Posted by Big Gav
Brendon Nelson and Ian McFarlane were both on the nuclear campaign trail today, publically calling on Howard to consider the case for nuclear power, in a continuation of the steady PR effort that kicked off with the Financial Review's peak oil article at the start of the year. On the plus side at least Nelson was publically noting that global warming is caused by human activity, at the risk of him getting verbally tarred and feathered tomorrow by wingnut commentators like Andrew Bolt.
Labor and the Greens were both dismissive of this latest effort to undermine the "3 mines" and no nuclear power status quo, with Bob Brown commenting "Let's be clear about this, nuclear power is not the answer to global warming and if there's a million dollars spare let us put that into solar power in this sunny country.".
I guess the Liberal effort did help to slightly steer the days news commentary away from their wipeout in the Pittwater by-election, with moderate supporters of the Liberal party seemingly deciding to get some payback on the extreme right of the party in the wake of putsch against John Brogden by voting for an Independent instead.
LAURIE OAKES: Now could I get you to put your Science Minister hat on for a minute. You're a nuclear energy advocate. When are you going to set up a proper scientific inquiry into whether Australia should move to nuclear power?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well I have - Laurie, I've put a formal proposal to the Prime Minister, and as you can see he's got a few things on his plate at the moment - but what I'm proposing is that the Australian Academy of Science and our learned academies in humanities and social science collectively at a cost of just under $1 million, conduct a full examination throughout Australia of the, if you like, the geological, the environmental, the physical, the social science and all of those aspects of examining the prospects of a nuclear power industry in Australia be examined.
So I've put a proposal to the Prime Minister, jointly with the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, and the Prime Minister will consider that in due course.
As far as Australia's future is concerned, given that our energy demands are going to treble over the next 40 years, it is obvious that human behaviour has contributed to global warming, notwithstanding the enormous coal deposits that we have in our country I think we owe it to our future to examine all of our options.
We can't responsibly dig, if you like, 30 percent of the world's uranium out of the ground, export it overseas, and allow some 440 reactors to operate and expand in other parts of the world and not seriously consider this as an option for ourselves.
In other local news, Woodside and BHP have approved development of a new offshore (the charmingly named Stybarrow) oilfield near Exmouth.
Australia's two biggest oil players, BHP Billiton and Woodside Petroleum, approved development of the $US600 million ($814 million) Stybarrow oilfield off the coast of Western Australia yesterday.
The BHP-operated field will be the second of four planned fields in the Exmouth Sub-Basin, which is quickly becoming Australia's hottest new oil-producing region.
"Stybarrow represents the first opportunity for BHP Billiton to commercialise reserves in the Exmouth Sub-Basin, which is increasing in importance as an oil province in Australian waters," BHP energy group president Philip Aiken said.
The Stybarrow field will produce a maximum of 80,000 barrels a day beginning in early 2008. The recoverable reserves range between 60 million and 90 million barrels of oil, giving the project a 10-year lifetime.
The first oil from Exmouth Sub-Basin should be produced next October when Woodside and Mitsui's $1.48 billion Enfield project begins shipping up to 100,000 barrels a day.
Up in the northern hemisphere, speculation that the North Atlantic Oscillation may occur this year has been strengthened by the early advent of cold weather, with northern europe reporting Siberian conditions.
Last month, the Met Office issued emergency planners with an amber alert - a long-range warning of what could be a colder-than-average winter.
The alert was relayed to contingency planners in Government, including the NHS and Highways Agency, as well as energy companies. But as the weather warning reached the public eye, it was transformed into dire media predictions that the UK was facing the worst winter in 50 years, with temperatures plummeting below those usually found in northern Iceland.
But according to the Met Office, the forecast has been hyped out of all recognition.
For a start, the long-range forecast method, which examines patterns in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) - the state of sea temperatures in the north Atlantic at any given moment - promises an accuracy of only 65%.
"It means we get the advice right two times out of three, but that means the other third is wrong," a Met Office spokesman said.
May saw warm waters off the southern coast of Greenland, coupled with colder sea temperatures on the eastern seaboard of the US.
"With that particular pattern we would be getting a negative NAO, and the strength of that negative oscillation is what gives us the prediction of a colder European winter," the spokesman said.
If the NAO does eventuate then no doubt shivering New Englanders in the US will appreciate Hugo Chavez's discounted heating oil for the poor offer all the more. As someone who has always appreciated the fine art of irritating the obnoxious, I have to say that he is doing a pretty good job of annoying that dumbass in the White House, who is too trapped by ideology to do the obvious thing to prevent this little propaganda coup - doing a little subsidisation of his own (a small windfall tax on oil company profits would pay for it easily I'm sure).
Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, has pulled off his greatest public relations coup yet in his campaign to irritate the Bush Administration with a deal to supply cheap fuel to thousands of poor residents of Boston and New York.
To the anger of many in Washington, Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a company controlled by the Venezuelan Government, will supply more than 45 million litres of oil at 40 per cent below market prices.
The deal is one of the most spectacular moves yet in Mr Chavez's attempt to market his "21st-century socialism" using his country's oil wealth.
While it will not change many minds in Washington about his populist and autocratic regime, Caracas hopes it will bolster Mr Chavez's claim as the coming leader of an anti-capitalist Latin America. Mr Chavez, who once dubbed President George Bush a "genocidal madman" and led a huge anti-US protest earlier this month, first proposed his fuel offer in August when oil prices were at a record high after Hurricane Katrina.
Joe Kennedy, the chairman of Citizens Energy, one of the organisations that will distribute the oil, said the deal highlighted the failure of oil companies in the US and the Government to step in to help.
"Our government has made billions of dollars just this year on the royalty payments the oil companies pay to the Government," he said. But when it is a question of poor Americans, "what do we hear from Washington? Sorry boys. There's no money in the till."
To promote his dream, Mr Chavez has offered cheap oil and refineries to his neighbours and pledged financial support for regional development programs.
Given reports that UK gas prices are now the world's highest, maybe Tony Blair should do some goading of Hugo as well and perhaps ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to follow Pat Robertson's lead and call for Hugo's assasination, in the hope that he may send some hydrocarbons their way. On the same subject, Jerome a Paris takes a look at a recent article in the FT that suggests there is a good chance they will freeze this winter and makes some pertinent comments on the externalities of the current energy industry.
The chemical industry can cut back its natural gas use, but that means less activity, and fewer jobs. And the general trend is to build new plants in countries that have access to cheap gas (i.e. producers like Iran, Qatar or Saudia Arabia). Once production has moved over there, it never comes back.
The power industry is also apparently busy switching some gas plants to coal use where it can (not everywhere). But coal prices have also doubled in recent times, so the impact on prices is just to avoid the most recent increases, but not the general trend. And coal is not good for pollution nor global warming.
The message I am not trying to convey is not necessarily one of doom and panic, but that we must get used to energy beign more expensive. If energy was properly priced, we would use it more wisely. We'd pay to have good security of supply (by paying for reliable sources, not by paying for an oversized military); we'd pay to avoid pollution (instead of dealing with the chronic illnesses it causes via the health system); we'd pay to have enough spare capacity (instead of making the poorest go cold if winter is too harsh and prices go up even more to get people to stop consuming - because that's what the "market" will provide).
Cheap energy is not a right, and it is not even a reality today, because you pay for your "cheap" energy today in other ways (taxes, healthcare, etc). Let's make the price of energy realistic, and then help those that really need help to get access to basic energy - and only them.
Let's stop worrying about energy supply, and worry instead about energy demand.
Of course, high gas prices aren't just a problem in the UK, with the head of Qatar Gas ruminating about a global recession caused by increasing gas prices.
A Qatar firm that is to supply a fifth of Britain's future gas warns high prices could spark a global recession.
Gas prices are at record levels with global demand for energy boosted by economic growth in China and India. Faisal al-Suwaidi, head of Qatargas, warned the high prices could spark a recession in the developed world.
Qatargas is to supply up to 20% of Britain's gas starting in 2007 at the earliest, with the fuel arriving in liquid form. The imports will come through a new terminal at Milford Haven.
Mr Al-Suwaidi said the high global prices would affect supplying nations as well as the consuming countries.
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian notes that there is a possibility that energy shortages in the UK may awake the "nuclear kraken" (in the week's most colourful turn of phrase). She also seems to suggest that some of the news flow may be manipulated, which, given my ever-increasing respect for the power of well organised PR campaigns, I can't entirely dismiss. She does understand the future of energy - efficiency, wind and waves (obviously UK writers won't be big on solar power as they only see the sun for a few months each year). One option some resourceful Irish people are turning to is a traditional source of heating - peat.
This is not cold weather for late November. There is no energy shortage. Domestic gas bills are the lowest in the EU. Electricity is 10% cheaper than in 1997. A few imprudent industries refused fixed prices to play the energy spot market, but squeal now the market is against them. They represent only 0.05% of industry, despite the CBI's Digby Jones crying wolf over yet another "government crisis".
Behind this scare is the nuclear power lobby waking like the kraken to warn of imminent power cuts, in time for Tony Blair's announcement next week of another energy review. It will be headed by the energy minister, Malcolm Wicks - a hopeful sign of sanity - but Friends of the Earth finds it somewhat ominous that we need another review just three years after the last.
A colossal decision on nuclear power will be made through a thicket of energy factoids. Note how cleverly the language is framed already, implying that nuclear is common sense and anything else is "alternative" to it - probably wearing woolly hats and fingerless gloves.
This will be a case study in political decision-making - rational and transparent or dismally dysfunctional. Watch how the wind of opinion changes, who manipulates it, how and why. See how emotion, political predilection and even gender swing the debate on both sides. Polls show Britain is evenly split on nuclear power, but that masks a huge gender difference: two-thirds of women are against, as they are across the EU. Is there something intuitively macho about glowing fuel rods? How cleverly the nuclear lobby insinuates that grown-up, real men - and by inference real political parties - know what has to be done. Wind, waves and energy-saving are for silly greens and big girl's blouses.
While we won't be tell for quite a while if Thanksgiving 2005 was the peak oil point or not (and I suspect we still have a few years to go at the current rate of production myself), WorldChanging and Mobjectivist have both noted the passing of Peak Oil Day.
Reasonable people may disagree, but Princeton geology professor emeritus Ken Deffeyes, author of 2001's Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage and 2005's Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak (sense a theme?), stated on his blog in early 2004:Although it is a bit silly, we can now pick a day to celebrate passing the top of the mathematically smooth Hubbert curve: Nov 24, 2005. It falls right smack dab on top of Thanksgiving Day 2005. It sounds a little sick to observe a gloomy day, but in San Francisco they still observe April 18 as the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake.
That's right -- according to one of the more preeminent peak oilers, yesterday was the day the world saw its maximum oil production. Probably.
The reality is that oil peaking is not a smooth curve, of course. Unexpected discoveries, technology improvements, and the like will sporadically increase output, even after the decline has truly begun. And, as we've noted in the past, peak oil matters most when demand exceeds supply. The best defense against peak oil nightmares is to stop using so damn much of the stuff. We know how to move to a cleaner, greener, higher-efficiency civilization; the time to do so is now.
Interest in alternatives to oil is steadily increasing, with Bill Gates investing in an ethanol plant (maybe our peak oiler at Microsoft has had a word or two in his ear). I couldn't determine if these new plants will produce cellulosic ethanol or just indirectly harvest government grain farming subsidies.
The Energy Blog also has posts on increasingly semiconductor production for PV panels, efficiency improvements in thin film solar cell production and a novel scheme for storing wind power.
The Iowa Stored Energy Plant (ISEP) will be the first plant in the world that will use energy from a wind farm plus supplemental off peak electricity to produce compressed air to be stored in an underground aquifer until it is need to produce electricity on demand. When demand for electricity is high, the air will be released and used in combination with a small amount of natural gas to drive combustion turbines to generate electricity. Wind power is undependable and not always available when needed, compressed air energy storage (CAES) mitigates this intermittency. This method will save one-third to one-half the natural gas that would otherwise be needed. CAES has been used in Alabama and Germany, but at these locations the energy for storage does not come from wind.
A separate section of the underground aquifer will also be used for storing natural gas. Gas storage will allow the facility and other gas utilities to buy natural gas when prices are lower. This type of gas storage is widely used in the U.S.
The BBC has an update on how play is progressing on the grand chessboard, with Russia seemingly re-establishing the ascendency in Uzbekistan.
The region is important for Russia, says Ms Antonenko, because it is one of the few left when Russia can maintain its status of a great power that it has lost elsewhere.
