Oil managed to hit over $117 a barrel yesterday, nearly twice as expensive as it had been as early as just a year-and-a-half ago. And it shows no signs of slowing down its meteoric rise in price.
And as it rises, it's bringing the prices of virtually everything else with it, like a giant trawler net scooping up the ocean's bounty, and lifting it out of reach.
The "green revolution" of the 1960s increased average crop yields per acre by three times. It did that through the miracle of petrochemicals. Fossil fuels, not animal or human labor, are the primary inputs to farming today.
On average, for every calorie of food we grow, we have to burn 10 calories of fossil fuels.
Oil is more than just the fuel that powers our cars, our trucks and our airplanes. It is the fuel that powers us. It is the food that we eat.
The oil we eat
Fertilizer is energy, and fertilizer is made from fossil fuels. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh leveled the Alfred Murrah Federal Building using a Ryder truck and 13 plastic barrels, each filled with ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and diesel fuel.
That two-and-a-half ton fertilizer bomb vaporized a third of that nine-story building and destroyed the rest of it.
The average American farm requires the energy equivalent of three tons of fertilizer, per acre, per year. That means Indiana requires the energy equivalent of 2,000 Nagasaki bombs, every year, to keep its fields producing enough food to feed this state of 6 million, this nation of 300 million people.
You don't hear them detonating, but they're detonating nonetheless.
Oil is food, it's the reason the world's population increased from 3 billion back when the Beatles first came across the Atlantic, to 6 billion today. And, if all goes as planned, to 10 billion a generation from now.
If all goes as planned.
But things aren't going as planned. Even two years ago few would contemplate, much less admit, that oil prices would continue to rise. And no one contemplated the link between oil, and food prices.
Because we're not used to thinking of oil as food. Even if that's exactly what it is.
Watching the wheels come off
The World Bank says that food prices, worldwide, have risen 83 percent in the past three years. That's not as much as oil prices have risen, but it's close enough. Worse, food prices aren't just rising because the inputs to agriculture, like fuel and fertilizer, are rising in cost.
They're rising because an increasing amount of agricultural produce is being bifurcated into two streams: one a stream of food, another a stream of fuel.
We're now having to grow the fuel that we put in the tanks of the tractors and combines, so that we can use them to harvest another year's crop of fuel.
That's obviously a fool's game. Unfortunately, there are plenty of fools out there to play the game.
Fools like the media who, for the past decade or so, have reacted to every increment in oil prices with the same tired refrain: "it's a spike, caused by X" where "X" is the comfortable frame of the day, whether it's unrest in Nigeria, commodity speculation, a weak dollar, or plain old greed on the part of OPEC and the multinational oil companies.
Whatever it is, the explanation is always presented as transitory, due to "above ground" conditions, and ultimately reversible. It's never because of fundamentals, such as supply and demand. It's never presented not as an aberration but as a picture of the future.
And, yet, the relentless increase soldiers along. And, to a confused public, it seems that movies like "Soylent Green" and "Mad Max" might not have been dystopian science fiction.
There's a disquieting notion that they might actually have been documentaries.
The silly season
It's the political silly season, and politicians are acting, well, silly. Jill Long Thomson's solution to the oil, meaning the food, problem is to eliminate the state sales tax on any part of a gallon of gasoline that costs more than $2.75 a gallon.
I.e. take the oil out of reach of agricultural production by subsidizing more endless suburban driving. So what if we can't afford a Happy Meal, so long as we can still drive all the way across town to McDonalds?
And our man Mitch? Well, he started bulldozing houses for I-69, down by Evansville, last month. Because why not make a new-terrain highway, over 4000 acres of farmland, especially when otherwise you'd need to dump 12,000 tons of fertilizer on that farmland, every year, if you wanted to grow food on it.
It's easier to just dump the same amount of fertilizer, the same amount of oil, into the tanks of the semis and minivans cruising, with hungry stomachs, down the highway.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .