Wednesday, January 27, 2010

9 billion ton hamster

...In January 2006, nef (the new economics foundation) published the report Growth isn’t working.9 It highlighted a flaw at the heart of the economic strategy that relies overwhelmingly upon economic growth to reduce poverty. The distribution of costs and benefits from global economic growth, it demonstrated, are highly unbalanced. The share of benefits reaching those on the lowest incomes was shrinking. In this system, paradoxically, in order to generate ever smaller benefits for the poorest, it requires those who are already rich and ‘over-consuming’ to consume ever more. read more
Who among us doesn't want to see a 9 billion ton hamster?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

out of sight (or why we don't really know where our water comes from)

On the list of universal humans needs shelter ranks right up there. But in fact the home that keeps the rain off our heads is also important because it serves as an interface with some of the systems that help provide our our most basic needs.

Clean water comes ultimately from the natural cycles that make it available via our watersheds- the creeks, stream and rivers, ponds and lakes as well as the underground waterways that drains away our rain) but for most of us it arrives in a glass after being poured from a facet in the kitchen or bathroom.

For most of us, the electricity we use to power our refrigerator is generated by coal, natural gas, nuclear or hydroelectric power plants but is delivered to a particular appliance in our house only after we flip a switch. In the case of both water and electricity, these resources are made available to us because of a connection between our homes (or apartments, condos, town homes, duplexes- you get it) and centralized systems that make these resources available to paying customers throughout our community.

Because we don't go down to the spring house and bring back a bucket of water or actually burn the coal that heats the water that turns to steam that spins the turbine that generates the electricity that powers the light bulb, there is a disconnect between the resources we use and the realities that underpin their availability. We're not so worried about where these resources come from or how much is left because every time- without fail- that we turn on the facet or flip the switch we get the resources we need.

97% of transportation fuel worldwide comes from oil and yet despite the fact that global oil production is peaking and will not be available to us in the ever-increasing amount we've come to expect, the vast majority of people in the US continue doing as they please, buying big cars with crappy fuel efficiency ratings and generally driving everywhere and anywhere we please. Gasoline, while it has increased in price over the last 5 years, is still readily available and cheaper than bottled water.

Think about that a minute, the amount of energy needed to propel a Hummer 10 miles at a speed of 1 mile a minute costs less than $3. Try pushing a Hummer for 10 miles and then tell me gas is expensive.

It's about expectation not reality. We are used to having unlimited amounts of resources, especially energy, at our disposal at very little cost relatively speaking. It's really not hard to understand why Americans and others in the over developed world are so slow to recognize the need for changing the way we use resources. It's not justifiable but it's become our reality and I'm guessing that we won't really change our relationship to resources until shortfalls become the new reality.

I saw this first hand when Hurricane Ike knocked down fuel delivery to region where I live.

It was when people couldn't get gas that they started doing things like sleeping in their cars and organizing to generate lists of fuel stations with inventory on hand. When the gasoline was freely flowing again- the real shortage lasted only a little more than a week- behavior went back to normal.

So what does this mean for our inability to have ever-increasing amounts of resources in the future? I think it means that most people aren't going to plan ahead and make changes in advance that would make living with less easier. Most people will adapt after the fact. Humans actually do it quite well. I'm not suggesting it will be pretty. Adaptive strategies might including sleeping in cars (for more reasons than one) or they might look like kids siphoning gas and selling it on the black market to make money to buy food. Adaptation isn't always clean.

I think there is an opportunity for people who are aware of our vulnerabilities to put in place strategies that will prove helpful moving forward. Not only are some of those strategies likely to make life easier for the early adopters but they might make the early adopters very popular in the future. It's one thing to have access to electricity during rolling brownouts or blackouts because you have a PV system tied into your home. It's something else entirely to be able to help other people install similar systems as those people wake up to the realities of the 21st century.

Water is another great example. Having a backup source of water is an excellent idea in case of supply interruption or contamination. It's also a marketable skill to understand how to design and build such a system for others. In this way the changes made by early adopters can also be future forms of income for them. More on that perhaps in a future post.

Most of us talking about resource depletion, energy descent and climate change failed to understand the economic implications and the speed with which the financial fallout would change our situation. It's likely we'll be too poor for a vast build out of renewable energy even if it could power all the switches we've become accustom to flipping (and it can't). It's likely that even the mega projects promised to provide more oil will likely go un or underfunded. The centralized systems that provide us with resources on demand and at a low cost are incredibly vulnerable to the economic tremors stemming from the very energy intense system we've created and our inability to feed it. Less money = less energy. Less energy = less money.

But back to our homes. I think this is where most of us can make the greatest difference. On a household or neighborhood level we can make changes that do the work of providing our resources in a decentralized way. At first these new systems can run parallel to those centralized ones already in place. There's no need to turn off the tap once you've built your rainwater collection system. For the time being it can serve as a back up or a way for you to reduce the amount of money needed to pay your water bill. Over time as centralized systems fail further, the decentralized alternatives can fill more of the need.

I'd like to end with some actionable items. It makes me feel useful so for those of you reading recreationally just bear with me.

Steps toward taking responsibility for your resource and energy use by creating decentralized alternatives in your home.

1. Understand where your resources come from. For example, where does your electricity come from and how does it get to you? Given what you know how vulnerable is that system? You probably don't have unlimited time or resources so think about what work will return the most for your investment. Some changes, like switching to responsibly harvested wood for home heating could be fairly simple and relatively inexpensive. Others, like a full PV electric system, might be more expensive. Then ther are really low cost alternatives like just learning to use way less. Which brings us to number two.

2. Understand how much you use. I wrote something about this in a previous post where I asked,
How much electricity does your entertainment center use when it's "off". How many gallons of water does your family use each month? Do you know how many natural gas therms it takes to heat your house during the month of January?

Your utility bills will show you how much you're using. For $23 you can buy the Kill A Watt Electric Usage Meter and it will tell you exactly how much electricity your appliances are using. Or you can use the high tech version, Google's PowerMeter. Once you know how much you're using you can get to work reducing the amount of energy and resources you use.
This will also help you understand what sort of decentralized system will be needed to provide for your own needs. It might also prompt you to think about how much you really need.

3. Create a plan for building alternative systems for your home and include a timeline. Start by thinking in terms of the basic physical needs: water, food, shelter, energy, health care, transportation, communication and others. It's going to take time. Move with urgency but don't rush or mistakes will be made.

4. Include the entire household. Telling you wife she has to start using a composting toilet is very different from coming to that decision as a family. ;-) These changes won't be successful unless everyone buys in to a certain extent.

5. Document your changes. This will be helpful to others. It might also help you in the future to develop your new skills into sources of income. It will also be fun.

Enough actionable items. Best of luck to all those early adopters out there building tomorrow today.


Monday, January 18, 2010

a bit about permaculture


Prime Directive:

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.

A Definition:

Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.

The Ethical Basis of Permamculture:

1. Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.

2. Care of People: Provision for people to access those resources ncessary to their exisitence.

3. Fair share: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.

Design Principles:

1. Work with nature not against it.

2. The problem is the solution.

3. Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.

4. The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited.

5. Everything gardens.

Design Strategies:

1. Observer and interact

2. Catch and store energy

3. Obtain a yield

4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback.

5. Use and value renewable resources and services.

6. Produce no waste.

7. Design from patterns to details

8. Integrate rather than segregate.

9. Use small and slow solutions.

10. Use and value diversity.

11. Use edges and value the marginal.

12. Creatively use and respond to change.

This last set of Design Strategies comes from Krissa Smith. Everything else comes directly from _Permaculture: A Designers' Manual_ by Bill Mollison.

I've posted this information so has to have a permanent link to some basic information about permaculautre. Frankly I'm tired of reading gross mischaracterizations of permculture all over the Internet. If you'd like to critique permaculture that's great. Start by actually reading a book about it. Here's a list of them.

Gaia's Garden
Permaculture: A Designers' Manual
Introduction to Permaculture
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
Permaculture Two

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

monsanto's gm crops are bad

Genetically modified corn from Monsanto is linked to organ failure in rats. I'm just surprised that Monsanto executives we're willing to participate in the study. HA!
In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto's GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats.
Read more here.

And it would be different if they really were producing miracle seeds but...
South African farmers suffered millions of dollars in lost income when 82,000 hectares of genetically-manipulated corn (maize) failed to produce hardly any seeds.The plants look lush and healthy from the outside. Monsanto has offered compensation.
Read More here.

And then there are the farmer suicides.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

home is where the heat is

Coming in out of the cold, a phrase currently more relevant than usual to those of us experiencing unusually chilly weather, means having a house. It might be an apartment, a condo, a town home, a duplex or even just a tent but human beings need a place to get out of the elements and our houses serve this among other purposes. Next week I'm going to talk about all the other systems functioning our homes but this week the focus will be on home heating, the single largest component of residential energy used.

Residential energy accounts for 21% of US energy Usage. Of that, one third is devoted to space heating. The numbers in total for residential usage look like this.

32% space heating
13% water heating
12% lighting
11% air conditioning
8% refrigeration
5% electronics
5% wet-clean (mostly clothes dryers)

So while it is important to pay attention to the amount of energy used by our fancy new electronic gadgets , the lowest hanging fruit in terms of energy conservation turns out to be a reduction in amount of energy we use to heat our houses.

The bad news is that many of the homes constructed in the post WWII build out are incredibly inefficient. Energy for home heating was and relatively speaking, still is cheap (if you don't count the cost of a changing climate) and so the traditions of vernacular architecture, site specific design and secure construction techniques where thrown out a drafty window.

The good news is that this represents an opportunity to greatly reduce the amount of energy used in the United States without having to address supply issues at all. It also represents an opportunity for individuals and families to make themselves more financially secure by lowering their home heating costs. Right now the costs associated with the resources we all use are relatively stable but in an energy constrained future those costs will not only increase, they will become volatile as a market used to dependable growth in resource availability clambers to cope with the reality of energy descent. Paying attention only to the financial costs, priced in today's dollars, of addressing our energy needs could leave a lot of people out in the cold.

More good news comes from the fact that some of the steps we can take to make our homes more energy efficient in terms of keeping the insides warm are relatively cheap. Most of us live in homes that have an HVAC system (Heating, Ventilating & Air Conditioning) that sucks too much air in from outside when doing the job of keeping our homes warm. This problem can be addressed with a caulk gun and a candle. Turn on your HVAC system and light a candle. Now carefully move the candle around the window frames and door frames of your home. The disruption of the smoke will smoke will let you know where you have leaks. Of course a smoke puffer is a bit safer and less messy than a candle and not that expensive.

Or, for a very reasonable amount of money you can hire a professional to do a blower door test. A special door insert uses a fan to put negative air pressure in your home, causing it to suck more air from outside than normal. This makes air leaks easier to detect. You can also use the blower door to make sure you have sealed your home to an appropriate tightness.

Now, you don't want an air tight house. That would be like living in a sealed plastic bag. Interior air quality would suffer and with it human health. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has set standards for the amount of inside air that should be replaced with outside air on an hourly basis. You're not likely to over seal your home using a candle and a caulk gun and the professionals that might do a blower door test will understand these standards.

Also don't forget about one of the single largest air leak in many homes, the attic door! Sealing just this leak will noticeably reduce the amount of energy you use to heat your home

Try an Attic Tent.

Proper insulation of floors, walls and ceilings will also prevent heat from escaping and reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a home. My family had cellulose insulation blown into our 1930 brick built home after having is sealed appropriately and saw a significant reduction in the cost of heating. There are lots of options regarding insulation. My advice is to do your own research and then talk with at least one professional who doesn't actually sell insulation about the options for your specific structure. Don't just assume the pink stuff will do.

Insulating a house is more expensive than caulking the window frames but remember to think not just in terms on today's energy costs. We're likely to see an significant increase in the cost of home heating energy in the future that might make the cost of insulating now look super cheap in hindsight.

Once the air leaks and the insulation have been addressed the windows are up next for discussion. Windows let in sunlight which heats up a room. Using sunlight in this manner is called passive solar heating and was once and will again be a standard strategy for architects and home builders.

One problem though is that glass is a poor insulator which means the heat from sunlight let in by the windows can quickly escape. Properly sealed windows will help to reduce the loss. Double or even triple pane windows will help even more by providing a layer of gas (usually argon of krypton) which is a good insulator, between each pane. Having new windows installed in construction or during a renovation will help to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat your home.

There are lower cost strategies as well. My family has installed window blinds and curtains in most of our windows. The blinds help to prevent heat loss at night as do the curtains. There is also a management component to this strategy.

In the morning we open the curtains and rotate the blinds in the kitchen, dining room and other rooms where we spend the morning to let in light. We mostly leave the bedroom blinds closed as they face north and get no direct sunlight. We also don't spend much time in there after we're dressed.