However, its ability to carry through its commitments, such as the new mutual defence pact, is doubtful, Ms Antonenko said. "It's important for it to seem like a military power, but Russia's ability to project power is very limited," she said. "It is not really involved in operations there and it doesn't want to divert resources from the Caucasus. It's a symbolic presence."
The most likely source of competition between the rival powers is over natural resources. Kazakhstan has enormous oil reserves, estimated at 26bn barrels, and Turkmenistan is rich in natural gas.
China is hungry for energy to keep its economy growing, the US is seeking to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and Russia is keen to exploit potential transit routes for its resources through Central Asia.
Some analysts have described the interplay of US and Russia - and now Chinese - interests as a new version of the 19th Century "Great Game", which saw Russia and the British Empire compete for influence in the region.
Lutz Kleveman, author of The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia, believes the US is using the "war on terror" to further its oil interests in the region.
Russia and China, he said, were gaining ground - Russia because it is an important regional trading partner, and China because it is becoming more powerful, in military and economic terms. China is buying up oil concessions and opening a major new pipeline to pump oil from Kazakhstan.
But others argue that Russia not only has its own, much larger oil reserves, but also that there is little evidence the region is such a priority to Moscow as, say, the Ukraine. The US denies it is revisiting Cold War rivalries on new ground. Earlier this year, US Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian affairs Daniel Freid said: "We do not look at Central Asia as an object in a Great Game. We do no look at this as a zero-sum contest between us, the Russians and the Chinese."
Characterising the strategic interests at play in Central Asia as a new Great Game can also overlooks the most important players, according to Daniel Kimmage, a Central Asia analyst with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a US-government funded overseas broadcaster. "[It] reduces everything in the region to the actions of those great powers, where in most cases local players are more important", he said.
On the ground, competition between the US, Russia and China has had a limited effect on domestic policy in the region, he said. Uzbekistan decided on its own to kick out US and Nato troops - albeit after Russian and Chinese encouragement, he said.
Empires and their games have followed some familiar patterns throughout history - Tom Dispatch takes a look the possibility the American Empire will collapse.
For some time, I have been suggesting that the aim of Republican strategy has been a Republican Party that permanently runs the United States and a United States that permanently runs the world. The two aims have been driven by a common purpose: to steadily and irreversibly increase and consolidate power in Republican hands, leading in the direction of a one-party state at home and a global American empire abroad. The most critical question has been whether American democracy, severely eroded but still breathing, would bring down the Republican machine, or whether the Republican machine -- call it the budding one-party global empire -- would bring down American democracy. This week, it looks as if democracy, after years of decline, has gained the upper hand.
The choice was and remains: empire or republic? Just a few years ago, the "sole superpower," the new Rome, master of the "unipolar" world, seemed to many to be bestriding the world. Some, like columnist Charles Krauthammer, were reveling in the triumph of "the American hegemon." "History has given you an empire, if you will keep it" he said, traducing Benjamin Franklin, who had said at the Constitutional Convention that the United States was a republic if you can keep it.
Others, like writer Michael Ignatieff, in a more somber mood, were preparing to shoulder the empire's inescapable global "burdens," which meant "enforcing such order as there is in the world and doing so in the American interest." Still others, like journalist Robert Kaplan, were touring the empire's far-flung garrisons, lionizing the "imperial grunts" and counseling that America's civil leaders should yield to military direction. Indeed, he said that "the very distinction between our military and operations overseas is eroding." The model for the future, he thought, should be the United States' long history of military intervention in Latin America.
But where is the American empire now, where the new Rome? Where are its subject peoples, its provinces, its Macedonias and Carthages and Egypts, its victorious armies and triumphal parades? Where, for that matter, are its arts and letters, its Colossus of Rhodes, its pyramids? Where is its Virgil? Would that be Bill O'Reilly, fountain of abusive misinformation, or Dan Bartlett, the White House Misspokesman? Can someone give me a tour of this realm? We might begin in Iraq. But perhaps we had better not. The tour would have to be cut short in the Green Zone, the American compound in downtown Iraq and the only "secure" territory in the country. Last week, more than 200 Iraqis were killed in attacks by suicide bombers (horrors scarcely mentioned in the debate in this country).
There seems to be a lot of talk floating around about withdrawal timetables for Iraq and the "Iraqification" of the fight against the insurgents - all of which is being spun as not at all like the withdrawal from Vietnam of course (there was some awesome historical revisionism in the AFR's editorial pages from former US Defence Secretary Melvin Laird on the topic this weekend). Obviously I'll believe this when I see it, but the political climate does seem to have shifted a lot since Katrina and the collapse in support for Bush and Regent Cheney. The squeamishness most normal individuals feel about officially approved torture has probably contributed to this shift as well - Digby notes that once you open this Pandora's box everyone is in trouble, which obviously even your traditional conservatives understand (even if the neo version doesn't).
As regular readers know, I have been exercised about the fact that some people believe that torture is no longer taboo --- that we are normalizing the concept in our minds in anticipation of the government legalizing it. Some have called me shockingly naive for not knowing that we have always tortured and abused and that this is nothing new, but I think this misses my point. It is true that our nation has always engaged in bad acts, I am well aware of that. But this is something new. We have high level people in our government attempting to create a legal torture regime on the basis of a new constitutional finding that the executive branch is unfettered by the rule of law in a time of war --- our current "war" conveniently having no obvious end. For a long, long time now, if our government tortured and abused, it at least had the decency to hide it.
If you want proof that torture is still not publicly acceptable in our culture, you need look no farther than the 90-7 vote in the senate. A whole lot of big shots, including tough guy red-state Republicans, don't want to be associated with supporting torture. They know damned well that it is beyond the pale. (For now.)
If we allow this to become normalized, I don't think it will stop at suspected terrorists --- eventually people will ask why we should have all these laws and prohibitions in the case of non-terrorist, but equally heinous, crimes. How do you tell the family of a victim of a suspected gang killing that the suspected perpetrators have a right to lawyers and a right not to incriminate themselves? Is their pain less than the pain of terrorism victims? Why shouldn't these "worst of the worst" be tortured by the police or the FBI to find out what they know? After all, more people could die if they aren't forced to give up their home boys.
The reason that people do not demand this now is because we have long required a public adherence to the rule of law --- and we have instinctively understood that authorities sometimes make mistakes, are corrupt or inept. Due process is required to mitigate those human failings. Yet, innocent people are still caught up in the system even with all these processes. Imagine what would happen if we didn't have them?
Once you introduce torture into the equation, justified by the fact that these are people alleged to be "the worst of the worst" you are letting go of the idea that innocent people are sometimes incarcerated, and that it matters that we don't treat innocent people barbarously, even if we are inclined by primitive notions of revenge to treat guilty people that way. We know that non-terrorists have been caught up in the net and have been tortured and abused. Even more horrifyingly, we know that even innocent, mentally ill people have been tortured and abused. (I don't think you can go any lower than that --- maybe children, but they did that too.)
There are important moral and human rights arguments to be made against torture of anyone, guilty or innocent. I believe that it makes an entire society, an entire culture, immoral. But the most immoral act of all immoral acts is to torture an innocent person. And since nobody is omniscient, to torture a person with no due process, no right to confront accusers, no way of proving their innocence, it is guaranteed that we are doing this under our torture regime. As I said, we know that we are.
One might assume that there is no one on the planet who thinks that torturing innocent people is right. Certainly, it's going to be hard to find intelligent educated people who believe that it is a moral good to do so. But not impossible. As it turns out there is a moral argument for torturing innocent people:
And to close, here's a tale from Canada, where former defence minister Paul Hellyer is reportedly demanding public hearings on the extra-terrestrial and UFO issue. Now, while I'm tempted to simply dismiss this as a fake story or the rantings of a madman, I may perhaps be being a bit harsh, having never really had any interest in the whole UFO conspiracy world or even being a regular X-Files watcher during its heyday. Plus my little digression into anti-gravity research a few days ago seemed to prompt visitors from a few unexpected (terrestrial) quarters, so I'm kind of tempted to see if any unusual readers are interested in this topic as well, if you'll forgive my little obsession with sousveillance.
A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”
By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.
On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."
Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."
Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."
Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."
Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation. He said, "The time has come to lift the veil of secrecy, and let the truth emerge, so there can be a real and informed debate, about one of the most important problems facing our planet today."