Posted by Big Gav
While its not my usual practice to start off with a tinfoil decoration, given my interest in smart grids (and belief that our energy future is one best oriented around solar panels on every roof and energy storage devices - like ultracapacitors - in every building and vehicle) this post at Cryptogon caught my eye.
Conspiracy theories about oil companies buying up energy technologies that threaten their market then killing them off are a dime a dozen, and generally relate to the 1960's and 1970's, particularly around the time of the oil shocks. Purveyors of these tend to be very vehement, but I've yet to see one with any sort of credible underlying story (as opposed to simple assertions of the evil of big oil) associated with one (to be fair, I haven't looked very hard either).
Kevin has managed to link up the secretive EEStor and their ultracapacitor technology ("It's the holy grail of battery technology") to a patent aquired by Standard Oil (which later became part of BP) back in 1966, which is an interesting connection. It would be more interesting to hear an explanation of what delayed commercialisation of the technology for the past 40 years though (would any of you hard core engineers care to hazard a guess ?). He also has a great photo of Bill Clinton bowing down before George HW Bush and a review of a movie called "Who Killed John O'Neill" which sounds like a good one for connoisseur's of conspiratainment.
An engineer friend of mine commented on the EEstor device, the "Holy Grail" energy storage technology that's about to make pure electric cars viable on a mass scale. He told me that it sounded like a supercapicitor. Now, it's obviously just an insane, tinfoil hat conspiracy theory that this technology is based on U.S. Patent 3288641, issued 29 November 1966 to---wait for it, this is good---STANDARD OIL COMPANY. And where is EEstor headquartered? Get out your best, fake cowboy, George Bush accent and say it with me: Texxxxxshuss!
It was a simple question: Just how closely is Kleiner Perkins---the venture capital firm behind EEstor---connected to Them? Within two minutes of researching this, I'd seen enough:
Colin Powell to join Silicon Valley's Kleiner Perkins
Colin Powell, a 33rd Degree Freemason, a former U.S. Army Four Star General, U.S. Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff happens to go into quiet, semi-retirement working for the venture capital firm responsible for funding the company that is building the "Holy Grail" of energy storage devices, based on technology patented by Standard Oil Company in 1966... In Texas.
As always, I ask you: How could anyone possibly make this up?
While picking over the bones in the Cryptogon archives, I found another tidbit that might be of interest here. Over a year ago, I wrote this about Peak Oil:I don't know. I see things like the "sustainable" WalMart and the FedEx hub covered with solar panels and I have to wonder if this Peak Oil thing is actually going to be the kill shot that we think it's going to be. (Oh yeah, did you hear the one about the 500 megawatt solar power plant in California?) Maybe They have a much better grip on this thing than we know. Maybe They're ramping up alternatives at a pace that is congruent (or somewhat congruent) with the fall-off of conventional energy sources.
Those of us who despise the present global political and economic order look to Peak Oil with a sense of hope! Yes... Hope. Something tells me, however, we're not going to be that lucky.
Peak Oil probably won't take this thing down, simply because it seems so obvious that it will.
Peak Oil looks real to me and I've made life altering decisions based on my belief that the end of cheap hydrocarbon energy is going to collapse this system. All I'm saying is that if Peak Oil turns out to be a non event, I will not be surprised in the least.
Moving back to a less paranoid plane, New Scientist has an article on a far-fetched sounding energy breakthrough - "Relativity drive: The end of wings and wheels?" (paywalled unfortunately - I've quoted a few relevant sections).
The trip from London to Havant on the south coast of England is like travelling through time. I sit in an air-conditioned train, on tracks first laid 150 years ago, passing roads that were known to the Romans. At one point, I pick out a canal boat, queues of cars and the trail from a high-flying jet - the evolution of mechanised travel in a single glance.
But evolution has a habit of springing surprises. Waiting at my destination is a man who would put an end to mechanised travel. Roger Shawyer has developed an engine with no moving parts that he believes can replace rockets and make trains, planes and automobiles obsolete. "The end of wings and wheels" is how he puts it. It's a bold claim. Read Shawyer’s theory paper here (pdf format).
Of course, any crackpot can rough out plans for a warp drive. What they never show you is evidence that it works. Shawyer is different. He has built a working prototype to test his ideas, and as a respected spacecraft engineer he has persuaded the British government to fund his work. Now organisations from other parts of the world, including the US air force and the Chinese government, are beating a path to his tiny company.
The device that has sparked their interest is an engine that generates thrust purely from electromagnetic radiation - microwaves to be precise - by exploiting the strange properties of relativity. It has no moving parts, and releases no exhaust or noxious emissions. Potentially, it could pack the punch of a rocket in a box the size of a suitcase. It could one day replace the engines on almost any spacecraft. More advanced versions might allow cars to lift from the ground and hover. It could even lead to aircraft that will not need wings at all. I can't help thinking that it sounds too good to be true.
What Shawyer had in mind was a replacement for the small thrusters conventional satellites use to stay in orbit. The fuel they need makes up about half their launch weight, and also limits a satellite's life: once it runs out, the vehicle drifts out of position and must be replaced. Shawyer's engine, by contrast, would be propelled by microwaves generated from solar energy. The photovoltaic cells would eliminate the fuel, and with the launch weight halved, satellite manufacturers could send up two craft for the price of one, so you would only need half as many launches.
Surprisingly, Shawyer's disruptive technology rests on an idea that goes back more than a century. In 1871 the physicist James Clerk Maxwell worked out that light should exert a force on any surface it hits, like the wind on a sail. This so-called radiation pressure is extremely weak, though. Last year, a group called The Planetary Society attempted to launch a solar sail called Cosmos 1 into orbit. The sail had a surface area of about 600 square metres. Despite this large area, about the size of two tennis courts, its developers calculated that sunlight striking it would produce a force of 3 millinewtons, barely enough to lift a feather on the surface of the Earth. Still, it would be enough to accelerate a craft in the weightlessness of space, though unfortunately the sail was lost after launch. NASA is also interested in solar sails, but has never launched one. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise, as a few millinewtons isn't enough for serious work in space.
But what if you could amplify the effect? That's exactly the idea that Shawyer stumbled on in the 1970s while working for a British military technology company called Sperry Gyroscope. Shawyer's expertise is in microwaves, and when he was asked to come up with a gyroscopic device for a guidance system he instead came up with the idea for an electromagnetic engine. He even unearthed a 1950s paper by Alex Cullen, an electrical engineer at University College London, describing how electromagnetic energy might create a force. "It came to nothing at the time, but the idea stuck in my head," he says.
In his workshop, Shawyer explains how this led him to a way of producing thrust. For years he has explored ways to confine microwaves inside waveguides, hollow tubes that trap radiation and direct it along their length. Take a standard copper waveguide and close off both ends. Now create microwaves using a magnetron, a device found in every microwave oven. If you inject these microwaves into the cavity, the microwaves will bounce from one end of the cavity to the other. According to the principles outlined by Maxwell, this will produce a tiny force on the end walls. Now carefully match the size of the cavity to the wavelength of the microwaves and you create a chamber in which the microwaves resonate, allowing it to store large amounts of energy.
What's crucial here is the Q-value of the cavity - a measure of how well a vibrating system prevents its energy dissipating into heat, or how slowly the oscillations are damped down. For example, a pendulum swinging in air would have a high Q, while a pendulum immersed in oil would have a low one. If microwaves leak out of the cavity, the Q will be low. A cavity with a high Q-value can store large amounts of microwave energy with few losses, and this means the radiation will exert relatively large forces on the ends of the cavity. You might think the forces on the end walls will cancel each other out, but Shawyer worked out that with a suitably shaped resonant cavity, wider at one end than the other, the radiation pressure exerted by the microwaves at the wide end would be higher than at the narrow one.
Key is the fact that the diameter of a tubular cavity alters the path - and hence the effective velocity - of the microwaves travelling through it. Microwaves moving along a relatively wide tube follow a more or less uninterrupted path from end to end, while microwaves in a narrow tube move along it by reflecting off the walls. The narrower the tube gets, the more the microwaves get reflected and the slower their effective velocity along the tube becomes. Shawyer calculates the microwaves striking the end wall at the narrow end of his cavity will transfer less momentum to the cavity than those striking the wider end (see Diagram). The result is a net force that pushes the cavity in one direction. And that's it, Shawyer says.
Shawyer's electromagnetic drive - emdrive for short - consists in essence of a microwave generator attached to what looks like a large copper cake tin. It needs a power supply for the magnetron, but there are no moving parts and no fuel - just a cord to plug it into the mains. Various pipes add complexity, but they are just there to keep the chamber cool. And the device seems to work: by mounting it on a sensitive balance, he has shown that it generates about 16 millinewtons of thrust, using 1 kilowatt of electrical power. Shawyer calculated that his first prototype had a Q of 5900. With his second thruster, he managed to raise the Q to 50,000 allowing it to generate a force of about 300 millinewtons - 100 times what Cosmos 1 could achieve. It's not enough for Earth-based use, but it's revolutionary for spacecraft.
Then there is the issue of acceleration. Shawyer has calculated that as soon as the thruster starts to move, it will use up energy stored in the cavity, draining energy faster than it can be replaced. So while the thrust of a motionless emdrive is high, the faster the engine moves, the more the thrust falls. Shawyer now reckons the emdrive will be better suited to powering vehicles that hover rather than accelerate rapidly. A fan or turbine attached to the back of the vehicle could then be used to move it forward without friction. He hopes to demonstrate his first superconducting thruster within two years.
