Hibernating  

Posted by Big Gav

Peak Energy is going into winter hibernation for a couple of weeks - see you all again in July sometime.

I'll still be throwing the odd tidbit into the link bucket.

For those visitors who have come across this blog at random and want to know what on earth its all about, the quick version is:

1. Peak oil is real and a serious problem (although probably not in itself as serious as some of the collapsist schools of thought would have us believe)

2. Global warming is real and a serious problem

3. Oil dependence (and the desire to use it to control others) is leading us to do a lot of very unpleasant things (and thus you'll see a lot of references to Iraq, terrorism, resource wars and the propaganda and surveillence industries)

4. There are lots of solutions for dealing with all 3 of these problems - however there is a lot of inertia and political resistance hindering the adoption of these (and some solutions to peak oil are anti-solutions to global warming)

See the links in the sidebar for more...

The Scent of Peak Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

BP and DuPont got quite a lot of press yesterday with their announcement that they will begin production of a biofuel called biobutanol.

Drivers may soon have a third option for fuel produced from plants: biobutanol. Butanol from petroleum has been used for decades as an industrial solvent, but two companies say they are close to commercializing a process for creating the fuel from corn, sugar beets, or even grasses. BP and Dupont today announced that they will begin selling Biobutanol in the United Kingdom next year.

The companies co-developed a fuel that can be combined with gasoline and ethanol. Biobutanol is superior to ethanol because it has a higher energy value and is less water soluble and evaporative than ethanol, so it is safe to transport via existing gasoline pipelines.

BP says Biobutanol is complementary to ethanol. Initially the fuel will be produced from sugar beets, but the companies are also developing cellulosic materials as well. Here in the U.S., company Environmental Energy claims it has patents on similar technology, but it calls the fuel butanol. EEI says it is building a prototype production plant, and that its fuel can be used as a 100 percent gasoline replacement.

There seems to be some debate about the olfactory qualities of the stuff - though I doubt unpleasant odours are at the top of DuPont's concerns (and no doubt the various lobbies touting the various biofuel alternatives will be putting on a PR battle over the coming years like the nuclear and coal industries currently are).
Like methanol (another oft-touted alt-fuel), even small amounts of butanol absorbed through the skin are toxic, although not as toxic as methanol. It also can be difficult to start in cold weather. Here is a more thorough treatment of the subject.

Gasoline is dangerously flammable but not a terribly large health hazard. Butanol or propanol would make just filling up at the station a hazard. Methanol would be a nightmare.

...

Where did you find this out? A quick butanol search on Wikipedia states that it's a perfume base, which seems to imply that your information is bogus.

...

If they're talking about n-butanol (AKA 1-butanol), then life will be a lot stinkier. The n-butane family is notoriously stinky, with n-butanol reeking of rancid butter. n-Butanol has an odor threshhold of 20-80 ppb, which means that any spillage at the pump will turn the gas station into the olfactory equivalent of the Land-o-Lakes warehouse during a heatwave. Eww. Not sure how sec-butanol smells but it can't be much better!

With a name like George Orwel as the author, I can't resist linking to this article about the post peak future - "Peak Oil = Urban Ruin" - even if he isn't writing thinly veiled analysis of our political system, and I'm more of the view that green cities are the future for most of humanity.
I have often been reminded of a Chinese saying that basically translates into something like this: Long is not forever. In other words, everything comes to an end; it doesn't matter how long it takes. I've been covering the oil industry for a long time and I often talk with many economists about the status of the market. They are a very optimistic lot. That's good because they deal with issues of wealth creation, except that when they let unreasonable optimism color their thinking in such a sway that their only concern is the short-term financial benefit, they run the risk of losing their credibility.

I say that because something new is happening in the modern world. For a long time, we've been used to classical economics championed by the likes of Milton Friedman. But there is a new breed of what one might call renegade economists whose focus is not based merely on competition alone, but also on community good. These economists, just like scientists, are now debating the consequences of a world with reduced petroleum supplies. They are asking, "Why can't we start preparing for the time when we probably won't have it?" Like geologists who are now calling our attention to an oil peak, these skeptics think the oil industry is taking itself for a ride by being overly optimistic that natural resources will stay abundant. Very soon, we shall see a shift in mainstream economic thinking from unbridled, red-hot free markets to something grayish.

An Eliott wave theorist has an article up at Free Market News Network on peak oil and the commodity boom (FMNN has had a fairly varied range of articles on PO over time - some attacking the idea and some fairly standard fare like this - economic analysis base don PO theory combined with some Austrian economics and goldbug fervour).
The commodity boom currently underway in all areas is due to shortages. Shortages are the result of different circumstance depending upon the commodity. Different commodities will be examined but all stem from a common thread and will only be amplified by its shortages: Energy.

The most important source of energy is oil and related products. It is the most compact form of portable energy for easy use. Currently, around 25 billion barrels of oil/year are consumed and with China oil consumption increasing 2% year over year, over 500 million more barrels are required next year. If no other countries decrease their oil consumption, then there will be real felt shortages next year. The more and more I read about oil production and shortages (best book by far is “Twilight in the Desert” by Matt Simmons), this is going to be an extreme event. Current sources of oil are declining and India and China have economies growing at 9-10% per year, so unless more oil is found, prices will rise. There will be some point in the future where oil/gasoline prices will decrease consumption, but peak oil is looming and any decline in consumption will be met with declining production. If this relationship holds for the next 15 years, then oil prices are likely to rise much higher.

...

I hope this has provided some further insight into why commodities are going higher. As peak oil hits, countries will continue to nationalize assets to protect their own interests. In the mean time, there is money to be made by companies in politically secure areas of the globe. Once the debt bubble from around the world is popped, make sure bullion and money are stored away from banks.

FN Arena has an article on the unwinding of the yen carry trade as Japanese interest rates head back to positive territory - a topic which inspires bouts of financial collapsism (I don't think I've ever seen a local stockbroker carry an article quoting Lyndon LaRouche before) in some quarters - Steve at Deconsumption did a good post on the topic recently too called "The End of an Easy-Money Era".

FNA also had a series of articles on the rise of the platform company that I found interesting (though the idea that this trend is sustainable strains my powers of imagination - my guess is the trend probably ends in bankruptcy and upheaval if carried on to its logical extreme).
"The entire global financial system is on the verge of disintegration, as the result of the imminent collapse of the yen carry trade." Daily Telegraph (UK), 24th February.

"The multiplier effect of the blowout of the carry trade is going to mean that the crisis hits with a magnitude far beyond any individual nation or currency. This will bring down the whole post-Bretton Woods floating exchange rate system." Lyndon LaRouche, political economist, same day.

Blog after blog on the net, whether respected or otherwise, have gone into overdrive this year in anticipation of events that will see an unwinding of the yen carry trade. As the sample of opinions above attest to, such a development is not being taken with a pinch of salt. What, then, is the yen carry trade?

About three months ago, the Bank of Japan made an historic announcement: it was prepared to start raising interest rates shortly, maybe even as early as June. In the scheme of things, this hardly seems momentous, given just about every nation's central bank, from the US to Australia, through Europe, Asia, South America and beyond, has turned to policies of monetary tightening recently in order to ward off the effects of global inflation. In Japan's case, however, there is definitely a fundamental difference.

It has been described, in fact, as "a pivotal moment in modern financial history". The reason is that Japan is the second biggest economy in the world, and Japan's short term interest rates have been as good as 0% all of this century. It is past Japanese monetary policy that has given rise to the yen carry trade.

Effectively, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) was handing out free money.

Jeff at Sustainablog has a review of "An Inconvenient Truth" up. A couple of links from the comments - Mike Capone says Gore wasn't a stiff back in 2000, he just never showed his true self - and gave this example. Another reader recommends David Attenborough's "Climate Chaos" series for the BBC.
As I mentioned briefly in a comment this morning, Jan and I did go see An Inconvenient Truth yesterday. I want to agree with people like ianqui who said "Go see it even if you know quite a bit about global warming." First, Gore's presentation (and, yes, most of the film is him delivering his famed PowerPoint presentation) does a wonderful job of creating a visual representation of the impact of contemporary global warming: on certain graphs, you can see (as so many deniers have told us) that, yes, the Earth has gone through cycles of warming and cooling -- but what we're seeing now is nothing like those cycles. Secondly, Gore himself presents this information with deep knowledge and passion. This is not the "policy wonk" from the 2000 campaign, but rather a man on a mission who's studied the issue thoroughly, and has considered not just the science that shows global warming is a reality, but also the political, economic and cultural implications that global temperature change will likely bring about in coming years. Finally, it's a story: Gore's story of first being introduced to this concept at Vanderbilt in the sixties by one of the first scientists to identify the phenomenon, and how it shaped his view of the world and, to some degree, his political career. As at least one other reviewer has said (I can't remember who), there likely are a few too many shots of Gore looking thoughtful and pensive, but that's a really minor weakness in a powerful film that makes the science of climate change accessible to a broad audience. Gore himself has never looked better -- I got the sense that he's found his calling, and he's really good at it!

Go see this film. Take someone else with you. Offer to buy tickets for the naysayers you know.



Groovy Green has a post on the release of greenhouse gases by thawing Siberian permafrost.
This is something Dr. Evil would have planned: “Give me one MILLION dollars, or else I will unleash the worst pollution on Earth–the crap frozen in Siberia.” There’s a reason I’m not involved in writing scripts for Hollywood–but nevertheless, this is pretty disturbing. From the article, “Ancient roots and bones locked in long-frozen soil in Siberia are starting to thaw, and have the potential to unleash billions of tons of carbon and accelerate global warming, scientists said on Thursday.”

Supposedly, this vast carbon resevoir (one of the few oil companies are loathe to pursue) is loaded with 75 times more carbon than all that is released into the atmosphere each year through the burning of fossil furls. Covering nearly 400,000 square miles, Siberia has about 500 billion tons of carbon to hand out. “You have anthropogenic (human-generated) carbon that’s making things a little bit warmer, and that causes the permafrost to warm up and carbon is then released from the permafrost,” he said. “It goes into the atmosphere and makes things warmer yet again, so then more permafrost thaws.” So, for those of you that believe nature is causing global warming–hey there may be some actual truth to that. However, whereas thawing permafrost may be the bullet, you can bet sure as hell that we’re the ones pulling the trigger.

George Monbiot's latest article includes the eye opening revelation that there used to be a power plant in Denmark running on fish oil.
at first sight the government’s investigation into the idea of giving fish oil capsules to schoolchildren seems sensible. The food standards agency is conducting a review of the effects of omega-3s on childrens’ behaviour and performance in school. Alan Johnson, the secretary of state for education, is taking an interest. Given the accumulating weight of evidence, it would surprising if he does not decide to go ahead. Already, companies such as St Ivel and Marks and Spencer are selling foods laced with omega-3s.

There is only one problem: there are not enough fish. In March an article in the British Medical Journal observed that “we are faced with a paradox. Health recommendations advise increased consumption of oily fish and fish oils within limits, on the grounds that intake is generally low. However … we probably do not have a sustainable supply of long chain omega 3 fats.” Our brain food is disappearing.

If you want to know why, read Charles Clover’s beautifully-written book The End of the Line. Clover travelled all over the world, showing how the grotesque mismanagement of fish stocks has spread like an infectious disease. Governments help their fishermen to wipe out local shoals, then pay them to build bigger and more powerful boats so they can go further afield. When they have cleaned up their own continental shelves, they are paid by taxpayers to destroy other people’s stocks. The European Union, for example, has bought our pampered fishermen the right to steal protein from the malnourished people of Senegal and Angola. West African stocks are now going the same way as North Sea cod and Mediterranean tuna.

I first realised just how mad our fishing policies have become when playing a game of ultimate frisbee in my local park. Taking a long dive, I landed with my nose in the grass. It smelt of fish. To the astonishment of passers-by, I crawled across the lawns, sniffing them. The whole park had been fertilised with fishmeal. Fish are used to feed cattle, pigs, poultry and other fish – in the farms now proliferating all over the world. Those rearing salmon, cod and tuna, for example, produce about half as much fish as they consume. Until 1996, when public outrage brought the practice to halt, a power station in Denmark was running on fish oil. Now I have discovered that the US Department of Energy is subsidising the conversion of fish oil into biodiesel, through its “regional biomass energy program”. It hopes that fish will be used to provide electricity and heating to homes in Alaska. It describes them as “a sustainable energy supply”

Michael Klare has a great new article out on "The Permanent Energy Crisis".
MJ: The Bush administration calculated in 2001 that a campaign to wean the country from oil dependency wasn't a political winner.

MTK: Right. In 1975 and 1976, we faced an energy crisis, President Carter told everyone they had to tighten their belts and lower the thermostat and wear sweaters. He wore a cardigan on a national TV speech! And at the time people found this to be too depressing and distasteful, and so they voted him out of office. So there is a kind of belief that the public is not willing to undertake any measures that would require them to change.

MJ: Do you see any sign of a shift on that score?

MTK: Yes, I do. I think, beginning with Katrina and continuing to the present—gaining momentum even—the public is now moving ahead of politicians. There are many signs, polling data in particular, that the public does grasp the magnitude of the problem and is now prepared to make sacrifices and changes. And this, I think, is going to have a significant political effect in the coming elections.

MJ: One possible response to the permanent energy crisis is to diversify, meaning getting oil from a range of different areas, to reduce the dependency on oil from the Persian Gulf. But you don't buy that.

MTK: This was part of the strategy adopted by the administration in 2001. They recognized the U.S. would become more dependent on imports if we were going to continue to rely on oil as our main source of energy, but to try to reduce vulnerability to crisis in any one area they favored the strategy of diversification. The problem is that all the alternatives to the Middle East are just as dangerous. They include Africa, the Andean region of Latin America, Central Asia, North Africa—all places prone to corruption, internal warfare, and conflict. And so the logical conclusion of this strategy is what I call the globalization of the Carter doctrine, the notion that the United States has to send troops all over the world to protect oil—not only in the Middle East, but in Latin America, Africa and Central Asia. And that's the policy the administration has carried out.

MJ: And anyway, isn't it the case that no matter how much the U.S. diversifies, we'll still be largely dependent on Persian Gulf oil?

MTK: That’s absolutely right, because nowhere else has that much oil. And even if the U.S. doesn’t get it’s own oil from the Persian Gulf, we’re still dependent on Persian Gulf oil because that’s the major source of supply for Japan and Western Europe. If they weren’t able to get more oil from the Persian Gulf, then they would be coming to the places that we rely on—Nigeria, Latin America and so on, and that would hugely increase the competition and the price. So, for world oil prices to remain relatively low—they seem high today, but they could get a lot, lot higher—is for the Persian Gulf to churn out more and more and more oil every year.

MJ: It’s also hard to imagine that the US would have gotten involved in Iraq if there didn't happen to have massive oil reserves.

MTK: Absolutely. But bear in mind that the invasion of Iraq was not an unprecedented event; it really was the natural extension of a conflict with Iraq that began on August 2, 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and occupied Kuwait, which was a major oil supplier to the United States, and threatened Saudi Arabia, the leading foreign supplier to the United States. So when George Bush, Sr. announced U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf conflict in 1990 it was explicitly to protect oil, the oil of Saudi Arabia. And that lead to a massive deployment of American forces to the region, to the acquisition of more military bases, and later to the quarantine of Iraq. The invasion can’t be separated from all of that broader conflict, which is a conflict, at its root, about oil—not just about the oil of Iraq, but about dominance of the entire Persian Gulf region.

MJ: What role do you think oil and energy are playing in U.S. policy toward Iran?

MTK: You have to view Iran, like Iraq, as part of the large Persian Gulf region. Under U.S. policy—[enshrined in the Carter doctrine]—stability in the greater Persian Gulf region is essential to U.S. national security, because of its oil supplies, so anything that threatens stability in the Persian Gulf is a threat to America’s national interests. That's how Iran is seen in Washingto—as a potential threat to American dominance of the Persian Gulf. We’re really talking about a geopolitical contest in which oil is the ultimate prize.

...

MJ: How do the same dynamics that apply to oil relate to natural gas?

MTK: There’s a great deal of similarity between oil and gas in the sense that it’s a finite commodity. And increasingly the United States and other users are going to have to go to the few sources that remain, and those include primarily Russia, Iran and Qatar. These countries between them have about 50 percent of the world’s natural gas supplies, which obviously makes them very important from a geopolitical standpoint. The U.S. has established very close ties with Qatar; we have military bases and troops there. The Europeans are becoming very dependent on Russia, and now India and China want to draw on Iran’s natural gas. And that enters into this great game we were talking about before, the jockeying for position.

...

MJ: The trends are pointing toward greater and deeper and more problematic U.S. involvement, often military involvement, in all sorts of parts of the world. Can we expect evermore U.S. basis in these parts of the world, ever-closer military ties with these countries?

MTK: Yes to all of the above. The U.S. is already well established in the Persian Gulf. We have a very elaborate military infrastructure there. We have a growing military infrastructure in Central Asia in the Caspian. And Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is talking about acquiring more bases in that area, possibly in Azerbaijan, Georgia or Kazakhstan. So there it’s well underway.

The place I think is the most interesting in this discussion, and that hasn't received the attention it deserves, is Africa. The world is becoming very dependent on oil from Nigeria and Angola and Equatorial Guinea, and now from Libya. And this is an area of great instability—ethnic, religious, political. It’s mixed up in places with Islamic fundamentalism. But the greatest threat comes from ethnic unrest, particularly in southern Nigeria where the local people, who are the victims of oil production, of all the oil spills and environmental damage, receive virtually none of the benefits of the oil production. All that goes to the elites in Abuja, the capital. And they’re now fighting a low-level insurgency against the central government. In the process they're seizing oil facilities, they’re sabotaging oil facilities, they're kidnapping oil workers, including Americans. The U.S. is looking at creating a capacity for intervention in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa, looking at the establishment of bases, training with Nigerian and other local forces, providing military aid, developing military ties.

MJ: In the book you propose an alternative energy strategy to the one we're operating under, one you call a strategy of "autonomy and integrity." What do you mean by that?

MTK: The phrase that is most often used in this discussion is "energy independence." And the administration talks about ‘energy independence’ from the Middle East, by which they seem to mean, exclusively drilling in Alaska and other protected environmental sites. So, I want to avoid that word, because I think it’s become a sham expression to cover up a failed policy.

So by ‘autonomy’ I mean having the freedom to say no to the Saudi Royal family when they ask for more American troops; having the power to say no to military intervention; and the ability to repudiate the Carter doctrine—the commitment to use force to protect oil—which has to be our ultimate objective. The only way to achieve this is by diminishing our reliance on petroleum altogether.

Crooked Timber has a post pointing to Ron Suskind's latest tale of Bush administration lunacy - "The kind of thing you wish were false". I sometimes wonder if I should invoke the old maxim of "Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity" more often when I'm pondering the antics of these clowns.
One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind’s gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war’s major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda’s chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. … Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda’s go-to guy for minor logistics—travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.”…

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. “I said he was important,” Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. “You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” “No sir, Mr. President,” Tenet replied. Bush “was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?” Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety—against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target.” And so, Suskind writes, “the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

Billmon is also quoting Ron Suskind - and he's wondering if Osama is working for Karl Rove's team of political consultants.
They say great minds think alike, but it appears second and third-rate ones do too:
BLITZER: You're saying the CIA formally concluded that bin Laden wanted Bush re-elected.

SUSKIND: Well, look -- absolutely true. And that day at the meeting John McLaughlin says, well, you know, bin Laden certainly did Bush a big favor today. And the analysis flowed essentially along those lines. The question, the key question, is what it is it about America's war on terror that is such that bin Laden would want it to continue and Bush to continue conducting it? That's the bigger question that was not examined by the CIA, because many of these people there were soon to be pushed out.

From the Whiskey Bar, October 29, 2004:
If anyone had any doubts about which candidate al-Qaeda prefers in this election, I think you can put them to rest now . . . Osama's no slouch at information warfare. I'm sure he understands that the impact of a tape like this one on the mass mind is mainly subliminal, if not hormonal. By plastering his face over every TV in America for the next couple of days, he's given Bush a priceless gift -- a boogeyman with which to frighten that last sliver of undecided voters into rejecting change. Al Qaeda, it seems, has evolved into one hell of an effective 527 organization.

And no, I don't work for the CIA.

Considering the narrowness of Bush's margin in the electoral college -- a 60,000 vote swing in Ohio, and we're talking about President Kerry's failed Iraq War policies right now -- it doesn't seem unreasonable to argue that Osama bin Ladin did more to perpetuate Shrub's reign of error than Karl Rove and the RNC propaganda machine from hell put together.

I quite enjoyed this US soldier's prediction about the ultimate conclusion of Cheney's war for oil in Iraq - once freedom and democracy have been fully embraced by the grateful locals, everyone will get a puppy.
Now I understand why the Republicans hate the troops. Interesting little story on The War Tapes, and allied documentaries, buried in the Times business section:
Specialist Mike Moriarty is filming his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Kevin Shangraw, as they bounce along in a Humvee. He asks his leader for his take on the broader mission, and Sergeant Shangraw comes straight off the dome with a government-issue rationale.

“Well, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for the Iraqis to establish a new history in the country and be able to be a free and democratic society, which in turn should stabilize the whole Middle East and create a freer and more stable earth as we know it.”

“Tell me how you really feel,” an unseen Specialist Moriarty prompts.

Wait for it…
Sergeant. Shangraw waits a beat as the bleak landscape flies by in the window before answering.

“Then, after that happens, maybe we can buy everybody in the world a puppy.”

Given that I started tonight's rant with some quotes about butanol and perfume, I might throw in a couple of book recommendations to close - first Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume (probably his best book - and it seems I'm not alone thinking that).
Robbins calls Jitterbug Perfume "an epic". It is also a saga, and a saga must have a hero. The hero of this one is a janitor with a missing bottle. The bottle is blue, very, very old, and embossed with the image of a great-horned god. Some people actually believe that the liquid in the bottle is--the secret essence of the universe...

And Patrick Suskind's "Perfume : The Story of a Murderer" (which I haven't read - however my wife has and she enjoyed reading me some of the more gruesome passages on a long flight in the distant past).
Set in eighteenth century France, it tells the story of a man who is born with a supernatural sense of smell, so acute that he can distinguish between thousands of smells around him at any one time. But he is abused and neglected as a child, and so he grows up bitter and twisted, determined to have his revenge - on the whole of humanity. He becomes the best perfumer in the world, able to make the most beautiful scents known to man - but this is not his goal. His goal is far more horrifying - to make the ultimate scent with which to control the world - but its ingredients are terrifying...

No News  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm short of time tonight - but the link bucket has been refilled.

The Vampire Slayer  

Posted by Big Gav

Groovy Green has a post on "California: The Vampire Slayer (Act of 2006)", which discusses a Californian energy efficiency initiative to reduce the amount of power wasted by devices that aren't actually doing anything.

Anyone else here dig the TV Series, “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer“? Giles and the gang always foiled evil plots to destroy the world while Joss Whedon integrated humorous banter and creative twists to the storyline. Awesome show..but I digress. Anyways, apparently California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine is a fan of the show, since his aptly titled “The Vampire Slayer Act of 2006″ has recently been approved by the California Assembly.

From the release, “AB1970 would force companies to put labels on devices that tell consumers how much energy is being used while the device is in standby mode. AB1970 supporters claim that the average household will pay an additional $200 per year due to electronics on standby.” In the other corner of the arena are the Vampire Sires, the Consumer Electronics Association, Electronic Industry Alliance, etc.

They’re all claiming that such a move will simply confuse consumers; just like the early complaints issued by the Tobacco Industry when health warning stickers were placed on cigarettes. C’mon–anything to save a few bucks is worth it and I would love to know what’s eating from my outlet well after I’ve turned off the lights.

WorldChanging has a post discussing what "Vampire Power" is and how you can identify vampires and deal with them.
No, it's not the latest summer B-movie. It's not a Red Bull knockoff for goths. It's the electricity your appliances keep sucking down even when they're turned "off". (Also called standby power.) Sometimes it's surprisingly large: a DVD player might use 75% as much power when off as when on, and the average desktop computer sucks down 35 watts when in standby. For the latest numbers on all kinds of appliances, check out the Australian government's report on standby power. Anything with a transformer, such as chargers for mobile devices or computer power supplies, keep using power whenever they are plugged in. Sometimes it's just a watt or two, but sometimes it's much higher. As GrinningPlanet points out, this still only amounts to 10% of most people's energy bills, but that still adds up, particularly in an office. Vampire power is an issue that's been known for quite a while, but industry is accelerating on things you can do to stop it.

How do you know if your innocent-looking printer is secretly a vampire? We've mentioned the Kill-A-Watt power meter before, and hardcore geeks can get things like the Watts Up meter, which has the ability to log consumption data over time and send it to your computer, so you can chart daily / yearly variations to see if your consumption patterns would match different power generation methods. (For instance, photovoltaics in your home generate most of their power during the day, when you're probably off at work and thus not using much power at home.) Building contractors can put in professional-grade meters for monitoring whole circuits in buildings. But for testing vampire power at home or in the office, a Kill-A-Watt will do you just fine. And if you can't afford that, build your own.

Once you know you have a vampire, what can you do about it?

Given my enthusiasm for sustainable urban development, I pleased to see WorldChanging also has a new post on New Scientist's "Ecopolis" issue - What Would Eco-cities Look Like ?.
We talk all the time about urbanization and the future of the world's megacities. It's a pressing issue, given that we're just passing the tipping point at which more people on the planet inhabit urban than rural areas. Cities comprise a mere 2 per cent of the Earth's land, but use up seventy-five per cent of its resources.

An article in this month's New Scientist asks what are the key components of an "eco-city" of the future? What are the most important conditions of existing cities that must be changed, and what services and plans added, in order to create a sustainable urban environment that can accommodate massive population booms within its city limits?
Returning the world's population to the countryside isn't an option...And dividing up the planet into plots of land on which we could all live self-sufficiently would create its own natural disasters, not to mention being highly unlikely to ever happen.

If we are to protect what is left of nature, and meet the demand to improve the quality of living for the world's developing nations, a new form of city living is the only option. The size of a city creates economies of scale for things such as energy generation, recycling and public transport. It should even be possible for cities to partly feed themselves. Far from being parasites on the world, cities could hold the key to sustainable living for the world's booming population - if they are built right.

The primary points the article focuses on are auto transport, food sources, degree of density and capacity for further sprawl. Minimizing the need for cars by planning cities that foster walkability should be a primary goal, but placing inhabitants in high-rise apartment complexes near transit hubs can end up cutting off city dwellers from contact with open, green space. Instead, encouraging density without building sky-high housing units promotes a balance. The article points to shantytowns and slums as organic, self-built and largely unplanned models of this kind of efficiency.

TreeHugger has a post on a professional global warming denier (obviously no longer on the payroll) admitting global warming is real - Frank Luntz Accepts Global Warming Science. Hopefully the few lonely lunatics still in the global warming denial game (and their paid trolls in New Hampshire) will give up soon.
Many high-profile global warming skeptics have recently changed their position. We've mentioned Sir David Attenborough and Michael Shermer with his "data trumps politics" epiphany, but there are many more that we haven't written about like Gregg Easterbrook and John Tierney. The most remarkable cognitive flip to date must certainly come from Frank Luntz: He is the man who wrote the infamous memo (see page 7 of the pdf file for the part about global warming) coaching the current US administration on the best ways to confuse the issue and delay action (remember, Luntz, like Philip Cooney, is not a scientific - he is actually a political pollster).

Well, Luntz has told the BBC that he now accepts the scientific consensus on global warming and has changed his position, but that he doesn't feel responsible for what the US government is doing with his advice (Australia, and recently Canada, have also been inspired by these tactics).

Full transcript:

Luntz: "It's now 2006. I think most people would conclude that there is global warming taking place and that the behavior of humans are (sic) affecting the climate."

BBC: "But the administration has continued taking your advice. They're still questioning the science."

Luntz: "That's up to the administration. I'm not the administration. What they want to do is their business. It has nothing to do with what I write. It has nothing to do with what I believe."

On a related note - The 4 Stages of Global Warming Denial.
1. Global Warming doesn't exist. It's not happening.

We've all heard people claim as fact, without citing sources (or at least not credible ones), that "actually, the Earth is cooling" and such things.

Facts: Every year since 1917 has been warmer than 1917. Here's a report by NASA with this choice cut about record-breaking 2005: "Record warmth in 2005 is notable, because global temperature has not received any boost from a tropical El NiƱo this year."

2. Okay, it's happening, but humans are not causing it.

Here we have all the "sun getting brighter" and "natural warming cycle" theories. They are all real possibilities, but have been discarded by scientists who looked at the evidence and concluded that they were not the causes of the current warming of the thin atmosphere of our planet.

Facts: It's not the sun ("According to PMOD at the World Radiation Center there has been no increase in solar irradiance since at least 1978 when satellite observations began. This means that for the last thirty years, while the temperature has been rising fastest, the sun has shown no trend.") and it's not a natural cycle (if it was, it would be incredibly slower than what we're seeing now and it would still need a cause).

Here is some evidence of a scientific consensus...


Tim Flannery is predicting a 'new dark age' if global warming is not addressed.
Although many lawmakers agree that climate change is a major problem that must be addressed, consensus on a solution has been elusive thus far. During today's OnPoint, Tim Flannery, author of "The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth", discusses various "tipping points" that exist within the Earth's climate, and why these changes could prove to be irreversible. Flannery also explains why he believes a carbon tax is the most efficient way to approach climate change policy, and addresses some of the potential economic and cultural impacts of global warming.

Thomas Friedman may believe the earth is flat, but he is talking some sense with his "geo green" theme. The latest installment - "Seeds for a Geo-Green party".
The recent focus of the Republican-led Congress on divisive diversions, like gay marriage and flag burning, coupled with the unveiling of Unity '08, an Internet-based third party that plans to select its presidential candidate through online voting, has intensified the chatter that a third party, and maybe even a fourth, will emerge in the 2008 election.

Up to now, though, most of that talk has been about how a third party might galvanize voters, using the Web, rather than what it would actually galvanize them to do. I'd like to toss out an idea in the hopes that some enterprising politician or group of citizens — or Unity '08 — will develop it. It's the concept I call "Geo-Green."

What might a Geo-Green third party platform look like?

Its centerpiece would be a $1 a gallon gasoline tax, called "The Patriot Tax," which would be phased in over a year. People earning less than $50,000 a year, and those with unusual driving needs, would get a reduction on their payroll taxes as an offset.

The billions of dollars raised by the Patriot Tax would go first to shore up Social Security, second to subsidize clean mass transit in and between every major American city, third to reduce the deficit, and fourth to massively increase energy research by the National Science Foundation and the Energy and Defense Departments' research arms.

Most important, though, the Patriot Tax would increase the price of gasoline to a level that would ensure that many of the most promising alternatives — ethanol, biodiesel, coal gasification, solar energy, nuclear energy and wind — would all be economically competitive with oil and thereby reduce both our dependence on crude and our emissions of greenhouse gases.

In short: the Geo-Green party could claim that it has a plan for shoring up America's energy security, environmental security, economic security and Social Security with one move.

It could also claim that — however the Iraq war ends — the Geo-Green party has a strategy for advancing political and economic reform in the Arab-Muslim world, without another war. By stimulating all these alternatives to oil, we would gradually bring down the price, possibly as low as $25 to $30 a barrel. That, better than anything else, would force regimes like those in Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Angola, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to open up. Countries don't reform when you tell them they should. They reform when they tell themselves they must — and only when the price of oil goes down will they tell themselves they must.

Moreover, by making America the leader in promoting clean power, the Geo-Greens would be offering a credible plan for recouping a lot of America's lost prestige in the world — prestige it lost when the Bush team trashed Kyoto. This would put America in a much better position to galvanize allies to combat jihadism.

Last, Geo-Greenism could be the foundation of a new American patriotism and educational renaissance. Under the banner "Green is the New Red, White and Blue," the Geo-Green party would seek to inspire young Americans to study math, science and engineering to help make America not only energy independent but also the dominant player in what will be the dominant industry of the 21st century: clean power and green technology.

Its a shame the penny hasn't dropped for Friedman that jihadism is largely caused by our thirst for oil (and the power that can be had in controlling it in an oil dependent world) - the move to clean energy solves the problem without needing to fight anyone (though I guess that might not be a desirable result for geo greens from the military industrial complex, of which there are a few). And America's lost prestige has as much to do with the Iraq invasion as it has with sabotaging coordinated action on global warming.

The Observer has an article asking UK gardeners to help fight climate change.
Britain's gardeners are being asked to open up their borders, lawns and shrubs to help tackle the world's greatest environmental threat: climate change.

More than a million species in the world are in danger from a warmer planet - including many of the UK's birds and other creatures expected to lose feeding and breeding grounds - as warmer, drier summers and wetter, stormier winters become more common.

Experts have long warned that nature reserves will not help protect threatened species because habitats will shift with the weather. Now they are appealing to gardeners, whose land covers a greater area than all the special reserves.

'Every garden is a habitat for wildlife,' said Chris Gibson, a senior conservation officer for English Nature, which will launch its campaign at the BBC Gardeners' World Live show this week at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham. 'Even the most unnatural garden is a habitat for some natural wildlife and gardeners can do their bit to create little bits of habitat wildlife can use.'

Global warming is already causing problems for wildlife as the plants, flowers and insects that many animals and birds feed on and nest in are shifting their habitat and changing breeding patterns.

TreeHugger reports that there are lingering suspicions that someone has killed the electric car again - this time one of the few remaining ones in existance, at The Smithsonian.
After having the chance to see major environmental issues on the big screen in An Inconvenient Truth, moviegoers will have another chance to see relevant subject matter in action with Who Killed the Electric Car?, which will open at the end of this month (see THTV sneak peek of Who Killed and our interview with Paul Scott). The documentary tells the story of the now legendary EV1, a work of engineering genius and the only mass produced electric vehicle to (yet) grace our roads. It just got harder, however, to actually see the famous car in person, even behind a velvet rope. After revoking and destroying their EV1s, General Motors gave a handful of them to museums as historical pieces. Now, the only fully intact EV1 on display has been removed from view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to make room for a robotic VW Touareg designed by Stanford University, what the Washington Post called a “high-tech SUV.”

This has made for suspicious news as it comes just before the opening of the documentary (which is critical of GM, among others), and doubly so because GM is one of the museum’s largest financial supporters. The hall in which the EV1 sat is, in fact, named after GM, the company that shelled out $10 million in 2001 to help pay for its construction.



As TreeHugger noted, the movie Who Killed the Electric Car ? is opening soon (having had good reviews at the Sundance festival).

I listened to a podcast of an interview with the maker yesterday (courtesy of WHT's recommendation) which was quite entertaining as well - particularly the Frank Drebbin quote !
It was among the fastest, most efficient production cars ever built. It ran on electricity, produced no emissions and catapulted American technology to the forefront of the automotive industry. The lucky few who drove it never wanted to give it up. So why did General Motors crush its fleet of EV1 electric vehicles in the Arizona desert?

WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? chronicles the life and mysterious death of the GM EV1, examining its cultural and economic ripple effects and how they reverberated through the halls of government and big business.

The year is 1990. California is in a pollution crisis. Smog threatens public health. Desperate for a solution, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) targets the source of its problem: auto exhaust. Inspired by a recent announcement from General Motors about an electric vehicle prototype, the Zero Emissions Mandate (ZEV) is born. It required 2% of new vehicles sold in California to be emission-free by 1998, 10% by 2003. It is the most radical smog-fighting mandate since the catalytic converter.

With a jump on the competition thanks to its speed-record-breaking electric concept car, GM launches its EV1 electric vehicle in 1996. It was a revolutionary modern car, requiring no gas, no oil changes, no mufflers, and rare brake maintenance (a billion-dollar industry unto itself). A typical maintenance checkup for the EV1 consisted of replenishing the windshield washer fluid and a tire rotation.

But the fanfare surrounding the EV1’s launch disappeared and the cars followed. Was it lack of consumer demand as carmakers claimed, or were other persuasive forces at work?

Fast forward to 6 years later... The fleet is gone. EV charging stations dot the California landscape like tombstones, collecting dust and spider webs. How could this happen? Did anyone bother to examine the evidence? Yes, in fact, someone did. And it was murder.

Another form of electric car restriction in the US appears to be alterations to prius hybrids to stop them being driven in electric only mode - "Toyota's Prius in Europe gets a button we don't".
"There's a blank spot on my dashboard where the button is supposed to go," Pizer said. "I mean, the whole point of getting this kind of vehicle is supposed to be reducing our use of fossil fuels."

The fact that the feature isn't available in the U.S. may have to do with the way the Environmental Protection Agency measures fuel efficiency in the U.S., and that such a dual-power system would upset such measurements, said Coastal Electronics' Watson.

Kwong said Toyota doesn't offer the switch to electric mode because of U.S. laws mandating that it offer a minimum eight-year warranty for the car's power system. Thus, he said, by disabling the switch, the company is able to ensure a longer battery life.

Torrone said that he thinks Prius owners are likely to keep the hybrid car among the most popular vehicles for hacking for the foreseeable future.

One more post from TreeHugger - "How To Wake the Dead Sea"
Israelis and Jordanians have been tapping into the Kinneret ("Sea of Galilee") and the Yarmuk River, meaning less water makes it to the Dead Sea; lack of freshwater entering the Dead Sea combined with mineral extraction on its south shores has led to about a one meter drop in water of the Dead Sea per year.

Through the Minerva Institute for Dead Sea Research, scientists are devoting their lives to finding sustainable solutions to reviving the dead parts of the Dead Sea. Some groups are suggesting to solve the problem with a $5 billion canal that would stretch from the Red Sea. A recent Reuters article says that scientists wonder whether such a canal would really be beneficial for the environment. The Dead Sea's unique make-up would be changed forever by introducing sea water into a body that has only ever been fed by fresh water. "The cost of the damage that would be caused to the environment may be greater than any possible benefits," said local geologist Eli Raz. "The best plan for the Dead Sea is to let the Jordan river flow again, this is its natural state." But the chances of that happening are next to nothing given the reliance of the region's countries on the Jordan's water, the article points out.

Environmentalists are pushing for the Dead Sea to be declared a World Heritage Site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, hoping this will force surrounding countries to come up with a plan. And unless we can get Daryl Hannah over here to chain herself to a salt block (to try and help at least), we may need to do it on our own. To find out more about international environmental projects, contact Minerva and Friends of the Earth.



"Red State Son" has an encouraging post on the Army Of Noam - obviously the "fascist octopus" linked to yesterday hasn't strangled all intelligent life yet.
You'd think that when someone like Noam Chomsky speaks to West Point cadets about US imperial history and the high power hypocrisy that justifies it, there'd be a lot of online commentary, across the board. Personally, I didn't know anything about this until a friend mentioned it to me the other night -- so yesterday I looked it up, and there was Noam, laying down the righteous shit in front of an audience of well-scrubbed, soon-to-be butterbars. It's an hour long, but worth the time.

Noam, as always, starts slow, building his argument piece by piece, and from the looks on some of their faces, it seems that the cadets have been forced to eat cold canned spinach. But Noam then expands on what several "thinkers" like Michael Walzer consider "just war," a topic the cadets probably have already considered if not studied in class. The real fun comes during the Q&A, and I hope these young officers were taking serious notes. If Noam could impress someone as gung-ho as Pat Tillman, then he can reach pretty much anyone in uniform. And that's a good thing.

Notice, too, how much respect the cadets show Noam. Of course, part of this is their training, prefacing each question and comment with "sir." But I get the impression that the kids kinda dug the old man, who easily and graciously handled every query thrown at him. I actually found it touching, and wonder how the Noam haters felt about him receiving such a warm reception at a place like West Point. Noam was equally polite and respectful. Clearly, he doesn't consider these young men as mere cannon fodder for imperial war, as do certain bloated state propagandists in love with endless misery and death.

The Seeds Of Doom  

Posted by Big Gav

AP has a report on Norway's far-sighted plan to build a secure repository for the world's crop seeds. Maybe they could eventually extend this to include all seeds ?

It sounds like something from a science fiction film — a doomsday vault carved into a frozen mountainside on a secluded Arctic island ready to serve as a Noah's Ark for seeds in case of a global catastrophe.

But Norway's ambitious project is on its way to becoming reality Monday when construction begins on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, designed to house as many as 3 million of the world's crop seeds.

Prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland were to attend the cornerstone ceremony on Monday morning near the town of Longyearbyen in Norway's remote Svalbard Islands, roughly 620 miles from the North Pole.

Norway's Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen has called the vault a "Noah's Ark on Svalbard."

Its purpose is to ensure the survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change, and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out.

The seeds, packaged in foil, would be stored at such cold temperatures that they could last hundreds, even thousands, of years, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust. The trust, founded in 2004, has also worked on the project and will help run the vault, which is scheduled to open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007.

Oil-rich Norway first proposed the idea a year ago, drawing wide international interest, Riis-Johansen said. The Svalbard Archipelago, 300 miles north of the mainland, was selected because it is located far from many threats and has a consistently cold climate.

Those factors will help protect the seeds and safeguard their genetic makeup, Norway's Foreign Ministry said. The vault will have thick concrete walls, and even if all cooling systems fail, the temperature in the frozen mountain will never rise above freezing due to permafrost, it said.

While the facility will be fenced in and guarded, Svalbard's free-roaming polar bears, known for their ferocity, could also act as natural guardians, according to the Global Diversity Trust.

The Nordic nation is footing the bill, amounting to about $4.8 million for infrastructure costs.

"This facility will provide a practical means to re-establish crops obliterated by major disasters," Cary Fowler, the trust's executive secretary, said in a statement, adding that crop diversity is also threatened by "accidents, mismanagement and shortsighted budget cuts."

Already, some 1,400 seed banks around the world, most of them national, hold samples of their host country's crops.

Of course, its possible that the permafrost on Svalbard may not be around for all that long.
With global temperatures rising, the Arctic’s “permanently” frozen soil—permafrost—isn’t staying frozen. A type of soil contained deep within thawing permafrost—loess—may be releasing significant, and previously unaccounted for, amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, according to authors of a paper published this week in the journal Science.

Some have been warning about the danger of melting permafrost for a number of years. For example, Svein Tveitdal, managing director of GRID-Arendal in Norway, a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) information center, warned of the potential in 2001:
Permafrost has acted as a carbon sink, locking away carbon and other greenhouse gases like methane, for thousands of year. But there is now evidence that this is no longer the case, and the permafrost in some areas is starting to give back its carbon. This could accelerate the greenhouse effect.

The just-published work by the scientists from Russia, the University of Florida, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks found that loess permafrost—extending more deeply into the permafrost layers and covering more than a million square kilometers in Siberia and Alaska—is a very large carbon reservoir with the potential to be a significant contributor of atmospheric carbon, yet one seldom incorporated into analyses of changes in global carbon reservoirs.



O'Reilly Radar has a post on GreenLeaf: A Virtual Farmer's Market. One commenter notes this idea is similar to Local Harvest.
Via Growers & Grocers, this is interesting:
The Internet-based business, Greenleaf LLC, gets under way this summer. [...] Greenleaf could be a virtual farmer's market that never closes.

Local farmers will be able to post what they have to sell, such as fresh produce and meats.

Buyers will be able to browse through the offerings and make online purchases from the farmers.

Greenleaf will charge sellers a fee, perhaps 2% of a sale. Buyers will pay an annual subscription fee, that hasn't been finalized, to use the service.

