Posted by Big Gav
The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at how much cutting a tree down can cost.
Antoinette Campbell was justifiably shocked when city workers mistakenly chainsawed a 60-foot oak tree last May that shaded the eastern facade of her Washington, D.C., home. "It was a personal something I had with that tree," says Ms. Campbell.
Besides the emotional distress, the error had an unexpected consequence: She noticed her air conditioner began running a couple hours earlier each morning. Conventional wisdom is that just one shady tree can save a homeowner $80 a year in energy costs, but Campbell claims her bills skyrocketed once the oak disappeared - up to $120 more some months.
Yes, humble street trees cool the air, reduce pollution, and absorb storm-water runoff, say forestry experts. But the benefits aren't only ecological, they say. Property values are 7 percent to 25 percent higher for houses surrounded by trees. Consumers spend up to 13 percent more at shops near green landscapes. One study even suggests patients who can see trees out their windows are hospitalized, on average, 8 percent fewer days.
Events around the country for Friday's National Arbor Day will highlight the fact that citizens and civic leaders are finally investing in the so-called "urban tree canopy."
Grist has an interesting article on the problematic side effects of natural gas extraction (which involves a lot of tree downing one way or the other) in the upper reaches of the Amazon.
The boat ride down southeastern Peru's Urubamba River cuts through mountains and sweltering jungle, passing wooden shacks of colonos -- mixed race and grindingly poor Peruvians lured to the jungle with promises of free land -- and nativos, tribes recently brought into contact with the modern world. The area is a biological gold mine, home to endemic and rare species, and some of the world's last uncontacted humans. It's also home to an asset that may become the Amazonian rainforest's biggest threat: the mamma jamma of South America's natural-gas lodes.
Big Oil has been pushing its pipelines into the Amazon rainforest frontier since the 1960s. Nowadays, prompted by high oil prices and militarization of the Middle East's fossil fuels, the eastern slope of the Andes and the Amazonian jungle lowlands are being stripped, sawed, plowed, and piped into a global barrel of politically cheap fossil fuels. From Colombia to Ecuador, Brazil to Peru, themes are common: sloppy extractive industries tainting key ecosystems, polluting water, killing plants and animals, and causing strange human illnesses. The Camisea Natural Gas Project is the king of all extraction projects in this region, a billion-dollar operation that taps jungle gas here in the Lower Urubamba, then pipes it over the Andes and down to the Peruvian coast.
Camisea is "a tale of political scandal, technical flaws, and environmental degradation," says Maria Ramos of Amazon Watch, a California-based watchdog group that has worked alongside the World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam, and international civic organizations to draw attention to the project's failings.
In 2000, the Peruvian government gave a petroleum consortium including Texas-based Hunt Oil and Argentina's Pluspetrol the right to mine the area's gas reserves. It also handed another consortium, Transportadora de Gas del Peru (TGP) -- formed in part by Pluspetrol and Hunt -- the right to build two pipelines to carry natural gas and natural-gas liquids (NGL) out of the deep jungle. Together they help form Camisea, a $1.6 billion Herculean straw for sucking out an estimated 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Getting it to North American markets will require another link in the chain: another phase of Camisea is the construction of a 4.4 million ton per year liquefaction plant on Peru's southern coast, a project estimated to cost $2.1 billion.
Ecological worries aren't the only factor raising alarm. Earlier this year, the Peruvian government's Office of the People's Defender, the public ombudsman, criticized Camisea for violating indigenous rights. The report cited early Peruvian government studies saying that technically prohibited contact between workers and some native communities has caused startling upticks in cases of diarrhea, syphilis, and other illnesses.
The study said one isolated tribe, the Nanti, has been hit so hard with foreign germs and infectious disease that only one in four children reach adolescence. Despite the fact that contact is prohibited by the Camisea project and by the International Labor Convention 169, critics say oil companies still seek contact with tribes living atop lands they want to use.
So where do Peru's top politicians stand on the mess? Critics of Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski say he is an apologist for Big Oil. Last month, after Kuczynski suggested that the fifth pipe failure was likely sabotage by locals, the newspaper La Republica criticized him, noting he had good reason to dance an industry beat. Citing testimony given before the Peruvian Congress' oversight committee, the article said Kuczynski had once served as a financial adviser to Ray Hunt, Hunt Oil CEO. (Hunt is a Bush presidential campaign contributor and board member of Halliburton.)
Alcides Huinchompi of the Machiguenga Council of the Urubamba River -- which represents the region's indigenous communities -- says talk of sabotage is simply not true. "We want justice, but we have been fighting for it through dialogue, not violence," he says. "But if we are pushed, there is a point that we will defend ourselves and what is ours."