What of the impact of such a device? On my journey home I have plenty of time to speculate. No need for wheels, no friction. Shawyer suggested to me before I left that a hover car with an emdrive thruster cooled and powered by hydrogen could be a major factor in converting our society from a petrol-based one to one based on hydrogen. "You need something different to persuade people to make the switch. Perhaps being able to move in three dimensions rather than two would do the trick."
I noticed the ad below on the New Scientist site - it seems the peak oil graph is becoming a widespread enough symbol to be used in the advertising industry.
Continuing the thread of stories about phenomena I don't really understand but seem germane to my standard topics, I noticed this piece from Cornell university on strange quantum effects courtesy of the uncertainty principle - it seems a chilly gaze isn't just a figure of speech.
In the submicroscopic world -- the domain of elementary particles and individual atoms -- things behave in the strange, counter-intuitive fashion governed by the principles of quantum mechanics. Nothing (or so it seems) like our macroscopic world -- or even the microscopic world of cells or bacteria or dust particles -- where Newton's much more reasonable laws keep things sensibly ordered.
The problem comes in finding the dividing line between the two worlds -- or even in establishing that such a line exists. To that end, Keith Schwab, associate professor of physics who moved to Cornell this year from the National Security Agency, and colleagues have created a device that approaches this quantum mechanical limit at the largest length-scale to date.
And surprisingly, the research also has shown how researchers can lower the temperature of an object -- just by watching it.
The results, which could have applications in quantum computing, cooling engineering and more, appear in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Nature.
Worldwatch has issued a report on the potential for renewable energy in the US (via Grist).
The Worldwatch Institute and the Center for American Progress (CAP) launched a report Monday detailing the progress and potential of renewable energy in the United States. According to the report, “American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security,” technologies that harness renewable energy sources—including wind, solar, geothermal, and bio-power—are or soon will be cost-competitive with conventional fuels. And while renewables provide just 6 percent of U.S. energy today, that number is likely to expand in the near future, notes the report. Cumulative global investment in renewables since 1995 has reached nearly US$180 billion.
Speakers at the Washington, D.C. launch event agreed that the report is timely. Rising oil prices, security risks associated with petroleum dependency, and the increasing environmental costs of conventional fuels provide growing incentive for the United States to expand its renewables use. A “‘perfect storm’ is brewing around the energy issue,” according to Chris Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute. And Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) noted that “the report comes at a very good time,” as the approaching midterm elections encourage candidates to take positions on renewable energy.
Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association, likened the potential growth of renewables to that of the mobile phone industry boom. He also noted that promoting renewable energy is good environmental, energy, and economic policy, as other nations have demonstrated. For example, as Germany attempts to achieve energy independence, that nation’s photovoltaics industry has grown by over 67 percent in the last five years, and has contributed to the creation of 20,000 jobs in the last three.
According to the new report, since 2000 global wind energy generation has more than tripled, solar cell production has increased six-fold, and biodiesel production has expanded nearly four-fold. Additionally, says the report, the United States boasts some of the best renewable energy resources in the world. A quarter of the U.S. land area has winds strong enough to generate electricity at the same price as natural gas and coal, and seven states in the Southwest alone have the potential to provide 10 times the current electric generating capacity through solar power. California gets 31 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and all but four states in the nation offer incentives to promote renewable energy efforts.
TreeHugger has an interesting post called a "Historical Perspective on Deforestation... and Chopsticks" on the history of deforestation.
While old-style broadcast journalism is mostly a one-way street, the new media is more of a conversation, and that's one of the things that make it great. That's why we're happy to see that our friends at Mental Floss have decided to bounce off our old post about chopsticks (it's a classic) and use it as a launching pad for this great post about the history of deforestation, from 6000 BC to the 2004 Nobel Prize. Check it out, you might learn a few things.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Waverly Council (the area around Bondi) is looking at making solar panels compuslory for all houses - getting ready early for the smart grid future.
EVERY property in the Waverley local government area in Sydney may be required to install solar roof panels under a plan being considered by the council to make it "a world leader in climate change solutions".
The council's sustainability committee "will explore ways to integrate key environmental targets and initiatives throughout the organisation and the Waverley community". The committee will comprise councillors and experts on building sustainability and climate change. The committee will advise on:
■ A brief for a study to assess and characterise the total potential for rooftop solar energy in Waverley.
■ The application of solar hot water and space heating, passive solar design and photovoltaics to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
■ Changes to the council's planning rules to prevent overshadowing of useable solar-capture space on neighbouring structures.
■ Regulation to ensure development applications maximise the uptake of solar power.
The council says each municipality has a responsibility to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. "As developments in solar technology take it ever closer to cost competitiveness with coal, distributed renewal energy becomes a realistic component of Australia's energy supply," it says in a background paper.
Shane at "Playdo's Cave" contends home solar should have a limited initial rollout - concentrating on providing power to the lighting systems within buildings for example, rather than trying to power everything in the building. I'm not sure this makes sense - shouldn't whatever solar power is produced be used when available, supplemented with grid power, and fed back into the grid when there is a surplus (which seems unlikely in the low cost model he is proposing) ?
Advocates of domestic solar need to be more flexible I think. The lighting circuit in a house is already seperate from the appliances cicruit. Lighting is well matched to the power capability of solar cells - and there are many low volatage lighting options readily available now (in addition to LEDs). Instead of trying to introduce complete solar houses, why not retrofit this one subsystem by introducing a low power 12V DC circuit into the house. Initially for lighting only, this system could then form a bridge to later adaptions.
A full solar installation is not a simple undertaking, the system (panels - batteries - inverter) needs monitoring: there is an intial steep learning curve. It's expensive. A lights only system would help lessen the learning curve and the cost. Such a system might begin the process of lessening the prolific need for all the 240V AC transformers our gadgets have. A succesful reasonably priced partial refit of this nature might do more for Solar PR than all the "House and Garden" "Country Style" Solar Concept Houses.
Let's face it, these houses, though well meaning and thought out are the solar equivalant of the SAAB Turbo market: essentially available only to those in a financial postition to make the choice. Solar needs to market a succesful Model T - Basic Black.
The Herald reports BHP's uranium reserves at Olympic Dam continue growing - let there be radioactive waste for all...
ALREADY the world's biggest uranium deposit, BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia's outback has just got a lot bigger.
Aggressive drilling by BHP and the previous owner, WMC Resources, has allowed the June 2006 resource estimate for the ore body to be upgraded by more than 11 per cent.
The upgrade adds more than 188,000 tonnes of uranium - worth close to $30 billion at current spot prices - to the previous estimate of 1.5 million tonnes, itself accounting for about 40 per cent of the world's known uranium resources.
And that is before taking into account the additional 5.1 million tonnes of copper - the main revenue earner at the remote mine site - indicated by the resource upgrade. The extra 7.5 million ounces of gold won't hurt either.
But it is Olympic Dam's status as the world's biggest and growing uranium deposit that gives the operation its true global significance given the rush to secure long-term uranium supplies for nuclear power, with China and India emerging as new buyers.
The Australian reports that BHP still think the future for commodities is bright, thanks to the ongoing Chinese economic boom.
BHP Billiton chief executive Chip Goodyear says the world is on the brink of a period of significant change, driven by hundreds of millions of Chinese moving to urban areas that will require huge infrastructure and resources.
In BHP Billiton's annual report, released yesterday, Mr Goodyear said that for China to achieve its vision of a knowledge economy by 2050, a mass of rural peasants would have to become urbanised, maintaining high global demand for commodities.
"That will require residential dwellings, industrial facilities and associated infrastructure," Mr Goodyear said. "We believe the world may be witnessing just the beginning of a whole new period of change and BHP Billiton is an essential element of that change. All the raw materials that we produce and sell are essential elements of these infrastructure requirements."
In other Australian news, Oil Search continue to look at alternatives to the PNG to Australia gas pipeline, with both an LNG terminal and petrochemical plant in Port Moresby being considered (once again, I think we'd be foolish not to get this pipeline in place). Woodside has announced another gas find near the Pluto field off NorthWest WA that they are trying to commercialise. This one seems to be free (so far) of some of the politicking going in in WA around reserving a proportion of gas production for local usage, which was generating quite a bit of debate when I visted a few weeks ago (particularly around the proposed Gorgon development).
WOODSIDE has found a small gasfield on the North West Shelf, near the Pluto discovery which is being fast-tracked as Australia's next liquefied natural gas project.
Woodside told the stock exchange that the Xena-1ST1 well, being drilled by the Jack Bates semi-submersible drilling rig, had encountered a gross gas column of 49m in good quality reservoir sandstones. The well, in 178m water depth, is only 6km east of the Pluto-2 appraisal well, about 180km northwest of Karratha.
The Pluto field was found in April last year and is being promoted to supply LNG to the market between 2010 and 2012.
Woodside said the Xena reservoir was being interpreted as a new gasfield discovery but declined to comment pending further analysis. Industry officials said later that the find was roughly in line with Woodside's pre-drill expectations, suggesting the well may be around 500 billion cubic feet. Woodside has always seen the Xena prospect as a satellite to Pluto, which is now estimated to contain about 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas.
But industry analysts continue to maintain that the reserves in the field are not sufficient to support a project that is scoped at one production train of between 5 million tonnes and 6 million tonnes annual capacity.
The company's Pluto strategy is based on an expectation that regional demand for LNG will more than double in the next decade with the market being driven by buyers in Asia and North America. Woodside managing director Don Voelte has argued there will be a supply shortfall in Asia and the Pacific region from 2008-2012.
The Herald has an article on how the oil states in the gulf are spending their latest wave of riches.
Desert wonderlands are taking shape in Arabia, Graham Boynton writes. The sheiks have decided that after oil, there is tourism.
