Friday, April 24, 2009

Reduce mailbox clutter, wasted energy -- pare your catalogs

Direct mail can be a monster -- but there's a nice site that can help get you off catalog mailing lists.
It has worked pretty well so far; we're seeing a definite reduction in catalog mailings, even beyond the reduction we got from contacting the Direct Marketing Association. Free.

Salem-Keizer Transit Board Candidate Interviews

There's a really important set of races in the election coming up, with ballots being mailed out about May 1 (to be returned by May 19).

But, there is about zero public interest, even though this is a crucial election from the point of view of trying to manage our environmental footprint. Salem and Keizer voters in certain areas will choose four members of the Cherriots board (out of seven).

Candidates who will appear on the ballot in their district are below. Click on highlighted candidate names to see their Statesman-Journal interview.

You can download and read the SJ questionnaires that six of these candidates returned here.

Director, Subdistrict 2, 4 year term (Keizer)
Kelly Hernandez *
Ron Christopher
Hughie Baker

Director, Subdistrict 3, 2 year term (NE/Central Salem) -- SJ Interview
John Gear
Kate Tarter (incumbent by appointment by current board)
Chris Barber *

Director, Subdistrict 4, 4 year term (NE Salem)
Shelley Hanson (incumbent)

Director, Subdistrict 6, 4 year term (South Salem)
Robert “Bob” Krebs -- Krebs candidate website
Libby Barg

(* Both Hernandez and Barber are rumored to have withdrawn and did not participate in the SJ interviews. Hanson, running unopposed, also did not participate.)

The SJ endorsement interview had a weird twist: they had the two candidates for the 6th district split between the two sessions: Bob Krebs attended the first one (with the two remaining active candidates for the 3rd district), while Libby Barg attended the second one. So it may be tougher to compare those two candidates.

The district is making preparations for another round of service changes to try to cope with the failure to pass a levy three times in a row now. You can come to the open house meetings to learn more about the service changes. But you should also consider the candidates very carefully so that you can support the ones whom you think will do the most to preserve the system's viability.

As the budget cuts slice deeper and deeper in Salem and Marion County

Someone notices that it's starting to resemble the Gilded Age again.

Sharon Astyk nails it: What hunger in China means for Salem

Sharon Astyk, author of the excellent "Depletion and Abundance" and the upcoming "A Nation of Farmers" has such a good piece with such importance for Salem that I'm going to shamelessly reprint it too:

Lester Brown has a lead article in _Scientific American_ this month, on the potential unrest caused by growing food insecurity worldwide. The article is appropriately dark about the potential problems in feeding ourselves, and he asks whether it is possible that widespread food insecurity could “bring down civilization” by destroying functioning nation states from the inside. It is a fascinating article, and well worth a read.

What struck me about it was one rather brief point that Brown makes - along with his discussions of soil loss, falling water tables, climate change and population, he very briefly debunks what I think is a prevailing idea - that because the US is a major producer, if things get tough, we’ll simply stop exporting grain. He writes:

“No country is immune to the effects of tightening food supplies, not even the U.S., the world’s breadbasket. If China turns to the world market for massive quantities of grain, as it has recently done for soybeans, it will have to buy from the U.S. For U.S. consumers, that would mean competing for the U.S. grain harvest with 1.3 billion Chinese consumers with fast-rising incomes—a nightmare scenario. In such circumstances, it would be tempting for the U.S. to restrict exports, as it did, for instance, with grain and soybeans in the 1970s when domestic prices soared. But that is not an option with China. Chinese investors now hold well over a trillion U.S. dollars, and they have often been the leading international buyers of U.S. Treasury securities issued to finance the fiscal deficit. Like it or not, U.S. consumers will share their grain with Chinese consumers, no matter how high food prices rise.”

This, I think is an important point, and one that becomes more acute as we become more dependent on buyers for our Treasuries - and we are presently becoming more and more dependent, not less and less. As Bloomberg reported a few days ago, lost tax revenue in the US means that we need to sell dramatically more Treasuries, even as nations have indicated they are inclined to pull back.

Brown predicted this - in _Depletion and Abundance_ I quoted Brown’s Plan B 2.0 (he’s up to 3.0, and I admit, I wish he’d change book titles ;-)) on just this subject:

The first big test of the international community’s capacity to manage scarcity may come with oil or it could come with grain. If the latter is teh case, this could occur when China - whose grain harvest fell by 34 million tons or 9 percent between 1998 and 2005 - turns to the world market for massive imports of 30 million, 50 million or even 100 million tons of grain per year. Demand on this scale could quickly overwhelm world grain markets. When this happens, China will have to look to the United States which controls [over 40 percent of] the world’s grain exports…some 200 million tons.”

Brown has written an entire book on the subject, _Who Shall Feed China_ as well.

Last week, China Daily and other Chinese papers reported that China has begun a national audit of its grain supplies due to recent speculation that grain reserves have been exaggerated, and due to expressed concern that it may not be able to weather an extended drought. China now imports about 5% of its national grain demand, but because it depends on irrigation for 80% of its grain production, that figure is expected to rise, as soybean imports have already risen.

This is important, not to scapegoat China (I’m always a little wary of the “bad China - poor us” narrative), but to realize that while many peak oil and climate change activists fear an absolute scarcity of food - periods where food is simply not on the shelves - they perhaps should be at least as concerned with dramatic rises in food prices, and an increasing number of everyday Americans who go hungry. This is already the case, of course. But a poor to seriously crappy economy, combined with rising food prices is a recipe for real and serious trouble for all of us.

I think a lot of people express skepticism about the idea that the US, the world’s breadbasket, will have bare shelves. And while I think that is technically possible, it is far more likely that, as in most places with deep endemic hunger, the US will likely have full shelves - and more and more people peering in at them, unable to purchase food.

This is why we need, at every level, from family farms to family gardens, a renewed focus on food security, increased access to food in its cheapest form (the seed), local food trade, a nation of people who can eat grain, rather than processed foods, and a nation of farmers.