MIT's "Manhattan Project" For Energy  

Posted by Big Gav

The Rodent is trying to ward off a voter backlash over high fuel prices by unveiling a range of half-hearted measures to start the move to alternative energy sources.

THE Federal Government will subsidise solar energy and ethanol fuel production and give motorists up to $2000 to convert their cars to LPG - just as a poll reveals a fierce voter backlash to petrol prices and interest rate rises.

The Herald/ACNielsen poll, taken from Thursday to Saturday, shows 75 per cent of voters are dissatisfied with the Government's response to the petrol price rises, up 38 points since almost a year ago.

Labor now leads the Coalition by 53 to 47 per cent on two-party-preferred votes, up one point on a month ago. The Prime Minister, John Howard, has been acutely aware of the impact of petrol prices on household budgets, calling it the biggest challenge facing the Government.

Moving quickly to head off further anger in the electorate, the Government will give a $2000 subsidy to motorists to convert their existing cars to the cheaper liquefied petroleum gas. Those with new cars will get a $1000 subsidy to convert to LPG.

The measures - which could be announced as early as today - will also include programs to encourage the use of alternative power such as solar and subsidies for service stations to use more biofuels, such as ethanol, to cut petrol prices. This will include funding for ethanol bowsers. The Government will also boost oil exploration.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting article on Oil Search's troubles in Papua New Guinea's southern highlands.
WITH a stalk of spinifex through his septum and a cassowary thighbone tucked into the belt holding up his kilt of rush leaves, Hirapalu Matiape stepped forward this week to reassure investors in Papua New Guinea's proposed $7.3 billion gas pipeline project.

"We want it to go ahead," the clan chief said, as a clutch of other local landowner representatives, dressed in a mixture of traditional and modern clothes, nodded agreement.

Clan leaders came out in force this week along the string of oil and gas installations run by predominantly Australian-owned Oil Search to counter threats by the local provincial governor to block the massive project linking Hides gas to Australian east coast consumers.

The governor of Southern Highlands Province, Hami Yuwari, has tried to make the project hostage to his political fate after PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare declared a state of emergency in the province on August 1.

The sidelined Yuwari immediately said investors in the PNG gas project should "keep their money" until the emergency is lifted, which will probably not be until after national elections mid-next year. "I will make sure the gas project does not go ahead," he said.

The remarks caused jitters among investors, pushing down the Oil Search share price from the $4 mark to last trade at $3.90. But since then, Yuwari has looked increasingly isolated, with all the other eight Southern Highlands members of parliament backing the emergency, along with local church and community leaders.

The province has long been the black hole of lawlessness in PNG, with an estimated 2000 illegal guns supporting a spate of armed robberies and a gun-related death rate rivalling places like Jamaica, Colombia, and the worst US cities.

...

The Oil Search facilities, running in a strip to the north-east of Lake Kutubu along the southern slopes of the highlands, have been somewhat removed from the mayhem in the more populous upland valleys and plateaux. And decades of cultivation among the local clans, first contacted by the outside world only in 1934, seem to be paying off.

Still, the political turmoil is not being taken lightly, with the example of the Bougainville Copper debacle and the BHP retreat from the Ok Tedi copper-gold mine still in everybody's minds.

The Bougainville Copper mine, then the biggest in the world and providing 40 per cent of PNG's export income, was closed in 1989 by a separatist uprising on the island which lasted nine years and cost some 20,000 lives.

BHP was careful to look after landowners at Ok Tedi, high in the Star Mountains near the Indonesian border, but in 2001 surrendered its equity in Ok Tedi to PNG government trust companies in the aftermath of a class action by Australian lawyers Slater & Gordon on behalf of landowners claiming damages from pollution of the Fly River by mine tailings.

The trouble with Bougainville was that mine-owner CRA (now Rio Tinto) picked the wrong landowners in a complex matrilineal social system to negotiate a deal and people on the sidelines of the Panguna mine and its support towns felt neglected.

Oil Search is acutely aware of the problem. "Petroleum development leases are an artificial grid laid over a complex social system: they create divisions between the haves on the inside and the have-nots outside," said Willie Kupo, the company's community affairs manager in PNG. "At Panguna the rebels were the losers on the outer of the development area."

...

Still, the job is not easy and Oil Search employs no less than 54 staff working on relations with the locals. Though they number only 35,000 people, they include 13 languages and six major cultural groups, scattered among 111 villages.

"The major problem is establishing who are the landowners and the boundaries of customary ownership, and some areas have disputed ownership," Kupo said, mentioning 34 continuing disputes that have led to compensation payments being held in trust while they are sorted out.

