What Is The Value Of A Tree?  

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."

Stand On Zanzibar  

Posted by Big Gav

A large number of dead dolphins have been found washed ashore in Zanzibar. Normally in these situations, speculation about the cause tends to focus on sonar from submarines and on seismic exploration.

Hundreds of dead dolphins have washed up along the shore of a popular tourist destination on Zanzibar's northern coast, and scientists have ruled out poisoning.

It was not immediately clear what killed the 400 dolphins, whose carcasses were strewn along a 4km stretch of Nungwi on Friday, said Narriman Jidawi, a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine Science in Zanzibar. But the bottleneck dolphins, which live in deep offshore waters, had empty stomachs, meaning they could have been disorientated and were swimming for some time to reorientate themselves. They did not starve to death and were not poisoned, Jidawi said.

In the US, experts were investigating the possibility that sonar from US submarines could have been responsible for a similar incident in Marathon, Florida, where 68 deep-water dolphins stranded themselves in March last year. A US Navy task force patrols the East Africa coast as part of counterterrorism operations. A Navy official was not immediately available for comment, but the service rarely comments on the location of submarines at sea.

The deaths are a blow to the tourism industry in Zanzibar, where thousands of visitors go to watch and swim with wild dolphins, said Abdulsamad Melhi, owner of Sunset Bungalows, perched atop a small cliff overlooking the beach.

While trawling through the BBC's links on Zanzibar I also came across this report which mentions there is a bit of the unfortunate practice used in some third world countries of dynamite fishing in the area, which could possibly be a potential factor (though there are plenty of dolphin and whale strandings in countries which don't practice explosive based fishing techniques, but do have underwater drilling and military exercises). The report itself is on "Eco-Islam" in Zanzibar, which on the face of it is probably a good thing for the local area, though I wouldn't want to see environmentalists and Islam get too closely asociated in the minds of people in the West - each group has enough trouble with the more demented parts of the "conservative" world without being conflated into one big green bogeyman.

So - that covers submarines and primitive fishing techniques - how about oil exploration in the area ?

I had a little discussion at The Oil Drum recently with Bob "are humans smarter than yeast ?" Shaw and Leanan about Tanzania. Bob speculated that Tanzania might be one of the first countries to fall off Duncan's Olduvai cliff (Olduvai Gorge itself is actually located in Tanzania). My feeling, based on my travels through the country a decade ago, was that it was so poor that it made minimal usage of oil already (the GDP per person is $210 a year, and I suspect much of that is generated by tourism in the Serengeti, Arusha / Kilimanjaro area and Zanzibar, and therefore wouldn't notice even if the most dire doomer predictions related to peak oil were to come true (other than even fewer tourists passing by on the roads - which are some of the most pothole ridden on the planet I might add). After doing a little research it seems the country is somewhat dependent on food aid (at least during droughts), so I guess some parts of the country would notice if the aid dried up during a post peak crash.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Tanzania currently produces no oil and has no known oil reserves (as of 2002). While Tanzania hasn't produced any oil thus far, I have noticed that local company Hardman Resources has bought up some exploration interests in the south of the country in the Ruvuma basin (Hardman has also just raised a chunk of money on the London AIM to fund exploration in Tanzania, Uganda, Guyana and Surinam). The Ruvuma is in the south near the Mozambique border though, which is a long way from Zanzibar, so it seems that even if exploration has started, its not going to cause dolphin deaths 600 odd miles away in Zanzibar.

After doing a bit of digging around, it appears that the old slave coast could be quite a prospective region for oil. Reports from a few years ago indicate that other companies that could be exploring include Brazil's Petrobras, who have exploration rights around Mafia island (still a distance south of Zanzibar) - Shell and French company Maurel & Prom also have interests in the same area. It seems that exploration around Zanzibar itself may be stalled as various the Zanzibari and Tanzanian governments squabble over the sharing of revenues (Tanzania is a union of the old colonies of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and Zanzibar seems to maintain a degree of autonomy) - this may explain some of the political violence on Zanzibar itself in recent years. As far as exploration in 2006 goes, all I can find is this report on Rigzone that Nabor Industries expects to have one rig working in Tanzania this year, and this report about another Australian company - Bounty Oil and Gas - who may be doing some more exploration in the country.
As his plane climbs above the vast Rufiji delta on the Tanzanian coast, Peter Byrne tells me about the region's deep history. "In the Miocene era, the Rufiji was one of the biggest rivers on earth," he says. "Zanzibar and Mafia Island broke away from mainland Africa - Mafia was much later but it was part of the same process." That massive geological shift is one of the reasons oil companies have the fabled spice island of Zanzibar in their sights. But it looks as if Zanzibar's smaller cousin, Mafia - where Byrne runs Kinasi Lodge, a luxury hotel - will be the first place in Tanzania to see serious oil exploration.

The Dutch arm of Shell is in negotiations with the Tanzanian government for licences to prospect four deep-sea areas or "blocks" in the Rufiji delta and another four off Zanzibar. Petrobras of Brazil is bidding for a block about 15 miles (24km) off Mafia, while the French company Maurel & Prom hopes to drill on Mafia itself and areas of Mkuranga district on the coastal mainland. In time, the whole western flank of the Rift Valley inland may be drilled, as seismic and hydrocarbon tests have shown that this too has potential for oil.

The oil in Tanzania's coastal belt was discovered in the 1960s but it is only recently, with western governments searching for alternative sources to the Middle East, that these paradise isles are being taken seriously as drilling sites. Withnegotiations on Zanzibar bogged down between the island and the mainland over which should benefit (semi- autonomous Zanzibar is unhappy with a proposed 60:40 split of profits), Mafia and its tiny neighbour Chole seem likely to be the first to see exploration, perhaps within a year.

Mafia and Zanzibar are part of a lush reef-based network of islands and atolls dotted along Tanzania's Indian ocean seaboard. A slowly growing tourist destination, Mafia is about 30 miles (50km) long and 10 miles (17km) wide, surrounded by a host of tiny islets. It has a population of 50,000. The capital, Kilindoni, is a one-horse, or half-a-horse town. There are no telephones and only a few cars.

Mafia is one of the world's richest marine habitats - home to a marine reserve run by the Tanzanian government with support from the World Wildlife Fund. As well as fish (more than 400 species) and other marine life, from dolphins to both green and hawksbill turtles, the area is home to many species of birds, including black kites and lilac-breasted rollers. There are also said to be dugongs (sea cows), among the world's rarest creatures, in these islands.

Now economically sleepy, Mafia was once a busy entrepôt dealing in gold and ivory from the interior, coconuts, mangrove poles for housebuilding and tortoise-shell. The last two had serious ecological impacts, but slavery was Mafia's darkest business. It was legally abolished only in 1922, four years after the first world war and the establishment of British rule on Mafia. That came after the ousting of the Germans, who had ruled from 1890, after long periods of Arab and Portuguese dominance.

Much of the archipelago's commerce, including slavery, depended on the monsoon winds that blow variously across the Indian ocean: the north-east monsoon (the kaskazi) from December to March and the south-east monsoon (the kusi) from April to November. It was these winds, filling the sails of dhows, which once made the area rich. Oil may do so again, but at what ecological cost? And will oil revenues supplement the meagre incomes of local people?

Another factor in the mix is that the region is host to two Unesco world heritage sites: Zanzibar's Stone Town and the ruins of the coastal city of Kilwa on the mainland. Shell said at the end of August that the company henceforth would avoid exploring or drilling on sites that carry these designations.

While I was writing this I noticed a new article appear on Google News about a new exploration deal signed with a British explorer by the Tanzanian government, which has a little summary of companies with rights in the country, which indicates that Antrim Energy are the only company with rights around Zanzibar - a search of their recent announcements seems to indicate they are concentrating on the North Sea and Argentina though...
Dr Msabaha also said the Selous basin is still a virgin area that was first explored for petroleum by Shell International in the early 1980s. ’The signing of the agreement brings to eleven the number of firms prospecting for oil in the country along the coast and offshore in the Indian Ocean.

The other companies involved in oil exploration (respective areas in brackets) are: Petrobras of Brazil (Block 5, east of Mafia island), Ophir Energy Company of Australia (Block 1, east Mtwara), Ndovu Resources of Australia (Ruvuma basin-Mtwara and Lindi regions), Nyuni, east of Songo Songo) and Artumas Group Inc of Canada (Mnazi Bay gas). The rest are Maurel and Prom of France (Bigwa and Mafia channel), Antrim Resources of Canada (Pemba and Zanzibar) and Panafrican Energy (Songo Songo Development block).