In the early afternoon I pull the blinds up on the south-facing windows to allow the maximum amount of sun to enter into the southern exposure of our home. In the early evening I let the blinds down to help slow down the rate of heat loss but I leave the blinds rotated open to allow light in. As the sun goes down I rotate the blinds closed. This further prevents heat loss and provides a bright white surface that reflects the light from interior bulbs. Before bed I close the curtains to further prevent heat loss. Sound like a pain in the ass? It really just becomes a habit like feeding the dog or walking the cat. And I'm not perfect. Some days it doesn't happen but you can feel the difference and so I try to make this part of my daily routine.

There are more aggressive strategies to limit the amount of heat loss through windows that don't cost a great deal of money. Removable window inserts can be made out of rigid insulation and fabric. These can be placed in windows at night and removed each morning.

Window quilts serve roughly the same purpose as curtains but are used seasonally.

There are window films and other window treatments that can cut down on heat loss while still allowing sunlight and solar radiation in during the day.

A programmable thermostat is an option as well. I tend towards solutions that rely on simpler technology but our programmable thermostat helps us to manage our interior air temperature, making the house more comfortable and more efficient. In general though just turning down (or programing down) your thermostat will greatly reduce the amount of energy needed to heat your home. This is best done by adjusting to the gradually lower temperatures of autumn. It's much easier to get used to 58 degree nights in your house if you do it slowly as opposed to telling your wife that tonight the bedroom temperature will in fact not be in low 70s but rather upper 50s. That's likely to spark rebellion.

On that note I'd like to recommend a cooperative strategy that includes all the members of the household and turns saving home heating energy into a game. My wife, not exactly excited about the insulation of our home during her 6th month of pregnancy, quickly became addicted heat energy reduction. The key was showing her how to track each month using our energy bill and a using a service made available by our natural gas provider. She can compare January of 2008 with Jan '09 and Jan '10 to see how many fewer therms we used *and* how much less we spent post-insulation project to heat our home.

Like any change, reducing the amount of energy used to heat your home is more of a journey than a destination. Set goals for yourself. Create a time line for meeting those goals and away you go.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

beef injected with ammonia - yum!

People ask me why I don't eat commercial meat. Instead of a long winded answer now I can just send them this post.
If you're in the beef business, what do you do with all the
extra cow parts and trimmings that have traditionally been sold off for use
in pet food? You scrape them together into a pink mass, inject them with a
chemical to kill the e.coli, and sell them to fast food restaurants to make
into hamburgers.

That's what's been happening all across the USA with beef sold to
McDonald's, Burger King, school lunches and other fast food restaurants,
according to a New York Times article. The beef is injected with ammonia, a
chemical commonly used in glass cleaning and window cleaning products.
Natural News

With the U.S.D.A.’s stamp of approval, the company’s processed beef has become a mainstay in America’s hamburgers. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.

But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

let's resolve

The start of a new year offers a physiological rest button, a chance to stop and take stock of your life and resolve to make some changes you think might be needed or useful going forward. The list of standard New Years Resolutions is familiar: "I'll quit smoking, I'll quit drinking, I'll loose weight, I'll get out of debt, I'll exercise more..."

This time though we're facing not just a new year but a new decade and doing so on the heels of a year that introduced many Americans to the financial fallout that's beginning to take shape in conjunction with resource depletion, energy descent and climate change. Times they are a changing and that means adding some less conventional resolutions to the list. Sure it makes even more sense to kick those addictions, become debt-free and adopt a healthy lifestyle. But in the spirit of making real and lasting change might I suggest a few additional resolutions.

1. Create a reading list and work through it.
Pick 12 books, one for each month. How much do you really know about climate change? Is a steady state economy a real alternative to growth economics? What is the logic of sufficiency anyway? As a nation we rely way too heavily on tv, radio and the internet for news coverage that barely skims the surface and doesn't focus on some important issues. I'm not going to tell you what to read but make a commitment to your lifelong education by writing down a list of books and then reading them.

2. Investigate your resource use.
How much electricity does your entertainment center use when it's "off". How many gallons of water does your family use each month? Do you know how many natural gas therms it takes to heat your house during the month of January? I think part of our national apathy towards reducing energy and resource use is that we don't have any idea how much we really use.

Your utility bills can help show you how much you're using. For $23 you can buy the Kill A Watt Electric Usage Meter and it will tell you exactly how much electricity your appliances are using. Or you can use the high tech version, Google's PowerMeter. Once you know how much you're using you can get to work reducing the amount of energy and resources you use.

