Trouble Brewing  

Posted by Big Gav

PeakOil.com notes that there is trouble brewing in Germany as beer prices rise because of crop substitution for biofuel production. Biofuels aren't as evil as coal but a lot of hungry and thirsty people may not see it that way - especially cranky beer lovers...

Like most Germans, brewer Helmut Erdmann is all for the fight against global warming. Unless, that is, it drives up the price of his beer.

And that is exactly what is happening to Erdmann and other German brewers as farmers abandon barley - the raw material for the national beverage - to plant other, subsidized crops for sale as environmentally-friendly biofuels.

«Beer prices are a very emotional issue in Germany - people expect it to be as inexpensive as other basic staples like eggs, bread and milk,» said Erdmann, director of the family-owned Ayinger brewery in Aying, an idyllic village nestled between Bavaria's rolling hills and dark forests with the towering Alps on the far horizon.

«With the current spike in barley prices, we won't be able to avoid a price increase of our beer any longer,» Erdmann said, stopping to sample his freshly brewed, golden product right from the steel fermentation kettle.

In the last two years, the price of barley has doubled to ¤200 (US$271) from ¤102 per ton as farmers plant more crops such as rapeseed and corn that can be turned into ethanol or bio-diesel, a fuel made from vegetable oil.

As a result, the price for the key ingredient in beer - barley malt, or barley that has been allowed to germinate - has soared by more than 40 percent, to around ¤385 (US$522) per ton from around ¤270 a ton two years ago, according to the Bavarian Brewers' Association.

For Germany's beer drinkers that is scary news: their beloved beverage - often dubbed 'liquid bread' because it is a basic ingredient of many Germans' daily diet - is getting more expensive. While some breweries have already raised prices, many others will follow later this year, brewers say.

George Monbiot is wondering, "What if the Oil Runs Out?".
Motorised transport is a form of time travel. We mine the compressed time of other eras – the infinitisimal rain of plankton onto the ocean floor, the settlement of trees in anoxic swamps – and use it to accelerate through our own. Every tank of fuel contains thousands of years of accretions. Our future depends on the expectation that the past will never be exhausted.

The energy white paper the government published last week talks of new taxes, new markets, new research, new incentives. Anyone reading the chapter on transport would be forgiven for believing that the government has the problem under control: as a result of its measures, we are likely to see a great reduction in our use of geological time.

But buried in another chapter, and so far missed by all journalists, there is a remarkable admission. “The majority (66%) of UK oil demand is derived from demand for transport fuels which is expected to increase modestly over the medium term.” To increase? If the government is implementing all the exciting measures the transport chapter contains, how on earth could our use of fuel increase?

You won’t find the answer in the white paper. It mysteriously forgets to mention that the government intends to build another 4000km of trunk roads and to double the capacity of our airports by 2030. Partly to permit this growth in transport, another white paper, also published last week, proposes a massive deregulation of planning law. There is no discussion in either paper of the implications of these programmes for energy use or climate change. There are plainly two governments of the United Kingdom: one determined to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel; the other determined to raise it.

What happens beyond the medium term is anyone’s guess. But it should be pretty obvious that more roads and more airports will mean that our rising use of transport fuel becomes hard-wired: the future health of the economy will depend on it. So the government must have examined this question. If our economic lives depend on continued growth in the consumption of transport fuels, it must first have determined that such growth is possible. Mustn’t it? ...

I should point out that peak oil is not like climate change: there is no consensus among scientists about when it is likely to happen. I cannot state with confidence that the IEA’s assessment is wrong. But a report published in February by the US department of energy shows how dangerous it is to rely on a single source. “Almost all forecasts are based on differing, often dramatically differing geological assumptions … Because of the large uncertainties, it is difficult to define an overriding geological basis for accepting or rejecting any of the forecasts.”

The report then publishes a long list of estimates by senior figures in and around the oil industry of a possible date for peak oil. They vary greatly, but many are clustered between 2010 and 2020. Another report, also commissioned by the US department of energy, shows that “without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.” The disasters invoked by the peaking of global oil supplies can be avoided only with a “crash progamme” beginning 20 years before it occurs. If some of the estimates in the department of energy’s report are correct, it is already too late.

The IEA believes that this crisis will be averted by opening new fields and using unconventional oil. But these cause environmental disasters of their own. Around half the new discoveries the agency expects over the next 25 years will take place in the Arctic or in the very deep sea (between 2000 and 4000 metres). In either case, a major oil spill, in such slow and fragile ecosystems, would be catastrophic. Mining unconventional oil – such as the tar sands in Canada or the kerogen shales in the US - produces far more carbon dioxide than drilling for ordinary petroleum. It also uses and pollutes great volumes of freshwater, and wrecks thousands of acres of pristine land. “In the long-term future,” the IEA says, “non-conventional, heavy oils may well become the norm rather than the exception.” If our future growth relies on these resources, we commit ourselves to ever-growing environmental impacts.

We don’t need to invoke peak oil to produce an argument for cutting our use of transport fuel. But you might have imagined that the government would have shown just a little curiosity about whether or not its transport programme will bring the economy crashing down.

The SMH reports Indonesia is threatening to seize control of undeveloped oil fields in the country. Its these sorts of stories about undeveloped fields in places Indonesia and Iran (plus "undiscovered" fields in Iraq and Libya and uncertainty about Russian reserves) that make me rather wary of predictions of imminent peak oil - clearly we aren't currently facing geological limits on how much oil is being produced right now, but political limits.
Indonesia is considering revoking licences of oil companies that fail to start developing oil and gas fields within ten years, a senior government official said on Monday. Indonesia, OPEC's second-smallest producer, has been offering new exploration rights and financial incentives for oilfields in a bid to stem a steady decline in production as the country has failed to tap new oilfields fast enough to meet domestic demand.

"We will see the contracts. If the companies do not meet their commitments on exploration after the 10-year period, we will revoke their licences," the oil and gas director general, Luluk Sumiarso, told Reuters by phone. He said the government would consider problems facing oil firms before taking a decision.

The EcoLibertarian points to a recent Oil Drum column on how much nuclear power would be required to process Alberta's tar sands - "Alberta’s oilsands need an energy infrastructure as big as Ontario’s". I came across this one as I was idly wondering today if there was an eco-libertarian movement (eco-socialists, eco-anarchists and eco-fascists are a dime a dozen, but other than the general tone of my rantings and the Viridian movement in general I'd never seen anything suggesting that eco-libertarianism was anything other than a contradiction in terms) - so I was pleasantly surprised to find this guy's blog.
Brian Wang, who blogs at Advanced Nano, has a guest post at The Oil Drum surveying what’s involved in using nuclear reactors, rather than natural gas, to power the vast facilities in Alberta’s oilsands that extract the oil from the sand.

I’m not going to lie to you: it’s extremely technical, and probably needlessly so. But here’s the nut:
If oil prices stay high and we go past peak oil and the prices go higher then it seems that making the nuclear reactors to extract the most oil for other purposes is the way to go. If all current conventional oil in North America had to be replaced with oil from the oilsands that would be about 24 million bpd [barrels per day]. 9 billion barrels per year. If Henuset/AECL/CERI are correct in the 500,000-630,000 bpd estimate [for the extraction work that one nuclear plant can power] then 48 of the 2.2[-gigawatt] twin reactors would be needed for the SAGD extraction process.

Forty-eight plants, 96 actual reactors, to power all the oilsands production if they were to supply all of North America’s oil needs.

So it’s an outside estimate, current production being only about a million barrels a day and even optimistic estimates of expansion reaching only about four million barrels a day in the foreseeable future. At four million barrels a day, we’d be talking about 16 reactors, in a province that currently has none.

Ontario, Canada’s most nuclear-dependent province, has 22 reactors for power-generation, only 16 of them functional and none of them as big as the ones Wang is talking about. The “fleet” has been a nonstop headache of underbudgeted repairs and blown-schedule refuelings for years for the succession of poor suckers who’ve been energy minister in the province, and the taxpayers who pay the bills for the provincial power system.

So anyway, that gives us a sense of the scale of what’d be involved in taking the oilsands nuclear. It’s big.

Speaking of radioactive waste, the pressure on the Aboriginal owners of the Jabiluka uranium deposit is never-ending, with a large array of carpet-baggers itching to help Rio Tinto start digging the place up, in spite of the owners saying they aren't interested.
THE Northern Land Council plans to broker a meeting between Rio Tinto and indigenous owners of Jabiluka, reviving hopes of reopening the $50 billion uranium deposit in the Kakadu National Park. Norman Fry, chief executive of the council, which represents Aboriginal groups in northern Australia, has declined to pre-empt the outcome of the meeting even though the Mirarr traditional owners said last week their approval for a mine was "not forthcoming".

Asked about the possibility of the Mirarr reversing their opposition, Mr Fry said: "We will be sitting down with Rio Tinto and the Mirarr in the not too distant future and that particular issue will be fleshed out." Mr Fry made the comments last Friday on the sidelines of a full council meeting of the NLC at a bush site at Gulkula near Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, but they have not been made public until now.

Mirarr elders last week reacted angrily to comments made in London by Rio's chief executive, Preston Chiaro, that there was good reason to believe Mirarr senior elder Yvonne Margarula would soon say yes to the development of the mine.

The Mirarrs Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation later issued a statement scathing of Rio's comments, which caused the share price of its subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia to fall 5 per cent. Gundjeihmi late last week withdrew from training and cultural development projects with ERA, which also operates the Ranger uranium mine on Mirarr land in Kakadu, 20 kilometres south of the abandoned Jabiluka site.

The pro-nuclear NLC appears certain to try to influence Ms Margarula and other Mirarr to agree to develop Jabiluka, the world's largest known untapped uranium deposit.

The debate about solar vs nuclear power has made it to the letters to the editor section of the Barossa Herald.
Dear Editor,


CONCENTRATING SOLAR POWER

Michael Stuart's letter about concentrating solar power (CSP) ("Solar power is no substitute for nuclear energy", 2007-04-21) contains several errors. For readers not familiar with CSP, this is the simple but effective technique of concentrating sunlight with mirrors to create heat and then using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. Solar heat can be stored in melted salts and in the splitting of ammonia and then recombining it and this turns out to be a very easy and cheap way so that generation of electricity will continue at night and on cloudy days and no additional fossil fuel burning is required. This storage method allows for variable output for peak, medium and base power production at demand.

Far from being inefficient, CSP has huge potential to supply the world with clean electricity. It has been calculated that, if it was covered with CSP plants, an area of hot desert measuring 254 km x 254 km-which is less than 1% of the area of deserts around the world-would generate as much electricity as the world currently consumes. And it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. 90% of the world's population could be supplied from this source.

CSP is much less expensive than suggested in the letter, and costs are falling all the time. US venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems says that CSP is poised for explosive growth because of its low costs. In part this has been brought about by the use of simple cheap flat mirrors and the ammonia storage method developed by Australian scientist Dr David Mills. The 'TRANS-CSP' report, commissioned by the German government, calculates that CSP is likely to become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission.

By contrast, nuclear power is much more expensive than commonly suggested. Figures for the cost of nuclear power normally ignore hidden subsidies such as the costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations and the costs of guarding against terrorist attacks. One of the biggest hidden subsidies is the fact that nuclear power only has to pay a small fraction of the cost of insuring against the costs of a Chernobyl-style accident, or worse. "... in the United States, the Price-Anderson Act limits the nuclear industry's liability in the event of a catastrophic accident to $9.1 billion, which is less than 2% of the $600 billion guaranteed by the Congress. In any case, $600 billion is considered to be a gross underestimate ..." (Helen Caldicott, "Nuclear power is not the answer", p. 32).

Compared with the horrendous pollution problems and risks associated with nuclear power (see www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm), the environmental impacts of CSP are tiny. Since a very small proportion of the world's hot deserts would be needed for CSP, there would be plenty left over for wildlife. Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trec.net.au

Seth Godin has a post on the choice between [More] or [Less].
Many people are arguing for a fundamental change in the way humans interact with the world. This isn't a post about whether or not we need smaller cars, local produce, smaller footprints and less consumption. It's a post about how deeply entrenched the desire for more is.

More has been around for thousands of years. Kings ate more than peasants. Winning armies had more weapons than losing ones. Elizabeth Taylor had more husbands than you.

Car dealers are temples of more. The local Ford dealership lists four different models... by decreasing horsepower. Car magazines feature Bugattis, not Priuses on the cover. Restaurants usually serve more food (and more calories) than a normal person could and should eat.

Is this some sort of character flaw? A defective meme in the system of mankind? Or is it an evil plot dreamed up by marketers?

There's no doubt that marketers amplify this desire, but I'm certain it's been around a lot longer than Jell-O.

One reason that the litter campaign of the 1960s worked so well is that 'not littering' didn't require doing less, it just required enough self control to hold on to your garbage for an hour or two. The achilles heel of the movement to limit carbon is the word 'limit.'

It's a campaign about less, not more. Even worse, there's no orthodoxy. There's argument about whether x or y is a better approach. Argument about how much is enough. As long as there's wiggle room, our desire for more will trump peer pressure to do less. "Fight global warming" is a fine slogan, except it's meaningless. That's like dieters everywhere shouting, "eat less" while they stand in line to get bleu cheese dressing from the salad bar.

As a marketer, my best advice is this: let's figure out how to turn this into a battle to do more, not less. Example one: require all new cars to have, right next to the speedometer, a mileage meter. And put the same number on an LCD display on the rear bumper. Once there's an arms race to see who can have the highest number, we're on the right track.

Jamais at Open The Future notes that earth became an Urban Planet last week. From the point of view of my "cities are the future" slogan, this is a good thing.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007. Remember that date. It's the day the Earth became an urban planet.
Working with United Nations estimates that predict the world will be 51.3 percent urban by 2010, the researchers [demographers from North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia] projected the May 23, 2007, transition day based on the average daily rural and urban population increases from 2005 to 2010. On that day, a predicted global urban population of 3,303,992,253 will exceed that of 3,303,866,404 rural people.

For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. This is, in many ways, the single most important indicator of whether we'll survive this century. Here's why:

Urban centers support people more efficiently than do small towns, villages, and the countryside. This isn't just true environmentally or economically; it's arguably also the case when it comes to the kind of intellectual ferment that drives innovation. New ideas are the sparks coming from the friction between minds -- and you get a lot more friction in the city. Urban growth, over time, makes us all stronger.

Cities require complex support systems, however. Complex infrastructure offers plenty of opportunities for failure, whether via natural disasters or human causation. Isolated failures will happen, and not pose a systemic threat. But repeated -- or un-repaired -- system failures would inevitably drive people out of the cities, by choice or by necessity.

As long as the overall proportion of urban dwellers to rural denizens continues to grow, we can reasonably conclude that human civilization is doing a decent job of maintaining its overall system integrity. If that pattern reverses -- if we start to see the proportion of urban to rural edge back towards rural dominance -- it's time to look for signs that civilization's systems are collapsing.

The APEC Energy meeting is on in Darwin at the moment, with US flunkies avoiding any action on global warming. Meanwhile, Crikey has asked some experts what should a carbon trading scheme look like ? While I far prefer carbon taxes to cap and trade schemes, I would note I could support a scheme which auctions off the permits to all bidders - however handing out pollution rights to existing carbon emitters is anti-competitive in the extreme and punishes new and more efficient competitors. Which is why big government conservatives will adopt these as their next fallback position in their battle to delay action on global warming.
Ian T Dunlop is a former senior executive in the oil, coal and gas industry. He chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on emissions trading from 1998-2000, and was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors from 1997-2001.

The science in my view is saying that climate change starts at 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere, so the objective has to be to stabilise that figure. We’re now at 430ppm, and we're currently increasing at 2ppm per annum, meaning we’ve got ten years -- if we’re lucky -- to turn these emissions down. Australian cannot hit that target on its own, but to play its role in the gobal effort, an Australian emissions trading scheme should aim to:

* Help in contracting annual global carbon emissions from 8GTC today to 3.5 GTC by 2050, a reduction of 55%;
* Reduce Australian emissions by 50% by 2025 and 90% by 2050.
* Using a modified Kyoto Protocol to provide the framework for the contraction (ie, dropping global emissions) and convergence (ie, arrive at an equal per capita carbon allocation for everyone person on the planet) process, and for international emissions trading.
* Meeting the national carbon reduction budget by a system of tradable energy quotas (TEQs) within Australia;
* Negotiating a global Oil Depletion Protocol to allocate available oil equitably between nations, determining national oil descent budgets and providing for international trading;
* Allocating oil domestically via a similar TEQ concept to emissions reduction.

Renee Garner, carbon trading policy expert

The eventual policy will need to take into account a complex range of issues, but here are three of the most crucial elements:

1. Deliver greenhouse gases reductions successfully and efficiently. Environmental integrity is essential. Binding emissions reduction obligations under the scheme must be such that emissions are reduced. The scheme should not provide some emitters with a free lunch, so to speak.