FROM the Burj Al Arab's Al Muntaha restaurant on the 27th floor, you can see the future of Dubai. Out to the left, protruding from Jumeirah Beach, is the Palm, the tree-shaped development you can see from outer space that will quadruple this little emirate's coastline, and will contain 32 hotels, 2500 apartments and 1500 villas.
Almost in front of the Burj is another fabulous confection called the World, a 6500-hectare cluster of reclaimed islands shaped like the continents that will, like the Palm, provide holiday homes for tens of thousands of wealthy Westerners. And way over to the right will be the Palm Deira, a tourist development that will dwarf all the others and which you'll probably be able to see from another galaxy.
And as I sit there, picking my way through French oysters, Sevruga caviar and prawns with foie gras, the creator of these delicate morsels, the English executive sous-chef Chris Lester, points in the opposite direction, inland, and reminds me that the relatively barren patch of desert on the horizon will, in the next decade, become Dubailand - which will make these other mega-developments look like Legoland.
Dubailand, so the brochure says, will be "the most ambitious tourism, leisure and entertainment destination ever created", a 28,000-hectare playground that will include re-creations of the Seven Wonders of the World - like everything in Dubai, bigger and shinier than the originals. (The Great Pyramid of Giza, for instance, will have parking for 4500 vehicles - which is one up on the pharaohs.)
The Australian has a look at falling oil prices, with the situation seeming relatively rosy (though we'll see how things go once the US elections are over the the strategic reserve closes its stopcocks again, if the rumours are correct).
OIL prices have tumbled about 25 per cent in six weeks to under $US60 a barrel, confounding expert forecasts of a spike to $US100 before the end of 2006.
Since August 7, when Brent North Sea crude struck a historic high $US78.64 a barrel, the price has plummeted almost $US20 to $US59.32 overnight, the lowest level for six months. In New York, light sweet crude dropped also below $US60 on Monday, far off its record peak of $US78.40 hit in July.
Only last month, analysts bet on crude futures striking $US80 in the short term, with some predicting a surge to $US100 a barrel by the end of the year. But since then a number of easing supply concerns have sent prices tumbling.
"Tension in the Middle East and Nigerian oil supply worries were instrumental in keeping prices on the boil, but peace in the Lebanon and a less confrontational Iran seems to have acted as the catalyst, soothing frayed nerves and opening the door for weak fundamentals to come to the fore," the Centre for Global Energy Studies said in a report published overnight.
Oil prices have been weighed down also by a pledge from the 11-nation Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to keep its output unchanged, a mild hurricane season in the US Gulf and news of a return to production at the biggest oil field in the United States, Prudhoe Bay.
The Australian also has a look at the rapidly fermenting biodiesel
sector on the local stock market.
HARDMAN'S Potter yesterday was unwilling to muse on the oil price direction - and we can't really blame him given the myriad speculative influences. But we must award early Brownie points to broker Patersons' oil watcher David Johnson, who last month argued that the forces driving up oil prices had been overstated. In, er, crude summary, Johnson argued that, historically, oil demand stalled when oil topped $US40 a barrel and reversed at over $US60 a barrel.
This is what seems to be happening now, although all it takes is a Middle Eastern insult or Venezuelan bad hair day to reverse the slump. But it's not a great time to be braving a $36 million biofuels raising, which is what Sterling Biofuels (SBI, 87c) did yesterday. Inevitably, the stock closed well shy of its $1 issue price. As with Mission Biofuels (MBT, $1.22), Sterling is building a facility in Malaysia, where palm oil plantations have emerged as the preferred vegetation over rainforests.
Locally, Axiom Energy has launched a $36 million raising to fund a planned 150 million litre a year facility in Geelong. Axiom's backers pulled its listing last year, after the tax man adopted an unfavourable view on a side project involving turning plastic bags into biodiesel.
Even before the oil price correction, the sector discovered that, like Kermit, it's not easy being green. The only local extant commercial producer, Australian Biodiesel Group (ABJ, 64c) has disappointed with its output from its Berkeley Vale facility in NSW. ABJ reported a June-half loss of $4.25 million.
Australian Renewable Fuels (ARW, 84c) has commissioned its two new plants at Largs Bay in SA and Picton in WA, but costs were ahead of forecast. ARW last month reported a full-year loss of $3.5 million, but given the negligible production this year will be decisive in showing whether ARW can achieve its aim of becoming a 225 million litre a year producer.
Most biofuels stocks have been punished since peaking in May-June. After a Doubting Thomas period, Criterion believes speculative value has returned to sector. Our proviso is that oil prices stay around current painful, but bearable, levels. Government soothsayer ABARE expects oil to average $US60 a barrel in the December quarter, falling to $US58 in the March quarter and $US57 in the June quarter.
Axiom last week received a PR boost when trucking hard man Lindsay Fox endorsed a biodiesel trial across his fleet, the latest corporate convert to the climate change cause. Rumours of a merger of The Greens and the Business Council are unfounded - not yet anyway.
