The End is Nigeria  

Posted by Big Gav

Grist points to a number of articles on the situation in the Niger delta.

Oil pollution, corruption contribute to hostage-taking in Nigeria

In Nigeria, oil, corruption, pollution, and violence have produced a drama rich with 21st-century portent. Last week, militants in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region took four Western oil workers hostage. Their demands include more local control of Nigeria's massive oil wealth -- the proceeds of which typically end up in the pockets of crooked leaders -- and $1.5 billion from Royal Dutch Shell in compensation for pollution in the delta, like the big pipeline rupture last July that oozed contamination over farmers' fields and a fishing stream near the poor village of Iwhrekan.

Villagers accuse Shell of sending thugs to ransack Iwhrekan after villagers chased off the company's chosen cleanup contractor -- charges the company denies. The Nigerian government and Shell reportedly want to pay the ransom and get back to business as usual. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil exporter, and is the fifth-largest supplier of America's imported oil.

WorldChanging comments on Jeremy Leggett's long peak oil rant in The Independent.
Are we at peak oil? Jeremy Leggett, author of Half Gone (The Empty Tank here in North America), writes in this very long opinion piece on the subject, that not only are we peaking, but we'd better get moving on the responses. Nothing new if you've been reading all the stuff we post on the subject, but a good overview if you're looking to catch up:
Microcosms of what could be done can be found already on the local government scene. Take the small town of Woking. Its borough council has cut carbon-dioxide emissions by fully 77 per cent - yes, more than three quarters - since 1990 using a hybrid-energy system involving small private electricity grids, combined heat and power (CHP), solar photovoltaics (PV), and energy efficiency. Woking has turned its town centre, its housing estates, and its old people's homes into inspirational islands of energy self-sufficiency. The UK grid could go down for ever, and these folks would have their own heating and electricity year-round. The technologies work in perfect harmony. The CHP units generate heating when needed in winter, and lots of electricity along with it when the PV is not working at its best. The PV generates plenty of electricity in the summer, when the heating isn't needed, meaning the CHP can't generate much electricity. Because the use of private wires is so much cheaper than using the national grid, the whole package costs fractionally less than the equivalent heating and electricity supply would cost from the big energy suppliers.

Compare such out-of-the-box ingenuity with what nuclear has to offer. Even if there were no environmental problems associated with it, and we could afford the billions needed in perpetuity from the public purse to make the voodoo economics stack up, a new fleet of stations couldn't come on-stream in the UK much before 2020. And if we and the Americans can't solve the energy crisis without resorting to nuclear, the whole world will follow our example. Bad as the terrorist threat is now, it would be compounded many times as a result.

Kuro5hin (a high traffic geek site) has the second part of their series on "Peak Oil: The Next Big Thing", which takes a pessimistic look at alternatives to oil.
To recap, "Peak Oil" is a catch phrase for the theory that we are facing an upcoming slow exhaustion of conventionally obtained fossil fuels. That much is so patently true that it borders on tautology. Oil is a finite resource. One way or another, our use of it therefore will cease. Larger oil deposits are easier to find than smaller ones. Sooner or later, the oil fields we drill would run out, and we would have to look for others, finding less and less as time went by. What the Peak oil theory also claims is that as oil extraction became more difficult, demand for oil would continue to increase, making each barrel pricier and your share of oil production smaller.

It's been 6 months after my first article, and the 200 day moving average for the price of oil has reached $60 per barrel, and will continue to rise slowly since winter has begun. The day by day price continues to fluctuate by over a dollar. Oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has been severely disrupted by the last hurricane season, and is not expected to recover until the summer, right in time for the next. The Saudis have admitted that by 2015 they expect not to be able to increase production in line with demand, which in real terms means this day will come much sooner. In the last six months, just as in the last 30 years, there have been no new major finds of oil. And in the Appalachian Mountains, old oil wells are back in production, now that their care and operation is profitable again. Let's look at the alternatives.

Jeff Vail has some comments on the report that Kuwait's oil reserves may be just half of what they claim that I linked to earlier today. He also has a post on oil price movements.
So what does this mean for our ability to produce oil? Well, the classical Hubbert peak takes place when half the oil in the ground has been produced. However, if you discount OPEC reserves by 50%, it becomes clear that we are WELL past that half-way point. So production should have already begun to decline. This suggests that, as widely feared, only the use of water injection and water flood tecniques to keep reservoir pressure artificially high have kept production rates up for the past several years.

The problem with this is that when a field who's production rate has been artificially sustained beyond the half-way point finally does begin to decline, its rate of decline tends to be very, very high. 10-18% has been suggested (by Simmons and others) as the decline rate for fields that have been pressed to the limits with injection technologies. This is critical, because while Peak Oil may be a quite manageable problem at 2% depletion, 10%+ depletion means that world production will fall by half in less than 7 years. That would be absolutely catastrophic. No wonder this story isn't available on CNN.

Maybe those Mayans were on to something with their "2012" prediction?

WorldChanging has a post on Lester Brown's Plan B (v2.0).
About two years ago, we posted a brief piece on Lester Brown's book, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. Brown is the founder of the Worldwatch Institute and head of the Earth Policy Institute, and is best-known for the State of the World series. Brown has just come out with Plan B 2.0, updating the original work, and it looks to be one of the better summations of the WorldChanging perspective yet in print. Best of all, the entire work is online as both HTML and PDF (you can, of course, purchase a paper copy as well).

A listing of some of the chapter titles will give you a sense of the direction Brown's taking:

2. Beyond the Oil Peak
4. Rising Temperatures and Rising Seas
9. Feeding Seven Billion Well
11. Designing Sustainable Cities
13. Plan B: Building a New Future

Brown also discusses global poverty, energy efficiency, water shortages, and what would need to be done to shift the global economy towards greater sustainability.