2. It needs to be compatible with international schemes and account for the varying political landscapes it will encounter overseas. Designing the scheme with the ability to link to other international schemes allows for a more frictionless entry into overseas markets in the future.

3. It needs to be economically sound in order to survive the vicissitudes of the global economic market. The amount and allocation of permits under the scheme must be seriously considered -- over-allocation can result in a lower price per permit. Where over-allocation occurs, participants are not compelled to take action to reduce their own emissions more than business as usual.

To come back to the price of carbon, the system needs to be structured so the permits are valuable. If they are not, the bottom of the market could fall out, which will have a dampening effect on investor certainty. Many of these infrastructure projects are long term and have long term investment horizons. Certainty is absolutely necessary in that regard.

Steve Hatfield Dodds, Senior Policy Economist, CSIRO Division of Land and Water.

An Australia emissions trading system needs to balance two competing issues: We need a system that signals to the world and the Australian energy sector that we are serious about taking action, but that we are going to pay particular attention to our trade exposed industries. There’s a reasonable case for providing transitional insulation for aluminium and similar sectors, but that’s quite complicated. The task group’s response to the PM will need to consider that carefully.

The policy recommendations need to prepare Australia for any future engagement with a regional or international carbon trading system, and that relies primarily on having a scheme that bites. That is, a scheme must constrain emissions more than if you didn’t have a scheme at all. This is one of the key messages out of the Stern report. Although we need everybody playing on the same field, we don’t need everybody aiming for the same targets. China’s targets do not apply to the Australian system, but the Australian targets must provide for a meaningful abatement of our emissions. If we start the scheme by signalling we’re not going to cut emissions very much and then apply stricter emissions targets, that would have very large economic costs later on. Getting the balance right initially is crucial.

Then you’ve got criteria for assessing the policy recommendations. This forms the nuts and bolts of the scheme: Do they cover most emissions in Australia? Do they promote least cost abatement? Do they provide long term enough signal to really give business confidence for investment, given that power station last 50 or 60 years? These questions need to be applied to the final report.

The SMH has an article on different wind power options.
Small wind turbines have been attracting a lot of attention recently, especially overseas. In Britain, the Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron, famously attached a micro wind turbine to the chimney of his London home, provoking a furious debate there about whether domestic turbines were of any real value.

There are plenty of turbine kits for sale in Australia. However, Dr Mark Diesendorf, a senior lecturer from the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of NSW, says wind turbines such as Cameron's would be "almost useless" because they are situated in suburban areas where much of the wind is screened by houses, trees or other obstacles.

"There is a fashion in Britain for people to buy these things and stick them on their chimneys, and in most cases it's a complete waste of money," Diesendorf says. "They would get the same amount of energy [savings] by replacing an incandescent lamp with a fluorescent bulb."

However, he says large wind turbines are extremely efficient. They are able to convert more than 45 per cent of the wind that passes through the circle of the blades into energy. He regards the Southern Tablelands, Southern Highlands and parts of the Northern Tablelands as areas with "a lot of potential" for wind farms.

But the smaller turbines that would be used in domestic settings are less efficient and, Diesendorf believes, not especially practical.

"There will be exceptional cases, usually in places on the coast with a lot of sea breeze exposure, but generally speaking there are much more cost-effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the home," he says.

On the far South Coast of NSW - where, happily, it often gets very windy - Steve Garrett, the owner of Pyramid Power, has been installing domestic-sized wind turbines for 21 years. He agrees they are not for everyone but says that during the windier months in his area the small 400-watt wind generators he installs are able to provide about two kilowatt hours a day.

He estimates this is equivalent to one-sixth of the power used by a reasonably energy-efficient house and 7 per cent of the power in a non-energy-efficient house.

Of course, in some months there is little or no wind, so no energy is provided. In addition, Garrett says, most domestic turbines are inefficient because they are not placed at a sufficient height above the building. "You need to get clear air," he says, "so it's more an energy-efficiency flag than an energy-efficiency doer."

Garrett has to prepare a council development application for every wind turbine tower over a certain height, so he recommends that people thinking about installing a wind generator at home check their council's regulations regarding height limits. "And it's a really good idea to talk to your neighbours as well".

Der Spiegel has an article raising the interesting question on some legal turbulence in "who owns the wind ?". I wonder if there is any wind equivalent of the concept of "ancient lights" ?
With a growing number of wind power stations in Germany, a new kind of legal case is rearing its ugly head. The crime: stealing wind.

