No Eco No Me - Part 2
It was a beautiful morning. We ate breakfast and headed down the road. In the last few days we met many young people and traded stories. The hiker-biker sites in Oregon are spaced about 30 miles apart. Mary and I find ourselves traveling about 30 miles a day and this distance was just right for us. Most bicycle tourers we met were in their 20’s and traveled 60 miles a day and were fully packed. We asked them if they had seen the grey whales or any interesting logs on the beach. “Of course not, it takes all day to go 60 miles”. Well, we suddenly found them asking us where we were camping and our group would meet at night. Stories were shared around a camp fire. It was our last day in Oregon and we all planned to meet at the "Welcome to California" sign. Mary and I took pictures as more of our group arrived. There was Andy and Sara who found it necessary to carry a guitar on their bike, there was Chris biking from Alaska, there was Jasper from Sweden who was on an English three speed equipped with a front basket, a feather sticking out of his hair and flip flops on his feet, there was Alex who had dreadlocks, and of course, Mary and I. In looking at the pictures, we look like the parents. What a group. We planned to meet in Crescent City. Where in Crescent City? It wasn’t so clear, but somehow we managed to find each other and spent the night at a private campground sharing the expenses.
The next morning Mary and I decided to take a local bus over a mountain and through a construction zone. We had to catch the bus at 6:00 A.M. The bus driver was extremely helpful and he told us of a road that went right along the coast. We looked at the map and it was designated as a mountain bike trail. The driver said it isn’t bad at all, that he drives it with his pickup truck. We were considering the route when I saw park rangers drive up and I walked over and asked them. “Oh yes, it is such a great trail, you’ll come to a gate that says road closed, just go around the gate”. I walk back and told Mary the good news. We had to wait to continue until the fog lifted and soon found us rolling down the road toward the trail. We came to the gate and we walked our packed bikes around to the trail. The trail was actually a road with no traffic winding along the coast. How many get to experience such a pleasant bike ride? Mary turned to me, “This is the best trail I have ever been on in my whole life”. We decided to call our friends to tell them of this spectacular trail and not to take the usual bike route. We continued on in amazement failing to notice that the paved road turned to gravel. It was when the gravel kept getting more and more narrow and bumpier when we began to wonder. It was becoming obvious that this was no place for a touring bike packed with all our camping gear. Up ahead I saw a steep hill and stop. “Mary, I’m going to back up and pedal hard so I can make the hill.” I walked my bike back about a 100 feet, mounted my bike and take off. I reached the bottom of the hill going as fast as I could. I went about 20 feet and the bike came to a halt. I turned to Mary, “I’ll have to push the bike up the hill.” I started pushing but went nowhere. Mary and I both had to push the heavy bike up the hill then we walked back down the hill and pushed Mary’s bike up. We got back on the bike and I heard Mary say, ”This is the worst trail I’ve ever been on in my life.” We called our friends back and told them to stay on the regular bike trail. Continuing on, the trail began to widen and then became a paved road closed to traffic. On either side there were huge redwood trees. Mary and were alone in this glorious forest. Mary said once again, “This is the best trail I have ever been on”.
We bicycled to the campsite and once again met up with our friends. Like I said, the people we were camping with every night were in their 20’s. They’ve all grown up in our economic paradigm. What can they expect for their future?
In the 1990’s I began a job as a hiking guide. It was the perfect job for me at the time. I worked mainly in the fall during the week and could go home on the weekend and was able to harvest and process food from our garden which would feed us during the winter. We lived a Spartan lifestyle and enjoyed the week in that the job consisted of hiking during the day with people from all over and staying at a bed and breakfast at night. During dinner there was usually lively conversation. One of the days on the New Hampshire trip was a hike along the Ammonoosuc River which ended at the Mount Washington Hotel located in Bretton Woods. It was here I first learned about the Bretton Woods Agreement
By 1944, the world’s economy was in turmoil because of World War II and international leaders met at Bretton Woods to figure out how to stabilize world currencies. It was here that these leaders signed an agreement to fix the price of gold at 35 dollars an ounce. All other currencies were pegged to the US dollar. In other words, the value (in theory) was fixed to the price of gold and so a country could buy dollars and it would be the same as buying gold. In fact, a country could exchange their dollars for gold if they wanted. It became very easy to trade in the universal US dollar, hence most of the world traded in US dollars. Since everyone wanted dollars for trading, not only did their value remain high but we had to print more dollars to accommodate the increase in demand. The more global trade, the more we had to print. In the 1960’s the US found itself spending much more than our revenue was taking in to the Treasury (deficit spending) and had to borrow the money to pay for huge expenditures such as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Vietnam War. Even though we were borrowing money it was in US dollars. Where did this money come from? The Federal Reserve had to keep increasing the money supply and by about 1970 other countries such as France and Great Britain started to realize the dollar had to be losing value and demanded payment in gold for their dollars (remember gold was fixed at 35 dollars per ounce). It wasn’t long before our government was face with reality. We would lose all our gold if we held to the Bretton Woods Agreement. So in 1971, President Nixon decoupled the price of gold from the dollar. The dollar was no longer backed by anything. Inflation started to rise quickly and the value of the dollar was in question.