"Up in the heights it's completely different to the system lower down. Ownership is by tribes, then clan, then individuals," he said. "You have to get agreements first from families, then from clans, then from tribes. We have to work through the cobweb of land ownership and find out who probably owns what."

The ownership question is especially complex among the Huli people around the Hides gasfield. "If your ancestor walked past the area you can claim the land, as well as the people who live there," Kupo said. One development block at Hides covers three groups of traditional enemies. You have to try to convince them to work together," he said.

...

The PNG Gas project, which has ExxonMobil as partner and operator, will take the company into an entirely bigger league, requiring an investment of $2.5 billion on the PNG side and $4 billion on the Australian side of the 3000km pipeline network.

In PNG, an additional spur pipeline is under consideration to supply gas-based industrial projects by Japan's Itochu and India's Oswal in Port Moresby.

Although the West Australian Government tried to capitalise on the Southern Highlands state of emergency, suggesting customers would be safer contracting with WA gasfields, the feeling in PNG and Oil Search is increasingly that the east coast "foundation customers" are getting a cut-price deal in an era of soaring natural gas demand.

...

Meanwhile, the company is working intensively to keep up production from its maturing oil fields and tie in its newer discoveries. Moro, its main base near Lake Kutubu, is busy with heavy-lift Chinook helicopters and a fleet of smaller choppers lifting equipment and staff out to production wells isolated on mountain tops above dense rainforest and fast-flowing rivers sunk in deep gorges where huge pythons and other snakes like to gather and mate along the warm pipelines.

At Hides, cloud covers the top of the 2400m range where two existing wells pump gas into turbines providing power to the Porgera goldmine 75km to the north. It's a tiny operation so far but, looking at the vast green-black bulk of the mountainside, Diamant remarks: "It's a mountain full of gas there."

If the gas is connected to Queensland, Hides will support a 250 petajoules a year flow for 25 years, eventually accounting for 60 per cent or more of gas suppying the state. "It's a huge gas reserve, waiting for a pipeline," said John de Cure, Oil Search's superintendent at the Gobe oilfield. "It's massive by world standards."

Like Bougainville Copper, Oil Search is already a huge part of the PNG economy, providing 14 per cent of exports and 9 per cent of GDP. If the gas project goes ahead, it will be even more crucial, and tightly interlock the PNG and Australian economies

Papua New Guinea rarely makes the news here unless there are problems (like Oil Search's) encountered by our extractive industries and the occasional piece on the Kokoda trail, the scene of a long running battle between Australia and Japan in World War 2. Local company Frontier Resources managed to combine both of these facets recently when they were accused of defacing the Kokoda trail during exploration work.

On the subject of Australian war history, there has been a concerted effort across the media here to publicise one of our battles during the Vietnam War called Long Tan recently. I wonder if old war history starts to become useless for, err, inspiring patriotism once there is no one left alive who remembers the period - so we need to keep rolling forward to more recent wars. I'm not sure the Vietnam War is really something that we should be remembering too fondly (and I'm not looking forward to my old age and seeing lots of blather about our role in Iraq either - assuming World War 3 doesn't break out shortly - but more on that later).

Tim Flannery is best known for his books on the settlement of Australia (The Future Eaters) and global warming (The Weather Makers) but one of his earliest efforts was on his expeditions to PNG, where he discovered a number of rare species - "Throwim' Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds".
In Throwim Way Leg, Australia-based mammologist-raconteur Tim Flannery recalls scientific expeditions in the wilds of New Guinea that convey both the thrill of discovery and the negotiations necessary to bridge huge clashes of cultures. A world expert on New Guinea's fauna, Flannery has discovered 20 new species during his two decades of research. Yet his ability to convey unalloyed adventure in his taletelling makes these scientific expeditions read more like hair-raising, funky Redmond O'Hanlon-style travels than disciplined, scholarly field trips. Energy and danger run high.

Terrific thunderstorms and aircraft mishaps rattle Flannery during his travels. Yet the most memorable quality of Throwim Way Leg is Flannery's incorporation of humans into the natural world he writes about, often contrasting the jungled New Guinea denizens with stark modern technologies. He writes rich profiles of those he has met, and his images are memorable and meaningful: crowds of people gaping at a single television set; the remote landscape of Mt. Albert Edward dotted with cattle, Swiss chalets, and the smoky fires of the Goilala people; the malnourished Yapsiei greeting him reeking of the "sweet, sickly smell" of grile, a form of ringworm.

Ultimately, Flannery looks ahead and sees that the age of discovery is not at all complete in New Guinea, as so much remains unknown. But, in an often-told tale, modern political forces are at work, reshaping those unique natural and cultural environments that Throwim Way Leg explores with such vigor.

Moving back to local politics, the Rodent suffered a major defeat in the Senate over his latest efforts to make Australia a refugee free zone, courtesy of one Liberal senator who decided to at like a liberal for a change and the lone Christian fundamentalist in the Senate making a principled stand - plus Barnaby "Barnyard" Joyce continuing to perform his enjoyable maverick act. Howard's plan seemingly being to forward all would be asylum seekers to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru - which will probably be an interesting case of resource depletion in future years - acting as an offshore prison for Australia and replacing some of the income from their depleted guano mines.

Local car makers are facing slowing sales as Australia's economy splits into growing resource states and slowing industrial states - something that will probably increasingly be a feature of the world economy - energy exporters prospering and heavy energy consumers suffering.
Local car makers are preparing to cut production further as demand for cars and trucks continues to weaken. Ford has reduced its forecast for full year registrations and there are signs from the parts industries that the local factories are planning to further lower output in September.

The slowdown will follow a further weakening in demand as the nation's two-speed economy has finally polarised into a split between Western Australia and Queensland and the rest of Australia.

However, the latest vehicle registration figures show that Queensland has now fallen away from WA, which is now the only state in the Commonwealth to have recorded more registrations in the first seven months of the year than in the previous corresponding period.

Wired has an article on new energy research being done by the MIT Energy Research Council (their report [pdf] and a short course on energy are also online).
Scientists at MIT are undertaking a big, ambitious, university-wide program to develop innovative energy tech under the auspices of the school's Energy Research Council.

"The urgent challenge of our time (is) clean, affordable energy to power the world," said MIT President Susan Hockfield.

Inaugurated last year, the project is likened by Hockfield to MIT's contribution to radar -- a key technology that helped win World War II.

"As the example of radar suggests, when MIT arrays its capabilities against an important problem ... we can make an important contribution," said Hockfield in an e-mail.

David Jhirad, a former deputy assistant secretary of energy and current VP for science and research at the World Resources Institute, said no other institution or government anywhere has taken on such an intensive, creative, broad-based, and wide-ranging energy research initiative.

"MIT is stepping into a vacuum, because there is no policy, vision or leadership at the top of our nation," he said. "It's uniquely matched. MIT has tremendous strengths across the board -- from science and engineering to management to architecture to the humanities. From that point of view, it's hugely significant."

Below are some examples of the MIT research projects the Energy Research Council will be sponsoring and developing:

* Spinach solar power: Tapping the secrets of photosynthesis -- engineering proteins from spinach -- to make organic solar cells whose efficiency could outstrip the best silicon photovoltaic arrays today.
* Silicon superstrings: A novel approach to manufacturing conventional silicon photovoltaic arrays by pulling the chips in stringy ribbons out of a molten stew like taffy rather than slicing them from silicon ingots.
* Laptop-powered hybrids: Using a new generation of lithium-based batteries (which power most portable electronics today) to cut the price and charge-time of hybrid and electric car batteries.
* Tubular battery tech: Using "supercapacitors" made from carbon nanotubes to store charge -- rather than the chemical reactions that power most batteries -- resulting in a lightweight, high-capacity battery that could someday give even the laptop battery a run for its money.
* Hold the A/C: Optimizing air and heat flow on a new computer-aided design system, before a building's construction begins, allowing for the building's air conditioning costs to be cut by as much as 50 percent.
* Hybrid without the hybrid: Turbocharging an automobile engine with plasma from a small ethanol tank (which would need to be refilled about as often as the oil needs changing), reportedly increasing fuel efficiency almost to the level of a hybrid -- but only adding $500-$1,000 to the car's sticker price.
* More light than heat: Generating a car's electricity photoelectrically (using a gas-powered light and a small, specially designed solar panel) rather than mechanically (using an alternator), substantially increasing fuel efficiency.
* Coal-powered biofuels: Bubbling exhaust from a coal-fired power plant through a tank of algae that's been bred to siphon off much of the exhaust's carbon dioxide -- in the process, fattening the algae that can then be harvested as biodiesel.

Many of these projects are ongoing and will continue under the Energy Research Council banner. Others, such as a new effort to make cheap ethanol using a biochemical technique called metabolic engineering, apply the expertise of faculty and staff who had never worked on energy problems before.

