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The WWO Lesson Plans have only been out for a week or two, but some early-adopter teachers are already putting them to use in their high school classrooms. . . and industrious students are blogging, commenting, and posting videos like this one and this one. Cool!

Was this not a game? Was World Without Oil indeed a look at the shape of things to come?

This article by Jacob Adelman in today’s paper tells of farmers in America who have seen the cost of fertilizer jump 20% a week in recent weeks. “We’ll get four or five price increases in a single day,” says a fertilizer distributor. In 50 years in the business, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“It’s like there’s no end in sight. It’s very scary,” one farmer says. The cause? Competition for fertilizer from China, India and other rapidly growing countries – and the rising cost of petroleum energy, which in turn is diverting natural gas from fertilizer manufacture into (more profitable) use as fuel. As we’ve already seen with corn-based ethanol, our demand for energy won’t stop even if it means less food for the table.

Instability growing as food prices jumpAnd make no mistake, there is less food for the table. “Global food prices surged 57 percent last month from a year earlier, according to the United Nations, and the World Bank warns civil disturbances may be triggered in 33 countries,” reports Bloomberg.com.

“Recent weeks have seen Philippine authorities scramble to augment rice stocks in the country, Indonesian officials warn of possible social unrest due to skyrocketing prices for basic foodstuffs, irate Egyptians protesting bread shortages, and international food aid programs unable to buy enough goods to meet their food distribution targets for vulnerable populations,” Voice of America reports. “This is the world’s big story,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, reports CNN.

Doesn’t this sound like WWO? The alarming dependence we have on oil in order to grow our food was one of the major themes of the World Without Oil alternate reality game, and explored in depth by our players. We use oil to plant our food, to fertilize and pesticide it, to harvest it, refrigerate it and transport it great distances. We use oil to truck in its pollinators and pump in its water. Irrigation lines, row cover, and other essentials of the farm trade are made from oil. In the game, when the price of oil jumped up and its availability went down, the price and availability of food inexorably followed.

What to do? Get educated, especially about local sources of food. One of the WWO Lesson Plans can help.

Meanwhile, oil hit $117 a barrel, and experts say oil prices may remain high even if demand begins to fall. Photo by mattlemmon via Flickr.

Jump at the Pump…is fuel prices, according to a study released by the New York Times this week. David Leonhardt, who writes about economics for the Times, tells Renee Montagne of NPR that “eight in 10 people said they’re staying even or falling behind,” which basically means they understand what’s actually going on. “Household income set an all-time record in 1999, and we still haven’t returned to that record. That’s really remarkable. There is no other economic expansion in history that failed to give most people a raise.” And thus the worry about fuel prices: the jump at the pump is cutting directly into the income that’s already failed to keep up with prices; it’s the tangible sign that people are falling farther and farther behind; and as we found in WWO, it’s the thing that has the power to get people to change their lives. (Thanks, Laurel, for this lead.)

Across the country, truckers are beginning to engage in roadblocks or rollingblocks to protest the squeeze caused by high diesel prices, now over $4 a gallon nationally. Independent truckers in particular (1 out of 10 trucks is an independent) have been caught without a mechanism in place to compensate for rapidly rising fuel costs, and for them rolling down the road has become a lose-lose proposition. The alert “WWO Lives” reader will flash back to this post on this blog and wonder just how deep this resentment runs, and how far this protest might go.

Meanwhile, testifying before Congress, oil company executives characterize their recent profits as “in line with those of other industries.”

I’m in Phoenix, looking for WWO-worthy headlines in the Arizona Republic, and finding them. Front page box item: “Gas prices continue to top records.” The box blurb mentions an Iraqi pipeline bombing and cutbacks by refiners as causes for the inexorable march of gas prices, but of course that’s hogwash (the pipeline will be fixed in the next day or so, and the cutback by refiners is due to shrinking gasoline demand in U.S. local markets). $4 a gallon gas in Menlo Park, CAThe article itself (top story, Business section) barely mentions the true cause: oil prices still over $105 a barrel. They spend a whole paragraph talking about the refinery cutback, terming it “troubling,” but why? Refineries cut back when local demand lessens, nothing sinister about it. World demand isn’t decreasing, not if China has anything to say about it, and as long as that’s true the fundamental price of oil will stay high.

The rest of the article is quotes from drivers, and it’s all pure WWO: “Gas prices have really impacted our budget.” “We might not be able to take a vacation this year.” “I’m taking the bus and riding my bike more.” “I used to go back to Chinle, my hometown, every two weeks – now with higher gas prices, I only go up once a month.” Is this not a game?

Ouch Ouch OuchRevealing AP article today by John Wilen, highlighting the trouble that US consumers find themselves in today: gas prices are going up, no matter what. And increasing fuel costs mean that the price of everything goes up, no matter what. Under price pressure from all sides, US consumers are “combining errands, sharing rides, eliminating pleasure trips and using public transit more” in an effort to control the cost of fuel on their budgets. But what’s not happening is any decrease in fuel prices commensurate with the decline in fuel usage. Gas usage is off by 1% in the past 8 weeks, instead of its usual 1.5% growth (to keep up with population growth). But gas prices have only retreated by a few cents in recent days. The result: a father in Pleasanton, CA, is considering cutting swim lessons for his kids. Which may not seem like much, unless you’ve played World Without Oil and recognize that this is how it all begins.

Not discussed in the article: the Tata Motor Company, which seems set to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. Tata is famous these days for the Tata Nano, a marvelously inexpensive car that seems destined to escalate India’s oil consumption at a rate commensurate with its economic growth. Why would cutting oil demand in the US reduce prices, when demand is increasing elsewhere? World oil consumption is expected to grow by 1.3 million barrels a day in both 2008 and 2009, according to the EIA update of March 11. (photo by goatopolis)

late March, 2008Real Life headlines from just the past week. Thisisnotagame?