They may get some help. Col. Ollanta Humala, the popular front-runner in a presidential runoff election set for May, has criticized the pipeline project, and, more broadly, called for boosting taxes and royalties on foreign companies operating in Peru.
I've got some friends working in Peru for a big international mining company who are concerned about the prospect of Humala getting elected - but when you read stories like this its not surprising that the new wave of leftist politicians in South America are having so much success - if a large enough proportion of the population feels they are being wronged by the economic system in place then of course they'll eventually do something to change it.
ABC's Lateline reports on satellite suburbs feeling the "petrol price pinch".
JOHN STEWART: Many marginal seats are located on the outskirts of cities in the so-called mortgage belt and play a crucial role in deciding federal elections. People in these areas are vulnerable to both interest-rate and fuel rises. It's a double whammy that's been studied by researchers from the University of Griffith, who have found the most oil-vulnerable suburbs in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are all on the outskirts of cities.
DR NEIL SIPE, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY: They're vulnerable for two reasons - one, is that they own more than one car, and second, is that they're dependent on that car for their journey to work. So what this is telling us is that these folks...that the public transport system is probably not working for these folks because they have to use the car to get where they need to go.
JOHN STEWART: According to Dr Sipe, rising fuel prices are already changing the lifestyles of people who live in these areas.
DR NEIL SIPE: I think what we are seeing is that that car is probably going to be used solely to get people to work. What's going to suffer are lots of the other trips that people might do for recreation, shopping and what have you that they're going to cut back in those other areas so that they can fill the tank to at least get to work.
JOHN STEWART: Suburbs closer to the inner city are far less vulnerable to petrol price rises. Kendal Bamfield is the transport planner for Marrickville Council, an area just 15 minutes' ride by bicycle to Sydney's CBD. Residents in his area are spending up to $100 less per week in transport costs, compared to those living in oil-vulnerable suburbs.
KENDAL BAMFIELD, TRANSPORT PLANNER, MARRICKVILLE COUNCIL: There are certain places in the city where bike routes converge and they're quite good streets for cycling, they're quite straight, and they take people to where they want to go and we'll have up to 100 cyclists an hour coming through there in the peak period, around 8:00 in the morning, on the way to work.
JOHN STEWART: Petrol prices in Australia of around $1.50 a litre may soon be common. Today, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve warned of the economic dangers of rising fuel prices. Next week's Reserve Bank board decision on interest rates will be keenly watched by those already paying much more for their weekly fuel bill. John Stewart, Lateline.
Alex at WorldChanging has a post on "Chernobyl Day".
Twenty years ago yesterday, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear station created the worst nuclear disaster so far, contaminating an area the size of England, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, exposing millions to a plume of radioactive pollution (killing thousands, perhaps many thousands) and leaving behind ruined land which will remain invisibly deadly for thousands of years.
If you'd like to refresh your memory of the events of that April, the BBC is offering up a terrific short documentary [Real Audio]. Or you can take a photo tour.
We believe in the power of science and technology to improve the world. Indeed, we hold true the idea that without new understandings of the world and more innovative tools building a bright green future is next to impossible. But we must also remember, always, that no technology is in itself trustworthy, and changing the world demands widespread understanding of and democratic control over science and its fruits. The Chernobyl disaster should have seared into our minds not only a disgust for radioactive pollution, but also a hatred of secrecy and elite control.
Indeed, perhaps in future years we ought to commemorate a Chernobyl Day as a day to remember past scientific failings and practice technological transparency? Perhaps, especially those of us who value the power of science and technology to create change need to regularly reflect on the cost of hubris, and on the corrupting influences of power and greed, to acknowledge that all of us have within us some of the same arrogance and greed, and commit ourselves to democratic control of the future. Perhaps on that day we make sure that the work we do on the other days of the year is breeding no Chernobyls for our children.
Tom Whipple's latest at the Falls Church News Press asks if there are petrol shortages ahead.
Driving down the New Jersey Turnpike last Sunday, I encountered an unmistakable sign that gasoline problems are close. Every service plaza we passed from New York to Delaware had 100 or more cars waiting in line for gas. Now these lines might have been a simple case of economic theory in action. For some unfathomable reason, the New Jersey Turnpike plazas were selling gasoline for 25 to 30 cents per gallon cheaper than surrounding states. As this comes out to something like $6 per tank full, it is possible that there was no real shortage and a lot of motorists decided that a 100-car line was worth the savings.