Buyers and sellers will be responsible for making their own arrangements for payments and deliveries. [Former Whole Foods employee Heather] Hilleren said she will stay out of the transactions as much as possible.

"It's strictly between the buyer and the seller," much like eBay, she said.

AP has a story on farmers trading tractors for animals.
Metal clinks against rocks in the soil as four of Jim Cherenzia's horses pull his harrow through seven acres of hay.

Cherenzia rides behind in a small cart, rolling gently over the grass as the blades of the harrow, a piece of cultivating equipment that cuts and smooths the soil. The air fills with the sounds of the creaking harrow, harness bells and occasional soft snorts as the procession moves steadily through the field.

"There's nothing more enjoyable than plowing hay with a horse," Cherenzia said.

He is among a small but dedicated group of farmers who use animals rather than machines to do work around the farm. While they embrace modern conveniences in other parts of their lives, they say shunning tractors helps the environent and saves money on gas.

Cherenzia uses Percherons _ large, sturdy war horses originally bred in France _ to plow and spread manure. Over the years, he has used them to log, bale hay and plant corn, and in warm weather, he hitches them to carriages for weddings and other events.

"Tractor's probably a whole lot more sensible," said Cherenzia, who owned one briefly in the 1970s. "But I'm trying to make some nice horses too. And it's enjoyable."

The U.S. Census Bureau stopped tracking the number of farms using animal power after 1960, when it counted 4.7 million tractors and 3 million horses and mules used for work.

Today, there's no good estimate on the number of farmers using draft animals like horses, mules, and oxen, but it's probably tens of thousands, said Leah Patton of the 4,500-member American Donkey and Mule Society.

...

John Trombley, 53, of Carney, Mich., has had horses and mules for several years and uses them to cultivate his field and pull a wagon. He also takes teams to church on Sundays, saving on gas.

"It's fun, and it never hurts to save a few dollars at the same time," he said.

Driving animals makes economic sense only if farmers have enough land _ about 40 acres _ to grow food for them, he said. Otherwise, they have to pay for commercially grown hay.

Trombley, who also teaches math and computers, said the animals give him a break from the hectic pace of modern life. He turns off his cell phone when he climbs onto the wagon and rides back to a simpler time. "If I come home from school," he said, "and it's been a stressful day, the best thing for me to do is hook up the team and go for a ride. In 15 minutes, the stress is gone."

Peak Oil Passnotes latest musings are on Oil Wave Ripples (which are probably making fellow investors a little seasick lately).
The Dow, the Nasdaq and the FTSE have all been centre stage. The rises, the dramatic falls, then the slight respite as we go to press. How the U.S. markets have seen 9% falls off of their heights. How it affects shareholders, business, investment. Everyone has been talking about it, the mass media have been all over it.

But here sits a primary problem of the way markets both act and are reported. All of which is centred around the reality of oil and energy and the way it is underreported on big networks and newspapers. Because if you watch, listen or read these news organs you might think that this problem was just something that affected the floor on Wall Street. But it is not so.

The U.S. and European markets have taken hits of anywhere from 9-12% it is true. But they did relatively well. In contrast India’s Sensex in Mumbai fell a terrifying 28%, in one month.

The basic reason is energy, and in the future the ones who will pay, are the weakest. It is the oil inflation chain, the ripples of the oil wave.

Boing Boing points to a debate between Chris Mooney and some pitiful global warming denial monkey - Science advocate destroys global warming/AIDS dismisser
Last week, Ira Flatow of NPR's Science Friday program did a segment on politics and science, bringing on Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, and Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science. The former is the author of a book that accuses the left of distorting science to fabricate the AIDS crisis, global climate change, the prohibition against stem cell research, and other well-known politically charged scientific crises. Mooney, the Washington correspondent for the excellent SEED magazine, which is the best science and policy magazine on the stands, is especially masterful in the debate.

Bethell has nothing going for him -- he's regurgitating throughly debunked pseudo-science ("the Earth actually cooled at the start of the 20th Century") and rather than let this turn into a "I'm right-No, I'm right" talk-show, Mooney just quietly, thoroughly and masterfully destroys Bethell. He is firm, concise and sharp, while Bethell is meandering, incoherent, and fuzzy.

Tom Whipple's latest peak oil article is on Recognizing the Peak (my version: price goes up, supply goes down). Tom takes a detailed look at the various bodies collating data on oil production.
It is conventional wisdom among students of peak oil that worldwide peak oil production will not be recognized, and certainly not "officially" certified by some organization or other, until some years after the event has passed. The exception to this, of course, is if some natural or man-made catastrophe shuts down a lot of oil production in a manner not likely to be restored for many years.

Without such a catastrophe, recognition of peak oil will be gradual, with month after month of volatile production statistics trending downward. At some point, even the most optimistic prognosticator will be forced to admit it is unlikely that world production will ever again climb above the highest production record previously achieved.

The world is currently producing somewhere around 84-85 million barrels a day of oil. Pessimists say the current production rate is beginning to look a lot like a peak. Maybe another million or so a day, but that’s it. Moderates on the issue will allow that another five million barrels per day looks possible and see a peak around 90 million barrels a day. Until recently, the optimists were talking 120 million barrels day, 20 or 25 years down the line, but numbers like this are appearing less frequently

The IHT has an article on "Iraq's disastrous 'black oil' swamps" (which combines an environmental crime along with sheer waste of oil - though there is plenty more where that came from).
An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.

The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the area. The suffocating plumes of smoke are carried as far as 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power.

An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the area described it as a kind of black swampland consisting of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys. The clouds of smoke, said the engineer, Ayad Younis, "were so heavy that they obstructed breathing and visibility in the area and represent a serious environmental danger."

At Iraq's damaged and outdated refineries, as much as 40 percent of what is produced pours forth as this heavy, viscous substance, which used to be extensively exported to more efficient foreign operations for further refining. But the insurgency has stalled government- controlled exports from the area containing Iraq's major northern refinery complex at Bayji, the officials say.

So the backed-up black oil - known to the rest of the world as the lower grades of fuel oil - was sent along a short pipeline from Bayji and dumped in a mountainous area, called Makhool.

If you haven't seen it, this interview with a Republican congressman on the Colbert Report (Quicktime Windows Media) is kind of jaw dropping - I'd be willing to bet there isn't a single elected politician in Australia or Britain who is this stupid (or even close to it) - what sort of democracy are you people running up there ? Via Crooked Timber and Boing Boing.
In this video, Stephen Colbert nails Georgia Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Congressman who's co-sponsored a bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in the House of Reps and the Senate. After bantering with Westmoreland for a couple minutes, Colbert says, "What are the Ten Commandments?"

Stephen Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Lynn Westmoreland: What are all of them?

SC: Yes.

LW: You want me to name them all?

SC: Yes.

LW: Uhhh.

LW: Ummmm. Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal. Ummmmm.

LW: I can't name them all.



Also at Crooked Timber, a post with a title I just can't resist: "The Fascist Octopus Pipes Up from the Gamma Quadrant or the Region Surrounding Cygnus X-1, Depending".
OK, it’s dumpster-diving, but I was quite taken with the writing style of this post on the Arrogance and Evil of Crooked Timber.
I’m reading through more and more of the comments now, and the hideous intellectual dishonesty of the leftists continues to alternatively make my blood boil in anger, and run cold in fear of the kinds of totalitarian “reforms” they would make if they ever seized control of society.

The boiling blood running ice cold and then boiling up again makes for quite an arresting metaphor. But then, don’t watery liquids simultaneously boil and freeze in the vacuum of deep outer space? (perhaps the author is trying to tell us something about where he’s dialing in from).

Cities Are The Future  

Posted by Big Gav

A number of variants of peak oil doomer philosophy often aim to avoid the effects of industrial collapse by seeking to build sustainable societies of one sort or another which can continue to operate in the absence of readily available oil and gas.

This is sometimes termed "building lifeboats" (synonyms for lifeboat could include "arks", for those of a religious orientation, or "foundations" for those with a classic science fiction background). A slightly disrespectful cynic like myself may also term it "heading for the hills".

As the world grows more densely populated (at least for the next few decades), and as the proportion of the population living in large cities eclipses that of rural dwellers, this approach seems less and less viable to me - I would think it very unlikely that any small community would be susbtantially less affected by a genuine collapse than the rest of an industrialised country.

In my mind (leaving aside the question of how likely any collapse is due to peak oil, or any other head on collision with a Limit to Growth), it would seem that any attempt to build a sustainable society has to be aimed more broadly than just creating small intentional communities or eco villages.

The cover story of this week's New Scientist magazine is "Ecopolis", which makes the case that "Returning to our rural roots won't save the planet - cities have to become part of the solution to global environmental perils" (in many ways echoing Alex Steffan's essay on "The Post-Oil Megacity").

