THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- APRIL 17, 2021
Interesting news can sometimes come from off the beaten path. While the big stories of the day grab the front page headlines, some smaller developments may be worth attention in their own right.
For example, the ship that was recently stuck in the Suez Canal was major news. However, a couple of offshoots from that occurrence might hit a chord closer to home.
One result of the Suez incident was a disruption in the shipment of wood pulp, which could lead to another worldwide shortage of toilet paper. “Kimberley-Clark Corporation says most of its products in North America will see significant price hikes by June. Analysts say the cost of wood pulp has surged thirty-five percent over the last year and price rises from toilet paper makers will likely follow.” (https://www.gobankingrates.com/money/business/stuck-suez-canal-cargo-ship-might-trigger-a-toilet-paper-shortage-again/ and https://www.newser.com/story/304380/hoarding-is-over-but-toilet-paper-prices-are-still-going-up.html)
As if a shortage of critical tissues is not enough, the Suez snafu could affect how you dunk your french fries. “The blockage of the Suez Canal by a skyscraper-sized cargo ship could also cause snarls in the global supply chain. Ketchup packets are in short supply right now and restaurants are struggling to keep up with the demand.”
The situation is dire. “Kraft Heinz is the most well-known ketchup manufacturer, and the company makes up nearly seventy percent of the U.S. retail market for ketchup.” They produce around twelve billion packets per year. “The rules of supply and demand have led to a thirteen percent increase in ketchup packet prices. As a result of the supply chain shortage, many restaurants are limiting the number of packets they give to customers.” (https://www.today.com/food/ketchup-shortage-hits-restaurants-across-united-states-t214038)
If you like to dunk potato chips in ketchup, there's even more bad news. “Climate change is posing new challenges for crop storage, a part of agriculture that's often overlooked. Michigan produces more potatoes for chips than any other state because its outdoor air is usually cool enough to store them for months. But temperatures have edged upward in recent decades. Scientists say there will be fewer days this century when potatoes can be stored long-term without refrigeration. That may boost costs for consumers, as well as producers.” (https://nbc25news.com/news/state/new-problems-arise-for-crop-storage-as-planet-gets-warmer)
Well, the potato crop might be in peril, but some farmers are finding an odd money making alternative – pine needles. “Fallen needles from the longleaf pine, which is native to the Southeast, are a $200 million industry. The longleaf “...has unusual length and high resin content, making it an attractive, water-retaining ground cover for gardens." The color doesn't fade and termites steer clear of it, and so it commands higher prices than wood chips.”
The longleaf pine is even more prized for its needles than for its wood. “Landowners have realized it's much more profitable to sell their needles repeatedly than sell the timber once. The owner of North Carolina's Pinestar Farms explains the math: He could get $4,000 an acre for his wood once, or $1,200 for the pine needles those trees drop annually.” (https://www.newser.com/story/304551/the-pine-needles-are-brown-they-might-as-well-be-gold.html)
There is even more good news on the climate front. Scientists have found a way to turn food waste into jet fuel. “Currently, most of the food scraps that are used for energy around the world are converted into methane gas. But researchers in the US have found a way of turning this waste into a type of paraffin that works in jet engines. The fuel cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 165 percent compared to fossil energy.
According to the National Academy of Sciences: “They were able to blend seventy percent of the mixture with regular jet fuel, while still meeting the extremely strict quality criteria that Federal authorities impose on aircraft fuels. The new fuel has a potentially significant impact on emissions as it not only limits the CO2 that comes from fossil sources used by the airlines, but it also gets rid of the methane that would bubble up from landfill if the waste food was just dumped.”
(https://www.pnas.org/content/118/13/e2023008118 and https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56408603)
Finally, how about a prediction from the past that actually has come true in the present? Here's the kicker. It's from a comic book.
In 1997, Archie Comics published a story about Betty attending virtual school in the year 2021. It was first printed in issue number forty-six of the “Betty” comic series in February 1997. You can see the entire comic at: https://archiecomics.com/did-a-classic-archie-comics-story-predict-virtual-schooling-in-2021-yes/.
Comics.org says: “The six-page story was titled 'Betty in High School 2021 A.D.' In this story we find Betty and her friends in Riverdale dealing with the struggles of virtual home schooling. It eerily predicted elements of virtual home schooling now commonly found across the world.”
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.