The council will also hire faculty in fields, such as optimizing energy distribution and transmission, if it finds MIT hasn't devoted enough resources to them.

The council now has funding for five new researchers, said co-chair Ernest Moniz, and will be fund raising to create more positions. The search committees, he said, will be looking at technologies and new ideas for both the short term (such as energy efficiency) and the long term (such as nuclear fusion and hydrogen fuel cells).

Scientific American this month is a "special issue" on Energy with an emphasis on sustainable energy - Energy's Future Beyond Carbon (not online yet, but noted at Energy Bulletin).

British scientist Martin Rees is calling for a crash program to develop energy technology.
The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, who knows something about catastrophes, has called for a multi-billion dollar crash program to bring clean energy technologies to market:
A carbon tax on companies generating the most greenhouse gas could be used to fund the project. "Private companies themselves won't provide an adequate research effort even for technologies that may turn out to be the most important ones, because they're still furthest from market," Prof Rees said.

According to the International Energy Agency, 80% of the world's energy needs will be met by fossil fuels by 2030. Nuclear, hydroelectric, biomass and waste power will provide only 17%, with other renewables such as solar and wind accounting for less than 2%.

Rees calls this a recipe for catastrophic climate change. Lots of others agree, and, indeed, many leading scientists say we need overall planetary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 60-70% over the coming decades.

One often hears, in discussions about sustainability, that small steps add up. In reality, the kind of changes our societies need to undergo are truly massive, whether we're talking about climate change, reducing our cities' ecological footprint, or making our own personal consumption habits more sustainable. These things are going to require huge investments and fundamental redesigns of major aspects of our civilization, not just minor changes to a few of our daily habits.

While it's encouraging to see such a rapid sea-change occuring in the public perception about sustainability, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that we still have an enormous challenge ahead of us, and the odds are not yet at all reassuring. For instance, while clean energy is having a banner year with the venture capitalists, and some companies are investing heavily in climate solutions, Exxon-Mobile remains the largest and the most profitable company in the world.

Rees is right. It's time to think big, and invest accordingly.

Bruce's latest blog post is at Wired on "Barbarians at Gate 8" (also called "Nets and Jets" around the traps).
During a recent briefing at the time-honored Royal United Service Institute – the oldest military think tank in the world, founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington – Parry imagined a future, circa 2030, in which the war on terror is still rolling along and the terrorists are winning. He describes a world so ripped up by nets and jets that sovereign nation-states like the UK are collapsing economically, politically, even physically. Then there are the people of that future, who hop from country to country and bear allegiance to none. “Globalization makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned,” he noted, pointing out that, rather than dissolving into the melting pot of their host nations, immigrants are increasingly maintaining their own cultural identity. Jets and nets make this possible. “Groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the Internet.” The result, Parry says, is “reverse colonization,” in which the developing world’s teeming masses conquer Western nations, as surely as the Goths sacked Rome.

...

Parry paints a grim picture. Still, his vision gives me an affirmative feeling about the future. If civilization is to overcome barbarism, its leaders must outthink the marauders. And the sturdy admiral’s foresight is a bold step in that direction. “An analysis of trends and drivers can only go so far,” he writes. “We also need to expect the unexpected – shocks will occur.” He’s not saying, “Kick the Arabs out of Europe”; he’s saying we need to anticipate the emergence of stateless aliens and rethink how host societies can integrate them. That’s a rare display of intellectual flexibility in a government official. Compare it with the Pentagon’s reflexive tendency to lash out when challenged (if we can’t kill bin Laden, we’ll crush Saddam) and with the Bush administration’s plaint that nobody could have expected airliner attacks, Iraqi intifadas, or crumbling levees. We’ll stop being blindsided when we grasp tomorrow’s shocks better than the bad guys do – and that’s a positive, not a negative, scenario.

Nets and jets are never a one-way street, and even Parry’s reverse colonization can reverse itself. Consider Somalia, which, for 15 years, has been a running sore of new world disorder. Jets have evacuated everyone who could buy a ticket and have flown in battalions of jihadists. As for nets, this lawless maelstrom is one of the most heavily wired regions of Africa; free of licensing, taxes, and state-owned monopolies, entrepreneurs have been building out cell capacity and Net nodes like Silicon Valley whiz kids. To complicate matters, counter-terrorist warlords said to be financed by the US recently lost the country to a loose association of Islamic militias. This makes Somalia a prime case study for the darkest nets-and-jets forecast.

