Is eating locally produced food a bad idea?

Green Tomatoes 2In yesterday's Palladium-Item, editorial board member and local blogger Matthew Hisrich proposed that eating locally, and other kinds of localized consumption behaviors, might be ineffective, or even bad for us:

[W]here does this drive for relocalizing come from? Perhaps it has to do with a vague sense of ethical rightness more than anything scientifically verifiable. University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt classifies such efforts as attempts to attain (and potentially guilt others into) a sense of moral purity. "Food," he says, "is becoming extremely moralized these days."

The problem, of course, is that purity is hard to come by in a world as complex as ours, and simplistic answers often have consequences that their proponents do not intend. Consumers should think twice before jumping on the localvore bandwagon.

I'm all for thinking twice before jumping on any sort of wagon, but I think Mr. Hisrich's logic is flawed in a number of places. Read on for my point-by-point analysis of his column: Continue reading Is eating locally produced food a bad idea?

A scary new angle on immigration: traffic congestion

On the road, finallyI don't usually read USA Today, but in doing so this morning I saw that there's a perverse new angle that some organizations are taking on the issue of U.S. immigration policy. It was manifested in an advertisement taken out on page 2 of the front section, with a single photo of a long line of traffic at a stop on an interstate highway. The text in the ad basically says that illegal immigrants from Mexico, in their unending contribution to the population here, are causing Americans to have to sit in traffic congestion longer than ever before. The call to action is clear: if you want your freedom to drive wherever you want whenever you want to remain intact, we have to keep those Mexicans out of our country.

Oh my.
Continue reading A scary new angle on immigration: traffic congestion

Five Geopolitical Scenarios to Consider

Needing more generatorsFrom the "I hope it doesn't happen but wouldn't be surprised if it did" department, I have some predictions and scenarios to throw out there about stuff that could happen sometime in the rest of 2008. I suppose this is mostly just a mental exercise for me, but maybe it'll spark some interesting comments/responses:

  1. The price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the U.S. will hit $6 a gallon sometime this Summer, and perhaps $10/gallon or more by the end of the year. Measures will be taken by the federal and state governments to temporarily alleviate the financial burden on some people, but nothing sustainable. Some people will not be able to get to work at all, while others will have to carpool more, take the bus, ride their bikes, and walk.
  2. The U.S. will initiate military action against Iran, probably in the form of heavy air-strikes. There will be no clear notion of victory or desired outcome other than to significantly destroy the country's own infrastructure, especially targets related to nuclear facilities. This action might be justified to the American people by...
  3. An apparent attack on one or more U.S. locations, resulting in significant loss of life or infrastructure.
  4. The U.S. airline industry will significantly cut back or even cease flight schedules as we've known them, and air travel will (once again) become a privilege reserved for the rich and famous who can afford private flights. Any frequent flier miles you've accumulated will become worth near nothing.
  5. Most grocery stores will significantly scale back their inventories and restocking schedules, and significantly raise prices on what remains. Obtaining food from non-local sources, even basic staples, will be difficult at best, and most communities will begin to take emergency steps to feed their residents.

Hey, look, I don't like the thought of these things happening any more than the next person, but perhaps there's some value in naming what might be, even if it seems a bit outlandish or gruesome. Maybe if we believe these things are possible, we might feel more prepared to prevent or deal with them if they do happen.

What do you think? Too cynical? Worse? What are some other scenarios?

Steve Alten's The Shell Game

The Shell Game by Steve Alten If you read political thrillers or action novels for their ability to transport you away from the concerns of current events into a fantasy that seems realistic but is purely fictional, then Steve Alten's book The Shell Game is probably not for you. And I wouldn't blame you; most folks probably don't want anxieties about their real lives and the future of our society to be a central part of the escapist action and adventure reading that we do on the beach. But after I heard that the book takes on the realities of peak oil, government corruption, American foreign policy and the political futures of today's Presidential candidates, and weaves them all into a 466 page novel, I couldn't help but be intrigued by it. Here's my review, some spoilers if you read on.
Continue reading Steve Alten's The Shell Game

Presenting to the EDC Board on Peak Oil

Open Flame in the WorkplaceEarlier tonight I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the monthly meeting for the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County's board of directors, presenting a version of my talk on how we can build a more self-reliant Richmond, Indiana in the face of peaking availability of natural energy resources, global climate change, and the decline of the U.S. dollar. As I said about the November 2007 presentation, it was somewhat especially nerve-wracking because the topics covered are so important to me and, in my view, so important to the future of this community. Today it was also always a growing experience to step beyond the safety of the traditional, "business world/tech guy" kinds of interactions I have with some of these folks, exposing another side of my interests and passions along the way.
Continue reading Presenting to the EDC Board on Peak Oil

Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana

011_15.JPGAs I mentioned when I came back from the energy conference in October, I was going to give a talk in November called "Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana". I had agreed to speak earlier in the year and didn't really know what I was going to talk about beyond the expectation that it would fit into the "sustainability" theme of the series of talks in which I was participating and have some focus on peak oil and related topics.

It turned into one of my most intense speaking experiences to date.
Continue reading Going Local: Building a Self-Reliant Richmond, Indiana

You know the world is ending when...

oil-gunI've blogged before about turning points in awareness of the issues that we face with regard to "the environment" and the energy crisis. Today I received a postcard in the mail with a photo of a man holding a gasoline pump nozzle up to his head, in an image that unavoidably evokes a suicide act in progress for most Westerners.

I, having met Richard Heinberg and read his book The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, of course presumed it was something related to addressing the impact of the end of abundant, cheap oil. The cover has a very similar image that complements the book's exploration of our relationship to oil. But when I visited the website that the postcard mysteriously directed me to, I found that it was an ad for...a credit card company. Their solution to the energy crisis? Gas credits when you make lots of charges on your card. You know we've reached a new level (high or low, I can't say) of public attention to the state of affairs when credit card companies think they can make a few dollars off of people who are worried about our dependence on oil.

If you're interested in a more effective approach than "going into debt for Mother Earth," you could join me at the upcoming Fourth Annual Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Heinberg will be speaking. It's always a smashing good time, grounded in an accessible exploration of real community-based solutions.