Is The World On A Path To Doom ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Editor and Publisher takes a look at the furore over the US Government's attempts to suppress warnings about global warming coming from NASA's James Hansen in a story called Is the World on a Path to Doom - With an Assist from the White House ?.

While most Americans remain preoccupied with war, terrorism, high gas prices--or the coming Pitt-Jolie baby--an issue that may dwarf all of those concerns receives major attention on the front page of the Sunday editions of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

One story raises a nightmare global warming scenario for the end of the world, at least as we know it, while the other suggests that the Bush administration doesn't want anyone to know about that.

From The New York Times article by Andrew C. Revkin:

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.

This story seemed to get reported pretty much everywhere, though its really just part of a normal day's work for the global warming denial bureaucracy I guess - maybe Mr Hansen should study the fate of Winston Smith to see where his career will end up if the Republicans stay in charge for too much longer. More commentary can be found at at RealClimate, the SMH and Grist, with Dave Roberts commenting:
Eilperin [in the Washington Post] also touches on the political pressure being put on Hansen, and digs up this deliciously Orwellian quote:
Mary L. Cleave, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Office of Earth Science, said the agency insists on monitoring interviews with scientists to ensure they are not misquoted.

"People could see it as a constraint," Cleave said. "As a manager, I might see it as protection."

Yes, Dr. Hansen, this is for your own good. Now please relax -- it's easier when you don't struggle ...

The Independent has an article on the possible decimation of plankton by global warming (via MonkeyGrinder, who is displaying an unhealthy interest in Vogon poetry).
The microscopic plants that underpin all life in the oceans are likely to be destroyed by global warming, a study has found. Any plankton haul near the surface of the sea brings in a huge variety of life forms. Plants animals larvae adults vertebrates invertebrates carnivores and herbivores are all represented in the plankton community.

Scientists have discovered a way that the vital plankton of the oceans can be starved of nutrients as a result of the seas getting warmer. They believe the findings have catastrophic implications for the entire marine habitat, which ultimately relies on plankton at the base of the food chain.

The study is also potentially devastating because it has thrown up a new "positive feedback" mechanism that could result in more carbon dioxide ending up in the atmosphere to cause a runaway greenhouse effect. Scientists led by Jef Huisman of the University of Amsterdam have calculated that global warming, which is causing the temperature of the sea surface to rise, will also interfere with the vital upward movement of nutrients from the deep sea.

The BBC has an article on a "Stark warning over climate change" issued by the UK government.
Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases may have more serious impacts than previously believed, a major scientific report has said. The report, published by the UK government, says there is only a small chance of greenhouse gas emissions being kept below "dangerous" levels.

It fears the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt, leading sea levels to rise by 7m (23ft) over 1,000 years. The poorest countries will be most vulnerable to these effects, it adds.

The report asked scientists to calculate which greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere would be enough to cause these "dangerous" temperature increases. Currently, the atmosphere contains about 380 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, compared to levels before the industrial revolution of about 275ppm. To have a good chance of achieving the EU's two-degree target, levels should be stabilised at 450ppm or below, the report concludes.

But, speaking on Today, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, said that was unlikely to happen. "We're going to be at 400 ppm in 10 years' time, I predict that without any delight in saying it," he said. "But no country is going to turn off a power station which is providing much-desired energy for its population to tackle this problem - we have to accept that.

Gary Sauer Thompson has some comments on the recent blackouts in South Australia.
Adelaide has experienced a heatwave of four consecutive days above 40C within a fortnight of hot days in the mid 30s. That heatwave resulted in a number of blackouts across the state, particularly in metropolitan Adelaide that left at least 50,000 people without power over the weekend.

Some power cuts lasted up to 48 hours. Even if you had an airconditioner it would not have worked for some because they had no power available. Since the houses are not built for the hot summer condtions it is hotter inside the house than outside. Consequently, people drive around in their airconditioned cars to keep cool.

What we have is an energy system in SA unable to cope with demands in conditions of extreme heat. It is well known that electricity infrastructure has been neglected or run down, even though the heat of Adelaide summers are predictable.

Since there is no encouragement by the state government for households to make the shift to solar power to increase the supply in peak demand situations, consumers should receive compensation for damage and the lack of power.

The extreme heat conditions are due to return in a few days. So we can expect more power blackouts or rationing. And more promises tto fix things that will not be kept. And we wil have ever more reliance on electricity generated from those coal-fired powerplants in the eastern states that produce the greenhouse emissions.That's the national grid for you.

What is not happening in Canberra is a prioritising of the development of a transitional, mixed energy profile (renewables and fossil fuels) by the federal government. What is happening is a consideration of only those measures that allow the fossil fuel industry to conduct business as usual. Business as usual means more noxious by-products from the existing modes of energy production and a resistance by the fossil fuel industry to pay the costs of their greenhouse emissions.



It is unlikely that the national grid lacks sufficient capacity at this point to handle spikes in demand (though if there is a plant failure for whatever reason prices do go through the roof) and if a shortfall of supply does occur the standard procedure is to turn off some major consumers (aluminium smelters in particular).

However user demand grows ever higher (thanks to poor new house design, increasing summer temperatures and ubiquitous air-conditioning - not to mention the ever increasing proliferation of computers and other household gadgets) so there is a fairly continuous stream of announcements of new additions to the grid - in SA AGL has just announced they will be building the nation's largest wind farm, while in NSW they recently announced a new gas fired peaking plant (using coal seam methane if my memory serves me correctly), while Delta has announced they will be increasing the capacity of some of their (coal fired) plants as well.
The Australian Gas Light Company (AGL) today announced it is to spend $236 million to construct Australia’s largest wind farm at Hallett, 220 kilometres north of Adelaide in South Australia. Construction of the wind farm, which will result in 45 wind turbines on a 14-kilometre area over the Brown Hill ridge near Hallett, is scheduled to commence in September 2006 with initial commissioning expected in December 2007.

The company is expecting the project to create around 150 jobs during the construction phase, while the 95 megawatt (MW) facility will be integrated with AGL’s existing 180 MW gas-fired peaking power plant at Hallett.

AGL Managing Director Greg noted that the new wind farm would help the group meet its commitment to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources and also contribute to AGL’s obligations under the Federal Government’s Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme ("MRET") by supplying around 24% of AGL’s future Renewable Energy Certificate ("REC") requirements.

“Hallett is an ideal location for a wind farm as it offers a number of competitive advantages including one of the largest wind resources on mainland Australia, access to existing infrastructure and close proximity to the high voltage electricity transmission system,” said Mr Martin. “The strategic location at Hallett will also enable the development of an integrated gas-fired power plant and wind farm facility to ensure continuous operation during periods of high electricity demand,” Mr Martin added.

Currently, Australia’s largest wind farm is the 91 MW facility at Wattle Point in South Australia, which AGL also owns following its acquisition of Southern Hydro in October 2005.

The Herald has an article on mining and energy giants BHP and RIO, which mentions BHP's hurricane induced production problems. While the author seems to think oil exposure isn't a big positive for BHP, personally I suspect BHP's oil, gas and uranium assets will make it more successful than RIO in a post peak world (which would likely consume much less iron ore and aluminium) - especially if there is a bust in China, which seems to be a reasonable possibility in the medium term.
In the middle of 2003 China was booming but the markets hadn't woken up to it. I was in Hong Kong, chatting with Morgan Stanley's China economist, Andy Xie, and I asked him what Australian investors needed to do to get on board. "Buy big resources companies with China contracts, put them in your bottom drawer, and don't take them out for 20 years. When you finally do, you will be a wealthy man," Xie replied.

It was good advice. BHP shares were available for less than $9 a share when Xie and I spoke, and Rio Tinto shares were a shade over $29 each. On Friday, news that China's economy grew by 9.9 per cent in 2005 propelled them to new peaks that few imagined then. BHP jumped 97c to $26.05 and traded as high as $26.35, and Rio shot up by $2.14 to $76.10, after trading as high as $76.25.