And, yet, life there is calming down. The roadblocks have vanished, and the drug-chewing youngsters in their machine-gun pickups are contemplating the value of an education. Of course, even in a world of nets and jets, barbarism is still less stable than civilization.

We live in a deeply paradoxical age, and it will take serious mental agility to navigate the years to come. Capable and imaginative people, both inside and outside of barbarity, are beginning to realize this. And for every person who does, civilization gains a better chance of survival.

Speaking of Bruce, MonkeyGrinder has commited an act of sacrilege and criticised the Viridian Pope-Emperor's ode to cellulosic ethanol, paragraph, by paragraph. Perhaps an exorcism is in order ?
I at first ignored Bruce Sterling’s recent ethanol Viridian note. Though he exhibited an incomplete understanding of energy, and his conclusions were weak in this case, I have immense respect for his Viridian writings, not to mention his literary output in general. In terms of the Viridian list over the last few years he presciently discussed global warming issues and consistently frames the solutions as a solvable design problem, while heaping scorn on the correct targets. Exxon Mobil, for example.

Unfortunately, he followed up the ethanol note with - - a few more corny ethanol postings, reproducing in one a limp marketing screed authored by a Senator from Corn and Vinod Khosla, containing such unsubstantiated claims as - -

At the same time, the business case for
ethanol has never been stronger. With crude oil
at $70 a barrel, corn-based ethanol today is cheaper
to produce than gasoline before all subsidies and
taxes

and

Moreover, studies have debunked the old
anti-ethanol myths. We'll have enough land for
energy crops given the projected strides in ethanol
yield per acre

The first quote is news to me. Sounds like it time to cancel the ethanol subsidies, which range from 50 cents to 100 cents a gallon, depending on the tax break in any given state. As for the second, projections are not a sound basis for policy. Let’s see some of these ideas proved out.

What really concerns me is the lack of balance in these optimistic scenarios. A good engineer doesn’t live in the grandiosity of their future bridge or engine or widget – they make a pessimistic assessment of every single thing that can go wrong, account for them, or risk design failure. There are also physical limits that must be accounted for. Accounting for limits is not pessimism.

Let us re-visit Bruce Sterling’s original Viridian note in this light and answer some of his answers....

Technology Review has an article on a company called Beacon Technologies Making Electrical Grids More Efficient, using flywheel based energy storage devices to provide FCAS services for the grid (in my experience, this sort of thing is a pain for generators and the revenue is negligible compared to generation, so it makes sense for Beacon to provide a specialised service).
Electric transmission and distribution has long been a tough nut for technology innovation. But deregulated power markets are helping technology developers bypass notoriously tight-fisted, conservative utilities.

TransÉnergie led the way, using DC power technology to build its own "merchant" power lines that carry power for the highest bidder, rather than simply serving the local utilities (see "TransÉnergie: Playing Two Power Games"). Now energy storage developer Beacon Power Corp. of Wilmington, MA, is proposing a similar end-run around slow-moving utilities. Rather than marketing its flywheel-based energy storage systems to utilities, the company plans to build its own merchant flywheel plants that move power on and off a power line to stabilize the grid.

It is an idea that's attracting attention from the independent system operators (ISOs), the regional organizations charged with operating the nation's power grids. California's and New York's ISOs are already testing Beacon Power's equipment. And Matt Lazarewicz, the company's chief technical officer, says an equally important constituency to impress is Wall Street. According to him, the merchant model is the only model Wall Street will finance. "The returns are higher that way," says Lazarewicz. "As soon as you say a utility's going to buy something or do something, investors roll their eyes and walk away."

Beacon Power's flywheel energy storage systems are designed to provide frequency regulation -- a service for which ISOs paid more than $600 million last year. Grid operators need help with frequency regulation because the frequency of a grid's alternating current is constantly fluctuating as electric devices and generators turn on and off, causing temporary imbalances in power production and demand. Unmet demand puts a strain on a grid's power plants, slowing them down and dragging the grid frequency below its set-point (60 hz in North America, 50 hz in Europe and most of Asia). Excess supply has the opposite effect. And either condition can cause utility lines and power plants to automatically disconnect from the grid, thereby preventing damage to utility and customer equipment, but also increasing the risk of blackouts.

ISOs currently rely on fossil-fuel power plants -- primarily gas turbines -- to smooth out a grid's frequency variations. Utilities bid to provide this service, in doing so, placing a set proportion of their power plants' capacity (some 1-2 percent of a grid's total power generation) under the ISOs' direct control. On signals from ISOs, designated plants ramp up and down to roughly balance supply and demand. It's a costly and polluting process because power plants burn their fuel most efficiently when run steadily and at full capacity. "Doing regulation with fossil-fuel generation is the tail wagging the dog," says Imre Gyuk, who runs the U.S. Department of Energy's energy storage research program.