3. Localize your diet. Sure your town has a farmers market, but have you ever been? Most people I talk to have no idea how much local food is available to them. They're not eating locally mainly becaues they are uninformed. Well, inform yourself. Start with Find out where local food is available in your community- farmers markets, grocery stores, farm stands, CSAs, restaurants, etc. and then buy it.

And compliment this with some of your own. Growing food is fun and it tastes better than stuff shipped across the country. Plant your victory garden.

4. Cook. This one goes well with number 3. Buying locally sourced fresh, whole ingredients means you have to do something with them. That's where the fun comes in. For those of us with relatively little cooking experience this can be a challenge but it can also be an adventure. It's cheap entertainment watching a 2 year old kneed bread dough.

Start with one local meal per week and scale up.

5. Get out of your car. Walking or bicycling is an option most people don't consider. Well now is the time to consider it. It will save you money, put you in better shape, improve your sex life, make you feel better and open your senses to the world around you. And in the future you'll get to laugh as you whiz by the lines at the gas station. Seriously make a commitment to ride or walk for a certain type of trip you would have previously made in the car. Commit to a carless commute to work 3 days a week.

6. Plan a backup for your backup. How will you stay warm if an ice storm knocks out the electricity to your home? You'll turn on the kerosene space heater of course but what happens when you run out of kerosene? Just buying a water filter, a sleeping bag and some candles does not mean you're prepared for a sudden downturn of events. Think through your preparedness strategies and imagine what you would do if the resources you're used to became unavailable for extended periods of time. Commit to a utility-free weekend and test your plans.

7. Invite the neighbors over for dinner. You know you've been meaning to do it. Set a date by which you will have walked next door and invited the neighbors over for dinner. Perhaps one neighbor per month until you've shared a local, home-cooked meal with all of them.

8. Volunteer. The strength of our communities, even in the best of times is directly related to the amount of time and energy we're willing to spend on each other. Find a local cause you've been meaning to get involved with and find out how you can volunteer your time. Maybe it's just one hour a week but it will help you better understand the work already being done in your community to make it a better place and it will make you feel good too.

9. Create at least one barter-based relationship.
Me, I'm looking for a urologist who's willing to trade a year-long CSA membership for a vasectomy. Seriously though, try it. Try to create one relationship with someone such that you trade skills or goods instead of giving each other money. Maybe your car mechanic needs your skills as a massage therapist or your local bike mechanic will work for home baked bread.

10. Kill your television.
It makes you more sedentary and slow. It makes you fat. It misinforms you. It steals your time. If you have one in your bedroom it's shown to result in half as much sex. That alone should be reason enough to take the plunge this year and get rid of the biggest waste of time in your life. Maybe then, in addition to getting twice as much action from your partner, you'll have enough time to accomplish the rest of your 2010 resolutions.

Best of luck,


Monday, January 04, 2010

2010 already

Hello and welcome to a new year and a new decade. I'm sorry for such a lull in posting but last year just seemed to snowball. I was glad to have some time over the holidays to sit down and rest up. Now here I am ready to move into 2010.

Sharon and I will be teaching two online classes and the first, 'Finding Your Place' starts tomorrow. It runs for six weeks. The second, 'Farm and Garden Design', will start in mid-February. Send me an email if you'd like more information. We have spots available in each. aaron AT henandharvest DOTCOM


I want to take a look at my predictions for 2009 and make a few for 2010. More than wanting to be proven right (or wrong in terms of the scary ones) I find this a useful exercise because it helps me to see how my perspective changed over the course of the year.

1. 2009 will be the year when citizens of the United States begin to seriously question beliefs that until recently were widely held and never questioned.

I think this was true for some people. I might so far as to say it was true for a good number of people but that depends on what I meant by "seriously question beliefs". Certainly our monetary system was questioned. The ability of our government to address the situation was and is still being questioned. If people in the US aren't questioning widely held beliefs they are certainly more skeptical and cynical and unsure about how likely we are to return to normal, whatever that is.
2. We will see food-related violence next year.

There was rioting last year but nothing like 2008 when food concerns were a major contributor to that sort of violence. The shortages didn't materialize to the extent that I thought they would.

3. Shortages of goods which were previously very accessible to you and your family will no longer be readily available.

This was true for many families but not for the reasons that I anticipated. As I review these predictions it occurs to me that I expected physical shortages of goods, including food, to cause more significant problems. In 2009 I came to realize that while it is important to pay attention to the primary mainsprings of the difficulties we face (resources depletion, energy descent and climate change) we actually experience these problems in secondary and tertiary ways that also need attention. It's not so much that goods were physically less available but that more of us couldn't afford them.