The sight of gas lines, which I have not personally encountered for over 25 years, capped a volatile month in which the price of gasoline increased by 50 cents per gallon and shortages related to the MTBE to ethanol conversion developed up and down the US east coast and in scattered other cities required by the EPA to sell cleaner burning gasoline.
Let's try to sort out some of the forces at work and look at implications for the rest of the year. The root cause of the price increases/shortages is, of course, that the world is either at, or approaching, peak oil. The definite answer, however, to the "at" or "approaching" question lies several years away when we can look back at the numbers and say authoritatively "world oil production has peaked." For now, all we can do is watch the evidence accumulate that peak oil either has arrived or is still on the way.
Michael Lynch and Julian Darley have a debate on Democracy Now about whether or not peak oil will occur in the foreseeable future. Both explain their cases quite well, and I suspect someone new to the topic wouldn't have any chance of working out who is right.
AMY GOODMAN: And what makes you think it's happening now?
JULIAN DARLEY: Well, history has shown -- the most dramatic example being that of the U.S., which its own oil production peaked in 1970 -- history shows that this happens to all nations. Now, when it happened to the U.S., it was able to import yet more oil. It was already an oil importer in 1970. It was able to yet import yet more oil. Now it imports approximately 60% and rising. So when this happens to a nation, it turns to other oil-producing nations. The trouble is when it happens to the world, and the world is roughly halfway through its conventional oil, there are no other planets to turn to to import from. So then, you get this phenomenon of global oil peak. There's no one else to import from, so the decline begins to happen.
And it does look as if we're about halfway through the conventional oil reserve of some two-and-a-bit trillion barrels. We've used a bit more than a trillion now. And so it's absolutely inevitable that it will happen. There are corroborating data from various other sources which suggest it's happening around about now. And there's some more technical data -- we can go into them if you'd like. So, it's not just the fact that production figures suggest we're about halfway through, there's lots of other corroborating data, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Lynch, your response?
MICHAEL LYNCH: Actually, I think the problem here is that Julian and a lot of the people making these arguments are not that familiar with the technical terms in the oil industry. The estimates that there's about two trillion barrels of oil resource are actually done by some very simplistic models, which have not always failed, but almost always failed on both the national and a global level. The oil conventional oil resource base, the oil in place, is about eight to ten trillion barrels. And right now, most estimates are that about 40% of that will be recovered, in other words, about three, three-and-a-half trillion. But the amount we'll recover will grow over time. So we're not -- we're really not even close to halfway through the conventional oil resource base.
Dave Roberts has a somewhat jaundiced view of the Wired's cheerleading in their "green issue". It is Wired after all, so expected too much would be a stretch is my view - at least its raising awareness of the way forward (along with a few dead ends like nuclear power).
The latest issue of Wired -- the "green issue," now de rigueur in the magazine world -- has Al Gore on the cover, and the story on his "resurrection" is fantastic. It's one of the best things I've read on his post-2000 activities.
Some of the rest of the issue, however, is irritating -- nothing so much so as this risible chart by Josh Rosenblum, a rating of various environmental groups based on a set of scientific criteria known as How Much They Agree With Josh Rosenblum. The more green groups collaborate with private industries and support (as far as I can tell, any) high-tech responses to environmental problems, the closer they come to Wired true north. Any tension with business, or reservations about nuclear power or coal gasification ... well hell, that's just hippie.
And speaking of hippies: the "Rise of the Neo-Greens" practically bursts a blood vessel admiring the clever young fashionistas "triangulating between the hippies and the hip."
Also grating are the little sidebars throughout the issue. One valorizes Shellenberger & Nordhaus, who share Wired's unearned hipper-than-thou self-regard. Another goes giddy over nuclear power, and begins with this: "Solar. Wind. Hydro. As replacements for fossil fuels, they're not enough." Oh? Another uncritically embraces the Schweitzer crusade for coal gasification; yet another does the same to ethanol.
All this borderline-masturbatory tech boosterism is introduced with a sensible if too-short piece by Alex Nikolai Steffen (now with more moniker!), who is on record opposing nuclear power and blasting the illusion that light-green lifestyle choices amount to an adequate environmental ethic. Worldchanging shares Wired's general optimism about human ingenuity and innovation -- as do I -- but what it offers, and Wired lacks, is a critical eye and some broader perspective. (But hell, it's not like I'd turn down the opportunity to write a Wired cover story.)
Anyway, this post is probably bitchier than strictly necessary. But as environmental consciousness becomes cool, I'd really prefer it not also become faddish and vain, and I'd prefer not too much crap be dumped on the caricatured heads of the activists who came before us and laid the groundwork for this resurgence. All the glossy-magazine coverage is uncomfortably redolent of late-90s tech hype. To paraphrase ex-Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, let's keep our exuberance rational. This is one bubble we can't afford to have burst.
Mike Ruppert has an extremely long rant up on us being on the "cusp of collapse". While I wouldn't agree with his categorisation of peak oil as a "movement" (at least not if you're talking about those of us who've been following the topic for the past year or two), I was heartened to see him sort of acknowledge that his dire prophecies of imminent doom last year were, in fact, wrong, though he hastens to qualify that he meant collapse started back then, and might take a while. While I take Mike less seriously than some other peak oil observers (and have occasional vague suspicions about FTW being a form of propaganda service), he is entertaining (I'll never forget "the fire, it has begun !" for example) - which might be the primary goal of much of our culture...
Where are we in the real world and how do we judge our current activities in light of real-world events? To sum it up in the words of one of the most senior members of the Peak Oil movement I know, Jay Hanson, “I see my worst fears unfolding right in front of my face.” Jay wrote those words just about a week ago.
Jay started the first Peak Oil website in the 1980s, almost even before there was a web. We should listen to Jay, and I could not agree more with his assessment; my worst fears are unfolding right in front of my face.
Perhaps the greatest flaw in the Peak Oil movement’s current operating paradigm is that, a part of the movement at least, instead of building lifeboats in the face of an immediate disaster, is delusionally focused on trying to build alternative-powered luxury liners that operate just like the paradigm we as a species need to be abandoning. Not only is this a futile effort, it may well be responsible for killing or destroying the lives of people who at least partially understand Peak Oil and who are trying to find the best courses of immediate action for themselves and their families.
The Soviet Empire collapsed and disappeared in less than four years and the devastation for the Russian people was both profound and deadly. I have been to Russia and I will never forget a little piece of Russian humor left over from the siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the Second World War. I told my Russian hosts that I wanted to get a little outside of the cosmopolitan center of Moscow and see some “real Russia ”.
The first thing they said was, “If you go into a restaurant, don’t order chicken.”
I hesitated and then asked, “Why?”
“Because”, they said, “ever since the Germans laid siege to Leningrad, chicken is what we have called it when we had to eat our comrades to stay alive and in the fight. In some parts of Russia one is still never sure.”
Do we dare assume that Americans are special and somehow exempt from all the vicissitudes that have befallen every other collapse of empire in history?
For those of you who chided me last year for predicting an American economic collapse this last winter, which some argue—in spite of this evidence—failed to materialize, let me point out that—and we will talk about it tonight—there are strong signs that collapse has already begun. I never said the collapse would be over last winter, I only said that it would begin. That collapse will most certainly be here—in emerging bloom and for all to see—this summer. No one will remain unaffected by it. Whenever it ends, it is not going to end prettily.
When one is preoccupied with survival, anything beyond survival becomes an imponderable luxury. And to mistakenly label a luxury a necessity makes it impossible to survive. The Peak Oil movement needs to ask itself now: what are its necessities and what are its luxuries? There is precious little room for error now. These decisions will be hard but they must be made.
If some Latin scholar had predicted the day that the barbarians would sack, loot, and occupy Rome and missed it by only four months, he or she today would be regarded as a prophet. I am content tonight, to just be the same asshole many of you have come to know and love—or hate—over the years. I’m just doing my job as I see it needs to be done. That is all I have ever done.
The only thing that the universe is offering the human species now is the opportunity to change—to evolve…or to perish.
Perhaps there is a new understanding of God awaiting those who survive. I have long held the personal belief that religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell and that true spirituality is for those who have already been there.
What I do know, because I have faced many survival challenges in my life, is that the less baggage one takes into any survival situation, the more likely one is to survive.
Perhaps this philosophy is best summed up by one of my favorite quotes of all time. In his classic science fiction novel Dune, Frank Herbert wrote:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
When the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
WorldChanging has a post on "Holding Optimism in Terrifying Times", which I was pleased to see mentioned Peter Matthiessen, whose classic book "The Snow Leopard" I, like the author of this post, Sarah Rich, read many years ago in Nepal. I never saw a snow leopard there unfortunately, though there is a pair of extremely cute snow leopard cubs at Taronga Zoo at the moment (obviously those Buddhist blessings work).
I had the unexpected pleasure of attending a lecture by Peter Matthiessen a few nights ago presented by Seattle Arts & Lectures. I first met Matthiessen through his book, The Snow Leopard, an experience made unforgettable for having read the tale while traveling in the same Himalayan area in which it took place several decades prior. Now 79, the legendary writer and founder of The Paris Review still possesses a sparkling energy and an infectious smile.
Matthiessen opened with a plea for support and advocacy in the efforts to protect ANWR, making more than one crack (padded with humor) at the failings of our administration. Much of Matthiessen's writing portrays personal expeditions into wild and remote areas of the world. His deep devotion to seeing these places preserved comes through as much in his poetic writing as in his presence, which seemed to cast a sense of awe-inspiring vastness made digestible through an evident lightness of spirit.
As is now my habit, I was seeking the Worldchanging angle on the evening, and it was not hard to find. A certain realistic optimism wove its way through Matthiessen's responses to many audience questions about the peril of the natural world, perhaps best captured when someone asked whether, after all these years, his views of the relationship between humans and nature had changed:
"My view of nature and mankind has not changed ... we are an animal, a terrifying animal; we see that over and over, in the Holocaust, in Rwanda, in the way we are massive polluters of this planet ... although that doesn't mean you cannot laugh about it. I intend to laugh all the way to the box."
Of course, his laughter has never come in the absence of deeply-felt advocacy and action for the conservation and restoration of wild places. But I think he has an important point. Clearly, laughter has kept his spirits high enough and his body well enough that he can still stand before a packed auditorium and inspire action in the generations that follow him.
WorldChanging also has a post on the "quiet revolution".
The UK-based low-carbon engineering and consultancy firm, XCO2, has brought visual art to wind-energy generation with a new vertical-axis wind turbine called quietrevolution.
quietrevolution is silent, vibration-free, and well-suited to both dense urban areas and open spaces. With a single moving part and a compact helical S-blade, the turbine makes wind power simple and durable.
It also makes windpower beautiful -- XCO2 has a model which they call "windlights" that contains LEDs embedded in the blades. The spinning, self-generating light creates a colored light show. What better way to get people excited about wind energy and LEDs?
Some short links to finish off with:
The legendary Iranian oil bourse is apparently due to open next week (one more bit of fuel thrown on the fire). Grist has a look at water vapour and global warming. The Energy Blog takes a look at Q-Cells in Germany, the world's second largest producer of solar cells, and now associated with Perth's Prime Solar, along with a brief snippet on a new solar farm in New mexico. Past Peak notes the US has now lost 2400 soldiers in Iraq (I won't even start on the farce following the loss of the only Australian soldier thus far in Iraq last week - the government has outdone itself in their bungling attempt at some sort of bizarre coverup, not to mention the ludicrous scenes following the repatriation of the wrong body). The New York Times has an article on "The end of Borneo's tropical forests", thanks to forestry and the demand for palm oil (given I've taken a literary tack lately, have any of you ever read "Kalimantan" by Lucius Shephard - or any of his other books ?). Mother Jones has an article by a CFR representative (which seems a very odd combination to me) on "Learning from Brazil" (criticised here), which looks at the Brazilian path to energy self sufficiency (today at least) and soaring sugar prices. Yet another proposed Australian wind farm is under fire (although the pathetically low MRET target will limit new wind farm construction for a while anyway, until coal and gas prices rise a bit further). Plus local energy news on Santos, BHP, Centennial and Caltex, who are whinging rising oil prices "hurt" them too - their share price shart doesn't tend to back this up though.
And to close, the saga of British hacker Gary McKinnon continues to trundle on, with a report this weekend on his hunt for UFO's and other spacecraft through the computers of the Pentagon. I quite like this tale, is it is kind of a UFO tinfoil alter ego of the Nazi anti-gravity technology stories that float around the "free energy" world.
During 2000-01 from his home in Hornsey, north London, and using a computer with just a limited 56K dial-up modem, he turned his sights on the American government and military.
"My main thing was wanting to find out about UFOs and suppressed technology," he said insisting his intention was not to cause damage. "I wanted to ... find out stuff the government wouldn't tell you about."
He said it was easy, despite being only a rank amateur. Using the hacking name "Solo", he discovered that many US top-security systems were using an insecure Microsoft Windows program and had no password protection at all.
"So I got commercially available off-the-shelf software and used them to scan large military networks ... anything I thought might have possible links to UFO information," he said.
He said he came across a group called the "Disclosure Project", which had expert testimonies from senior figures who said technology obtained from extra-terrestrials did exist.
One NASA scientist had reported that the Johnson Space Centre had a facility where UFOs were airbrushed out of high-resolution satellite images. So, he hacked in.
"I saw what I'm convinced was some kind of satellite or spacecraft but it was manufactured by no means I have ever seen before - there were no rivets, no seams, it was like one flawless piece of material. And that was above the Earth."