Posted by Big Gav
Jerome a Paris doesn't think much of the fuss about Iraq's rumoured new oil production sharing agreements.
trifecta has a recommended diary up right now about the new oil law, which, as the Independent notes, will allow foreign companies to invest in the oil sector via PSAs (production sharing agreements).
These are presented as unfair contracts, which will give the majority of the profits to the Western oil majors, and highly unusual. This is all untrue, and it obfuscates the wider truth that no major Western company will invest in Iraq (under these contracts or under any other scheme) as long as American troops are there a,d that a civil war is under way.
I've written about this as comments in various diaries, but it's time to have a full diary on this. ...
So the only bit a significant news here is the fact that Iraq may be open to Western investment in the oil sector - a significant bit of news for oil companies that are shut out of an increasing number of countries and desperate to get their hands on projects, and a decision that might not be taken by a sovereign Iraq, but the fact that a soveriegn Iraq does not exist also means that this law is meaningless (see below). It also does not mean that the terms would necessarily be bad for Iraq. ...
PSAs are actually one of the most common form of investment and production contracts around the world these days - for the simple reason that they are usually more favorable to host countries than other contract forms. ...
One thing that should be obvious from the above is that oil companies will invest in oil project only if they have reasonable confidence to make money in the medium term - which means, naturally, that they have acceptable contractual conditions, but also that such contractual conditions have a very high chance of being respected and/or enforced. That means dealing with stable government with a modicum of interest in seeing these conditions fulfilled.
In the bad old days, that could mean a dictator, appropriately interested, on a personal level, in the project. Today, it still means a willingness to deal with unpleasant regimes, provided that they are reasonably stable, because you have to go find the oil where it is, and not all places with oil are democracies, nor friendly (the discussion about how much linkage between oil and dictatorship or corruption will be left to another diary). But it means that oil companies will only invest in countries that are stable enough - and, more to the point, where the entity in charge of oil resources is likely to remain so, either because it is a legitimate bureaucracy or because it is, say, in control of the armed forces that protect the oil fields.
In Iraq, these conditions are not fulfilled. There is no legitimate government, and what government there is controls little of the country, including not enough of the oil infrastructure. And THERE WILL BE NO LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT AS LONG AS US FORCES REMAIN IN IRAQ - and, in all likelihood, not until the civil war has run its course,and some form of new power structure is put in place by consensus or by force. And that new power structure will certainly not be bound by contracts, nor even by laws, put in place at the time of the US occupation. So today's law is unlikely to have any practical application.
* PSAs are not an evil plot by Western companies - they are a normal tool of business;
* bringing foreign investment in a country's oil sector is not necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on the industry experience of the country and its ability to fiannce investment on its own;
* the current law is unlikely to ever be implemented and thus is mostly irrelevant, except perhaps as another demonstration of the short-sightedness of the Bush administration.
CFR President Richard Haass has a gloomy but realistic summary of how things are going in Iraq.
As the Iraq war helps bring the American era to a close, a new order will begin to emerge in the region.It is early 2008.
The new U.S. strategy for Iraq, outlined by President George W. Bush in January 2007, in the wake of the Iraq Study Group report, has come and gone with no discernible effect.
With 100,000 soldiers still on the ground, despite congressional calls for major withdrawals, "force protection" is the new catchphrase, given domestic intolerance of American casualties. No one debates any longer whether Iraq is experiencing a civil war; it's in fact part failed state, part civil war and part regional war. Insurgents, militias and terrorists are more active than ever; Iraqi casualties and deaths are higher than ever. Output of oil and electricity remains stuck at or below prewar levels....
Iran, snubbing the U.N. Security Council, presses ahead with its nuclear program. Israel is reported to be readying a preventive attack. Rumors abound that the U.S. president and his senior national-security team are divided, with some pushing to join the Israelis (using stealth aircraft and cruise missiles to attack Iranian nuclear sites) and others opposed, arguing that Iran would retaliate, that several friendly governments could fall and that the price of oil would rise above $150 a barrel. The overall impression is of a Middle East spinning out of control and the United States unable to do much about it.
Is this the future? With luck, not all of this will come to pass. On the other hand, it's easy to imagine things turning out even worse. Either way, one thing is certain: the American era in the Middle East is over. More than anything else, it was the Iraq war-the enormous military, economic and diplomatic costs, the shifting internal balances in the region-that brought it to an end. Other factors contributed: the demise of the "peace process," the rise of Hamas and Hizbullah, the Israeli embrace of unilateralism and the disinclination of George W. Bush and his administration to undertake active diplomacy.
The failure of traditional Arab regimes to combat the appeal of radical Islam also figures here, as does globalization. It has never been easier for individuals and groups to find money and weapons, or to spread their ideas-including violent anti-Americanism. But let's be clear: the wounds America has suffered in the region are chiefly self-inflicted. ...
As for Iraq, it will remain weak, divided and violent for years. Kurds, Sunnis and Shia will live separate lives, the result of ethnic cleansing as much as preference or history. U.S. policy will evolve from achieving success to limiting costs, both in Iraq and in the wider region. This will lead to a reduction in U.S. forces, a reorientation of their role and greater emphasis on working to prevent what is now a civil war from metastasizing into a regional one.
America's options are limited in such a context. Its thirst for the region's oil, vulnerability to terror and commitment to Israel and a moderate Arab future require it to stay engaged. But how? The U.S. experience in Iraq should serve as a caution about using military force. It has not proved effective against loosely organized militias or terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population and prepared to die for their cause. And despite calls from some quarters to use force to keep Iran from getting the bomb, the case for not doing so has grown more, rather than less, compelling over time, for reasons ranging from the dangers of retaliation to the likely oil shock to the global economy.
The Israelis are denying the Sunday Times report that they plan to attack Iran (thankfully).
Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with nuclear weapons - a report Israel has rejected as "absurd".
Citing what it said were several Israeli military sources, The Sunday Times in London reported that two Israeli Air Force squadrons had been training to blow up an enrichment plant in Natanz using low-yield nuclear "bunker busters".
"This is absurd," an Israeli official said. "To think that we will launch an atomic attack against Iran, and on top of that that we would reveal it in advance to a foreign newspaper is doubly ridiculous."
Mobjectivist has a post on "censored data" and peak oil.
The lower 48 reserve growth analysis from Attanasi & Root likely suffers from the curse of censored data. If you look at the data posted on TOD recently, you can see the window gets clipped in a ~15 year timeframe from 1977 to 1991. Yet the authors decide to show the data as if the growth looks continuous up to 90 years.
This leads to charts like the following where the authors deem it alright to extrapolate backwards to a much larger window:
Now, most analysts admit that many of the fields included in the analysis become "shut-in" or dormant or plugged during their lifetime, and then when the economics become reasonable, the field can produce oil with a renewed vigor. Unfortunately this means that reserve growth has to drop somewhat reasonably to a near-to-zero value during the dormancy stage. The field remains essentially abandoned so you would think that this approximation would make some sense. Yet you would never notice this from a cursory glance of the sliding data of the first chart transforming into the larger aperture of the second chart. Properly supplying reasonable censored data for a much-larger-than-15 year window would in fact suppress the slope of the profile in the second chart considerably.
Doing censored data correctly falls into the class of statistical problems called survivability analysis. Analyze censored data incorrectly and you will face results fraught with errors. A classical case frequently referenced concerns survival studies of tobacco smokers. These studies would go on for 10 years or so, and the statisticians would collect enough data to project death rates in the future. The results become problematic when the extrapolator assumes a linear projection whereas in reality the actual data could vary non-linearly. Without the uncensored data available, i.e. a longer time scale, one could come to the wrong conclusion. Big Tobacco has used this statistical sleight-of-hand in the past to justify any conclusion they wanted to, preferably to stress that tobacco does not cause premature death (or addiction). I fear that Big Oil can practice the same sleight-of-hand until people start to catch on.
The censoring in the particular case of reserve growth matches the typical tobacco survival in a general fashion only; for reserve growth the censoring of data happens in the previous years to the 1977-1991 window. Let me give you a better analogy as to what this means. Say, instead of oil, you looked at growth data of people (e.g. say their height) placed in suspended animation at age 15, and you added that to data 100 years from now after reviving the subjects from their hibernating stupor. Assuming that suspended animation prevented aging, you would have a completely misguided view of how people grew as a function of time. Without understanding that cold storage prevented growth, you would think that humans continue to increase in height well past their 90's. To top it off, these humans would also have to consist of a range of sizes from tiny dwarfs to giants so as to match the range in oil field sizes. That basically amounts to what R&A did with their data. They completely neglected any part of the data that didn't show an increase in value. A conservative read of the data would only justify looking at the first 15 years of the second chart.
To summarize, for all we know, many of those regions outside the 15 year data collection window became shut-in or dormant which meant they had zero reserve growth for a long period. But then to resurrect the data and show growth 90 years after discovery displays an incredible amount of deception or rank ignorance on how censored data works. If Attanasi & Root had an agenda of deception, then I consider them equally as evil as the tobacco "scientists" who jiggered the survival statistics over the years leading to the premature deaths of millions of people worldwide.
If on the other hand, A&R simply chose to bathe in their own mathematical ignorance, these two should forever inhabit a special state of suspended animation, and we shouldn't wake them up to do more harm.
It took me about a year to actually understand what this weird reserve growth meant. Now that the extra insight hit me like a ton of bricks, I have become more than a bit peaved. No wonder they call it censored data, Big Oil doesn't want the truth to come out. You'd think a company would fire somebody who makes this bad a mistake, but think about the agenda of the employer and they would deem the dynamic duo of A&R as vital to their long term best interests. Exactly. They want to present this optimistic reserve growth to the public and if they can find tools (i.e. useful idiots) to keep parading around their bad statistics, they would just as soon keep said employee on staff than to fire his sorry behind. Welcome to how the Tobacco industry worked in the 20th century and the way Big Oil works today.
BHP is soon to begin exporting uranium from Olympic Dam to China. That mine is something of a prize itself.
RATIFICATION of the nuclear safeguard agreements with China has cleared the way for BHP Billiton to begin pinning down contracts for the additional $2 billion a year in uranium it is planning to produce from its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia.
Finding an approved home for the additional 10,500 tonnes a year of uranium is critical to the planned $10 billion expansion of Olympic Dam from 2013. While the additional 300,000 tonnes of copper a year that would come with the expansion are easily sold into world markets, is it another matter with uranium.
But the task of finding a home for the radioactive material has been made easier by the emergence of China as a potential major customer, with first sales to the country now possible following the ratification of the Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement and the Nuclear Co-operation Agreement.
BHP has said previously that it was in negotiations with customers for uranium sales contracts to take effect after Olympic Dam was expanded. It is also playing hard ball, insisting in the negotiations that any contracts have a "floating price" as well as a "floor price". That is an attempt to get away from the current situation where all Olympic Dam's uranium is contracted out to 2010 at prices that are a fraction of the current spot price of $US72 a pound. The contracts were written at a time when uranium was in the dumps. Spot prices - as distinct from contract prices - doubled last year and are now 10 times the level of six years ago.
Australia's other big uranium producer, Energy Resources of Australia, has also been locked into low-priced long-term contracts. It received only $US15.57 a pound for its production in 2006. But a recent increase in the reserve base at its Ranger mine in the Northern Territory has it in the hunt for new contracts covering 11,100 tonnes of uranium for sale between 2014 and 2020.
Technology Review has part 2 of their series on China's Coal Future, which ponders the why clean coal has failed to materialise in China, as it has elsewhere in the world.
While China's desire to end its dependence on foreign oil is helping to drive huge capital investments in liquefaction technology, the country's power producers are moving much more slowly to take advantage of coal gasification. What they, like their American counterparts, are missing is an incentive to upgrade from conventional pulverized-coal plants to the more expensive gasification plants. According to Li Wenhua, the former 863 program manager (who now directs gasification research in China for General Electric), Chinese industrialists perceive pulverized-coal plants as a license to print money. "People say you shouldn't call it a power plant; it's a money-making machine," says Li. As yet, no power company has been willing to be the first to hit the off switch.
Ironically, China's move to a more open economy has hampered efforts to deploy more innovative technologies. In the 1990s, it looked as if China's power sector was headed for its own gasification revolution. In 1993, China's leading power engineering firm, China Power Engineering Consulting in Beijing, began designing the country's first gasification power plant. The monopoly utility of the era, the State Power Corporation, planned to build the commercial-scale plant in Yantai, a thriving seaport not far from the Bohai Sea. The Yantai plant was to be the beginning of a transition to cleaner coal technology, says Zhao Jie, the plant's designer, now vice president of China Power Engineering. "China wanted to take a cleaner and more efficient way to produce power," says Zhao. Instead, the demonstration plant she designed went on a roller-coaster ride to nowhere. Design work was temporarily halted in 1994 when the cost of the technology was deemed unacceptably high, revived in the late 1990s, and then cut adrift after 2002 by the breakup of the State Power Corporation.
The Yantai power plant was based on integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology. IGCC plants resemble natural-gas-fired power plants--they use two turbines to capture mechanical and heat energy from expanding combustion gases--but are fueled with syngas from an integrated coal gasification plant. They're not emissions free, but their gas streams are more concentrated, so the sulfurous soot, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants they generate are easier to separate and capture. Of course, once the carbon dioxide--the main greenhouse gas--is captured, engineers still need to find a place to stow it. The most promising strategy is to sequester it deep within saline aquifers and oil reservoirs. In preliminary analyses, Chinese geologists have estimated that aging oil fields and aquifers could absorb more than a trillion tons of carbon dioxide--more than China's coal-fired plants would emit, at their current rate, for hundreds of years.
TransMaterial has a post on a vertical garden that can grow on almost any wall.
In addition to its positive aesthetic qualities, natural foliage is being used increasingly as a 'living' building material with the pragmatic effects of air purification, acoustic absorption, and thermal insulation.
Patrick Blanc's vertical garden, known as Le Mur Végétal in French, was conceived after thorough studies of a variety of natural environments. The wall-afforestation system relies on a new way to grow plants without any soil.
Since it is very light-weight, it is possible to install the vertical garden on almost any wall, whatever its size. The vertical garden can be implemented outdoors or indoors, in any climatic environment. The plant species are selected according to the prevailing climatic conditions. For an indoor location, artificial lighting is usually required, and watering and fertilization are automated
WorldChanging has an interview with Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Pioneer.
Hassan Masum: Paul, thanks for talking to us. Let's start with a bit of background: what first motivated you to start working in the renewable energy field, and what changes in this field do you most notice when you look back at your career?
Paul Gipe: How did I get started? I claim that it’s a genetic disease and as soon as they find a cure, I’ll be first in line. Seriously, I started pushing renewables in college while working on what became the Surface Mining Act that regulates the strip mining of coal. Before we started anyone could just rip a hole in the ground, take the coal, and walk away. Many mining companies did just that. As part of our campaign, I argued that we should be developing other sources of energy so we wouldn’t need so much coal. An old pol challenged me in a public hearing saying, “Son, that solar stuff just doesn’t exist.” Well, it was embarrassing, but he was right. So I set out to put my career where my mouth was and I’ve been doing that ever since. That was in the early 70s.
The biggest change since then? That it’s happening. There were very dark days in the late 80s and early 90s for anyone working in renewables on this continent. Anyone in North America who survived that period and still works in renewables should get a medal. There was a time when even we diehards didn’t think it was going to take off. Thankfully, the Europeans didn’t give up and they kept the dream alive. Fortunately, all the signs say that renewables are now here to stay. Wind may not have developed in the way we envisioned 30 years ago, but it’s working, and growing at a near exponential pace.
HM: It must be satisfying to finally see some light at the end of the tunnel! So, what does a typical day in your worklife look like? What are the main challenges you're faced with?
PG: I am not sure I’d want to use that expression. I remember McNamara. But yes, it feels good to see renewables take off -- finally. And it’s fulfilling to know that I had a small part in it. (I was working with wind energy long before there were any wind farms in California.) Fortunately, times have changed. I still focus on spreading the word about renewables, but my emphasis has shifted. Before, I spent almost all my time explaining the benefits of renewables, especially wind, to anyone who would listen. That’s been done. Renewables are here. And they’re taking off. My emphasis now is explaining what’s the most successful way to develop the massive amounts of renewables that we need. That mechanism is what the Europeans call electricity feed laws, or what I call Advanced Renewable Tariffs- - ARTs for short. Not only are feed laws more successful than any other renewable policy mechanism, they are also more equitable.
The challenge I face is defeatism. Environmentalists and renewable advocates here in the States just shake their heads sadly and say, “We’re Americans, it can’t be done here.” That’s baloney. Of course it can be done here. We were the first to do it. We have a track record. There’s 1,500 MW of wind operating in California that was built as a result of an early feed law. And it was built 20 years ago!
Sure, after two decades of getting beat on the head by the Reagan-Clinton-Bush folks it’s hard to stand up and demand what we really want. But that’s what must be done.
The first meeting I went to while I was in Ontario during 2004 was with a staffer at the Ministry of Energy. He told us point blank it couldn’t be done in Ontario, that it was counter to the previous eight years of policy, that it flies in the face of conventional thinking and so on. But in parting he gave us one piece of invaluable advice, “See the Minister - if he tells us to do it, we’ll do it”. Of course, we were disappointed. But the Canadians didn’t just roll over and tell me to go back to California because “Canadians couldn’t do it”. They’re a tough bunch, renewables advocates in Canada. They have to be. We launched a campaign for Advanced Renewable Tariffs and eventually we did meet with the Minister of Energy, and the Premier to boot.
So, yes, the biggest challenge is defeatism - the sense that we can’t do it here.
HM: Seems like in many of our big challenges, it's not so much engineering that's the stumbling block as building the determination and sustained sweat to see good ideas through. Speaking of good ideas, you're a big proponent of Advanced Renewable Tariffs. What's the key idea behind them, and why do you think they're such a powerful policy instrument?
PG: Yes, the technology has existed, whether solar or wind, for two decades. It’s always been a question of “do we want it or not”. The issue has always been one of policy.
That’s why a few years ago I decided to stop whining about poor renewable policies here in North America and chose to do something about it.
One need only travel on the European continent to see what needs to be done. From Denmark to Spain, the evidence of successful policies are visible to see - wind turbines distributed across the countryside, solar panels on roof tops, even operating biogas plants across the road from tourist hotels.
How have the Germans, the French, and the Spaniards done it? [Or New Zealanders? - Ed] The answer is very simple - that’s the beauty of it. They pay for it. They’ve made a political decision that renewables are desirable, in fact needed, and they’re needed now.
In market economies, you produce the kind of development you want or the product you want by paying for it. You set a price that will result in the development you want. How do you produce rapid development of massive amounts of renewable energy? You pay more than you would otherwise. If growth is too rapid - I can’t imagine such a problem with renewables since our situation is so dire - you reduce the price and development then slackens.
This is not rocket science. This is econ 101. If you pay for it, “they will come”. The key is the price or “tariff” in dollars per kilowatt-hour.
In modern Advanced Renewable Tariffs, society sets what is believed to be a fair price for each technology, that will result in profitable development. The market then functions to determine how much, where, and by whom renewables will be developed.
Advanced Renewable Tariffs are “advanced” because there is price differentiation by technology. Solar gets one price, wind another, and so on. In well-developed systems like those in Germany and France there is further differentiation, for example by project size or application. In Germany there is one price for solar mounted on the ground, and another higher price for solar on roof tops. Similarly, in France there’s one general price for solar and additional bonus for solar integrated into the building.
The beauty of ARTs is that they are transparent, comprehensible, and equitable. The door is open to everyone, from farmers to homeowners, from utility company subsidiaries to independent power producers to cooperatives. Everyone can participate. Everyone going in knows the price they will be paid per kilowatt-hour of generation and they know how long they will be paid that tariff. If the venture isn’t profitable, they won’t build it.
If the technology doesn’t work as projected, the investors go broke, but the electricity consumer is held harmless. Producers only get paid for their generation. That’s the grand bargain. If the projects works as planned over the long haul, the producers make a modest profit and consumers get a clean source of renewable generation today - not in some distant tomorrow. ...
Mother Jones has a classic little tale on the "King of the Hypermilers" which looks at a guy who gets 59 mpg from a Honda Accord.
on a midsummer saturday in a sprawling wisconsin parking lot, about a dozen people are milling about a candy-apple red Honda Insight. They're watching Wayne Gerdes prepare for his run in Hybridfest's mpg Challenge, a 20-mile race through the streets of Madison. Wayne is the odds-on favorite to win the challenge, in which drivers compete to push the automotive limits not of speed and power—a desire those gathered here consider old-fashioned and wasteful—but for the unsexy title of Most Fuel-Efficient Driver in the World.
Wayne is believed to be that driver, but he's nervous, because all day long the hypermilers—the term Wayne invented to describe the band of brothers who push the limits of fuel efficiency—have been getting crazy-high miles-per-gallon readings, as much as 100 mpg. For the race, he's borrowed a buddy's Insight and, in order to decrease the car's mass, jettisoned everything that's not screwed down. Car detritus—a pillow, towels, cleaning supplies, a tool kit—sits neatly on a blanket on the macadam.
What can't be jettisoned is Wayne himself, who at 6 feet 1 inch and 210 pounds looks too big to fit into this tin can two-seater. ("I would love to lose 60 pounds," he tells me, "because it would help my mileage.") In Wayne's world, fuel efficiency is not about the car. It's about the driver. Wayne doesn't get high mpg marks by tinkering with engines or using funky fuels or even, most days, by driving a hybrid. He gets them by driving consciously—hyperconsciously. He takes out his wallet and his keys. Then he removes his sneakers. "We'll put them on eBay," cracks one of the onlookers. "He's speeding," someone says as Wayne exits the parking lot. "Look at him go." Wayne is doing no more than 15 miles per hour. Before he's out of sight, though, he turns a full loop on the exit road to slow himself down, so he doesn't have to brake at a traffic jam ahead. Wayne hates braking.
Forty-five minutes later, Wayne is still driving the bucolic 20-mile course when raindrops as big as marbles begin falling and winds send trash hurtling across the parking lot. Everyone runs for cover, and I jump into a Toyota Prius owned by one of Wayne's hypermiling buddies, Dave Bassage. Puddles and high winds are a hypermiler's nightmare. "Nature's putting on its own energy show," says Bassage, watching the blasts of lightning through his water-splattered windshield. "This pretty much screws Wayne.
Nigeria is taking advantage of high oil prices to pay off its debt (to the London Club anyway - I'm not sure how much, if any, other debt it has).
Nigeria has repaid 1.4 billion dollars (1.12 billion euros) to the so-called London Club of private creditors, while the rest of the debt will be cleared by March, President Olusegun Obasanjo said. "We have paid off 1.4 billion dollar of the amount we owe to the London Club, and the balance of about 900 million dollars (720 million euros) will be paid by March this year, effectively wiping clean the debts we owe," Obasanjo said.
Early last year, Nigeria became the first African nation to settle all its official debt of 4.6 billion dollars to Paris Club, a group of 19 international lenders that include Britain, Russia and Germany. Before this latest payment to the London Club, Nigeria's total foreign debt stock stood at less than 5 billion dollars, officials said.
Obasanjo, who is due to leave power next May having served a constitutional limit of two four-year terms, had promised to pay all Nigeria's debts before then.
Energy Bulletin has picked up Rev Sam's "Misplacing the apocalypse".
The main point of the "doomer" perspective (eg die-off.org) can be simply stated: the earth can only support around 1.5 billion people sustainably; the rest are being sustained by easy access to fossil fuels (something like ten calories of fossil fuels for each calorie consumed). Thus, when, following Peak Oil, the fossil fuels run out (soon) most people will die; more or less swiftly, more or less horribly.
It seems to me that a theological perspective has something to say about the subject. For what I think we have is a use of apocalyptic language (“the world is going to end!”) abstracted away from a context in which it makes coherent sense. In other words, the foundation of the "doomer" perspective is implicitly theological - and as such is open to theological critique.
Consider what Tom Wright says on apocalyptic language (from New Testament and the People of God)Within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, covering a wide range of styles, genres, political persuasions and theological perspectives, there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space-time universe.
There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events. There is almost nothing to suggest that they followed the Stoics into the belief that the world itself would come to an end; and there is almost everything to suggest that they did not.
In other words the primary use of apocalyptic language is as a critique of the political and economic status quo, and to express a longing, and expectation, that God’s judgement upon that status quo was coming. Apocalypse was the genre adopted by the downtrodden, those who were most victimised in the present arrangements – for obviously, if you benefited from the present arrangements you wouldn’t want to see them destroyed – and God’s judgement would ‘cast down the mighty from their thrones… and scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts’. So apocalypse is driven by, at root, a righteous indignation and hatred of an existing political or social arrangement, and a longing and expectation that God will act to re-establish justice, ie the Kingdom of God.
It seems plausible to me that the "doomers" share a hatred of the present system, yet it also seems plausible to me that their position cannot be reconciled with Christianity. “So what!” might be their response "who cares what theology has to say about this - theology is a useless waste of space!" – but hang on.
To accept the "doomer" framework, is to assert that there is no way out from the present crisis – and that is to go beyond what the evidence as a whole supports. The evidence is clear that there is a major problem, but to assert that, eg, civilisation will come to an abrupt end is to move from the realm of demonstrable fact (imminent absence of resources on which we presently rely) to a contestable conjecture (there is nothing that we can do to mitigate the situation). At root, then, the "doomer" perspective is a denial of hope, and a denial of the possibility of redemption. It is a theological perspective, not a scientific one.
Now it may well be the truth – it’s certainly possible that human civilisation is about to press the reset button and send us back to a Hobbesian state of nature. Yet it is equally possible that what we face is, eg, a cross between the black death and the 1930s, and that, just as in those situations (bad as they were) human society negotiates the passage more or less successfully, and we continue to move forward as a species and as a civilisation.
My point is simply that we cannot know what the future holds – despite all the suggestive parallels with Easter Island – because it hasn’t happened yet. So I repeat my point – those who have a convinced "doomer" perspective are making a theological assertion, not a scientific one.
It is a question of balance, and honesty. Balance in that the vision of apocalypse always offered a vision of hope for the faithful remnant, who would endure the tribulation and be brought back to a faithful and fulfilling life on the far side of the crisis. Honesty, more crucially, in that it requires an awareness of the limits to our knowledge, and therefore a consequent awareness of how far a more or less conscious perspective on the divine determines the interpretation of such evidence.
There is always hope; there are always things that we can do in the face of disaster; and at the heart of it all is the call to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before our God. It is the absence of those virtues that has led us to the brink of disaster; it is the restoration of those virtues that will guide our people through the coming forty years in the desert.
So I say with the prophets:
Come let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, and He will heal us.
Bart from Energy Bulletin comments:
I think it is useful to separate the various issues of the "doomer" debate and talk about them separately. For example:
* Objective analysis of the various trends taking place (peak oil, global warming, etc.)
* The question of how much confidence can be placed in predictions about complex systems. "Certainty" is elusive. One of the best techniques, common in climate change, is to develop multiple scenarios, each with an estimated probability.
* Sociological and historical analysis about apocalyptic attitudes, e.g. Hemenway.
* Psychological discussion about how to deal with feelings of doom and despair, e.g. McMahon.
* Moral/religious aspects, which is what Rev. Norton discusses here.
Trying to talk about all these themes at once leads to confusion and frustration.
Laurence Aurbach at "Ped Shed" has an interesting pair of posts on urban connectivity and the history of how we ended up with modern day (low energy efficiency) urban street design.
Thoroughfare network connectivity is the single most important element of sustainably-built cities and towns. That may sound like an odd statement, particularly if you’ve never even heard of it. Connectivity has so many interrelated effects on so many urban functions, and more people should recognize how truly essential it is.
Why is connectivity so important? There are many steps to trace, so in this post I’ll start with a definition and overview.
The thoroughfare network is simply the system of arterials, collectors, boulevards, avenues, streets, roads, etc., in an area. Connectivity refers to the directness of travel routes between any two locations, and the number of alternative routes available for traveling between any two locations. ...
In the aerial photos, pick out any two locations. In the high-connectivity photo, the shortest travel route will usually be fairly close to a straight line, with just a few jogs around block corners. There are many alternative routes available. In the low-connectivity photo, the shortest route will usually be very circuitous — from cul-de-sac to collector to arterial, then along another winding route to another cul-de-sac. Two homes a hundred yards apart by air might be half a mile apart by the thoroughfare network. Also, there are few or zero alternative routes available.
Network connectivity largely determines whether an area develops as an urban fabric of neighborhoods, or a suburban collection of pods, i.e. sprawl. That in turn affects the environment, sustainability, long-term adaptability, and other quality-of-life issues.
Think about what parts of the built environment endure the longest. Building appearances can change the quickest with a new coat of paint, new siding, or a new facade. Businesses are next; some last a few months, some a few years, but very few last longer than a generation. Most contemporary buildings are designed to last a few decades, while serviceable buildings are frequently knocked down and replaced. Even well-built historic structures are subject to the ravages of natural and manmade disasters.
Next are lot boundaries, which endure until they are subdivided or combined with other properties. Lot boundaries last for decades and often longer. (After the Great Fire reduced London to rubble, Christopher Wren and others drew up plans for rebuilding the city as a grand capital. But none of the plans were adopted, because small property owners were desperate to rebuild and the government did not have the funds to buy them out. The old lot boundaries were retained.)
Finally, there is the thoroughfare network, the element that endures the longest. Street patterns can be in place for centuries. Even as empires rise and fall over millennia, thoroughfare patterns have been reused. Examples include the medieval European bastides that were built on the sites of Roman settlements, using grid plans established a thousand years before. Whatever impact the network pattern has on urban function, for better or for worse, it tends to outlast all the other urban design elements. ...
Before the automobile age, people didn’t think much about connectivity. It was taken for granted that well-connected street networks were the best way to build cities. The routes between buildings had to be as convenient as possible because everyone moved slowly, compared to today’s motorized transport. Most city folk traveled at 2-4 mph (the speed of walking) and even those with vehicles didn’t move much faster than 7-9 mph (the speed of a horse and buggy).
The invention of the automobile changed all that and gushers of oil provided the fuel. Growth of vehicle production was explosive. America went from 8,000 vehicles in 1900 to 9.2 million in 1920 and 23 million in 1930. In 1916, military trucks allowed the French to win the battle of Verdun. It was the first time motorized vehicles were decisive in a large battle. World War I was pivotal in motorizing the U.S. military.
Some architects and planners believed they could transmute the power of mass motor vehicle use into a force for good: a force to alleviate poverty, squalor and oppression of the masses. European modernists like Charles-Edouard “Le Corbusier” Jeanneret and Ludwig Hilberseimer were revolutionaries, fascinated with large-scale schemes that would wipe away the old order and comprehensively reorganize cities for personal mobility via the automobile. The selling points were speed, efficiency, cleanliness and progress, a message that played especially well in America.
The American regionalism movement denounced overcrowded, unhealthy cities and the growing threat posed by automobile collisions. As mass ownership of cars and trucks became a reality in the 1920s, the regionalists along with their allies in government, and eventually the real estate industry, began to rethink thoroughfare patterns. Here was something new, they reasoned: door to door service at 30 mph or better! Gradually they concluded that all the old assumptions about connectivity could be tossed aside. Drawing on the Garden City tradition, their solution was a universal pattern of low density cul de sacs set in superblocks.
These initiatives were blows to connected streets in multiple ways. Disconnected street networks became the default pattern throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
Given the importance of educating girls in defusing the population bomb, here's a piece I'd otherwise ignore on Oprah Winfrey in South Africa from the Christian Science Monitor.
At the end of each school year, when she says goodbye and wishes her students success in high school, Martha Mohulo can't help but worry. A veteran primary school teacher in Soweto, she knows the dangers lurking in this sprawling, struggling township - perils such as violence, AIDS, and teenage pregnancy.
So when Oprah Winfrey picked eight of Ms. Mahulo's students to attend her lavish new girls' academy south of Johannesburg, the teacher was thrilled. "Those girls who went to Oprah, they are going to be safe," Mohulo says. "They are much better off."
Ms. Winfrey's school, a $40 million project that opened Tuesday, is one of the most recent and high-profile projects in a growing worldwide campaign to improve girls' education. Such female-focused aid yields perhaps the highest dividends for developing nations, say experts, though they are quick to point out that boys face challenges as well.
"I think it's very important for people to recognize that the lack of education for both boys and girls is a crisis in Africa," says Gene Sperling, director of the Center for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the benefits of girls' education, in terms of improving health, women's empowerment, and family well-being, probably does make girls' education the highest-returning social investment in the world."
The World Bank has found that when a country improves education for girls, its overall per capita income increases and its fertility rate drops. Other studies show that improved female education is linked to higher crop yields, lower HIV infection rates, and reduced infant mortality. UNICEF's annual "State of the World's Children Report" calls gender equity - particularly in education - a "double dividend" for developing countries.
"With education, the girl child will grow up and be a better mother - she will be better able to understand the importance of her own children being educated, and will be better able to provide for her children," says Sarah Crowe, a spokesperson for UNICEF in Johannesburg. "Men and boys are often out of the home," she notes, so that fathers are less able to teach their children what they have learned.
Bruce has a new Viridian rant out on the Edge Magazine feature mentioned here recently and focuses on William Calvin's "Climate Optimist>".
Attention Conservation Notice: Thinking seriously about the sober prospects described here can inspire Lovecraftian cosmic fear.
The Viridian Pope-Emperor is nattering away on the Well, as I commonly do when the year starts. Drop on by, if you like.
Top ten green industry stories of 2006. In 2006 there was a no-kidding green industry that had some actual no-kidding business stories.
Elderly New England poet plummets through thinning ice, freezes from global warming. I wonder if a last poem went through his mind. "Well, I'm dying with my skis on." Maybe he was optimistic!
Weird Antarctic landscape art, from where the ice isn't quite so thin yet.
(((A whole bunch of jolliness from the latest rollout of the Doors of Perception newsletter. Viridian List might be almost this good if we were smarter, better-organized, more capable, worked a whole lot harder.... and had a budget, a fixed address and some management skills.)))
"WHY FOOD AND ENERGY AS AN ISSUE?
"Global food systems are not sustainable. Industrialised food consumes ten times more energy in production and distribution than enters our bodies as nutrition. In 'developed' countries, the food consumption of a single family generates eight tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. This madness is enabled by non renewable fossil fuel. But what to do? Doors 9 breaks the food systems issue into bite-sized design chunks."
"WHAT IS DOTT FOR?
"Two hundred and fifty regions in Europe (and many more worldwide) are in search of a shared vision to inspire economic and cultural renewal. In Dott 07, the abstract idea of sustainability becomes a concrete question: 'how do we want to live?' By the end of 2007, some Dott 07 projects may evolve into enterprises; people in the region will have learned, by doing it, new approaches to social innovation; a further legacy will be platforms for ongoing social innovation – such as places, hubs, and support schemes.
Year eight students in 80 schools across the North East of England have been invited to map their school's 'carbon footprint'. Having identified which aspects of their school's systems and activities are wasteful, they will soon propose the re-design of their school's key systems to reduce its impact on the environment. The 50 best schools will further develop their plans with the help of professional designers. The best designs will be eligible for awards at the Dott Festival in October. If you would like to be considered as one of those designers working with the schools (as a volunteer) please contact project leader Nick Devitt:
How many materials are wasted during the manufacture of a hairdryer? Or a car? Dott and Design and Art Direction (D&AD) have issued a challenge to communication design students: Develop a Stuff-O-Meter' to help us all understand more about the "hidden rucksack" of everyday products. Competitors will design a visual representation of the lifetime use of material resources, from cradle to grave, of a household durable product. The best designs will be presented at the Dott Festival in October. (((Sounds like some kind of "spime dashboard," doesn't it? Hope that project thrivesl!)))
"GOT OPTIMISM? THE WORLD'S LEADING THINKERS SEE GOOD NEWS AHEAD.
While conventional wisdom tells us that things are bad and getting worse, scientists and the science-minded among us see good news in the coming years." (((That's because all 160 of them are looking really, really hard for anything to be cheerful about. Quite a few of them discuss the climate. A lot of them seem to be just waking up to that issue. Not William Calvin, though.)))
(((Okay, so who's Dr. Calvin, and, given that he's a neurologist, how come he knows so much about climate?)))
"The Climate Optimist"
by William Calvin
Professor, The University of Washington School of Medicine; Author, A Brain For All Seasons
Mention global warming at a seasonal social gathering and see what happens, now that skepticism has turned into concern and sorrow. They will assume that you're a pessimist about our prospects. "Not really," I protest. That earns me a quizzical look.
"Wait a minute," she says. "If you're an optimist, why do you look so worried?"
"So you think it's easy, being an optimist?"
Many scientists look worried these days. We've had a steady diet of bad news coming from climate scientists and biologists. To become even a guarded optimist, you have to think hard.
First, I reflected, the history of science and medicine shows that, once you mechanistically understand what's what, you can approach all sorts of seemingly unsolvable problems. I'm optimistic that we will learn how to stabilize climate.
Unfortunately the window of opportunity is closing. Fifty years have now passed since the first unequivocal scientific warnings of an insulating blanket of CO2 forming around the planet. Politicians apparently decided to wait until something big went wrong. (((Politicians probably figured that politically managing the weather and commanding the tides like Canute was not within a politician's realm of expertise. Of course, now that the climate's actually screwed and the seas are literally rising, somebody's kinda gotta. At least the politicians managed Kyoto, which is more than industrialists, or the military, or the intelligentsia ever managed to date.)))
It has. We have already entered the period of consequences. Climate scientists have long been worried about their children's future. Now they are also worried about their own. (((This is some cause for satisfaction, actually: we held our own feet to the fire, and we won't simply export a doom that we created to some hapless generation who had nothing to do with it.)))
Our Faustian bargain over fossil fuels has come due. Dr. Faustus had 24 years of party-now, pay-later – and indeed, it's exactly 24 years since Ronald Reagan axed the U.S. budget for exploring alternative fuels. This led to doubling our use of cheap coal, the worst of the fossil fuels. They're planning, under business as usual, to re-double coal burning by 2030 – even though we can now see the high cost of low price. (((I like it when these science writers wax all literary and start quoting guys like Goethe.)))
The devil's helpers may not have come to take us away, but killer heat waves have started, along with some major complications from global warming. We're already seeing droughts that just won't quit. Deserts keep expanding. Oceans keep acidifying. Greenland keeps melting. Dwindling resources keep triggering genocidal wars with neighbors (think Darfur). Extreme weather keeps trashing the place.
All of them will get worse before they get better. (((But wait! It gets even more optimistic!)))
Worse, tipping points can lead to irreversible demolition derbies. Should another big El Nino occur and last twice as long as in 1983 or 1998, the profound drought could burn down the rain forests in Southeast Asia and the Amazon – and half of all species could go extinct, just within a year or two. (((Do we even have words for a cataclysm like that? Yeah, thanks to Jamais Cascio, we do now!)))
Jamais Cascio's Eschatological Taxonomy