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June 17, 2008

New Tomdispatch


Mother Earth's Triple Whammy
Why North Korea Was a Global Crisis Canary

By John Feffer

Gas prices are above $4 a gallon; global food prices surged 39% last year; and an environmental disaster looms as carbon emissions continue to spiral upward. The global economy appears on the verge of a TKO, a triple whammy from energy, agriculture, and climate-change trends. Right now you may be grumbling about the extra bucks you're shelling out at the pump and the grocery store; but, unless policymakers begin to address all three of these trends as one major crisis, it could get a whole lot worse.

Just ask the North Koreans.

In the 1990s, North Korea was the world's canary. The famine that killed as much as 10% of the North Korean population in those years was, it turns out, a harbinger of the crisis that now grips the globe -- though few saw it that way at the time.

That small Northeast Asian land, one of the last putatively communist countries on the planet, faced the same three converging factors as we do now -- escalating energy prices, a reduction in food supplies, and impending environmental catastrophe. At the time, of course, all the knowing analysts and pundits dismissed what was happening in that country as the inevitable breakdown of an archaic economic system presided over by a crackpot dictator.

They were wrong. The collapse of North Korean agriculture in the 1990s was not the result of backwardness. In fact, North Korea boasted one of the most mechanized agricultures in Asia. Despite claims of self-sufficiency, the North Koreans were actually heavily dependent on cheap fuel imports. (Does that already ring a bell?) In their case, the heavily subsidized energy came from Russia and China, and it helped keep North Korea's battalion of tractors operating. It also meant that North Korea was able to go through fertilizer, a petroleum product, at one of the world's highest rates. When the Soviets and Chinese stopped subsidizing those energy imports in the late 1980s and international energy rates became the norm for them, too, the North Koreans had a rude awakening.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 17, 2008 09:25 PM

I see earthquakes and lighting
I know the end is coming soon
I see rivers overflowin'
I hear the voice of raze and ruin
Don't go round tonight
Its bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise---CCR

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 18, 2008 01:32 AM

Now, read "The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kuntsler.

We have been warned since 1979; we derided Jimmy Carter, and enthusiastically embraced the politics and religion of Greed, as put forth by that great fraud, Ronald Reagan and his right wing evangelical buddies.

Now we are going to pay the price, exacted by nature through global warming, rapidly declining agricultural production, food riots (already happening), hyper inflation on a global scale, and the crash of the industrial west. Nice going, Ron, George(s) and Bill. 28 years of greed gets us what? Back to nature, I guess.

Posted by: cwcrosby42 at June 18, 2008 04:20 AM

Also, during the "decade of greed" charitable giving increased faster than spending on luxuries and government social welfare spending also rose. Places like Haiti being screwed up is nothing new, they've always been screwed up. Functioning societies can handle shocks. Look at the level of order in Japan after earthquakes/tsunamis. Right now Cedar Rapids Iowa has plenty of flooding but nothing near Katrina-levels of dysfunction (come to think of it, a lot of areas hit by that storm had none of the Big Easy's social problems as a result). Tensions created by immigration in our southwest resulted in the Minutemen, who kicked out a member for coming in contact with an immigrant by giving him a joking shirt and milk and taking a picture. Immigrants from Zimbabwe meanwhile are receiving having rubber tires burned around their necks.

Carter has been unfairly maligned, as he was actually responsible for more deregulation than Reagan. He did idiotically prevent nuclear fuel from being recycled because he fell for the bogus inflated threat of dem terrawrists.

Posted by: TGGP at June 19, 2008 12:01 AM


Posted by: StO at June 19, 2008 01:29 AM