Green Dreams  

Posted by Big Gav

National Geographic has an excellent feature on biofuels this month called "Green Dreams" (much longer than the excerpt below).

Producing fuel from corn and other crops could be good for the planet–if only the process didn't take a significant environmental toll. New breakthroughs could make a difference.

When Dario Franchitti steered his sleek, 670-horsepower, orange-and-black Indy car to victory at this year's Indianapolis 500, the ebullient Scotsman chalked up an odd footnote in sports history. He became the first driver ever to win the iconic American auto race on pure ethanol–the gin-clear, high-octane corn hooch that supporters from midwestern farmers to high-ranking politicians hope will soon replace gasoline as America's favorite motor fuel.

Indy's switch back to the old bootlegger's friend is just one indicator of the mad rush to biofuels, homegrown gasoline and diesel substitutes made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane. Proponents say such renewable fuels could light a fire under our moribund rural economy, help extract us from our sticky dependence on the Middle East, and–best of all–cut our ballooning emissions of carbon dioxide. Unlike the ancient carbon unlocked by the burning of fossil fuels, which is driving up Earth's thermostat by the minute, the carbon in biofuels comes from the atmosphere, captured by plants during the growing season. In theory, burning a tank of ethanol could make driving even an Indy car carbon neutral.

The operative word is "could." Biofuels as currently rendered in the U.S. are doing great things for some farmers and for agricultural giants like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, but little for the environment. Corn requires large doses of herbicide and nitrogen fertilizer and can cause more soil erosion than any other crop. And producing corn ethanol consumes just about as much fossil fuel as the ethanol itself replaces. Biodiesel from soybeans fares only slightly better. Environmentalists also fear that rising prices for both crops will push farmers to plow up some 35 million acres (14 million hectares) of marginal farmland now set aside for soil and wildlife conservation, potentially releasing even more carbon bound in the fallow fields.

The boom has already pushed corn prices to heights not seen in years, spurring U.S. growers to plant the largest crop since World War II. Around a fifth of the harvest will be brewed into ethanol–more than double the amount only five years ago. Yet such is the thirst for gasoline among SUV-loving Americans that even if we turned our entire corn and soybean crops into biofuels, they would replace just 12 percent of our gasoline and a paltry 6 percent of our diesel, while squeezing supplies of corn- and soy-fattened beef, pork, and poultry. Not to mention Corn Flakes.

Still, the prospect of amber waves of home-grown energy crops is too seductive to ignore, especially given the example of Brazil. Thirty years after launching a crash program to replace gasoline with ethanol from sugarcane, Brazil announced last year that thanks to ethanol and rising domestic oil production, it had weaned itself off imported oil. Investors, led by superstar CEOs Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems fame, have bought into the vision, sinking more than 70 billion dollars into renewable energy companies. The U.S. government has ponied up hefty ethanol subsidies, and President Bush has proposed over 200 million dollars for research, with a goal of replacing 15 percent of our projected gasoline use with ethanol and other fuels by 2017.

"We can create ethanol in an incredibly dumb way," says Nathanael Greene, a senior researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But there are many pathways that get us a future full of wildlife, soil carbon, and across-the-board benefits." The key, Greene and others say, is to figure out how to make fuel from plant material other than food: cornstalks, prairie grasses, fast-growing trees, or even algae. That approach, combined with more efficient vehicles and communities, says Greene, "could eliminate our demand for gasoline by 2050." ...

Grist has a look at a new study that claims ethanol and biodiesel may actually boost greenhouse gas emissions.
By all accounts, biofuels deliver startlingly modest reductions in greenhouse gases. In a relatively generous assessment of the environmental benefits of ethanol and biodiesel released last year, University of Minnesota researchers credited corn-based ethanol with 12 percent less net greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline, while finding that soy-based biodiesel emits 41 percent less.

But here's the catch: It takes so much corn to produce a gallon of ethanol, and so much soy to produce a gallon of biodiesel, that the net GHG advantages are likely to be almost nil. The U of Minn researchers write [emphasis mine]:
[I]f one replaced a total of 5 percent of gasoline energy with ethanol energy, greenhouse gas emissions from driving cars would be a bit more than a half percent lower (5 percent times 12 percent).

Whoa. In 2006, U.S. ethanol producers burned through 18 percent of the corn harvest to offset 3 percent of gasoline use. What the Minnesota study is telling us is that we could increase corn ethanol production by two-thirds (to achieve a 5 percent offset) -- burning through 40 percent of the corn crop -- and still only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by just a bit more than a half percent.

By my calculations -- based on 2006 output of 4.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol -- it would take about 8 billion gallons to achieve that 0.5 percent drop in GHG emissions. Ethanol production is subsidized by a dizzying array of public programs; the most direct one is the $0.51 per gallon blender's tax credit for using the stuff.

To gain that razor-thin GHG advantage, the Treasury would be out some $4 billion ($0.51 times 8 billion) per year, just from that one form of public support. This is sound public policy? In a rapidly warming world, dropping $4 billion on corn ethanol seems clinically insane as a strategic use of the public purse.

And -- finally coming to the point of this post -- a new study [PDF] has emerged declaring that even that comically paltry GHG benefit may be spectral. Biofuel use may actually increase GHG emissions. The study, published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, was performed by American, German, and British researchers, and included the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. I have no information on funding.

It claims that biofuel production emits far more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas some 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide, than has normally been assumed. The source is artificial fertilizer, a potent source of nitrogen. When farmers apply it to soil, a certain amount of it -- between 3 percent and 5 percent, according to the study -- enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide. ...

Tyler Hamilton's latest column in the Toronto Star looks at bioplastics and our throw away culture.
There's been a lot of talk of making "green" plastics out of the starch in corn, wheat or rice, not only to wean us from petrochemicals, but also to create plastics that can easily biodegrade through large-scale composting without harming the nearby environment.

It's a tempting idea, but one that's open to some legitimate criticism. For example, we're already seeing bioplastic water bottles (processed from man-made polylactic acid, or PLA) hitting the market as a way for bottled-water companies to put a green spin on what many consider an unethical business – kind of like hybrid SUVs or carbon offsets, both of which exist to ease our consumption guilt. But beyond the question of whether the bottled-water market should exist or not, bottles made out of bioplastic could "contaminate" and ultimately impair the plastic bottle recycling systems currently in place and working.

Dr. Michel Huneault, a scientist at the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Materials Institute, says the best place to use green, biodegradable plastics is in places where recycling isn't an economic and energy-efficient option. "It's not the ultimate goal for everything," said Huneault in a recent interview. "It's for materials we can't recycle."

This brings us back to polystyrene foam. If it could be made from natural, biodegradable materials it's a direction we probably should embrace. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to "foam" PLA, which at the moment is the leading bioplastic on the market.

Huneault may have overcome this problem. In the January 2007 issue of the international journal Polymer, his research team demonstrated a way to blend vegetable starch with PLA, two materials that typically react like oil and water. By doing so, they made it possible to create a variety of new bioplastic blends with unique characteristics for a range of niche applications. "Nobody has ever brought them (starch and PLA) together before," Huneault said. "We're the first to publish that."

Then in the July 2007 issue of Macromolecular Bioscience, the team revealed another breakthrough: development of a bioplastic blend that could be injected with carbon dioxide to create a biodegradable foam.

Huneault figures he'll be able to license his blending approach in about 12 months, perhaps enabling the mass-manufacture of polystyrene cups and packaging that's made out of crops like corn and that biodegrade in weeks, not thousands of years. You might argue that the use of food crops to replace anything made from petrochemicals is a disaster waiting to happen. It will lead to more taco riots in Mexico, drive up feedstock prices in Alberta and take food from the poor to "green up" consumption of the rich.

Caution is in order. Indeed, Huneault said it would be a huge mistake to make biofuels out of corn because demand from transportation clearly threatens world food supplies. He prefers that biofuels be made from the cellulosic material in biomass, such as agricultural residue, wood debris and non-food crops. But green, biodegradable replacements for polystyrene and other plastics used for packaging wouldn't pose such a threat. They would represent a tiny sliver of the overall plastics market, which itself is dwarfed by the fuel market. Besides, using corn to make bio-foam certainly makes more sense than throwing foam cups and containers in the garbage.

"You wouldn't see any change in the price of starch or corn," he said. "I think the market will have to move in this direction."

The Times reports that UK ocean energy company Pelamis is on the crest of a wave in marine power.
A British company will play the lead role in the start-up of the world’s first commercial wave farm this week off PĆ³voa de Varzim, northern Portugal. Pelamis Wave Power, an Edinburgh-based producer of marine power equipment, has supplied three of its wave devices to Babcock & Brown, the developer, which is about to switch on the first stage of an eventual 20MW project, enough to power 13,500 homes. ...

Though initially modest in capacity, the Portuguese project is significant because it goes beyond the prototype or concept-testing that is in progress at other sites in Europe, North America and South Africa. It involves the Portuguese Government rolling out a €1.5 billion (£1 billion) 550MW wave power plan. Costs should fall as investors benefit from the experience gained during the first phase, leading to further generations of more efficient machines and, it is hoped, a competitive technology within ten years.

With its long coastline, Portugal has a potentially strong energy resource on hand and wants to cut its 85 per cent dependency on energy imports by investing in marine power. “We don’t have coal, but we have waves,” Rui Barros, the project manager, said. The plan means that Portugal is likely to be the marine energy sector’s most important sponsor for some time. The country has chosen to alleviate the costs and risks born by newer renewable energy technologies through a guaranteed price for the electricity, paid by utilities.

The renewables obligation certificate (ROC), Britain’s mechanism for encouraging renewables development, has not worked in the same way and has been directed towards the less capital-intensive technologies, leading to the spread of onshore wind farms, for example. Scotland may be well placed to host Britain’s first commercial site. The Scottish Executive has leapfrogged a reform of the ROC scheme that is due to start in 2009 in the rest of Britain and introduced changes in April. ...

ScottishPower, npower and E.ON, the German energy company, are among the utilities interested in wave power. ScottishPower plans to pay for further wave power device-testing in Orkney from next year, while E.ON may buy seven Pelamis devices to use at Wave Hub, a Cornish test centre.

In most of Britain, the sector has had difficulty in gaining acceptance, although the planned restructured ROC system will make a big difference by doubling the incentives for wave power, while also helping to develop investment in a broader range of renewable energy types. Critics argue that it is more expensive than most of those other sources, although Mr Carcas argued that “opening costs are substantially below where wind started 25 years ago” and that wave power is only three or four years behind offshore wind.

TomDispatch has an excellent article from Dilip Hiro on the war in Iraq, telling us something we all should know by now - "It's the Oil, Stupid" (click through for more - lots of links in the article itself). One flaw is that it doesn't mention the history of Iraq's "undiscovered" oil and how that relates to the terms of the oil law the Bushies are pushing so hard for. How is that law coming along anyway - those guys still haven't handed over the loot, have they...
Before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, discussion of Iraqi oil was largely taboo in the American mainstream, while the "No Blood for Oil" signs that dotted antiwar demonstrations were generally derisively dismissed as too simpleminded for serious debate. American officials rarely even mentioned the word "oil" in the same sentence with "Iraq." When President Bush referred to Iraqi oil, he spoke only of preserving that country's "patrimony" for its people, a sentiment he and Great Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasized in a statement they issued that lacked either the words "oil" or "energy" just as Baghdad fell: "We reaffirm our commitment to protect Iraq's natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used only for their benefit."

That May, not long after the President declared "major combat" at an end in Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz did point out the obvious -- that Iraq was a country that "floats on a sea of oil." He also told a Congressional panel: "The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

But his relatively obscure comments, as well as his oil-based miscalculations, passed largely unnoticed in the mainstream. Had Iraq then produced a significant percentage of the globe's toys rather than possessing the planet's third largest oil reserves, the pre-war media would undoubtedly have been chock-a-block full of worried discussions about our children and the coming video drought; on the other hand, that there might have been any significant connections between the motivations of top administration officials planning an invasion and global oil flows or the garrisoning of the oil heartlands of the planet was clearly a laughable thought. It didn't matter that our Vice President, when the CEO of a major energy firm, had worried quite publicly about global energy supplies, that our President had failed in the oil business, and that our national security advisor had once had a Chevron double-hulled oil tanker, the Condoleezza Rice, named in her honor. Now, it turns out that, among the simpleminded was former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan.

Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro, whose newest book Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources, focuses on oil and blood as well as recent the geopolitics of Iraqi oil (pp. 137-148), considers Greenspan's recent oil statement in the context of the historical record. - Tom



How the Bush Administration's Iraqi Oil Grab Went Awry - Greenspan's Oil Claim in Context
By Dilip Hiro

Here is the sentence in The Age of Turbulence, the 531-page memoir of former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, that caused so much turbulence in Washington last week: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Honest and accurate, it had the resonance of the Bill Clinton's election campaign mantra, "It's the economy, stupid." But, finding himself the target of a White House attack -- an administration spokesman labeled his comment, "Georgetown cocktail party analysis" -- Greenspan backtracked under cover of verbose elaboration. None of this, however, made an iota of difference to the facts on the ground.

Here is a prosecutor's brief for the position that "the Iraq War is largely about oil":

The primary evidence indicating that the Bush administration coveted Iraqi oil from the start comes from two diverse but impeccably reliable sources: Paul O'Neill, the Treasury Secretary (2001-2003) under President George W. Bush; and Falah Al Jibury, a well-connected Iraqi-American oil consultant, who had acted as President Ronald Reagan's "back channel" to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88. The secondary evidence is from the material that can be found in such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

According to O'Neill's memoirs, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, written by journalist Ron Suskind and published in 2004, the top item on the agenda of the National Security Council's first meeting after Bush entered the Oval Office was Iraq. That was January 30, 2001, more than seven months before the 9/11 attacks. The next National Security Council (NSC) meeting on February 1st was devoted exclusively to Iraq.

Advocating "going after Saddam" during the January 30 meeting, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, according to O'Neill, "Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that's aligned with U.S. interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond. It would demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about." He then discussed post-Saddam Iraq -- the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, and the reconstruction of the country's economy. (Suskind, p. 85)

Among the relevant documents later sent to NSC members, including O'Neill, was one prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). It had already mapped Iraq's oil fields and exploration areas, and listed American corporations likely to be interested in participating in Iraq's petroleum industry.

Another DIA document in the package, entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts," listed companies from 30 countries -- France, Germany, Russia, and Britain, among others -- their specialties and bidding histories. The attached maps pinpointed "super-giant oil field," "other oil field," and "earmarked for production sharing," and divided the basically undeveloped but oil-rich southwest of Iraq into nine blocks, indicating promising areas for future exploration. (Suskind., p. 96)

According to high flying, oil insider Falah Al Jibury, the Bush administration began making plans for Iraq's oil industry "within weeks" of Bush taking office in January 2001. In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight program, which aired on March 17, 2005, he referred to his participation in secret meetings in California, Washington, and the Middle East, where, among other things, he interviewed possible successors to Saddam Hussein.

By January 2003, a plan for Iraqi oil crafted by the State Department and oil majors emerged under the guidance of Amy Myers Jaffe of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. It recommended maintaining the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company, whose origins dated back to 1961 -- but open it up to foreign investment after an initial period in which U.S.-approved Iraqi managers would supervise the rehabilitation of the war-damaged oil infrastructure. The existence of this group would come to light in a report by the Wall Street Journal on March 3, 2003.

Unknown to the architects of this scheme, according to the same BBC Newsnight report, the Pentagon's planners, apparently influenced by powerful neocons in and out of the administration, had devised their own super-secret plan. It involved the sale of all Iraqi oil fields to private companies with a view to increasing output well above the quota set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for Iraq in order to weaken, and then destroy, OPEC.

Secondary Evidence

On October 11, 2002 the New York Times reported that the Pentagon already had plans to occupy and control Iraq's oilfields. The next day the Economist described how Americans in the know had dubbed the waterway demarcating the southern borders of Iraq and Iran "Klondike on the Shatt al Arab," while Ahmed Chalabi, head of the U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress and a neocon favorite, had already delivered this message: "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil -- if he gets to run the show."

On October 30, Oil and Gas International revealed that the Bush administration wanted a working group of 12 to 20 people to (a) recommend ways to rehabilitate the Iraqi oil industry "in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible U.S. military occupation government," (b) consider Iraq's continued membership of OPEC, and (c) consider whether to honor contracts Saddam Hussein had granted to non-American oil companies.

By late October 2002, columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times would later reveal, Halliburton, the energy services company previously headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, had prepared a confidential 500-page document on how to handle Iraq's oil industry after an invasion and occupation of Iraq. This was, commented Dowd, "a plan [Halliburton] wrote several months before the invasion of Iraq, and before it got a no-bid contract to implement the plan (and overbill the U.S.)." She also pointed out that a Times' request for a copy of the plan evinced a distinct lack of response from the Pentagon.

In public, of course, the Bush administration built its case for an invasion of Iraq without referring to that country's oil or the fact that it had the third largest reserves of petroleum in the world. But what happened out of sight was another matter. At a secret NSC briefing for the President on February 24, 2003, entitled, "Planning for the Iraqi Petroleum Infrastructure," a State Department economist, Pamela Quanrud, told Bush that it would cost $7-8 billion to rebuild the oil infrastructure, if Saddam decided to blow up his country's oil wells, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his 2004 book, Plan of Attack (pp. 322-323). Quanrud was evidently a member of the State Department group chaired by Amy Myers Jaffe.

When the Anglo-American troops invaded on March 20, 2003, they expected to see oil wells ablaze. Saddam Hussein proved them wrong. Being a staunch nationalist, he evidently did not want to go down in history as the man who damaged Iraq's most precious natural resource.

On entering Baghdad on April 9th, the American troops stood by as looters burned and ransacked public buildings, including government ministries -- except for the Oil Ministry, which they guarded diligently. Within the next few days, at a secret meeting in London, the Pentagon's scheme of the sale of all Iraqi oil fields got a go-ahead in principle.

The Bush administration's assertions that oil was not a prime reason for invading Iraq did not fool Iraqis though. A July 2003 poll of Baghdad residents -- who represented a quarter of the Iraqi national population -- by the London Spectator showed that while 23% believed the reason for the Anglo-American war on Iraq was "to liberate us from dictatorship," twice as many responded, "to get oil". (Cited in Dilip Hiro, Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and After, p. 398.)

As Iraq's principal occupier, the Bush White House made no secret of its plans to quickly dismantle that country's strong public sector. When the first American proconsul, retired General Jay Garner, focused on holding local elections rather than privatizing the country's economic structure, he was promptly sacked.

Hurdles to Oil Privatization Prove Impassable

Garner's successor, L. Paul Bremer III, found himself dealing with Philip Carroll -- former Chief Executive Officer of the American operations of (Anglo-Dutch) Royal Dutch Shell in Houston -- appointed by Washington as the Iraqi oil industry's supreme boss. Carroll decided not to tinker with the industry's ownership and told Bremer so. "There was to be no privatization of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved," Carroll said in an interview with the BBC's Newsnight program on March 17, 2005.

This was, however, but a partial explanation for why Bremer excluded the oil industry when issuing Order 39 in September 2003 privatizing nearly 200 Iraqi public sector companies and opening them up to 100% foreign ownership. The Bush White House had also realized by then that denationalizing the oil industry would be a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions which bar an occupying power from altering the fundamental structure of the occupied territory's economy.

There was, as well, the vexatious problem of sorting out the 30 major oil development contracts Saddam's regime had signed with companies based in Canada, China, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Vietnam. The key unresolved issue was whether these firms had signed contracts with the government of Saddam Hussein, which no longer existed, or with the Republic of Iraq which remained intact.

Perhaps more important was the stand taken by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric in the country and a figure whom the occupying Americans were keen not to alienate. He made no secret of his disapproval of the wholesale privatization of Iraq's major companies. As for the minerals -- oil being the most precious -- Sistani declared that they belonged to the "community," meaning the state. As a religious decree issued by a grand ayatollah, his statement carried immense weight.

Even more effective was the violent reaction of the industry's employees to the rumors of privatization. In his Newsnight interview Jibury said, "We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities and pipelines built on the premise that privatization is coming."

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, much equipment was looted from pipelines, pumping stations, and other oil facilities. By August 2003, four months after American troops entered Baghdad, oil output had only inched up to 1.2 million barrels per day, about two-fifths of the pre-invasion level. The forecasts (or dreams) of American planners' that oil production would jump to 6 million barrels per day by 2010 and easily fund the occupation and reconstruction of the country, were now seen for what they were -- part of the hype disseminated privately by American neocons to sell the idea of invading Iraq to the public.

With the insurgency taking off, attacks on oil pipelines and pumping stations averaged two a week during the second half of 2003. The pipeline connecting a major northern oil field near Kirkuk -- with an export capacity of 550,000-700,000 barrels per day -- to the Turkish port of Ceyhan became inoperative. Soon, the only oil being exported was from fields in the less disturbed, predominately Shiite south of Iraq.

In September 2003, President Bush approached Congress for $2.1 billion to safeguard and rehabilitate Iraq's oil facilities. The resulting Task Force Shield project undertook to protect 340 key installations and 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of oil pipeline. It was not until the spring of 2004 that output again reached the pre-war average of 2.5 million barrels per day -- and that did not hold. Soon enough, production fell again. Iraqi refineries were, by now, producing only two-fifths of the 24 million liters of gasoline needed by the country daily, and so there were often days-long lines at service stations.

Addressing the 26th Oil and Money conference in London on September 21, 2005, Issam Chalabi, who had been an Iraqi oil minister in the late 1980s, referred to the crippling lack of security and the lack of clear laws to manage the industry, and doubted if Iraq could return to the 1979 peak of 3.5 million barrels per day before 2009, if then.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government found itself dependent on oil revenues for 90% of its income, a record at a time when corruption in its ministries had become rampant. On January 30, 2005, Stuart W. Bowen, the special inspector general appointed by the U.S. occupation authority, reported that almost $9 billion in Iraqi oil revenue, disbursed to the ministries, had gone missing. A subsequent Congressional inspection team reported in May 2006 that Task Force Shield had failed to meet its goals due to "lack of clear management structure and poor accountability", and added that there were "indications of potential fraud" which were being reviewed by the Inspector General.

The endorsement of the new Iraqi constitution by referendum in October 2005 finally killed the prospect of full-scale oil privatization. Article 109 of that document stated clearly that hydrocarbons were "national Iraqi property". That is, oil and gas would remain in the public sector.

In March 2006, three years after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the country's petroleum exports were 30% to 40% below pre-invasion levels.

Bush Pushes for Iraq's Flawed Draft Hydrocarbon Law

In February 2007, in line with the constitution, the draft hydrocarbon law the Iraqi government presented to parliament kept oil and gas in the state sector. It also stipulated recreating a single Iraqi National Oil Company that would be charged with doling out oil income to the provinces on a per-capita basis. The Bush administration latched onto that provision to hype the 43-article Iraqi bill as a key to reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites -- since the Sunni areas of Iraq lack hydrocarbons -- and so included it (as did Congress) in its list of "benchmarks" the Iraqi government had to meet.

Overlooked by Washington was the way that particular article, after mentioning revenue-sharing, stated that a separate Federal Revenue Law would be necessary to settle the matter of distribution -- the first draft of which was only published four months later in June.

Far more than revenue sharing and reconciliation, though, what really interested the Bush White House were the mouthwatering incentives for foreign firms to invest in Iraq's hydrocarbon industry contained in the draft law. They promised to provide ample opportunities to America's Oil Majors to reap handsome profits in an oil-rich Iraq whose vast western desert had yet to be explored fully for hydrocarbons. So Bush pressured the Iraqi government to get the necessary law passed before the parliament's vacation in August -- to no avail.

The Bush administration's failure to achieve its short-term objectives does not detract from the overarching fact -- established by the copious evidence marshaled in this article -- that gaining privileged access to Iraqi oil for American companies was a primary objective of the Pentagon's invasion of Iraq.

Energy Bulletin points to a article from History News Network - "What Would William Appleman Williams Say Now?".
The work of the late William Appleman Williams constitutes the most comprehensive and sophisticated critique of American foreign policy offered during the last half century. ...In the giddy triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, the power of Williams’s ideas seemed to wane. ...

With American empire no longer hiding behind the verbal veil of globalization, Williams’s work has suddenly reacquired relevance not always evident in the decade since his death. Recognizing this, a number of his former students—and, in turn, their students—found themselves discussing and speculating what William Appleman Williams would say now about the current state of affairs. ... let me offer eight such propositions that I think Bill Williams might have advanced for our consideration today. ...

Fourth, Williams would have stressed the centrality of oil in current foreign policy. He would not do so in a single-cause way; contrary to his critics, Williams was never a narrow economic determinist. But he still would have seen the oil issue as crucial—partly because of the economic value of the oil itself, but more largely because of the geopolitical clout over others made possible by control of oil. The struggle for oil is, of course, one that is a century old. But that struggle has, for several reasons, reached a new and critical phase.

Few new major fields have been discovered since the early 1970s, and predictions are that oil production will peak in the next five to ten years and decline sharply thereafter. More to the point, oil companies believe those dire predictions and have commenced a renewed search for new reserves. But Big Oil, however, has not been a prime mover pressuring the American State to aggressively act in its behalf. The giant multinationals, by and large, are fairly content with their relationship to the Saudis and to OPEC and anxious that war not upset the stability of their arrangements. The push really comes from the independent oil companies like Occidental, Unocal, Murphy and Kerr-McGee and from the Texas-based oil service companies tied to them, like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Bechtel. As their U.S. holdings decline, they have looked elsewhere and sought to influence U.S. foreign policy in ways not seen since the Eisenhower days and the oil depletion allowance. And they have found ready ears in this administration and its aggressive policies in Iraq, Iran and Central Asia.

There is also an abiding fear that without its U.S. control of the oil market, OPEC may in the medium-term start pricing its oil in euros. Iraq had already done so—which was one of its great sins—but there is strong talk that OPEC will eventually follow. If that happens, Japan and China will have to start cashing in their massive dollar reserves for euros in order to meet their immense energy needs; that in turn would send the value of the dollar plummeting and bring the U.S. economy—highly vulnerable because of its fiscal and trade deficits—to its knees. Finally, control over oil provides the likeliest leverage for the United States to reassert its hegemony and geo-strategic dominance. This is not a new variable, but it is one that has never been as decisive as now. Western Europe, Japan, China and India are highly dependent on the Middle East for their energy needs. With the United States as uncontested power in the region, those nations would have a far greater incentive to defer to American rules of the game on other matters of global concern. They would be far more inclined to accept American dominance rather than continuing to find ways to limit it.

Fifth, Williams would have characterized the current period not as the triumph of conservatism, but as the degradation of conservatism. ...

Sixth, Williams would have seen the current stress on preemptive empire and military solutions as a manifestation not of American omnipotence, but of American decline. In his view, empires at their zenith tend to prefer imperialism on the cheap—informal empires that eschew formal colonies and protectorates and use their economic and ideological hegemony to exert their will.

...Empires on the make and empires in decline, however, are not satisfied with the status quo and are more inclined to alter that status quo aggressively through force and formal protectorates (nation-building is the current euphemism). ...

Former Czech president (and Club of Rome member) Vaclav Havel has an article in the IHT noting "The planet is not at risk. We are".
Over the past few years questions have been asked ever more forcefully whether global climate changes occur in natural cycles or not, to what degree we human beings contribute to them, what threats stem from them and what can be done to prevent them. Scientific studies demonstrate that any changes in temperature and energy cycles on a planetary scale could mean a generalized danger to all people on all continents.

It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don't know how big its specific contribution is. Is it really necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren't we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?

Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on Earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for past hundred years at least, the Euro-American world has been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following its example.

Nature is now issuing warnings and demanding that we not only stop the debt growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.

The effects of possible climate changes are hard to estimate. Our planet has never been in a state of balance from which it could deviate through human or other influence and then, in time, return to its original state. The climate is not like some kind of pendulum that will return to its original position after a certain period. It has evolved turbulently over billions of years into a gigantic complex of networks, and of networks within networks, where everything is interlinked in diverse ways. Its structures will never return to precisely the same state they were 50 or 5,000 years ago. They will only change into a new state, which, so long as the change is slight, need not mean any threat to life.

Larger changes, however, could have unforeseeable effects within the global ecosystem. In that case, we would have to ask ourselves whether human life would be possible. Because so much uncertainty still reigns, a great deal of humility and circumspection is called for. We can't go on endlessly fooling ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our consumer lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there is no danger of any major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn't relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.

I don't agree with those whose reaction to the possible threats is to warn against the restrictions on civil freedoms. Were the forecasts of certain climatologists to be fulfilled, our freedoms would be tantamount to the freedom of someone hanging from a 20th-story parapet. We live in a world ringed by a single global civilization comprising various areas of civilization. Most of them these days share one thing in common: technocracy. Priority is given to everything that is calculable, quantifiable or ratable. That is a very materialistic concept, however, and one that is drawing us toward an important crossroads for our civilization.

Whenever I reflect on the problems of today's world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights - these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium. We must return again and again to the roots of human existence and consider our prospects in centuries to come. We must analyze everything open-mindedly, soberly, unideologically and unobsessively, and project our knowledge into practical policies.

Maybe it is no longer a matter of simply promoting energy-saving technologies, but chiefly of introducing ecologically clean technologies, of diversifying resources and of not relying on just one invention as a panacea.

I'm also skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and regulations are important, but equally important is support for education, ecological training and ethics - a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility. ...

A good article, except for that bit about restrictions on civil freedoms (and the incomprehensible passage about civilisation), which is the sort of comment that provides grist to the mills of conspiracy theorists. Dealing with climate change requires placing a price on carbon emissions - one large enough to make burning fossil fuels uneconomic. No other 'restrictions" are required.

Grist has a post on icy creature populations depleting as temperatures rise.
Reports are all over the headlines recently of creatures, particularly Arctic and Antarctic marine creatures, being threatened by extinction because the Earth is warming too fast for them or their icy environments to be able to sustain themselves.

A colony of Antarctic penguins, for one, could be extinct in as little as eight years, according to one researcher who's been documenting their population since the mid-1970s. Upward of two-thirds of the Arctic polar bears could be wiped out by 2050 because their habitat is melting, according to one study.

Sounds a little like the Science report released last fall that said commercial fisheries will effectively collapse by mid-century at the rate we fish our oceans. There's definitely a pattern here -- is anyone else noticing this dismal trend?



Links:

* Tacoma News Tribune - Hydropower could come of age again
* PhysOrg - Splitting Water with Sunlight. Some people just love hydrogen.
* LA Times - Sun-powered homes defy a cool housing market How to make your house more valuable - solar panels, solar hot water, lots of insulation and water tanks.
* TreeHugger - Sun Microsystems Launches OpenEco.org: Open Business Community for Carbon Savings
* Planet Ark - Wal-Mart to Look at Suppliers' Energy Efficiency. Trying to leverage the power of the empire for good.
* Planet Ark - NRG Seeks First US Nuclear Plant Permit in Decades. Only in Texas, and maybe not even there (I hope).
* BBC - UN chief urges action on climate
* Center For American progress - The Top 100 Effects of Global Warming. Perhaps that should be the Bottom 100 Effects.
* TreeHugger - EU On Collison Course With US Over Airline Carbon Cap Proposal
* WorldChanging - Chinese Link Typhoon Wipha to Climate Change
* Dave Roberts - Coal is the enemy of the human race: New Republic edition
* Huffington Post - HuffPost Video: John Cusack Interviews Naomi Klein
* New York Times - Blackwater Inquiry Blocked by State Dept
* BreitBart - Parallel universes exist - study
* RI - The Autumn People

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