Behind the Curve  

Posted by Big Gav

Kurt Cobb has a post on how we've consistently underestimated global warming

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, theorized that increasing or reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might trigger a change in climate worldwide. Cutting the amount in half, he surmised, could lower average temperatures by 5 degrees C and might bring on an ice age. But, was such a big change possible?

A colleague, Arvid Hogbom, had studied the carbon cycle extensively, calculating the amounts of carbon from various sources including those from industrial emissions. Using Hogbom's numbers Arrhenius calculated that a doubling of carbon dioxide would increase global temperature by 5 degrees C, surprisingly close to modern estimates even though he was working under severe handicaps including relatively low calculating power--he used paper and pencil--and limited data.

He also estimated that it would take 2,000 years to get there. (The latest estimates place this event in the middle of the current century.) Of course, Arrhenius shouldn't be blamed for this underestimate given the impossibility of knowing what lay ahead for population growth and industrialization. But, his was the first in what has turned out to be a consistent string of underestimates concerning the pace and severity of global warming.

Grist has a post on the clean, safe nuclear power that is the answer to our greenhouse gas and oil depletion worries.
Illinois nuke-power operator criticized for leaks and "incidents"

Quantity doesn't equal quality with Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which runs all six nuclear plants and 11 nuclear reactors in Illinois. There were at least four "incidents" at Exelon plants last week, including a false alarm at one generating station that initiated the first "site-area emergency" at a U.S. nuclear plant in 15 years. These came on the heels of disclosures that there were eight radioactive leaks and spills at Exelon plants since 1996 that went unreported to the public. One spill of roughly 3 million gallons of tritium-laced water in 1998 wasn't completely cleaned up eight years later. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) plans to introduce legislation this week requiring nuclear facilities to notify state and local officials of unintended or accidental radioactive leaks -- or face possible loss of their operating licenses.

There is a video of an Al Gore speech from late last year here( RealPlayer) which apparently is pretty similar to the one he gave recently at TED.
Gore identifies three reasons for the crisis we're facing: increasing population, increasing impact of the technologies we use, and the misconceptions of our thinking.

Unpacking those misconceptions, Gore addresses issues of doubt over global warming. There's no real disagreement about global warming - a survery of peer reviewed papers showed 928 supporting a theory of global warming and 0 opposing it. But there's a powerful lobby that is producing doubt, and suceeding - a survey of the popular press reveals that 53% of popular press articles have some doubt about global warming.

Gore argues that another misconception is that we need to balance environmentalism with economic impact. Showing a picture of the earth and a pile of gold bars in balance, Gore notes, "If we don't have a planet..." and trails off to laughter. If we do the right thing, he argues, we'll create a lot of wealth and a lot of jobs. Right now, we can't sell cars in China, because we can't meet their environmental standards.

Fortune has an article on Shell's battle with depleting reserves. Shell isn't having a great year (record profits aside, of course), with Nigeria recently levying a US$1.5 billion fine on them for polluting the Niger river delta (maybe they're trying to poison all those pesky militia dudes).
Judging by the $23 billion it earned last year, these should be the best of times for Shell, the Anglo-Dutch energy giant that ranks third among the top five Western oil companies. But Wall Street isn't celebrating. Instead, analysts are worried that buried beneath the record profit figures are worrying signs of a business in decline.

That's because Shell (Research) hasn't been able to find nearly as much oil and gas as it's now pumping out of the ground. In fact, it hasn't even come close -- replacing only 60 percent to 70 percent of what it produced in 2005 and only 19 percent in 2004. Shell has had reserve problems for years -- a controversy over improperly booked assets forced it to reduce estimated reserves by roughly 30 percent and led to the resignation of its CEO, Phil Watts, in 2004.

But what's troubling now is that Shell is falling way behind rivals like Exxon and BP despite spending billions more each year on exploring and drilling new wells. Last year Exxon replaced 112 percent of production, and BP came up with 95 percent. "I have never seen anything like this," says Fadel Gheit, a veteran energy analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. "Shell used to represent the gold standard in this industry, but lately they can't get their act together."

Somewhat ominously, the FT reports that Nigeria has turned to China for military aid to combat the coughing and spluttering insurgents (though this may just be a way of putting some pressure on the US to cough up lots more military aid).
Nigeria has criticised Washington for failing to help protect the country’s oil assets from rebel attack, forcing it to turn to other military suppliers, including China, for support.

Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice-president, told the Financial Times the US had been too slow to help protect the oil-rich Niger Delta from a growing insurgency. He said talks with the US over security plans for the region did not “appear to be moving as fast as the situation is unfolding” and Nigeria was instead sourcing military equipment elsewhere.


The Boston Globe has an introductory article on peak oil called "Oil Futures" which largely quotes from the Daniel Yergin plabook. Yergin also has an article in this month's "Foreign Affairs" (the journal of that eternal tinfoil bogeyman, the Council on Foreign Relations). Foreign Affairs also has an article on the new age of US nuclear primacy (so I guess a glow in the dark Tehran isn't far off).
On the eve of World War I, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill made a historic decision: to shift the power source of the British navy's ships from coal to oil. He intended to make the fleet faster than its German counterpart. But the switch also meant that the Royal Navy would rely not on coal from Wales but on insecure oil supplies from what was then Persia. Energy security thus became a question of national strategy. Churchill's answer? "Safety and certainty in oil," he said, "lie in variety and variety alone."

Since Churchill's decision, energy security has repeatedly emerged as an issue of great importance, and it is so once again today. But the subject now needs to be rethought, for what has been the paradigm of energy security for the past three decades is too limited and must be expanded to include many new factors. Moreover, it must be recognized that energy security does not stand by itself but is lodged in the larger relations among nations and how they interact with one another.

Energy security will be the number one topic on the agenda when the group of eight highly industrialized countries (G-8) meets in St. Petersburg in July. The renewed focus on energy security is driven in part by an exceedingly tight oil market and by high oil prices, which have doubled over the past three years. But it is also fueled by the threat of terrorism, instability in some exporting nations, a nationalist backlash, fears of a scramble for supplies, geopolitical rivalries, and countries' fundamental need for energy to power their economic growth. In the background -- but not too far back -- is renewed anxiety over whether there will be sufficient resources to meet the world's energy requirements in the decades ahead.

Apparently Iran, and Russia have reached an agreement to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear program in Russia.
Iran's nuclear chief says an agreement in principle has been reached with Moscow to set up a joint uranium enrichment facility on Russian soil, a deal that could assuage global concerns that Teheran wants to build atomic bombs.

Meanwhile random bombings are on the rise in Khuzestan - must be those oppressed native ethnic Arabs in the region chafing under the oppressive rule of the mad mullahs in Tehran...

The Iranian Oil Bourse debate continues, this time at Crooked Timber, with John Quiggin kicking off the discussion.
I got an email asking me about the Iranian Oil Bourse, which is causing great excitement among the Peak Oil crowd. Here’s my draft response. Comments appreciated.

“Bourse” is just another word for “exchange”, and the creation of one in Iran is an attempt to capture more of the economic activity associated with international oil markets and also perhaps to exert more control over oil markets.

The US gains directly from the fact that people hold US currency (since it costs almost nothing to print, but can be used by the US government to buy goods and services – this is called “seignorage”) and indirectly in terms of perceived power and influence from the fact that the $US is the dominant world currency. The switch to euros threatens both. However, the total benefits are not that great. The seignorage benefit to the US from overseas holdings of $US is between $15 billion and $50 billion per year, and the United States has many more important sources of power and influence than the $US.

The Energy Blog has a review of the book "Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide", which looks at some of the possibilities to fill one of the missing links in the "Smart Grid" future - energy storage technologies.
I recently received the book, Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide, by Richard Baxter, which I enjoyed reading and would recommend to anyone who would like a good reference on energy storage.

The book is written in a language that should be easily understandable to anyone, technically trained or not. It clearly explains how energy storage can decouple generation from demand, thus making possible a variety of uses including: storing power during off peak for use during peak periods, smoothing peaks and valleys in demand, eliminating or delaying expansion of generating facilities, dispatchable power, reducing the intermittency of renewable resources, making the grid more reliable and improving the quality of power.

...

Energy storage technologies

* pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS)
* compressed air energy storage (CAES)
* flow batteries-vanadium redux, zinc bromine, polysulfide bromide and cerium zinc
* sodium sulfide battery
* lead-acid battery
* nickle cadmium battery
* flywheels
* electrochemical capacitors
* superconducting magnetic energy storage
* thermal energy storage

...

The author, Richard Baxter is a Senior Technical Analyst with Ardour Capital Investments, an investment bank specializing in energy technologies and alternative energy markets. He has written over 40 reports and industry journal articles; a recent article appeared on Energy Pulse.

The Energy Blog also has a post on the US DOE awarding a research contract to FuelCell Energy to develop 100 MW Fuel Cell power plants - another variety of "clean coal" project.
The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the third project selected under its new Fuel Cell Coal-Based Systems program. FuelCell Energy, Inc., of Danbury, Conn., will conduct research ultimately leading to the development of near-zero emission fuel cell power plants that efficiently convert coal to electricity.

Under the project FuelCell Energy is to develop an affordable fuel-cell-based technology that will operate on synthesis gas from a coal gasifier.

There is a Korean interview with Noam Chomsky which touches on both energy and the propaganda system. Its a bit long and he repeats a few points (like the new Asian Energy Grid and the Shanghai Cooperation Council), the implications of which could have done with a bit more explanation.
SUN WOO LEE: In the name of reconstructing Iraq, several countries dispatched troops to Iraq. How do you view this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the invasion of Iraq was an outright war crime. It is a clear, explicit war crime. It had no pretext, no justification and there was a reason for it: the reason was to take control of Iraq's enormous oil resources and to strengthen U.S. power in the region. I mean it is well understood by strategic analysts and international affairs specialists and has been for 50 years, that the reason the U.S. wants to control Middle East oil is not to gain access to the oil. They can do that through market processes - the oil is going to be sold, and anybody can buy it. The point is to have a strategic weapon against their rivals, meaning against Europe and Northeast Asia. Fifty years ago George Kennan, one of the leading planners, said that if the U.S. controls Middle East oil, it will have what he called veto power over anything Japan might do in the future for obvious reasons. You have your hand on the spigot; you can control what they do. And Japan understands it. That's why they have been trying to diversify their own energy sources. And the same is true for Europe. So the Iraq war should be a lever, a lever of power, against Europe and Asia.
...

SUN WOO LEE: You have presented the 'propaganda model' by which big transnational corporations and the media try to control the power of a nation. Please illustrate it.


NOAM CHOMSKY: What happened over the past century is that in the west, there were plenty of struggles for freedom and a lot of them achieved quite a lot. So the two countries most advanced were Britain and the U.S. and by a century ago they were the most free countries of the world and they were the most industrially developed. In both countries, elites understood--and we know this from their documents--that they no longer had the power to control the population by force. So therefore they have to turn to controlling them in some other way. I mean, the other way of controlling--attempt to control them--is by propaganda. I mean efforts to shape attitudes and beliefs. Out of that come the huge public relations industries, which developed in Britain and the U.S. And public relations advertising and so on is just propaganda. In fact, back at that time it was called propaganda. You know the word propaganda got kind of a bad image during the Second World War, associated with the Nazis and so on. So people dropped the term, but in the 1920s, it was straight out called propaganda. Like the name, texts of the public relations industry were called propaganda. And the Nazis, incidentally, recognized the force of Anglo-American propaganda and they mimicked it. The Nazi propaganda system was based on the U.S. and British commercial advertising system: same ideas, simple slogans, keep repeating, consumerism. So they picked it up. The German commercial advertisers were mobilized by Goebbels to create the Nazi propaganda system. It was very successful in Germany, horribly so.

Germany, remember, was the most advanced country in the western world. It was the peak of the arts and sciences, and so on, and within a few years it had gone to total barbarism. I mean a lot of it was propaganda borrowed from the Anglo-American systems. In the west, it's more sophisticated and subtle but everywhere you look you're just bombarded. I mean, take advertising. When you look at a TV ad for a car or a life style drug or something, you don't expect to be told the truth. I mean [if] you wanna find out about a Toyota or a Ford, you don't look at the ad because the ads are an effort to delude you. They wanna delude you with imagery. It's deceit. Everyone understands that. What they wanna do is undermine markets. They hate markets, basically. What they want is delusion and deceit by imagery.

And very much the same happens in other domains, in the public domain. So, let's take, say, elections. Elections in the United States by now are run by the public relations industry. So people have almost no idea of what the stand of the candidates is. In the last election in November 2004, it was about 10% who could identify the stands of the candidates. Now what you have is illusions. They create images to try to undermine democracy. And it's the same industry. Actually other countries are coming along behind. Europe is like a decade or two behind; they're moving in the same direction. Probably South Korea will, too. Elections will become just delusion, imagery and deceit. That makes a lot of sense from the point of view of the business world. They don't want people to become involved in public affairs.

And if you look at the media, it's pretty much the same. Take, say, the coverage of the Iraq war, the biggest issue. I mean, they claim there's criticism, but it's the kind of criticism you had in Russia during the Afghan war. Now if you read Pravda during the Afghan war, there would be critics and they'd say, "Look, too many Russian soldiers are dying. It's not working. We should put in a different general." That's the way the Iraq war is going. I mean if you went back to Pravda in the 1980s, nobody would say that "It is wrong to invade Afghanistan", or you know, "It's a violation of international law", and it would be all full of the, you know, benign intent: "We are not invading, we're there at the request of the legitimate government, we are trying to help the people." That's exactly what you read in the western press. People don't even think about it. They're so indoctrinated. They can't think about it.

On the subject of propaganda, Deconsumption and Mike Whitney both have posts on Obergruppenfuhrer Rumsfeld's display of disgruntlement with his propaganda system in front of the CFR recently.

Finally, Past Peak has some links to reviews of "V for Vendetta".

Earth Witness  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging's Jamais Cascio gave a good speech at the TED conference on "sustainable, collaborative and, well, worldchanging solutions to the planet's biggest problems", which describes an idea he calls "Earth Witness".

As a born-in-the-mid-1960s GenX'er, hurtling headlong to my 40th birthday, I'm naturally inclined to pessimism. But being part of WorldChanging has, much to my own surprise, convinced me that successful responses to the world's problems, while difficult, are nonetheless possible. Moreover, I've come to realize that focusing only on negative outcomes can blind one to the very possibility of success.

As Norwegian social scientist Evelin Lindner has observed, pessimism is a luxury of good times. In difficult times, pessimism is a self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence. The truth is, we can build a better world, and we can do so now. We have the tools -- you saw a hint of that a moment ago -- and we're making new ones all the time. We have the knowledge, and our understanding of our planet continues to grow by leaps and bounds. And we have the motive -- we have a world that needs fixing, and nobody's going to do it for us.

Many of the solutions I and my colleagues seek out and write up have some important aspects in common: transparency, collaboration, an appreciation of science and a willingness to experiment. The majority of models, tools and ideas posted on WorldChanging encompass combinations of these characteristics.

Let me give you some concrete examples of how these principles combine in worldchanging ways.

The WorldChanging team seem to be getting plenty of exposure lately, with Alex Steffen scheduled to talk at the Commonwealth Club.

MIT Technology Review has a lot of good articles recently related to energy. Examples include: a piece on early technological efforts at traffic avoidance (one way to reduce oil consumption is to help people aovid wasting fuel in traffic jams), an article on the process of cellulosic ethanol production, a look at "the next prius which examines European moves towards diesel hybrid manfacturing, a pair of posts on battery breakthroughs and an article on harnessing hot rock geothermal energy in Europe.

Renewable Energy Access has articles on - US efforts to block offshore wind farms, an Israeli project to create an entirely solar powered village in the Negev desert and a pair of articles on the PV solar industry.

The Energy Blog also has a post on offshore wind farm madness, along with one on the first IGCC plant project getting the go ahead in Florida, another on the expansion of the Chinese nuclear power industry and one of the virtues of thin film solar power technology.

In local energy news, Santos is looking to expand exploration for gas in the Timor sea.
The rapid acceleration of the Timor Sea gas search - in areas that are under Australian jurisdiction - is a further indication that the market for natural gas in Asia and North America is set to soar during the next decade.

Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane believes Australia will be the supplier of choice for LNG into North America in the next 10 years, and says there are huge prospects for brownfields development of both Darwin LNG and the North West Shelf gas project, already Australia's biggest resources development.

Darwin LNG, which has only one production train with a capacity of 3.5 million tonnes a year, this month became the second Australian export LNG development, with its first shipment about to arrive in Japan. Its gas supply comes from the small Bayu Undan fields in the joint petroleum development area of the Timor Sea, which means 90 per cent of government revenues from production are transferred to East Timor.

But the site on Darwin Harbour has a production licence for 10 million tonnes a year.

And to close, some links on the Big Brother theme - Bruce Schneier notes that the Houston police (state) department's idea of putting surveillence cameras in private homes is "so nutty that I wasn't even going to blog it - but too many of you are e-mailing the article to me". Dan Gillmor's post on the same topic is called "How Police States Emerge" (I actually think this is about step 5 - dismantling a lot of laws protecting individual freedoms while cultivating a state of fear make up the early stages). George Monbiot has an article called "Children of the Machine" which starts off with the recent report of some workers getting RFID tag implants in their arms then goes on to look at the stream of programs to get us all (to varying degrees) to carry some sort of RFID based identification (the final stage of that process presumably being people being required to carry national (RFID tagged) id cards).

William Greider notes that the bout of hysteria of the UAE buying 21 US ports is a case of the fear monger in chief becoming a victim of his own propaganda campaign.
David Brooks, the high-minded conservative pundit, dismissed the Dubai ports controversy as an instance of political hysteria that will soon pass. He was commenting on PBS, and I thought I heard a little quaver in his voice when he said this was no big deal. Brooks consulted "the experts," and they assured him there's no national security risk in a foreign company owned by Middle Eastern Muslims—actually, by an Arab government—managing six major American ports. Cool down, people. This is how the world works in the age of globalization.

Of course, he is correct. But what a killjoy. This is a fun flap, the kind that brings us together. Republicans and Democrats are frothing in unison, instead of polarizing incivilities. Together they are all thumping righteously on the poor president. I expect he will fold or at least retreat tactically by ordering further investigation. The issue is indeed trivial. But Bush cannot escape the basic contradiction, because this dilemma is fundamental to his presidency.

