Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 7, 2009

World Falling Down, From the Bottom Up

Here’s some recent infrastructure and natural resource-related headlines average Americans may have missed, while we all wring our hands about the banks, TARP failures, stock market instability, General Motors, or whether we ourselves will be laid off:

1) Alcoa, one of the world’s largest aluminum production & mining companies, will cut 13% of its worldwide workforce by the end of this year. Here’s an essential AP quote:

“Analyst Charles Bradford of Bradford Research/Soleil Securities said Alcoa’s production cuts will not help put a floor under aluminum prices, which fell to roughly 65 cents per pound a few weeks ago from $1.50 per pound in July.”

Demand for aluminum in slumping economies and industries all over the world (including, but not exclusively, automakers) is way down. Thus the dominoes fall.

2) Russian Natural Gas Supplies to EU Dip In Early Fallout From Cutoff to Ukraine

Ukrainian bigwigs have been accused of again siphoning gas off the Russian (Gazprom) pipelines through their country. So Russia cut off the pipeline completely. Who knows how true this accusation is? But mid-level corruption in the former Soviet Union, on both the Russian and Ukrainian side, is pretty well-established by now. The EU recieves a fifth of all its natural gas via pipelines through Ukraine. Meanwhile, natural gas sale prices are expected to continue falling by up to 50% this year, as they are usually linked to crude oil prices. At what point will prices for consumers, here and abroad, start climbing through the roof in response to this house of cards they’ve built?

3) Rinky-Drink: Old Systems Spur Water Shift (says Investors Business Daily)

Aging infrastructure, budget crises bolster case for privatization

Water. The most essential resource of all. Water mains are breaking, fire hydrants running dry; nations, municipalities and worldwide water conglomerates are working at cross-purposes or not keeping up with the times scientifically, or politically. It’s a mess. I’m on the fence about privatization vs. public/local say-so, and whether anyone should make a “profit” on providing something so basic. Clearly, some people smarter than me have to get going on this, though we may be to distracted to make good decisions on it. Here’s the essential quote, in my mind:

“Just like with the roads and bridges,” said Rita Schmidt of  the Water Education Foundation, “we are living off what our parents did, what they voted for.”

4) Road-builders and municipalities are getting hit hard on the prices of road salt, asphalt (tied to crude oil prices), and other necessities

5) The city of St. Paul, MN, has put on a citywide hiring freeze. In the schools, for police, probably janitors… you name it. A friend of mine was directly affected here in Chicago, as he’s a police officer who’d been offered a job and was trying to sell his house here. Now he has to stay put.

So where’d all that “add more police”, post-9/11 federal money go? What have we learned from New Orleans in terms of the relationship between the feds (including the Army Corps of Engineers, who fouled up the N’awlins dams somewhat), the states, and local government?

And these are all stories that impact just the “developed” world. We haven’t even discussed water crises in Africa, environmentally-related challenges to the Arctic/Inuit/polar bear way of life, and so forth.

Yeah, I’m just whiny today, I know. But when we’re scared and relatively powerless, what other recourse is there than to simply call out for attention, for help –for responsibility to be taken by those empowered to run all this; for people to stop covering their own asses and filling their own wallets, and start fixing the playing field for the Common Good?



  1. […] stretch, or are our “developments” and civic ambition too compulsive, as we chase the illusion of a perfect infrastructure? Plus, who’s paying for all this road/sewer/tollbooth construction? Any chance we can improve […]

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