It's an offense not mentioned in the bible or the statute books. But in a broader sense it is about theft, even when the booty itself is invisible. But it is still a major problem for the German legal system, including a court in Leipzig that is currently hearing a case involving a dispute between the operators of two wind turbine facilities. Who owns the wind?

The parties in the dispute are the owner of a wind farm in Deliztsch in the eastern German state of Saxony and a businessman, who wants to set up a bigger wind farm in the immediate vicinity.

The crux of the case is earnings. When two wind turbines are located too close to one another, one often falls into a slipstream. The propellers in the first wind farm decrease the wind pressure hitting the rotor blades in the second wind farm located in the slipstream. "This wind theft naturally affects profits," Leipzig lawyer Martin Maslaton says, justifying his client's complaint.

This also reduces the amount of electricity that can be produced. According to the plaintiff's own calculations, there has been a 15 percent drop in income. Over the lifespan of a wind farm, that could result in losses of several hundred thousand euros.

Technology Review reports that petrol price web sites see huge increase in visitors as Americans look for the cheapest fuel.
The higher U.S. gasoline prices go, the more money business Web entrepreneur Jason Toews makes. He started an Internet site, GasBuddy.com, in 2000 to track daily gasoline prices using volunteers to e-mail what they find. ''Hardly anybody ever used it,'' Toews, of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, recalled.

By 2004, 1 million people were visiting the site daily, although the numbers dropped when prices went down. But at the pace hits were being recorded Thursday, the site was likely to break its record of 4 million visitors, Toews said. As gasoline prices have risen, so have the hits on his site and another, GasPriceWatch.com. ''We have had to buy more servers and it looks like we will need more,'' he said.

GasBuddy.com offers information from 180 locations in the U.S. and Canada, including every major city. The site said the average price nationally in the U.S. was $3.22 (euro2.39) for a gallon -- nearly 4 liters -- of unleaded gasoline Thursday afternoon, compared with $2.86 a year ago.

Brad Proctor, founder of GasPriceWatch.com in Centerville, Ohio, said his site has added prices for ethanol, biodiesel, truck diesel and ultra-low-sulfur diesel. Hits on his site have doubled. As many eight people log in every second during peak periods, he said.

Dan Gilligan, president of the Arlington, Virginia-based Petroleum Marketers Association of America, said the system is a good idea but warned consumers to remember that if they drive more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) to save a few cents, they are losing money. He also said there is no guarantee the price will be the same when they arrive. ...

The SMH has an article on clear conscience investing.
Investing with a conscience can help save the planet - and be good for the hip pocket. In fact, investors who incorporate environmental and social factors into how they invest tend to do better than those using financial measures alone.

A study by AMP last year showed socially responsible investment (SRI) funds outperformed the Australian stockmarket over one, three and five years. Over five years to March 31 last year, the median-performing SRI fund produced an average annual return of 17.08 per cent compared with 14.83 per cent for the Australian sharemarket, as represented by the S&P/ASX 200 index.

Until recently, the debate was whether it was possible to invest ethically without sacrificing investment returns, Shane Oliver, AMP's chief economist, says. Now, most fund managers recognise the value of investing ethically, he says.

Michael Walsh, a former investment researcher who is now the editor of Ethical Investor magazine, says the AMP study supports academic research that investing ethically leads to better returns.

A study by Citigroup last year found many of Australia's biggest companies will be hard hit by climate change, with coal and oil companies the most at risk, while others, such as alternative-energy providers, are likely to benefit. Walsh says climate change will further cement the place of sustainability issues in the "normal" investment process.

Bruce Sterling points to an article on the ongoing conflict between humans and rodents - "Florida Tries to Wipe Out Cat-Sized African Rats". Just wait until the man sized ones arrive. Bruce also notes that the Book of a Blog is a "Blook".
Deep in the heart of the Florida Keys, wildlife officials are laying bait laced with poison to try to wipe out a colony of enormous African rats that could threaten crops and other animals.

US federal and state officials are beginning the final phase of a two-year project to eradicate the Gambian pouched rats, which can grow to the size of a cat and began reproducing in the remote area about eight years ago.

"This is the only place in the United States where this is occurring," said Gary Witmer, a biologist with the US Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado.