Now if the oil-producing nations of the Middle East began to invest in alternative energies, would that signify anything, do you think?

Listen closely to the reason that Tom Petrie gives for why he thinks oil prices will decline in the next months: “Look, this economy can’t take $100 a barrel oil right now.” Which might be compelling to oil sellers, if we were the only buyer in town. Isthisnotagame?

Thanks to Leanan for posting the video.

Uh-oh. Fuel surcharge surpriseThis is what happened in WWO: as rising fuel costs impacted businesses, they passed them on to consumers, often with very little warning. (More and more consumer contracts today have a fuel surcharge clause in them somewhere)

Silicon Valley Hummer - runs out of gasPresented without comment.

It’s a sign that investors think that crude oil prices “will keep climbing despite evidence of plentiful supplies and falling demand,” says John Wilen of AP. He goes on to say, “The fact that there was no overriding reason for such a price spike could be a bad omen for consumers already bearing the burdens of high heating costs and falling real estate values.” The reason: investors are moving to the oil futures market, driving up prices, as a hedge against the falling dollar. (And let’s not forget: demand from China and India continues to forge ahead, even as the U.S. economy sputters.) The Energy Department said that it expects gasoline prices to peak this spring well above the record – $3.227 a gallon average – set last May when the WWO game was going on. When, it should be noted, oil prices were “only” $65 a barrel.

…but here comes the cruel part: I don’t spend the money on you, or anywhere near you, so no trickle-down either. I give it to Saudi Arabia and Russia instead.
That’s what’s happening right now, according to yesterday’s article by Steven Mufson in the Washington Post. Climbing oil prices have all of the negative effects of a tax increase with none of the benefits. “Clearly contractionary” and “Quite a wallop,” the pundits say, especially as the U.S. economy heads into recession. And this: “stagflationary.”

Makes me wish that we had begun taxing fuel a few years ago – starting out small but increasing over time, giving the economy a chance to adjust. And spent the tax revenue on meeting the demand for mass transit as it increased. Wouldn’t that have made our economy more resilient?

The oil crisis is on, and the country is in disarray. Parts of the country are unaffected, while others stagger under rationing, long queues, the collapse of public transit, and eruptions of violence at gas stations. More and more gas stations ignore government mandates, and the black market is burgeoning.

Sound like World Without Oil  to you? Me too. But it’s not fiction: it’s happening right now in China, according to this article in The Economist, November 22. Unwilling to curb demand, or even to raise prices at the pump, China is forcing itself to get more oil. Whose?

Looking for lift: Airlines cut growth targets to deal with rising fuel costs.” The article’s first sentence: “Several major airlines outlined plans Tuesday to slow their growth and cut costs to deal with higher fuel prices and the prospect of an economic slowdown that could hurt air travel.” And: “Huge demand for tiny car” – “Thousands of motorists want to be among the first owners of the fuel-sipping Smart car in the United States, demand that is racing past production capacity, Daimler AG executives said Tuesday.” In the San Jose Mercury News.

As reported in the Gonzaga U. paper today.

As reported today in the WSJ. Just as a reminder, when WWO launched, oil was less than $70 a barrel. And gasoline prices were less than $3 a gallon. Ah, the good old days.

AlterNetAs player Warnwood told us, “the war is in words” – and here’s Michael T. Klare to parse the latest word stratagem from the U.S. Department of Energy. Be sure to read down to the part where it may become necessary for the U.S. to create “more investment-friendly environments” in oil-producing nations. As we have in Iraq?

Or so reports the Wall Street Journal today, here. Subscription required to read the whole story, but I found the first sentence pretty much says it all: “A growing number of oil-industry chieftains are endorsing an idea long deemed fringe: The world is approaching a practical limit to the number of barrels of crude oil that can be pumped every day.” And: “Plenty of energy experts expect sky-high prices to hasten the development of alternative fuels and improve energy efficiency. But evidence is mounting that crude-oil production may plateau before those innovations arrive on a large scale. That could set the stage for a period marked by energy shortages, high prices and bare-knuckled competition for fuel.” Sound familiar?

From The State.

Take a look at the preview of this article in the WSJ (subscription needed to read the whole thing, but the gist of it is freely available here). This is essentially a validation of the formative assumptions of WWO: that oil demand is strong and getting stronger, while oil production is weak and getting weaker. What force is there to prevent a rupture between the two?

Alan Greenspan: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” From his book The Age of Turbulence, as reported in the Guardian and widely elsewhere. Greenspan’s comment follows an article by George Packer in the Sept 17 New Yorker that quotes David Kilcullen, a top advisor to General Petraeus, as listing “maintain flow of oil and gas” as the #1 objective for the continuing operations of U.S. forces in Iraq – ahead of fighting Al Qaeda, containing Iran, or preventing Iraqi genocides.

World Without Oil made clear what’s at stake with continued access to petroleum energy. The official reason for the war seems to change monthly… WMDs, democracy, freedom, anti-terror – it seems to be anything BUT oil.

The price of crude oil closed above $80 a barrel for the first time on Thursday, as a hurricane in Texas raised supply concerns. US light crude hit $80.20, two cents higher than the price it touched on Wednesday. Oil prices have risen 30 per cent since the start of this year and are four times higher than their 2002 level.

The latest figures from the US Energy Information Administration show that global liquid fuels production in August was almost a million barrels per day lower than the same period in 2006.

Lord Oxburgh, one of the most respected names in the energy industry, said a rapid increase in the price of oil was inevitable as demand continued to outstrip supply. He said: “We can probably go on extracting oil from the ground for a very long time, but it is going to get very expensive indeed.”

As reported in The Independent today.

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.
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