Posted by Big Gav
Technology Review has an update to the story about a new space race to obtain the moon's reserves of Helium 3 for use in fusion reactors. This is pie in the sky stuff for now (wouldn't mass deployment of solar, wind, geothermal and ocean energy systems be a lot cheaper than trying to transport helium back to earth to fuel as yet impractical fusion reactors ?) but it will get the aerospace companies excited...
At the 21st century's start, few would have predicted that by 2007, a second race for the moon would be under way. Yet the signs are that this is now the case. Furthermore, in today's moon race, unlike the one that took place between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the 1960s, a full roster of 21st-century global powers, including China and India, are competing.
Even more surprising is that one reason for much of the interest appears to be plans to mine helium-3--purportedly an ideal fuel for fusion reactors but almost unavailable on Earth--from the moon's surface. NASA's Vision for Space Exploration has U.S. astronauts scheduled to be back on the moon in 2020 and permanently staffing a base there by 2024. While the U.S. space agency has neither announced nor denied any desire to mine helium-3, it has nevertheless placed advocates of mining He3 in influential positions. For its part, Russia claims that the aim of any lunar program of its own--for what it's worth, the rocket corporation Energia recently started blustering, Soviet-style, that it will build a permanent moon base by 2015-2020--will be extracting He3.
The Chinese, too, apparently believe that helium-3 from the moon can enable fusion plants on Earth. This fall, the People's Republic expects to orbit a satellite around the moon and then land an unmanned vehicle there in 2011.
Nor does India intend to be left out. This past spring, its president, A.P.J. Kalam, and its prime minister, Manmohan Singh, made major speeches asserting that, besides constructing giant solar collectors in orbit and on the moon, the world's largest democracy likewise intends to mine He3 from the lunar surface. India's probe, Chandrayaan-1, will take off next year, and ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization, is talking about sending Chandrayaan-2, a surface rover, in 2010 or 2011. Simultaneously, Japan and Germany are also making noises about launching their own moon missions at around that time, and talking up the possibility of mining He3 and bringing it back to fuel fusion-based nuclear reactors on Earth.
Could He3 from the moon truly be a feasible solution to our power needs on Earth? Practical nuclear fusion is nowadays projected to be five decades off--the same prediction that was made at the 1958 Atoms for Peace conference in Brussels. If fusion power's arrival date has remained constantly 50 years away since 1958, why would helium-3 suddenly make fusion power more feasible?
Advocates of He3-based fusion point to the fact that current efforts to develop fusion-based power generation, like the ITER megaproject, use the deuterium-tritium fuel cycle, which is problematical. (See "International Fusion Research.") Deuterium and tritium are both hydrogen isotopes, and when they're fused in a superheated plasma, two nuclei come together to create a helium nucleus--consisting of two protons and two neutrons--and a high-energy neutron. A deuterium-tritium fusion reaction releases 80 percent of its energy in a stream of high-energy neutrons, which are highly destructive for anything they hit, including a reactor's containment vessel. Since tritium is highly radioactive, that makes containment a big problem as structures weaken and need to be replaced. Thus, whatever materials are used in a deuterium-tritium fusion power plant will have to endure serious punishment. And if that's achievable, when that fusion reactor is eventually decommissioned, there will still be a lot of radioactive waste. ...
Technology Review had a recent related article called "India's space ambitions soar" which talked about Indian ambitions to build space based solar collectors to replace depleted fossil fuels (which might be the most ambitious peak oil mitigation program I've seen described so far - though obviously its just as likely to be an excuse for a military entry into space).
As China's star has risen, there's been speculation about whether its expanding space program will trigger a space race with the United States. After all, Shenzhou spacecraft have twice carried taikonauts to orbit and back, and they might in principle support the manned moon mission that the Chinese claim they'll carry out by 2026--and even, maybe, by 2017, one year before NASA now foresees a return to the lunar surface. Still, the next-generation CZ-5 Long March launchers necessary for a manned moon mission by China remain unfunded, and, in general, its space program has so far only repeated decades-old American and Russian achievements.
Meanwhile, attracting far less attention and operating on a far smaller budget, that other rising Asian giant, India, has also been ramping up its space program--and it is developing some novel, promising approaches. This spring, India's then president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam--a colorful scientist-technologist who loomed large from the success of his country's early satellite launch missions, and then led its guided-missile program--laid out (via teleconferencing ) an ambitious vision of India's future space efforts during his speech at a Boston University symposium.
Kalam told the international audience of space experts in Boston that, besides expanding its extensive satellite program, India now plans lunar missions and a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) that takes an innovative approach using a scramjet "hyperplane." Kalam said that India understands that global civilization will deplete earthly fossil fuels in the 21st century. Hence, he said, a "space industrial revolution" will be necessary to exploit the high frontier's resources. Kalam predicted that India will construct giant solar collectors in orbit and on the moon, and will mine helium-3--an incredibly rare fuel on Earth, but one whose unique atomic structure makes power generation from nuclear fusion potentially feasible--from the lunar surface. India's scramjet RLV, Kalam asserted, will provide the "low-cost, fully reusable space transportation" that has previously "denied mankind the benefit of space solar-power stations in geostationary and other orbits." ...
One last article from tech Review, this one a small scale energy efficiency technology - "Cooling Chips with an Ion Breeze".
Electrodes that send a flow of ionized air over the surface of a silicon chip could make the cooling fans in computers and laptops much more effective. Researchers at Purdue University and Intel found that a device that generates an ionic breeze keeps computer chips 25 ºC cooler than fans alone. By enabling the use of smaller fans, the device could lead to more-compact laptops.
As microchips get crowded with more and more components, today's cooling methods will no longer be adequate. Currently, heat is drawn away from chips by metal heat sinks--panels attached to arrays of fins or prongs that maximize heat-dissipating surface area. The fans in a computer cool the heat sinks and blow out the hot air. But air cooling "has been stretched to the limit in its capacity for heat removal," says Suresh Garimella, a mechanical-engineering professor at Purdue. And besides, fans can be bulky and noisy.
The new device is small and can be integrated directly into a computer chip. By placing it at specific "hot spots" on a chip, engineers could enhance the cooling fan's effectiveness in those areas. This could lead to smaller fans that work just as well as current fans, says Garimella, and thus to thinner, smaller laptops. The eventual goal is to develop cooling technologies for small notebooks and handheld computers, says Rajiv Mongia, an Intel research engineer who worked with the Purdue researchers on the new device.
Green Car Congress has an article on a biodiesel and ethanol from algae plant being backed by the people from Imperium Renewables. The project appears to be trying to leverage the New Zealand effort to produce jet fuel from algae.
Imperium Renewables, the Seattle biodiesel producer that opened a 100 million gallon per year biodiesel plant in Grays Harbor County last week, is backing a Tacoma start-up that is developing a process to convert algae into biodiesel and ethanol. The startup, Inventure Chemical, has raised about $1.5 million to continue development on a chemical process that turns algae into biodiesel and ethanol.Imperium has not been shy about experimenting with algae to create biodiesel, especially since its plans to use imported palm oil have been met with criticism from environmentalists. Some believe that cultivating palm oil for energy needs could lead to the destruction of the rain forests.
In addition to the investment in Inventure, Imperium has a partnership with South San Francisco-based Solazyme, which also is attempting to convert algae into biofuels. In its IPO filing earlier this year, Imperium wrote that it would continue to explore “new or improved feedstock sources, such as jatropha, mustard and algae, in an effort to leverage our multi-feedstock capabilities and further reduce our production costs.”
Inventure has developed patent-pending technology that it says can process a variety of algae species, ranging from less than 1 micron to 10 microns, and including salt water and fresh water species and generate biodiesel and ethanol from the same algae mass. Inventure claims that its process generates near the theoretical maximum triglyceride and fatty acid conversion yields to fatty acid methyl or ethyl esters.
Inventure CEO Mark Tegen said that the new capital will be used to continue the work on scaling up the production process, including CO2 sequestering projects. Some resources will also focus on recent advances in processes for algae to jet fuel production.
MIT's Sustainability institute has an article on how Revolving doors can dramatically increase the energy efficiency of buildings.
On average 8x as much air is exhanged when a swing door is opened as opposed to a revolving door. That's 8x as much new air that needs to be heated or cooled and that's why using the revolving door is a great way to reduce energy requirements on campus.
Why should I use the revolving door?
You’ve probably seen the signs around campus saying “Help MIT save energy. Please use the revolving door.” But does it really make any difference? Absolutely. Our estimates show that if everyone used the revolving doors at E25 alone, MIT would save almost $7500 in natural gas amounting to nearly 15 tons of CO2. And that’s just from two of the 29 revolving doors on campus!
How does using the revolving door save energy?
The air that is inside a building has been “conditioned” to make it comfortable for the occupants. We call the equipment that does this “air conditioners” in the summer, but the air heating equipment in use during the winter and ventilation “make-up air” consumed year round is also conditioned air. Energy is required to condition air -- to make hot, moist air cold and dry in the summer and to make cold, dry air warm in the winter. Thus, whenever air is exchanged between inside and outside, air conditioning equipment has to work harder, using more energy.
The SMH reports that Santos are still muttering about exporting LNG from coal seam methane projects in Queensland - "Santos sets sights on LNG exports". Australia has gone from a relatively good position in terms of local gas supplies a year ago (with the proposed gas pipeline from PNG, rising reserves in Bass Strait and lots of coal seam methane more than compensating for declinging production from the Cooper Basin) to a rather less certain situation now, with the loss of the PNG pipeline and the potential for coal seam methane to go offshore instead of servicing the local market. There is probably some scope for resource nationalism to creep into the picture if / when the government starts to consider the medium term supply picture for the eastern seaboard.
SANTOS has forecast that more than half its production by 2020 will be in the higher-margin liquefied natural gas export business. Tired of low but improving domestic gas prices, Santos has set out to capitalise on strong Asian demand and oil parity prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) by gaining exposure to five LNG opportunities. They are in addition to the group's 11.4 per cent stake in the existing Bayu-Undan project. ...
The most radical of the group's five LNG opportunities is the $5 billion to $7 billion proposal to base an LNG project in Gladstone on coal seam gas, with first production possible in 2014. While the project has its doubters, Mr Ellice-Flint said the group was convinced the project was technically and commercially feasible. He said Santos had been "inundated by potential customers and potential partners" for the project and that $300 million would be spent in 2007-08 on proving up a supporting reserves base.
The group's other LNG opportunities — they all involve monetising contingent gas resources — are Timor/Bonaparte, PNG, Browse Basin and offshore Western Australia.
Meanwhile, gas from the North West Shelf and beyond has always looked destined for export customers, and Woodside has now signed up Tokyo Gas Co and Kansai Electric Co as customers for gas from the Pluto project. The Wall Street Journal also has a report that PetroChina is looking likely to buy gas from Woodside's proposed Browse development.
A MULTI-billion dollar export deal for the sale of Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan has been sealed at a formal signing ceremony in Sydney.
Woodside Petroleum chief executive Don Voelte signed the sale and purchase agreements with representatives of Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric of Japan. The agreement provides for the supply of up to 3.75 million tonnes per annum of LNG to Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric for 15 years, beginning late 2010.
But Woodside today would not put an exact dollar figure on the gas deal, citing client confidentiality. The LNG will be supplied from Woodside's Pluto LNG Project.
The SMH and AllAfrica.com note that Woodside is pulling out of its African projects and exploration efforts in Kenya, Mauritania and Libya to concentrate on Australian gas opportunities.
WOODSIDE plans to pull out of its African oil and gas operations to focus on its aggressive $30 billion-plus growth plans for its West Australian export gas business. The move comes in response to booming global demand for liquefied natural gas.
Woodside's managing director, Don Voelte, revealed the exit from Africa and the group's ambitious expansion plans at a briefing on the group's $610.1 million profit for the June half - a 16 per cent increase on the $524.4 million posted in the previous corresponding half thanks to increased production and asset sales. "Things are breaking loose for us right now in this industry," Mr Voelte said of the supercharged growth potential in the LNG business. "People are trying to grab large chunks of gas."
Funds freed by the African exit - either by trade sales or a more radical float/demerger option - would go part way to funding the group's ambitious growth plans for its LNG business, which was recently kicked off with an $11.2 billion commitment to develop the Pluto LNG project by the end of 2010.
Development of the group's Browse Basin LNG project and the Sunrise LNG project in the Timor Sea could follow by 2012 and 2014 respectively, enabling Woodside - of which Shell owns 34 per cent - to capture its full share and more of the boom in global demand for LNG.
Asked if Woodside could commit to development of Browse or Sunrise while Pluto was still in construction, an upbeat Mr Voelte said: "Oh yeah, we absolutely plan to. People, don't think this company stops after Pluto. This is the first in a line of opportunities that this company has. "We have an aspiration for the company where we would like to utilise the same contractors from [gas processing] train to train. What our people tell us is that somewhere between 18 and 24 months is the proper staging of these trains, and we clearly see five or six trains out there. We've got the gas on the [North-West] Shelf to do it."
The group's financial capacity to undertake the expansion opportunities without having to raise equity funds is increasingly the subject of debate. Mr Voelte said the company had a plan that said its aspirations "should not be limited" by financial constraints. The African exit is part of that plan. ...
Cost pressures have continued to haunt new projects. Mr Voelte confirmed that the cost of Train 5 expansion of the Woodside-managed North-West Shelf gas project and Woodside's soon-to-produce Otway gas project in Victoria had risen substantially.
Dan at The Daily Reckoning notes that Russian billionaires are also looking for investment opportunities in WA.
Russian bombers are sparring with British fighter jets in the North Atlantic in re-enactment of the bad old days of the Cold War. But here on the other side of the world, Russian steel makers are queuing up for their share of the Pilbara’s iron ore. Welcome to the world of resource nationalism.
Russia’s new military muscle is financed by its energy wealth. Britain’s subdued reaction to the high-profile stunt shows you just how much the UK needs Russian gas. Gazprom, the state-run natural gas producer (Russia owns the world’s largest natural gas reserves) supplies Western Europe with nearly 30% of its gas. The UK has its North Sea production, but that is tailing off. And the country finds itself last in line for Russian gas, geographically speaking.
He who has the gas (and oil) makes the rules, or so it would seem. It used to be he who has the world’s reserve currency and 14 aircraft carrier groups makes the rules. We’re not so sure anymore. When it’s not clear who’s making the rules, or what they are, we recommend cash and precious metals.
The West Australian Business News reports that, “Russian steelmaker Magnitorsk Iron & Steel Works (MMK) has increased its stake in iron ore developer Fortescue Metals Group Ltd (ASX:FMG). MMK, which is the largest enterprise in the Russian steel industry and accounts for 20 per cent of all steel products in the country’s domestic market, has upped its stake in Fortescue to 5.37 per cent.”
Victor Rashnikov is the billionaire businessman who runs Magnintorsk, and he sees something he likes in Fortescue’s Pilbara project, which is set to ship its first ore to China in 2008. Are the Russians and the Chinese playing a new “Great Game” for Australia’s mineral resources? ...
The ABC has a report on the rising price of electricity in Australia - "Consumers warned of power price hikes".
The recent drought has already seen wholesale electricity prices skyrocket, and the flow-on to home electricity bills is likely to continue through into next year, despite rain in some regions. The latest people to feel the impact on their hip pockets will be South Australians. A price hike in SA is expected to be approved within days. Add to that the impact of a national greenhouse emissions trading scheme in the next few years - no matter who wins the next election - and the experts warn that domestic power bills will never be low again.
But one way of dealing with the price volatility of the newly deregulated market is through smart meters, which will tell consumers in real time just how much their electricity is costing, allowing them to adjust their energy use. Coal-fired power is amongst the world's cheapest, but John Boshier from the National Generators Forum says that's about to change. "The days of low-priced electricity in Australia are probably gone," he said.
Greenpeace clean energy campaigner Ben Pearson agrees. "As water becomes more and more scarce in Australia, coal-fired power makes less and less sense," he said.
Nearly half of New South Wales' energy is generated by two power stations in the upper Hunter Valley. Coal turns water into steam that drives the turbines. The steam is later cooled, either in a man-made lake or in the giant Bayswater station in huge cooling towers. It is in giant cooling towers like these that most of the water is used and although it is less than 2 per cent of the national consumption, already the recent drought has had a significant impact, sending the wholesale price of electricity skyrocketing.
In the newly deregulated industry, electricity is bought and sold on a national market where prices fluctuate according to demand. On hot days, the peak demand for air-conditioning has meant Snowy Hydro's power attracts a premium price. But that was before the drought. With dams depleted Snowy Hydro is now struggling to provide any hydro-electricity, and in Brisbane, the Swanbank, Tarong and Tarong North coal-fired power stations have slashed production as water levels in Wivenhoe Dam have approached critical levels.
It's a similar story in Tasmania, where the dams are empty too. Instead of exporting power to the mainland, it's now importing it.
Mr Boshier says the effect on the electricity system is unprecedented. "I think the impact has been mainly on price, and what's happened is that prices have become very volatile while the period of the drought has been on," he said. "You're paying over double what you paid this time last year." He says that jump in wholesale electricity price is only now beginning to be reflected in household bills. "Several utilities have announced 14 per cent to 16 per cent price increases recently," he said. "The effect of that is that that will flow on for another year or two."
But for some, there is a way around the higher prices. Barry Williams is a typical Sydney householder with the usual electrical appliances. What is different is the smart meter attached to his home. It charges him different rates for his power across the day. A monitor tells him exactly how much electricity he's using and how much it costs.
"When we've got a heater on you'll see my consumption will go up quite dramatically," he said. "Not only has it changed our behaviour of when we use appliances, but over the last eight months I've probably halved my electricity costs." Mr Williams says he gets a much cheaper tariff for the shoulder and off peak times but pays more during peak times, and the system gives him an incentive to keep most appliances switched off.
Meters for Victorians
In Victoria, the meters will soon become compulsory, replacing what Energy Minister Peter Batchelor describes as "100-year-old technology". "We're going to roll out over a four-year period in excess of 2.4 million new meters in each home and business right across the state," he said. But across the border, South Australian Energy Minister Pat Conlon is scathing about their use. "If you want a policy outcome where we kill the elderly in droves during heat waves, this is what you do," he said.
Mr Conlon believes charging extremely high prices for using appliances like air conditioners at times of peak demand will only punish poor people. "Anyone who will switch off will be low-income people. In South Australia, a large number of those are the elderly," he said. "I don't think anyone wants a policy that during very high temperatures convinces older people to turn their air-conditioning off. That would be extremely dangerous."
Mr Batchelor disagrees. "That's nonsense. In Victoria, we no longer believe that the earth is flat," he said. "I envisage that once the smart meter roll-out has been completed there'll be a range of pricing packages that will include time-of-day pricing. But I also think the retailers will continue with the traditional flat rate charging for those that don't want to avail themselves of this opportunity."
For Ben Pearson of Greenpeace, anything that makes consumers more aware of their carbon footprint is of benefit. "Smart meters are a good idea - they help people understand that the appliances around their house do use energy and greenhouse energy," he said. "Our modern lives are quite energy-intensive." And that's certainly the view of Barry Williams, who has nothing but praise for the new meter and the money it has saved him. "It's easy to do when you've got this sort of technology. You can see what your usage is and you can make instantaneous savings," he said.
Jeremy Leggett in the SMH notes that as the price of dirty coal fired power increases, the cost of solar power is falling.
What are hot, good-looking, born in Australia and about to make a lot of people very rich in China? Answer: many of the solar cells in production today. The solar photovoltaics business is one of the fastest-growing global industries. Over the past two years many billions of investment dollars have flowed into it.
Why is this subject important? At root, because human society has to conduct a managed retreat from the use of coal to power economies. If we want our economies to remain intact, much less to prosper, we have to leave most of the black stuff in the ground, along with a good deal of oil and gas. To do that, we need to mobilise - as though for war - the family of clean energy sources of which solar is an important member. Since Australia is a major producer and exporter of coal and because Australia has some of the finest solar photovoltaics research teams in the world this is a conflation of topics that ought to be high on Australia's list of national security concerns.
Why the need to turn our backs on coal? Climate scientists in government and universities run simulations of future climate that almost without exception show a sobering piece of arithmetic. If we are to avoid tipping the planet over the widely accepted danger threshold of 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide, we can afford to burn fossil fuels only in a quantity measured in the low hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon. Industry estimates suggest that using the remaining oil deposits alone would exceed this figure, if we include the unconventional sources such as tar sands. As for coal deposits, the energy industry suggests they are measured in thousands of billions of tonnes.
Even if we believe that fossil fuel proponents tend to exaggerate their estimates of the size of deposits, it is clear that the majority of remaining coal has to stay in the ground if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. ...
The manufacturing costs of solar cells are coming down nearly 20 per cent every time the global industry doubles in capacity, and that is happening every two years. Solar photovoltaics manufacturing costs are cheaper today than retail electricity in some markets, and by 2010 will be cheaper than today's electricity in most developed country markets. Meanwhile, of course, the price of polluting electricity is on the way up. As a result, when the installed price for solar electricity is cheaper than the retail electricity price in most places in the world a mass market for solar will emerge, and it will no longer be dependent on the kind of far-sighted governmental market enablement that is driving the fast growth of the industry today. People will be amazed at how rapidly solar and its sister low-carbon technologies can invade traditional energy markets at that point. Watch where the investment money is going today to see the speed with which people are twigging to this. The sister technologies to solar are taking off too, and they will include storage technologies and - via plug-in hybrids - transport technologies.
The future can be bright. However, the jury is very much out on whether we are collectively smart enough to fashion it so.
Neal Dikerman at Cleantech Blog has a few notes about the past and future of the solar power industry.
I saw a news article recently on the space walk to do repair and relocation on solar photovoltaic array on the International Space Station.
It reminded me to keep in perspective a bit of energy history. The US basically invented the solar industry to help power the space race. And the industry grew out of that to become a possible solution in the first energy crisis (though still way too early and way too expensive at the time). And we helped keep the industry alive post energy crisis with our off grid market and federal R&D funding.
Now that costs have fallen precipitously, and a wide range of major companies from Sharp and BP to Applied Materials and IBM are in the business to drive costs to the magical grid parity (Cleantech Blog has blogged about this numerous times), it is disappointing to see that the US leadership has fallen victim to stronger government support in newer national entrants like Japan and Germany (which combined have a solar market some 7x larger than ours) who major subsidy programs in place roughly 15 and 5 years ago respectively.
I think it is fair to say that we are not going to regain our leadership in the crystalline silicon end of the business, though perhaps we can make a dent. So perhaps we must look to the growth of thin film technology for our leadership. But there are bright spots on that front...
The Wikiscanner event of recent weeks managed to ensare the Rodent's own government department, with the SMH reporting on some bizarre conspiracy theorising emerging from the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet along with the predictable white-washing of history type stuff. One day most people will understand enough basic information security principles to avoid these types of glaring embarrassments but in the meantime its enjoyable seeing the searchlight shining on some of these despicable creatures.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard's staff were Friday accused of editing entries in the online Wikipedia to remove potentially damaging details. A spokesman for the prime minister said Howard had never asked staff to remove unfavourable comments from the website, which allows anyone to make contributions.
But according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, scores of edits were made by employees at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet -- including the removal of a reference to Treasurer Peter Costello as "Captain Smirk". On Howard's controversial policy of mandatory detention for illegal asylum-seekers, an employee inserted the word "allegedly" into a statement saying immigration detainees were subject to inhumane conditions.
The 126 changes which came from Howard's department, tracked using a new website which reveals the digital fingerprint of those who edit Wikipedia, mostly had nothing to do with the government. Additions to various Wikipedia entries made using government computers included "Freemasonry is the work of Satan", "Mormonism is the work of Satan" and "Jesus is god", the paper said.
The new website, WikiScanner, also identified the Department of Defence as behind more than 5,000 changes to entries on the online encyclopedia.
Defence said Friday it would block staff from editing Wikipedia after they made changes ranging from correcting information about the Australian military to removing negative comments about Howard's Liberal Party.
The SMH also reports that the Greens have proposed keeping George Bush in a cage during his visit in order to protect him, instead of embarking on the outrageously expensive exercise that is currently proposed of caging the inhabitants of the city.
A GIANT banner saying "Cage Bush. Not Sydney" could be slung from the top of Town Hall, under a proposal to be voted on by the City of Sydney tonight.
The Deputy Lord Mayor, Chris Harris, from the Greens, has called on councillors to support his motion calling for such a banner, to take a stand against crackdowns on protest at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next month. "As a city councillor, I am appalled that we are allowing our government to gate off our city from the people who live, work and pay rates here," he said. "That we would spend $600,000 on a water cannon to be used against our citizens should they exercise their democratic right to demonstrate. That we have converted 31 State Transit buses into mobile holding cells, and that during the APEC summit it will cost the city of Sydney hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity that we will never recover. While I agree that we should do all we can to protect visiting leaders, it should never be at the expense of the community's democratic rights or the economic wellbeing of our businesses and workers."
Erecting a cage around the US President, George Bush, would ensure his safety without disrupting Sydney, he said. Cr Harris is asking council to "take a stand for its citizens by demonstrating its disapproval of the lockdown of Sydney and the loss of the democratic rights of its citizens by erecting a banner on the Town Hall of Sydney that says 'Cage Bush. Not Sydney"'.
I was somewhat surprised to see Robert Fisk getting quoted in The Australian today, with his latest column pondering a few of the surprisingly large number of inconsistencies and coincidences surrounding the events of Septmeber 11.
Each time I lecture abroad on the Middle East, there is always someone in the audience – just one – whom I call the "raver". Apologies here to all the men and women who come to my talks with bright and pertinent questions – often quite humbling ones for me as a journalist – and which show that they understand the Middle East tragedy a lot better than the journalists who report it. But the "raver" is real. He has turned up in corporeal form in Stockholm and in Oxford, in Sao Paulo and in Yerevan, in Cairo, in Los Angeles and, in female form, in Barcelona. No matter the country, there will always be a "raver".
His – or her – question goes like this. Why, if you believe you're a free journalist, don't you report what you really know about 9/11? Why don't you tell the truth – that the Bush administration (or the CIA or Mossad, you name it) blew up the twin towers? Why don't you reveal the secrets behind 9/11? The assumption in each case is that Fisk knows – that Fisk has an absolute concrete, copper-bottomed fact-filled desk containing final proof of what "all the world knows" (that usually is the phrase) – who destroyed the twin towers. Sometimes the "raver" is clearly distressed. One man in Cork screamed his question at me, and then – the moment I suggested that his version of the plot was a bit odd – left the hall, shouting abuse and kicking over chairs.
Usually, I have tried to tell the "truth"; that while there are unanswered questions about 9/11, I am the Middle East correspondent of The Independent, not the conspiracy correspondent; that I have quite enough real plots on my hands in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, etc, to worry about imaginary ones in Manhattan. My final argument – a clincher, in my view – is that the Bush administration has screwed up everything – militarily, politically diplomatically – it has tried to do in the Middle East; so how on earth could it successfully bring off the international crimes against humanity in the United States on 11 September 2001?
Well, I still hold to that view. Any military which can claim – as the Americans did two days ago – that al-Qa'ida is on the run is not capable of carrying out anything on the scale of 9/11. "We disrupted al-Qa'ida, causing them to run," Colonel David Sutherland said of the preposterously code-named "Operation Lightning Hammer" in Iraq's Diyala province. "Their fear of facing our forces proves the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them." And more of the same, all of it untrue.
Within hours, al-Qa'ida attacked Baquba in battalion strength and slaughtered all the local sheikhs who had thrown in their hand with the Americans. It reminds me of Vietnam, the war which George Bush watched from the skies over Texas – which may account for why he this week mixed up the end of the Vietnam war with the genocide in a different country called Cambodia, whose population was eventually rescued by the same Vietnamese whom Mr Bush's more courageous colleagues had been fighting all along.
But – here we go. I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It's not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93's debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I'm not talking about the crazed "research" of David Icke's Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster – which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.
I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820C under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin towers – whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480C – would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower – the so-called World Trade Centre Building 7 (or the Salmon Brothers Building) – which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5.20pm on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyse the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering – very definitely not in the "raver" bracket – are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be "fraudulent or deceptive".
Journalistically, there were many odd things about 9/11. Initial reports of reporters that they heard "explosions" in the towers – which could well have been the beams cracking – are easy to dismiss. Less so the report that the body of a female air crew member was found in a Manhattan street with her hands bound. OK, so let's claim that was just hearsay reporting at the time, just as the CIA's list of Arab suicide-hijackers, which included three men who were – and still are – very much alive and living in the Middle East, was an initial intelligence error.
But what about the weird letter allegedly written by Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian hijacker-murderer with the spooky face, whose "Islamic" advice to his gruesome comrades – released by the CIA – mystified every Muslim friend I know in the Middle East? Atta mentioned his family – which no Muslim, however ill-taught, would be likely to include in such a prayer. He reminds his comrades-in-murder to say the first Muslim prayer of the day and then goes on to quote from it. But no Muslim would need such a reminder – let alone expect the text of the "Fajr" prayer to be included in Atta's letter.
Let me repeat. I am not a conspiracy theorist. Spare me the ravers. Spare me the plots. But like everyone else, I would like to know the full story of 9/11, not least because it was the trigger for the whole lunatic, meretricious "war on terror" which has led us to disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan and in much of the Middle East. Bush's happily departed adviser Karl Rove once said that "we're an empire now – we create our own reality". True? At least tell us. It would stop people kicking over chairs.
Forbes has a startling report on a US Navy whistleblower who has had a rather unhappy experience after reporting illegal gun sales in Iraq to the FBI. Cryptogon reckons this is just part of the exercising of the "Salvador Option".
One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.
For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods. There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.
He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers - all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees. The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co. "It was a Wal-Mart for guns," he says. "It was all illegal and everyone knew it."
So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn't know whom to trust in Iraq. For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.
Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics "reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."
Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country's oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.
Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.
"If you do it, you will be destroyed," said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. "Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, `Should I do this?' And my answer is no. If they're married, they'll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything," Weaver said.
They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms. "The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know," said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. "But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, 'Don't blow the whistle or we'll make your life hell.' "It's heartbreaking," Daley said. "There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It's a disgrace. Their lives get ruined."
Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR. Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career. People she has known for years no longer speak to her.
Now I know the whole tinfoil thing annoys some of you and causes others to stop reading entirely (as well as keeping some unwelcome guests reading a whole lot of energy news that they'd be better off paying attention to and doing something positive about), but as Rob McLeod noted recently, some of this stuff is both true and can be proved to be so (although for most of it the truth will probably remain elusive for the rest of eternity), with the sorry tale of undercover Quebec police trying to cause a riot at the recent NAU / SPP meeting in Canada and getting caught in the act by the (non violent) protestors - and then exposed on YouTube in an interesting example of the potential of the Participatory Panopticon.
There is a resource nationalism angle at work here, with the protesters complaining that Canada's energy and water resources are being siphoned off to the US as a result of the NAFTA agreement and its successors.
While you're never going to see me at a protest and I'm frequently ambivalent about a lot of topics that get the left worked up enough to get out marching with placards, it seems to me that in a democratic society everyone gets to have their say and should be allowed to do so as long as they aren't committing violent acts. Confining protesters to "free speech zones" and (even worse) staging incidents that result in riots and mass arrests if the protesters aren't smart enough to snuff them out early on would seem to be in opposition to our traditions and rights as citizens - at the end of the day neoconservatism is fundamentally at odds with traditional western liberal democracy and the sooner the bulk of the population recognises this the better off we will be....
Police came under fire Tuesday, when a video surfaced on YouTube that appeared to show three plainclothes police officers at the protest with bandanas across their faces. One of the men was carrying a rock. In the video, protest organizers in suits order the men to put the rock down, call them police instigators and try unsuccessfully to unmask them.
Police-issued boots identified fake protesters
Protest organizers on Wednesday played the video for the media at a news conference in Ottawa. One of the organizers, union leader Dave Coles, explained that one reason protesters knew the men's true identities was because they were wearing the same boots as other police officers.
Coles said on Wednesday that the only thing he didn't know was whether the men were Quebec police, RCMP or hired security officers. "[Our union] believes that the security force at Montebello were ordered to infiltrate our peaceful assembly and provoke incidents," said Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union. ...
Concern Canada losing control of its energy
The protest at Montebello occurred outside the Fairmont Le Château Montebello hotel, near Ottawa, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The summit about border security, free trade and other issues began Monday and finished Tuesday. Protesters said they gathered to voice their concern about Canada losing control of its energy and water resources and borders. Others decried what they called a high level of secrecy at the summit.
Boing Boing also has a post on this story.
Following up on a previous BoingBoing post, here's a snip from CBC news:Quebec provincial police admitted Thursday that their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators during the protests at the North American leaders summit in Montebello, Quebec.
Decius adds,Police in Quebec have admitted that the people in the YouTube video linked yesterday on BoingBoing were their officers. However, the press release says "Les policiers ont été repérés par les manifestants au moment où ils ont refusé de lancer des projectiles." In english thats: "The police officers were located by the demonstrators when they refused to launch projectiles." Now that version of events is very clearly contradicted by the video, which shows demonstrators telling the officers to put the rock down, not to launch it.
The rabble rousers at Business Week note that Main Street Is Fed Up with neoconservative rule.
When I called my 87-year-old father in Wichita a few days back to commiserate about the recent financial turmoil, I had no clue what I was in for. "How about that crazy market?" was my opening gambit. "It's terrible," he said bitterly. "I think we need a revolution in this country."
A revolution? This was my father, a lifelong Republican until he quit a couple of years ago over Iraq and global warming. He had never staked out a position to my left. "All these excesses, the hedge funds, private equity, and these CEOs who pay themselves incredible salaries—the greed is outrageous," he said. "And we all pay the price."
The problems on Wall Street are making folks on Main Street plenty angry—even those who haven't bought a new home or refinanced a mortgage in recent years. Regular investors feel as if they, too, are victims of the predatory lenders and gluttonous financiers whose actions are wreaking havoc on the markets. It doesn't help matters that the recent moves by the Federal Reserve will largely benefit big institutions such as Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC ), the nation's largest mortgage lender.
* Clean Break - "Green Buildings" not as costly as many think
* The Energy Blog - GM May Make 60,000 `Volt' Electric Cars in First Year
* The Energy Blog - Toray Develops Carbon Fiber Plastics for Auto Platforms
* After Gutenberg - Solar Energy and Water Conservation. Solar power doesn't need massive amoiunts of water for cooling, unlike coal and nuclear.
* After Gutenberg - Take a chance; What could it hurt?. Coal to liquids is evil.
* After Gutenberg - Okeelanta bagasse
* Groovy Green - Preparing Australian Agriculture for Rising Energy Costs and Water Insecurity
* Boing Boing - US spy chief: every time you debate spying laws, Americans die
* The Register - The Dream Police
* SlashDot - Skype may be NSA spyware. Wild speculation but an interesting idea.
* Reason - Death By Altruism. "Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. 'America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we're drawing all the world's worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.'"
* AP - War Analogy Strikes Nerve In Vietnam
* Forbes - Anti-American Sentiment Grows Worldwide
* Word of the day - Agflation
* Lew Rockwell - Gen. Petraeus and Modern Day Praetorians
* Prison Planet - Aaron Russo Passes Away
* Velcro City Tourist Board - Science Fiction And Politics: Ken Macleod