The BBC reports that the meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is speeding up. The wise real estate investor looks for property more than 10 metres above sea level...
Data from a US space agency (Nasa) satellite show that the melting rate has accelerated since 2004. If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet). Most of the ice is being lost from eastern Greenland, a US team writes in Science journal.

Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland's ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres (57.3 cubic miles) per year. This figure is about three times higher than an earlier estimate of the mass loss from Greenland made using the first two years of Grace measurements.

Dr Chen and colleagues partly attribute this to increased melting in the past one-and-a-half years and partly to better processing of the data. "Acceleration of mass loss over Greenland, if confirmed, would be consistent with proposed increased global warming in recent years," the authors wrote in Science.

TreeHugger has a post on Disaster Toursim - watching global warming in progress.
Hansruedi Burgener, the owner of a cabin with prime seats to view the collapse of a piece of the north wall of the Eiger peak is happy for the uptick in tourism. But he says: "We would also have made a living without the rock coming down," and the extra dollars are little compensation for seeing the beloved mountain valley suffer from the changing weather. "It’s going rapidly, with the glacier disappearing, the moraines are getting bigger, the streams coming down are enormous. And it hasn’t rained; it’s all meltwater." Every day now, visitors see chunks of rock crumbling from a piece of mountain twice the volume of the Empire State Building which is expected to separate from the cliff wall any day now.

RealClimate has a post explaining why climate changes can be predicted.
Sometimes, I encounter arguments suggesting that since we cannot predict the weather beyond a couple of weeks, then it must be impossible to predict the climate in 100 years. Such statements tend to present themselves as a kind of revelation, often in social settings and parties after I have revealed for some of the guests that I'm a climatologist (if I say I work for the Meteorological Institute, I almost always get the question "so, what's the weather going to be like tomorrow?"). Such occasions also tend to be times when I'm not too inclined to indulge in deep scientific or technical explanations. Or when talking to a journalist who wants an easy answer. In those cases I try to provide a short and simple, but convincing, explanation that is easy for most people to understand why climate can be predicted despite the chaotic nature of the weather (a more theoretical discussion is provided in the earlier post Chaos and Climate).

One approach is to try to relate the topic to something with which they are familiar, such as to point to empirical observations which most accept (I suppose with hindsight it could be similar to the researchers in the early 20th century trying to convince that nuclear reactions were possible - just look at the Sun, and there is the proof! Or before that, the debate about whether atoms were real or not - just look at the blue sky, and you look at the proof...). I like to emphasised the words 'weather' and 'climate' above, because they mean different things.

The value of renewable energy is starting to seep through into the wingnut world, with what appears to be a website for overly patriotic military junkies reporting on using windmills as weapons in Iraq. Hey guys - you're cutting down on global warming too ! Of course, if you cut and run and let the locals sort their own country out, you'd be using up even less fuel (we'd better not show them one of those treasure maps of old oil discoveries in western Iraq otherwise they'll start drilling instead of putting up solar panels)...
As more American troops spend more time battling Islamic terrorists in western Iraq, they are finding that more of their combat troops are being tied up protecting resupply convoys. The trucks carrying fuel and ammunition are particularly vulnerable, and American troops are proud of the fact that very few of these, very explosive, vehicles have been lost. That's because fuel and ammo convoys get air cover and lots of experienced ground troops, armored vehicles and expert planning to make sure the enemy never has a good chance to light up one of the supply trucks.

Commanders have done the math and realized that, if they could use renewable forms of energy at bases in western Iraq, fewer truckloads of fuel would be required, and more combat troops out there could be chasing hostile forces. As a result, the commanders are calling for immediate shipments of solar panels, wind turbine generators and fuel cell generators. All three of these technologies are available off-the-shelf, as they are used by commercial operations with facilities in remote areas. In these cases it's cheaper to use these renewable electricity sources, even though the juice is more expensive (because of the higher cost of the solar panels, wind turbines or fuel cell technology) per kilowatt, because of the high cost of transporting diesel oil to the remote locations. Same logic for western Iraq, except in this case, the higher transportation cost is a result of the expensive security effort.

Moving to the other end of the political spectrum "YNet News" has an interview with Noam Chomsky, warning of "Apocalypse Near".
Merav Yudilovitch: What is the next chapter in this middle-eastern conflict as you see it?