A conservative blaming hysteria is hysterical, when you think about it, and a bit late. Hysteria launched Bush's invasion of Iraq. It created that monstrosity called Homeland Security and pumped up defense spending by more than 40 percent. Hysteria has been used to realign U.S. foreign policy for permanent imperial war-making, whenever and wherever we find something frightening afoot in the world. Hysteria will justify the "long war" now fondly embraced by Field Marshal Rumsfeld. It has also slaughtered a number of Democrats who were not sufficiently hysterical. It saved George Bush's butt in 2004.

Bush was the principal author—along with his straight-shooting vice president—and now he is hoisted by his own fear-mongering propaganda. The basic hysteria was invented from risks of terrorism, enlarged ridiculously by the president's open-ended claim that we are endangered everywhere and anywhere—he decides where. Anyone who resists that proposition is a coward or, worse, a subversive. We are enticed to believe we are fighting a new Cold War.

...

So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business?

Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset. Thousands have died for it.

Also at Tom Paine, a post on Ted Koppel's article about the Us being willing to fight for oil but not being willing to debate the merits of this course of action.

Lastly, it looks like our Justice Minister has caught the torture bug from Dick Cheney and his merry men in Washington - Crikey reports:
Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison dropped a proverbial bomb at the Law Summer School in Perth yesterday during a debate on the lofty topic of the juxtaposition of anti-terrorism laws and the rule of law.

Lord Justice Kennedy and Professor HP Lee spoke, followed by a panel discussion including John North (Law Council president), Alexandra Richards QC and Senator Ellison, among others.

Eventually the subject was raised about what courts do with evidence obtained by torture. Lord Justice Kennedy responded in terms of an English House of Lords decision. Then came the Ellison bombshell when our Justice Minister openly declared that he had a policy of not asking if information was obtained by torture – the information was paramount, not the means of it being obtained.

He went on to say that the AFP would love to be able to torture people to get information if there was a bomb attack pending and they needed to know the details.

The rather stunned audience was then told that Amrosi and some of the other Bali bombers were convicted on evidence obtained by the Indonesian police using torture, but the AFP abided by Australian law in the investigation.

Gee, thank goodness for that. And this man is a Minister of the Crown in whom we place our trust !

Al-Qaida Attacks  

Posted by Big Gav

Al Qaida is apparently claiming responsibility for a car bomb attack on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq refinery complex. Al Qaeda (rather than local Sunni extremists) is now also being blamed for the destruction of the Askariya shrine in Iraq - which may be true, or may just be a convenient way of reducing sectarian tensions as daylight curfews start to put a lid on the resulting violence.

The Oil Drum has some pertinent quotes from various news reports on the Saudi Arabian attack.

Saudi security forces have foiled an apparent suicide car bomb attack on a major oil production facility in the eastern town of Abqaiq.

...

At least two cars carrying explosives were fired on at the plant, Saudi officials have said. BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the attack is the first direct assault on Saudi oil production.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi said output at the facility, which handles about two-thirds of the country's oil production, was unaffected by the attack. Oil security analysts have estimated that a serious attack on the facility could halve Saudi exports for up to a year.

...

Former Middle East CIA field officer Robert Baer has described Abqaiq as "the most vulnerable point and most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system."

Abqaiq handles crude pumped from the giant Ghawar field and ships it off to terminals Ras Tanura -- the world's biggest offshore oil loading facility -- and Juaymah.

The AP report noted:
Al-Qaida purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, the first on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia. The assault raised speculation that the militants were adopting the tactics of insurgents across the border in Iraq, where the oil industry has been repeatedly targeted.

...

Saudi Arabia has been waging a successful three-year crackdown on al-Qaida's branch in the kingdom. Security forces have killed or captured most of the branch's known top leaders, most recently in gunbattles in December, after the militants launched a campaign in 2003 to overthrow the U.S.-allied royal family with a string of attacks.

There have long been fears militants would target oil facilities, but in the past they have targeted foreigners working in the industry rather than infrastructure. "In Iraq they zeroed in on oil, and this appears to be a creeping process, since it is happening in Saudi Arabia," said Youssef Ibrahim, a Dubai-based political risk analyst with the Strategic Energy Investment Group.

In May 2004, attackers stormed the offices of a Houston-based oil company in the western Saudi oil hub of Yanbu in fighting that killed six Westerners, a Saudi and the militants. Several weeks later, al-Qaida-linked gunmen stormed oil company compounds in Khobar, on the eastern coast, and took hostages in a siege that killed 22 people, 19 of them foreigners.

In December 2004, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, a Saudi exile, for the first time called on militants to attack oil targets in the Gulf to stop the flow of oil to the West. But no major attacks followed in the region. Some experts have believed that because al-Qaida's long-term goal is to run Saudi Arabia, it would do nothing to seriously jeopardize the oil industry on which the kingdom's wealth is based.

Friday's attack is new "in the sense that this is the boldest attempt to strike at the heart of a Saudi oil-production complex," Eurasia Group oil analyst Antoine Halff said.

Saudi Arabia holds over 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, a quarter of the world's total. It currently puts out about 9.5 million barrels per day, or 11 percent of global consumption. The Abqaiq facility processes about 5-7 million barrels a day, removing hydrogen sulfide from crude oil to make it safe for shipping, before it is pumped to tankers for export.

Forbes has a report quoting Chinese sources that China's Guangdong province plans to build its own strategic oil reserves following severe oil shortages last year.
The Guangdong government intends to build a 10-mln-cubic-meter crude oil reserve ... It intends to build another two-million-cubic-meter reserve for oil products ... the project will begin this year and be completed by 2010.

Guangdong currently has commercial oil reserves that can only hold supplies for five to seven days, according to the paper. The state-run strategic reserve will be able to hold supplies for half a year.

China began building four strategic oil reserve bases in the eastern provinces of Zhejiang, Shandong and Liaoning more than a year ago, which will be able to hold supplies for 30 days.

The debate about whether or not the Iranian Oil Bourse will have any impact on the US dollar (or if it even exists) continues, with Jerome a Paris writing a diary that tries to debunk the whole idea on Daily Kos. I thought some of his points were wrong, but I guess you could make a case that the possible impact of it is something of an urban legend - time will tell. Some of the comments are worth considering as there is quite a lot of argument about the topic going on.

Jeff Vail isn't sure the bourse will open in March either, but does have an interesting post on petro-dollar recycling and the flap over the UAE buying US ports (all those excess dollars have to go somewhere, and for those who have had their fill of US treasuries, actual US assets are a tempting alternative - when there isn';t too muh political interference).

The Japanese are looking at returning to oil fired power generation during the (northern) summer peak season due to soaring LNG prices.

The British are worrying about gas shortages right now, with forecasts of cold weather in the coming weeks resulting in predictions of power cuts.
Faced with gas price rises of up to 22% and average annual fuel bills climbing to more than £1,000 a year, UK householders might well be wondering when the increases are going to stop. At the current rate, average annual bills would top £2,000 by 2007.

In fact, a recent publication suggests prices may well fall beyond 2007. Energy prices, as with other commodities, revolve around supply and demand. Right now we are in the worst possible place, with supply only just meeting demand amid fears that a bout of bad weather in the next few weeks could lead to an energy deficit of up to 15%.

Strange Attractors  

Posted by Big Gav

Jeff Vail has an article on an old fashioned way of collecting fertiliser for small scale agriculture - the dovecote.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of spending a few days at my wife’s aunt’s farmhouse in Vaour, in the south of France. It was one of the high points in a most unusual—and quite enjoyable—four weeks, five countries, and an itinerary that was completely trashed on day two. I had recently read "The Da Vinci Code," as well as the similar, deeper, and far more interesting novel "The Eight" by Katharine Neville. Suffice it to say that Robert Anton Wilson’s spirit of synchronicity was alive an well that August: I found myself accidentally—and quite literally—transported from hiking on the dales of northern England to being attacked by bats while exploring a Cathar stronghold next to a Templar fortress that cast a shadow on the aforementioned farmhouse. Oh, and to cap it all off, the entire village is a de-facto retirement home for 1968-era counterculture circus performers. Seriously. Imagine the classic scene of the old men playing petanq in the village square, only substitute fire dancers. But I digress… in a sharp and much needed departure from the geopolitics focus of late, let me return to another of my favorite topics, and in the process explain how my rambling introduction is actually relevant. The farm house, you see, had a dovecote…

If you read through the comments as well you'll see Jeff talks about the use of dovecotes during medieval times and how the needs of larger scale fertiliser acquirers (often abbeys or large landowners) needed to be balanced against the damage that could be done by large flocks of birds to crops. Past Peak also has an excellent post on how cultures that have evolved over a long period of time often developed elaborate structures to make themselves sustainable and balance the needs of different groups of people so that everyone prospered (in his case, the people of Bali). Unsurprisingly the "green revolution" has put paid to that.
The Long Now Foundation seeks to foster the long view, looking ahead to the next 10,000 years of human society. It sponsors monthly lectures by some of the West's most original thinkers, the audio for which is archived here. It's an extraordinary collection. Go explore. (The talk by Bruce Sterling is a hoot.)

I want to touch on just one of the lectures here, a recent talk by anthropologist Stephen Lansing, who has studied the planting and water management practices of Balinese rice farmers. From Stewart Brand's summary of the talk:
With lucid exposition and gorgeous graphics, anthropologist Stephen Lansing exposed the hidden structure and profound health of the traditional Balinese rice growing practices. The intensely productive terraced rice paddies of Bali are a thousand years old. So are the democratic subaks (irrigation cooperatives) that manage them, and so is the water temple system that links the subaks in a nested hierarchy.

When the Green Revolution came to Bali in 1971, suddenly everything went wrong. Along with the higher-yield rice came "technology packets" of fertilizers and pesticides and the requirement, stated in patriotic terms, to "plant as often as possible." The result: year after year millions of tons of rice harvest were lost, mostly to voracious pests. The level of pesticide use kept being increased, to ever decreasing effect...

MonkeyGrinder has a good look at a George Monbiot column on the drawbacks of palm oil, and once again points out the biofuels are more a problem than a solution...
George Monbiot reminds us of a blind spot in our culture. There is a tendancy to mentally "greenwash" anything involving living plants, even if they are to be harvested and burned as fuel, in the process using indigenous peoples and their land as a consumable commodity.

Malayasia might as well be a big wad of toilet paper for Westerners. Use once, call it "green" and throw away a functioning forest ecosystem for 100,000 years.

Delusion is not acceptable. Bio-Fuels are not acceptable. They will persist only as long as abundant energy allows.

It is called "the peak" for a reason.

Of course, while chopping down forests to plant crops that are then turned into biofuels is rather short sighted and no doubt downright dangerous in the long term, there are some biological processes that create fuels that are worth pursuing (biodiesel from algae has always been one of my favourites). Wired has an example of a process that could be promising - a modified form of algae that produces hydrogen naturally.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have engineered a strain of pond scum that could, with further refinements, produce vast amounts of hydrogen through photosynthesis.

The work, led by plant physiologist Tasios Melis, is so far unpublished. But if it proves correct, it would mean a major breakthrough in using algae as an industrial factory, not only for hydrogen, but for a wide range of products, from biodiesel to cosmetics.

The new strain of algae, known as C. reinhardtii, has truncated chlorophyll antennae within the chloroplasts of the cells, which serves to increase the organism's energy efficiency. In addition, it makes the algae a lighter shade of green, which in turn allows more sunlight deeper into an algal culture and therefore allows more cells to photosynthesize.

The Oil Drum has an interesting post on gas shortages in China - no wonder they are willing to butt heads with the Japanese over the East China Sea (and given the enormous gas deals they have done with Iran, its very hard to see them acquiescing to any military action being taken next month).
The China Daily is carrying a story that the gas-fired power plants in East China are unable to get enough natural gas to operate.
The shortage of natural gas has put the bulk of China's gas-fired power plants on the verge of closure, and industry leaders are calling for the government to trim its gas power development plans.

Due to the lack of gas supplies in East China, gas-fired power generation units with a total capacity of as much as 4 gigawatts (GW) must remain unused in the region where the country's biggest gas pipeline ends, Wang Yonggan, secretary general of China Electricity Council (CEC), said.

The same is true with the energy-guzzling southern areas of China, primarily driven the fast-growing regional economy of Guangdong Province. "In the south, the construction completion of a gas power plant also means it's shutdown - because there is no gas to run it," Wang said over the weekend at a power conference hosted by CEC, the industry association of China's electricity generators.

Rigzone has a number of interesting reports - Belize is about to struggle with the curse of oil, East Timor is trying to set up a fund to manage their oil and gas revenue over the long term (sticking to "safe" investments like bonds might turn out to be not a particularly good move though, particularly if they are US treasuries), drilling is about to start in New Zealand to try and forestall New Zealand's looming natural gas shortage and there is continuing turmoil in Ecuador disrupting oil exports (though apparently protesters have declared a truce for the time being).

WorldChanging has a post on "Greenland, Antarctica, and Beach-Front Property" which takes a look at Staurt Staniford's recent comprehensive post on global warming and melting ice packs at The Oil Drum. They also have posts on an Al Gore speech and Natural Sequestration and Terraforming the Earth.
Quick tip: if you live somewhere that's a meter or less above sea level, you should probably move inland soon. This may well also be the case if you live somewhere that's three meters or less above sea level. And there's even a chance this may be the case if you live somewhere that's five meters or less above sea level. In short, head for the hills.

That's the hard-to-avoid conclusion when looking at the speed at which the glacial ice of Greenland and Antarctica is melting. Recent studies indicate that Greenland's ice cap is turning to water at a rate more than double what geologists had predicted. And, as Stuart Staniford's troubling and fascinating Living in the Eemian entry at The Oil Drum describes, the last time the planet had average temperatures around what's predicted for later this century, sea levels were 25' higher than at present.

Energy Bulletin points to an article that notes that things are getting "Hotter, faster, worser".
Over the past several months, the normally restrained voice of science has taken on a distinct note of panic when it comes to global warming.

How did we go from debating the "uncertainty" behind climate science to near hysterical warnings from normally sober scientists about irrevocable and catastrophic consequences? Two reasons.

First, there hasn’t been any real uncertainty in the scientific community for more than a decade. An unholy alliance of key fossil fuel corporations and conservative politicians have waged a sophisticated and well-funded misinformation campaign to create doubt and controversy in the face of nearly universal scientific consensus. In this, they were aided and abetted by a press which loved controversy more than truth, and by the Bush administration, which has systematically tried to distort the science and silence and intimidate government scientists who sought to speak out on global warming.

But the second reason is that the scientific community failed to adequately anticipate and model several positive feedback loops that profoundly amplify the rate and extent of human-induced climate change. And in the case of global warming, positive feedback loops can have some very negative consequences. The plain fact is, we are fast approaching – and perhaps well past – several tipping points which would make global warming irreversible.

Iraq seems to be teetering on the brink of civil war - you can read straight reports about the bombing of the Askariya shrine at Past Peak and Paul McGeogh's report in the Herald, with Sunni extremists getting the blame.

Past Peak has a more analytical follow up post, which wonders what the Sunni's could hope to gain from such an act, and points out that a war could ruin our chances of successfully dealing with peak oil and global warming. I'm not so sure that this is entirely true - a big war would quite likely cause a rather large drop off in oil production and consumption (partly becuase of supply disruptions and partly becuase of the economic dislocation it would cause).
Since the target was a Shiite shrine, everyone seems to assume the attackers were Sunnis, but there are any number of possible candidates. All-out sectarian civil war would bring Iraq a giant step closer to partition into three statelets along sectarian lines — a happy outcome, for example, for neocons here and abroad. Are they pulling the strings? I have no idea. But it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that the whole Iraq campaign has had, from the outset, the unstated goal of Iraq's partition. Pretty much everything that's happened has furthered that end. But it's perhaps even harder to believe that the people managing the war are secret (evil) geniuses — given that they still can't manage, for example, to armor their own troops. Meanwhile, who knows what other actors are working for Iraq's partition to further their own ends.

Dark days in Iraq.

A longtime reader of PastPeak who sends me thought-provoking emails from time to time wrote me late last night (excerpt):
The destruction of Iraq cannot be undone. The bombing today today of the Shiite shrine, which serves no conceivable Sunni insurgent purpose, but brings much closer the final breakup of what was once a modernizing, secular and economically equitable country, cannot be undone. And of course an attack on Iran, by what will, given current European rhetoric, be viewed by Muslims everywhere as an attack by the West, will finally make real the "Clash of Civilizations" the neocons have been dreaming of.

You are right about the overarching importance of Global Warming, and the consequences of the end of the oil economy. In the meantime though all possibility of a rational response to these things will be destroyed by war with the Islamic world.

That last paragraph brought me up short. Of course, he's right. Should the Middle East continue its downward spiral into a far wider war, the war's deadliest consequence would be that the world would miss a critically important window in time, perhaps our last best chance, to avert catastrophe on the climate and peak oil fronts.

As we slide towards war in Iran or Syria, let us remember this: peace is a prerequisite for rational and constructive action on the real problems facing humanity. The stakes couldn't be higher. We need peace.



There doesn't seem to be much of the usual tinfoil analysis of the shrine's destruction (with no obvious hooks to hang a conspiracy theory on like British troops in plain clothes being caught outside with a truck full of fertiliser or such like) and I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the Iranians had something to do with this one (if you believe we can fake the occasional act of aggression to kick off a war here and there, then obviously its not out of the question other countries can too).

Using the usual conspiracy theorist yardstick of "cui bono", you could argue that an inflamed Iraqi Shiite population bent on strife would make a US invasion of Iran a bit trickier to manage in the coming weeks, so the Iranians might not be entirely unhappy about the turn of events (plus the lunatic fringe of "mahdi returns" nuts might find the destruction of his tomb appropriate at this point in time).

From RI, which is taking on an millenarian edge:
Afraid the time's too short today for writing, but time's getting shorter every day. I don't mean to get all John the Revelator about it, but as Juan Cole's written, "Tuesday was an apocalyptic day in Iraq."

The destruction of Samarra's Askariyah shrine marks a Biblical moment of provocation in Iraq's ersatz Civil War. And just in time, too, because there's a time-table to keep where "real men" want to go.

These must be hard times for soft-headed apologists of "benign" empire, who thought there could be something of worth even to the fiction of liberation and democracy; who believed that civil war would be the last thing sought by Western powers, which wanted peace and security rather than provocation and chaos.

The Samarra mosque contains the shrine of the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi, whom many Shiites believe is about to manifest himself. It's a belief shared and encouraged by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as Iraq's Muqtada all-Sadr. (The United States, of course, couldn't comfortably confront Iran so long as its presidency was held by the frustratingly reasonable Mohammad Khatami. In Ahmadinejad - who, like Bush, most probably won his office as well by election fraud - the US has a fine millenial foil.)

As Washington's Republican Guard must know, one advantage of cultivating a base which believes in the imminent end of the world is that the more catastrophic a regime's governance, the more encouraged its supporters become that they picked the right horseman for an apocalypse. Is all hell breaking loose? Great - all hell should break loose.

And as I close, Gerard Henderson is on the TV complaining about all the people decrying the Anglosphere's slide into fascism. The silly old coot really doesn't have a clue (though at least he isn't seeing reds under the bed tonight, unlike some of his newspaper columns in recent months - it's liberal democrats who are whinging about what is happening Gerard, not some phantom band of commies)...

Given that I've quoted a lot from Past Peak tonight I'll steal a couple of his collected jokes as well (on the sale of a number of US ports to the UAE):
The White House has given permission for a company owned by the government of Dubai to run six US ports, including the Port of New York. Now Dubai was accused of supporting the September 11th attacks and was one of only three countries to support the Taliban. Now they're going to run the Port of New York. What's next, we'll put Mexico in charge of immigration? How about Dick Cheney in charge of gun safety? Courtney Love in charge of Olympic drug testing? — Jay Leno

President Bush now is apparently giving an Arab country control of American ports. Does that seem like a good idea? He's going to give control of American ports to an Arab country. If he keeps this up, people are going to start questioning his judgment. — David Letterman

The Great Warming  

Posted by Big Gav

It looks like this will be the year of the global warming documentary, with the latest instance being Stonehaven Productions' TV series "The Great Warming". Interestingly this was partly financed by insurance company Swiss Re - they probably don't have pockets as deep as Exxon does but I'm sure they can help raise awareness and pressure on our pitiful leaders.

We are living at the dawn of a new epoch. Year by year, degree by degree, Earth is growing warmer... a legacy of the Industrial Revolution, population growth, and our addiction to technology, speed and power.

Just as other generations spoke of a Great Plague and a Great Depression, our children will be compelled to endure The Great Warming - and find a way to conquer its consequences.

Filmed in eight countries on four continents, endorsed by dozens of the world's leading scientists, this three-hour television series is the most factually accurate, visually stunning and wide-ranging production ever mounted about this complex, fascinating subject.



Renewable Energy Access reports on how the problem of rising solar PV prices is affecting the third world (another example of why they will bear the brunt, as usual, of peak energy). Hopefully the new wave of solar power technology will result in falling prices once enough new supply comes online.
We all know now that, in the last 24 to 30 months, the cost of solar panels ($/watt) is increasing drastically (rather than decreasing as predicted by experts) and fingers are pointing toward Germany.

The sudden boom in the German market and competition from the semiconductor industry has led to an imbalance in the supply and demand of feedstock. This has been one of the causes for the steady rise in solar module prices.

Adding to the rise in prices has been the lack of availability of smaller modules, those that are required to power the meager load requirements of households in the rural areas of India, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Uganda or Fiji.

Steady cash flow and decent profitability has forced the manufactures to weave away from manufacturing smaller modules, in order to cater to demand from Germany and other western countries.

REA also has a report that Canadian wind power capacity grew by 239 MW last year (less than half of a coal fired generation unit - but the amount is growing rapidly in percentage terms at least).

Talks between Iran and Russia over nuclear fuel processing have ended without any greement being reached.

Nigerian oil production has dropped by almost 20% after the latest round of attacks by militants in the Niger delta, who are aiming for a 30% fall it seems (nothing like a stretch target to keep the troops working hard). Saudi Arabia is claiming it can step in and produce enough extra oil to make up the shortfall. Nigerian oil worker's unions are considering their response to safety issues (I wonder if can you get paid penalty rates while you are being held hostage ?).
Crude oil rose for a third session in New York after rebel attacks over the weekend halted almost a fifth of Nigeria's output. The militants threatened to intensify their offensive, aiming to reduce production by 30 percent.

Since Feb. 18, militants have assaulted a Royal Dutch Shell Plc export terminal and a pipeline, kidnapped nine foreign workers and idled 455,000 barrels a day of output, or 19 percent of the country's total. Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer, pumps about 8 percent of OPEC's crude and plans to increase that proportion, helping to restore the group's spare production capacity.

There are also supply disruptions occurring in Ecuador after local Indians damaged a pipeline and pumping station.

According to a report quoted on peakOil.com, Canada's natural gas supply will run out in 8 years (presumably this doesn't include future discoveries, but it still sounds excessively doomerish - if true it would seem to make all that tar sands processing a bit difficult - I wonder how those nuclear power plant plans are coming along).

Jamais at WorldCHanging has written a manifesto on "The Open Future".
As a planet, we face a handful of truly profound dilemmas taking shape in the first part of this century. It's no exaggeration to say that the decisions we make about how to handle these dilemmas will make the difference between a flourishing of global civilization and a fate akin to extinction. And while there is a small variety of world-ending challenges that could emerge at any moment -- from an asteroid impact to a naturally-emerging pandemic -- the key dilemmas of this century are entirely in our hands.

The first, and most certain, is the threat from global climate disruption. The more we learn about the changes now taking place in our planet's climate systems, the greater the challenge appears. We are unaccustomed to thinking about slow-moving problems with long lag times between actions and reactions; there is a real risk that the first serious efforts to cut carbon emissions will coincide with an acceleration of problems arising from decades-old changes to the atmosphere. Successful response to this challenge will require us to think in terms of big systems and long cycles far outside our every day experience.

...

Across all of these issues, the fundamental tools of information, collaboration and access will be our best hope for turning world-ending problems into worldchanging solutions. If we're willing to try, we can create a future that's knowledgable, democratic and sustainable -- a future that's open. Open as in transparent. Open as in participatory. Open as in available to all. Open as in filled with an abundance of options. There are few other choices that see us through the century.

We can have an open future, or we might have no future at all.

SlashDot has a post on Donald Rumsfeld complaining that he needs a 24 hour a day propaganda machine - the current one isn't doing the job properly. Maybe he should reflect on why British and American propaganda was successful in the world wars and why it isn't now (hint: he who invades first has an uphill battle).
The BBC is reporting that US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is unhappy with the existing propaganda systems in place and insists that the US must create a 'more effective, 24-hour propaganda machine' or risk losing the battle for the minds of Muslims. In an era where we've already got government-created and funded media outlets and the Pentagon bribing Iraqi journalists to run favorable war stories, not to mention other departments paying journalists to endorse their positions, it begs the question, how much more can they possibly do ?

Francis "I'm not a neoconservative, honest" Fukuyama has an article in the New York Times on "The End of Neoconservatism" - maybe the rats have started leaving the ship before it sinks. Its an interesting double-pike-with-twist act that he tries to perform, simultaneously trying to disavow neoconservatism, while saying that its aims were noble and Leo Strauss was just a humble philosopher. The argument that the neocons are just a modernised group of Leninists is also trotted out, which I've seen around the traps a few times lately.
I have numerous affiliations with the different strands of the neoconservative movement. I was a student of Strauss's protégé Allan Bloom, who wrote the bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind"; worked at Rand and with Wohlstetter on Persian Gulf issues; and worked also on two occasions for Wolfowitz. Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.

And to close, Past Peak has a post on the science of torure, which makes an interesting companion piece to "The Men Who Stare At Goats".

Peak Fish ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Canada's "Globe and Mail" has a report on the impact of overfishing that notes that the total world catch of fish is in decline (along with a number of other points that sound all too familiar - no action, more research required - where have i heard that line before ?).

Less research, more political action.

That's the simple formula for saving the world's fish that is being advanced by Daniel Pauly, a leading researcher who has been tracking the steady and alarming decline of global fish stocks.

"We don't need more science," Dr. Pauly said in a statement released yesterday as he prepared to make a presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science at a conference in St. Louis, Mo.

"Of course, we need to learn more about fish. But research is often publicly funded on the grounds that this is an alternative to other political action. We know enough [now] to prevent the continued decimation of global fisheries."

Dr. Pauly, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia, said there is a global crisis in fisheries management that governments need to address immediately.

He said that the world has passed a peak in the total weight of fish caught in the world's oceans.

BHP has won the right to start digging up even more coal - from the Gunnedah region.
After a competitive tender process which included offers from rivals Xstrata Coal, White Mining and Mitsubishi, on Friday BHP won the right to explore a 350 square kilometre area of land near Gunnedah that contains an estimated 500 million tonnes of coal resources.

The Gunnedah Basin has long been viewed as NSW's next major coal province. "The Gunnedah Basin does have huge coal resources and it's the natural area for replacement of the Hunter Valley reserves as they run out," said Keith Ross, managing director of Whitehaven Coal Mining, a private company that operates the only mine in the region.

George Bush is calling for more nuclear power plants to be built and asking for budget allocations for research into nuclear fuel reprocessing.

There are reports from Nigeria that Shell has suspended exports from the 380,000 barrel-a-day Forcados terminal after militants bombed the tanker loading platform along with 2 pipelines.

Hugo Chavez is again threatening to cut off shipments of oil to the US if they interfere too much (exactly how much wasn't specified) in internal Venezuelan politics.

NASA's Jim Hansen has an article on global warming (and censorship) in The Independent.
A satellite study of the Greenland ice cap shows that it is melting far faster than scientists had feared - twice as much ice is going into the sea as it was five years ago. The implications for rising sea levels - and climate change - could be dramatic.

Yet, a few weeks ago, when I - a NASA climate scientist - tried to talk to the media about these issues following a lecture I had given calling for prompt reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, the NASA public affairs team - staffed by political appointees from the Bush administration - tried to stop me doing so. I was not happy with that, and I ignored the restrictions. The first line of NASA 's mission is to understand and protect the planet.

This new satellite data is a remarkable advance. We are seeing for the first time the detailed behavior of the ice streams that are draining the Greenland ice sheet. They show that Greenland seems to be losing at least 200 cubic kilometers of ice a year. It is different from even two years ago, when people still said the ice sheet was in balance.

Hundreds of cubic kilometers sounds like a lot of ice. But this is just the beginning. Once a sheet starts to disintegrate, it can reach a tipping point beyond which break-up is explosively rapid. The issue is how close we are getting to that tipping point. The summer of 2005 broke all records for melting in Greenland. So we may be on the edge.

TriplePundit has a post on a BBC interview of a Chevron spokesman.
The BBC's Mike Williams interviews Chevron vice-chairman Peter Robertson on peak oil and the future of the oil industry. The vice chairman gets put on the spot in a major way by the British interviewer who mercilessly drills him on climate change, greenwashing, the inevitability of the end of oil as well as what the public "really wants".

Robertson defends the company by standing by claims that oil is nowhere near running out and that Chevron will basically continue doing exactly what it has been doing all along - extracting oil and selling it to consumers who demand it, and nothing else. If, in fact, consumers were demanding alternative energy, Robertson says that Chevron would happily provide it.

Williams pushes his buttons pretty hard saying that the popularity of Chevron's own "Will You Join Us" website proves that consumers are demanding alternatives and that the relatively small amount of investment that Chevron is making in renewables proves they are just pulling a PR stunt.

Sydney Peak Oil reports that Richard Heinberg and David Holmgren will be doing a joint speaking tour of Australia on peak oil in August.

Texas Republican Ron Paul is a rather odd example of that species - while I suspect I'd diasgree with him on some topics he does have a knack for plain talking and facing reality head on (unlike some of his more prominent fellow Texans). This latest speech to the US Congress almost sounds like something that Noam Chomsky, Michael Klare or some other reality based leftist might have written (its quite long and slightly repetitive and I don't share his enthusiasm for gold, but its worth reading the whole thing anyway). I'd love to see what his fellow Reps made of it - but I suspect it was made to an empty house...
Most Americans forget how our policies have systematically and needlessly antagonized the Iranians over the years. In 1953 the CIA helped overthrow a democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadeqh, and install the authoritarian Shah, who was friendly to the U.S. The Iranians were still fuming over this when the hostages were seized in 1979. Our alliance with Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran in the early 1980s did not help matters, and obviously did not do much for our relationship with Saddam Hussein.

The administration announcement in 2001 that Iran was part of the axis of evil didn't do much to improve the diplomatic relationship between our two countries. Recent threats over nuclear power, while ignoring the fact that they are surrounded by countries with nuclear weapons, doesn't seem to register with those who continue to provoke Iran. With what most Muslims perceive as our war against Islam, and this recent history, there's little wonder why Iran might choose to harm America by undermining the dollar. Iran, like Iraq, has zero capability to attack us. But that didn't stop us from turning Saddam Hussein into a modern-day Hitler ready to take over the world. Now Iran, especially since she's made plans for pricing oil in Euros, has been on the receiving end of a propaganda war not unlike that waged against Iraq before our invasion.

It's not likely that maintaining dollar supremacy was the only motivating factor for the war against Iraq, nor for agitating against Iran. Though the real reasons for going to war are complex, we now know the reasons given before the war started, like the presence of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's connection to 9/11, were false. The dollar's importance is obvious, but this does not diminish the influence of the distinct plans laid out years ago by the neo-conservatives to remake the Middle East.

Israel's influence, as well as that of the Christian Zionists, likewise played a role in prosecuting this war. Protecting "our" oil supplies has influenced our Middle East policy for decades. But the truth is that paying the bills for this aggressive
intervention is impossible the old fashioned way, with more taxes, more savings, and more production by the American people. Much of the expense of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 was shouldered by many of our willing allies. That's not so today. Now, more than ever, the dollar hegemony -- it's dominance as the world reserve currency -
- is required to finance our huge war expenditures. This $2 trillion never-ending war must be paid for, one way or another. Dollar hegemony provides the vehicle to do just that.

For the most part the true victims aren't aware of how they pay the bills. The license to create money out of thin air allows the bills to be paid through price inflation. American citizens, as well as average citizens of Japan, China, and other countries suffer from price inflation, which represents the "tax" that pays the bills for our military adventures. That is until the fraud is discovered, and the foreign producers decide not to take dollars nor hold them very long in payment for their goods. Everything possible is done to prevent the fraud of the monetary system from being exposed to the masses who suffer from it. If oil markets replace dollars with
Euros, it would in time curtail our ability to continue to print, without restraint, the world's reserve currency.

It is an unbelievable benefit to us to import valuable goods and export depreciating dollars. The exporting countries have become addicted to our purchases for their economic growth. This dependency makes them allies in continuing the fraud, and their participation keeps the dollar's value artificially high. If this system were workable long term, American citizens would never have to work again. We too could enjoy "bread and circuses" just as the Romans did, but their gold finally ran out and the inability of Rome to continue to plunder conquered nations brought an end to her empire.

The same thing will happen to us if we don't change our ways. Though we don't occupy foreign countries to directly plunder, we nevertheless have spread our troops across 130 nations of the world. Our intense effort to spread our power in the oil-rich Middle East is not a coincidence. But unlike the old days, we don't declare direct ownership of the natural resources -- we just insist that we can buy what we want and pay for it with our paper money.

Any country that challenges our authority does so at great risk. Once again Congress has bought into the war propaganda against Iran, just as it did against Iraq. Arguments are now made for attacking Iran economically, and militarily if necessary. These arguments are all based on the same false reasons given for the ill-fated and costly occupation of Iraq.

Our whole economic system depends on continuing the current monetary arrangement, which means recycling the dollar is crucial.

Currently, we borrow over $700 billion every year from our gracious benefactors, who work hard and take our paper for their goods. Then we borrow all the money we need to secure the empire (DOD budget $450 billion) plus more. The military might we enjoy becomes the "backing" of our currency. There are no other countries that can challenge our military superiority, and therefore they have little choice but to accept the dollars we declare are today's "gold." This is why countries that challenge the system -- like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela -- become targets of our plans for regime change.

The economic law that honest exchange demands only things of real value as currency cannot be repealed. The chaos that one day will ensue from our 35-year experiment with worldwide fiat money will require a return to money of real value. We will know that day is approaching when oil-producing countries demand gold, or its equivalent, for their oil rather than dollars or Euros. The sooner the better.

The Nation has a report on "The End Of The Internet". Not surprising really - running a decent propaganda system is made unnecessarily complex if everyone has free access to information from whomever cares to publish it.

Of course,if this came to pass, it would stimulate a lot of development in the wireless mesh network space, which would be interesting - information wants to be free after all...
Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.

Under the plans they are considering, all of us--from content providers to individual users--would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing "platinum," "gold" and "silver" levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received.

21 Feet  

Posted by Big Gav

The story of Greenland's melting ice cap is slowly reverberating through the media - TomPaine has a story on the impact of a 21 foot rise in ocean levels should the cap melt entirely, and the issues preventing the problem being tackled.

Diane Sawyer, anchoring ABC's "World News Tonight" simply repeated the most stark statistic from her network's report yesterday on the increasing melt rate of the Greenland ice sheet. "Twenty-one feet," she said. Twenty-one feet. That's how much the world's sea levels will rise when Greenland's ice fully melts.

Catastrophic melting will do more than just inundate the nation's coastal cities. California's Imperial Valley will flood, as levees are overcome by the rising waters. That will mean the devastation of one of America's great agricultural breadbaskets and the loss of Southern California's main source of freshwater. California may both drown and dry up before the big earthquake ever hits.

Melting will also change the world's weather patterns, especially in the northern hemisphere. Massive amounts of cold freshwater will likely shut down the Atlantic Ocean currents that bring the warm waters from the tropics up to heat Europe. Ironically, Northern Europe will get colder as a result of global warming, increasing its energy needs and devastating its agricultural cycles.

But until now, politicians in Washington have preferred to ignore or reject the real threats posed by global warming. The reason is simple. The solutions to this problem are too disruptive to vested interests.

The Independent is continuing their excellent global warming coverage, with one recent article noting that greenhouse gases are being released into the atmosphere 30 times faster than the last time the Earth experienced an episode of global warming.

AP has a report that claims that China and Iran are about to complete anothe huge oil deal - looks like Iran is working as fast as possible to get its possible protectors onside before the March security council deliberations on their nuclear program. The French certainly seem to be keen to be part of any new "coalition of the willing" this time round judging by their public posturing.
China and Iran are close to setting plans to develop Iran's Yadavaran oil field, according to published reports, in a multibillion-dollar deal that comes as Tehran faces the prospect of sanctions over its nuclear program. The deal is thought potentially to be worth about $100 billion.

According to Caijing, a respected financial magazine, a Chinese government delegation is due to visit Iran as early as March to formally sign an agreement allowing China Petrochemical Corp., also known as Sinopec, to develop Yadavaran.

The Wall Street Journal also reported in Friday's editions that the two sides are trying to conclude the deal in coming weeks before potential sanctions are imposed on Iran for its nuclear ambitions. The report cited unnamed Iranian oil ministry officials familiar with the talks. The deal would complete a memorandum of understanding signed in 2004.

In exchange for developing Yadavaran, one of Iran's largest onshore oil fields, China would agree to buy 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year for 25 years beginning in 2009, the Caijing report said, citing Sinopec board member Mou Shuling.

...

Western nations fear that Iran plans to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran insists its intentions are purely for generating electricity. Growing international concern about its aims contributed to Tehran being reported to the U.N. Security Council by the 35-nation board of the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.

On Thursday, France's foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, accused Iran of secretly making nuclear weapons.

The Security Council is due to consider Iran's nuclear activities next month. The council has the power to impose economic and political sanctions on Iran, but members China and Russia could exercise their veto power against such measures.

Iran is also continuing its tactic of taunting the west, calling for the UK to withdraw troops from Basra, with a spokesman saying during a visit to Lebanon "Iran demands the immediate withdrawal of British forces from Basra". He also said "UK troops were destabilising the city".

The situation is steadily escalating with Syria as well, with reports that the country has switched all of the state's foreign currency transactions to euros from dollars. I've seen a few conspiracy theorists suggesting that Iran may be too tough a nut to crack (given that the Russians and Chinese may veto any UN authorised action thanks to the arms sales and oil deals they are getting from the Iranians), but an invasion of Syria and intervention of one sort or another in Lebanon would help clear the way for piping out oil from the north of Iraq (a largely autonomous Kurdistan) to the Mediterranean.

Ireland.com has an interesting interview with Syriana writer-director Stephen Gaghan.
The title Syriana comes from a term used by Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East. According to Gaghan, he is using it more abstractly, to refer to the "fallacious dream that you can successfully re-make nation states in your own image". So, despite the absence of clear-cut heroes and villains, he clearly does hold a strong view on the current US project of regime change in the region.

"But it's hard-earned," he argues. "I didn't start out with that perspective or with a pre-existing bias. I just went around and talked to as many people involved in the drama as I could, from the Arab side to the Washington, DC side. I talked to the families that own oil-producing countries and I talked to the middlemen in Europe and the people in American oil companies. I just went around and asked all these questions."

Along the way, he met everyone from neo-con intellectual Richard Perle to the leader of Hizbullah in Beirut, along with oilmen, financial analysts and arms dealers.

"Certain themes emerged, and my worldview shifted a little bit. What I thought about how it all worked changed. I became much more tolerant of the people involved. They were better people than I expected. When you talk to people they become humanised, and they're not the cardboard cutouts you expected or that you've reduced them to. But the level to which greed and a very narrow form of self-interest motivated the players in the drama - I was very surprised by that. There's much less altruism and much more 'I'm going to get mine now'. And that was really everybody."

One of the things that struck Gaghan most, and which comes across in the film, was how small and interlinked the world of power and influence in the oil industry is.

... the overriding impression one gets from Syriana is of a system of power which has been in place since the end of the second World War at least, but is beginning to collapse under the pressure of economic imperatives, political violence and global change.

"Exactly," says Gaghan, rather gleefully. "I think you can feel it coming, can't you? We've reached peak oil production, and the carbon economy's going to change. You have this incredible fact that China has 10 million cars now and in 20 years they're going to have 100 million cars. India's on the same trajectory. What does that mean for oil prices? They're not going to be within reach of the average person. There'll be giant structural shifts. I think it's exciting - and terrifying."

Tom Whipple's latest peak oil article in the Falls Church News Press looks at the rather frightening picture of depletion in Mexico's Cantarell field (the world's second largest).
Somewhere, between 65 million years ago and 1976, parts of this underwater rubble filled hole, filled up with about 35 billion barrels of oil. Making it one of the world's greatest oil fields. It is now called Cantarell.

Within a few years of its discovery in 1976, it was producing over a million barrels a day from only 40 wells. Fifteen years later however, the natural gas pressure driving out the oil started to give out and production started dropping. In response, the Mexican Oil Company PEMEX built a large nitrogen separation plant near the field and started injecting 1.2 billion cubic feet of high-pressure nitrogen into Cantarell each day.

The program worked like a dream; a few years later Cantarell was producing 2.1 million barrels per day— making it number two in the world right up there behind the Saudi's great Ghawar field which is producing on the order of 4.4 million barrels a day. This 2 million barrels a day represents about 60% of Mexican oil production and is what allows the country to export 1.82 million barrels a day most of which went to the United States.

Like all good things, massive flows of cheap oil must one day come to an end, so only four years after getting production up to over 2 million barrels a day, PEMEX announced the end was in sight and Cantarell was going into depletion. Last year, they announced the decline had actually started and that 2005 production would be down to 2.0 million barrels a day— 5% lower than in 2004.

There the matter rested. However, as we know in Washington , you simply can't keep a really good secret very long. Last week, somebody leaked the top secret PEMEX Cantarell Depletion study, and guess what? The situation might just well be a whole lot worse than the Mexicans have been letting on.

The BBC has a report that militants in the Niger delta are threatening "total war" in a campaign imaginatively named "dark February".
A Nigerian militant commander in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta has told the BBC his group is declaring "total war" on all foreign oil interests.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has given oil companies and their employees until midnight on Friday night to leave the region. It recently blew up two oil pipelines, held four foreign oil workers hostage and sabotaged two major oilfields. The group wants greater control of the oil wealth produced on their land.

Apparently the first novel describing a post peak collapse - "After the Crash: An Essay-Novel of the Post-Hydrocarbon Era" - has been released - how much longer until a movie follows ? From the same source, a post of pod shelters, which is kind of intriguing...



Moving onto my favourite hobby horse the week (the ongoing rise of Big Brother), there is anoutrageous story from Houston that the local police are asking for surveillence cameras to be installed inside people's homes (as well as everywhere else) - the source doesn't look entirely impartial (and even credits Prison Planet), but the underlying report is from AP, so presumably its true. The Seattle Times has an editorial saying that Bush's script was written by George Orwell (not literally of course). Wisconsin Senator Feingold is fighting a lonely battle against both the renewal of the Patriot Act and the amazing likelihood that no action will be taken over Bush's illegal wiretapping campaign (maybe those conspiracy theories that the purpose of that campaign is to get dirt on Democrats so they can be blackmailed are true after all). TomPaine also has an article called "When Bush Makes Decisions that looks at some of the great cretin's latest policy disasters (and also refers to Colonel Wilkerson's darkly amusing recent analysis of the pros and cons of dictatorship vs democracy - dictatorships can work, but what happens when you have a dumb dictator ?).
The other headline, "U.S. Royalty Plan To Give Windfall To Oil Companies," is another example of Bush leading America further in the wrong direction. Beyond the breathtakingly bald raid on the U.S. Treasury, the move comes at a time when oil companies are posting record profits—in turn caused by the risk premium associated with Bush's ideological misadventure in the Persian Gulf.

Byron Dorgan, Democratic senator from North Dakota, has in fact called for a tax on oil companies' windfall profits. That initiative speaks to the level of frustration Americas are having with Washington's inability to put the country on a sustainable energy course. Indeed, the latest report from the Financial Times, published yesterday, says that geopolitical instability and major underinvestment in oil production capacity will result in years of higher oil prices. And that's before we consider leading oil investment banker Matthew Simmons' thesis that Saudi oil has peaked.

While I agree with Sen. Dorgan's goals, my own sense is that tit-for-tat treasury raiding is more catharsis than solution. I'm not in any way defending the oil oligopoly, but I think a windfall profits tax is just another band-aid. The longer-term solution that I would prefer is to increase the royalties the U.S. government charges on oil and gas extraction in the first place. In other words, what we should be doing is the exact opposite of what President Bush just anounced. Currently, I estimate that the royalty charged by the government is about $2/barrel. Oil prices are today $61/barrel. It's time to capture some of that value for the American people. It is after all, our oil.

Bush's action on oil royalties is a great example of the lengths to which our nation will go to make it look like oil is inexpensive at the gas pump. Since 1980, America has fooled itself into thinking that it could preserve the cheap energy conditions that existed after World War II.

James Lovelock’s Gloomy Vision  

Posted by Big Gav

RealClimate has a post on James Lovelock's "Gaia's Revenge" that looks at both the history of his Gaia theory and the likelihood of his prediction that humanity will be reduced to a few breeding pairs in the Arctic by catastrophic climate change. They point out that there aren't any climate models that predict such a scenario, and the possibility is low (though not zero).

I'm sure the more doomer oriented amongst you will quickly point out that experts don't know everything and that global warming isn't the only problem we face - and you'd be quite right. But it is encouraging nevertheless to see the people who worry daily about global warming aren't as freaked out by it as Mr Lovelock is.

James Lovelock, renegade Earth scientist and creator of the Gaia hypothesis, has written a gloomy new book called “Revenge of Gaia”, in which he argues that we should be stashing survival manuals, printed on good old-fashioned paper, in the Arctic where the last few breeding pairs of humans will likely be found after a coming climate catastrophe. The book is not published in the U.S. yet, but it is available from amazon.co.uk. Lovelock has never been one to shrink from a bold vision. What is it he sees now?

In the first biogeochemistry class I took, I was assigned to read the first few chapters of Lovelock’s 1978 book, “Gaia: A new look at life on earth”. Since then, I have assigned those same chapters to every biogeochemistry class I have ever taught. Lovelock wrote very eloquently about the eerie stability of the earth system. The sun has been warming throughout its lifetime, and yet the climate of the earth has remained stable between the relatively narrow range of the boiling and freezing points of water. This observation was labeled the “faint young sun” paradox by Carl Sagan [1972], and now has at least a partial explanation in terms of the weathering of silicate rocks, the silicate weathering thermostat [Walker et al., 1981]. Lovelock also points out that the oxygen concentration of the atmosphere has been remarkably stable over the half-billion years since multicellular life appeared in the fossil record, never high enough to explode (doubled atmospheric oxygen would lead to unstoppable continent-scale forest fires), nor low enough to wipe out the animals. Nitrogen, Lovelock points out, ought thermodynamically to exist as nitrate dissolved in the oceans; the reason that most of Earth’s nitrogen exists as nitrogen gas in the atmosphere is because of life.

Lovelock’s bold leap was to envision life on Earth as a single unified organism, capable of regulating the environment on Earth for its own well-being, analogous to the way that you or I regulate the temperature and chemistry of our bodies.

...

We should be very clear. No one, not Lovelock or anyone else, has proposed a specific, quantitative scenario for a climate-driven, all out, blow the doors off, civilization ending catastrophe. Mr. Lovelock has a feeling in his gut that something terrible is going to happen. He could be right, but for what it's worth, there aren't any models that explode as catastrophically as this. We can never say that it's impossible that something might fall out of balance, something we haven't thought of. But I think in general the consensus gut feeling among small-minded working scientists like me is that the odds of such a catastrophe are low.

RealClimate also notes that it is Charles Darwin's birthday - and uses the occasion to compare the motivations of people who deny the theory of evolution with those who deny global warming.
Another relation between the two issues is that Evolution skeptics are motivated by ideology to deny a well-established scientific theory. In the case of Evolution, the ideological motivation is a perceived conflict between the picture of the operation of the natural world presented by the Theory of Evolution, and the tenets of certain faiths (a perceived conflict that, I am happy to see, is not shared by all people of faith, as witness the extensive "Evolution Sunday " activities ). Similarly, most Global Warming denialists are for the most part motivated not by abstract curiosity about the behavior of climate systems, but by a perceived conflict between the actions that would need to be taken to avert unacceptable climate change, and their beliefs about the extent to which economic growth and material prosperity based on fossil-fuel energy use should be unfettered. (Again, not all economists or members of the business community perceive a conflict here). In both cases, the skeptics prosecute not just an attack on the policy implications of science, but on the scientific method itself, often using similar rhetorical devices. In fact, sometimes skepticism about global warming and about evolution are combined in one and the same person, as is the case for Roy Spencer, for example

The BBC reports that Greenland's glaciers are sliding towards the sea much faster than previously believed and the amount of ice dumped into the Atlantic Ocean has doubled in the last five years. They note that if the Greenland ice sheet melts completely, it would raise global sea levels by about 7m.

The BBC also has a report that US conservation groups have begun a new legal case aimed at forcing government action on climate change. I wonder if the same tactic could be tried here in Australia ?
US conservation groups ... have filed a petition with the UN arguing that Waterton-Glacier Peace Park, a protected area, is being damaged by rising temperatures. Similar actions have been lodged over sites in the Himalayas and Andes.

The case, filed on the first anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol's entry into force, could compel the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Petitioners argue that the US, as a signatory to the UN World Heritage Convention, has a legal duty to protect areas with World Heritage status, including Waterton-Glacier. "The effects of climate change are well-documented and clearly visible in Glacier National Park," said the petition's lead author Erica Thorson from the International Environmental Law Project. "Yet the US has not taken action to protect the world heritage of the park by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to its obligations under the World Heritage Convention."

In 2004 conservation groups co-ordinated by the legal environmental organisation Climate Justice filed similar petitions on behalf of the Sagarmatha National Park in the Himalayas, the Belize Barrier Reef, and Huascaran National Park in Peru. The Sagarmatha petition is supported by Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary, who said: "The warming of the Himalayas has increased noticeably over the last 50 years... this has caused several and severe floods from glacial lakes, and much disruption to the environment and local people."

On other matters atmospheric, the hole in the ozone layer is still growing and isn't expected to begin shrinking until the end of the decade - so its probably a good thing thing I'm going back to work next week after 2 solid weeks at the beach (highlight of todays session at Bondi - a penguin swam past me)...

Grist has their usual witty headline writers hard at work, with another story about climate scientists in the US being prevented from talking about global warming "What the Bleep Do They Know".
NOAA scientists join NASA's with accounts of global-warming censorship
Government censorship: It's what's for dinner. Some climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration whose views on global warming contradict Bush administration policy say they're being prevented from giving particular interviews or being closely monitored by press handlers. A recent NOAA press release claiming "consensus" around the fact that global warming had nothing to do with the intensity of 2005's hurricanes was recently changed after outraged protest from agency scientists who don't share that view.

Meanwhile, over at NASA, which has been plagued for weeks by censorship charges, some press officers are giving new accounts of interference from political appointees, including pressure to cut the flow of climate-related news during and after the 2004 presidential campaign. And the U.S. doesn't have a monopoly on censorship: Australian climate scientists say their government is muzzling them too.

WorldChanging has a post on Xerox's PARC research centre (who you can thank for the computer you are reading this on) "Clean Technology Initiative" and the new solar technology that they have been working on.
The Palo Alto Research Center, the storied Xerox subsidiary responsible for many of the computer world's breakthrough technologies, is making a move into clean technology and sustainable products and services. It's a watershed moment of sorts: the birthplace of today's user-friendly computing wants to be the birthplace of tomorrow's clean and green innovations.

PARC, as it's more commonly known, recent launched a Clean Technology Initiative, focused on key areas of clean and sustainable technologies: solar, energy distribution, energy conservation and efficiency, clean water, air quality, and some paper-reduction technologies (the latter, of course, aimed at Xerox's core business).

The initiative evolved over the past year, like many PARC projects do, as a grassroots initiative based on "the instincts and interests of PARC's research community," Jennifer Ernst, PARC's communication manager, told me recently. The group brought in speakers and held roundtable discussions to learn more about the sustainability and clean-tech space. "We started carving out places where we thought we could make a difference."

The first result of those efforts, just announced, is a partnership with SolFocus, Inc., which is developing concentrator photovoltaic systems. SolFocus aims to employ PARC technology to cut the cost of solar power by as much as half. The Saratoga, Calif., company began working in 1999 to develop hydrogen delivery systems for fuel cells, but has since turned its focus on bringing down the cost of solar "in a dramatic fashion," says the company.

PARC is helping SolFocus develop a second-generation of its concentrating solar collector that dramatically improves cost, durability, and scalability.

WorldChanging also wants to expand into some new areas and is looking for some help with funding - so if you have a few spare dollars (or whatever other currency you use) go along and donate some.

Local stockmarket newsletter Huntley's has been making occasional comments about peak oil for a couple of years now - todays summary also mentioned it - apparently there is no shortage of peak oil devotees in the markets here...
My best guess is that we will see correcting markets through the first half of this year, possibly out to September. There will be rallies. And there could be significant sector rotation – sections of the industrial market could rise, as the resources market comes off.

My bottom line is that I don’t think the super cycle China/India story is over by a long shot, with the main risk here being a slow down in the US consumer caused by a significant softening in their residential real estate market as has occurred here and in the UK.

Nor do I think the longer term bullish story for oil/energy is over, but I do think in the short term it has been overdone, and that oil could easily come back to US$50, tipping cold buckets of cold water over many a speculator. As I comment in YMW Overview, I am a Peak Oil fan, but I now see every corner store galah parroting this view.

The hedge funds have been running riot in these commodities markets, and I fear that there will be rogue traders among them with highly geared speculative positions which could rapidly crumple and cause short term panic sell offs.

In one of those strange pieces of synchronicity, after mentioning Phillip K Dick in yesterday's post, I read in the news today that his replicant is missing.

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