The Ghost Town that Collapsed the Poop Industry

I always seem to forget what Chile really looks like. I probably associate too much of South America with Brazil, Columbia & Venezuela. But then I remember that Argentina is Temperate and Patagonia is damn near arctic. On first glance I looked at those scenes and thought that it looks like some kind of extension of the American Southwest until I realized that in a very real way it is. So I can see why it is the dryest place on the planet.

But this story is about Nitrates, first found in guano, then in saltpeter from the rocks of the desert itself. Nitrates are a critical substance in plant fertilizer. The same substance of which the overuse of is currently causing a 6000-7000 kilometer wide dead zone in the delta of the Mississippi River. Really though it’s a story about financial bubbles. Or at least that’s how I saw it. Because come on, were the people who dug up the bird guano blind to notice that it was an ancient resource they were digging up? How people can dig something out of the ground that clearly took centuries to get there and then somehow convince themselves that it can replenish itself is totally beyond me.

The bird guano was a racket. Cheap easy money that would not last forever. I wonder if they knew that, or if they cared. If they told themselves that it would have to be a problem for the next generation. If they claimed that the ends justified the means. Or did they just blindly take their payments and walk away into the sunset. Because the analog to today is real and very relevant. the stock market model means that it is the best move for most executives is to prove that they were able to make a profit THIS QUARTER. That’s to say nothing of the long-term viability of the company.  They don’t care. They don’t have to. The system rewards their not caring so the naturally follow the nutrient gradient to its source. And really you can’t blame them, can you? because it’s the same system that creates those people in the first place. It’s my opinion that these things just need to play out to their inevitable conclusion. Just as you could never go back to 1800’s Chile and expect an economic lecture to change anything. The same holds true today. My advice is to live your life. Turn off the news. And just enjoy it.

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