Noam Chomsky: "I do not know of anyone foolhardy enough to predict. The US and Israel are stirring up popular forces that are very ominous, and which will only gain in power and become more extremist if the US and Israel persist in demolishing any hope of realization of Palestinian national rights, and destroying Lebanon. It should also be recognized that Washington’s primary concern, as in the past, is not Israel and Lebanon, but the vast energy resources of the Middle East, recognized 60 years ago to be a “stupendous source of strategic power” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”

"We can expect with confidence that the US will continue to do what it can to control this unparalleled source of strategic power. That may not be easy. The remarkable incompetence of Bush planners has created a catastrophe in Iraq, for their own interests as well. They are even facing the possibility of the ultimate nightmare: a loose Shi’a alliance controlling the world’s major energy supplies, and independent of Washington – or even worse, establishing closer links with the China-based Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Council.

"The results could be truly apocalyptic. And even in tiny Lebanon, the leading Lebanese academic scholar of Hizbullah, and a harsh critic of the organization, describes the current conflict in “apocalyptic terms,” warning that possibly “All hell would be let loose” if the outcome of the US-Israel campaign leaves a situation in which “the Shiite community is seething with resentment at Israel, the United States and the government that it perceives as its betrayer.

Seymour Hersh's latest column in the New Yorker claims that the US helped Israel plan the attack on Hezbollah (as well as the rest of Labanon's infrastructure) to help clear the way for an invasion of Iran.
Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat—a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, “The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.”

The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military coöperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

“The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,” the former senior intelligence official said. “Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not Congo—it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’ ” The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.” (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”—Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

Nixon era White House counsel John Dean has an interview at Buzzflash about his new book "Conservatives Without Conscience".
John Dean: No question that these proposals are just prototypes of authoritarian thinking, where the Executive dominates the process and really eliminates any due process. It’s striking as an example of what I’m talking about in Conservatives Without Conscience. It really is exactly the kind of mentality that I try to set forward in there and explain, because it is such a frightening mentality.

BuzzFlash: Tell us a little about that mentality. You know a bit about Dick Cheney, to say the least. Many consider him the man behind the throne. What is it in this way of thinking, which clearly was part of your experience and tenure in the Nixon White House, that these people feel they are empowered and skilled enough that individual rights should be sacrificed so that they can lead the country? Why should we all trust just in their judgment as authoritarian leaders, and not question it? To even question it, the Bush Administration and their supporters have said, is treasonous -- to question their ability to lead us.

John Dean: This is typical authoritarian arrogance. There’s no question that this is very typical of the authoritarian personality -- and there are two faces of that personality. The followers, who tolerate this kind of behavior, make up one group, and the second group is the leaders, who are by far the smaller number, who dominate and are totally amoral in their behavior.

Now, understand where I get this information. It’s something that academics and social scientists have been well aware of, but have never really talked to the public about. It comes from empirical evidence and years of testing these types of personalities using questionnaires that have been refined and honed and statistically verified. Unfortunately this body of information about authoritarianism really has never been translated for the lay reader or the general public. I thought it was time that this information get out to the public, because it is so explanatory of what we’re seeing right now in this Bush Administration, as well as in the core of the conservative movement. I don’t describe this behavior as evil, and I don’t try to use these labels as pejoratives, but rather as being descriptive of what’s going on.

BuzzFlash: In an appendix you include a right-wing authoritarian survey. Can you talk a little bit about that?

John Dean: Let me back up just a little bit and explain how this all came about. In post-World War II, a group of social scientists were very concerned or very interested to find out if what had happened in Italy and Germany under Mussolini and Hitler could occur in the United States. They initially undertook their work with a little bit of empirical study, but mostly relying on Freudian psychology. And they did conclude that there is clearly an authoritarian personality. They issued their report in a book by Adorno and others that was called The Authoritarian Personality.

This research has really never been totally refuted. But other social scientists were critical of it because of its Freudian basis. So they quickly began studying to see if this personality type held up based on pure empirical study, by which I mean anonymously asking people questions that would reveal their personality types, their attitudes, their dispositions, and what have you. The work on authoritarian followers showed a personality that is easily submissive to authority, be it political, religious or even parental. They submit quickly, and once they do, they become very aggressive in pushing that world view of that authority. They become submissive because they find great comfort psychologically in submitting. It helps them remove the ambiguities of life. And if they’re frightened by events, then this gives them a sense of security. And they’re typically very conventional in their lifestyle.

