Category Archives: Resources

Chart of the day: Cal’s residential water hogs

From the Center for Investigative Reporting, a list of California’s top ten water consumers in a drought-stricken state, all residents of the state’s richest neighborhoods:


The brink of crisis: Globalization reaches a peak

The world may be on the brink of another financial collapse, this time with the Chinese economy as the likely catalyst, and with Britain holding $500 million in Chinese debt, the “sceptered isle” may bear a major portion of the impact.

One thing is certain: The world’s economy can’t continue with an agenda of unlimited development and endless consumption of throwaway goods, given that limits to extractive resources may have already peaked.

British radical economist James Meadway has been tracking the state of the globalized economy, and he sees major shifts already underway as China shifts from its economic roles.

Meadway, formerly an economist with the New Economics Foundation, described his concerns in a September essay for the Guardian:

Has globalisation peaked? Two fundamental factors suggest it may have. First, the financial crisis itself revealed the systemic weaknesses inherent in an over-extended financial system. Major financial institutions, banks chief among them, are now significantly more wary about reaching beyond their home bases. In the event of a future crisis, they will require strong, supportive states ready to back them up. This has drawn banks and states closer together, with weak states and weak banks propping each other up, as in the eurozone’s “sovereign-bank nexus” (the strong links between government debt and banks).

Second, states themselves are acting strategically. Globalisation was associated with a belief in the supreme merits of government inaction on the economy, but governments are increasingly strategic economic actors.

China is attempting an immense shift away from its decades-old role as low-cost exporter to the world, expanding both its domestic market, and seeking to create a new, regional trading block around the new Silk Road. The collapse of its stock market, naturally, necessitated a huge (if deeply flawed) government intervention. Protectionism is on the rise, whilst yuan devaluation has raised the spectre of “currency wars”. The German state, meanwhile, is an assiduous defender of its own interests as a manufacturing exporter.

Failure to address the looming crisis will only make the crisis worse, he explains.

In this, the latest edition of Taiq Ali’s Telesur English series, The World Today, Meadway explains his concerns as well as possible reforms to adjust the world’s economy to the new realities of the 21st Century:

The World Today: The State of the Economy

Program notes:

Tariq Ali talks to James Meadway, radical economist, about the global economy, the failure of world leaders to effectively resolve the financial crisis in 2008, and the probability of another crisis occurring in the future.

Headline of the day: California ag apocalypse

From the Guardian, bad news in the region producing 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables, fruit, and nut crops:

The Central Valley is sinking: drought forces farmers to ponder the abyss

As people dig ever deeper to find water, nearly 1,200 square miles of California is sinking 2 inches a month – destroying roads, bridges and farmland in the process

Charts of the day: Big Agra’s rise in Europe

European smallholders, for millennia the backbone of European agriculture, with larger corporate farms on the rise, most notably in Eastern Europe.

First, via Eurostat [PDF], a chart of the overall trends:

BLOG Eurofarm 1

And, second, a nation-by-nation look at percentage changes in agricultural land ownership [click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Eurofarm 2

Chart of the day II: Agricultural water stress

We continue today’s climate and water theme with two items from the World Resources Institute, first a list of crops under threat from depletion of water supplies already under stress from growing populations:

BLOG Water stress crops

An imperiled treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Huichol people live in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nayarit.

They were rediscovered in popular culture north of the border in the 1960s because their religion centers on the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus native to their mountains, and because of their colorful and utterly psychedelic artworks.

In this Wikimedia image of a Huichol mask, the symbol for peyote dominates the forehead, an apt representation of the central role played by the cactus in Huichol life:

BLOG Huichol mask

Huichol culture is in danger, in part because a generation of elders has died, often without leaving behind students who have mastered the rich and intricate oral traditions that bound the preliterate Huichols together.

Our first video offering, a short 1992 documentary by Ryan Noble, features Huichols from the villages of Las Guayabas and San Andreas, in which one remarks on the threatened loss of the ancient culture: “We want to live and remember so that it doesn’t end.”

Note also the system of agriculture employed by the Huichol, the traditional Mexican milpa, the only system of agriculture which has allowed for continuous cultivation for millennia without the use of either pesticides or fertilizers.