Since mid 2003, BHP shares are up 204 per cent and Rio shares are up 160 per cent - but it is Rio that is outperforming now. The two shares marched up in step in the first eight months of 2005 but since then BHP shares have risen by 25 per cent and Rio by more than 46 per cent.

If Australia has a genuine corporate icon, Melbourne-based BHP Billiton is it, but powerhouse commodity prices and powerhouse profits are masking the fact that, compared with Rio, it is a more complicated investment proposition in 2006.

BHP is not a pure miner, for one thing. It is also a substantial oil and gas producer, and it is worth noting that Rio's shares began to outperform just after the oil price peaked above $US70 a barrel at the end of August last year, when Hurricane Katrina belted the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil price is rebounding now on fears that Iran's nuclear ambitions will see its share of OPEC production withdrawn or withheld from the global supply chain, but it isn't back to last year's Katrina highs yet. Katrina and other Gulf of Mexico hurricanes also affected BHP's own oil production directly.

The group is developing significant acreage in the gulf and said in October that it was scaling back its oil and gas production forecast for 2006 by as much as 8 per cent to take the effect of the hurricanes into account. In its quarterly production report last week it added that hurricane activity had created equipment shortages that were pressuring its development timeline.

Now I wouldn't want to suggest that having an oil business is an outright negative for BHP Billiton. Oil has been a fantastically profitable business for the group in recent years and as the oil price rises again on the Iran concerns, continues to be. But BHP's experience in the Gulf of Mexico last year and the highly politicised gyrations in the oil price are something some investors may be considering.

Rio, on the other hand, has no oil. And it has more exposure to one of the commodities most affected by China's boom: iron ore. Rio produces more iron ore - almost 30 million tonnes in the December quarter compared with almost 23 million tonnes by BHP Billiton - and its iron ore business accounts for 38 per cent of the total group on a net present value basis. On the same basis, iron ore accounts for about 17 per cent of BHP's total enterprise.

Technology Review has an article on US energy policy, with some experts saying too much funding is going into hydrogen at the expense of near-term technologies (leaving aside all the other glaring problems with that particular set of policies).
High oil prices and the dangers of global warming have some experts hoping that President Bush's State of the Union address tonight will redirect energy research priorities. The president, they say, needs to start funding a wider range of promising technologies, including ones that could have a near-term impact on both fuel costs and emissions.

"There clearly are serious issues about the balance of the [research] portfolio," says Ernest Moniz, former undersecretary at the Department of Energy and now professor of physics at MIT, where he co-chairs the Energy Research Council, set up to spearhead energy research.

Moniz says there "is a huge amount" of money going into research on new technologies, especially for transportation, that use hydrogen for fuel. Yet such hydrogen technology "is a very long way into the future, if ever, whereas lots of other kinds of work that could have very profound impacts in the shorter term are not being funded." In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush proposed $1.2 billion for hydrogen research.

According to Moniz, shorter-term technologies that deserve more funding include advanced internal combustion engines and new techniques for burning fossil fuels more cleanly in power plants. Advanced engines could improve fuel efficiency by 15-20%, he says, significantly easing the demand for oil, while simultaneously decreasing emissions.

One promising candidate is homogeneous charge compression ignition, known as HCCI, a technology that uses sophisticated controls to combine the best elements of diesel and gasoline engines. Since the advanced controls make the engines tunable for running on different fuels, they could further decrease dependence on oil by burning ethanol, biodiesel, or even hydrogen.

In sme oil related news, the Observer has a report on the Nigeria situation called "Oil delta burns with hate".
Fears are growing from investors, oil workers and agencies working in the Niger delta that the escalating violence may force the four major oil companies - Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Exxon and ENI - to close onshore operations.

Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Barclays Capital, said: 'There's always been low-level violence about not enough money trickling down or local difficulties, but this is different. There's a sliding scale of events that could happen and at one end it gets to the stage where it becomes impossible to continue operations in certain areas of the delta. There's no getting away from the fact that this is a possible outcome.'

And, in a new report out last week, Stakeholder Democracy Network, an anti-corruption campaign group active in the region, said: 'We, and most experts on the region, are gravely concerned by many strong indications that, despite the outward appearance of a year-long ceasefire, various factions are quietly arming as though for war... The most pessimistic assessments suggest Shell and foreign oil operators may have to go offshore altogether by 2008 as security and public order deteriorates.'

Shell relies on Nigeria for 11 per cent of its global output. But it has suffered four attacks in recent weeks and had to cut production in the delta by 10 per cent. Now some Shell insiders are privately questioning how secure its operations are and to what extent it can rely on production there. Shutdowns would not only hurt the revenues of oil majors but also threaten a surge in oil prices.

The Niger delta is already classified by international agencies as a danger zone on a par with Chechnya and Colombia. The number of guns in circulation has increased dramatically since 2003, the year the last presidential elections were held. Those elections were widely condemned as being rigged, with armed gangs seizing ballot boxes and intimidating voters.

Criminal gangs with international connections make billions of pounds by 'bunkering' - illegally siphoning off - a tenth of all Nigerian oil. Some say the oil firms must know oil bunkering happens but tolerate it so operations can continue. Bunkering gangs then launder their cash abroad and buy machine guns to bolster their criminal empires.

Then there has been the recent rise of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend). The organisation claims responsibility for the kidnapping of Shell workers and is demanding $1.5bn compensation from the firm for the pollution it says Shell has caused.

Some suggest that the wave of violence will see oil majors sell out to Chinese firms desperate to secure oil supplies, who will come into the country with a clean slate. Two weeks ago, Cnooc, the state-owned Chinese energy company, said it would pay nearly $2.3bn to acquire a large stake in a Nigerian oil and gas field, one of the biggest overseas acquisitions by a Chinese company.

Others say that the Nigerian government has plans to take control of the oil industry in a tactic similar to that used by Russia's President Putin. One thing is clear, though: the oil supply from Nigeria is now far from secure - and it could not have come at a worse time for the global economy.

And to close, one from last week - Past Peak takes a look at Jerome a Paris' post on the world's 4 major oilfields being in decline (though I'm a bit dubious that anyone has proved that Ghawar is in decline with any degree of certainty).
Jeremy Leggett reminds us that so-called "super giant" oilfields are rare, and almost all were discovered decades ago:
Only around 50 super-giant oilfields have ever been found, and the most recent, in 2000, was the first in 25 years: the problematically acidic 9-12 billion barrel Kashagan field in Kazakhstan. [...]

In 2000 there were 16 discoveries of 500 million barrels of oil equivalent or bigger. In 2001 there were nine. In 2002 there were just two. In 2003 there were none. [Emphasis added]

So we stopped finding super-giant fields long ago. What about the super-giants currently in production?

Mexico — Mexico's Canterrell, the third largest oilfield ever discovered, is now in decline. FT:
The Cantarell oil field, in the shallow waters of Campeche Bay, is regarded by Mexicans as their crown jewel. It is the second largest oil field in the world by production, behind Saudi Arabia's mammoth Ghawar oil field, pumping 2.2m barrels a day, the same amount as all the Kuwaiti fields together.

For that reason, Mexicans were recently dismayed when Petróleos Mexicanos, the state oil company, said that the field's production would decline this year, signalling a trend towards its depletion. [Emphasis added]

Russia — Russia's Samotlor, Russia's largest and the world's second largest, is also in decline. Jerome:
Next, we can talk about Samotlor, the largest Russia oil field, and the second largest ever found. From a peak of close to 2mb/d, its production is now down to less than 0.5mb/d. [According to BP's own data,] more than two thirds of the oil to be recovered, in the most optimistic scenarios, already has. [...]

