Category Archives: oil prices

Thursday, August 6, 2009

God, I am exhausted.

I just spent the whole morning in a meeting about winter shelters. It seemed odd to be sitting around a table in the community hall talking about blankets and heating oil and whatnot with sweat trickling down our spines — it’s 85 degrees here in Boston — but I suppose it’s my own damned fault. I’ve been tugging on sleeves and poking people in the back for a month trying to get them to talk about winter.

So Andromeda — she’s the head of the community center in our neck of the woods — put me in charge. That’ll learn me

You know what’s funny, though? Once I was put in charge and put out a call for people to help me (and conscripted a few, the baked brownies to bribe a few more), I found out that I wasn’t the only one worrying about it. Last year, if you’ll recall, people died. Even before Halloween, they were talking about heating oil prices doubling. Of course, after the attacks, those prices seem hilariously quaint. Like $4/gal. gas.

We came up with a lot of good ideas that can be enacted locally. A lot of it is education: teaching people how to stay warm with less fuel. Things like: dress warmly. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but people still tend to think of heating their homes instead of heating themselves. We’re looking into buying lots and lots of silk and merino underwear from the Vermont Country Store to distribute. Blanket drives to make sure everyone’s got a nice snuggy warm bed. Pamphlets on why short skirts and high heeled shoes aren’t the best bet in 20 degree weather.

Home energy audits. Rapid-response medical teams.

And, of course, emergency shelters. The community eating centers — we have GOT to come up with a better name for those! — can hold a lot of people, but we need to make sure they are properly heated. And outfitted with blankets, cots, urns to heat coffee and tea, etc. Phones and phone trees to check on the elderly and ill. Cars and a gas budget for picking up people who have run out of heating oil at 2 a.m. on bitterly cold nights. Private areas for children, moms, nursing moms.

There was a HUGE debate about co-sleeping that I finally had to end by standing on a chair and using my “mom voice.”

And, for my sins, I got elected to go up a level. Apparently, I need to go to the city administrator for the whole Boston area — not just my little corner of Cambridge and Somerville — and try to convince him that we need to do these things on a city-wide scale. Andromeda was suggesting that I should think about working on a state- or even region-wide scale. (Region or country? Are we a country?)

Going up a level means politics. I hate politics. I hate dealing with people I don’t know who can’t be bribed with brownies or strawberry jam or beet pickles. (The local military guy, as it turns out, doesn’t have a sweet tooth but remembers his Baba’s beet pickles fondly.)

It also means budgets. Buying enough silk and wool underthings for my slice of the Commonwealth is one thing. I can do that math. I know those people. Buying enough for the whole of New England — how do you make sure everyone gets enough and no one gets double and what about people who have some already, we don’t want them to have extra, but aren’t they getting stiffed, what about people who are allergic….?

Sometimes I just want to beat my head against a wall.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

I was in one of the office towers in the Financial District this morning to attend a deposition (a lawyer buddy of mine needed to fill out his team so that the other side didn’t have more people in the room than he did). Anyway, the building had an amazing view of the harbor, and smack in the middle of the harbor is this massive ship wallowing in the water with at least three tugboats that I could count and few Coast Guard boats as well. I kept on having my eye wander out to this monstrosity in the harbor while the two primaries argued about settlement terms (yawn).

I called up one of my old EPA contacts (the same one with the information on all the submarine dealings in New London last week) to ask about this thing. The Pilin Leon, named after a Venezuelan beauty queen, is an Ultra-Large Crude Carrier – an industry term for honking-huge oil tankers.  She’s been dispatched by Citgo on the direct orders of Hugo Chavez to help relieve any energy crisis here in Boston and New England.  Since we don’t have much of our own refining capacity, she’s apparently been filled with fuel oil, gasoline, and jet fuel in her various tanks instead of the usual crude.

Boston also doesn’t really have the facilities for off-loading all that oil, so it sounds like Pilin Leon will be sitting in the middle of the harbor with some temporary pipelines running out to her for the duration.  I suppose that is Mr. Chavez’s point in sending the ship here.  It is as blatant and public an insult to the Bushies as he can fashion.

International politics aside, I’ll take whatever help we can get.  There are plenty of things that we don’t produce here in New England and trade with the ‘mainland’ US is pretty sparse right now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I was talking about the price of gas and the spiraling food costs over some (herbal) tea with a friend of mine last night and said something to the effect of, “America is getting what we deserve.”

She got kinda pissed at me about that. “No one could have predicted this!”

Au contraire, I replied. It’s been predicted over and over again over the past fifty years. Anyone willing to think a little ahead could have predicted what’s happening right this second. Oil is a finite resource. If you build all your infrastructure around cheap and plentiful oil, eventually you’re going to have problems when oil runs out.

Ergo, anyone building their lives around this fragile system made a stupid choice.

