NZ Green Party
Lester Brown on Failing States: Early sign of decline

The following YouTube clip is Part 3 from a recent lecture Lester Brown gave on Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization and will take you into the heart of the Plan B message. The presentation was to the Chemical Society of Washington on May 8, 2008.

Lester, who is President of the Earth Policy Institute, talks about the growing list of failing states and that this represents an early sign of a global economic decline. The main drivers are peak oil, climate change and rising food prices. Now that we can convert grain into fuel, the price of grain is tied inextricably to the price of oil.

9 thoughts on “Lester Brown on Failing States: Early sign of decline

  1. I do not know what the frog will make of the recent actions of that failing State – the State of California.
    The State is effectively bankrupt (cannot even pay its tax refunds) so they have decided to legalise marijuana and collect all those bountiful taxes and release a whole lot of police to do real police work.

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  2. Frog wrote:
    “Now that we can convert grain into fuel, the price of grain is tied inextricably to the price of oil.”

    Execpt that fuel made from grain only exists with subsidies, because it’s not viable either in terms of financial cost or energy input. Withdraw the subsidies, and the phenomenon would disappear.

    I suppose unsubsidised biofuel could supplant grain through farmers ripping up a grain crop to grow sugar cane or oil palms for biofuel, but that would depend on there being a food grain that grows in similar conditions, and I’m not sure what food grain that would be.

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  3. Don’t know about frog, Owen, but this sounds like a fine idea to me. The “war” on drugs is one of the most expensive frauds in history. Its just a shame California had to be in such dire straights before doing the right thing. What I wonder, given how the Feds have come down on medical marijuana in the past, is how will they respond to this move? Stormtroopers in Sacramento?

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  4. kahikatea wrote:
    “Withdraw the subsidies, and the phenomenon would disappear.”

    Unfortunately for those trying to eat, as oil prices rise, farming costs will rise thus driving up food prices. Worse, the subsidies needed to support conversion of grain to fuel won’t be needed if there is a high enough fuel price.

    Trevor.

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  5. Trevor29 Says:
    March 7th, 2009 at 11:29 am

    > Unfortunately for those trying to eat, as oil prices rise, farming costs will rise thus driving up food prices.

    true. they may need to be given money so they can afford to pay more for food. Also, we should be investing in research into less oil-intensive farming.

    > Worse, the subsidies needed to support conversion of grain to fuel won’t be needed if there is a high enough fuel price.

    Only if the efficiency of conversion increases markedly. The current biofuel indostry in the US is actually using more oil to grow corn than the amount of ethanol and biodiesel they get from the corn. That can never be economic without subsidies, however high the fuel price rises.

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  6. Kahikatea: I agree with your first point. Your second point might be undone by the research you suggest.

    If more renewable generation is installed, it may become economical to generate hydrogen from non-fossil fuel sources, or failing that from coal. Hydrogen is the energy source for the manufacture of nitrate fertilisers, so such development will reduce the oil used in farming, to the point where it may be economical to farm for ethanol and bio-oil as a way of converting these energy sources into transport fuels.

    I am hoping that heavy investment in wind, wave and solar power internationally can lead to a reduction in fossil-fuel based generation and surplus power being used to generate hydrogen instead of using fossil fuels. Then some of that hydrogen can be used to convert waste biomass into liquid or gaseous transport fuels such as CNG and LPG without going down the ethanol or bio-oil routes.

    Trevor.

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  7. Owen McShane seems to be of the opinion that “failed states” (like Somalia and Afghanistan) will have a laissez-faire approach to drug use, while so-called “successful states” (New Zealand, the United States, and rest of western civilisation?) will continue with the folly of “the war on drugs”.

    In fact the situation is not that simple. In at least two of so-called “failed states” (Somalia in the period of the Islamic courts, and Afghanistan in the Taleban period) drugs were more effectively proscribed than they had ever been under the order imposed by the conventional states which preceded and succeeded the “failed state” periods.

    Why have the new state regimes which the western powers imposed in Somalia and Afghanistan failed to curb the production and use of drugs where the Union of Islamic Courts and the Taleban had to a large degree succeeded?