Axiom doesn't list until late October, but the backers report strong early investor interest. We suggest a wait-and-see approach, which means AVOIDING the raising in favour of the existing producers. The same applies to Mission Biofuels and Sterling Biofuels, although Mission last month reported to be ahead of schedule with its first concrete pour, with commercial production scheduled from October 2007.
Australian Ethanol (AAE, 46c) is worth a SPECULATIVE BUY punt because it has hedged its bets between products and geographies: ethanol in northern Victoria and biodiesel in the US, where the Texan oilman in the White House is more supportive of alternative fuels than Canberra.
The Herald has an article on the geography of nowhere and the effect it has on our national health.
Howard Frumkin, a director of the National Centre for Environmental Health in Atlanta, Georgia, told last night's Herald City Talk that dramatic increases in mortality, cardiovascular disease, depression and other ailments were linked to the relentless spread of development around highways. The urban sprawl is associated with decreased physical activity, and that in turn is associated with adverse health outcomes," Professor Frumkin said. "We are building cities and suburbs that don't allow us to walk."
Sydney and other international cities needed to return to the traditional tenets of town planning, with a focus on mixed-density development around village squares, opportunities for physical activity and social interaction, he said.
Australia's population is forecast to increase by a third by 2050. "At that time the world is likely to be at the end of the oil era - watch what will happen to houses that can only be reached by car when petrol costs $5 a gallon," Professor Frumkin said.
The Globe and Mail has an article on constraints on tar sands production in Canada - ASPO president Kjell Aleklett points out the issue of gas availability and the problems with using nuclear power - however it sounds like the companies are pursuing the most greenhouse unfriendly approach of all - bootstrapping the process by burning the tar sands themselves to produce oil.
The much-touted potential for Canada's oil sands to offset projected declines in North American oil production remains highly questionable because of constraints on natural gas production and environmental problems, a group of Swedish industry experts concludes in a new report.
To meet its ambitious targets, the industry would likely require the construction of a nuclear power plant near Fort McMurray in Alberta in order to replace natural gas in the energy-intensive production process, the scientists argue.
Writing in the influential European journal Energy Policy last month, the analysts for the Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group warned that the world should not count on Canada's massive oil sands deposits to meet future demand growth.
"While the theoretical future oil supply from the oil sands is huge, the potential ability for the Canadian oil sands industry to meet expectations of bridging a future oil supply gap is not based on reality," said the authors, who are led by prominent "peak oil" theorist Kjell Aleklett, a physicist from the University of Uppsala.
Canada has long touted the potential of the oil sands.
In a speech to a high-powered business audience in New York last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said production from the oil sands -- which now supply about one million barrels of crude a day -- is now "on its way" to four million barrels by 2015, a target that exceeds the bullish 3.5 million barrels forecast used by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Aleklett said the industry is counting on plentiful, reasonably priced supplies of natural gas to keep their billion-dollar plants commercially viable. He argued natural gas production would be constrained in the coming years, and oil sands users will have to compete with growing demand from traditional users in the U.S. and Canada. As a result, prices are expected to climb substantially.
"The gas situation in North America is terrible," Mr. Aleklett said. "It's unbelievable what they are doing and what they are saying [about future gas production], maybe they are afraid to tell the reality because it is just so grim."
Natural gas prices have fallen sharply this year from record levels touched in 2005, as companies cranked up production while demand failed to keep pace. But Mr. Aleklett said conventional natural production in Western Canada is projected to decline sharply and new unconventional sources remain uncertain and expensive.
Oil and gas companies have already announced plans to spend about $60-billion to build oil sands plants that would produce an additional 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2015. The projects include surface mining operations and the underground, in situ type, where steam is injected to remove the heavy crude trapped in the sands.
Mr. Aleklett said the aggressive forecasts of oil sands production fail to take into account constraints, from limits to natural gas production and from environmental considerations. He added he had not even factored in labour shortages and other construction risks, which some industry players are warning will slow the development. One alternative, he said, would be a nuclear power plant -- or a series of smaller ones -- to replace natural gas. However, he said building a nuclear plant would be a "complicated matter."
Oil sands producers are clearly concerned about natural gas prices and are experimenting with a range of alternatives that would reduce or eliminate the need for gas.
At its Whitesands in situ project, Petrobank and its partners are working on a plan to burn residual bitumen underground in order to loosen and recover the commercially available crude. That process would leave the carbon dioxide created from the burn trapped underground. Several companies are also planning to burn asphalt-like bitumen to produce electricity and steam above ground.
Michael Pascoe at Crikey made some interesting comments about the gas market recently, noting that even with dire pronouncements about North American gas supplies, the price has dropped dramatically since hurricane Katrina - and new gas projects in Australia have been slow to get going.