But there is another piece to this economic puzzle. It was forecasted by Marian King Hubbert that the continental United States would reach “peak oil” (conventional oil production) around 1970. By 1972, it was clear that our oil supply was strained and our economy was in jeopardy. In 1973, Arab nations came together and initiated an oil embargo. Suddenly, cars in the US were lined up at the pumps because our ability to supply our country with domestic oil was no longer possible and the price of gas rose to a whopping 50 – 60 cents per gallon. It was then that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger who came to our rescue. Our leaders met with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and signed one of the most important agreements concerning our national interests (national interest is a term referring to the ability for a country to obtain resources for a country’s further development). Under this agreement we would defend Saudi Arabia’s oil fields in return for their guarantee to sell their oil in US dollars. In the next few years the other oil producing nations followed suit and most of the world‘s oil was sold in US dollars.
Once again the dollar would be backed by something, but this time something that everyone in the world needed – oil. The value of the dollar would remain high in the following years because all countries needed dollars to buy oil for their energy needs. Since the dollar’s value remained high, the oil was cheap when compared to other countries. This was a great advantage to us in that all countries needed to buy oil for their energy needs and could only use US dollars. In order to buy oil in dollars they had to obtain dollars and were forced to trade with our currency. Countries sold us their goods in return for dollars. We controlled the flow of worldwide oil and our own continental depletion no longer mattered. When oil is cheap it allows the costs to remain low for the mining of resources, processing resources into goods, and transportation. We could raise wages and still compete on the global stage and Americans enjoyed a high standard of living. The “American Dream” was in full swing. Not only were we living the good life but our children could expect more. This became the ingrained paradigm.
This dollars for oil relationship has recently (in the last 10 years) been changing. Countries around the world are starting to trade in their own currency. This change occurred slowly at first with Iraq and Venezuela being the first, but through the years has picked up the pace with Russia, Iran, Turkey and China trading in currencies other than the US dollar. China is now leading the pack and every year they increase the establishment of their yuan as a worldwide currency. If other countries decrease their dependency on US dollars the value will drop. We are now increasing our money supply through a policy called Quantitative Easing. If the amount of worldwide unwanted dollars rises the prices of resources will rise. This will include food prices since today’s agriculture is extremely resource intensive.
It is at this point one must consider: 1) resource draw down (depletion) which will result in rising costs, 2) more demand throughout the world which will result in rising costs, 3) more resources are needed to defend the areas that have the dwindling resources (national interests), which will result in rising costs, 4) more resources are needed to remediate the increasing problems of pollution such as climate change, which will result in rising costs, and 5) the diminishing value of the US dollar will result in crising costs.
In today’s economy resources are needed for job creation. Will access to global resources be so strained that the future economy will be stunted? If this scenario plays out, how will our children pay for the debts that my generation has incurred?
Mary and I had many moments during our trip that we just had to deal with such as more bridges, tunnels, breakdowns and traffic, however as the miles rolled by both the encounter with the people along the way and being out in the natural surroundings was extraordinary. We had both traveled by car most of our lives and none of our trips compared to the experiences we’ve had traveling by bicycle. It’s like anything else you do the first few times. You are met with challenges that are overcome and through time and with experience these challenges are avoided. Our choice to travel the way we did reduced our overall throughput making it possible for an extended time frame for the trip at a low cost. We chose not to use a sleeper car on the train making the roundtrip ticket cheaper than an airplane. This decision allowed us to interact with many more people and also see more of the countryside. We’ve been told that we’re too old to travel like this, but on the other hand, could it be that this frame of mind keeps us young? The reduction of throughput continued with traveling by bicycle. The bicycle is made with less metal, the tires are smaller and it takes no gas to run, not to mention the health benefits of biking. We camped in hiker-biker sites at five dollars per person per night requiring very little resources (no building or heating-air-conditioning). What can the youth of today expect for their future? I suppose it depends on the choices they make. Some will make a paradigm shift and some will not. Education will play a huge role in their possibilities.