    The reason, I would suggest, is that the secular states have a drug strategy – broadly defined in the notion of the “war on drugs” – which, like its political equivalent the “war on terror” is inherently flawed.

    The first problem with the “war” strategies of secularism is that they abjure any analysis of the fundamental causes of the problem. Secular states do not permit any serious investigation of the social, psychological,or political conditions from which people seek release through the use of drugs or violence, because any such study would inevitably point to the ideology of the state and the prevailing socio-economic order as the root cause of such behaviours.

    The second problem for secular society is that it is forced by its own logic, or rather lack of logic, to define the problems associated with drugs and violence as merely circumstantial. Thus some drugs are deemed to be acceptable in some situations. Alcohol and tobacco may be used by
    persons over a certain age and in certain places. But the age restrictions placed upon access to alcohol have the perverse effect of encouraging its use among young people, who are effectively being taught that the consumption of alcohol is an indicator of social maturity. The various
    prohibitions upon the public use of such otherwise legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco also carries the message that these drugs are a positive force for the good in the lives of individuals, because in secular society the true life, the essential being, the authentic spirit of the individual is private. For the vast majority of the population, ordinary working life is an abnegation of the individual spirit which only finds nurture in the private life, in the privacy of the home,the shed or the bach. In New Zealand the “true” and “private” self have long been falsely identified with the consumption of alcohol and the restrictions that the state
    places upon its public consumption only serves to reinforce that delusion. The unintended consequence, however, is that the private self of the human being seeks social expression and social validation, so that alcohol consumption inevitably spills out of the private and into the public domain. Thus the institutions of the state attempt to keep crowds of inebriated youth on one side of the imaginary lines which separate private from public property from Marine Parade to Castle Street. It is a futile and ludicrous strategy that cannot compensate for the basic inconsistencies in the doctrine that drugs are beneficial to our private selves, but not to our
    public selves, that they can be beneficial to eighteen year olds but not to those just one day younger, and that “legal” drugs are beneficial when there is no clinical basis on which to make such assumptions.

    Cannabis, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are not permitted at all. But this prohibition has little to do with any inherent dangers that those drugs might pose to the individual and society.

    It has more to do with the fact that there are no economic interests associated with the state which would stand to benefit from the legalisation of drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and coffee. In the same way civilian populations may be bombed by young men who fly sophisticated military aircraft for monetary gain, but not by young men who carry explosive backpacks out of social desperation, and the political opponents of secular regimes may be plucked off the streets, imprisoned and tortured by the institutions of state, but officers of the state must not be apprehended and detained and tried for their crimes by individuals acting of their own volition.

    The reason for the predictable failure of the secular wars on “drugs” and “terror” is that they have no ideological basis, and no ideological integrity. Look just a little below the surface, and they appear to be mere elements in the turf wars waged by one criminal gang against another.

    “Failed states”, rather than creating the conditions for the free availability of drugs as Owen McShane suggests, may just as likely deliver the conditions under which the demand for drugs will slowly but surely evaporate.

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  8. Geoff Fischer said:
    Owen McShane seems to be of the opinion that “failed states” (like Somalia and Afghanistan) will have a laissez-faire approach to drug use, while so-called “successful states” (New Zealand, the United States, and rest of western civilisation?) will continue with the folly of “the war on drugs”.

    I can honestly say these thoughts never entered my mind. I was a student at Berkeley from 1968 to 1970 as it happens.

    It reminded me of an apocrphal story about the firm of systems analysts asked in 1968 to advise a Californian City on how to reduce crime in the streets. They spent a million and then reported back saying with another million they would be able to provide an answer. So the City coughed up and the SA firm presented its final report which was very bried and to the point. It said “Make everything legal”. This is a nice consultancy story but the reality was that at that time in that City 1/3 of the police budget went on policing prostitution and marijuana.

    So I apologise for not being such a deep thinker as you seem to think. I just found this report somewhat amusing. As Fanny Hill said “Circumstances alter cases.”

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  9. The extra DVD with “gangs of NewYork” is interesting. Fire brigades used to fight at the scene of a fire for the work while the building burnt.

    (If) as society collapses it is the organisation and acceptance of basic principles and which principles those are that makes the difference. In the case of NZ it will be acceptance of Te Tiriti :wink:

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