It might not have been a coincidence that as US natural gas prices fell to their lowest level in more than two years, The Oz carried a story on Friday about the West Australian Government being willing to compromise on its proposed "gas security" demands. (For the sake of the coincidence we’ll overlook that WA treasurer Eric Ripper hinted strongly in a Eureka Report interview last Monday that compromise was indeed in the air.)
Gas being down 70% from its December high, back where it was in May 2004, is one of the reasons speculators are becoming nervous about whether the commodities boom might be over.
What’s been missed is that not a single big new Australian export gas project has managed to get up while the price was soaring. The "window of opportunity" to exploit the energy bubble might not have shut, but it’s not banging in the wind any more either.
Cool heads will point out that the sort of investment needed for LNG export projects can’t be based on price spikes, even ones that last a couple of years. Solid long-term contracts with lots of trust in both buyer and seller are vital. Nonetheless, it should be a reminder that Australia hasn’t done nearly as well as we like to imagine out of the present fixation with energy demand in particular and resources in general. As the export numbers show, we’ve done well out of higher resources prices but we’ve achieved little in increasing volumes to fully exploit them.
And it’s not just us. The odds on the PNG gas pipeline to Australia seem to lengthen by the day – the rising costs colliding with alternative supply.
No wonder then that the WA government is tempering its protectionist desire to lock away 20% of gas discoveries for domestic consumption – effectively a way of guaranteeing cheap gas for the likes of Alcoa. (No prize for guessing who was lobbying hard for the policy of "energy security".) With the fizz already fading from gas prices, there’s no reason to doubt Woodside’s claim that such a policy would simply mean proposed new projects wouldn’t happen – and the locals certainly don’t get the gas.
TomDispatch has an interesting article on oil and the Sudan (covered here not that long ago) called "Appeasement Driven by Oil: The Bush Administration and Darfur".
Strange, isn't it, how reductive our world sometimes turns out to be? Bring up any subject these days -- try genocide in Darfur, for example -- and sooner or later you seem to end up talking about oil. At this moment, the world is experiencing an energy race. Think of it as the twenty-first century's equivalent of the arms races of the previous two centuries. Everywhere there is a hint of an energy source or resource, you find a mad dash for the (black) gold.
The Middle East may be the oil heartland of the planet, but in a world in which energy demand is on the rise and fears of limited energy reserves are rising as well, Africa, like Central Asia, suddenly finds itself in the crosshairs of oil exploration. The Pentagon is soon likely to announce the setting up of its own Africa Command, with new basing moves on the continent sure to follow. Though such developments are invariably presented in the context of the President's Global War on Terror, they are essentially energy moves.
As David Morse indicates below, we are hardly alone. In Sudan, for instance, along with the Europeans, the Chinese are now major players and the ongoing slaughter in Darfur turns out to be significantly connected to oil exploration. In late August, the Bush administration launched the mid-term election season in this country with a round of "appeasement" charges against the opponents of its war in Iraq. Morse, an expert on the situation in Sudan, considers that charge of "appeasement" in the context of the genocide in Darfur and the oil race in that region.
Mel Gibson is back in the news, for the right reasons this time, with a positive response to his new movie Apocalypto and his plain speaking about the decline of the empire.
Mel Gibson has returned to the spotlight to promote his upcoming movie Apocalypto, and to criticise the war in Iraq, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He presented a work-in-progress screening [in Austin] of his Mayan adventure tale, and then took questions. About one-third of the full house gathered for the film gave him a standing ovation. The film is scheduled for a December 8 release via Disney.
In describing its portrait of a civilisation in decline, Gibson said: "The precursors to a civilisation that's going under are the same, time and time again," drawing parallels between the Mayan civilisation on the brink of collapse and America's present situation. "What's human sacrifice," he asked, "if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?"
Thom Hartmann is bemoaning the slow death of western civilisation in the US - in this case the creeping feudalism that the republicans are putting in place and the loss of habeas corpus (if it makes you feel any better our government is exactly the same - heading backwards past 1200 rapidly).
About a year ago, an op-ed article on Al Jazeerah's website by Fawaz Turki titled "For Bush, A Hot Line To Churchill" opened by noting that Tony Blair had given George W. Bush a bust of Winston Churchill, which sits in Bush's Oval Office. Turki then quotes Churchill:"The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."
The oldest human right defined in the history of English-speaking civilization is the right to challenge that "power of the executive" through the use of habeas corpus laws. Habeas corpus is roughly Latin for "hold the body," and is used in law to mean that a government must either charge a person with a crime or let them go free.
Senators John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham were presented with an opportunity to uphold the fundamental human right known as habeas corpus, or flinch and write a law that would retroactively make sure that George W. Bush could not be prosecuted for violations of habeas corpus in our overseas concentration camps and prisons. It was a contest between protecting the President and protecting the Constitution.
The Republican senators flinched, and in last week's so-called "compromise" chose Bush over the Constitution. In doing so, they turned their backs on a rule of law that stretches back over nearly eight centuries to an epic moment in 1215 on a meadow by the River Thames in the United Kingdom.
