Posted by Big Gav
Hmmm - it seems Peak Energy has made it to its second birthday (even if the main thrust has drifted wildly from my initial "how can you make money from this peak oil thing" objective through a variety of obsessions to the current, mostly clean energy technology news, focus). Amazingly, I've hardly had any rude comments, in spite of my tendency to wander the fringes of the internet trawling for bizarre and tangentially related news items.
Anyway, for those who just can't help coming back for more, thanks for reading.
Rather than take the night off I'll celebrate with a grab bag of random news items...
Technology Review has an article on Indian efforts to produce biodiesel from Jatropha oil. While I think biofuels will have a place in our energy future, I don't think they'll be able to provide a large scale replacement for fossil fuels, so hopefully people aren't betting the farm on these sorts of options...
Biodiesel could be an important renewable substitute for fossil fuels. And, in certain parts of the world, governments and some corporations consider the jatropha plant, common in hot climates, one of the most promising sources of biodiesel. The plant can grow in wastelands, and it yields more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean, and more than ten times that of corn. But the commercial-scale cultivation of jatropha, which has not previously been grown as a crop, raises several significant challenges.
This year, the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), an Indian research group, launched a 10-year, $9.4 million project to research issues involved in taking jatropha from seed to filling station. One challenge is growing the plant in poor soil.
The first crops of jatropha, planted in what was wasteland, have now flowered, says Alok Adholeya, director of TERI's Biotechnology and Management of Bioresources division. "It proves that we can do this," he says. He and other researchers at TERI spent five years testing different mycorrhiza microorganisms, symbiotic fungi that improve the ability of many plants to grow in poor soil. Adholeya's team found that the most effective was a fungus in the glomus species (he is not currently disclosing the exact fungus), which improves jatropha yields by 15 percent.
The TERI project is working in rural Andra Pradesh, a state in southeast India, collaborating with local financial institutions to develop loan guarantees to fund seed purchases; it's also collaborating with insurers to back the farmers against potential losses. In addition, it had to educate the farmers on how to cultivate the plant.
So far, the project has signed up 5,000 farmers representing 1,000 hectares of land. The goal is to have 8,000 hectares under cultivation by March 2008, and Adholeya says that the success of the first crops has drawn interest from many more farmers. By the end of 2008, TERI plans to have a production facility producing biodiesel from jatropha. Eventually, it aims to produce 90 million liters of biodiesel annually.
Another oil pipeline in Nigeria has exploded†
At least 200 people were killed outside Lagos, Nigeria, in a massive explosion and fire that ignited as crowds carried away buckets of refined fuel from a tapped fuel pipeline, the Nigerian Red Cross said.
Extreme heat has prevented rescue workers from recovering bodies, and they fear the death toll could rise significantly. At least 60 others were injured with burns, Nigerian Red Cross Secretary General Abiodun Orebiyi said.
"The explosion happened in a densely populated area, and that is why we're having these high casualty figures," Orebiyi added. The fire burned for nearly 12 hours after the blast, which happened around 1 a.m. local time (7 p.m. ET Monday) before it was brought under control, Orebiyi said.
By Tuesday afternoon, it was still unclear how many people were killed. "We can see more bodies that have been burned," he said. "We have yet to determine the number of hundreds that have died in this explosion." The blast and fire also damaged 10 buildings and vehicles that were parked at a large garage nearby, Orebiyi said.
Stealing fuel from the country's pipelines is a common and many times deadly occurrence in Nigeria. In May, at least 150 people died when vandals tried to tap a petrol pipeline outside Lagos.
"People try to siphon fuel from a pipeline, and after that, maybe an hour, a couple hours after that -- someone lights a cigarette or a motorcycle engine backfires, and an explosion appears," CNN's Jeff Koinange explained.
Despite the country's oil riches, much of Nigeria's population suffers from fuel shortages. People often tap into pipelines that cross their lands, seeking fuel for cooking or resale on the black market.
In September 2004, an oil pipeline exploded near Lagos, as thieves tried to siphon oil from it. Up to 50 people perished in the flames. A 1998 pipeline blast killed more than 1,000 in southern Nigeria.
The SMH reports that the Bush administration are concerned about the fate of polar bears. Great - I guess we'll see Kyoto signed and carbon taxes in place early in the new year !
The Bush Administration wants new protection for polar bears as their icy Arctic habitat melts.
But the call for changes under America's Endangered Species Act, has raised questions about the president's sceptical stance on global warming.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the bears, a white-furred icon of the North, be listed as "threatened" under the act.