"They don't belong here and they need to be controlled." A former exotic pet breeder, living in a small house, bred the species and allowed the critters to escape....

Digby is pondering the politics of funding the Iraq occupation.
ou see, the Pentagon is so strapped for cash --- every single year --- that they have to come begging for more money just to put shoes on the troops' feet. They do this on purpose so they don't have to cut any of that juicy delicious Military Industrial Complex pork. We know this. It's on the record, easily found in 30 seconds worth of Googling. But because of this absurdly cryptic, symbolic way we have of communicating in this country now, not to mention the ownership of our politics by big money interests, we aren't even allowed to bring it up. The yearly "supplemental" battle is really just the latest administration blackmail demand for more taxpayer money for their contributors, with Bush holding a gun to the troops' heads and saying "don't make me do it." We are arguing about a solution for a problem that wouldn't exist if the president didn't create it each and every year.

But that is such an obscure point that it isn't even relevant. Instead of questioning why we are funding anything in this clearly opaque and illegal way, we are stuck in this confusing feed-back loop of PR, marketing and spin, struggling forward to 2008 trying to see through the dirty political water to what is actually going on. It's difficult.

The only thing I know for sure is that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are not going to withdraw from Iraq. They are playing a rough game and would rather see the troops die without bullets and body armor than admit in any way that their occupation is a failure. The Democrats remain somewhat paralyzed in the face of such sociopathic intransigence (who believes Cheney won't pull the trigger?) and the media remain unwilling to report this in any but schoolyard terms. So, the country must debate this under water --- and that makes us feel helpless and panicked as we watch more people dying in this useless ridiculous face saving exercise.

I don't know what we can do other than just keep building, building, building the pressure until it's unthinkable for Republicans to win their next election supporting this "war." Making the argument falls mainly on us, the activists and the grassroots --- and we are going to take a beating from the media for our trouble. Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll be able to come up for air in 2008.

How we fix the intellectual crisis is another problem and don't have the faintest idea how to do it. I just got Gore's new book. Perhaps it has some pointers.

According to the troops themselves, the best way to support them is to let them go home. I wonder how they would feel if you told them they need to stay another 30 years to control the oil.
Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

“In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place,” he said. “There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought: ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.”

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers — the younger, more recent enlistees in particular — seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in the company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers in this 83-man unit over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

They had seen shadowy militia commanders installed as Iraqi Army officers, they said, had come under increasing attack from roadside bombs — planted within sight of Iraqi Army checkpoints — and had fought against Iraqi soldiers whom they thought were their allies.

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

Richard Dawkins is bemoaning the sinister challenge of cultural relativism, while elsewhere in the Guardian the demise of science itself is being fretted over.
Thirty per cent of physics departments have either been closed or merged in the past five years. What is one to make of the deafening silence of ministers when, last year, the small Sussex chemistry department - a fantastic department to work in, where I stayed for some 37 years and which has housed some 12 fellows of the Royal Society, three Nobel laureates and a Wolf prize winner since it was created in 1962 - was under threat of closure? It was only through the concerted efforts of staff and students that a U-turn occurred.

Does no one in the government care, or is there a hidden agenda? Some government measures, such as those aimed at improving technology transfer and the encouragement of start-ups, have been successful. However, nothing effective has been done by this government, or for that matter the previous one, to improve the situation on the science education front. Indeed, several new measures have exacerbated the problem. The laissez-faire attitude to science education has resulted in a disaster exemplified by the fact that more young people are opting for media studies than physics.

As a new five-storey chemistry building nears completion here at Florida State University (where I was wanted!), the jaws of American colleagues drop with incredulity at news of each successive UK science department closure.

All of this matters because the need for a general population with a satisfactory understanding of science and technology has never been greater. We live in a world economically, socially and culturally dependent on science not only functioning well, but being wisely applied.

Unfortunately, the numbers of young people opting for scientific training has dwindled frighteningly all over the developed world, not just in the UK. It is worth noting that, over decades, the US has been spectacularly successful in making up its homegrown science and technology shortfall by draining first western European scientists, and now eastern European and Asian scientists.

As well as trained engineers and scientists, we desperately need a scientifically literate general population, capable of thinking rationally - and that includes lawyers, businesspeople, farmers, politicians, journalists and athletes. This is vital if we are to secure a sustainable world for our grandchildren.

The facts that a) we use in one year an amount of fossil fuel that took a million years to accumulate, b) we may be on the verge of a climate change catastrophe of global proportions and c) powerful technologies may soon fall into the hands of disturbed individuals with minds riven with those twin cancers of nationalism and religious fanaticism, seem to concern the scientific community a lot more than they do politicians or the media. As my Sussex colleague, the Nobel laureate Sir John Cornforth, has written: "If you are a scientist, you realise before long that if the world is in anyone's hands, it is in yours." ...

Do I think there is any hope for UK? I am really not sure. It is beyond belief that in the 21st century, our prime minister and the Department for Education and Skills are diverting taxpayers' money to faith-based groups intent on propagating culturally divisive dogma that is antagonistic to the secular, enlightened philosophy that created the modern world.

It is a scandal that the present system is enabling a car salesman to divert significant government funds to propagate dogma such as "intelligent design" in our schools. State funds are also being used to support some schools that abuse impressionable young people by brainwashing them into believing that non-believers will burn for all eternity in the fires of hell. This policy is a perfect recipe for the creation of the next generation of homegrown and state-educated suicide bombers.

I think there is every likelihood that the lack of scientifically educated and aware young people in the UK will result in ever poorer performance on a global scale, and a takeover by the next generation of young Chinese and Indians, ravenous for the scientific knowledge that will free them from the shackles of present poverty levels. They are being actively encouraged by their governments, who understand that the future lies in a scientific education based on doubt and questioning, rather than on belief.

It is truly disturbing that a well-funded cohort of religious groups - aided, abetted and condoned by the Labour government - is undermining our science education. If they achieve any more success in their subversion of the intrinsic secular safeguards embodied in our democratic institutions and our educational system, there can be no doubt there is major trouble ahead. So my final message is: "Do Panic!"

I'm not sure if I should stick this right after a piece on the demise of science, but here's one for free energy buffs - "Florida Man Invents Machine To Turn Water Into Fire". Video here.
A Florida man may have accidentally invented a machine that could solve the gasoline and energy crisis plaguing the U.S.

Sanibel Island resident John Kanzius is a former broadcast executive from Pennsylvania who wondered if his background in physics and radio could come in handy in treating the disease from which he suffers: cancer.

Kanzius, 63, invented a machine that emits radio waves in an attempt to kill cancerous cells while leaving normal cells intact. While testing his machine, he noticed that his invention had other unexpected abilities.

Filling a test tube with salt water from a canal in his back yard, Kanzius placed the tube and a paper towel in the machine and turned it on. Suddenly, the paper towel ignited, lighting up the tube like it was a wax candle.

"Pretty neat, huh?" Kanzius asked WPBF's Jon Shainman.

Kanzius performed the experiment without the paper towel and got the same result -- the saltwater was actually burning.

3 comments

Anonymous   says 10:58 AM

The UK Ministers chanelling money to "faith based" (I think code word for christian literal interpreters of the bible) are acting completely rationally. Having identified that a small amount of pork seems to bring such loyalty, and the consequences are not immediate and directed at them, these glorious managers bask in the adulation of this interest group... and collect their cheques.

Dawkins is wasting his time with his aethiestic campaign. He can not connect with these people. He gets it wrong by attacking "faith". It is literal narrowly legalistic and absolute thinking that is the problem. Not faith or relativism. In the Guardian story, Rees is the wise man. Dawkins is the zeolot.

On a tangent to this, locally the Mad Monk and others in cabinet have been spouting off about the supposed Judeo - Christian "tradition" of Australian society, which pisses me off. This conveniently drops off the Greco - Roman traditions that the early christian church wrapped themselves around. I contend that G-R philosophy was more important then J-C legalism in shaping "western thought". At least until the Italians got hold of the latest (at the time) Moslem text books ;-)

SP

"Far from being inefficient, CSP has huge potential to supply the world with clean electricity. It has been calculated that, if it was covered with CSP plants, an area of hot desert measuring 254 km x 254 km-which is less than 1% of the area of deserts around the world-would generate as much electricity as the world currently consumes.

Sounds good.

When do we get started?

SP - Dawkins isn't going to convince anyone but I find him entertaining at times.

PVT - I've been blathering away about CSP for years (Google "Deserts of gold" or "vinod khosla earth wind fire" for some examples). Good places to start - Australian desert, Nevada desert, Sahara desert, Persian gulf deserts...

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