Now, everyone was doing it and it was really hard not to. But it was still a choice. We’ve arrived at the point we’re at through the accumulation of a million-billion-trillion stupid choices by a whole lotta people. Many of those choices made sense — in the short run, for an individual. But as a collective whole, looking at the long term, they were purely stupid.

What’s more — lots and lots of people predicted this.

M. King Hubbert used the “peak oil” theory in 1956 to predict when U.S. oil would peak. Accurately, as it turned out.

Admiral Hyman Rickover warned against dependence on fossil fuels in a speech in 1957.

Certainly Michael Pollan had a good grip on the coming food crisis in Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006). But I know that the theory has been around a lot longer. The amazing and irascible Joel Salatin certain has seen it coming. The folks at Mother Earth News have seen it coming. The foodie folks in Berkley have been talking up the loca-vore stuff for twenty odd years. It was mentioned in West Wing episode for the love of God.

But what really struck me were the parallells between this situation and the political situation. A lot of what the Bushies are doing was utterly predictable. The administration wasn’t even subtle about its steady erosion of our rights. But the hue and cry was desultory at best and nonexistent at worst. Even in Cambridge the “Impeach Bush” signs were mocked a little, even through the PATRIOT act, the FISA thing, the habeus corpus thing, all of the warning signs were there. We just ignored them and bought iPods.

The problem with government for the people is that the people get the government that they deserve. And we deserve this, I think.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I’d always thought of food riots as something ancient Rome’s days of ‘bread and circuses‘ or maybe bad distopian scifi movies like Running Man.  News out of Moscow, Minsk, and St. Petersburg are showing how wrong that idea is.  The old saying that April is the cruelest month has nothing to do with dank rain or late-season snow; the cruelty lies in the fact that winter food reserves are running low.  Just as the earth is waking, people are starving.

OK, all the pundits are blaming the conditions in Russia (and Belarus) on Medvedev’s asinine agricultural policies (or if you are more conspiracy-minded, Putin’s policies to get Medvedev recalled and himself back in place as President).  But it isn’t just that.  The prices for basic grains (maize, wheat, sorghum, soya) have more than quadrupled in the past two years.  The rising costs of oil are hurting not just the transportation, but the fertilizers and pesticides that make crops grow in the modern world. The big push for ethanol here in the US and in the EU is pulling more crops out of the food supply.  Meanwhile, China is buying up more of the world’s feed crops to feed their more affluent populace meet and milk instead of grains and vegetables.

I’ve certainly seen our grocery bill going up.  Between food and health insurance, there’s no way my pay increases are going to keep meeting the increase in our monthly costs.  And don’t even get me started on the looming education bills for April in another 16 years or so.  All we can do is tighten belts.

Luckily we have a fair amount of fat to trim.  I keep noticing the growing numbers of panhandlers in the train stations and on street corners downtown.  These aren’t the same folks I’ve gotten used to seeing, selling Spare Change and calling us ‘sir’ and ‘nice lady’.  These aren’t even the vets who have claimed some of the islands in the Esplanade as their own.  These folks are better dressed, and yet much ruder, crueler, angrier.  I saw one college girl leaving the Park Street T station crying with a man yelling after her “Bitch can afford her fukin’ Jimmmy Choos but can’t give anything for my kids!”

Monday, March 16, 2008

Yesterday morning we went to brunch at Drumlin Farm — it’s a Mass Audubon Sanctuary out in Lincoln where we go with April often. It’s got goats and cows and chicken and sheep and fields and greenhouses and birds (naturally, Audubon). And, in mid-March every year, they have a big maple syrup breakfast to help raise money.
It’s great — all these moms and dads and grandparents and kids bundled up in the cool morning, crowding into the main hall with an enormous fireplace. There are piles of pancakes and sausage (the sausage is Drumlin Farm’s own — they raise pigs, too) and you get to see the sap dripping from Grandmother Maple and watch it boiling away in the evaporator. Last year was a great syrup year because of the prolonged cool spring. This year’s warm spring, however, meant that our dinky bottle of Drumlin Farm Maple Syrup ran us $10.

But that wasn’t the price everyone was talking about.

Despite the fact that every table had more kids than adults, the main topic of conversation wasn’t the latest cold or school policies or even Dora the Explorer. It was the price of gas. How people were not driving their minivans anymore. How they had canceled April vacation plans because it’s too damned expensive to fly with the “fuel surcharge” now. How they had to send money to their folks in Florida — where you have to drive — because, of course, Social Security can’t cover this and no one planned on these prices when they retired.

And there was a lot of talk about how the clusterfuck over in Iran is going to make matters worse. And how Bush was going to exploit this. One man at the table next to ours got so angry, spitting and spluttering, that his wife made him leave. He was going on and on about the elections and how this whole thing in Iran was just to distract us from the fact that the elections were totally rigged. Normally, this kind of behavior in public gets uncomfortable stares and pursed-lip silences — especially around kids. And there were some. But, as his wife was dragging him out, he got a lot of high-fives and “Right on!” (damned hippies need to update their lingo.)