Such a listing would force US government agencies to ensure they take no action that could jeopardise the animal's existence.
That in turn could pressure the government to consider tougher measures to clean up the air because most scientists believe carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming.
Bush administration officials, however, indicated there would be no new curbs on oil drilling in Alaska or limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Melbourne dam levels are dropping rapidly. I guess the polar bears won't be moving there.
MELBOURNE'S main dam is expected to be only 20 per cent full by the end of summer — more than two months sooner than the city's water authority had predicted.
Melbourne Water has conceded that it underestimated how badly record low spring flows and the threat of bushfires would affect the Thomson dam, which supplies more than half of the city's water.
Managing director Rob Skinner also would not rule out the possibility of the Thomson falling to its "extreme minimum operating level" of 13 per cent by later next year, a situation that would require expensive treatment to maintain water quality.
But he defended Melbourne Water's handling of water management, guaranteeing that even if the drought did not break for another three years, the city would not run out of water.
If that worst-case scenario eventuated, pumps and treatment plants would be needed to keep water flowing and to drinking standard. Mr Skinner said that was "highly unlikely".
As recently as October, Melbourne Water forecast that the Thomson would not fall to 20 per cent until mid-May next year.
TreeHugger notes that the Economist thinks that global warming is good for Russia (unlike Melbourne and the polar bears).
The Economist is running yet another inane article, this one suggesting that global warming is good for Russia. It starts off with the bad- "This is bad for local wildlife. All over the world, species are edging towards the poles as their habitats change. But Arctic and Antarctic creatures have nowhere colder to go. Pity the polar bears. " and "Rising polar temperatures also mean bad news for many human beings—notably the 150,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia. Frozen ground is turning mushy, making it hard for hunters to travel. Mosquito infestations have driven their main quarry, caribou, into the hills."
However it goes on to say " The shipping industry will be able to use new short-cuts along the north coast of North America and the north coast of Russia. A newly navigable Arctic could cut thousands of miles off the journey between the Atlantic and the Pacific.The biggest beneficiary is likely to be Russia itself, which encircles almost half the Arctic Ocean. Currently uninhabitable areas will become more hospitable; currently inaccessible energy resources will become more exploitable. " The Economist suggests that "However the sea is divided up, warming is likely to make Russia richer rather than poorer. "
Hmmn. I live in Canada, which would seem to have similar conditions to Russia, including contentious northern waters, boreal forests and lots of infrastructure built on permafrost that is melting out under us. We suspect that some people here have visions of palm trees and beach resorts on Hudson Bay, and share John Diefenbaker's vision that the future of Canada lies in the North. However further south we have forests that are drying out and catching fire, farmland that might be turning into dustbowls, beetles moving north and destroying our trees, and lake levels that are dropping. We have powerful neighbours eying our water and wanting to drive tankers through our Northwest Passage. We suspect that in Russia things are no different.
Somehow picking on one issue, ease of access for shipping and energy exploration, seems an awfully narrow and unsophisticated view of who will win and who will lose from global warming
In local energy news, The Australian reports that 2007 is set to be a gas, gas, gas.
GAS developments will feature highly in the resources calendar in the coming year.
Aside from the rapidly growing coal seam methane sector, natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects will be prominent.
According to the national commodity forecaster, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), Australia's natural gas production will increase 13 per cent next financial year.
ABARE's prediction is that output will increase mainly as a result of the ramp-up in production at ConocoPhillips's Darwin LNG project, which began shipping to Japan earlier this year, and Santos's Casino gas project, in the Otway Basin, south of Port Campbell in Victoria.
The 2007 figures would also include start-up production from Woodside's Otway gas development and the Karratha LNG project, a small plant being constructed by Energy Developments, designed to produce around 78,000 tonnes of LNG a year that will be trucked to remote-area power stations in Western Australia.
But natural gas reserves available for domestic use will continue to fall in eastern states as the ExxonMobil/BHP Billiton fields in Bass Strait and the Santos-operated Cooper/Eromanga reservoirs astride the South Australia-Queensland border continue their natural decline even though remaining reserves in the two areas top 5 trillion cubic feet.
The big news in gas in the coming year will be whether the Gorgon partners - Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell - will commit in the next few months, having received tough new environmental conditions from the West Australian Government for the planned 10 million tonnes a year export LNG development on Barrow Island.
About four years ago this was costed at $US11 billion and, on the known configuration, it is predicted that this has blown out by about 40 per cent, taking the spend to around $US15 billion ($19 billion). While Gorgon is backed by our biggest known offshore gas reservoirs and is top of the pile in Chevron's project list, Shell and ExxonMobil remain to be convinced that the difficulties of developing a world-scale LNG project on a Class A nature reserve can be covered by returns in the existing marketplace.