In case you've never heard it, as most news in recent years talk about rapidly growing oil production in Russia, Russia's oil production peaked in the first half of the 1980s — what we witnessed in recent years was simply some catching up after the collapse of the early 90s which was not due to technical reasons but to the chaos in the early post-Sovier years. Russia is about to know a second, lower peak as its production is now stagnating again. [Emphasis added]

Kuwait — Kuwait's Burgan, one of the five largest oilfields in the world and until recently the world's number two in production, is in decline as well. See this post from a couple of months ago.

Saudi Arabia — Which leaves Saudi Arabia's Ghawar, the world's heavyweight champ. The Saudis haven't admitted it yet, but Ghawar, too, is almost certainly in decline. Here, for example, is Matthew Simmons, the oil industry's foremost investment banker, who has studied the Saudi situation in great detail:
Saudi's "king" of oil fields, Ghawar, is the world's largest oil field. Wildcat discoveries there from 1948 to 1952 proved reserves estimated at 170 billion barrels of oil in place and 60 billion barrels recoverable. Those numbers remained unchanged in Aramco's 1975 reserve estimates. Ghawar has accounted for 55 percent to 60 percent of all Saudi oil produced. If these numbers are correct, Ghawar's oil is 90 percent gone. [Emphasis added]

As Jerome concludes:
No super giant fields have been found in the past 25 years, and all the rock structures on the planet where such fields could be found are known.

We will not find more oil. We will squeeze more out of the existing fields, thus generating new "reserves" (in their economic definition), but we are already running out of the cheap and easy to produce stuff.

Peak oil is very real.

A Flock Of Seagulls  

Posted by Big Gav

Discussion about the impact (or lack thereof) of the Iranian oil bourse has gained steam in recent weeks. Jeff Vail came up with a good post on the topic late last year and has more recently been followed by a somewhat fervent article by Krassimir Petrov, an attempted debunking by James Hamilton, a discussion at PeakOil.com and most recently an article by Cóilín Nunan on Energy Bulletin.

With speculation mounting over the possibility of a US- or Israeli-led military attack of Iran sometime later this year, it has been suggested that real motivation for US antipathy towards the Iranian government has little to do with concerns that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. Some commentators have instead suggested that Iran’s real Iranian threat to the US and its economy is that, in defiance of the US administration, it is attempting to establish an oil ‘bourse’ (exchange) in March of this year which would enable oil to be traded in euros. This would move oil sales away from their usual denomination in dollars and would, it is argued, undermine the American currency with grave consequences for the US economy.

This internet-based debate is reminiscent of what occurred before the invasion of Iraq when several observers, myself included, hypothesised that Saddam Hussein’s decision to sell Iraqi oil in euros was perhaps one of the reasons the US wanted ‘regime change’. The US decision after the invasion to return Iraqi oil sales to dollar denomination and to convert back into dollars all Iraqi foreign currency reserves, which had been in euros prior to the war, was certainly entirely consistent with this theory.

However, others have claimed that the idea that the currency in which oil is sold matters at all is based on a poor understanding of economics. If oil sales were switched away from the dollar, they claim, it would make no difference to the US economy, and therefore this cannot have anything to do with the reasons the US went to war in Iraq and is now adopting a threatening stance towards Iran. I will try and address their main argument, as I feel the economic reasons why the denomination of oil sales are is an important issue have not always been clearly explained, including by myself.

Those arguing that the denomination of sales is crucial to dollar strength have tended to say that countries are forced to save dollars so that they have dollars to buy oil. Their critics, however, reply that you do not have to save in dollars to buy oil since you can save in whichever currency you want and then buy dollars on the foreign exchange market whenever you want to buy oil. What matters, say the critics, is in which currency people ultimately save rather than in which currency they trade. It is people saving in dollars, or in US financial assets, which results in high levels of investment in the US and ultimately permits the US to run a huge trade deficit.

The latter argument is largely correct, but it leaves out the crucial fact that the reason countries choose to save in dollars, to a far greater extent than in any other currency, is nonetheless related to the fact that oil is sold in dollars. Yes, what is important is in which currency countries save, but this is to a significant extent determined by which currency they trade in...

The Guardian has a report which suggests that Britain isn't too keen on using the military option against Iran.
Though world leaders agreed that strong measures were necessary to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapon capacity, there was little consensus this weekend [at Davos] as to what those measures should be. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday conceded that Britain and the US were divided over using military force.

Responding to comments by US politicians stressing the 'leverage' the military option allowed, Straw said such action was not under discussion. 'I understand that's the American position. Our position is different There isn't a military option. And no one is talking about it.'

Britain, along with most EU states, has been pursuing a policy of 'engagement' with the Iranians. Straw was speaking ahead of talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

JeffVail has a couple of new posts on Iran - the first looks at an unlikely report that Iran has staged a nuclear test already while the second considers the idea that the US may change tack and try to break Khuzestan (the important part that contains most of the oil) away from the rest of Iran (which I've mentioned before here and there).
Keep an eye on Khuzestan. That's the South-Western Iranian province, bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf, that currently has a modest but growing independence movement. It was also the site of the recent bombings that Iran is blaming on UK influence. Within the US intelligence community, at least, it is widely believed that the best option for dealing with Iran is through fomenting internal unrest of some sort. The classic formula for this (see "Coup D'Etat: A Practical Handbook" by Luttwak) is to leverage existing internal devisions--and that is exactly what is happening here. The US is actively supporting this Khuzestan independence movement, and the various "Free Iran Movements" that are being supported by right-wing think tanks in D.C. have many ties to this region. Not surprisingly, Khuzestan is the major oil producing region in Iran, but the revenues don't provide much benefit to the local and ethnically distinct Arab population.

You may also recall the Iranian Embassy siege in London in 1980--also the work of the a group from Khuzestan agitating for autonomy from Tehran. So there are definitely some genuine tensions here for US exploitation. This is, of course, highly speculative, but I think it is still worth considering: the US may not need to invade all of Iran to influence their choices--they may just need to help the people of Khuzestan break away, and "help" a pro-US government set up shop.

The Falls Church News Press's latest peak oil article also looks at the Iran situation.
At the minute, the most serious of the several threats facing the world's oil supply is clearly the Iranian situation. Iran's leadership is determined to start a uranium enrichment program. Tehran claims it is for electric power, but the US and Europe say "nuclear weapons." To make matters worse, nearly every major world power (and numerous minor ones) has a finger in the Iran pie either as an actual or potential customer for Iranian oil, or as a friend or foe of Tehran.

The important new factor in this crisis, however, is the lack of much spare oil production capacity anywhere in the world. There certainly is not enough to offset the 2.4 million barrels a day Iran is currently exporting. Thus, for the first time we are seeing the threat of a completely new kind of economic embargo called "who gets hurt the worst" - the world economy, or the one embargoed. Both sides are aware of this situation with Tehran threatening to send world oil prices to over $100 per barrel if anyone interferes with their enrichment program. The US spokesmen seem to be saying that we must pay any economic price to keep the Iranians from nuclear weapons.

From a peak oil point of view, however, stoppage of Iranian exports would be a seminal event. Oil prices obviously would be driven higher. Whether they get to the "serious damage" level is hard to say because so many factors go into shaping the price of oil. Given that we are very close to peak oil, it is quite possible a major stoppage of Iranian exports could play a significant part in the actual event.

The Globalist has an article by the "guru of the gap", Thomas Barnett, which looks at the Iran issue from a rather different angle to most commentators. His plan looks like something of a blueprint for removing the present regime over a longer period of time and replacing it with a relatively pro-western leadership, while giving Iran more power in regional affairs. Unlike many more fevered commentators, he notes that Iran is a nation state and like all nation states is a fairly rational actor - if they don't feel their existance is threatened they will behave much like any other mid size nuclear power.
It is Iran that can effectively veto movement toward peace and stability in either Jerusalem or Baghdad through its effective support to, and manipulation of, the political agendas of regional terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It is Iran that has the capacity to destabilize the flow of oil out of the Gulf.

