Tuesday, January 15, 2008

All the News...

Here are some stories you may have missed. The first one was particularly interesting - Eric was listening to NPR last evening when he heard another version of the following story on "Marketplace" - only to be followed by a comment roughly along the lines of "If you weren't worried about our infrastructure, you should be."


"President Hugo Chavez ordered a halt to Venezuela's asphalt exports, which go largely to the U.S., to improve his country's roads.

"In the biggest U.S. cities, there are highways completely paved with our asphalt," said Chavez, whose nation remains the fourth-largest oil supplier to the U.S.

"Why do we have to export asphalt if the highways of Venezuela don't work?" he said on his Sunday television program. "If we didn't have resources, I'd understand, but we do."

Venezuela produces 27,000 barrels of asphalt a day, exporting about 63 percent, or 17,000 barrels, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said."

In the context of the study that came out this past summer http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117867434198996732.html?mod=googlenews_wsj , which reported it would cost 1.6 trillion dollars simply to bring existing bridges, roads and sewer lines up to code, this is an interesting bit of data - first of all, it suggests that the export land model that Jeffrey Brown has so carefully established for oil will probably apply to other systems - foods (some more evidence here: http://www.bbj.hu/main/news_34793_russia+raises+grain+export+duties+to+40%25.html - another good reason to store food), fertilizers, trace minerals, other materials. That is, we are likely to see more and more nations retaining natural resources for their own use rather than exporting them.

It is also an example of why I think it is unlikely that we will have very many massive public works mitigation projects - resources will end up used to mitigate crises, rather than on larger investments as things get tougher.

The plus of this, of course, is that shortages of asphalt would only be a good thing for the death of car culture. I wish I believed that rising asphalt prices would create incentives to invest in rail and public transport, but I think we'll need stronger incentives than that.

Next comes two NY Times financial articles that I think are important for two reasons.


The first suggests that we may be seeing the beginnings of a real decline in consumer spending, in part due to heating and gas prices.

"American Express and the Consumer Federation of America say that consumers are buying just as many gallons as ever, but paying more for them, and that has forced cutbacks in other purchases. Gasoline prices usually drop after the summer driving season, but this year they shot up, from $2.85 a gallon on average in September to $3.07 in December and $3.15 in the first week of January.

A similar trend is evident in the cost of natural gas, electricity and home heating oil. “We built these big houses in the suburbs, which need a lot of energy to stay warm and a car to go shopping,” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation. “And we can’t change that quickly.”

Combined with the following, the two constitute a troubling pattern:


"The Federal Reserve reported this week that the amount of revolving consumer credit that is outstanding hit $937.5 billion in November, seasonally adjusted, up 7.4 percent from a year earlier.

The annual growth rate has now been over 7 percent for three months running, the first such stretch since 2001, when a recession was driving up borrowing by hard-pressed consumers."

What is happening is that consumers are spending more of their money on heat, gas and food, and far less on retail - and they still can't pay for it - that is, people aren't just cutting back on consumer spending to meet their growing food and energy costs, they are going into further (deeper) debt, while also cutting back. This is not a good sign for anyone.

Stuart Staniford has done it yet again, this time doing an analysis of how much mitigation subsistence farming can be expected to have on the biofuels created food problems. The analysis is interesting, perhaps not complete, but the beginning. I think Staniford is most acute when he observes that larger farmers may be able to mitigate their circumstances, but the billions of very small farmers who also have to buy some foods are in big trouble. http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3495.

Also a note - 2007 officially ties with 1998 for the warmest year on record. I can't link to Hansen's GISS report, because Adobe Acrobat makes my computer go insane, but a quick google will take you to the full report. Cheery.



Brian M. said...

Has anyone looked into /thought about the US corn ethanol craze of the early 1800s? If I'm remembering the details right, at the time most americans drank apple cider. But corn crops were surpassing consumption, and having troubles on the export markets. So lots of Appalachians started converting corn into whisky and moonshine and such. Partly for storage. Partly for drinking. Partly to keep corn prices from dropping low enough that everyone went broke. Trouble was, now there was all this cheap ethanol to drink, and it was vastly more alcoholic than the cider people were used to. It became a bit alcoholism problem, and triggered the Baptist aversion to alcohol, and the temperance movement and other stuff.

I don't know how much of that applies to ethanol for vehicles vs ethanol for drinking. But the US HAS been down a version of this road once before ... Surely if we have massive vehicle ethanol production, some of it will get fed back into the drinking market ...
Brian M

Andy in San Diego said...

For the record, I'd like to point out that my consumer spending has gone down because of blogs such as this one and not because of rising gas and food prices. Also, all my spending is now cash instead of credit cards. Sorry, big banks.

Ani said...

Come on people- don't worry so much! Ou fearless prez(U.S.) has just requested that OPEC pump more oil as the higher gas prices are hurting the US economy. I'm sure that should do it- problem solved.......

(wouldn't you like to have been a fly on the wall listening to the Saudi's discussing this "request" in private later?? :)

void_genesis said...

I wonder how long until we have plain old asphalt shortages, regardless of price? Even riding a clean and green bicycle down a pot hole ridden road isnt at all fun. Our road system could fall apart a lot faster than we imagine. Here in Australia the problem is worse because everything is even more spread out.

goritsas said...

Slight error in the warmest year mention.

Climatologists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City have found that 2007 tied with 1998 for Earth's second warmest year in a century.

"It is unlikely that 2008 will be a year with truly exceptional global mean temperature," said Hansen. "Barring a large volcanic eruption, a record global temperature clearly exceeding that of 2005 can be expected within the next few years, at the time of the next El Nino, because of the background warming trend attributable to continuing increases of greenhouse gases."

The eight warmest years in the GISS record have all occurred since 1998, and the 14 warmest years in the record have all occurred since 1990.

2007 Was Tied as Earth's Second-Warmest Year

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