Look well to your walls,
Check your stores against the storm,
The world is changing.
This is always a true thing
yet never more true than now.
Today's post has links to articles on overoptimizing and a mysterious and complete lack of acorns and hickory nuts in some areas of the U.S. (yeah, it's serious).
Kurt Cobb's article The Overoptimized Society
may be of interest to some.
Over-optimizing is the action of bringing more of an activity under fewer or one umbrella(s) for the sake of efficiency. But when an error is made, the consequences are greater -- see the banking/investment industry for an example. But not the only example:
But overoptimization isn't just limited to the banking industry. In fact, it is everywhere, and it makes for vulnerabilities across multiple fronts that quite often interact with one another. We've built a system too complex for any human to understand. Therefore, when something major goes wrong, no one can be sure how to correct it.
Witness the floundering attempts to revive the comatose credit markets. The seemingly incoherent policy shifts exhibited by U. S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are not so much a result of incompetence as a reaction to the opacity of the global economy and the inability of anyone to grasp its workings or interpret its supposed signals.
As for the vulnerabilities across multiple fronts, one need look no further than the world's ports. The financial crisis has slowed many to a crawl as exporters worry that importers on the other side of the ocean may not be able to pay them. Banks are reluctant to issue letters of credit guaranteeing payments when they can't be sure the bank on the other side of the transaction is sound. This has driven dry cargo rates down 90 percent from their highs this year forcing some shipping companies to simply idle freighters. In addition, several shipping companies are on the verge of bankruptcy. And, that means orders for new ships are plummeting as well driving shipbuilders toward bankruptcy or at least consolidation.
Cobb also discusses overoptimization in agriculture and power. The loss of power in 2003 from Detroit to New York and from the Ohio River to northern Ontario (started by trees falling on power lines and then a cascade of failures through the grid) could have spread to New England except that ISO New England was doing its job and severed our connection to the rest of the national grid in time.
*** A few thoughts
So far in our area things are relatively stable, at least compared to some other parts of the country. My SIL Doris told me last week about prices of gas in October when they were in Indiana for the wedding, and how the prices in Illinois (where one of the families is from) were nearly 50 cents higher per gallon than in Indiana, whose prices were a bit higher than here in MA. Reason for this is partly differences in taxing of gas by state but also where the gas is coming from.
Not all places are affected by the same issues to the same degree, be it jobs, gas, heating, cooling, cost of food, housing, weather, fires, etc. But some problems are becoming more universal over time, and it would seem that our much-vaunted methods for maintaining a global economy may be both a party in causing these problems and also a victim of it.
In the comments to one of Sharon Astyk's posts someone mentioned that they'd thought they were doing all right and then the husband got notice that his job would be gone at end of year. At that the wife said they were among the lucky ones, since some people were terminated that same week that he got notice.
From DC area up into parts of Pennsylvania there are regions with not an acorn or hickory nut to be found. Last year was a mast year in many regions. This year there are reports of starving squirrels and an increase in squirrel roadkill (traveling further and more boldly to find food):Acorn watchers wonder what happened to crop
Rod Simmons, one of the botanists interviewed for this article, hunted for signs of nuts in his region along with other botanists and haven't been able to find anything. A zero production year is unheard of. Greg Zell, a naturalist, starting searching online and finding discussion of no acorns:
reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. "We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird," wrote one. "None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser."
Theories abound but no one really knows why the lack of nut production. Hopefully it's a fluke and next year will be normal. In our area we have plenty of acorns and quite a few black walnuts, so this is one area that has plenty of squirrels and chipmunks. They've been plenty busy though, so we're expecting some heavy winter weather this year.
*** A few more thoughts
Might seem odd, combining these two rather different articles, but the common thread for me is the non-dependability and uncertainty of resources. Although I hope everyone reading this continues to have their needs met in whatever way they are being met, and better besides, it cannot be counted on.
If you can store some goods against the future, now is a good time to do so, especially with all the holiday sales. If you can pay down debts, do so. If you can set some money aside, do so. And if you're doing well enough to donate some food or money to the local food pantry, that would be good too -- they're in more need than ever with our current economy, and we need to keep them going -- day may come when one of us needs them ourselves.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best!