It is Iran that determines how much of the energy coming out of the Caspian Basin may be safely accessed by both India and China. And it is Iran, which, by virtue of being a top-five player in both oil and natural gas and a longtime diplomatic pariah as far as the United States is concerned, that offers Asia the best possibilities for locking in long-term bilateral energy ties, a process already begun by India and China.

And yet, oddly enough, for all the same reasons why the Shah of Iran was once the preferred security partner of the United States in the region, today’s Iran still retains many of those same attributes.

If America wants Iran to act responsibly in the region, it needs to give Iran some responsibility for regional security.

Iran is not a source for, or a supporter of, the jihadist movement embodied by al Qaeda. As a Shiite state, its definition of “revolution” differs from that track altogether.

Iran’s Islamist regime results in a sort of tired authoritarianism, never truly aspiring to the sort of totalitarianism pursued by the Salafis, who can be thought of as the over-the-top Maoists (or Trotskyites) to Iran’s rather pedantic post-Stalin Soviet Union. Iran is a nation-state first and foremost, not some transnational religious-inspired movement.

Yes, like Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Iran is more than willing to exploit transnational terrorist movements to its own ends, but this is a cynical pursuit of national power, not a millenarian fantasy of regional, much less global, revolution.

Iran is not interested in overthrowing the West’s political and economic order, it just wants to receive its due place in those corridors of power.

...

Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons levels that playing field in a proximate sense, by finally allowing the Muslim Middle East to sit one player at the negotiating table as Israel’s nuclear equal. This is not just opportune, it is crucial.

As for the fears that Iran’s possession of the bomb will destabilize the region, there is no good historical evidence for that. Rather, the historical record is quite clear: Two relative equals with nuclear weapons is a far better equation than one that features a permanent imbalance.

Would Iran give terrorists the bomb? Only if terrorists could get Iran something that it could not otherwise achieve directly with the West.

Finally, William Engdahl has another article out, this time on "Pricing the Risk of War in Iran".
In the past weeks rumors have circulated widely amid growing tensions around a possible bombing strike against Iran. Among the reports—in violation of all precedent since the 1945 USA bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is discussion of possible deployment of nuclear bombs by either the United States or Israel, to destroy or render useless the deep underground Iranian nuclear facilities.

The possibility of war against Iran presents a geo-strategic and geopolitical problem of far more complexity than did the bombing and occupation of Iraq. And Iraq has proven complicated enough for the United States. Below we try to identify some of the main motives of the main actors in the new drama and the outlook for possible war.

The dramatis personae include the Bush Administration, most especially the Cheney-led neo-conservative hawks in control now of not only the Pentagon, but also the CIA, the UN Ambassadorship and a growing part of the State Department planning bureaucracy under Condi Rice. It includes Iran under the new and outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It includes Putin`s Russia, a nuclear-armed veto member of the UN Security Council. It includes a nuclear-armed Israel, whose acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, recently declared that Israel could ‘under no circumstances’ allow Iranian development of nuclear weapons ‘that can threaten our existence.’ It includes the EU, especially Security Council Permanent Member, France and the weakening President Chirac. It includes China, whose dependence on Iranian oil and potentially natural gas is large.

Each of these actors has differing agendas and different goals, making the issue of Iran one of the most complex in recent international politics. What’s going on here? Is a nuclear war, with all that implies for the global financial and political stability, imminent? What are the possible and even probable outcomes?

...

The role of Putin’s Russia in the unfolding Iran showdown is central. In geopolitical terms, one must not forget that Russia is the ultimate ‘prize’ or endgame in the more than decade long US strategy of controlling Eurasia and preventing any possible rival from emerging to challenge US hegemony.

Russian engineers and technical advisers are in Iran constructing the Bushehr nuclear plant, at least 300 Russian technicians. Iran has been a strategic cooperation partner of the Putin government in terms of opposing US-UK designs for control of Caspian oil. Iran has been a major purchaser of Russian military hardware since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in addition to buying Russian nuclear technology and expertise.

In March 2005 Iran-Russian relations took a qualitative shift closer. That month Moscow agreed to the sale of a ‘defensive’ missile system to Tehran, worth up to $7 billion-worth of future defense contracts. In 2000 Putin had announced Russia would no longer continue to abide by a secret US-Russia agreement to ban Russian weapons sales to Iran that the government of Boris Yeltsin had concluded. Since then, Russian-Iranian relations have become more entwined to put it mildly.

Moscow currently says it is in talks with Iran to build five to seven additional nuclear power reactors on the Bushehr site after completion of the present reactor. Russia expects to get up to $10 billion from the planned larger Bushehr reactors deal and additional arms sales to Iran. It is currently building the reactor on credit to be paid by Iran only after the completion of the project. Sanctions and admonitions will not change Russia's relationship with one of the most demonized states in America's ‘axis of evil.’ Iran has become a major counterweight for Moscow in the geopolitical game for Washington’s total domination over Eurasia, and Putin is shrewdly aware of that potential.

A look at the map (see below), will reveal how geo-politically strategic Iran is for Russia, as well as for Israel and the USA. Iran controls the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the choke point for oil from the Persian Gulf to Japan and the rest of the world. Iran borders the oil-rich Caspian Sea as it does NATO member Turkey.

Significantly, on January 23, the Russian daily, Kommersant reported that Armenia, sandwiched between Iran and Georgia, had agreed to sell 45% control of its Iran-Armenia gas pipeline to Russia’s Gazprom. The Russian daily added, ‘If Russia takes over this [Iran-Armenia] pipeline, Russia will be able to control transit of Iranian gas to Georgia, Ukraine and Europe.’ That would be a major blow to the series of Washington operations to insert US-friendly pro-NATO governments in Georgia as well as Ukraine. It would also bind Iran and Russian energy relations. While the Armenian government denies they have agreed, negotiations continue with Gazprom holding out the prospect of demanding double the price or $110 per 1000 cubic meters rather than the present $54 unless Armenia agree to sell the stake to Gazprom.



...

Were the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to risk launching a nuclear strike on Iran, given the geopolitical context, it would mark a point of no return in international relations. Even with sagging popularity, the White House knows this. The danger of the initial strategy of pre-emptive wars is that, as now, when someone like Iran calls the US bluff with a formidable response potential, the US is left with little option but to launch the unthinkable-nuclear first strike.

There are saner voices within the US political establishment, such as former NSC heads, Brent Scowcroft or even Zbigniew Brzezinski, who clearly understand the deadly logic of Bush’s and the Pentagon hawks’ pre-emptive posture. The question is whether their faction within the US power establishment today is powerful enough to do to Bush and Cheney what was done to Richard Nixon when his exercise of Presidential power got out of hand.

Atlantis Slow To Rise From The Deep  

Posted by Big Gav

BHP has announced that the opening of their Atlantis field in the Gulf of Mexico has been delayed due to the aftermath of last year's hurricanes.

BHP Billiton confirmed fears of production delays at its $US1.1 billion ($1.46 billion) Atlantis oil and gas project in a quarterly report released yesterday.

"The recent hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico have impacted the availability of equipment required to allow for completion on schedule in the third quarter of 2006," BHP said. "As a result, the project schedule remains under review."

Energy group president Philip Aiken first raised the possibility of commissioning delays at the BP-operated Atlantis project at a closed analysts briefing in December.

Macquarie Equities analysts yesterday told clients they believed expected production of 200,000 barrels of oil and 180 million cubic feet of gas a day would be delayed by at least six months, with a significant effect on BHP's 2007 earnings.

At an oil price of $US62.80 a barrel, Atlantis would deliver nearly $US1 billion - or 7.5 per cent - of earnings before interest and taxes in 2007. Therefore delaying the start-up by six months could reduce 2007 EBIT by $US340 million, or 3 per cent.

Macquarie attributed some of the delay to BP, which as the operator had prioritised the repair of its damaged Thunderhorse platform in the Gulf of Mexico rather than the start-up of the Atlantis project.

"The Atlantis issue highlights one disadvantage of being a minority partner and not operating major assets," Macquarie analysts said.

BHP is also talking up the prospects of their Californian LNG terminal, announcing that they have keen customers for all the planned capacity. Treasurer Peter Costello has been over there lobbying on BHP's behalf - hopefully he picks up some tips on how to commit to renewable energy from the Californian government.
One week after Woodside Petroleum announced new plans to export liquefied natural gas to California, BHP Billiton said 18 large buyers had signed letters of interest in purchasing gas from its rival $US600 million ($795 million) Cabrillo Port import terminal project.

No final agreements will be struck until the offshore terminal is approved by the US Coast Guard, the California State Lands Commission and the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, which BHP believes could occur later this year.

The US Coast Guard "stopped the clock" on the approvals process last year, asking BHP to submit more information about the environmental impact of the project, which has faced fierce opposition from environmentalists. "We're confident the information that is in there will allay the fears and concerns the environmental community had over the last year or so," Kathi Hann, BHP's Californian spokeswoman said yesterday.

A new draft environmental report is expected to be released on March 2. Cabrillo Port will then undergo a 45-day public review process - including hearings in April - before authorities decide its fate. "We're hoping to have everything finalised and issued by late [Northern hemisphere] summer, maybe early [autumn]," Ms Hann said.

Of the 18 potential buyers expressing interest in BHP's LNG, all names were kept confidential except for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. But it is understood the letters of intent, if converted to contracts, would represent more than the terminal's LNG capacity when it opens as early as 2010.

Last week, Woodside announced it would develop a rival LNG import project in California, called OceanWay, which would reheat the gas on dedicated ships rather than using a floating terminal like Cabrillo Port.

Looking at it from the other side of the ocean, The Oil Drum has a detailed post on North American Gas (including LNG) supply which includes a link to Michael Klare's latest on the Geopolitics of Natural Gas.
In the high-stakes arena of energy geopolitics, natural gas is rapidly emerging as the next big prize. What oil was to the twentieth century, natural gas will be to the twenty-first. Consider these recent developments:

* As we went to press, Russia was restoring the flow of natural gas to Western and Central Europe after state-controlled Gazprom curtailed deliveries on January 1 in a bid to force Ukraine to pay the market price for gas previously supplied at subsidized rates. Although emphasizing the price issue, Russian officials apparently intended to constrict Ukraine's energy supplies as a way of punishing that country's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, architect of the Orange Revolution, for his overtures to NATO and the EU. Gazprom's pipelines to Western Europe (which buys a quarter of its gas from Russia) pass through Ukraine so it could siphon off some of the diminished supply, leaving very little for other customers and provoking fears of an energy crisis at the onset of winter.

* A dispute between China and Japan over the ownership of an undersea gas field in an area of the East China Sea claimed by both countries has grown increasingly inflammatory, with China sending warships into the area and Japan threatening "bold action" if the Chinese begin pumping gas from the field. The conflict has soured relations between Beijing and Tokyo and provoked a strong nationalistic response from the populations of both countries. The huge anti-Japanese demonstrations in Shanghai and other Chinese cities last April were prompted, in part, by Tokyo's announcement that it would permit drilling in the area by Japanese firms. A peaceful resolution of the dispute does not appear imminent.

* Ever since India announced plans more than a year ago to build a natural gas pipeline from fields in Iran to its own territory via Pakistan, the Bush Administration has been applying pressure on New Delhi to cancel the project, claiming it will undermine US attempts to isolate Tehran and curb its nuclear efforts. "We have communicated to the Indian government our concerns about the gas pipeline cooperation between Iran and India," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced after meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh on March 16. But the Indians have continued talks with Islamabad and Tehran over the pipeline plan.

The United States is becoming increasingly dependent on natural gas. This country now relies on natural gas for approximately one-fourth of its total energy supply, more than from any source except oil. As a result, the economy has become more and more vulnerable to fluctuations in gas supply and pricing--a vulnerability that should be especially evident this winter as gas prices hit record levels, with painful effects on the poor. Natural gas provides approximately 14 percent of the energy used to generate electricity in this country, 45 percent of home heating fuel and 31 percent of the energy and petrochemicals consumed by agriculture and industry. Gas is also used as a feedstock for the manufacture of hydrogen, a promising new entrant in the race to develop alternative fuels.

The United States currently relies on North American supplies for most of its gas, but with those reserves being depleted at a rapid pace and few untapped fields available for exploitation, need for gas from other regions is growing and energy plants seek more gas from foreign suppliers like Qatar, Nigeria and Russia. As with oil, America could become heavily dependent on foreign suppliers for essential energy needs, a situation fraught with danger for national security. Many of America's key allies, including the NATO powers and Japan, are dependent on imports.

There is also a lot of fuss going on about the disruption of gas supplies to Georgia from Russia after a number of pipelines were suspiciously blown up. I did read some interesting commentary on this (which talked about the juggling of supplies from Russia and Iran to various customers via various pipelines) but I've lost the links. Energy Bulletin has a couple of links here.

The Governor General devoted his Australia Day speech to the topic of global warming and the need to move away from fossil fuels. At least someone associated with the government is talking sense.
Global warming is one of the greatest threats to Australia's future, the Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, has warned in his Australia Day address.

More care must be taken of the country's natural wealth, he warned, and this would require people to make individual change their way of life - including turning to more environmentally friendly energy sources.

"One of the most daunting environmental challenges is global warming," he said. "Governments are responding around the world, but lifestyle changes we can make as individuals are also important. There is no single solution. It requires a range of strategies."

Major-General Jeffery has previously spoken of the need for more sustainable use of water resources, a theme he returned to in yesterday's address. "We are now realising how to better conserve and utilise our most precious natural resource - water - by more sensible and efficient household, agricultural, industrial and commercial use, and by restoring the health of our rivers and groundwater systems," he said.

General Jeffery acknowledged the important role that mineral resources such as coal play in Australia's economy, but warned they were finite and said alternative sources of energy should be considered.

"Our land is our golden soil, yielding mineral wealth to miners and opportunity for farmers," he said. "Mineral resources, including offshore oil and gas reserves, generate tens of billions of dollars annually in an energy- and construction-hungry world.

"But our mineral resources are not infinite. In particular we need to encourage further research and development of alternative, safe, efficient and clean energy sources."

The Rodent, on the other hand, used the day to demand "root and branch" reform of history teaching (exactly which levels and which states he had in mind weren't specified), focusing in particular on the need for students to know the date of the Battle of Hastings (for those who don't know, 1066, with William the Conqueror of Normandy defeating King Harold of England). Apparently critical analysis of history is considered some sort of thought crime in the Prime Miniature's eyes and students should be rote learning a series of dates that mark various triumphs of the British Empire (and calamitous defeats, in the case of 1066) and accepting whatever knowledge is being handed down from above unquestioningly. Funny that.
John Howard declared the "phoney and divisive" debate over national identity was finished but argued for "root and branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in schools".

"Too often, Australian history has fallen victim in an ever more crowded curriculum to subjects deemed more relevant to today," Mr Howard said in a speech on the eve of Australia Day.

"Too often it is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues. And too often history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated."

Mr Howard said he would prefer history was taught with a strong emphasis on pivotal dates and events such as the Battle of Hastings and the European discovery of Australia. More students needed to study history, Mr Howard said, to help prepare them to become informed and active citizens.

The NSW Board of Studies' history inspector, Jennifer Lawless, said the Prime Minister's criticisms did not apply to the NSW history syllabus, which was "very rigorous and content-driven as opposed to theme-driven".

She described the ability to memorise dates as "a fairly lower order skill that students acquire early on. We move on from that and teach more sophisticated historical skills, like using historical sources appropriately, questioning those sources, analysing and interpreting, looking at perspectives and interpretations."

NSW is the only state where history is taught as a separate, mandatory subject from years 7 to 10. All year 9 and year 10 students must learn the history of Australia from Federation to the 1990s.

Ms Lawless said the number of students enrolled in HSC history courses had increased in recent years. Last year 9996 year 12 students studied modern history and 10,336 ancient history.

The president of the History Teachers Association of NSW, Pamela Panczyk, said: "I don't think students need to know the date of the Battle of Hastings. I wouldn't usually mention it.

On the subject of history and postmodern relativism, while I was on my Xmas break I came across Liddell Hart's "History of the First World War" amongst my old books collection and decided to take a look to see how much it had in common with the view of some modern left wing commentators that one of the causes of the first world war was Germany's plan to build a railway from Berlin to Baghdad, in part to transport oil from what is now Iraq and Saudi Arabia - but was then part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. This plan is viewed as a major threat to British dominance of India and the Orient in general, because it gives the Germans direct access to the Indian Ocean (via the Persian Gulf) along with access to middle eastern oil.

Liddell Hart appears to be a true blue Tory based on his writing (he spends a lot of time praising Winston Churchill's role in the war, which is unusual given that the book was written in the 1930's, a time during which Winston was rather unpopular) so he would seem to be unlikely to be making too many excuses on behalf of the Germans.

The British didn't wait for long after hostilities broke out to make a grab for the oil fields of southern Iraq (which also helped to protect their own fields in Kuwait), dispatching a division from India which had successfully captured Basra by November 1914 (3 months after the war had started). Hart notes that "the oilfields near the Persian Gulf were of essential importance to Britain's oil supply".

Hart also notes that the planned Baghdad railway was the symbol of Germany's dream of a "Germanic Middle East", but doesn't comment much more on the topic - so it doesn't appear to have been a particularly important issue at the time, at least not publically.

Another interesting snippet from the book included the note that both Britain and Germany were well into overshoot even back then - neither country could feed itself which made the British naval blockade and the German submarine campaign of prime importance - with both sides coming close at various stages to starving the other into submission. The British managed to develop enough anti-submarine capbility to keep their shipping moving goods from the colonies and North America, while the Germans were bailed out twice - in 1916 by Rumania's unfortunate decision to join the war on the side of the Allies, only to promptly crumble to defeat, enabling Germany to seize their wheat (and oil) supplies, then in 1917 the collapse of Russia enabled the Germans to occupy the Ukraine, which again helped bolster their grain supplies.

Gone Surfin'  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm offline for a week or two to enjoy the summer weather...

The End is Nigeria  

Posted by Big Gav

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

Oil pollution, corruption contribute to hostage-taking in Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Getting The Jitters Yet ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Reports about Iran moving their foreign reserves out of Europe yesterday seemed to contribute to the latest spike in oil prices (briefly over US$70 a barrel) and the 200 point drop on the Dow.

Iran's decision Friday to transfer its foreign currency reserves out of Europe ahead of possible U.N. sanctions could affect as much as $50 billion in deposits, analysts estimated, and helped send oil prices above $68 a barrel.

But economists said the impact on the global economy would be muted, with the figure not large in comparison to other countries' reserves and uncertainty about where the money would be moved and whether it would be shifted from dollars and euros to other currencies.

"The banking system in Europe is sufficiently well developed and stable enough that even a wholesale withdrawal of reserves within wide bands of uncertainty wouldn't likely cause severe problems," said Mark Austin, a currency analyst with HSBC in London.

Iran, under increasing international pressure over its nuclear program - and mindful of the freezing of its U.S. assets after the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran - said it had begun transferring its reserves from European banks to an undisclosed location.

Three analysts who did not want to be identified because the delicate nature of the information estimated that the figure was between $40 billion and $50 billion, while a fourth said it was more likely to be between $25 billion to $30 billion.

The range puts Iran's holding on about a par with the $54 billion that Algeria holds, and is far below the holdings of countries such as China, which had $ 818.9 billion at the end of December.

The Bank for International Settlements says data indicates Iran had $23.5 billion in the international bank system at the end of June 2005. That total represented a 10% increase compared to six months earlier, according to the Basel, Switzerland-based BIS.

Steve Barrow, a fixed income strategist at Bear Stearns in London, said the latest IMF data indicated that Iran holds around $35 billion-$40 billion in overseas assets.

Presumably reports that Gazprom has cut gas supplies to Europe due the the cold snap in Russia aren't helping either.
Russia's state gas giant Gazprom yesterday raised the spectre of energy shortages across Europe when it cut exports to Italy and Hungary amid cold weather at home. Hungary said it had experienced a 20% cut in natural gas supplies from Russia. A spokesman for gas and oil company MOL Rt told Associated Press that its Russian suppliers had warned it of the drop in supply yesterday morning. He said it was because of Russia's cold snap.

Italy's Eni energy company said supplies had been cut by 5.4% between 6am on Tuesday and 6am yesterday. There were also unconfirmed reports of cuts in supplies to Bosnia and Austria. British Gas warned that the Gazprom move would result in a "worrying domino impact" on the UK wholesale market, where prices are already 75% higher than last year.

But Gazprom denied any problems and said it was delivering 7% more than its contracts with clients in Europe required.

The dispute again undermined President Vladimir Putin's attempt to use Russia's chairmanship of the G8 to boost his country's status as a reliable energy supplier. On January 1 a price row led to Gazprom cutting off the gas to Ukraine. The cuts hit supplies across eastern Europe, and sparked criticism from both the EU and the US that Moscow was "politicising" energy. Yesterday Wolfgang Schüssel, the chancellor of Austria which holds the EU presidency, said the EU should cut its dependency on Russian gas to ensure "security of supply".

Temperatures were predicted to fall to -37C overnight in Moscow, the lowest since 1979. At least 24 people reportedly died across the country.

The energy disputes will raise doubts about Gazprom's reliability. The company has said it wants to secure up to 20% of the British market within a decade. Mr Putin said recently that Russia could supply 10% of Britain's gas.

Petroleum Intelligence Weekly has a report which claims that Kuwait's oil reserves are only half those officially stated.
OPEC producer Kuwait's oil reserves are only half those officially stated, according to internal Kuwaiti records seen by industry newsletter Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW). "PIW learns from sources that Kuwait's actual oil reserves, which are officially stated at around 99 billion barrels, or close to 10 percent of the global total, are a good deal lower, according to internal Kuwaiti records," the weekly PIW reported on Friday.

It said that according to data circulated in Kuwait Oil Co (KOC), the upstream arm of state Kuwait Petroleum Corp, Kuwait's remaining proven and non-proven oil reserves are about 48 billion barrels. Officials from KOC were not immediately available for comment to Reuters.

PIW said the official public Kuwaiti figures do not distinguish between proven, probable and possible reserves. But it said the data it had seen show that of the current remaining 48 billion barrels of proven and non-proven reserves, only about 24 billion barrels are so far fully proven -- 15 billion in its biggest oilfield Burgan.

Kuwait has been adding up to 500 million barrels a year at Burgan which means the remaining non-proven reserves of some 5.3 billion barrels will likely be upgraded to proven, according to PIW.

The Herald's economics column this weekend takes a look at the "empire of debt".
In half a century flat, America has transformed itself from the world's largest creditor into its biggest-ever debtor.

To fully grasp the risk this creates for the global financial system, we have to get a handle on how such a seismic shift occurred in the first place. The most common explanation offered these days, and that of the US Federal Reserve, is that a "savings glut" has emerged among Asian nations.

But there is another way to look at it. Perhaps the Asian nations are as frugal as they ever were, and it is the US that has gone on a "borrowing binge".

In a new book titled Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis, American financial journalists Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin argue just that.

Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, American presidents have set about transforming the US into an empire akin to those of the Greeks or the Romans, they argue.

Gripped by a desire to reshape the world in its own image, the US has set itself on a warpath, beginning in Europe in 1917 which has dragged it through the jungles of Vietnam, right through to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Expanding an empire always carries costs, but, Bonner and Wiggin argue, the US empire is even more unstable than its ancient predecessors because it is has been built in reverse.

Instead of accumulating tributes from its neighbouring lands, as in the good old days of pillage and plunder, the US economy has been shelling out cash to the far-flung corners of its empire as fast as it can go. A steady stream of US dollars and bonds flow out to countries such as China, Japan, and India, where they are ploughed into expanding production and investment.

But there is another drain on this modern empire, even greater than warfare: welfare.

In the 1930s and '60s the US initiated two massive campaigns aimed at lifting all its citizens out of poverty. Roosevelt's "New Deal" and Johnson's "Great Society" offered the prospect of social harmony. What they delivered was a mountain of debt.

Bonner and Wiggin have done the figures. The total value of assets in the US is about $50,000 billion ($67,000 billion). Current debt stands at about $US37,000 billion. Adding in the present value of future government liabilities and their conclusion is grim: "America is broke. Busted. Bankrupt. It couldn't pay its debts even if it wanted to."

When Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981, as with George W. Bush two decades later, cutting taxes proved a far easier political option than tackling the other side of the equation, cutting spending. In Reagan's first year Americans got a 25 per cent across-the-board tax cut. Bush has delivered several. Neither made any progress in curbing government spending.

Not only has the US Government sent itself hopelessly into debt, but through lower taxes it has encouraged US consumers to spend freely and do the same. Other countries have been only too happy to grab their slice of the American pie, soaking up more and more US Treasury bonds.

According to Bonner and Wiggin, the American "empire of debt" officially came into being when it crossed the line from creditor to debtor in the mid 1980s. Today, the annual US current account deficit stands at around $US750 billion, requiring around $US2 billion each day in foreign investment to finance it.

This seismic shift in the world's most powerful economic and military force has the potential to destabilise the entire international financial system.

Jacques Chirac is muttering about nuclear strikes in response to any terrorist attack on France or French interests, with the remarks seemingly directed at Iran.
Jacques Chirac says France is prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country that sponsors a terrorist attack against French interests.

The French President said the country's nuclear arsenal is capable of making a tactical strike in retaliation for terrorism.

"The leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would envisage using … weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and fitting response on our part," he said during a visit to a nuclear submarine base in Brittany. "This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind."

Mr Chirac said his country had reduced the number of nuclear warheads on some missiles deployed on France's four nuclear submarines in order to target specific points rather than risk wide-scale destruction.

"Against a regional power, our choice is not between inaction and destruction," he said. "The flexibility and reaction of our strategic forces allow us to respond directly against the centres of power … All of our nuclear forces have been configured in this spirit."

At the same time he condemned "the temptation by certain countries to obtain nuclear capabilities in contravention of treaties".

Cloudy With A Chance Of Chaos  

Posted by Big Gav

Fortune has a global warming warning for the business community.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 opened insurers' eyes to a catastrophic risk that they had been assuming for free. Their reaction provided a foretaste of how the global market might react to abrupt climate change. Following 9/11, insurers stopped writing policies that automatically included coverage of terrorist attacks. A number of major construction projects had to halt because banks would not finance them without terrorism coverage. Ultimately Congress passed and President Bush signed a law shifting responsibility for $100 billion in damage from future terrorist attacks to the U.S. government, and the construction projects got rolling again.

As climate change starts inflicting losses, insurers will again pull back, shifting financial risk to businesses and homeowners, the banks that finance them--and finally to taxpayers. In Florida, huge increases (up to 40%) in insurance rates are already making it harder for people to sell homes, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

More than 1,000 miles from New Orleans, in Cape Cod, Mass., a far-flung echo of Katrina has been the 20% rise in reinsurance costs (reinsurers are financial institutions that backstop insurance companies). The increase prompted Hingham Mutual Group, a property and casualty insurer, to drop coverage for 6,500 commercial properties. Customers left in the lurch have a fallback in FAIR (short for Fair Access to Insurance Requirements), a program mandated by various states and run by insurers. But Massachusetts's FAIR plan recently requested big rate increases, arguing that past weather patterns may no longer be a guide to estimating future climate risks. That rationale was "unprecedented," a team of industry experts noted in a report entitled "Availability and Affordability of Insurance Under Climate Change"; it's a vivid example of how insurance has difficulty adapting to changing climate.

For insurers the hazards of climate change become more concrete each year. Andrew Dlugolecki, a risk analyst at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in Britain, recently estimated that if climate gradually warms, the chances of the industry getting wiped out by weather-related catastrophes will rise from about one in 100 worldwide today to nine in 100 by 2050. A ninefold increase in the risk of collapse places a heavy burden on insurers, but the risks may be far greater than that. Asked in 2003 how climate change that's abrupt and chaotic might affect those odds, Dlugolecki speculated that the risk of catastrophic weather-related losses rises to about nine chances in 100 by as early as 2010. To insure a property or business affected by that degree of risk, a carrier would have to charge annual rates as high as 12% of insured value--most businesses and individuals start self-insuring (industry-speak for dropping their coverage and taking their chances) when premiums reach 3% of value.

Already the pain of weather-related insurance risks is being felt by owners of highly vulnerable properties such as offshore oil platforms, for which some rates have risen 400% in one year. That may be an omen for many businesses. Three years ago John Dutton, dean emeritus of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, estimated that $2.7 trillion of the $10-trillion-a-year U.S. economy is susceptible to weather-related loss of revenue, implying that an enormous number of companies have off-balance-sheet risks related to weather--even without the cataclysms a flickering climate might bring.

Corporate leaders could soon feel the heat too. In 2004, Swiss Reinsurance, a $29 billion financial giant, sent a questionnaire to companies that had purchased its directors-and-officers coverage, inquiring about their corporate strategies for dealing with climate change regulations. D&O insurance, as it is called, insulates executives and board members from the costs of lawsuits resulting from their companies' actions; Swiss Re is a major player in D&O reinsurance.

What Swiss Re is after, says Christopher Walker, who heads its Greenhouse Gas Risk Solutions unit, is reassurance that customers will not make themselves vulnerable to global-warming-related lawsuits. He cites as an example Exxon Mobil: The oil giant, which accounts for roughly 1% of global carbon emissions, has lobbied aggressively against efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. If Swiss Re judges that a company is exposing itself to lawsuits, says Walker, "we might then go to them and say, 'Since you don't think climate change is a problem, and you're betting your stockholders' assets on that, we're sure you won't mind if we exclude climate-related lawsuits and penalties from your D&O insurance.' "

WorldChanging has a post on James Lovelock's prediction of unavoidable climate doom and Bruce's caustic response in his latest Viridian note - which Jamais uses as the springboard for a rare rant - in this case against apocaphilia and apocaphiliacs.
James Lovelock's recent essay in the Independent has prompted abundant discussion across the sustainable blogosphere, including here at WorldChanging, with Alan's recent post on Mega-Engineering. It's a dark and intentionally depressing vision of widespread famine, ecological crashes and conflict -- all driven by human-caused global warming. Lovelock, who claims to be an optimist on most issues, simply cannot see a way for humankind to avoid utter ruin.

The commentaries and discussions arising from the Lovelock essay have been wide-ranging, but the one that stands out for me is Bruce Sterling's most recent Viridian Note, wherein he tears apart Lovelock in a caustic and merciless fashion. This is Bruce with poisoned daggers drawn, and unlike some of Lovelock's critics, he doesn't pay lip service to Lovelock's past influence.

As much as the Gaia concept helped to spur the consideration of the planet as a system of systems, I must admit to a great deal of sympathy for Bruce's take. Lovelock was once a highly-regarded environmental scientist, but little of that shows in this essay. Instead, he joins the list of apocaphiles, strenuously denying that humans can do anything else but wallow in their own filth and destroy the planet (or, as he describes it, put Gaia into a "morbid fever" for 100,000 years). He expresses great dismay that we've come to this state, but offers neither solutions nor solace, choosing instead to detail some of the awful ways that billions of us will die.

I really dislike apocaphilia.

Apocaphiles tell us that our fate is pre-determined, and that any attempt to avoid it is doomed to failure. They're not simply defeatist, they're positively offended by any suggestion that we might figure out a way to avoid disaster.

...

I dislike apocaphilia because I believe that deeds can make a difference.

I also dislike apocaphilia because it presumes to predict the future. The truth is, we simply cannot know if we are, in fact, doomed. We may be -- but there's a damn good chance that we aren't, at least if we make an effort to change global conditions. And that, ultimately, is what makes me so irritated at doomsayers: the denial of our ability to make a difference. Tell people over and over that there's nothing that they can do, and eventually they'll start to believe you, making the negative outcome inevitable. I would much rather try to change things for the better and fail than to lie back and just let the world collapse around me.

Lovelock tells us that billions of us will die, that it's too late to stop the end of the world. I say that such an outcome is a choice, one that we need not make.

On the topic of apocaphiliacs, James Kunstler's latest diary is quite well done, even if it is, unsurprisingly, rather depressing. Has the US north east really deteriorated as much as he says or is this just a very negative view of the region ? Comments from any readers from up that way are welcome.
It would be hard to imagine a sadder landscape than these rural backwaters along the New York / Vermont border. Geographically they are still beautiful. It's a region of tender hills, well-wooded now, and ribboned with trout streams. It's the human furnishings that are desolate and what they say about what we have become as a nation. This was a farming region of course, and the re-growth of the woods is a symptom of farming's decline the past fifty years.

Dairying was the big thing through the first three-quarters of the 20th century. But regional milk production became irrelevant during the decades of cheap oil, when New Yorkers could just as easily get milk and cheese from Wisconsin or California. So now only a few relic farms still operate.

Every building in the landscape related to farming is now decrepit. Siding and shingles have peeled off the barns. The sills are rotting and the ridgeboards sag. The tractor sheds are too far gone to keep tractors in, so the machines sit out in the rain now. The older houses -- many of them dating from the Greek Revival of the 1850s -- are subject to indignities beyond simple neglect. Many are partially cocooned in plastic, because fixing the wooden parts was too expensive, or just too difficult for people whose skills are now limited to operating cars, televisions, and forklifts. The yards are littered with plastic debris: tricycles, hoses, and patio chairs disintegrating under the daily ultraviolet -- and you could see it all because a week of January temperatures into the 50s melted all the snow cover off.

You can track the decades of overgrowth in the pastures: sumac and poplar in the early going, then regular trees. In many places, stone walls from the 19th century run along the roads in woods that were sheep meadows a hundred and fifty years ago. You have to wonder how long all that wood will be there now, with heating bills up 50 percent this year and no relief in sight.

Indeed, I wonder if the remnant of people living here will have any idea what to do with their land, when the forklift jobs in the Target Store regional warehouse thirty-eight miles away are no longer there. I'd like to suppose that even people unaccustomed to challenges can be resilient and resourceful when they simply have to be. But if the televisions stay on, they may just choose to die in front of them.

The towns along way -- Salem, Granville, Fair Haven -- may be even sadder than the farms. All civic vitality seems to have been drained out of them by a persistent wasting disease. Little of any value has been built in decades, and certainly nothing with any beauty. Here and there gas stations bloated into snack marts vie for supremacy of the highway intersections, but the little downtowns with their vacant storefronts echo with loss and grief.

Everything fixed has been fixed badly. The houses are encased in plastic siding, grimy with years of tailpipe emissions. Here and there a screw falls out of a sofit and a dangling plastic panel flutters in the wind. The town streets are empty. The windows are broken in the small factories along the trout streams. Only the county highways that turn into the Main Streets show any signs of life, and that, of course, is the life of the highway itself, the endless cavalcade of motoring. Cars and trucks are the sole investments made here.

I traverse this landscape goggling at the sights in wonder and nausea. This part of America has become something worse than a former Soviet backwater, something sadder. In these places, we have managed to overcome even the hard-won fruits of enterprise achieved by the independent people who preceded those alive now. Everything they wrested from the land has been thrown away, or allowed to rot in place -- so that more attention can be paid to televised entertainments.

RealClimate takes a look at the record Amazon drought and investigates if it was caused by warm seas.
On December 11, 2005, The New York Times ran a story on record drought conditions in the Amazonas region of Brasil, linking it to global warming, and specifically the warm ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic that have also been linked to the ferocity of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. This prompted a response from Chris Mooney, calling for a comment from RealClimate about whether such an assertion is valid, as we earlier made it very clear that it is impossible to say whether one single extreme event in a very noisy environment - such as Hurricane Katrina - is related to climate change. So we decided to take a look at this phenomena, and address why there might be a connection and what it takes to make an attribution.

WorldChanging has a post on the recent story that plants produce methane, which prompted a small storm of wingnut nonsense about trees being responsible for global warming - as this effect is very small in the scheme of things, and has been going on forever, htey point out we shouldn't blame the plants.
A few days ago, a report in Nature from the Max Planck Institute suggested that plants may be responsible for quite a bit more methane than previously believed (methane is, as we know, 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but isn't nearly as abundant in the atmosphere). Perhaps unsurprisingly, this report exploded across the newsosphere, usually with headlines suggesting that plants were responsible for global warming, that planting trees to mitigate atmospheric CO2 just made things worse, and otherwise striking an odd balance of "we're doomed" and "it's not our fault!"

...

The press release includes a brief paragraph explaining in more detail how the estimates were calculated; the amount of methane (CH4) emitted by plants is a tiny fraction of the amount of CO2 captured in the same time frame -- no more than 2g of CH4 for every kilogram of CO2. The greater greenhouse characteristics of methane make the effect of that small amount of methane disproportionately large, but (as quoted above) the overall reduction in carbon uptake is 1-4%.

In short, don't worry. Planting trees for carbon sequestration is still a good idea -- you should just plan to plant 1-4% more of them now.

TreeHugger has a report on the producers of Syriana making it "Climate Neutral".
Syriana, the geopolitical oil flick from Participant Productions starring George Clooney, (for which he just won a Golden Globe -- congrats, George!) has announced that the film has gone "climate neutral." Accomplished by offsetting 100% of carbon dioxide emissions generated by its production, an estimated 2,040 tons have been offset through investments made in renewable energy.

TH pal NativeEnergy helped the film's producers calculate all carbon dioxide emissions from all of Syriana's production activities, including filming, air travel, rental car and truck emissions, hotel energy use, diesel generators used on location, office and warehouse energy use, and emissions from shipping, and then purchased renewable energy credits from renewable energy projects to achieve neutrality.



And to close, a clip from Wired - South Korea seems to be well on the way to introducing Robocop onto their streets. I wonder when he will arrive everywhere else...
The South Korean government has robot fever, and they're about to unleash a whole army -- literally -- of the mechanized creatures on their public. According to The Korea Times, the country will see the rollout of police and military robots within the next five years, thanks to a newly approved $33.9 million spending appropriation. Patrol bots will guard the streets at night, and even chase criminals, while horse-shaped combat bots will augment the country's fighting force. In both cases, the bots will communicate via Korea's vast mobile network.

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