4. President Barack Obama will not save us.

And of course he didn't. I said before his election that he would only be useful as a tool of change if we could leverage him. It turns out other forces were better at that. I think he could be a useful counselor during the downturn but I think more and more people are beginning to believe that he won't be able to make the sort of changes necessary to avoid or even significantly mitigate the problems we're facing.

5. Things will get crazy, I mean bat shit crazy.

This was too vague and too silly of a prediction. I hope to be more precise with my language in the future but no, things did not get bat shit crazy. It was an interesting year but no extraterrestrial contact or disintegration of the US.

6. The price of oil will spike... I’ll go out on a limb and say $80/barrel oil again by October of 2009.

This morning oil is trading for $81.24 /bbl. When I made that prediction last December oil was trading in the $30s. I'll just pat myself on the back and move along.

7. Which is about the time the stock market will reach a low of somewhere in DOWJ 5000 territory.

I got this one totally wrong. Again I see the need to try and better understand the economic implications of problems we're facing. Until recently I attributed the stock market rally to the government bailouts which made a lot of money available- money that poured into Wall Street. I read this article yesterday though that suggests the US government and/or the Federal Reserve might be buying stocks. Regardless the market rallied in a big way in 2009.

8. A growing sense of community will build in town and cities and neighborhoods all over this country.

I did see more of this in 2009. Some people have continued to cling to the trap of materialism throughout the econommic downturn but others have looked to more meaningful aspects of life for fulfillment.

So how about 2010? A few quick predictions.

1. The US will not be able to continue to sell debt at the levels it wants to. I'm guessing this will lead to higher interest rates. 2010 might be the year the whole thing is revealed to be a ponzi scheme but at very least it will become clear that the days of cheap credit are over.

2. An increasing number of municipalities will go bankrupt. I'm going to stop short of predicting the bankruptcy of a US state like California or New York, although I don't think that impossible during next year. I do think the bankruptcies of lots of smaller cities and counties will make the news.

3. The organization of old and new aid groups will attempt to take the place of failing local and state governments. Aid agencies are already under great strain but I think in 2010 we will see a rally of local support for the increasing numbers of people negatively affected by the downturn.

4. The US will shift the focus of its military operations from Iraq and Afghanistan to somewhere else. Military spending is such a huge part of our economy that I don't think we can afford to bring the troops home, so it's likely we'll just enter into a new conflict, justified to us in the name of terrorism and homeland security. Yemen? Iran? Pakistan?

5. A Black Swan - some large, hereto unexpected event- will prove a game changer. Notice my change in perspective and language. It's not that I think next year will be "bat shit crazy" but that it's likely an unforeseen event will make things, um, more interesting.

6. We will see an increase in crime. During the past several years a decrease in overall crime has been the nationwide trend. I think 2010 will be the year that changes. I think an increase in the desperate situations of many will lead to an uptick in crime. I'm not suggesting a huge increase but a noticeable increase.

7. Oil will reach above $100 and likely stay there for a significant amount of time. I see volatility in the price of oil as the economy declines and then stabilizes, declines and then stabilizes, wash, rinse, repeat. I'm not sure though that we can destroy enough demand to offset the declines in production and the increasing amount of oil used by exporting countries. Keep your eye on Mexico.

8. The stock market will finally run out of ponzi fuel. We will see a low in the 5000s. If at first you don't succeed in predicting a stock market decline...

9. The Republicans will recapture a significant number of seats in Congress causing even more inaction and gridlock among politicians in Washington and more public anger towards what will increasingly be perceived as a Democratically caused economic depression. Both sides of the aisle like to rewrite history or at least ignore parts of it. It's the Republicans turn. Incidentally I think this could set up the election of a demagogue to the White House in 2012 but it's still too early to tell how fast the political crisis in the US will follow on the heals of the economic one.

10. Food shortages will be widespread. This will be in part because more people will be unable to buy adequate nutrition. But I think there could be more to it than that. The USDA has simultaneously declared a significant number of counties in major agricultural states to be primary disaster areas (30%+ crop loss) while predicting record harvest. ? I'm not yet sure what's going on here but reports from last year suggest weather-related crop loss was significant. If so we could see much higher prices for food in 2010 which would leave more people hungry.

I hope that 2010 is a bit more cheery than I am predicting.

Happy New Year to everyone.