The editorial of the issue opines "Cities Are The Future" (unjustly taking a stick to a green strawman, but other than that the point is sound ):

Greens are prone to idealising the past. They instinctively look back to a pre-industrial pastoral idyll, or to the age of hunter-gatherers living in harmony with their environment. In this view, urbanisation and the rise of the megacity are the harbingers of doom. City dwellers, after all, make up only half of the world's population but consume three-quarters of its resources and generate three-quarters of its pollution. Further urbanisation can only accelerate environmental decline and threaten the long-term future of humankind.

Many of the environmental demons implicit in this analysis are real: urbanisation is responsible for some of our most destructive lifestyles and production systems. Yet, on a planet of approaching 7 billion people, cities have to become part of the solution to global environmental perils. More than that, they could be the key to finding the solution. Indeed without them there may be no solution. Urban living can, and increasingly will be, the green way.

Its a radical vision, and will need a radical change of approach. Sustainable living will require a new economic metabolism in which waste is reused, not excreted into the environment. This is not just about recycling old copies of mgazines like this one - it is about turning every waste stream into a feedstoc. Where can such a metabolism be developed, and where would it work best ? Not in the countryside, but in the city, where high population densities and economies of scale make the goal much more achievable.

Sounds like the editors have been reading "Cradle to Cradle".

The article goes on to talk about China's future green city of Dongtan, and an experimental new neighbourhood in the Spanish city of Valencia called "Sociopolis".
In a reversal of the rapacious development that has choked Spain's coastline with concrete over the past few decades, Valencia has started building a neighbourhood based around ancient market gardens and irrigation systems. Bulldozers have moved into an area of rundown farms and scrap yards that is to become Sociopolis, a "revolutionary" locality that mixes the high rise and hi-tech with traditional agriculture.

Sociopolis has taken its inspiration from the typical Valencian huerta, or market garden region, where small farms share irrigation systems to grow their fruit and vegetables. Irrigation channels dug by the Moorish inhabitants of the region more than 1,000 years ago are to be used to water Sociopolis and allow the residents to combine life in a tower block at up to 20 storeys with allotment-style gardening. The project will provide about 2,800 "affordable" homes in a country where house prices have left many young people out of the market.

Other projects mentioned in the Ecopolis article include the new Melbourne City Council building.
The building, known as Council House Two (CH2), will cost approximately A$50 million, and is due to be completed in 2005. Melbourne Lord Mayor John So has said of the project, “With CH2, we are striving to create a building that will return financial and environmental rewards for many years to come.” CH2 will break new ground in sustainable office development with features including: hanging gardens, shower towers and phase change material to cool the air, wind turbines, solar cells, and rainwater collectors on the roof. CH2 is aiming to be a zero net emissions building (climate neutral).

Energy Bulletin has a good set of links on cities for walking and cycling.
There aren't too many tools that are as ideal today as when they were invented, in just the same form as they were originally conceived. But the bicycle is one. Simple, cheap and accessible, absolutely no existing transportation solution could be better for reducing greenhouse gases, untangling snarled urban streets, and improving human health than getting more people on two wheels. But challenges are many and varied.

While accelerated use of motorized vehicles in developing world cities is quelling traditional dependence on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles (NMVs), industrialized cities are pushing people to forego auto transport for pedal power. All over the world, bicycles are getting much-deserved reconsideration as a no-brainer solution to fundamental problems in transit, community, and the environment.

Mobjectivist notes that not everyone on a bike is necessarily good, as he takes a look at a Coward on Wheels (WHT also has some zen-like meditation on political psychology).
I occasionally reflect on G.W. Bush's one redeeming quality -- that he gets on his mountain bike and regularly takes it out for a spin. But as I continue to digest the significance of this seemingly autonomous act, I have begun to discount his motivation. First of all, you would think that Bush would, at least on occasion, take a road bike out for a ride around the block. Like me, most serious bikers keep both kinds of bikes around. But then we read about Bush's lack of motor control, leading to such incidents as crashing into a policeman on a Scottish golf link path. Which brings us to the secondary part of his motivation -- that of health and satisfying his competitive urges.

So why no road bike for Bush? Googling "George Bush" and "road bike", [stick a Kerry wig on Coulter, and keep the kids away] I get more hits for John Kerry and his road bike than for GWB having anything to do with one. In my opinion, I think his aversion has more to do with an aversion to crowds and fear for his life. In China, for example, Bush recently had a chance to take it on the open road but diplomatically declined.

While George's bike obsession has failed Mobjectivist's "good / not good" test, he has gained critical acclaim for declaring a portion of the Pacific Ocean a marine reserve.
President Bush did something for only the second time in his two-term presidency: he created a national monument. No, not with building blocks, but by invoking the 1906 National Antiquities Act and protecting over 139,000 square miles of largely uninhabitated islands, reefs, and atolls. Once under jurisdiction, the area would be protected by the strongest environmental laws available and actively monitored by state and federal agencies.

While not certain to happen, a ban on commercial fishing in the area would “create the largest no-take marine reserve in the nation, second in the world only to the Great Barrier Reef.” Currently, there are ships in the area that use the coral-damaging “bottomfishing” technique to troll for snappers and seabass. Such a ban would help alleviate stress on the reefs and wildlife.

Grist quips that there "must not be any oil there".
Well, slap our ass and call us Sally: George W. Bush, the prez formerly known as the earth's worst enemy, created the largest protected marine area in the world yesterday when he designated the 1,200-mile-long Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain and surrounding waters as a national monument. The region is home to some 7,000 marine species, at least a quarter of which are unique to the area. At nearly the size of California, the monument will be larger than all of the country's national parks combined. Fishing in the largely uninhabited islands will be phased out over the next five years, though some groups plan to fight a complete fishing ban. Enviros joined marine scientists in gushing over the move. Bush was allegedly inspired by a PBS documentary about the ocean region. Imagine what could happen if he saw An Inconvenient Truth!

While Dubya may have done the right thing with regards to part of one ocean (though the long term impact of his sabotaging of global warming mitigation impacts will probably undo this anyway), he has come in for some criticism over his mocking of a blind reporter.
Let me first say that Bush may not have known he was talking to a legally blind reporter when he engaged in this exchange:

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Peter. Are you going to ask that question with shades on?

Q I can take them off.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.

Q All right, I'll keep it, then.

THE PRESIDENT: For the viewers, there's no sun. (Laughter.)

Q I guess it depends on your perspective. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Touche. (Laughter.)

As Think Progress notes, "[Peter] Wallsten is legally blind. Wallsten tells us he has a rare genetic disorder called Stargardt's Disease. The disease is a form of macular degeneration that can be slowed "by wearing UV-protective sunglasses and avoiding exposure to bright light."

The point of this post is not that Bush intentionally taunted a blind man, but that his insistence on clowning with the press is undignified and highly inappropriate.

As Digby describes this (and other episodes):
There's an interesting simple psychology involved in such things. If someone can coerce those in a group to help him attack a single member they become his accomplices. For instance, getting everybody in the press corps to laugh at a reporter's baldness makes those reporters part of the president's gang. And, of course, it intimidates them. If they stray, they too will be subject to that kind of public humiliation. It's the evil fratboy theory of social relations, very primitive stuff.

While the psychology of an ex-alcoholic from a pampered background holding a job way beyond his capabilities may be debatable, there is an interesting tie in with this post from Past Peak, on some reprehensible conduct by Genentech over a cheap drug that prevents macular degeneration.
You know all those stories where a guy invents an engine that runs on water and the oil companies bury the invention? Or somebody comes up with a dirt cheap cure for cancer and the drug companies buy her out? That kind of stuff doesn't happen in real life, though, right? Prepare to be outraged:
A major drug company is blocking access to a medicine that is cheaply and effectively saving thousands of people from going blind because it wants to launch a more expensive product on the market.

Ophthalmologists around the world, on their own initiative, are injecting tiny quantities of a colon cancer drug called Avastin into the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration, a common condition of older age that can lead to severely impaired eyesight and blindness. They report remarkable success at very low cost because one phial can be split and used for dozens of patients.

But Genentech, the company that invented Avastin, does not want it used in this way. Instead it is applying to license a fragment of Avastin, called Lucentis, which is packaged in the tiny quantities suitable for eyes at a higher cost. Speculation in the US suggests it could cost £1,000 per dose instead of less than £10. The company says Lucentis is specifically designed for eyes, with modifications over Avastin, and has been through 10 years of testing to prove it is safe.

Unless Avastin is approved in the UK by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) it will not be universally available within the NHS. But because Genentech declines to apply for a licence for this use of Avastin, Nice cannot consider it. In spite of the growing drugs bill of the NHS, it will appraise, and probably approve, Lucentis next year. [...]

New drugs for the condition are badly needed: those we have now only slow the progression to blindness. With Avastin, many patients get their sight back with just one or two injections.