The Huichols: History – Culture – Art

Huichol art a sometimes take on a larger scale, as illustrated in this image from Mexico’s Museo de Arte Popular, a sight to stir twitches of envy in the souls of Berkeley’s own art car ornamenters.

BLOG Huichol art car

But the mountains that are home to the Huichols are coveted by multinational corporations, which have been logging the trees and devastating the landscape, forcing ever-larger numbers of Huichols to head to the lowlands simply to survive.

And the jobs awaiting them there are killing them, quite literally.

From Huicholes Contra Plaguicidas:

Huichols and Pesticides

Program notes:

Huichols & Pesticides, documents, through witnesses, reports and persuasive images, the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the tobacco fields, and the poisonings, and even deaths, resulting from the use of agrochemicals.

One notable effort to preserve the Huichols and their way of life is being undertaken by the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts:

The Huichol Center: A model for cultural survival

Program notes:

This documentary was produced to support The Huichol Center. The Center helps the Huichol people of Mexico maintain their culture, art and spirituality. The Huichols have been almost untouched by modern civilization, and have been able to maintain their ancient ways despite crushing poverty and disease.

With their ancient heritage, their system of sustainable organic agriculture, and an artistic tradition that merges the sacred and the profane in unique ways, the Huichol surely deserve protection from the ravages of corporate imperialism and agricultural toxins.

To close, a final image, via Wikipedia, this time of a Huichol yarn painting:

BLOG Huichol yarn

Climate change linked to rising terrorism

Is climate change a critical driver of the rising tide of terrorism?

That’s the plausible contention of New York University geographer/sociologist Christian Parenti, professor in the school’s Global Liberal Studies Program and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, and the subject of this interview by Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network:

The Pentagon and Bernie Sanders Agree: Terrorism Linked to Climate Change

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So Chris, is Bernie Sanders slightly daffy to link climate change and terrorism? I just want your quick response right there.

PARENTI: No, Bernie Sanders is not in error in that regard. And most of the U.S. defense establishment agrees with him. The quadrennial defense review makes an issue of climate change as a threat multiplier, as a dynamic that is going to increase all sorts of threats, including terrorism. There are numerous declassified reports from various branches of the military and from numerous militaries around the world that take climate change seriously as a driving cause of violence.

So it’s very real, and experts really across the political spectrum accept this. The question, then, becomes what do you do? You know, the classic rightist response is, well, then you have to build higher walls and you have to prepare for open-ended counterinsurgency on a global scale forever. And a more progressive response would be no, we have to, one, radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, mitigate emissions, but also deal with adaptation. And provide technology and capital for people to cope with the new, extreme weather that is already happening.

DESVARIEUX: But I want to still talk about this issue, about linking climate change and terrorism, before we get to alternatives, because there are some experts–I have two authors from the libertarian Cato institute. They came out with a recent article from Huffington Post. They say these drought issues have more to do with serious history of bad water management policies and a population that has tripled in the past 35 years. Don’t they have a point in here, Christian? Don’t 300 percent more people create water scarcity issues?

PARENTI: Well, if there is also a drought. But the fact of the matter is Syria went through the worst recorded drought in terms of lack of precipitation. So Syria, between 2005-2010, was not getting enough rainfall. There’s also the precipitating issues–I wouldn’t blame population. I would blame, as I do in my book, neoliberalism. Free market economics totally undermine people’s ability to adapt to this extreme weather. When the state cuts back on agricultural extension, veterinary services, that means farmers whose crops fail due to drought have to leave the land and go to cities, and there they end up often struggling over state power, which is exactly what happened in Syria.

So the thing about climate change is that it doesn’t ever act in isolation to cause violence. It acts by exacerbating pre-existing crises. Crises that libertarians have, intellectuals like the ones you mentioned, have been important in creating, mainly the, the 30-year legacy of free market economic restructuring pushed by the United States and the Bretton Woods institution, the World Bank and the IMF, on the developing economies of the global south, which have mandated that in exchange for lifeline loans, state assets such as state companies, et cetera, must be sold off. [Inaud.] must be deregulated. State support for health and human services, et cetera, must be cut back. This is austerity, this is the neoliberal restructuring agenda. And it has created increased inequality and increased absolute poverty, which is an endemic crisis in many places.