that brought about the collapse of that nation. Maybe some Russian policy maker somewhere in Moscow came to the same conclusion and wants to avoid making the same mistake twice.

Something else to take from this article is the ripple effect the food export ban is having worldwide.

The discussion of an export ban is also fueling panic buying by some food-importing countries, such as Egypt and India...

What we don't need to add to the geopolitical soup of the 21st century is a sprinkle of spicy countries unable to produce enough food to feed their people.

And it turns out Russia isn't alone in their coming limitations on food export.

Moscow’s concern comes as other food-exporting countries, such as Ukraine and Indonesia, try to rein in foreign sales amid rising prices.

So we see this has the makings of a trend. And I think it's worth mentioning that post peak oil we're likely to see a whole host of other export limitations. The current Bush administration might call it, "A necessary step to increase national security through the limitation of the sales of important resources to other countries." I might call it national hoarding. Whatever it's called it's not surprising to see it start with a basic commodity like grain, and there's little doubt that we're going to see such restrictions on oil exports in the future. It might even spark a war or two.

It's also important to note that the article explains that global wheat inventories are at a 26 year low. This is because we have more mouths to feed and also because of poor weather conditions in many of the wheat producing regions of the world. Climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices are already having an impact on our ability to feed ourselves as a species. I'm hoping it won't have to get harder for us here in America (producer of an above average percentage of global greenhouse gasses and a large amount of grain) to feed ourselves before we start to make change.

When civilizations collapse one often sited aspect is a disconnect between the leaders and problems facing those in the rest of society. As the world's reigning superpower we are undoubtedly leading, albeit in the wrong direction. And I would argue we're doing so because of a huge disconnected from the hunger and unrest pervasive throughout the rest of the world.

For instance our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has seen rioting because of a rise in their dietary staple, the corn tortilla. The media is even calling them The Tortilla Riots. This is a direct result of farmers selling corn to the U.S. for ethanol production. But do we hear about this in mainstream America? Nope. What we hear is politicians, choking on hubris, telling us that we can keep the SUV's running on ethanol. Such is the dangerous disconnect that could lead, this time around, to a collapse not just of an individual society but to a larger collapse including the much touted globalized economy. The possible decision by the Russians to stop selling grain abroad appears to support the idea that at least someone in that country is paying attention to a potiential political spark that could destabilize that country, a basic need that left unmet would mean an angry population. I dare say that the leaders of government in the U.S. seem largely unaware of anything other than the needs of their corporate sponsors.

But is that a bit harsh? After all many of us know someone who works at Wal-Mart and uses that paycheck to buy food. Where would they get their food if the global economy collapsed? The truth is we have allowed a small percentage of the population to gut this country of it's ability to do for itself; systematically destroying the ability of citizens and local communities to take care of their own needs, especially in terms of agriculture. As a people, we've sat idly by watching the whole makeover on television as we've been transformed from a nation of producers into a nation of consumers.

We are as much to blame as Monsanto. OK maybe not quite as much to blame as them but still it has happened on our watch and now we must do something about it. Just as the USSR found itself unable to provide food for its people and faced an angry populace, we too are in for a rough ride when the economics of growth run up against the unarguable limits of energy and resources. And it appears our leaders are in the driver's seat, pedal to the floor as we approach the cliff. It is us the people that must address this concern and we must address it from the local level up.

This article should be a wake up call, another ring in the chorus of alarm clocks begging us to wake up from the American dream and recognize that the way we live is unsustainable and that we can change now because we have the foresight and courage to do so, or we can wait until the change is unmercifully thrown upon us.