By any account Gorgon will ultimately be developed, but whether it will meet market needs in the next decade remains moot considering the current price of LNG has not not kept pace with the sustained boost in crude oil prices.
There are not so many doubts concerning Woodside's Pluto project, which the Perth-headquartered company owns 100 per cent.
Gorgon and Pluto alone are set to cost up to $25 billion but they represent only about a quarter of Australian LNG developments in store. According to ABARE, Australia has about eight potential new LNG projects or expansions, not including the fifth production train now under construction on the North West Shelf project, which keeps signing up new contracts regularly and is set to lift the development's output to more than 16 million tonnes a year before the end of the decade.
In a report this month ABARE said a number of countries were looking to secure sources of cleaner fuel for power generation, leading to expectations that demand for Australian LNG would increase.
This suggests the development of fields in the Browse Basin north of Broome - in which the Japanese group Inpex, Shell, Woodside, BP, BHP Billiton and smaller listed companies such as Nexus and Coogee Resources have interests - will be the focus of much activity in the coming year.
Mr Voelte told an international conference in China earlier this year that Browse was best described in four words: scarcity, size, security and simplicity. "It is one of the very few large undeveloped gas resources outside the Middle East or Russia, making it both scarce and valuable," he said.
Browse already has the potential to be Australia's second North West Shelf development and it is still relatively unexplored. The Browse reservoirs in general are expected to be supplying LNG customers from the middle of next decade.
Further news should emerge early in the year concerning the extent of new gas discoveries in the Timor Sea north of Darwin.
The Australian also reports that Santos' move into coal seam methane has been well timed.
IN July last year, when managing director John Ellice-Flint announced that Santos had paid $612 million to buy US-listed independent energy group Tipperary Corp, many people wondered why.
The deal gave Santos a 75 per cent working interest in the Fairview coal seam methane (CSM) field north of Roma in Queensland known as the Comet Ridge project, one of the biggest CSM producers in the country. Santos had just nudged out AGL and Origin for the parcel. Ellice-Flint was pointing to a coming of age.
And so it has transpired in the succeeding 18 months, with CSM poised to become the new energy source of choice for Queensland industry and power generators particularly.
As problems beset the PNG Gas partners' hopes to supply the eastern seaboard with more than 100 petajoules of gas a year from the New Guinea Highlands, CSM has moved from being a technical curiosity to an industry that may have a multi-billion-dollar future.
Ironically, it is Santos's hostile $606 million bid for Queensland Gas Company that led to claims that CSM's potential is undervalued. But perhaps that just reflects that the market has been slow to catch up with reality.
In August 2002, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics expressed concern there might be insufficient natural gas supplies to keep pace with demand over the medium to longer term, particularly in the eastern states.
ABARE then suggested that, unless significant infrastructure investment was undertaken, the eastern demand/supply balance would deteriorate quickly.
Another one from TreeHugger - a 1500 Megawatt Wind Project is planned for California. Now thats a wind farm.
A while back we reported that Texas had surpassed California in total wind power. Each state is in the 2300 megawatt range, but Texas is currently reigning surpreme. California, however, wants it's championship title back, and they're not going small. The project, which will cover around fifty square miles in and around the Tehachapi mountains, will produce more energy than a large nuclear power plant.
The project is a joint venture between Southern California Edison (already the leading renewable electricity utility in America) and Allco Finance Group, an Australian financing firm. This massive project will, however, take a while to jumpstart. The first turbines should be producing electricity by 2011. So watch out Texas, by 2012 or so, you're going to have a lot of ground to make up.
One more from TreeHugger - on green building and Taking the LEED in China
China’s GDP is rising faster than a Beijing office building or housing project. But the color of that tower going up across the street—wherever you are there seems to be a crane and an army of construction workers—is slowly turning from the city’s traditional red to a neat shade of green. Over at China Dialogue, I've written something about the trend towards sustainable building in China’s capital, where the LEED green building standard has already been plastered on the scaffolding for a handful of new developments, like Steven Holl’s "filmic" Linked Hybrid mixed-use complex (above).
Sure, greenwashing abounds on the real estate market (as it does in the supermarket), but that doesn’t mean architects and engineers aren’t incorporating low-E and rainwater collection into their vocabulary. LEED guru Rob Watson makes regular trips to the capital to meet with designers and officials (who are working on a homegrown standard), and everyone from developers to home buyers to big companies are lining up to learn more. Sure, LEED may have its naysayers (arguing among other things that the standard can be prohibitively hard), and indeed, getting the necessary materials is still harder in Beijing then, say, New York. But the increasingly easier LEED regime is helping construct greener buildings here, and giving green design something that can’t hurt in an increasingly image-conscious China: a nice shiny brand name.
See also the Church of LEED and Inhabitat’s LEED gospel.
While the Chinese might be making a few efforts to do some green building they are also getting sucked further into the resource war game in the search for the energy security chimera. Chinese (and american) readers note - this doesn't exist if you base your economy on cheap oil - build a electric transport system and fuel it with renewable energy - it is cheaper, cleaner and less dangerous in the long run...
Chinese President and commander-in-chief Hu Jintao wants a powerful navy to be built to prepare "at any time" for military struggle, state media say.
At a meeting of delegates to a Communist Party meeting of the navy, Hu said China, whose military build-up has been a source of friction with the United States, was a major maritime country whose naval capability must be improved.
"We should strive to build a powerful navy that adapts to the needs of our military's historical mission in this new century and at this new stage," he said in comments splashed on the front pages of the party mouthpiece People's Daily and the People's Liberation Army Daily.
"We should make sound preparations for military struggles and ensure that the forces can effectively carry out missions at any time," said Hu, pictured in green military garb for the occasion.
China's naval expansion includes a growing submarine fleet and new ships with "blue water" capability, fuelling fears in the United States that its military could alter the balance of power in Asia with consequences for Taiwan.
China has said it would attack if the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own formally declares independence.
Analysts say China sees a stronger navy as a way to secure energy supplies and seaborne trade routes to help ease security fears over supplies of resources and oil it needs to feed its booming economy.
Joel Makower has a post on Wal-Mart's Solar Energy Vision (maybe they should do a role reversal and export that to China).
It's been a busy holiday season for a corps of professionals, courtesy of Wal-Mart, and I'm not talking about store greeters or Santas. The retail giant recently issued an RFP, or request for proposal, to install solar energy systems on its stores in five states -- the largest procurement of solar ever proposed. Bids are due on January 5, hence the end-of-year scrambling.
The confidential RFP document, which I recently reviewed, is part of the company's stated commitment "to reduce our overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over the next eight years" and to "design a store that will use 30% less energy and produce 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than our 2005 design within the next 3 years," according to the RFP. At a higher level, it marks a significant first step toward Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's publicly stated, long-term goal: "To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy."
The goals of this project, as stated in the RFP, are somewhat more modest:
* the establishment of a relationship "with one or more solar photovoltaic developers that facilitates the cost effective development of solar photovoltaic systems at a predetermined number" of Wal-Mart sites, and
* securing alternative sources of energy "at competitive prices and in a form that is replicable among multiple sites and multiple building formats."
What's the impact of all this? Wal-Mart doesn't mention a specific purchase size, but my sources tell me that the company could put solar on as many as 340 stores in the next few years. Assuming that each store utilized about 300 kilowatts of solar panels (it could be as much as 500 kilowatts), we're talking roughly 100 megawatts of solar. To put that into perspective, the solar system currently being installed at Google headquarters in California -- the largest single corporate solar installation in history -- is 1.6 MW, about 1/60th the size.
Of course, it's unclear whether Wal-Mart will install solar in all of those locations. The company could look at the bidders' numbers and decide to install solar at only a handful of stores -- or none at all.
Assuming it moves forward with even a portion of its plans, Wal-Mart's move is significant, and historic. While a growing number of companies are staking their claim at being "carbon neutral" by purchasing power from developers of far-off wind farms or other large-scale installations, or have installed (often with much fanfare) solar panels on a single showcase facility, no one has yet made a long-term commitment to "alternative sources of energy at competitive prices and in a form that is replicable among multiple sites and multiple building formats," as Wal-Mart puts it.
As one insider told me: "Putting out the RFP alone has some level of significance. Going through with it will be epic. If they follow through, it will be profound and will have a long-lasting impact on the global solar industry. And probably on the mindset of retailers around the planet."
PodTech.net has a post on the "ZENN electric car", which will feature an ultracapacitor storage unit from EEStor.
Enlightened mobility is the mission statement of the ZENN Car, an electric car from Feel Good Cars of Toronto. ZENN stands for Zero Emissions No Noise. It's a Low Speed Vehicle, but the company is in partnership with EEStor, Inc, of Austin, Texas to bring a high-speed, mass produced electric vehicel to market.
The SMH is speculating that Ford and Toyota are talking about hybrid cars.
TOYOTA chairman Fujio Cho and Ford Motor chief executive Alan Mulally met last week but the car makers declined to comment on reports they may increase cooperation on technology.
The two executives had a courtesy call, Toyota said in a statement after the Nihon Keizai reported Ford may be interested in Toyota's hybrid vehicle technology and manufacturing methods. Toyota declined to comment on what was discussed at the meeting.
Ford's Mr Mulally, who took over as chief executive in September, is trying to return the company's North American operations to profit by 2009. Toyota, the first car maker to introduce petrol-electric vehicles, is expected to end General Motors' 81-year reign as the world's largest car maker next year.
"Helping Ford would be a good move for Toyota," said Koichi Ogawa of Daiwa SB Investments. Further co-operation would "reduce political friction in the US, by giving technological support".
Glenn Greenwald has an article on yet more neocon madness - a new plan to attack Iran and seize their oil and gas assets. Sounds like a good plan to if you want to crash the world economy - but on a purely military basis it sounds like the way to start world war 3 (at worst) or create and even larger version of the Iraq mess (at best).
Neoconservatives have now become such caricatures of themselves that it almost pity-inducing to read what they are writing (though even the briefest reminder of the tragic damage they have wrought precludes any possibility of real pity). When it comes to operating within the minimum confines imposed by basic rationality and plain reality, neoconservatives really are indistinguishable from, say, Lyndon LaRouche or Fred Phelps or any number of other deranged extremists who are not merely radical in their ideology, but are so far removed from reality that they command no attention beyond the occasional derisive reference.
Yet there is little doubt that these same neoconservatives still exert the greatest influence on the thinking of our current President, and the more decorated among them still command great respect from our nation's media stars. They are as bloodthirsty as they are detached from reality, as amoral as they are radical, and it is long past the time that just a fraction of the scorn that they so plainly merit be heaped upon them.
The immediate proximate cause prompting this observation is this most repellent article in the leading neoconservative magazine, Commentary, by Arthur Herman, a History Professor at George Mason University. The article, entitled Getting Serious About Iran – a Military Option, is an all-out demand that war with Iran commence as soon as possible, and it offers a detailed plan for how the war should be executed.
Herman declares at the outset that his purpose in the article is to undermine what he scornfully calls the "consensus [that] has taken root in the minds of America’s foreign-policy elite." What is this heinous "elite consensus" that must be uprooted? "That military action against Iran is a sure formula for disaster." Yes, perish that thought. Herman's mission is to defeat the "appeasing line" that war with Iran is "unthinkable." Not only is it thinkable, he contends, but it is feasible and urgently necessary for America's survival.
After reviewing all of the available short-of-war options for deterring Iranian nuclear proliferation, Herman declares -- with a claim that defines a new level of irony -- that “all of these recommendations fly in the face of reality." Dismissing away the consensus of the intelligence community, Herman claims that Iran may possess a nuclear weapon “within the next two to three years,” and that the U.S. (of course) possesses more than ample justification for waging war now on Iran:Which brings us back to the military option. That there is plentiful warrant for the exercise of this option—in Iran’s serial defiance of UN resolutions, in its declared genocidal intentions toward Israel, another member of the United Nations, and in the fact of its harboring, supporting, and training of international terrorists—could not be clearer.
Like a teenager in the obsessive midst of an online vídeo war game, Herman lays out a detailed fantasy plan for our military attack on Iran:the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another. Above all, the air attack would concentrate on Iran’s gasoline refineries.
But with the massive air attack on Iran’s industrial infrastructure (not to mention the destruction of their bridges and tunnels, tacked on as an afterthought), Herman is just warming up:The scenario would not end here. With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces could seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf.
North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized, while Kargh Island at the far western edge of the Persian Gulf, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields (Ahwaz, Marun, and Gachsaran, among others), could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States military would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch.
Once the U.S. controls Iran’s oil, Herman envisions that we can then start dictating to Iran what their government will be, what policies they should and should not undertake, and basically put them into complete submission to our will. Herman argues that our war plan:must therefore be predicated not only on seizing the state’s oil assets but on refusing to relinquish them unless and until there is credible evidence of regime change in Tehran or—what is all but inconceivable—a major change of direction by the reigning theocracy.
And what of the rather self-evident, towering risks of unilaterally attacking a country like Iran and seizing its oil assets? Those are all dismissed away by Herman as casually and cursorily as he drew up his grand war plans: “The tactical risks associated with a comprehensive war strategy of this sort are numerous. But they are outweighed by its key advantages.”
This is not some "thought experiment" or some game theory. This is really what Herman, and so many like him, believe the U.S. should do, and do now.
The very idea that we are going to launch a unilateral bombing campaign against Iran, shatter its infrastructure, and then seize its oil assets is pure insanity of the highest order. There is no other way to describe that. And that would be true at any time, let alone when we are bogged down in the greatest strategic disaster in our nation's history, where our already horrendous position could be worsened immeasurably by Iran.
While I'm trying to stay on a tinfoil-free diet in the vain hope that the eye of big brother turns elsewhere to more worthy subjects, I can't really pass up this post from Cryptogon, given my enthusiasm for electrified transport systems being a large part of the solution to all our woes, on the subject "All Electric Vehicles and the Concept of Enough" (which even the most hardened state department veteran would have to concede isn't some sort of recycled Soviet propaganda from the 70's washed up on the far left bank of American politics).
I think in essence this is a concise, albeit cranky, summary of Jay Hanson's theories, which basically boils down to "its human nature that is the real problem, not the limits to growth themselves".
The all electric SUV is almost here! While it’s not quite the electric Hummer I wrote about recently, what did I tell ya!?!
Head down to the clean, green Walmart to buy some blood soaked crap made by slaves in China with your somehow fungible U.S. dollars. Haul your goods back to your no-money-down, stucco box (”bought” with a 50 year adjustable rate mortgage) in your new, all electric, zero emission SUV! Water your lawn. Enjoy a handful of genetically engineered peanuts as you BBQ a big, juicy clone burger. Live it up! Because it’s back to work on Monday morning.
How much more absurd can this thing get?
While the energy situation we’re facing is serious, it’s inconsequential when compared to the dire anthropological and spiritual shortcomings we humans continue to bump up against. We’re essentially feces flinging apes that somehow acquired the ability to create and use written languages and abstract computational techniques.
We have used these traits to systematically murder the Earth and enslave each other to the extent possible.
Don’t take this personally. I’m not saying that you are a planet killing fascist. But look at what has tended to happen when more than a few dozen people get together and it’s just not too pretty.
Yes, I know about the anti civilization movement, and I don’t see anything worth emulating there. I’m living more of primitive, lower energy existence than any of the people writing about anti civilization issues! This gives me quite a bit of pause about that area of inquiry. Besides, why stop at stone age tribes? Stone age tribes (the few non-violent ones, of course, not the head hunters, etc.) seem to be the nirvana state of being that these people like to write about, in front of their computers, in their heated homes. Why not crawl around on all fours? Why not partially blind ourselves to reduce our visual capability to that of a paramecium, with its light-sensing eyespot? If it’s all about going backwards, totally, and without question, why not really go for it!?
I don’t know why some of us have a concept of enough while most of us don’t. As the never-enoughers ruin the world, reactionary belief systems grow in popularity and seem increasingly valid, even though they are just as stupid as the more-forever paradigm.
Humans are great at extremism, but not so great at seeing the big picture, and carefully choosing and using appropriate tools to create stable systems that are in balance with the environment. While it’s theoretically possible to create stable systems that don’t wreck the planet, like lots of things on paper, it doesn’t happen in the real world. Why?
The tragedy of the commons is still the best explanation of why humans have failed—and will continue to fail—to create stable systems that are in balance with the environment. Even if some of us, or many of us, create such systems, hierarchical dominators will eventually build armies, bribe, swindle, deceive and kill us to exploit the stable systems we worked so hard to maintain. The enoughers have never been able to defend themselves from the notenoughers because the enoughers do not resort to extermination to achieve their goals. The notenoughers would rather see a resource destroyed than loose control of it.
The side that is better at extermination/exploitation will gain control, gain influence, and if unchecked by a different hierarchical dominator, this process will continue until some higher plateau is reached. Decline and disintegration follows in the years or decades after the plateau. Warlords will rise from the smoldering ruins, climb the mountains of skulls and do it all over again.
So here we are, having never really developed the consciousness necessary to wield the tools—that our large brains enabled us to construct—in any good way, raping the commons to within an inch of its life. Instead of flinging feces, crushing skulls with clubs, lighting off cannons or shooting machine guns, the creatures are now armed with nuclear weapons. Same ape consciousness as ever, but with the power to exterminate with god-like efficiency.
So, while the clean, green fascists jump up and down and cheer the arrival of the all electric SUV, I’ll count each day that passes without the appearance of mushroom clouds as a precious gift to those of us who understood the concept of enough.
I like to think its worthwhile considering all the angles on any given issue (even if I do mildly object to the "clean green fascist" tag) and its hard to point to history and say that Kevin (or Jay) is entirely wrong. However, I like to think we are now in a position, should we choose, to build a sustainable industrial economy that doesn't require ever greater extraction of resources from the environment - one that could provide a decent amount of food, water and energy to everyone (now and at the projected population peak of 9 billion in the future).
In my mind, putting such a set up in place doesn't seem to be require ending competition, or free markets, or even human greed and the hunger for power - it is just about eliminating some of the bones of contention that groups of people tend to fight over because of the way our current industrial processes work (it is, after all, in everyone's interest that the planet continues to be habitable - and there are plenty of other things to strive to control if you're into dominance games).
But maybe I'm just a wild eyed optimist. In any case, we can't all go back to the land and become farmers (but good luck to those who have taken that path) so other solutions are called for...
Thom Hartmann has an article about civilisational cycles which has some resonance with Kevin's rant for those who are interested.
While I'm considering viewpoints that diverge from my own, here's an article at the Huffington Post which claims "Ike was right" and that the Iraq war isn't about oil, but rather a simple case of the corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex. I do think he needs to do the numbers about the value of Iraq's oil before claiming which is the dominant factor (and the belief that its all about the oil is more comforting in any case, as this problem has obvious solutions)...
The public, seeing through the tissue of Bush administration lies told to justify an invasion that never had anything to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 or weapons of mass destruction, now has begun a national questioning: Why are we still in Iraq? The answers posted most widely on the Internet by critics of the war suggest its continuation as a naked imperial grab for the world's second-largest petroleum source, but that is wrong.
It's not primarily about the oil; it's much more about the military-industrial complex, the label employed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower 45 years ago when he warned of the dangers of "a permanent arms industry of vast proportions."
The Cold War had provided the rationale for the first peacetime creation of a militarized economy. While the former general, Eisenhower, was well aware of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union, he chose in his farewell presidential address to the nation to warn that the war profiteers had an agenda of their own, one that was inimical to the survival of American democracy:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Ponder those words as you consider the predominant presence of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in the councils of this White House, and how his old company has profiteered more than any other from the disaster that is Iraq. Despite having been found to have overcharged some $60 million to the U.S. military for fuel deliveries, the formerly bankrupt Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in lucrative contracts.
There is more. Military spending has skyrocketed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, returning to Cold War levels. A devastating report by the Center for Defense Information, founded by former top-ranking admirals and generals, reveals that in the most recent federal budget overall defense spending will rise to more than $550 billion. Compare that to the $20 billion that the United Nations and all of its agencies and funds spend each year on all of its programs to make this a safer and more livable world.
That U.S. military budget exceeds what the rest of the world's nations combined spend on defense. Nor can it be justified as militarily necessary to counter terrorists, who used primitive $10 box cutters to commandeer civilian aircraft on 9/11. It only makes sense as a field of dreams for defense contractors and their allies in Washington who seized upon the 9/11 tragedy to invent a new Cold War. Imagine their panic at the end of the old one and their glee at this newfound opportunity.
Yes, some in those circles were also eager to exploit Iraq's oil wealth, which does explain the abysmal indifference to the deteriorating situation in resource-poor Afghanistan, birthplace of the Sept. 11 plot, while our nation's resources are squandered in occupying Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.
Yes, some, like Paul Wolfowitz, the genius who was the No. 2 in the U.S. Defense Department and has been rewarded for his leadership with appointment as head of the World Bank, did argue that Iraq's oil revenue would pay for our imperial adventure. A recent study by Nobel Prize-wining economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard University's Linda Bilmes marked that absurdity by estimating the true cost of the Iraq adventure to U.S taxpayers at a whopping $2.267 trillion, in excess of any cost borne by the Iraqis themselves.
The big prize here for Bush's foreign policy is not the acquisition of natural resources or the enhancement of U.S. security, but rather the lining of the pockets of the defense contractors, the merchants of death who mine our treasury. But because the arms industry is coddled by political parties and the mass media, their antics go largely unnoticed. Our politicians and pundits argue endlessly about a couple of billion dollars that may be spent on improving education or ending poverty, but they casually waste that amount in a few days in Iraq.
As Eisenhower warned: "We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ... We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
Too bad we no longer have leading Republicans, or Democrats, warning of that danger.
I'll close with an interesting, albeit far-fetched future history from TomDispatch (which I really should have shoe-horned in to my post on "The Cathedral and the bazaar" a few days ago) on "mammals and dinosaurs".
The other day, I borrowed some kids to go gawk with me at the one thing that we can always count on in an ever-more unstable world: age-of-dinosaur dioramas in science museums. This one had the usual dramatic clash between a tyrannosaurus and a triceratops; pterodactyls soaring through the air, one with a small reptile in its toothy maw; and some oblivious grazing by what, when I was young in another millennium, we would have called a brontosaurus. Easy to overlook in all that drama was the shrew-like mammal perched on a reed or thick blade of grass, too small to serve even as an enticing pterodactyl snack. The next thing coming down the line always looks like that mammal at the beginning -- that's what I told the kids -- inconsequential, beside the point; the official point usually being the clash of the titans.
That's exactly why mainstream journalists spent the first decade of this century debating the meaning of the obvious binaries -- the Democrats versus the Republicans, McWorld versus Global Jihad -- much as political debate of the early 1770s might have focused on whether the French or English monarch would have supremacy in North America, not long before the former was beheaded and the latter evicted. The monarchs in all their splashy scale were the dinosaurs of their day, and the eighteenth-century mammal no one noticed at first was named "revolution"; the early twenty-first century version might have been called "localism" or maybe "anarchism," or even "civil society regnant." In some strange way, it turned out that windmill-builders were more important than the U.S. Senate. They were certainly better at preparing for the future anyway.
That mammal clinging to the stalk had crawled up from the grassroots where the choices were so much more basic and significant than, for instance, the one between fundamentalism and consumerism that was on everyone's lips in the years of the Younger George Bush. If the twentieth century was the age of dinosaurs -- of General Motors and the Soviet Union, of McDonald's, globalized entertainment networks, and information superhighways -- the twenty-first has increasingly turned out to be the age of the small.
You can see it in the countless local-economy projects -- wind-power stations, farmer's markets, local enviro organizations, food co-ops -- that were already proliferating, hardly noticed, by the time the Saudi Oil Wars swept the whole Middle East, damaging major oil fields, and bringing on the Great Gasoline Crisis of 2009. That was the one that didn't just send prices skyrocketing, but actually becalmed the globe-roaming container ships with their great steel-box-loads of bottled water, sweatshop garments, and other gratuitous commodities.
The resulting food crisis of the early years of the second decade of the century, which laid big-petroleum-style farming low, suddenly elevated the status of peasant immigrants from what was then called "the undeveloped world," particularly Mexico and Southeast Asia. They taught the less agriculturally skilled, in suddenly greening North American cities, to cultivate the victory gardens that mitigated the widespread famines then beginning to sweep the planet. (It also turned out that the unwieldy and decadent SUVs of the millennium made great ecological sense, but only if you parked them facing south, put in sunroofs and used the high-windowed structures as seed-starter greenhouses.) The crisis spelled an end to the epidemic of American obesity, both by cutting calories and obliging so many Americans to actually move around on foot and bike and work with their hands.
Bush, the Accidental Empire Slayer
For a brief period, in the early years of that second decade of this chaotic century, a whole school of conspiracy theorists gained popularity by suggesting that Bush the Younger was actually the puppet of a left-wing plot to dismantle the global "hyperpower" of that moment. They pointed to the Trotskyite origins of the "neoconservatives," whose mad dreams had so clearly sunk the American empire in Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of their proof. They claimed that Bush's advisors consciously plotted to devastate the most powerful military on the planet, near collapse even before it was torn apart by the unexpected Officer Defection Movement, which burst into existence in 2009, followed by the next year's anti-draft riots in New York and elsewhere.
The Bush administration's mismanagement of the U.S. economy, while debt piled up, so obviously spelled the end of the era of American prosperity and power that some explanation, no matter how absurd, was called for -- and for a while embraced. The long view from our own moment makes it clearer that Bush was simply one of the last dinosaurs of that imperial era, doing a remarkably efficient job of dragging down what was already doomed. If you're like most historians of our quarter-century moment, then you're less interested in the obvious -- why it all fell -- than in discovering the earliest hints of the mammalian alternatives springing up so vigorously with so little attention in those years.
Without benefit of conspiracy, what Bush the Younger really prompted (however blindly) was the beginning of a decentralization policy in the North American states. During the eight years of his tenure, dissident locales started to develop what later would become full-fledged independent policies on everything from queer rights and the environment to foreign relations and the notorious USA-Patriot Act. For example, as early as 2004-2007, several states, led by California, began setting their own automobile emissions standards in an attempt to address the already evident effects of climate change so studiously ignored in Washington....