WorldChanging also has a post on the Diesel-Electric Hypercar (so does Wired) that looks at a particularly efficient new hybrid design.
Accelerated Composites, a startup in Carlsbad, California, is now assembling a new diesel-electric hybrid of its own design, made of high-end composite materials and using supercapacitors instead of batteries. Like the Honda Insight, it will seat two. Accelerated Composites expects the vehicle, called the Aptera, to cost around $20,000.

Estimate mileage: 330 miles per gallon at 65 miles per hour.

That's not a typo. The combination of super-streamlined shape, ultra low-weight materials, and high-output supercapacitors gives the design incredible efficiency. And because the composite production process developed by Accelerated Composites is faster and more efficient than previous methods, the overall cost of the vehicle can be startlingly low.

MIT Technology Review has a look at the Soldius solar powered gizmo recharger, while Wired has a look at a foldable solar battery charger.

If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then where does the unlimited power of the sun fit into the picture?

Sundance Solar's PowerFilm 10-Watt Foldable Solar Battery Charger F15-600 weighs only 9 ounces, but it kicks out 10 watts of power to charge your notebook, cell phone, PDA, iPod, or just about anything else you've got handy. And when you're not using it, you can roll it up and throw it in your glove box. At $299, it ain't cheap. But if you're planning on being off the grid for a while, it'll keep you juiced and ready to work.

WorldChanging notes that the transcript of The Long Now's debate about nuclear power has now been posted.
The audio recording of the Peter Schwartz/Ralph Cavanagh discussion at the last Seminar About Long-Term Thinking isn't yet up, but Stewart has written up a brief but fairly complete summary of their arguments, and posted it to the new Long Now discussion boards.
Meanwhile, Schwartz said, world demand for energy will continue to grow for decades, as two billion more people climb out of poverty and developing nations become fully developed economies. China and India alone will double or quadruple their energy use over the next 50 years. We will run out of oil in that period. That leaves coal or nuclear for electricity. Conservation is crucial, but it doesn't generate power. Renewables must grow fast, but they cannot hope to fill the whole need. Nuclear technology has improved its efficiency and safety and can improve a lot more. Reprocessing fuel will add further efficiency. [...]

California, Cavanagh said, has led the way in developing a balanced energy policy. Places like China are paying close attention. PG&E has become the world's largest investor in efficiency, led by Carl Weinberg (who was in the audience and got a round of applause). And now there are signs that California may become the leader in setting limits to carbon emissions. Within limits like that, then the private sector can compete with full entrepreneurial zest, and may the best technologies win. Nuclear would have to compete fairly with new forms of biofuels and with ever improving renewables.

Fair warning: most of the comments on the Long Now boards are from people with quite a bit of knowledge about nuclear power engineering and a strong pro-nuclear perspective. If you choose to weigh in, be sure to have your facts straight. That said, the posters seem to have very little knowledge about renewables, and a few have made the kinds of blanket -- and factually incorrect -- pronouncements about renewable energy that they'd quickly dismiss were they about about nuclear energy.

Aside from the nuclear discussion, there's not a lot of content up yet on the Long Now boards, but go and take a look around. I'm certain that you'll find much of interest for WorldChangers.


Some other links that caught my eye - the Huffington Post notes that social engineering isn't just for communists any more, Mike Carlton takes a look at the political implications of Australia's bribes to Saddam scandal (as well as the steady stripping away of our freedoms), Grist reports on a lawsuit against the NSA over Bush's illegal wiretapping exploits (with the great title of "the sound of one hand tapping") along with another post on a gaggle of past EPA chiefs slamming Bush's do nothing about global warming policy, WorldChanging has a hesitant look at global warming-resistant agriculture, The Energy Blog has a post on Inovalight's "Solar Ink" and TomDispatch takes a look at the psychology behind chickenhawk war mongering and the similarities between the "war on terror" and the Indian wars that stretched on for more than a century during the early days of US settlement.
Six former heads of the U.S. EPA -- including five Republicans -- have blasted the Bush administration for failing to act on global warming. In an unprecedented united front, the ex-chiefs, gathered yesterday to commemorate the agency's 35th anniversary, agreed that debating the extent to which climate change is a human-caused phenomenon (a favorite Bushy pastime) is pointless. They want federally regulated carbon caps and cuts. Current EPA head Stephen Johnson defended Bush policies, but the panel wasn't biting. "This is not a sort of short-term cycle problem. This is a major disaster for the world," said Russell E. Train, EPA boss under Presidents Nixon and Ford. "To say we'll deal with it later and try to push it away is dishonest to the people, and self-destructive."

And to finish on a completely off topic note, here are a couple of reports on whales - the first about a whale who has swum up the Thames as far as Battersea, and the second about a novel Greenpeace protest - dumping a dead whale outside the Japanese embassy in Berlin.
escue workers are trying to save a northern bottle-nosed whale that swam up the River Thames past Big Ben and other London landmarks, the first such sighting of the endangered species since records began nearly a century ago.

Amazed onlookers crowded the Thames riverbanks yesterday as the mammal, about five metres long, swam upstream through the heart of the British capital past the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye ferris wheel.

Today's newspapers ran the story and photographs on their front pages. Save the Whale was the choice of words from the environmentally-minded Independent. Free Willy! the mass circulation Daily Mail appealed.

The rare whale, which normally lives in deep water, became briefly stranded in the shallows around Chelsea in west London and people waded into the river to try to encourage it back into the channel.

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