There are also, however, a lot of very negative traits which I’ve outlined in the book. They are very self-righteous. They are not self-critical. They have very little critical thinking about their own behavior. They are often nasty and mean-spirited. They are bullies. They are prejudiced. And the higher they test on these questionnaires and scales, the more conservative they are. You don’t find people on the left testing the same way. It’s very interesting. You cannot get even statistically significant numbers of people on the left that fall in this category of followers.

On the other side are the leaders. They are typically men whose desire in life is to dominate others and to be in charge. They are very aggressive when they do so. They are highly manipulative. They are also people who have absolutely no appreciation of equality of others. They see themselves as superior, and they are amoral in their thinking. They, too, have a host of other negative traits that are in many regards similar to the followers. It’s not a very pleasant personality type, but it is certainly there. And it has certainly been established scientifically and corroborated and confirmed, time and time again. And this is clearly the core of the conservative movement.

American Conservative has a column comparing modern day conservatives to supporters of single party states in bygone days.
If there are conservatives who believe in true liberty today, they were called liberals in earlier times. And any socialists today who call themselves liberals have simply stolen the term and converted it to mean its opposite.

The reality is that today there are ever fewer conservatives alive who believe in true liberty as the old school believed in it. They have been ideologically compromised beyond repair. They have been so seduced by the Bush administration that they have become champions of an egregious war, ghastly bureaucracies like the Department of Homeland Security, and utterly unprincipled on the question of government growth.

Granted, the corruption of conservatism dates way back—to the Reagan administration, to the Nixon administration, and even to the advent of the Cold War, when conservatives signed on to become cheerleaders of the national security state.

But it’s never been as bad as it is today. They sometimes invoke the names of genuinely radical thinkers such as F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. But their real heroes are talk-radio blabsters, television entertainers, and sexpot pundit quipsters. They have little intellectual curiosity at all.

In many ways, today’s conservatives are party men and women not unlike those we saw in totalitarian countries, people who spout the line and slay the enemy without a thought as to the principles involved. Yes, they hate the Left. But only because the Left is the “other.”

This is why they fail to see that the Left has been making a lot more sense on policy issues in recent years. It is correct on civil liberties, on issues of war and peace, and on the critical issue of religious liberty. By “correct” I mean that in these areas the Left is saying precisely what the liberals of old used to say: as much as possible, society ought to be left to manage itself without the coercive intervention of the state.

Many of us had profound hopes at the end of the Cold War that the conservative movement in this country would give up its warmongering and attachment to party politics and follow the path of pure principle. For awhile, while Clinton was office, this seemed to be happening. How well I can recall the years from 1992 to 1996, when the Republican Party was against government expansion and Clintonian foreign intervention.

But it was a brief moment.

Do you protest? Have I misstated your own political views? You truly love liberty and hate the state and all its works? Good. Bail out of conservatism. Call yourself a libertarian, a liberal, an anarchist, an independent, a revolutionary, a Jeffersonian radical. Or make up your own name. But please, wake up and smell the massivo espresso: when it comes to mindless party loyalty, conservatism today is as bad as communism ever was.

And its no secret some of those latter day totalitarian communists work at The Wall Street Journal - with op-eds increasingly being cribbed from old issues of Bolshevik magazine.



And just as a Vroomfondel spotting experiment, today's keywords are Shell, BP and Natwest bank.

4 comments

Still no word from NatWest bank on whether the Vroomfondel people actually work for them.

Bruce Sterling may believe in ethanol, but he is a good egg. What am I supposed to do -- I read "the difference engine" when I was 12.

MG - I'm just having some fun (I was reading his Shaper - Mechanist stories when I was 12) - I love Bruce but he isn't infallible, so you're doing the right thing checking out his claims...

Milan - I didn't see a Vroomfondel reappearance, but I was getting a lot of traffic courtesy of a link from LATOC which meant I didn't see all (or even most) of my referrals early in the week...

Yes! Flywheel energy is the way to go. The need of the day is for an engine that can mechanically stimulate a flywheel with the same power as an electric motor. This void is supplied by the Rotary Pulse Jet Engine http://www.geocities.com/rotarypulsejet . It has been proved under Formula 1 racing conditions and testing that a 5Kg flywheel can be brought up to a speed of 64000 rpm in the few seconds that it takes for a racing car to brake for the pit stop, and that this stored energy can be release at will over whatever time span or energy level that is required. The Rotary Pulse Jet engine will enable continuous use of this type of flywheel energy storage. The engine will run for only a few seconds while the flywheel will carry the road for the several minutes. Think of the fuel savings that this will lead to, think also in terms of home power generation. Yes, it can be done.

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