The Netvocates story has continued at Deconsumption, with Steve coming up with a great theory about the reason behind the "New Coke" episode of years gone by (along with one commenter at Blanton's and Ashton's making me blush by referring to my post on Netvocates as "a thing of beauty. I'm so impressed with the way the Left Blogosphere is handling this: straight ahead" - I'll leave the issue of whether or not I'm of the left or right alone for now). Words Not Fists also has a couple of new posts on the topic.
whatever tempest in a teapot might erupt from all this, it did occur to me that there's a fairly time-honored and straightforward way to combat this type of thing without actually dredging-up the whole discussion about what constitutes trolling vs. open debate, and without castigating every poster who happens to question aloud how "perhaps a tightly regulated internet might actually be a good thing"....

Affected and/or angry bloggers should just go after the clients of NetVocates directly. After all, complaining and bad-mouthing is practically the raison d'etre for the weblog community. So it might be a practical tactic to try to identify one or more of NetVocates' clients, and then launch an honest inquiry into some of the upsetting issues those firms might be concerned enough about to warrant such fervent desires to "control" any "unexpected" eventualities as might happen at the weblog level.

For instance, Anonymousblogger uses Site Meter to monitor his webtraffic, and was able to retrieve a direct URL to the NetVocates page which accessed his site (see comments section to Anonymousbloggers post here for details). That's how he discovered that some of the hits were targeted to a post he wrote regarding the AMA's proposition of a so-called "fat tax" on soft drink and fast-food manufacturers. And more specifically, "Coke" came up as a search term, which might indicate Coca-Cola was their client for the particular data run (perhaps that isn't the case, but I've been told that in battle we should expect a certain amount of "collateral damage"). So let me tell you a little story about Coke.

Now I love brown sugar water as much as the rest of the world, but...well actually that's a lie, I don't really like it that much. Not anymore anyway.

You see about 10 years ago or so I was in Playa del Carmen down in Southern Mexico and I went to a little tienda and bought a bottle of Coke. I'm normally a pretty strict water/beer drinker but this was back when Playa del Carmen was little more than a hidden haven for the beach bums of the world and there were no big resorts or theme restaurants like they've covered the place with now, and there was no water-treatment either. So Coke sounded good.

But even more than that it tasted good. Really good. Strangely familiarly good, like I remembered it tasting when I was a kid. I chalked it up to the magic of Mexico and didn't think too much about it until about 6 months later when this buddy of mine (that I'd gone to Playa with) mentioned a business article he'd run across that said Coca-Cola's Mexican bottlers were going to switch to high-fructose corn syrup in their formulas, instead of pure cane sugar like they had been using.

Suddenly it clicked. That's why Coke sucks anymore, because it isn't the same as it used to be. And though I've done no research I have absolutely no doubt that the change-over occurred when Coke introduced the whole "New Coke" debacle. It never made sense for Coca-Cola to change a time-proven winning formula, and then to do it with such a patent loser as New Coke was. The move flew in the very face of billion-dollar corporatic sophistry. But it actually made total sense if the whole point was to flush the taste of real Coke off the minds (and shelves) of the American public. Then when "Classic" Coke was ushered back in amidst great fanfare, hardly a soul would notice that it tasted morbidly "different" from what they had drunk before, because they'd have no reference anymore to compare it to. If Coke had changed the formula in mid-stream however, people would have been returning the tepid new drink in droves, complaining that it was "tainted" or spoiled or whatever...

Now there are all sorts of reasons why Coca-Cola was driven to degrade their timeless product with manufactured sweeteners, but the point of this whole monologue is that I really don't have much of an opinion on a "fat tax" but I do have an opinion on Coke. And that is that I don't drink it anymore unless I have no other choice. And the same goes for the rest of Coca-Cola's product line, and the rest of the unnatural soft drinks industry as well.

So to segue back to task, I can't help but think of the theory that says "the observation of a process actually changes the process being observed". And so, while the lengthy monologue above probably won't serve one iota in threatening Coca-Cola's North American profits--and it most certainly isn't going to bring back any of the dozens of Columbian union organizers that the company is alleged to have had tortured and killed by death squads--nevertheless I wrote and posted it solely because NetVocates paid what I felt was a suspicious visit to my website one day....

I noticed a few weird new visitors in my logs as a result of the Netvocates flap - and I'm thinking this particular visitor is via a slightly less suspicious new monitoring portal that they've put in place now that their old site is tainted for anyone who can be bothered doing a Google search.

http://192.168.8.177/sitebeta/default/index.cfm
http://192.168.8.177/jcs/watch.daa?sessionid=-1245164474
&pagenum=55&ddsess=91782&tsid=DE36B752-E081-308B-4466125CBF84FC1F

The IP address "192.168.8.177" gets a negative respose in a reverse DNS lookup, so either they are well cloaked or they are just spoofing the IP address. Its quite possible this is a short term fix to hide the old "arrca.netvocates.com" site while they try and understand some basics of internet anonymity (of course, such things don't work if you want to evade the gaze of big brother unless you are willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to maintain your privacy, but for a mere blog trolling operation its not all that difficult).

Moving back to the topic of corporate misdeeds, I've had some (still unfinished) debates with some readers about my defence of capitalism as the basis for a sustainable society. While the topic needs at least one entire post just to address the issue of sustainable capitalism, I've no doubt proponents of other forms of economic organisation would point to this Coke story, or the earlier example of Genentech, (or even, to use my favourite example of a thoroughly bad company, locked in a dogfight with Halliburton, Exxon) and ask how I could defend this sort of thing happening.

Obviously I have no intention of doing any such thing, but I would point out that each of these examples are forms of corruption of the system (and Netvocates is just one vile example of a company that seems to be making a living by helping to corrupt the system).

Rather than throwing the system away, I would say that the system needs to be adjusted to discourage decay - as well as the obvious need to eliminate what are known to economists as "externalities", changes need to be made to make punishment of corporate wrongdoing more effective.

The book "The Corporation" examines this topic at some length and makes the point that many conservatives make about individual crimes - punishments need to be harsh enough to be an effective deterrent. The ultimate deterrent is, of course, the death penalty - and that is what should be applied in the case of particularly eggregious corporate behaviour. It would only take a few examples for shareholders to start demanding that companies don't operate unethically...



Moving back to the topic of blog surveillence, I saw a post on Cryptogon that made me laugh - noting that their mention of the forthcoming "Valiant Shield" exercise in the Pacific had prompted a flurry of attention from the air force (I can't begin to imagine what happens to the brains of clean cut young military snoops after months of investigating posts on tinfoil sites - and if any of you have come along to see what I'm saying about , I can assure you its simply idle observation of how the world works).

I remember some posts of mine prompting a few flurries like this last year (having the logs fill up with visitors from the Pentagon and various signals divisions is a little paranoia inducing I might add) - thankfully I now seem to be off the radar again - presumably they have a "don't waste your time on this" list of sites - or they've become a little more professional and appear as those totally blank entries with no country / organisation / referrer or anything else other than an unassigned IP address visible.

As far as "Valiant Shield" goes, I do remember some tinfoil speculation last year about it being a harbinger of war with China and/or Iran - hopefully its just a form of sabre rattling to keep the Chinese alarmed though (or even an entirely innocent oiling of the military wheels).

While I'm babbling away about internet surveillence again, I noticed a comment on Bruce Schneier's blog that took me back 20 years - a guy suggesting sticking what he called ""spook" strings to attract the attention of "nosy-neighbor" programs" in each post. This took me back beause (a) he used a whole lot of strings that were more in vogue back then and (b) some crazy people actually used to do this on Usenet.

I'll resist the temptation to post some random piece of prose that contains a more modern set of spook rustling words into it - though I'm curious as to what will turn up in the logs tonight after this post anyway.

A few links to close with - one from the SMH on "Our flying footprint", another on Thawing icy plains a threat as rot sets in" and one from The Age on our dwindling oil reserves "Think tank: urgency picks up for alternatives".
Australia's dwindling crude oil reserves will run out within seven years at current production rates, if there are no new discoveries.

Likely further finds will only delay the inevitable: the nation's fleet of 13,920,105 vehicles will become increasingly reliant on oil imports, unless and until alternative fuels fill the breach.

The decline of the nation's oil reserves has been long predicted. But a combination of other international factors has highlighted the need for alternative fuel sources: climate change concerns, sky-high fuel prices, a reliance on imports, and discussion about when the world will have used more oil than is left underground.

These issues have attracted wildly diverging opinion, with most saying crude oil will remain plentiful for decades, while others believe the moment of "peak oil" has passed. (Global oil reserves totalled 1.2 trillion litres last year, according to BP. The International Energy Agency's estimated global demand of 84.9 million barrels a day.)

With Australia more reliant than most on oil-based transport, our fuel debate is spurring research, prompting a policy rethink and opening potential markets as alternatives become more viable.

Today, petrol and diesel account for two-thirds of Australian fuel demands. Both are made by distilling crude oil.

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