There’s a deep unease that’s bordering on violent anger in Boston and its surrounds. It’s making me nervous.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You have to admire the audacity of the Israelis. News is coming out about the extent of their air-strikes in Iran, but it looks like they hit every nuclear facility that anybody has ever heard of: Arak, Isfahan, Natanz, Bushehr. I thought everyone agreed Bushehr (the plant being run by the Russians), was civilian.

There are two big issues that I don’t think the news is doing enough to cover about this: 1) The reports of civilian casualties in Isfahan. It sounds like the Israelis hit something they weren’t expecting or released something that wasn’t supposed to be there. Unlike FOX News, I’m not writing off BBC reports of radiation poisoning. Isfahan is a big city and a pretty big cultural center. I don’t think the Israelis nuked the place (even a little bunker buster), but it sure doesn’t look good.
2) What was the US involvement in this. Nobody has said it yet, but there is no way that several flights of Israeli jets made it to Iran and back without going though effectively US-controlled airspace in Iraq and/or the Gulf. We knew this was coming. Which means Bush greenlighted it. Which means we will be blamed as much as the Israelis.

There hasn’t been a reaction from Iran yet except a lot of yelling. Others are more expert in Mid-East predicting, but Iran’s options as I see them are:
Sit-down and take it – not likely
Proportional attacks on Israel – missiles? boats in the Med? Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon? Terrorist attacks?
Open war on Israel – See above, but all at once without an end or breathing space.
Proportional attacks on the US in Afghanistan and Iraq – ’nuff said.
Economic war on the US – shutting down the Gulf and straits of Hormuz to oil tankers.
Terrorist attacks on Israeli (and US) interests outside the Mid-East – Embassies and airliners and ships and businesses.

None of this is good ladies and gentlemen. And you thought $6.60 a gallon for gas was high.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Here are some interesting facts of which you may be (blissfully) unaware:
Rats can jump five feet horizontally and three feet vertically. They can swim for three days. One pair of breeding rats, with enough food, can produce a colony of more than 2000 in just one year. A rat can fit through any hole big as a quarter.  Though they don’t really need holes, as such, since rats can chew through metal, concrete, brick, lead pipes, and (my favorite) bone. Rats carry a whole host of diseases, from Weils to the Black Death.  Rats can swarm together to take down larger animals when they are hungry — piglets, for instance. A group of rats (known as a mischief) can reach 60 animals.

How, you ask, do I happen to have this interesting host of facts about rats at my mental fingertips?

Well, in a round-about way, because gas is now $6.75 a gallon. See, the cities of Cambridge and Somerville, when faced with skyrocketing gas bills for their garbage trucks, decided to reduce the garbage pick up from once a week to once every other week.  It seemed logical and back in November it cut the city’s garbage collection budget in half. And we’ve had it for three or four months now, without any ill effect. Great idea, right?

The warm weather we’ve had the past three weeks have proven it to be a plan with long reaching consequences. The city has experienced a (even larger than normal) spring rat explosion.

Which is how, two days ago, I happened to hear my darling two-year-old toddler calling from the other room, “Mommy! Mommy! Tiny dog! Mommy, the tiny dog is biting the kitty!”

Well, that’s odd, I thought, and then I heard our cat, Albee, make a truly awful screaming noise, followed closely by a similar noise from April, and I discovered I can move much much faster than I’d ever imagined.  I practically fell around the corner into April’s room and — lo and behold — there was my 15-year-old tabby in a death match with a large rattus rattus. (Paul, standing over my shoulder, insists it was likely a rattus norvegicus. Paul, I’ll point out, didn’t have to wrench the squirming furry oily little body with its scrabbly little claws and slithery scaly tail off the soft belly of his beloved cat.)

It turns out that, thanks to our (illegally smuggled in) cat, we were the last condo in the building to have a rat encounter. Everyone else has been wrestling with them for a few weeks now. Of course, since we have a kid, things are more complicated.

First, April is much more likely to be bitten than an adult. I don’t know why this is, but all the websites insist on it. Second, because we April still sometimes pops odd things into her mouth, poison isn’t a good idea. (Not that poison is terribly effective against rats. No, another fun fact: Poisons that were deadly to rats two generations ago can be eaten as food within several months of introducing the poison to the colony.) Frankly, our best bet is to get another cat — one that isn’t a pampered, overweight, cancer-riddled geriatric tom.

So we’ve asked our vet friend to provide a hunting cat for us and in the meantime, April’s moved back into our bed and I’m thinking about spending a week or so at my mother’s house.

In the mean time, I’ve gone through the whole pantry in the past two days putting food in glass or metal containers, throwing out everything with gnaw marks on it (ick ick ick! Turns out my flour bin had a hole in the bottom…. I made bread on Monday, oh god, I just realized that…. ick ick ick!)  We’ve traded our big plastic garbage container for a galvanized metal one with a locking lid. And we got the condo association to agree to pet cats.

Some small good had to come of this.