On the subject of offshore exploration, check out "Multiwhat ?" for tales of life on an exploration vessel - currently trying to solve NZ's gas depletion problem off Taranaki by the sounds of it (though maybe they're just searching for oil).

In other African oil news, Namibia has invited India to participate in joint exploration of oil, gas, and mineral resources in the country (which may have similar offshore potential to its neighbour Angola to the north, which has been a significant producer for some time).
Namibia is believed to have rich resources of oil and gas offshore, and most of it is unexplored. The development gives further momentum to India's efforts to ensure its energy security. It comes only a day after Uzbekistan, one of the 10 largest producers of oil and gas, offered exploration facilities to India.

Meanwhile Exxon is tryng to resolve a dispute with the government of Chad, which seems to have fought off rebel forces for the time being.
Exxon Mobil said on Wednesday it was still talking with Chad's government to try to resolve an oil revenues dispute that could shut off the central African country's oil output at the end of this month.

The company said in an e-mail that landlocked Chad's 170,000 barrels per day (bpd) oil production was "at normal levels" despite recent attacks in the country, including a raid on the capital by rebels fighting to topple President Idriss Deby.

Chad's government has said it will halt oil output at the end of April unless the World Bank unblocks frozen production royalties or the Exxon Mobil-led consortium operating in the country pays at least $100 million to circumvent the freeze.


Kilimanjaro - 1990 and 2000
One of the reasons I came to visit Tanzania was to climb Mt Kilimanjaro - back in 1997 there was still quite a large snowcap on the summit, though it seems that global warming and soot will have caused the snow to disappear shortly (after around 11,000 years in place atop the mountain).
For most of us in the west, the African mountain Kilimanjaro is known for two things: its summit is the point on the planet at which one can see more surface area of Earth than from any other location (the North American champ for that is Mount Diablo, which I can see from my back window); and, although it sits close to the equator, its summit is perpetually shrouded in snow, a fact immortalized by Ernest Hemingway's 1938 short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Make that, "was perpetually shrouded."

In 2000, images from Landsat, one of the various Earth-observing satellites, took an alarming picture, showing that much of the snow and glaciation at the Kilimanjaro summit had disappeared in just ten years. The 1990 and 2000 photos are shown to the right; click them for larger versions at NASA. At the time, scientists estimated that the remainder of the ice and snow would be gone by 2015.

They now have to revise their estimates. Recent photos (small version to the left, click for larger) show that very little of the mountain's snow remains; what's left will probably be gone in a just a few more years. Before the decade is out, Kilimanjaro will lose the snow which covered it for the last 11,000 years -- the snow which fascinated travelers, inspired artists, and gave it the name "shining mountain."

Whether or not global warming is involved in the disappearance of Kilimanjaro's glaciers in particular has caused quite a bit of controversy in the past - just one data point thrown into the debate between between scientists and global warming deniers - the science (and disinformation from the denier camp) behind it all is discussed at length at Real Climate.
When the interesting and thought-provoking work of [Kaser et al] emerged from the machinery of the skeptics' disinformation operation, it had mutated beyond all recognition. The reports put out by the Heartland Institute are typical. The first of these, which came out under the banner "Global Warming Fears Melting," is headed by a quote from Patrick Michaels starting, "Kilimanjaro turns out to be just another snow job ..." and goes downhill from there. All subtlety, tentativeness, context and opposing evidence has been lost. The study is presented as a broadside on one of the central tenets of global warming, in a fashion echoing skeptics' coverage of the "hockey stick" issue. Even when the work is quoted directly, it is quoted without the context needed to make sense of the claims. Notably, the quote "Mölg and Hardy (2004) show that mass loss on the summit horizontal glacier surfaces is mainly due to sublimation (i.e. turbulent latent heat flux) and is little affected by air temperature through the turbulent sensible heat flux." is intended to give the impression that air temperature can make no difference, whereas we have seen that the results of [Moelg and Hardy,2004] are compatible with several ways in which air temperature can affect ablation.

The skeptics' press, especially as echoed in Crichton's State of Fear states that the Kilimanjaro retreat can have nothing to do with anthropogenic global warming, because it began in the 1880's, before any appreciable CO2 response is expected. The error in this reasoning was discussed in the previous section. This situation here is reminiscent of the ubiquitous "Little Ice Age" problem. It is a fact of life for attribution studies that the climate changes associated with the end of the Little Ice Age overlap with the beginning of the era of industrial warming. Thus, a graph will always give the superficial impression that the present trends are just a continuation of something that began before human influences were much in the picture, leading one into the fallacy that the causes of the beginning of the trend are the same as those responsible for its continuation.

The Heartland Institute's propagation of the notion that the Kilimanjaro glacier retreat has been proved to be due to deforestation is even more egregious. They quote "an article published in Nature" by Betsy Mason ("African ice under wraps," Nature, 24 November, 2003) which contains the statement "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit." Elsewhere, Heartland refers to this as a "study." The "study" is in reality no scientific study at all, but a news piece devoted almost entirely to Euan Nesbit's proposal to save the Kilimanjaro glacier by wrapping it in a giant tarp. The article never says who the "experts" are, nor does it quote any scientific studies supporting the claim. The Mason news article is what Crichton quotes as "peer reviewed research" proving that it is deforestation, not global warming, which is causing the Kilimanjaro glaciers to retreat. (George Monbiot's article in The Guardian documents a similar case of systematic misrepresentation of glacier data by skeptics.)

While I'm going on about Tanzania and Zanzibar, one thing that always come to mind whenever Zanzibar is mentioned is John Brunner's great book from back in 1969, "Stand on Zanzibar", which explored a lot of the memes which the peak oil world find so fascinating, such as overpopulation and resource depletion, and what the world of the future would look like as these problems became a reality.

As I read it 20 odd years ago I won't attempt to come up with more detailed review of the book - though I will note that the style would seem very unusual compared to a modern novel - I sometimes wonder about how much the use of language has changed in the anglo saxon world over the past 35 years - its almost like we've been drained of creativity in a way - I wonder if Chomsky has ever opined on this subject, given his expertise in linguistics, brain structure and propaganda models ?.

Here's a long snippet from a review of the book by Charlene Brusso, which kind of makes me want to dig it out of my old boxes next time I retun home - maybe it planted some of the seeds in my mind which make me so curious about these sorts of topics. Brunner was a man with an excellent eye for future trends - even foreshadowing simple things like reality TV.
Brunner's Hugo-winning 1968 novel about individual responsibility and the dangerous consequences of social apathy returns to print at an excellent time. I first read Stand on Zanzibar as a university student back in the early 80s. It was an "old" book then, but it never really read like one. Now, a decade later, it still doesn't.

Readers who're used to a nice tight linear narrative will need to do some work to get into Zanzibar. But that's okay, because it will force you to think, and thinking is exactly what this book wants you to do. Brunner's story unfolds as a somewhat structured montage, an interwoven series of linked sections; the style is similar to the work of high-tone literary writer John Dos Passos, whose short, quick scenes cobbled together seemingly at random produce a synergy of mood and story. Brunner's structure is slightly more complex, but in many ways easier to follow, since each wide-flung piece really does connect plotwise to all the others.

The novel opens by setting Context with a powerfully thematic quote from Marshall MacLuhan. In short:
"A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding."

Brunner plunges us into the novel's dysfunctional, overcrowded, media-saturated world via a random channel flip across the story spectrum with SCANALYZER, providing an "INdepth INdependent INmediate INterface" between the reader and "the happening world."

The core of the novel focuses on NYC apartment mates Norman House and Donald Hogan. Like everyone else in this world, although they share living quarters, and sometimes even girlfriends, they really don't know each other. Norman is an up-and-rising young exec at super-mega-international-corporate-conglomerate General Technics (current motto: "The difficult we did yesterday. The impossible we're doing right now"), home of the most powerful supercomputer in the world, the celebrated Shalmaneser. Through subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation, Norman has used his African-American heritage as a politically correct lever to unlock company doors his brains and experience might not otherwise open. Now that he's reached the upper echelons on the company, however, he can't shake a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, a worry that there must be more to things, that somehow he's missed something important.

One secret he's missed is that Donald Hogan is a spy, one of the rare "Dilettanti" recruited by the government for their skill at synthesizing information, the ability to sort and cross-reference ideas and discover patterns. Mild-mannered and quiet, with an obscure degree in history and biology, Donald would never draw suspicion. He's spent the last ten years of his life, every work day, at the New York Public Library reading a little bit of everything, filing regular reports on patterns he's noticed, all very low-key. In the back of his mind is the concern that someday he might be "activated," called on to serve in a more active capacity in one of the world's political hotspots, like Yatakang, a socialist island empire off the southeast coast of China -- but why worry about something that will probably never happen? Still, Donald's innate pattern-matching instincts can feel something is up. Pieces are pulling together. Wheels are being set into motion. The world is going to change. Big-time.

Brunner sets the story in motion with two seemingly unconnected discoveries. The first is the change of power in the tiny African country of Beninia, (pop. 900,000) where refugees of civil war from three neighbouring countries have settled, all members of tribes hostile to one another -- yet Beninia has known nothing but peace since it was granted independence from British colonial rule. The credit for this has gone to Beninia's president, Zadkiel F. Obomi. But once he retires, who will lead and protect this tiny country with no war, but also no literacy, industry, or technology?

Elihu Masters, the US Ambassador to Beninia as well as Obomi's friend, approaches the board of General Technics with an offer. If GT will help educate the population and build the needed infrastructure, Beninia will allow them sole rights to exploit the vast, untouched mineral and oil reserves offshore for a period of time. Before he knows it, Norman is in Beninia, where murder is practically unknown; where the closest word the language has for anger means "insanity."

But then the second discovery is announced. In a crowded US where reproductive privilege is offered only to those with a clean genotype, babies are a rare and jealously hoarded luxury. But now the Yatakang government announces that famous geneticist Dr. Sugaiguntung has invented a way for everyone, even those with the most undesirable genes, to have perfect children. US citizens being the privileged souls they are, of course they want to know 1) When can we get access to this technology? And 2) Why didn't the US discover it first? ...

Brunner also wrote 2 other novels around that time which could also be considered classics - "The Shockwave Rider", which was probably the first book to ever explore the idea of computer virus' and worms (not to mention a unversal worldwide computer network) - which again showed a lot of foresight for something written in the early 1970's - I read it when I first started messing around on the internet around 1985 and found it a real eye opener. The other one is "The Sheep Look Up" which I haven't read unfortunately. The snippet below is from one of the reviews on Amazon.
Many people nowadays look back on the brief burst of environmental awareness (alarm) and criticism of corporate power which occurred in the 1970's as quaint,naive, slightly ridiculous. One prior reviewer of this work refers to the "hysteria" of the period.

What strikes me most strongly about _The Sheep Look Up_, billed as a 'sequel' to his big hit _Stand on Zanzibar_, is not its quaintness but its frightening accuracy. While Brunner guessed wrong on a number of counts -- for example, we haven't *quite* killed all the whales yet! -- there were trends which he read astutely and forecast correctly.

In particular he forecast increasing solipsism and isolationism in American politics and cultural life; he predicted a decline in the quality of political life, to the point where the American presidency would be occupied by a semi-literate figurehead whose job is to recite comforting and irrelevant platitudes into a microphone on his way from one glamorous gig to the next. His "Prexy" character seemed like a good fit for Reagan a while back, but the current Bush (the 2nd of that name) is an even closer match.

Brunner forecast the dumbing down of media, the intrusion of advertising into the most intimate spaces of daily life. He forecast the sidelining of "healthy lifestyle" products and choices into a yuppie trend (organic food becoming a boutique item) and the demonisation of environmentalists as "terrorists" and criminals. He forecast a degradation of community life, the rise of private security forces, and an increasing gap between (very) rich and (powerless) poor people.

He forecast the multiplication of resistant strains of pathogens, though he did not specifically call out the abuse of antibiotics in agriculture as a prime cause. He did not foresee the consequences of synthetic estrogens; and his view of genetic engineering is by and large more positive than it would have been if he had been writing today with the legal shenanigans of Monsanto, Syngenta and their ilk in view (Brunner would have loved the story of Percy Schmeiser -- he might almost have written it himself). He forecast the ubiquitous use of tranquilizers in daily life, but he did not foresee the current fad for pathologizing ordinary behaviours (particularly in childhood) and administering psychotropics to children. The rise to enormous power of the pharmaceutical companies was not on his radar (Mike McQuay, however, took notice of that trend in his own grimly dystopian future private-eye novels).

When I first read _Zanzibar_ and _Sheep_ I was just a kid. Now, almost half a lifetime later, I find that the concerns, the anger and grief and bitterness that Brunner articulated so fluently in the 1970's are far from dated. If anything, his work seems fresher and more poignant now than it did then -- I have witnessed 30 additional years of the indiscriminate damage and vandalism we call "growth" in the interim.

Many things "date" Brunner's work -- in particular his thoughtless, stereotypically "Seventies" sexism, which becomes wearying to the modern reader after only a few chapters. The core issues of his work, however, have worn well; clearly it was possible as long as 30 years ago to predict many of the negative consequences of a deeply dysfunctional way of life -- overconsumption, overpopulation, concentration of power in the hands of large corporations, irresponsible use of finite resources, and so forth. His work serves as a depressing reminder that even though we may know we are heading in a wrong direction -- and even have writers able to point out the possible consequences -- and even publish those writers -- we can and do continue in happy denial towards the very dystopia that our "out there" novelists predict for us.

I could probably go on and on about books from that era, but I think I need some sleep - instead I'll just give you a link to a post on Crooked Timber about 1973 (I'd like to give that whole period around the first oil shock some more investigation one day - its certainly fertile ground for the tinfoil world in particular, with sorts of wild theories about the Bilderbergers, Club of Rome, Nixon, Kissinger, various Rockefellers and the whole "Limits to Growth" idea that underpins things like peak oil and global warming).

I'll close with a couple of snippets from the indefatigable Billmon, pondering the cost of the Iraq war and the possibility of an echo of another period of the early 1970's - Watergate.

First on the cost of trying to control middle eastern oil:
Actually, it's more like the old joke about government contracting: Why buy one when you can get two for three times the price?

Except this is no joke.
Projected Iraq War Costs Soar

The cost of the war in Iraq will reach $320 billion after the expected passage next month of an emergency spending bill currently before the Senate, and that total is likely to more than double before the war ends, the Congressional Research Service estimated this week . . .

When factoring in costs of the war in Afghanistan, the $811 billion total for both wars would have far exceeded the inflation-adjusted $549 billion cost of the Vietnam War.

I guess we can only give thanks that the casualty count (on both sides) hasn't matched the "inflation-adjusted" total for Vietnam -- yet.

I thought this bit was particularly intriguing:
Of the total war spending, the CRS analysis found $4 billion that could not be tracked.

That kind of money will pay for a lot of poker-and-prostitute parties -- or, if my suspicions are correct, a lot of black operations.

In June of 2003, when I first started thinking about the costs of our imperial misadventure in Iraq, the USA was spending an estimated $3 billion a month on the enterprise -- a cash flow I guesstimated might reach $5 billion a month once the reconstruction costs (which at the time the Cheney administration was still insisting would be paid for out of Iraq's own oil revenues) started to kick in.

At the time, "expert" opinion was starting to warn that the United States might have to stay in Iraq for up to five years, which would have brought the total tab to something like $300 billion. The trolls howled that I was pulling these numbers out of my you-know-what.

But now we're already up to $320 billion after only three years, and "expert" opinion is warning that we may have to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq for at least another decade.

Then on Watergate II (and here's a matching tinfoil decoration to demonstrate just how much the past - in particular the early 1970's - could be echoing into the present - assuming some of these things ever stopped):
I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the news (from Harper's via TPM Muckraker) that Porter Goss, director of the CIA, may be implicated in a hooker service for corrupt (and horny) congressmen paid for by defense contractors and run out of -- you really gotta love this part -- the Watergate Hotel.

So what are we supposed to call this new scandal? Watergategate?

It sounds like a game of can-you-top-this played by a couple of spy novelists (say, Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum) after a night of snorting cocaine and downing tequila shooters. Or maybe a screenplay cooked up by Fellini and Costa-Gavras -- with some help from Spike Lee and Salvador Dali.

And yet the story appears to have at least some roots in reality -- or what passes for reality here in the long, sad twilight of the American republic. Why, you can even read about it in the Wall Street Journal, which doesn't go in much for surrealism (not the fictional kind, anyway):
Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.

You have to love it: Whores buying whores for whores. Even Jeff Gannon and his White House "sources" couldn't top that.

...

On the other hand, Goss has a lot of enemies, including just about the entire career staff at the CIA, which he has been industriously purging of suspected Democrats at the behest of his White House masters. (If Porter ever turns up dead, the suspect list is going to include half of the McLean, Va. phone book and most of the world's professional assassins.) So who knows? Maybe it's just ex-spook disinformation -- like the bit about the couple of dozen senior White House aides who were supposed to be indicted in the Plame case last October.

But, if it turns out to be true, the implications really will take us into Clancy and Ludlum territory. The blackmail potential alone is worth a chapter in anyone's paranoid conspiracy thriller.

Who else might have known about Porter's semi-alleged extracurricular activities, and what price would they have been in a position to charge for that information? And how would that price have been paid? The Cheneyites obviously put Goss at the agency because they believed he would be their loyal henchman (and he's certainly proved them right) but did they have the added security of knowing where, and with whom, their boy was spending his Saturday nights?

OK, I know I'm getting carried away here. But this is really creepy stuff -- and only contributes to the impression I sometimes have that we're now living in the only banana republic armed with nuclear weapons. (Or, as I've also been known to call it, North Argentina.)

I mean, we've got political purges underway in the organs of state security; a one-party legislature run by guys who write their names above the urinals at expensive K Street restaurants ("For a good time, call Duke") and -- according to Harper's -- limo services tied to call girl rings pulling down multi-million dollar contracts with the Department of Homeland Security, which itself sounds like a name dreamed up for the movie Brazil.

And to finish, a Bush joke from Past Peak:
President Bush has picked FOX newsman Tony Snow to be his press secretary. Snow once said that President Bush was an embarrassment, a leader who has lost control of the federal budget, and the architect of a listless domestic policy. Good thing for Snow Bush doesn't read the newspapers. — Jay Leno

Peak Oil Panic  

Posted by Big Gav

Reason has an article on "Peak Oil Panic", which offers an introduction to the subject via a fairly standard recital of the peak oil litany, then rapidly disappears off in to an abstract realm of free market thinking - their solution - make all those pesky socialists and other national oil company bureaucracies hand over the black suff to the fine folk at Chevron and Exxon, who will exploit the fields much more quickly an effectively than a bunch of leftist layabouts could ever hope to manage. They don't appear cognizant of the fact that exploiting a finite resource faster doesn't make the problem go away - but then, they appear happy enough to believe Lynch, Economides, Yergin and the other optimistic forecasters of global oil recovery potential (ignoring the global warming problem of course).

On the plus side, they do realise the danger posed by out-of-control neoconservatives itching to start an endless war over resources, so its worth a read...

Is the planet running out of gas? If it is, what should the Bush administration do about it?

The Princeton geologist Ken Deffeyes warns that the imminent peak of global oil production will result in “war, famine, pestilence and death.” Deffeyes, author of 2001’s Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage and 2005’s Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak, predicted that the peak of global oil production would occur this past Thanksgiving.

Deffeyes isn’t alone. The Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons claims in his 2005 book Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy that the Saudis are lying about the size of their reserves and that they are really running on empty; last September he announced that “we could be looking at $10-a-gallon gas this winter.” Colin Campbell, a former petroleum geologist who is now a trustee of the U.K.-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, warned way back in 2002 that we were headed for peak oil production, and that this would lead to “war, starvation, economic recession, possibly even the extinction of homo sapiens.” In his 2004 book Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, the Caltech physicist David Goodstein wrote that the peak of world production is imminent and that “we can, all too easily, envision a dying civilization, the landscape littered with the rusting hulks of SUVs.” Jim Motavalli, editor of the environmentalist magazine E, writes in the January/February 2006 issue, “It is impossible to escape the conclusion that we’re steaming full speed ahead into a train wreck of monumental proportions.”

And James Schlesinger, the country’s first secretary of energy, declared in the Winter 2005–06 issue of the neoconservative foreign policy journal The National Interest that “a growing consensus accepts that the peak is not that far off.” He added, “The inability readily to expand the supply of oil, given rising demand, will in the future impose a severe economic shock.”

Even some traditionally calm voices are starting to sound panicky. In March 2005, the New York investment bank Goldman Sachs issued a report suggesting that oil prices would experience a “super spike” in 2006, reaching up to $105 per barrel. ChevronTexaco’s willyoujoinus.com campaign, featuring a series of full-page newspaper ads that urge Americans to conserve energy, flatly declares, “The era of easy oil is over.”

Such forecasts have been bolstered by a steep rise in oil prices over the last three years, going from $18 a barrel in 2002 to $70 last fall. If the price of something goes up, after all, that means it’s becoming scarcer.

...

Unfortunately, you don’t have to go to Iran, Russia, or Venezuela to find energy militants. We have some homegrown ones right here in America, and they think the world is already in the opening stages of a global energy war. Last July, the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., assembled some of the scariest American oil war hawks for a program called “The Coming Energy Wars: A 21st Century Time Bomb?”

All the participants apparently accept the idea that world oil supplies are about to decline, and they all share a zero-sum view of natural resources. According to the Heritage panelists, the chief villain in the coming energy wars is China. Referring to China as the “Thirsty Dragon,” Cedoz warned, “China wants to lock up supplies at the wellhead with long-term purchase contracts.” He darkly pointed to Chinese negotiations over oil supplies in Sudan, Ecuador, and Colombia. (Actually, if the Chinese sign up for long-term contracts, that would encourage producers to invest more in production. That would benefit all consumers, not just the Chinese.)

Refurbished cold warrior Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, opposed the $18.5 billion bid by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation for the California-based oil company Unocal last year. “It’s a very ill-advised transaction,” said Gaffney. “It’s not in our interests to turn over more of our finite resources to others. They should be taken off the market.” Our finite resources? Seventy percent of Unocal’s reserves and production are located in East Asia and the Caspian Sea region.

The Chinese company withdrew its bid after a number of congressmen promised to outlaw the sale. But Gaffney isn’t breathing easier. China’s oil grab, he announced, “is only part of a larger plan to deny us strategic minerals, strategic choke points, and strategic regions. Their purpose is to deny the U.S. a dominant role in the world and if necessary to defeat us.”

Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, regretted that “energy is not viewed through a national security prism. We should be competing to lock up supplies and diversifying and exploring new technologies.” Berman argued that as resources become scarcer there is no way to avoid a zero-sum game. “We have to approach this through the lens of the haves and have-nots,” he declared.

From far (albeit libertarian) right to far left, Energy Bulletin points to an article from the Socialist Equality Party on the World Socialist Web Site (and yes, I'm always amazed these things still exist too) called "A socialist response to the massive rise in fuel prices".
Some 70 percent of US adults recently polled said gas prices—which are up 31 percent since last year—were causing them financial hardship. Tens of millions of people in America forced to drive long distances to work, as well as elderly people on fixed incomes, rural residents and small business owners are being devastated, and the crisis could lead to mass layoffs in the airline and trucking industries and throughout the economy.

Underlying this crisis is the fundamental contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the social relations of the capitalist profit system....

...While the oil companies and their apologists in Washington have blamed world crude oil prices and environmental regulations for the price hikes, the chief cause is profiteering by oil companies, which are posting record windfalls.

...That the present reliance on petroleum is both unsustainable and a deadly threat is indisputable. The world’s crude oil reserves are finite and will only disappear all the more rapidly to the extent that steps are taken to expand production. At the same time, the burning of these fossil fuels is the central cause of global warming, which—the Bush administration’s suppression of science notwithstanding—threatens to make Earth uninhabitable.

Moreover, the pursuit of this finite resource has given rise to the catastrophic growth of militarism.

Bart makes some comments which are in line with my thinking on the prospect of a leftist revival and outlines the various forms of the political left, which could be a handy road map for those "conservatives" whose monomania has led them into the misguided belief that liberalism is somehow akin to communism.
As rising oil prices exert hardship on working and middle classes, I think we can expect a resurgence of leftist and populist politics.

The website in which this article appears (About Us) is Trotskyist, generally agreed to be on the left of the communist spectrum. Other communist parties include the Maoist (for example in Nepal) and mainstream (for example in Cuba). By definition, "communists" are Marxist-Leninists - they follow the doctrines of Lenin.

In contrast, socialists and social-democrats (such as labour parties) generally reject Lenin's ideas. Anarchists usually reject Marx as well. In the past, differences between the various groups have been heated and often fratricidal.

In my opinion, no Marxist group has ever been very good on resource and environment issues - witness the call to cap gas prices in the above article. In recent years, some independent Marxists have been attempting to combine Marxist and green ideas, for example, the late Mark Jones and John Bellamy Foster.

Boing Boing points to a map of historic nuclear accidents on the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl.



Tom Paine points to an article in The Nation on Chernobyl and the collapse of the Soviet Union - "Remembering Chernobyl".
Twenty years have passed since Chernobyl's Unit 4 reactor exploded on April 26, 1986. In the months following the disaster, 116,000 residents from 188 towns and villages were evacuated, leaving an area nearly twice the size of Rhode Island uninhabitable. And although partisans from both the pro- and antinuclear lobbies continue to debate the number of deaths directly attributed to the disaster, the allure of nuclear energy has only grown in the past decade.

Today, the Exclusion Zone remains a depopulated field experiment, part wildlife sanctuary and, increasingly, a destination for tourists. Early this year, the Speaker of Ukraine's Parliament suggested that extreme tourism might be the only way to "derive some practical good out of this tragedy." And for a few hundred dollars, writes Peter Finn of the Washington Post, the adventurous traveler can spend a day in the Exclusion Zone, wander the empty streets of Pripyat, whose 45,000 residents were evacuated after the explosion, and observe the Unit 4 reactor, one of the few monuments left.

Chernobyl itself, like the villages and towns that once supported the eponymous power plant, has largely disappeared from the public imagination. The survivors too have disappeared, their stories eclipsed by the dramatic collapse of Soviet Communism and the intangible experience of those who, as Svetlana Alexievich notes in her devastating collection of monologues, Voices From Chernobyl, "are already living after the nuclear war." Chernobyl in many ways foreshadowed the precipitous decline of the Russian countryside following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Village life is dying. Life expectancy continues to fall and is among the lowest in Europe. Young people, if they can, are leaving for cities.

Chernobyl was one of many headaches faced by Mikhail Gorbachev as he presided over the downfall of the USSR - as a man with first hand experience of the political fallout associated with nuclear accidents, Gorby is wisely counselling the world to adopt renewables, not nuclear.
The guy who effectively ended the Cold War (aka ’my nuclear arsenal is bigger than yours’), and had to manage the cleanup of Chernobyl, has this to say on a topic doing the rounds at the moment: “Nuclear power is neither the answer to modern energy problems nor a panacea for climate change challenges,” President Gorbachev said recently. “You don’t actually solve problems by finding solutions that create more problems down the track. It doesn’t add up economically, environmentally or socially. Of all the energy options, nuclear is the most capital intensive to establish, decommissioning is prohibitively expensive and the financial burden continues long after the plant is closed. In the U.S., for example, direct subsidies to nuclear energy amounted to $115 billion between 1947 and 1999 with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies to wind and solar combined during the same period totaled only $5.5 billion.” An extract from his press release, commemorating Chernobyl 20 years on, in which he beseeches the leaders of the G8 to show some spine, and support solar energy with a global fund of $50 billion USD.

Tom Paine also has an article on "The Oil-man in chief".
You know President George W. Bush’s ratings are in the toilet when he starts bashing oil companies in the name of protecting what he repeatedly called “our consumers,” as he did yesterday.

And you know the Party in Power—just back from getting an earful from angry constituents about rising gasoline prices—is shaking in its shoes at the prospect of tomorrow’s (April 27) profit announcement by ExxonMobil.

So the president did what a floundering politician does: he tried to change the subject.

In this case, the president made the environment a scapegoat for rising gasoline prices. He suggested a false choice—lower prices at the pump, or dirtier air.

One last one from Tom Paine - this one on "Hybrid Solutions"".
Increasing fuel economy is essential, but in the long run we will need cars powered by ethanol or hydrogen or green electricity to solve the oil problem and eliminate global warming pollution from our cars and trucks. The challenge is that no one knows which fuel to bet on. Many promoters of alternatives are busy overselling their fuel’s virtues and emphasizing the shortcomings of their “competitors.” In charting the unexplored territory beyond petroleum, it’s the equivalent of circling the wagons and shooting inward. As a result, our political leaders fumble around for a magic silver bullet amidst a cacophony of conflicting advice.

As any savvy investor will attest, the smart money is on a diverse portfolio, supporting all alternatives in hopes that one or more will succeed. Ethanol needs a sustainable, cheap feedstock and better ways to brew the fuel. Hydrogen-powered cars require technology breakthroughs and clean sources of hydrogen. Electric cars need much cheaper batteries and renewable electricity to replace dirty energy from coal plants. All three fuels need infrastructure support to compete with the country’s 180,000 corner gas stations.

Transforming transportation won’t come through research investments alone, however. While the auto or oil companies have never met a government regulation they liked, history has repeatedly demonstrated that market forces alone can’t solve the problem. From leaded gasoline to seat belts to fuel economy standards, these companies have routinely needed policy prodding to do the right thing by consumers and their health.

That is why our elected officials must require Detroit to use off-the-shelf conventional fuel economy technologies, boost sales of green hybrids, and invest today in all of the fuels of tomorrow. The road map is clear. Now we just need to get moving.

Renewable Energy Access points to a conference in Washington DC on peak oil and global warming - glad to see the idea that these two topics are inextricably linked is now becoming widespread.
A three-day conference to address the implications of two overlapping global crises -- the coming peak in worldwide oil production and the continuing disruption of ecosystems due to global climate change -- convenes in Washington, DC, from May 7 to May 9 at the Marvin Center (800 21st St. NW).

"The problem of the peaking of world conventional oil production is unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society."
-- Department of Energy, quote from a recently commissioned study

The Sustainable Energy Forum 2006 is sponsored by the University of Maryland's Conservation Biology & Sustainable Development program. It is co-sponsored by Wallace Global Fund, Sustainable Scale Project, NRDC, and NRG Wind Systems.

With this year's theme on "Peak Oil and the Environment," the conference offers more than 20 leading sustainability thinkers, scientists and policymakers exploring the challenges of oil production peaking, and its implications for the economy, climate, geopolitical stability and human well-being; and possible adaptations, including alternative energy sources and reducing energy use.

"The problem of the peaking of world conventional oil production is unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society," said a recent Department of Energy commissioned study, whose co-author, Roger Bedzek, is a conference speaker.

Also speaking will be James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who made headlines recently by exposing the Bush administration's attempts to censor him after he called for quick reductions of greenhouse gases.

Other speakers include Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who organized a House caucus on Peak Oil; Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, who addresses the problems Peak Oil poses in his new book "Plan B 2.0"; and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a proponent of domestically produced energy sources, including wind.

Mona Sahlin, Sweden's minister for Sustainable Development, will discuss her country's initiative to be free of oil dependence by 2020. Additional presenters include Michael Klare, author of "Blood and Oil"; former World Bank economist Herman Daly; Robert Costanza, Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, and several other authors in the field.

TreeHugger reports Lester Brown's "Plan B: 2.0" is now available for free online.
Maybe we should call this week the "Lester Brown Week"? On Monday we asked you for suggestions of interview questions, on Tuesday the TreeHuggerTV team interviewed Mr. Brown (stay tuned for the episode featuring the interview) and today we'd like to let you know that his book Plan B: 2.0 (which we've covered before) is available online for free (legally, of course): Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. You can read it in a browser, or download chapters in .pdf format, but of course you can also buy it to support Mr. Brown (and when you're done reading, why not donate your copy to the local library or start a library at work?).

A quick scan of the local paper for energy news - Caltex says - $1.40 per litre: get used to it, Woodisde is planning to spend $900 million developing the Tiof field offshore Mauritania, Oil Search has doubled their profits since last year, Bush's move to stop refilling the strategic petroleum reserve got some coverage (no one notes the risk this poses in the event of a bad hurricane season this year), Iran says it will fight back if attacked - with the next UN meeting on their nuclear program in 2 days time and Australians look like getting an RFID based national ID card by 2010.

Billmon has a post on America's "Blessed Addiction".
The prices that people are paying at the gas pumps reflect our addiction to oil. Addiction to oil is a matter of national security concern . . . These countries know we need their oil, and that reduces our influence, our ability to keep the peace in some areas.

George W. Bush
Speech to Renewable Fuels Association
April 25, 2006

_______________________
The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one . . . The President also believes that the American people's use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy.

Ari Fleischer
Press briefing
May 7, 2001



Jeff Vail has a post on the possibility of "Bifurcation".
In my start-of-2006 prediction, I called 2006 the “year of the balance beam.” We’re in a pretty precarious position, and a good jolt could send us right off the edge, but without that shock we will probably keep on walking in a straight line.

...

We’ve had many close calls. The end of the Cold War was probably our last great wobble. We swung our arms about and did a little dance, but we weren’t really in any great danger of falling off. 9/11 was a slight trip—and it took us a moment to regain our balance. But balance regained, we’ve regained confidence, and perhaps we’re moving forward a bit faster than is prudent (in our shiny yellow H2 short bus). Now we’ve realized that we’re unstable again—our arms are just now quivering, wondering how to react to the next blow, and our legs are a bit shaky. There’s uncertainty—will we catch our balance quickly, will we pirouette and nearly fall off but regain control, or is it one with the abyss for humanity? You can see this clearly in oil prices, which hit record highs this week without a hurricane. The combination of supply-demand issues and wondering about Iran has left us in limbo. Will we catch ourselves this time? What about the next? It’s really only a matter of time now. Most likely we’ll catch our balance this time—and you’ll see this reflected in oil dropping below $68/barrel. And most likely we’ll catch our balance next time, too. But the balance beam is getting narrower. Will a major Gulf hurricane knock us off for good? What about Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz? What about a collapse of oil production from Ghawar? What about China continuing to grow oil demand by double digits annually? India? What the future looks like will depend in part on what catalyst knocks us off. But one thing is certain—after the bifurcation point we aren’t walking down the same straight line any longer.

To close, here's a video from Japan showing the increasing popularity of bike riding.

V For Vendetta  

Posted by Big Gav

Greenpeace is accusing federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell on 'anti-wind farm vendetta' after yet another decision to reject a wind farm plan. I always wonder after these sorts of reports - how much money do coal mining companies donate to the Liberal party ?

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell has weighed in to a community debate on another wind farm project, rejecting calls to fund a scheme in Western Australia.

Senator Campbell said a plan to build turbines on the coast near Denmark, 415 kilometres south of Perth, should not proceed until a national code was established. "I think if we want to have a low carbon future with a lot of renewable power, we need to find a way to ensure that community concerns about visual impacts, about impacts on unique bits of coastline are assuaged," Senator Campbell told the ABC today.

WA Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan says the proposal could still proceed without federal funding. "If the bar is going to be set so wherever there is any opposition to wind farms there won't be any wind farms, then no projects would get up at all," Ms MacTiernan said today.

Senator Campbell last month prevented a $220 million wind farm project proceeding in south Gippsland in Victoria on the ground that one endangered orange-bellied parrot may die a year. There had been no reported sightings of the bird within 10 kilometres of the proposed site.

MonkeyGrinder has an excellent rant about those who oppose wind farms up which should summon up a wry chuckle from most people.
I get it. Build them wind turbines, and one early spring day, frost still on the ground, I might walk out to a turbine only to be impaled into the ground by an ice shard flung off a turbine. As the ice melts, and I weakly crawl to my feet, a thunderstorm will zoom in out of nowhere, and I’ll be struck by lightening attracted by the nearest tower.

Hair a bit frizzy now, I’ll begin to totter away when a turbine above me will suddenly disintegrate. A spinning blade thus shall chop my arm away. Spewing blood, as I am glancing frantically about, the thrumming turbines will induce a seizure, causing me to collapse again. Mortally wounded, a cow will find me muttering about my cherished - - property values.

...

Will wind farms be so ugly then? Or will people find them beautiful, when natural gas electricity plants start dropping off the grid, for lack of fuel? When the Appalachian mountains have been turned into the Appalachian flatlands? The alleged health risks of a humming turbine pale in comparison to the mercury heaving out in our air every second from coal furnaces around the globe.

James Hall doubtless hasn’t considered any of this. He’s a property values guy, a “baby boomer,” in the American parlance. Perhaps he drives an SUV, perched so fearfully high off the ground, so high up in heaven, that he doesn’t realize that the road below is paved with the bones of his grandchildren.

The ABC has a report on environmental activists "driving commercial innovation and seeding new mainstream industries" (like wind power, if the environment minister would let them).
Environmental activists are driving commercial innovation and seeding new mainstream industries, a UK study says. The study says rather than putting up hurdles to economic progress, radical activist groups and proponents of a greener lifestyle are driving developments in mainstream businesses like wind energy, organic food and eco-housing.

Australian sustainability pioneer and engineering lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, Michael Mobbs, says the report rings true for him. The environmental lawyer was renovating his Sydney home in 1996 when he decided to put in sustainable features, including a water tank, a reused sewage system and solar panels. At the time people thought he was "frothing at the mouth or somehow abnormal", he says.

Ten years later, 17,000 people have toured his home and he advises policy makers, developers, builders, architects, engineers and "mainstream, middle class Australians". "There are now laws requiring rain tanks and many of the things I did that were regarded as weird and stupid are now in red tape," he says. "The engineers who were once critical of me are now describing themselves as sustainability experts."

Mobbs is currently helping Western Australia's Department for Planning and Infrastructure design a sustainable village at Gracetown.

Moving onto uncleaner sources of energy, the nuclear industry probably hates days like today - the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

I was aghast to see wingnut lunatic Andrew Bolt on the TV news this morning foaming at the mouth about this subject as he dispensed conspiracy theories about Chernobyl being a giant scam - hardly anyone died and there are few residual effects, according to our great historical revisionist. Too much kulturkampf, like too much radiation, is obviously very bad for the brain.

It was entertaining watching him trying to wage the pro-nuclear PR battle while being unable to mention global warming (he is also a vehement global warming denier, which outlines one of the dilemmas faced by those who like to parrot lines for both the coal and nuclear industries). Of course, I'd imagine all of those kids with leukaemia wouldn't find his line of argument quite so entertaining - maybe some should send him on a visit to the involuntary park and some of the nearby hospitals and villages...


Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the nuclear power-plant accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, that spewed radioactive fallout across Europe. Estimates of the total number of deaths that will result range from around 9,000 (a U.N. report released last year) to 93,000 (a new Greenpeace report). The controversy stems from uncertainty about the health effects of small doses of radiation. Thyroid cancer and other thyroid abnormalities are health problems that most scientists agree are directly linked to Chernobyl, but the Greenpeace report also blames fallout for "damaging immune and endocrine systems, leading to accelerated aging, cardiovascular and blood illnesses, psychological illnesses, chromosome aberrations, and an increase of deformities in fetuses and children." The last of Chernobyl's four reactors was taken out of commission in 2000; now, the site sits quietly amidst a wide "dead zone" that has, ironically, become a kind of wildlife refuge. It almost makes it all ... wait, no it doesn't.

Dave Roberts is, like MonkeyGrinder, reduced to ranting as well - in this case, about the success big PR money is having for the cancerous energy industry in terms of framing the debate as "coal vs nukes" (two unpleasant choices), instead of "coal vs nukes vs renewables" (which has an obvious winner).
One of the most frustrating things about the renewed debate over nuclear power is that it has basically been forced into the public sphere by brute force of cash. The Nuclear Energy Institute can afford to hire high-profile shills; they can blitz the press until they get some prominent placement.

They get to set the terms of the debate. We're stuck arguing "nukes good" or "nukes bad." That makes public acceptance of nukes inevitable, since the "nukes bad" crowd can always be cast as obstructionists standing in the way of progress.

What's missing? A big-money push behind the positive green alternative: Energy efficiency standards, carbon taxes, incentives for clean energy, smarter land-use policy, smarter agricultural policy, etc.

Why is there no big-money push? Because no big, consolidated industry stands to make money off it. Certainly money could be made, but for the short- to mid-term it will be scattered, distributed, small-scale money.

These green strategies serve the public good, not the corporate good, and thus are at a heavy disadvantage in our corporate-dominated political and media system. They have no big-money backing, and thus have no effective advocates.

So the corporate "solutions" dominate the debate.

(The same is true, to some extent, for biofuels. How did ethanol come to serve as a stand-in for energy independence? Because Big Agribusiness and Big Oil both stand to profit, and congressfolk from agricultural states stand to benefit from the rush of subsidies.)

Dave doesn't mention the hydrogen economy in there (which is often linked to the nuclear industry, though thats just one way of making hydrogen) - George Monbiot has returned from a break to consider the hydrogen and nuclear questions in England.
If we’re to have a hydrogen economy, we have to secure our supplies of natural gas.

My timing could scarcely be worse. To announce, in this of all weeks, a Damascene conversion to natural gas is to invite ridicule from every quarter. The price of oil has hit $75, and for reasons no energy company has yet been able to explain to me, it takes the gas price with it. Even before this new surge, the wholesale cost of gas had trebled in just three years.

This winter, we nearly had to do without it altogether. First Russia’s state-controlled producer Gazprom cut the supplies to Europe in order to show Ukraine where real power still lies; then the private monopolists in the European Union appeared to restrict the flow through the “interconnector” which supplies the United Kingdom. At just the wrong moment – February 16th – the UK’s main gas storage facility (on the Rough Field in the North Sea) blew up. Centrica, the company which runs it, predicted then that it would remain closed for one month. A month later, the company said it would be shut till May. Now its spokesman tells me that it will be back in business “from June 1st”. The “from” does not inspire confidence.

Last week the chief executive of Gazprom, from which the UK buys about a quarter of its natural gas, warned of the consequences this country would suffer if the government refused to let it buy Centrica. “One cannot forget that we are actively developing new markets such as North America and China. Gas producers in Central Asia are also pay [sic] their attention to the Chinese market. It is not by accident. Competition for energy resources is increasing. It is needed to note that attempts to limit Gazprom’s activity in European market and politicize gas supply issues … will make no good results.” Doubtless he was stroking a white cat as he said it. To make my task of persuasion particularly difficult, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group reported that the European Union, desperate for access to Turkmenistan’s reserves, has been ignoring the atrocities of the borderline-bonkers President Niyazov.

All this means that the British government is even more likely to recommend a new generation of nuclear generators in its energy review in the summer.

...

I’ve looked into every source of sustainable heat I can find, and while there are plenty that could supply some of our houses – wood and straw, solar hot water panels, district heating systems and heat pumps for example – all of them are constrained by one factor or another, such as a shortage of agricultural land, our feeble sun and the disruption involved in fitting them to existing homes. It seems that there is only one low-carbon source of heat which could (with a massive investment in new infrastructure) be supplied to most of the homes in the United Kingdom between now and 2030. It is hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be used to power a fuel cell, which is a kind of gas battery. If, as their promoters predict, fuel cells can very soon be made small enough, cheap enough and reliable enough to take the place of domestic boilers, they could provide both the heat and electricity our homes require. The natural gas pipes to which most of our houses are now attached would be replaced by hydrogen pipes. These are about 50% wider, but otherwise the system is much the same.

There are three means of making hydrogen without releasing much carbon dioxide: by reacting natural gas with steam and capturing and burying the carbon it contains, by passing steam and oxygen through pulverised coal (and catching the carbon) and by the electrolysis of water. The last option is the one beloved of both environmentalists (because the electricity can come from wind) and the nuclear industry.

But a hydrogen network will be viable only if it is cheap. According to a report by the US National Academy of Engineering, the wholesale price of hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture will, in “the future”, be $1.72 per kilogramme; from coal, $1.45; and from electrolysis $3.93. In other words, if a hydrogen economy is to be taken seriously, the fuel has to be made from gas or coal, rather than by either wind turbines or nuclear generators.

Even in my confessional mood, I cannot bring myself to support coal. I defy anyone who knows what opencast mining looks like to say the words “clean coal” without blushing. This leaves only gas. If my calculations are correct, the retail price of hydrogen made from natural gas will be around 50% greater than the retail price of gas itself. But because fuel cells supplying both heat and electricity are more efficient than gas boilers, the total cost would be roughly the same.

So it seems to me that a key environmental challenge, odd as this seems, is to ensure that gas has a future in the United Kingdom, by making its supplies more secure. I don’t mean invading Iran or sucking up to Saparmurat Niyazov.

Its a shame gas (even Russian gas) won't last forever, unlike wind...

For those who haven't seen it yet, Bill Clinton's recent speech in London touched on both peak oil and global warming.
The second thing that I would like to talk briefly about is global warming. I believe that it is the only existential threat that, those of you who are students here, your generation faces. It could literally undermine your ability to raise your children and grandchildren. A whole spade of new books and studies have come out in the last couple of months, and I will just cite two or three. A dig through the ice pac in Antarctica, deeper than any before it had achieved has enabled us to measure the pattern of climate warming in the last two hundred years. The climate is warming more rapidly than anytime in the last two hundred thousand years. Homosapiens stood up on the planes of the savannah in East Africa somewhere between 130,000-150,000 years ago. This goes back before the time when our species was on the planet. The last ice age receded 15,000 years ago that allowed people to move across the globe. They were five civilizations on earth five thousands years ago. We are playing with serious fire.

The Indians and Chinese are in this huge fight now to see who can get the most oil. We may be at a point of peak oil production. You may see $100 a barrel oil in the next two or three years, but what still is driving this globalization is the idea that is you cannot possibly get rich, stay rich and get richer; if you don’t release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That was true in the industrial era; it is simply factually not true. What is true is that the old energy economy is well organized, financed and connected politically. The new energy economy is underfinanced, under organized, entrepreneurial and in need of the type of research and development work that we routinely did when we were trying to sequence the human genome or go into space. But just with existing technologies for conservation and clean energy, we can more than meet the Kyoto protocols if we were remotely serious about the targets and in the process create jobs in the developed and developing world on a scale that is otherwise unimaginable to me. It is just a question of whether we accept this, but I can only tell you that I have studied this data seriously. I consider it an existential threat to your future. It may be the most remote security threat you face, but the only one who has the chance to change the life of everybody on the plant for the worst. And yet it is a phenomenal opportunity.

Regardless of your opinion of Clinton (and he certainly seems to drive both right and left tinfoil hemispheres crazy along with all the frothing masses of "values based" wingnuts), both he and Al Gore seem to get the current situation much better than most politicians. Gore has received yet more good press in Wired today - he seems to be becoming the darling of the clean tech set. Maybe we'll be seeing Gore-Clinton (Hillary unfortunately) back on the cards in 2008 ?
One evening last December, in front of nearly 2,000 people at Stanford's Memorial Auditorium, Al Gore spoke in uncharacteristically personal and passionate terms about the failed quest that has dominated much of his adult life. Save for his standard warm-up line - "Hi, I'm Al Gore, and I used to be the next president of the United States" - there was hardly a mention of the White House. Instead, during the next 90 minutes, Gore had plenty to say about thinning polar ice caps, shrinking glaciers, rising carbon dioxide concentrations, spiking temperatures, and hundreds of other data points he has woven into an overpowering slide show detailing the catastrophic changes affecting the earth's climate. The audience was filled with Silicon Valley luminaries: Apple's Steve Jobs; Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt; Internet godfather Vint Cerf; Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang; venture capitalists John Doerr, Bill Draper, and Vinod Khosla; former Clinton administration defense secretary William Perry; and a cross section of CEOs, startup artists, techies, tinkerers, philanthropists, and investors of every political and ethnic stripe.

Also in Wired, a shorter version of Alex Steffen's inspiring Earth Day outburst.
Green-minded activists failed to move the broader public not because they were wrong about the problems, but because the solutions they offered were unappealing to most people. They called for tightening belts and curbing appetites, turning down the thermostat and living lower on the food chain. They rejected technology, business, and prosperity in favor of returning to a simpler way of life. No wonder the movement got so little traction. Asking people in the world's wealthiest, most advanced societies to turn their backs on the very forces that drove such abundance is naive at best.

With climate change hard upon us, a new green movement is taking shape, one that embraces environmentalism's concerns but rejects its worn-out answers. Technology can be a font of endlessly creative solutions. Business can be a vehicle for change. Prosperity can help us build the kind of world we want. Scientific exploration, innovative design, and cultural evolution are the most powerful tools we have. Entrepreneurial zeal and market forces, guided by sustainable policies, can propel the world into a bright green future.

Americans trash the planet not because we're evil, but because the industrial systems we've devised leave no other choice. Our ranch houses and high-rises, factories and farms, freeways and power plants were conceived before we had a clue how the planet works. They're primitive inventions designed by people who didn't fully grasp the consequences of their actions.

Consider the unmitigated ecological disaster that is the automobile. Every time you turn on the ignition, you're enmeshed in a system whose known outcomes include a polluted atmosphere, oil-slicked seas, and desert wars. As comprehension of the stakes has grown, though, a market has emerged for a more sensible alternative. Today you can drive a Toyota Prius that burns far less gasoline than a conventional car. Tomorrow we might see vehicles that consume no fossil fuels and emit no greenhouse gases. Combine cars like that with smarter urban growth and we're well on our way to sustainable transportation.

You don't change the world by hiding in the woods, wearing a hair shirt, or buying indulgences in the form of save the earth bumper stickers. You do it by articulating a vision for the future and pursuing it with all the ingenuity humanity can muster. Indeed, being green at the start of the 21st century requires a wholehearted commitment to upgrading civilization. Four key principles can guide the way:

Renewable energy is plentiful energy. Burning fossil fuels is a filthy habit, and the supply won't last forever. Fortunately, a growing number of renewable alternatives promise clean, inexhaustible power: wind turbines, solar arrays, wave-power flotillas, small hydroelectric generators, geothermal systems, even bioengineered algae that turn waste into hydrogen. The challenge is to scale up these technologies to deliver power in industrial quantities - exactly the kind of challenge brilliant businesspeople love...

Continuing the Viridian theme, WorldChanging has a post on The Rise Of Bright Green Computers.
The modern world's greatest tool is among our most disposable and resource-heavy. Performance-wise, computer design has progressed staggeringly well and astonishingly fast. But looking at it from a green perspective, the work has barely begun. When our laptop dies and we toss it, it either rots in a landfill, or children in the developing world end up wrestling its components apart by hand, melting toxic bits to recover traces of heavy metals. Did someone forget to design for them? And of the $250 billion per year spent on powering computers worldwide, only about 15% of that power was spent computing--the rest was wasted idling. Did we really get what we paid for?

We've written about various aspects of green computers before, but here's an attempt to give a whole-picture view of what the bright green computer of tomorrow will be like: efficiency, manufacturing & materials, recyclability, service model, self-powering, and other trends.

...

All this is just the beginning. So far, consumers haven't cared about ecological impact when buying computers, they've cared only about speed and price. But as Moore's Law marches on and computers commoditize, consumers will become pickier about being green. (This means you!) Tomorrow's bright green computers will be different from today's in many ways. So far it’s rare to see a product that pulls on more than one solution, but the industry is starting to move forward--sometimes of its own accord, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming by regulations and consumer activism. Devices use less and less power while renewable energy gets more and more portable and effective. New green materials are developed every year, and many toxic ones are already being replaced by them. The greenest computer will not miraculously fall from the sky one day, it’ll be the product of years of improvements to this and that along the way. Designers can now make many small changes converge into a full rethinking of the industry, into directions as yet unknown. And when they do, we will have on our desk a machine that not only connects us to the world through information technology, but to a cycle of manufacturing that doesn't hurt us or future generations; to companies that consider both the people who make their computers and those who take them apart; and all in a product that is lighter, sleeker and more elegant than any we've yet seen.

In comparison to Gore and Clinton, Bush seems barely capable of understanding the politics of scarcity - not surprising for the worst president ever I guess (once again I'm going to rip off a vaste swathe of text from Billmon here, because he writes it so well - he even quotes Asimov and Foundation, subjects to warm any peak oil collapse geek's heart).
President Bush's approval ratings have sunk to a personal low, with only a third of Americans saying they approve of the way he is handling his job, a national poll released Monday said.

In the telephone poll of 1,012 adult Americans carried out Friday through Sunday by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN, 32 percent of respondents said they approve of Bush's performance, 60 percent said they disapprove and 8 percent said they do not know.


If this continues, cholera is going to end up with a higher approval rating. It looks to me like the only "five point" plan that could possibly revive Shrub's political fortunes is the star on the end of Tinkerbell's little wand.

By way of comparison, Jimmy Carter's lowest approval rating was 28%, during the last big oil price shock (before the Iranian hostage crisis temporarily made him popular again.) Nixon, of course, set the modern record for political revulsion, hitting 23% in the winter of 1974 — in the middle of the first big energy crisis, although Watergate probably had more to do with it.

A betting man would probably wager that Bush won't sink to Nixonian levels of unpopularity — even if his inner circle has long since left Tricky Dick in the dust in terms of sheer criminality. I don't think there are enough thinking Republicans left in this country to take Shrub into the low 20s, even though the bite at the pump appears to be drawing blood even among the regime's dead enders:
In the staunchly Republican community of London, about 25 miles west of Columbus [Ohio], Melinda Conley still supports President Bush and calls herself a "die-hard Republican."

But Conley, an interior designer and gift shop owner on Main Street, quickly says that she has done a lot of dying lately, a point driven home last week when she spent $100 on gas for her Ford Excursion — and that didn't fill the tank.


It's a little disconcerting to think that gas prices — not Iraq, not Katrina, not the extra-constitutional power grabs — could decide whether Shrub's presidency recovers or collapses into complete irrelevancy for the next three years. But the good Dr. Pollkatz has already plotted the relationship, and it's statistically suggestive, to say the least.

This should be enough to make any would-be president (Demopublican or Republicrat) extremely nervous, since it seems high energy prices are likely to be a major fact of life for years to come — and maybe forever. If that turns out to be the case, then an absolutely necessary condition for future presidential success, or even survival, might be making sure the go juice keeps flowing at prices that won't drive the average American SUV owner onto the war path.

But that isn't going to be easy — not in a world in which everybody and their Chinese cousin is scrambling to lock up the available supply, where a number of major oil producing countries are a coup away from becoming failed states (if they're not there already), and that is already producing about as much of the light, sweet cheap stuff as it ever will.

Given the political incentives, it's possible to look a ways down the road — not a long ways — and see a U.S. military policy (formerly known as a foreign policy) that begins and ends with the protection of the oil lifeline. This could leave America in roughly the same position as Trantor, the world city and imperial galactic capital in Isaac Asimov's sci-fi classics, the Foundation trilogy. (George Lucas later shamelessly ripped off Asimov's idea and turned it into his own galactic world city, Coruscant, in the last three Star Wars movies.)

Like Coruscant, the surface of Trantor is just one big urban 'hood, meaning the planet's inhabitants — including the imperial court — must rely on a ring of neighboring star systems for their food supply. In his mythical Encyclopedia Galactica, Asimov explains the strategic implications:
Its dependence upon the outer worlds for food and, indeed, for all necessities of life, made Trantor increasingly vulnerable to conquest by siege. In the last millennium of the Empire, the monotonously numerous revolts made Emperor after Emperor conscious of this, and Imperial policy became little more than the protection of Trantor's delicate jugular vein.

Substitute oil for food and Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria for the "outer worlds," and you can begin to see where our own dependence may take us. If you've read the Foundation trilogy, you know that the galactic empire soon crumbles, first at the edges, then the core, until only those precious agricultural planets remain.

But Asimov's fictional emperors actually had it easy by comparison. Trantor's jugular vein connected it to a handful of nearby star systems — the imperial backyard, in galactic terms. These could still be held, even after the rest of the empire had slipped away.

By contrast, America's oil lifeline spans the earth (our imperial "galaxy"). All of it has to be watched and guarded, stabilized and supervised. Even a partial loss of control could turn into a disaster, since in a global market supply disruptions anywhere can send prices soaring everywhere. And yet some of the most serious threats — like the separatist movement in the Niger delta — are outside the U.S. security "umbrella," traditionally defined.

What this implies, of course, is a terrible case of imperial overstretch, one which technology, firepower and Special Forces mojo may not be able to cure, no matter how much money gets thrown at the Pentagon. When the objective is to protect vital economic infrastructures, rather than blow them up, the U.S. military machine clearly lacks many of the right tools — like an adequate number of combat boots with soldiers' feet inside them.

For those who fear above all else the threat of hostile Middle Eastern regimes armed with WMD, this is potentially very bad news, at least in the long run. Unless stopping the (insert nationality here) Hitler can be done in a way that doesn't jack up the price of a gallon of regular, future U.S. administrations may be unwilling, or politically unable, to risk it.

Unfortunately, in the short run this could be even worse news for those of us who fear a wider war in the Middle East more than the future possibility of a nuclear Iran. Having seen what high gas prices have done to his popularity ratings, Bush may feel confirmed in his reported conviction that no future president will have the guts to take down Tehran. And having fallen into Jimmy Carter territory, he may also feel he has nothing left to lose, at least politically, by doing it himself.

But, assuming Bush can be restrained for the next three years, we may be due for a return to the days when U.S. presidents didn't go looking for opportunities to turn the Middle East upside down.

When your jugular is exposed to the world, it takes enormous courage (and/or incredible stupidity) to adopt an aggressive "forward" strategy. Especially when failure and defeat in one critical region can encourage defiance in another. As goes the Middle East, so goes Latin America? Future presidents may not be willing to put it to the test — not after seeing George W. Bush's second term flushed down the same sewer as Jimmy Carter's first and only one.

And to close, I can't resist quoting some text from the "worst president ever" link above either (and here's a tinfoil decoration for those who enjoy pondering propaganda systems - both ours and the Russian's - I'll resist the temptation to go and find something which says what I suspect about the much publicised Zarqawi video burbling away on the TV behind me, which is the obvious tinfoil hook for the day).
How extraordinary. Something is happening here that has never happened in America's history. A consensus is sweeping the nation. Not that the war in Iraq is wrong, or that oil companies are screwing us blue, or that the climate is going to hell, or that good-paying jobs are being replaced by low-paying jobs, or that our national health care system is a disgrace, or that that the rich are getting a lot richer while the middle class gets poorer.

While all that's true, and more and more folks are getting it, that's not the consensus of which I speak. Nope. This one is bigger, enormous, huge!

Here it is: The president of the United States is a moron.

Yes, stupid, dumb as common road gravel. And not figuratively, but literally. George W. Bush, president of the world's last remaining superpower, is a moron. Forrest Gump's evil twin.

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