The modern institution of civil and human rights, and particularly the writ of habeas corpus, began in June of 1215 when King John was forced by a group of feudal lords to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede.
Two of the most critical parts of the Magna Carta were articles 38 and 39, which established the foundation for what is now known as "habeas corpus" laws (literally, "produce the body" from the Latin - meaning, broadly, "let this person go free or else give him a trial - you may not hold him forever with charging him with a crime"). The concept of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta led directly to the Fourth through Eighth Amendments of our Constitution, and hundreds of other federal and state due process provisions.
Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta said:
"38 In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
"39 No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land."
This was radical stuff, and over the next four hundred years average people increasingly wanted for themselves these same protections from the abuse of governmental power that the feudal lords had gotten at Runnymede. But from 1215 to 1628, outside of the privileges enjoyed by the feudal lords, the average person could be arrested and imprisoned at the whim of the king with no recourse to the courts.
Then, in 1627, King Charles I overstepped, and the people snapped. Charles I threw into jail five knights in a tax disagreement, and the knights sued the King, asserting their habeas corpus right to be free or on bail unless convicted of a crime. King Charles I, in response, invoked his right to simply imprison anybody he wanted (other than the rich feudal lords), anytime he wanted, as he said, "per speciale Mandatum Domini Regis."
This is essentially the same argument that George W. Bush makes today for why he has the right to detain people without charges for as much as their entire lives solely on his own say-so: because he's in charge. And it's an argument now supported on the record by these Republicans who have chosen to betray America's founding principles in exchange for peace with the White House.
While basic human rights and freedoms are under threat in the West, in Iraq they've never had much in the way of these, and under the US occupation things are going to stay that way - especially for reporters (the ones who don't simply get killed of course).
Until five months ago, Bilal Hussein was part of a team of Associated Press photographers that had won a Pulitzer Prize for photos documenting the fighting and carnage in Iraq.
Now he's a prisoner, having been seized by the U.S. government.
You might ask: What's he been charged with?
The answer: Nothing.
There was a flurry of interest last week in the case of Maher Arar, a terror suspect who was shipped to Syria and tortured before it was learned that, alas, he was not a terrorist. Mr. Hussein got a little news coverage last week, as well. People who still think there is a place in this world for fairness, justice and due process are calling on the authorities to either charge him with a crime or release him.
Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi hired by The A.P., was taken into custody by U.S. forces in Ramadi last April 12. As in many similar cases, U.S. officials have been saying - without disclosing evidence to back up their comments - that he had improper ties to the insurgents.
But neither the Americans nor the Iraqis have officially charged Mr. Hussein with anything.
Scott Horton, a prominent New York lawyer called in by The A.P. to work on the case, said: "The administration always starts with a broad-brush tarring of these individuals. You'll have officials saying: 'Oh, they're bad dudes. They're evil. We have evidence we can't show you that would demonstrate just how terrible these people are.'
"Well, sometimes they do. But very frequently, alarmingly frequently, they don't."
Mr. Hussein's case closely resembles that of Abdul Ameer Hussein, a cameraman hired by CBS News who was wounded while covering an attack on an American convoy in Mosul on April 5, 2005. He was shot by a U.S. soldier, a sniper who was more than 200 yards away.
Mr. Hussein was taken to a hospital. His camera and videotapes were seized. And despite his CBS press credentials, which were checked out and found to be legitimate, he was arrested by U.S. authorities and imprisoned. Much of his time over the course of the next year was spent in solitary confinement at the Abu Ghraib prison, where he was subjected to coercive interrogation and other indignities.
American officials were telling reporters, without offering any evidence, that Mr. Hussein had been collaborating with insurgents. He hadn't been. It turned out he was completely innocent. In fact, he was a kind of timid guy who was less than thrilled about having a job that required him to shoot combat footage.
This is a spooky time in history. It's one thing for tyrannical regimes like the old Soviet Union and Communist China to bulldoze the very idea of human rights and human decency by engaging in such atrocities as detention without trial, torture and other forms of state terror. It's something else completely when the United States, the greatest symbol of liberty that the world has ever known, begins to head down that hellish road.
The BBC has an article on Richard Dawkins and his objections to religion - his criticism of the bible sounds not unlike complaints made about Wikipedia today.
In The God Delusion, the scientist Richard Dawkins sets out to
attack God "in all his forms".
He argues that the rise of religious fundamentalism is dividing people around the world, while the dispute between "intelligent design" and Darwinism "is seriously undermining and restricting the teaching of science".
FROM CHAPTER 7: The "Good" Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist
There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for iving. One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments, which are the subject of such bitter contention in the culture wars of America's boondocks. The other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as - to use the contemporary jargon - a role model. Both scriptural routes, if followed through religiously (the adverb is used in its metaphoric sense but with an eye to its origin), encourage a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not, would find - I can put it no more gently - obnoxious.
To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong, in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognizable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians.