Let Them Eat Mud  

Posted by Big Gav

AP reports that the poor in Haiti have resorted to eating dirt.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The global battle for food, oil and water  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The FT has a report from Gideon Rachman in Davos with some ominous warnings about resource wars.

Soccer crowds in England like to abuse match referees by chanting: “You don’t know what you’re doing.” If protesters had been able to get near the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, they could justifiably have aimed the same chant at the world leaders who assembled in the Alps.

These people are meant to be the “masters of the universe”: presidents, prime ministers, bankers, billionaires. If anybody can make sense of world events, it should be them. But the air of confusion in Davos was both palpable and alarming.

The meeting took place against a background of crashing stock markets, panicky interest-rate cuts and a massive bank fraud. The global financial system is now so complicated that nobody really knows how deep its problems run. This central “known unknown” means that all the subsequent big questions are much harder to answer. Will America face a serious recession? It all depends. How bad will the knock-on effects be for the rest of world? Search me. How should politicians and regulators react? Difficult to say.

At Davos a year ago, the business and finance crowd were still full of the joys of globalisation, while it was the people dealing with international politics who were spreading alarm and despondency. This year the roles were reversed. While the financiers are frightened, the politicians and diplomats are going through a relatively calm period. There is less bloodshed in Iraq; the chances of war between the US and Iran have receded; Middle East peace talks have begun. The situation in Afghanistan looks bad, but not yet catastrophic.

Without a big short-term crisis to distract them, the international politics crowd were able to look at longer-term trends. They too are trying to understand the consequences of globalisation. But while the bankers grapple with the top end of the process – the movement of billions of dollars around the world financial system – the political analysts are increasingly preoccupied by the way globalisation is affecting people at the bottom of the pile.

The costs of food and energy are rising fast. The availability of water is also becoming an issue, from Australia to Africa. The struggle for these three basic commodities – food, energy and water – came up repeatedly in Davos.

Globalisation – in particular the rise of China and India – is driving a lot of these changes. The world oil price has risen by 80 per cent over the past 12 months and – since 2001 – China alone has accounted for about 40 per cent of the increase in oil demand. Global food prices have gone up by about 50 per cent this year. There are short-term reasons for this, such as a drought in Australia and pig disease in China. But the biggest long-term driver of increased prices is growing wealth in China and India.

Urbanisation and industrialisation are both increasing demand for water, at a time when climate change is disrupting supply. The rains in China are moving north and becoming more intense. The level of the Yangtse river is falling. Other important rivers around the world are suffering in the same way: the Murray in Australia, the Colorado in the US, the Tagus in Spain and Portugal. Businessmen can see the problem growing. Andrew Liveris, chairman of Dow Chemical told the Davos meeting that: “Water is ... the oil of the 21st century.”

The food, energy and water problems all touch on each other. America’s pursuit of alternatives to oil has led to massive investment in biofuels made from maize. That in turn has cut the amount of maize being used for food production and so contributed to rising food prices. The production of biofuels is also very water-intensive. Meanwhile, increased demand for agricultural land to grow more food is leading to the clearing of forest in Brazil – which could worsen global warming – leading to further stress on the world’s water supplies. ...

Supergrid could provide 30% of Europe's electricity  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Global Public Media has an interview with Mark Ennis of Airtricity, talking about the European supergrid idea.

A high voltage electricity grid connecting countries from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay could provide almost a third of Europe's power by 2030, according to the company behind the idea. The system would improve energy security, cut emissions, and even reduce the price of power at times of peak demand.

The supergrid is the brainchild of Irish wind generator Airtricity - recently acquired by Scottish and Southern Energy for €1.1 billion - and would connect countries as far apart as Norway and Spain to each other's offshore wind farms. When the wind blows in one country but not in others, power would be directed through the high voltage direct current (HVDC) network to wherever it is needed most.

According to Mark Ennis, Airtricity's Executive Director for Strategy and Public Policy, the system will solve the Achilles heel of wind generation. In an interview with lastoilshock.com and Global Public Media, Ennis said "By having a very large grid over several thousand kilometers you take the variability out, you almost come out with base load energy"

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi last week, Ennis went on to say that the HVDC technology is proven, that existing financial incentives are already sufficient to make the idea viable, and that a regulatory agreement between countries is close: "I think we are nearly there". If work starts soon, Ennis claimed, the supergrid could supply 30% of Europe's power by 2030.

The initial investment would be huge, but would be spread between grid operators, such as the National Grid in Britain, and Eon Netzt in Germany, and wind farm operators. However, by directing electricity to where demand - and prices - are highest, according to Ennis the system should reduce peak demand for fossil fuels and therefore bring costs down.

On the solar front, Cleantech.com reports that Global Solar has achieved 10% efficiency from its CIGS thin film solar cells.
Tuscon, Ariz.-based Global Solar Energy announced today that its thin-film solar cells hit a milestone, reaching an average of 10 percent efficiency. The company said its copper indium gallium diselenide cells achieved the efficiency over several production runs.

"This is the culmination of three full years of being in production and evolving our proprietary production techniques to continuously improve the efficiency and output of our production," said Jeffrey Britt, VP of technology at Global Solar.

Global Solar said it hit the milestone in December, capping off a year in which it said it also manufactured and shipped 4 megawatts of photovoltaic material for commercial, government, military and consumer products.

Two Men In Chicken Suits  

Posted by Big Gav in

"Institutional Economics" has a post on 'peak oil nutters'. While I think the survivalist types have misread the situation, this guy's commentary leaves me wondering what sort of institution he been been committed to.

How do you go from "some peak oilers have gone a little overboard in their response to peak oil" to "peak oil isn't a problem" so quickly, and with so little background knowledge ?

The WSJ profiles some typical Peak Oilers ... Not sure how a few bags of rice, a propane tank and a few grand in gold is meant to help with TEOCAWKI, but like they say, whatever helps you sleep at night.

At least someone is out there trying to give the peak oilers an education:
Three weeks after their first immersion, the couple drove to a peak-oil conference in Ohio, where lecturers showered them with statistics on demand curves and oil-field depletion rates. Then, at a conference in Denver, a man in a chicken suit called them crazies as he passed our fliers arguing that the world still has plenty of oil.

I'm with chicken suit guy.

Davidm comments:
I've been following the Peak Oil debate for several years now. Pretty much everything the "nutters" forecast 2-3 years ago has eventuated: Oil has breached $100/bbl, global oil production has been stuck at ~84 million barrles/day for almost 5 years, very little new oil production capacity has come online, no significant oil discoveries have been made and food inflation is accelerating as biofuels compete with food production.

Despite oil prices increasing 10 fold since 1998 the market has not magically produced a substitute fuel, nor has it produced an alternative to the internal combustion engine.

OTOH, your forecasting record is pretty poor. The U.S. housing bubble (that supposedly didn't exist) has burst messily. Your much-loved U.S. economy is in tatters, the Fed is panic-mode and the U.S. dollar continues its downward spiral.

Can you and the chicken suit guy please explain how, where and why the "world still has plenty of oil"?

Barton Biggs Goes Survivalist  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Bloomberg has an interesting profile of Barton Biggs' new book "Wealth, War and Wisdom", which combines a history of stockmarket moves during World War 2 with some LATOC style survivalism. I wonder if he's read the Rainwater Prophecy.

Barton Biggs has some offbeat advice for the rich: Insure yourself against war and disaster by buying a remote farm or ranch and stocking it with ``seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc.'' The ``etc.'' must mean guns.

``A few rounds over the approaching brigands' heads would probably be a compelling persuader that there are easier farms to pillage,'' he writes in his new book, ``Wealth, War and Wisdom.''

Biggs is no paranoid survivalist. He was chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley before leaving in 2003 to form hedge fund Traxis Partners. He doesn't lock and load until the last page of this smart look at how World War II warped share prices, gutted wealth and remains a warning to investors. His message: Listen to markets, learn from history and prepare for the worst.

``Wealth, War and Wisdom'' fills a void. Library shelves are packed with volumes on World War II. The history of stock markets also has been ably recorded, notably in Robert Sobel's ``The Big Board.'' Yet how many books track the intersection of the two?

The ``wisdom'' in the alliterative title refers to the spooky way markets can foreshadow the future. Biggs became fascinated with this phenomenon after discovering by chance that equity markets sensed major turning points in the war.

The British stock market bottomed out in late June 1940 and started rising again before the truly grim days of the Battle of Britain in July to October, when the Germans were splintering London with bombs and preparing to invade the U.K.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plumbed ``an epic bottom'' in late April and early May of 1942, then began climbing well before the U.S. victory in the Battle of Midway in June turned the tide against the Japanese.

Berlin shares ``peaked at the high-water mark of the German attack on Russia just before the advance German patrols actually saw the spires of Moscow in early December of 1941.''

``Those were the three great momentum changes of World War II -- although at the time, no one except the stock markets recognized them as such.'' ...

Investment And / Or Tax ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine has a post on a World Economic Forum session at Davos, featuring Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and the Google Foundation’s Larry Brilliant, in which he contrasts Al Gore's description of some of our problems and recommendation to implement carbon taxes with the Google boys' vision of some of the solutions that can be generated by investing in clean technology.

I think he makes a mistake in making this an either / or proposition - the quickest way to switch to a clean energy economy is to implement carbon taxes and invest in solutions - and the former will make the latter occur much more rapidly than would otherwise occur.

The key difference between this [session] and the Gore-Bono panel prior to this is that Gore concentrated on the things we must stop doing — as the movement does — while the Google team concentrates on what we can start doing, thanks to technology.

Brilliant says after the Bono and Gore session earlier: “It’s true that climate change takes the oxygen out of the room.” In other words, it takes attention and effort away from poverty and development. He says we have to get over our cultural ADD and handle more than one crisis at a time.

He outlines the Google Foundation’s priorities. They believe that people don’t know what services their governments offer and so they help inform them and help governments get that message out. Another priority is job creation. Less than 15 percent of jobs in the developing world are from small and medium enterprises and they are targeting growth there. In health, they are concentrating on diseases that jump from animal to human, such as AIDS, and become pandemics. They are funding early-warning systems. They concentrate on climate change: making ecological power cheaper than coal-fired power. And they believe electric cars plugged into a green grid will take care of much of our problems.

Larry Page talks about the renewable-power-cheaper-than-coal initiative. Buying a lot of electricity, Google knows that the cheapest came from coal. The cost of electricity as a percentage is going up, he says, and is approaching the cost of the computers themselves. So they want to get it cheaply and get it green. Startups can work selling green energy at 10 cents per kilowatt hour because there is a demand for renewable energy, he says, but that does not bring real change. “Our primary goal is not to fix the world,” he says, but they do have the power to drive things forward, to get to three cents.

Sergey Brin says the are concentrating on three energy sources: solar-thermal, deep geothermal, and high-altitude wind; if he had to add one, it would be photovoltaic. He says that windmills are on a par with coal but are intermittent and they think it can be even cheaper by using high-altitude wind, through kites, which are cheaper to make that metal windmills. They’ve invested in this and solar-thermal. Deep geothermal is a bit farther off because it requires more fundamental research to get to scale.

What’s the reaction of the energy companies? “They’re pretty good at pushing things into the future and you guys want to claim the future now,” Friedman says. Brin says some of these companies such as BP are invested but Google has an advantage because it does not have a legacy business to cannibalize. Indeed, Google can benefit its core business. “There’s a big bet at some point that you need to make that’s going to take capital.” And Google, he says, in a good position to take that risk.

Asked about the reaction of shareholders, Page says the investment is moderate and there is potential for payoff.

Friedman asks whether they can succeed in this space without taking more of a political position. Brilliant says very few of the people fighting against the climate change movement are bad people: “the have children, they have grandchildren.” He says that the movement has not done a good enough job to communicate. “You can’t separate the quest for dignity and fight poverty from climate change…. We have failed to get that degree of awareness in Congress.” ...

Asked what the next president should do to help their cause, Page responds as an engineer and complains that there has been no research on transmission — which adds to costs — and so he wants a priority on that work from government — an interstate highway system for power, Friedman says. Brin’s answer: Renewable energy is not on a level playing field because of the costs of old energy: health and coal, politics and oil, tariffs on commodities for ethanol, regulation on electric-care development. Brin says they are generating 1.6 megawatts of solar power on their campus. “It’s been great. It produced shade. It reduced cost.” But he says that regulation, federal to local, adds cost. “There’s just all these barriers to clean energy that don’t exist for dirty energy.” ...

Gore, from the audience, takes issue with Brilliant, saying that getting information out is no longer sufficient. “That’s the way the world used to work. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. The reason that the tobacco industry was able to continue killing people for 40 years ater the surger General’s report…. they understood the power of strategic persuasion. They went about it in a very careful, organized, and well-funded way.” He says we are “vulnerable to strategic persuasion campaigns if the other side assumes that we should just get the information out there.” He says Exxon Mobil has funded 40 front groups to “in their own words position global warming as theory rather than fact.” He concludes: “We need to take them on, Goddamnit.”

Brilliant responds, saying he agrees with Gore but adds: “Each of us needs to play the role we are uniquely positioned to play.”

The other unspoken divide is about economics: Gore and Friedman favor raising the cost of carbon. Page and Brin see a victory in reducing the price of the clean energy. Tax versus investment.

The Flying Party  

Posted by Big Gav in

From Life, the Universe and Everything (hat tip SontagC).

The longest and most destructive party ever held is now into its fourth generation, and still no one shows any signs of leaving. Somebody did once look at his watch, but that was eleven years ago, and there has been no follow-up.

The mess is extraordinary, and has to be seen to be believed, but if you don't have any particular need to believe it, then don't go and look, because you won't enjoy it.

There have recently been some bangs and flashes up in the clouds, and there is one theory that this is a battle being fought between the fleets of several rival carpet-cleaning companies who are hovering over the thing like vultures, but you shouldn't believe anything you hear at parties, and particularly not anything you hear at this one.

One of the problems, and it's one which is obviously going to get worse, is that all the people at the party are either the children or the grandchildren or the great-grandchildren of the people who wouldn't leave in the first place, and because of all the business about selective breeding and regressive genes and so on, it means that all the people now at the party are either absolutely fanatical partygoers, or gibbering idiots, or, more and more frequently, both.

Either way, it means that, genetically speaking, each succeeding generation is now less likely to leave than the preceding one.

So other factors come into operation, like when the drink is going to run out.

Now, because of certain things which have happened which seemed like a good idea at the time (and one of the problems with a party which never stops is that all the things which only seem like a good idea at parties continue to seem like good ideas), that point seems still to be a long way off.

One of the things which seemed like a good idea at the time was that the party should fly - not in the normal sense that parties are meant to fly, but literally.

One night, long ago, a band of drunken astro-engineers of the first generation clambered round the building digging this, fixing that, banging very hard on the other and when the sun rose the following morning, it was startled to find itself shining on a building full of happy drunken people which was now floating like a young and uncertain bird over the treetops.

Not only that, but the flying party had also managed to arm itself rather heavily. If they were going to get involved in any petty arguments with wine merchants, they wanted to make sure they had might on their side.

The transition from full-time cocktail party to part-time raiding party came with ease, and did much to add that extra bit of zest and swing to the whole affair which was badly needed at this point because of the enormous number of times that the band had already played all the numbers it knew over the years.

They looted, they raided, they held whole cities for ransom for fresh supplies of cheese crackers, avocado dip, spare ribs and wine and spirits, which would now get piped aboard from floating tankers.

The problem of when the drink is going to run out is, however, going to have to be faced one day.

The planet over which they are floating is no longer the planet it was when they first started floating over it.

It is in bad shape.

The party had attacked and raided an awful lot of it, and no one has ever succeeded in hitting it back because of the erratic and unpredictable way in which it lurches round the sky.

It is one hell of a party.

It is also one hell of a thing to get hit by in the small of the back. (...)

People had been dropping in on the party now for some years, fashionable gatecrashers from other worlds, and for some time it had occurred to the partygoers as they had looked out at their own world beneath them, with its wrecked cities, its ravaged avocado farms and blighted vineyards, its vast tracts of new desert, its seas full of biscuit crumbs and worse, that their world was in some tiny and almost imperceptible ways not quite as much fun as it had been. Some of them had begun to wonder if they could manage to stay sober for long enough to make the entire party spaceworthy and maybe take it off to some other people's worlds where the air might be fresher and give them fewer headaches.

The few undernourished farmers who still managed to scratch out a feeble existence on the half-dead ground of the planet's surface would have been extremely pleased to hear this, but that day, as the party came screaming out of the clouds and the farmers looked up in haggard fear of yet another cheese-and-wine raid, it became clear that the party was not going to be going anywhere else for a while, that the party would soon be over. Very soon it would be time to gather up hats and coats and stagger blearily outside to find out what time of day it was, what time of year it was, and whether in any of this burnt and ravaged land there was a taxi going anywhere.

Waiting For Garnaut  

Posted by Big Gav

The Australian reports that "experts" are tipping that the Rudd government will announce an emission reduction target of 13 to 15% by 2020 after the long awaited Garnaut report is released.

CLIMATE experts predict Kevin Rudd will opt later this year for a greenhouse gas reduction target of 13-15 per cent by 2020 after he reviews modelling from the Treasury and the report by Ross Garnaut. The Andromeda Group, a climate change consulting business, said a target of this scale - 13-15 per cent below the 1990 emission levels - would set the right balance between limiting harm to the economy and stimulating changes in energy use across industry.

However, Andromeda's chief executive Robert Clarke said Australia was already about 8 per cent over the 1990 emission levels, in line with its generous Kyoto target. And this meant total emission cuts from current levels of more than 20 per cent by 2020, or 2 per cent a year.

Mr Clarke warned that about 90 per cent of Australian companies were still under-prepared to manage the commercial risks associated with future cuts in greenhouse emissions. He said Australian negotiators who brokered the generous Kyoto target of 108 per cent on 1990levels might not have done Australia any favours, because they only delayed the scale of the reforms required.

While most focus to date has been on Professor Garnaut's Australian version of the Stern Report on the cost and effects of climate change on the economy, industry sources have indicated detailed Treasury modelling on the costs of different targets is expected to be more significant in determining the final goal. A 2020 emissions target will be crucial in setting the cost of greenhouse permits under an emissions trading scheme expected to begin about 2011.

Crikey's Clive Hamilton has a completely different take on the Garnaut report, arguing that it will aim for no intermediate target before the 60% reduction targetted for 2060.
Many of Australia’s leading academic economists cut their teeth on trade liberalisation. If there is one thing a trade economist loathes, it’s rent-seeking, that is, the manipulation by businesses of the regulatory environment to give them an advantage over competitors. In the climate change policy debate, the greenhouse mafia has for years kept out low-carbon competitors by stopping measures that would allow them to compete on equal terms.

Ross Garnaut, who will report in June to the Rudd Government on its emissions trading system, is a former trade economist now spending a lot of time thinking about how to prevent powerful industries undermining the Government’s plans.

Today’s AFR reports Gaunaut’s musings on how it might be done. He is worried that by setting a series of 10-year interim targets in order to achieve the goal of cutting Australia’s total emissions by 60 per cent or more by 2050, this will create a number of pressure points during which big polluters will prevail on the government to ease up. So he has come up with a radical solution. Let’s have one target, a carbon budget aimed at a 60 per cent cut by 2050, locked in and shored up by various devices, and let the market sort out how and when it will cut emissions to get there.

A "carbon central bank", independent of government and therefore not subject to political pressure, would issue permits following an announced trajectory over time, but polluters could bank unused permits for later, or (much more controversially) borrow future permits from the bank if they get caught out. (How the price of future permits would be set Garnaut has not said.)

The theory is good, but what would it mean in practice? We now know that we must begin sharp emissions cuts in the next 5-10 years. Australian industry is now primed for this; even the carbon-intensive industries accept that they soon must change how they do business.

Garnaut’s scheme would immediately take the pressure off. Australian business is notoriously myopic – economists write papers trying to understand why – so the temptation to put off doing what must be done would be irresistible if there were no firm interim 2020 target.

Ironically, it fell to the electricity industry, Australia’s biggest greenhouse polluter, to remind Professor Garnaut that businesses want certainty. If businesses can put their carbon obligations on the never-never, and the public, now fired up for action, sees that Australia’s emissions continue to rise, no government would be safe.

The Prime Minister would be on television soothing us: “I know that, contrary to my promises, Australia’s emissions have continued to rise, but don’t worry. Businesses know they are going to have to cut their emissions by much more in a decade or so. Trust us.”

The idea of a carbon central bank has probably come from Warwick McKibbin whispering in Garnaut’s ear. The bank could withdraw or buy back permits if the science shows cuts must be more stringent. So in response to this crisis it will not be our political leaders responding to the demands of the citizenry, but a handful of experts at the bank who will be trusted with the very future of the country.

Climate change is as much an ethical issue as an economic or scientific one, and it would be the ethical judgements of a handful of central bankers that would prevail. Managing the stability of the money economy is a doddle compared to managing the Earth’s climate. ...

Global warming politics are also on display in Sweden, with WorldChanging's Alan Atkisson reporting that the government is backsliding on its "fossil fuel free by 2020" target.
For those of you who are still thinking of Sweden as the country planning to become "Fossil Fuel Free" by 2020, today's announcements from Brussels -- where the European Commission has just released its proposed new compromise policy for climate change action, to grumbles from both the greens and browns -- should puncture any illusions, and remind you that a new government is in charge in this Nordic land.

Sweden had been asked by the EU to increase the share of its electricity produced from renewable energy sources from today's 40% to 55% by the year 2020. This was to be Sweden's contribution to the new EU goal of 20% renewable by 2020. But Sweden, formerly always the "good student" when it comes to environment, protested. The center-right coalition made headlines not for its leadership in pushing the EU to more ambitious goals, as it used to do, but for bargaining its way down to 49% — still a substantial improvement, but nothing like the far more ambitious goals (in relative terms) being set by Germany, for example. Currently producing 12% of its electricity from renewable sources, Germany is volunteering to hit 40% by 2020.

And what was the Swedish government's explanation for negotiating its goal downward? I have just finished watching a live interview on Swedish television with prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, and I could not believe my ears. Sweden, he said, had already done much more than any other EU country. And if we took on this more ambitious goal, then other countries would be partly let off the hook. In effect, he said, "Why should we push ourselves to do more? It just encourages others to do less." That is not a direct quote, but it is a very fair paraphrase. ...

The truth in Reinfeldt's argument is that many EU countries are not doing very much at all. Even the UK, despite being a very visible and vocal actor on the world's climate stage, currently only produces 2% of its energy from renewable sources, tied with Belgium and Italy for the low ranks. They will all have to increase to 15% by 2020, under this new EU initiative.

And Sweden does face challenges in continuing its march toward renewables. The interview with Reinfeldt was followed by a news story on windparks in northern Sweden's forests. Why the forests and not the coasts, where there is much more wind? Because Sweden also has problems with "NIMBY" syndrome ("Not In My Back Yard"), and by placing the new windparks in the least populated areas, protests are avoided. Indeed residents welcome these new clean energy and economic engines with open arms.

If you'd like more global warming news than you could read in a day, check out the weekly roundup at "A Few Things Ill Considered".

Raytheon Sells Oil Shale Extraction Technology to Schlumberger  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Defence contractor Raytheon has sold their microwave based shale oil extraction technology to Schlumberger for an undisclosed price. Thus far, this technology has mostly been something for people to laugh at and make cynical comments about EROEI and practical application on a large scale.

Schlumberger don't have a reputation for being fools though, so what might appear to be a mad scientist's experiment being performed in the bowels of the military industrial complex could be more possible than it has seemed thus far. From a peak oil perspective, this would be good. From a global warming perspective, it would be awful.

The sale culminates years of work by Raytheon and partners devoted to the longstanding challenge of reliably extracting heavy oil from shale, tar sands and spent wells in a manner that is cost effective and environmentally sensitive, while also presenting new opportunities to support Schlumberger in its application of the technology in the field.

The arrangement between the two companies comes as demand for the world’s finite oil supplies continues to increase, the price per barrel is near record highs, and government and industry are looking for new sources of oil to lessen dependency on foreign suppliers.

If successfully harvested, shale could provide a long-term source of reliable, affordable and secure oil. Federal officials estimate that this resource — much of which is locked in a 16,000-acre formation beneath federal land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — could yield enough oil to meet U.S. demand at current levels for more than 250 years.

In order to create new momentum for extracting oil from shale, Raytheon utilized one of its many intellectual property reserves (radio frequency, or RF, technology), developed a small business partnership for an aspect of the solution that research determined is critical to success, and then pursued and solidified interest from companies such as Schlumberger, a global innovator in the energy industry. ...

Raytheon’s solution combines RF with critical fluids (CF) processes of small business partner CF Technologies in Hyde Park, Mass. The RF/CF combination uniformly heats buried shale rock, separates the petroleum from the shale, and directs the liberated oil so that it may flow into tanks for extraction. The method is more economical and environmentally responsible than older oil shale extraction techniques as it uses far less power, does not severely disrupt the landscape or leave behind residue that can enter groundwater supplies.

Rain Power  

Posted by Big Gav in

TreeHugger has a post on a very unusual alternative energy idea - extracting power from rain drops. I guess these is an extreme version of hydropower...

We have seen wave power, wind power, and solar power, but rain power?
“We thought of raindrops because they are one of the still- unexploited energy sources in nature,” says Jean-Jacques Chaillout of the atomic energy commission in Grenoble, France.

Chaillout and his colleagues realized that every time a drop impacts on a surface it is an opportunity missed. Each raindrop has an impact energy that is highly dependent on the size of the drop; from a small drizzle drop that has 2 microjoules on impact, to a downpour size drop that carries 1 millijoule of impact energy.

The team identified that a piezoelectric material might be able to capture that energy. Piezoelectric materials generate an electrical potential when acted on by an outside physical force - say a raindrop. The opposite is conveniently true as well, an electrical charge will change the materials shape, which is how many speakers turn electric signals into vibrations we can hear.

At any rate, in this case the team used a 25-micrometer thick, 10 centimeter long (~4 inch) strip of polyvinylidene fluoride to do the trick. They were able to capture between 1 nanojoule and 25 microjoules of energy per drop (again depending on the size of the drop). The total power will vary incredibly depending on the conditions, but the device produces about one microwatt of power in a light drizzle.

What can you do with this tiny power plant? The authors suggest that this type of device might work quite well for sensors, especially if the sensor is detecting rain, or in a rainy environment. Imagine a weather sensor that would only send a signal of how hard it is raining, when it is in fact raining. Or how about sensors that will automatically close your house windows when a storm suddenly appears?

I imagine this technology will not likely make up a large portion of our energy matrix, but capturing the available energy all around us is certainly a good idea, and presents an elegant solution for remote sensor technologies.

I wonder if there is any possibility of thin film solar cells incorporating this sort of feature - it might be worthwhile in the tropics - somewhere you have both strong sunshine and regular, heavy rainfall.


TreeHugger also points to a pair of videos on the launch of the Beluga and its SkySails rig.


Peak water in Saudi Arabia  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Ugo Bardi has this striking image at The Oil Drum, showing the effect of Saudi irrigation in the desert.

"Saudi Arabian cultivated fields as visible using Google Earth. Each circle is an irrigated area of about 1 km diameter. The whole square is about 10 km side."

The post itself considers the impact of the depletion of aquifers in Saudi Arabia, and whether or not water can instead be supplied by desalination.

A perfect application for CSP solar power if you ask me - perhaps one day even more of the deserts will be green.

Sinking America  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

TomDispatch's latest installment from Chalmers Johnson takes a look at the slow financial suicide the United States is committing, courtesy of its addiction to a war economy that produces little of value (on a related subject at TomDispatch "Missing Voices in the Iraq Debate").

Our excessive military expenditures did not occur over just a few short years or simply because of the Bush administration's policies. They have been going on for a very long time in accordance with a superficially plausible ideology and have now become entrenched in our democratic political system where they are starting to wreak havoc. This ideology I call "military Keynesianism" -- the determination to maintain a permanent war economy and to treat military output as an ordinary economic product, even though it makes no contribution to either production or consumption.

This ideology goes back to the first years of the Cold War. During the late 1940s, the U.S. was haunted by economic anxieties. The Great Depression of the 1930s had been overcome only by the war production boom of World War II. With peace and demobilization, there was a pervasive fear that the Depression would return. During 1949, alarmed by the Soviet Union's detonation of an atomic bomb, the looming communist victory in the Chinese civil war, a domestic recession, and the lowering of the Iron Curtain around the USSR's European satellites, the U.S. sought to draft basic strategy for the emerging cold war. The result was the militaristic National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68) drafted under the supervision of Paul Nitze, then head of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department. Dated April 14, 1950, and signed by President Harry S. Truman on September 30, 1950, it laid out the basic public economic policies that the United States pursues to the present day.

In its conclusions, NSC-68 asserted: "One of the most significant lessons of our World War II experience was that the American economy, when it operates at a level approaching full efficiency, can provide enormous resources for purposes other than civilian consumption while simultaneously providing a high standard of living."

With this understanding, American strategists began to build up a massive munitions industry, both to counter the military might of the Soviet Union (which they consistently overstated) and also to maintain full employment as well as ward off a possible return of the Depression. The result was that, under Pentagon leadership, entire new industries were created to manufacture large aircraft, nuclear-powered submarines, nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and surveillance and communications satellites. This led to what President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address of February 6, 1961: "The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience" -- that is, the military-industrial complex.

By 1990, the value of the weapons, equipment, and factories devoted to the Department of Defense was 83% of the value of all plants and equipment in American manufacturing. From 1947 to 1990, the combined U.S. military budgets amounted to $8.7 trillion. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, U.S. reliance on military Keynesianism has, if anything, ratcheted up, thanks to the massive vested interests that have become entrenched around the military establishment. Over time, a commitment to both guns and butter has proven an unstable configuration. Military industries crowd out the civilian economy and lead to severe economic weaknesses. Devotion to military Keynesianism is, in fact, a form of slow economic suicide.

On May 1, 2007, the Center for Economic and Policy Research of Washington, D.C., released a study prepared by the global forecasting company Global Insight on the long-term economic impact of increased military spending. Guided by economist Dean Baker, this research showed that, after an initial demand stimulus, by about the sixth year the effect of increased military spending turns negative. Needless to say, the U.S. economy has had to cope with growing defense spending for more than 60 years. He found that, after 10 years of higher defense spending, there would be 464,000 fewer jobs than in a baseline scenario that involved lower defense spending.

Baker concluded:
"It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment."

These are only some of the many deleterious effects of military Keynesianism.

Hollowing Out the American Economy

It was believed that the U.S. could afford both a massive military establishment and a high standard of living, and that it needed both to maintain full employment. But it did not work out that way. By the 1960s, it was becoming apparent that turning over the nation's largest manufacturing enterprises to the Department of Defense and producing goods without any investment or consumption value was starting to crowd out civilian economic activities. The historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr., observes that, during the 1950s and 1960s, between one-third and two-thirds of all American research talent was siphoned off into the military sector. It is, of course, impossible to know what innovations never appeared as a result of this diversion of resources and brainpower into the service of the military, but it was during the 1960s that we first began to notice Japan was outpacing us in the design and quality of a range of consumer goods, including household electronics and automobiles.

Nuclear weapons furnish a striking illustration of these anomalies. Between the 1940s and 1996, the United States spent at least $5.8 trillion on the development, testing, and construction of nuclear bombs. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the United States possessed some 32,500 deliverable atomic and hydrogen bombs, none of which, thankfully, was ever used. They perfectly illustrate the Keynesian principle that the government can provide make-work jobs to keep people employed. Nuclear weapons were not just America's secret weapon, but also its secret economic weapon. As of 2006, we still had 9,960 of them. There is today no sane use for them, while the trillions spent on them could have been used to solve the problems of social security and health care, quality education and access to higher education for all, not to speak of the retention of highly skilled jobs within the American economy.

The pioneer in analyzing what has been lost as a result of military Keynesianism was the late Seymour Melman (1917-2004), a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. His 1970 book, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War, was a prescient analysis of the unintended consequences of the American preoccupation with its armed forces and their weaponry since the onset of the Cold War. Melman wrote (pp. 2-3):
"From 1946 to 1969, the United States government spent over $1,000 billion on the military, more than half of this under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations -- the period during which the [Pentagon-dominated] state management was established as a formal institution. This sum of staggering size (try to visualize a billion of something) does not express the cost of the military establishment to the nation as a whole. The true cost is measured by what has been foregone, by the accumulated deterioration in many facets of life by the inability to alleviate human wretchedness of long duration."

In an important exegesis on Melman's relevance to the current American economic situation, Thomas Woods writes:
"According to the U.S. Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation's plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion. In other words, the amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock."

The fact that we did not modernize or replace our capital assets is one of the main reasons why, by the turn of the twenty-first century, our manufacturing base had all but evaporated. Machine tools -- an industry on which Melman was an authority -- are a particularly important symptom. In November 1968, a five-year inventory disclosed (p. 186) "that 64 percent of the metalworking machine tools used in U.S. industry were ten years old or older. The age of this industrial equipment (drills, lathes, etc.) marks the United States' machine tool stock as the oldest among all major industrial nations, and it marks the continuation of a deterioration process that began with the end of the Second World War. This deterioration at the base of the industrial system certifies to the continuous debilitating and depleting effect that the military use of capital and research and development talent has had on American industry."

Nothing has been done in the period since 1968 to reverse these trends and it shows today in our massive imports of equipment -- from medical machines like proton accelerators for radiological therapy (made primarily in Belgium, Germany, and Japan) to cars and trucks.

Our short tenure as the world's "lone superpower" has come to an end. As Harvard economics professor Benjamin Friedman has written:
"Again and again it has always been the world's leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political influence, diplomatic influence, and cultural influence. It's no accident that we took over the role from the British at the same time that we took over… the job of being the world's leading lending country. Today we are no longer the world's leading lending country. In fact we are now the world's biggest debtor country, and we are continuing to wield influence on the basis of military prowess alone."

Some of the damage done can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that this country urgently needs to take. These include reversing Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning to liquidate our global empire of over 800 military bases, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States, and ceasing to use the defense budget as a Keynesian jobs program. If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don't, we face probable national insolvency and a long depression.

One person who seemingly couldn't be happier with a bloated war budget sucking the life out of the country is failed "Defense" Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (now back at university), who is still babbling away about his doctrine of full spectrum dominance and its application to the media and the internet. Rummy's latest demented ravings included a demand for the US to establish a propaganda ministry, apparently in the mistaken belief that the mainstream US media don't already perform this task as well as you could expect a new bureaucracy to. The Washington Independent reports:
Remember Donald Rumsfeld? He seems like a bad dream. And yet here he is, popping up in Washington to talk about how the U.S. needs a Ministry of Propaganda. Here’s what he told Sharon Weinberger of Wired’s Danger Room:
We need someone in the United States government, some entity, not like the old USIA . . . I think this agency, a new agency has to be something that would take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that exist today. There are multiple channels for information . . . The Internet is there, pods are there, talk radio is there, e-mails are there. There are all kinds of opportunities. We do not with any systematic organized way attempt to engage the battle of ideas and talk about the idea of beheading, and what’s it’s about and what it means. And talk about the fact that people are killing more Muslims than they are non-Muslims, these extremists. They’re doing it with suicide bombs and the like. We need to engage and not simply be passive and allow that battle of competition of ideas.

Uh, yeah. First, let’s just note that Rumsfeld has always preferred the idea of technology to actually, you know, learning about technology. "Pods are there"? Does he mean iPods? Podcasts? And to mention "talk radio" in the same breath as e-mail or these mysterious pods—what in the world is this septuagenarian talking about? Rumsfeld probably just learned how to program his VCR.

Second, when Rumsfeld tried a version of this in miniature in Iraq, his actual fix was comically stupid. The Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to pull off a propaganda campaign designed at discrediting the insurgency. It amounted to planting fake news stories in the Iraqi press written by soldiers that said things like the insurgents "crawled on their bellies like dogs in the mud." For this, the Pentagon spent more than $25 million and arguably broke the law.

Finally, Rumsfeld managed to be the first secretary of defense in history not just to botch two wars, but to botch two wars simultaneously. For that, no one should ever listen to this man ever again. Whatever he says is discredited by the sheer fact that he’s the one saying it. He should be legally obligated to end of all his sentences with, "...but, on the other hand, I’m a total jackass."

Mike Treder at Responsible Nanotechnology has an interesting look at emerging economies and the end of US hegemony - noting that we are transitioning to 3 major power blocks (same as it ever was, says George Orwell), with the largest being the European Union.
A feature story on the CBS Sunday Morning program yesterday dealt with the shifting world economy and particularly with the rise of economic power in Asia.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two graphics:

They show GDP as a percentage of total world output. Note the dramatic reversal in just five years. How much more will it change in the next five or the next ten years?

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine includes a related article by Parag Khanna titled "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony." Khanna writes:
From Thailand to Indonesia to Korea, no country -- friend of America's or not -- wants political tension to upset economic growth. To the Western eye, it is a bizarre phenomenon: small Asian nation-states should be balancing against the rising China, but increasingly they rally toward it out of Asian cultural pride and an understanding of the historical-cultural reality of Chinese dominance.

And in the former Soviet Central Asian countries -- the so-called Stans -- China is the new heavyweight player, its manifest destiny pushing its Han pioneers westward while pulling defunct microstates like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as oil-rich Kazakhstan, into its orbit. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization gathers these Central Asian strongmen together with China and Russia and may eventually become the "NATO of the East."

The upshot of this changing balance is a swift reduction of U.S. strength as a global hegemon. Khanna adds:
At best, America's unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war "peace dividend" was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership.

So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing -- and losing -- in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world's other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules -- their own rules -- without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world.

The more we appreciate the differences among the American, European and Chinese worldviews, the more we will see the planetary stakes of the new global game. Previous eras of balance of power have been among European powers sharing a common culture. The cold war, too, was not truly an "East-West" struggle; it remained essentially a contest over Europe. What we have today, for the first time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, multipolar battle.

According to this analysis, it seems that the next international order after U.S. unipolar power has already begun. You'll recall that we wrote about this a few months ago, and wondered:
How long will the current order last? If you accept my argument that we're living today in the fourth different period of the last 100 years, it should be obvious that this is not a permanent state.

What comes next? How can we anticipate it? How might we shape it? And how will the development of powerful new technologies, such as molecular manufacturing, fit into that big picture?

The two previous periods of international order in the 20th century lasted for 30 years and then 40 years. Now it appears that the current order may have met its demise after less than 20 years.

Assuming we've entered a new phase, as Khanna suggests, then how long will this one last? Can the Era of Global Multipolarity maintain stability for more than a decade or two?

Craig Murray notes something that has become increasingly obvious over the past 5 years - "A Different Culture".
The ever formidable Brian Barder had posted a fascinated observation on the growing weirdness of US political culture. Here is an excerpt:
It's sad because it's another example of the steadily widening gulf between the political culture in the US and that in the rest of the west, exemplified by the Iraq war (leaving aside, if possible, the UK's culpable complicity in it), the so-called "war on terror" and its implications for civil liberties, extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay, the role of religion, attitudes to capital punishment and the treatment of prisoners, demonstrative patriotism, and now the role of the US sub-prime market in bringing about the impending recession which will engulf the rest of us as well as the United States. Alas, it's no longer the case that the rest of the civilised world looks to the US as its moral and political leader. And I fear that the causes of this ever-widening gulf go much deeper than just the consequences of the catastrophic presidency of G W Bush: whoever succeeds him will not be able to build a durable bridge across it. Many of us small-L liberals used to feel that we had more in common with our American cousins than with our historical enemies just across the English Channel, the French and the Germans, and even our slightly more distant historical friends, the Scandinavians and the Dutch. I don't think that's true any more.

The whole is well worth reading. Barack Obama leaves me stone cold too. I think we underestimate how different and dangerous the US now is. Last year I delivered a talk on Central Asia at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As I sat preparing my lecture, I had the television on low in my hotel room because I don't like complete silence. Gradually I found myself listening intently to an evangelical preacher, telling his TV congregation that they should not worry about casualties in Iraq because the Bible showed us that there had to be a great and bloody conflict in the Middle East before the Second Coming of Christ. So the more people who died in these wars, the closer we are to Jesus.

Now that message would be acceptable to very few people in the UK - just Tony Blair and his immediate friends, really. I related this astonishing thing I had heard to some American lecturers over lunch. They told me that at least a third of their students would believe this stuff. And this was Ann Arbor, not the Deep South. It is essential that we all wake up now to the fact that the US is a deeply disturbed and psychotic society, and by far the biggest danger to world peace.

John Pilger casts a jaundiced eye over the "The danse macabre of US-style democracy". Nothing in the current slate of candidates and policies looks likely to stop the slide...
The former president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere once asked, "Why haven't we all got a vote in the US election? Surely everyone with a TV set has earned that right just for enduring the merciless bombardment every four years." Having reported four presidential election campaigns, from the Kennedys to Nixon, Carter to Reagan, with their Zeppelins of platitudes, robotic followers and rictal wives, I can sympathise. But what difference would the vote make? Of the presidential candidates I have interviewed, only George C Wallace, governor of Alabama, spoke the truth. "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans," he said. And he was shot.

What struck me, living and working in the United States, was that presidential campaigns were a parody, entertaining and often grotesque. They are a ritual danse macabre of flags, balloons and bullshit, designed to camouflage a venal system based on money, power, human division and a culture of permanent war.

Travelling with Robert Kennedy in 1968 was eye-opening for me. To audiences of the poor, Kennedy would present himself as a saviour. The words "change" and "hope" were used relentlessly and cynically. For audiences of fearful whites, he would use racist codes, such as "law and order". With those opposed to the invasion of Vietnam, he would attack "putting American boys in the line of fire", but never say when he would withdraw them. That year (after Kennedy was assassinated), Richard Nixon used a version of the same, malleable speech to win the presidency. Thereafter, it was used successfully by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes. Carter promised a foreign policy based on "human rights" - and practised the very opposite. Reagan's "freedom agenda" was a bloodbath in central America. Clinton "solemnly pledged" universal health care and tore down the last safety net of the Depression.

Nothing has changed. Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, another bomber, is anti-feminist. John McCain's one distinction is that he has personally bombed a country. They all believe the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is "a city upon a hill", regardless that most of humanity sees it as a monumental bully which, since 1945, has overthrown 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed 30 nations, destroying millions of lives.

If you wonder why this holocaust is not an "issue" in the current campaign, you might ask the BBC, or better still Justin Webb, the BBC's North America editor. In a Radio 4 series last year, Webb displayed the kind of sycophancy that evokes the 1930s appeaser Geoffrey Dawson, then editor of the Times. Condoleezza Rice cannot be too mendacious for Webb. According to Rice, the US is "supporting the democratic aspirations of all people". For Webb, who believes American patriotism "creates a feeling of happiness and solidity", the crimes committed in the name of this patriotism, such as support for war and injustice in the Middle East for the past 25 years, and in Latin America, are irrelevant. Indeed, those who resist such an epic assault on democracy are guilty of "anti-Americanism", says Webb, apparently unaware of the totalitarian origins of this term of abuse. Journalists in Nazi Berlin would damn critics of the Reich as "anti-German".

Moreover, his treacle about the "ideals" and "core values" that make up America's sanctified "set of ideas about human conduct" denies us a true sense of the destruction of American demo cracy: the dismantling of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus and separation of powers.

Vinod Kosla On Better agronomy for energy crops  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Grist has the second installment of Vinod Khosla's series on biomass energy - this one looking at ways to produce biomass for cellulosic ethanol sustainably, in-line with his CLAW requirements. This episode has a lot in common with one of the chapters in Janine Benyus' book "Biomimicry"

I believe improved crop practices are a vital aspect in meeting our cellulosic feedstock needs. There are a few areas that offer significant potential:

1. crop rotation,
2. the use of polyculture plantations,
3. perennials as energy crops, and
4. better agronomic practices.

We address all four issues here. Though none of these have been extensively studied, early studies and knowledgeable speculation point to their likely utility. Further study of these techniques is urgently needed, especially the use of grasses or other biomass-optimized winter cover crops.

Crop rotation

I have proposed the usage of a 10 year x 10 year energy and row crop rotation. As row crops are grown in the usual corn/soy rotation, lands lose topsoil and get degraded, need increased fertilizer and water inputs, and decline in biodiversity. By growing no-till, deep-rooted perennial energy crops (like miscanthus or switchgrass -- see below) for ten years following a ten year row crop cycle, the carbon content of the soil and its biodiversity can be improved and the needs for inputs decreased. The land can then be returned to row crop cultivation after ten years of no-till energy crops.

Currently unusable degraded lands may even be reclaimed for agriculture using these techniques over a few decades. A University of North Dakota study highlights some of the benefits for food crops. I expect similar or even greater benefits for food crop/energy crop long cycle rotations, especially in soil carbon content:

* Improved yields: a crop grown in rotation with other crops will show significantly higher yields than a crop grown continuously.
* Disease control: changing environmental conditions (by changing crops) changes the effect of various diseases that may set in with an individual crop, and crop rotation can limit (and often eliminate) diseases that affect a specific crop.
* Soil nitrogen: legumes (or other nitrogen-fixing crops) used as part of a rotation help to restore the nitrogen that has been depleted by previous crop harvests allow a field to remain fertile for longer periods. Energy crops in the rotation can increase soil carbon content and reduce the impact of topsoil loss materially.
* Better land: the study notes that farmers practicing crop rotations comment on improvements in soil stability and friability. In addition, crop rotations have the potential to increase the efficiency of water usage (by rotation deep-rooted and more moderately rooted crops, or rotation of perennials in long cycles with row crops).

One aspect of the crop-rotation approach is utilizing cover crops such as grasses, legumes, or small grains that are grown between regular crop production periods (i.e., winter for most crops, and summer for winter-specific crops such as winter wheat). As Part I details, Professor David Bransby has noted that such crops require no additional irrigation, and use about 30 percent of the fertilizer of regular crops like corn. Elsewhere, Professor Greg Roth at Penn State is studying the usage of specific winter cover crops (like hulless barley) and has noted it could be used to increase biofuel yields per acre. ...

In addition to providing biomass, winter cover crops provide the benefits of crop rotation -- adding organic matter to the soil, recycling nutrients, and more efficient usage of soil and water resources. Further study of these winter cover crops as a potential biomass source is needed, but they could provide a significant portion of our biofuel land needs while improving the land's ecology over just planting row crops and leaving the land unused during the winter. This will also improve row crop agriculture during the summer. It is even possible that winter cover crops could eliminate the need for most additional lands to meet our biofuels needs in the U.S.

Use of polyculture plantations

Another important crop practice is the idea of utilizing polyculture species instead of monocultures. This is particularly possible for energy crops, as many processes can accept a mixture of biomass types. The Land Institute notes that polycultures (and the resulting plant diversity) have significant benefits, from the provision of an "internal supply of nitrogen, management of exotic and other harmful organisms, soil biodiversity, and overall resilience of the system." Further research shows that grasslands that suffer from overgrazing or drought tend to recover faster if there is greater biodiversity.

The Australian Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation notes (PDF) that "polyculture is shown to offer the proverbial 'free lunch' by producing more from less." The report goes on to note that polycultures yield in greater amounts from smaller areas, and their yields are generally more stable than monocultures (with regards to income level and general risk). Furthermore, polycultures were found to be more efficient in gathering resources such as light, water, and soil nutrients. Elsewhere, Professor David Tilman at the University of Minnesota has highlighted the yield and environmental benefits of polyculture crops. These benefits are starting to gain recognition -- Ceres Corporation has proposed an alternative approach they call polycultivation. ...

Part 3 of Vinod's series looks at what he considers the most important factor - biomass yields.
My most critical assumption with cellulosic biofuels is on land efficiency: tons of biomass per acre, and hence gallons of fuel produced per acre, and more accurately, miles driven per acre. I believe biomass yields per acre will multiply by two to four times from today's norms.

The lack of genetic optimization and research on cultural practices, harvesting, storage, and transport with would-be energy crops -- miscanthus, sorghum, switchgrass, and others -- means that there is significant potential for improvement. The application of advanced breeding methods like genetic engineering and marker-assisted breeding, limiting water usage through drought resistant crops, and large-scale application of biotechnology (i.e., optimizing the process by which plants conduct photosynthesis, or reducing stress-based yield losses) will also contribute to increased yields with fewer inputs.

More importantly, different energy crops are likely to be optimal for different climates -- jatropha makes sense on degraded Indian land, but not in the American Midwest. Rather than a single dominant energy crop, we are likely to see a variety of feedstocks that allow specialization to local conditions, mixes, and needs, while mitigating the risks.

Some reported examples and datapoints of biomass yields speak to the reasonableness of our estimates of yields between 18-24 tons per acre by 2030 (e.g., Prof. Lee Lynd at Dartmouth):

* Miscanthus averaged 16.5 dry tons per acre per year, where switchgrass averaged 4.6 at 3 Illinois sites, with data taken over 3 years. Research in Europe notes yields ranging up to 16 dry tons per acre (PDF).
* Sugarcane ventures in Brazil (Allelyx is using GMO techniques, Canavalis is using more traditional plant breeding) are breeding energy cane that will likely result in a yield of 25 dry tons per acre/year of harvestable biomass. Similar progress is being made by USDA sugarcane geneticists in Louisiana.
* Megaflora Corp. has measured productivities of 28 dry tons per acre per year from crossing North American hardwoods with the paulownia tree in North Carolina. Similar progress is being made by USDA sugarcane geneticists in Louisiana.
* Anagenesis Corp claims of their trees, "one acre can yield 48x times as much ethanol as an acre of corn."
* DOE estimates (PDF) suggest that collecting existing biomass with only a small change in agricultural practices could generate 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass in the U.S. (most of our biomass needs) and still be able to meet all food, feed, and export demands. This would be an alternative scenario to get biomass without energy crops.
* According to Prof. Mark Holtzapple at Texas A&M, high-yield sorghum can be grown in 35 U.S. states and produce yields as high as 25 dry tons per acre/year with low water usage.
* Researchers at Texas A&M have developed new "freakishly tall sorghum plants" that reach heights of nearly 20 feet -- more than double the height of regular sorghum and yielding double the amount of crop per acre. They use little water and have been bred to prevent flowering (thus trapping more energy), and can be grown on marginal crop lands.

A wide variety of crops have potential as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol. Bical notes: "The criteria for the ideal energy crop are high dry matter yield, perennial growth, and efficient use of nitrogen, water, other resources, and pest and disease resistance." The previously cited Univ. of Illinois study compared corn, short-rotation coppice, and miscanthus versus a set of idealized criteria for energy crops and found miscanthus (and by extension, other C4 photosynthetic grasses) to meet most of the requirements (PDF, or see charts below). Of particular interest to me is miscanthus that "partitions nutrients back to the roots in the fall just before harvesting." I figure crops that provided (and survived) energy for mammals in the prairies can now provide energy for humans!

Many of the advantages of miscanthus are also applicable to some of the other proposed feedstocks. The new, higher-yielding strains of sorghum developed at Texas A&M use less water than conventional sorghum (making them more drought-resistant) and are sterile (not flowering prevents the escape of energy). Their 20-feet height means that yields have effectively doubled. ...

While its great to see someone like Vinod posting at Grist and providing some detailed reasoning about why he chooses to invest in biofuels, I'm still far from convinced that this is the way to go, believing that converting to a clean energy / electric transport system is a much better (and less risky) way to go. But I suspect we will see a fair amount of biofuel (or biomass fueled power generation) in use in the future - and I'm glad Vinod isn't just investing in lots of corn ethanol facilities and trying to defend that option as a valid one.

On the subject of corn ethanol, the Christian Science Monitor has an article wondering if global food price rises can be blamed on the biofuel boom.
The biofuels industry plans on producing record amounts of ethanol this year to meet a mandate of the new US energy law – and will need a lot of corn to do it. At the same time, global food prices are at near-peak levels. The question is, how big is the connection between those two developments?

It's a topic getting more scrutiny as the world enters 2008 with the lowest grain stockpiles on record, near-record grain prices, and prospects for even tighter supplies as global demand rises for food and fuel.

Political instability over higher food prices is a key concern. Last year saw tortilla demonstrations in Mexico, pasta protests in Italy, and unrest in Pakistan over bread prices. Soybean prices, meanwhile, prompted demonstrations in front of Indonesia's presidential palace. Food inflation in China is a major problem.

But the connection between the expansion of biofuels and higher global food prices is not clear cut, with the biofuels industry saying its impact is relatively small and biofuel critics saying that ethanol plants are driving up the price of corn and biodiesel producers are taking a bite out of the soybean crop.

"The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before," says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), an environmental think tank in Washington. World population growth will require food for an additional 70 million people this year, the EPI said in a report last week.

Driven mostly by population growth, world grain consumption rose an average of 21 million tons per year from 1990 to 2005, the US Department of Agriculture reported this month. Demand for grain to make ethanol soared by 27 million tons last year, USDA reported.

"Putting [corn-ethanol] land back into food use would have a profound effect on the price of corn," says Bruce Babcock, an economist at Iowa State University's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. This year, he estimates, the US will produce about 8 billion gallons of ethanol. To do that, nearly one-fifth of the 80 million acres now devoted to corn will go to make ethanol.

That demand is helping to boost feed prices for cattle, as well as for crops like peas and beans because less land is devoted to growing them, he says.

In a counterpoint study last month by corn growers and the biofuels industry, higher corn prices were found to be only a small element in rising food costs overall – although higher energy costs for fuel to transport crops and grow them were a larger factor.

"This analysis puts to bed the argument that a growing domestic ethanol industry is solely responsible for rising consumer food prices," Bruce Scherr, CEO of Informa Economics, a food and agriculture research and consulting firm based in Memphis, Tenn., said in a statement.

The "farm value" of commodity raw materials used in foods accounts for 19 percent of total US food costs, down from 37 percent in the 1973. Higher costs for labor, packaging, transportation, and energy were a "key driver" behind higher food costs, the report said.

While higher corn prices cause lower profit margins for livestock and poultry producers, "the statistical evidence does not support a conclusion that there is a strict 'food-versus-fuel' trade-off" driving consumer food prices higher, the study said.

Whatever the reason, prices for grains such as corn and soybeans are up. Despite a record US corn crop in fall 2007, corn prices are near a record high of about $5 a bushel in mid-January.

Because corn is feedstock, higher corn prices can affect food prices. The average price of milk rose 29 percent last year, for instance, and eggs 36 percent.

"More people are coming to the conclusion that there is a food-fuel link," says Siwa Msangi of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington food-security research organization. "The historic pattern of the past, where food prices were in a long-term decline, could be at an end."

But the major reason grain prices are spiking, he and others note, is fast-rising demand for higher-quality food like meat, poultry, and dairy products by the increasingly affluent people of China and India.

Still, biofuels play a role in higher grain prices, says Dr. Babcock.

His findings are bolstered by a study last month in which Mr. Msangi's IFPRI estimated that future biofuel expansion could increase international corn prices between 26 and 72 percent by 2020, depending on how aggressive the expansion turns out to be.

Under two scenarios IFPRI examined, "the increase in crop prices resulting from expanded biofuel production was accompanied by a net decrease in the availability of ... food" for the world's poor, the study found.

As prices rise, of course, producers worldwide have incentive to grow more corn – or other crops, such as wheat, that might be in demand instead of corn.

But that's not happening yet. In an apparent effort to moderate food prices and quell social unrest – which in turn curbs growers' incentive to produce more – Russia this month is expected to place a 40 percent export tax on wheat. Argentina, too, has limited its wheat exports.

China's mobile network: a big brother surveillance tool for business ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The ABC has a strange article on mobile phone surveillence, pointing the finger at China.

Serious concerns were raised at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week about the ability of the Chinese Government to spy on the country's 500 million mobile phone users. The head of China's biggest mobile phone company, which has more than 300 million subscribers, stunned delegates by revealing that the company had unlimited access to the personal data of its customers and handed it over to Chinese security officials when demanded.

The admission, described as "bone-chilling" by US Congressman Ed Markey, sent shivers through an audience of telecom experts at WEF who immediately saw the potential for misuse and surveillance. "We know who you are, but also where you are," said the CEO of China Mobile Communications Corporation, Wang Jianzhou, whose company adds six million new customers to its network each month and is already the biggest mobile group in the world by users.

He was explaining how the company could use the personal data of its customers to sell advertising and services to them based on knowledge of where they were and what they were doing. When pressed about the privacy and security implications of this, he added: "We can access the information and see where someone is, but we never give this information away ... only if the security authorities ask for it."

The movement of mobile phone users can be tracked because they connect to local base stations, giving a trail that can only be accessed in most democratic countries by security officials under strict conditions. Mobile phones can also be easily tapped.

Mr Markey, who is chairman of the US House of Representatives subcommittee on telecommunications, contrasted the situation with the checks and controls in place in the United States, where a court order is required for the government to check phone records. "I have my eyebrows arched so high they're hitting the ceiling," he told AFP after listening to Mr Wang. "I have many, many more questions about what the relationship is with the government and moreover how the company can use that information."

I'm not sure why anyone is surprised that mobile phone companies know who you are (in fact, they'd be in trouble if they didn't) and and where you are - or that they pass this information to governments - this has been true as long as mobile phones have been around.

I do like the way Congressman thinks its OK for security agencies in the West to be able to listen in and track anyone using their phone (even when it is against the law), but not to sell targeted advertising. I also wonder if location based marketers will have some of the same problems the FBI does ?

I think the location based marketing stuff could be taken a step forward - if rumours that mobile phones allow remote eavesdropping even when they are turned off are true (which might explain why people can get in trouble for not carrying their phone around), perhaps marketers could use this feature to extend the telemarketing concept to pestering people on the move.

For example, a person could be passing by a McDonalds, and a marketing surveillence bot could recognise that they have said "I'm hungry" in the last half an hour and haven't been into a restaurant, or anywhere else they could buy food, since.

Instantly it dispatches a job to a person in a call centre to call you this person up on their phone and suggest thay drop in to Macca's for something to eat. For business's with loyalty programs they could even give them hints on what their new balance would be or if they have any freebies to claim.

What a brave new world that would be - and we're risking the Chinese getting their first while we dawdle and quibble over who is allowed to perform mass surveillance and under what circumstances...

Moving on, I had a good laugh when I read the news that a "rogue trader" had somehow lost 5 billion Euros of French Bank Societe General's money - I know I'm a bit cynical but this is the most ridiculous story I've read in a long time. Everyone else is losing billions from the ARM / CDO / toxic debt fiasco, but these guys - they have a rogue trader. Sure.

Meanwhile, the LA Times reports that some homeowners now in a negative equity situation are walking away from their mortgages and telling their banks to foreclose on them. I was in Hong Kong at the height of their real estate boom in the 1990's and saw a few people do this after the bust. Hopefully both the lenders and the borrowers learn from their display of excessive greed and stupidity earlier this decade and we don't see a repeat of this foolishness for a generation or two.

More foolishness (of a rather more immoral and unpleasant nature) is going on in Iraq, with the decaying Bush administration trying to lock the Iraqi "government" into an agreement that allows the US military and their mercenaries to do as they please for the foreseeable future. Guess they still have some more persuading to do to get the locals to hand over the oil...

Doomer Porn Day  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Prof Goose at The Oil Drum reports that its "Doomer Porn Day" on The History Channel in the US - and that Nate Hagens and Matt Savinar are getting some mainstream media attention. Apparently "Crude" was dubbed into American - part of what CarbonSink dubs "the cultural iron curtain".

Leanan hit these briefly in the DB last week, but it deserves another look-see. Both pieces are from Texas Monthly.

First, TM called Matthew Simmons one of the "35 people who will shape our future", and then allows Matt to expound on The Gospel According to Matthew.

Second, TM then asks our own Sasquatch (aka, Nate) and Chimp (aka, Matt Savinar) to give their opinions in response to the ideas of the Simmons piece as two online energy experts concerning peak oil and the future of energy demand.

Both pieces are very much worth a read.

Then finally, Leanan notes that "It's Doomer Porn Day on The History Channel!" At 8pm tonight, "Crude" debuts in the US. (This is the same as the Australian documentary by the same name, and has been available to view online for some time. But it's the first time it's aired on US TV. Its blurbage: "Drilling into the story of oil lays out where it comes from, the ways it's used, how it affects life and environment, and what will happen when it runs out.") "Mega Disasters: Oil Apocalypse" reruns in the slot before "Crude."

Bring your popcorn and fire up the DVR.

Climate 'clearly out of balance'  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The BBC has a report on the American Geophysical Union's latest statement, calling for a 50% cut in carbon emissions.

The world's climate is "clearly out of balance and is warming", the world's largest society of Earth and space scientists has said in a statement. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) warned that changes to the Earth's climate system were "not natural". Changes in temperature, sea level and rainfall were best explained by the increased concentration of greenhouse gases from human activities, it added.

The union called for carbon emissions to be cut by more than 50% by 2100. It is the first time the AGU has updated its policy position on climate change since 2003, when it called for a concerted worldwide study to understand how the Earth would change as a result of climate change.

The revised statement has gone further, stating that the changes to the planet's climate system were "best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activities in the 20th Century".

The AGU Council, which adopted the updated position, said that a sustained research effort involving many of its members had strengthened the scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change. It warned that the world faced a tough challenge over the coming 50 years: "Even the lower limit of impending climate change - an additional global mean warming of 1.0C (1.8F) above the last decade - is far beyond the range of climate variability experienced during the past 1,000 years. "Warming greater than 2.0C (3.6F) above 19th Century levels is projected to be disruptive, reducing global agricultural productivity, causing widespread loss of biodiversity, and - if sustained over centuries - melting of much of the Greenland ice sheet."

If the 2C rise was to be avoided, the AGU said, net annual emissions of carbon dioxide had to be cut by at least 50% by the end of the century.

The BBC also reports on the accelerating deforestation of the Amazon, courtesy of the worldwide demand for biofuels and soaring food prices.
The Brazilian government has announced a huge rise in the rate of Amazon deforestation, months after celebrating its success in achieving a reduction. In the last five months of 2007, 3,235 sq km (1,250 sq miles) were lost.

Gilberto Camara, of INPE, an institute that provides satellite imaging of the area, said the rate of loss was unprecedented for the time of year. Officials say rising commodity prices are encouraging farmers to clear more land to plant crops such as soya. The monthly rate of deforestation saw a big rise from 243 sq km (94 sq miles) in August to 948 sq km (366 sq miles) in December.

"We've never before detected such a high deforestation rate at this time of year," Mr Camara said. His concern, outlined during a news conference in Brasilia on Wednesday, was echoed by Environment Minister Marina Silva. Ms Silva said rising prices of raw materials and commodities could be spurring the rate of forest clearing, as more and more farmers saw the Amazon as a source of cheap land.

Open The Future points to an Architecture 2030 view of what global warming means for coastal cities.

JCWinnie at After Gutenberg has a look at James Hansen's new book "Censoring Science".
Subtitle: Sex, Mercedes driving lawyers and a rubber chicken, what more could you want?

It has been a while since this blog made mention of the muzzling of scientific concern over climate change. James Hansen again is talking about the censoring of science. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York had the honor of being the lead author of “Dangerous human-made interference with climate.
The point I emphasized is that overreaching by the Executive Branch, trying to make government science submit to political command and control, is a threat to our democracy, and, as a result, a threat to the planet. The scary part about this story is that seeds have been sown, and a playbook has been codified (although not written!), that will make the situation much worse unless the American public recognizes the problem and makes an issue of it. This is a bi-partisan problem – and neither party is trying to fix it. It is remarkable how wimpish Congress has become in accepting subjugation to the Executive Branch, contrary to designs and intents of our Founding Fathers.

Congressional testimony.

Do you know that before a government scientist testifies to Congress his/her testimony is typically reviewed and edited by the White House Office of Management and Budget? When I asked for a justification, I was told that a government scientist’s testimony “needs to be consistent with the President’s budget”.

Huh? There have never been any budget numbers in my testimony or in the testimony of most scientists. And OMB’s editing of the scientific content is invariably designed to make the testimony fit better with the position of the political party in power (yes, it is a bi-partisan problem). Where is it stated or implied in the Constitution that the Executive Branch should have such authority? (Actually, does the Constitution not vest control of the purse strings to Congress?) Why does not Congress get incensed about this and fight back?

Offices of Propaganda.

The Public Affairs Offices (PAOs) of science agencies have become mouthpieces for the Administration in power. This, too, is a bi-partisan problem. Top people in the Headquarters Offices of Public Affairs can and often are thrown out in a heart-beat when an election changes the party in control of the Executive Branch.

The Executive Branch has learned that the PAOs can be effective political instruments and, with some success, they are attempting to turn them into Offices of Propaganda, masters of double-speak (“clean coal”, “clear skies”, “healthy forests”…) that would make Orwell envious.

Again it is a bi-partisan problem, the control of PAOs being exercised by top political appointees who are replaced rapidly with a change of administration. It is these political appointees that are the problem – the career civil servants at the NASA Centers, e.g., are professionals of high integrity, as are most people at Headquarters.

One may wonder: why doesn’t the media object to this situation? I believe that I learned the reason: it is encapsulated in the phrase “that’s hearsay!”. I heard that phrase over and over again in 2004 after I stated publicly that NASA press releases were being spirited from NASA HQ to the White House for either editing or “deep-sixing”, when they concerned “sensitive” topics such as global warming. Even NPR did not seem to want to touch that story unless there were multiple pieces of proof on paper.

The phrase “that’s hearsay” seems to make the media folks quake in their boots, doubtless because of the threat of a lawsuit. That probably explains why the New York Times stories about censorship of scientists at NASA that came out in early 2006 became a story about a low-level 24-year-old, who then “resigned”. Reporters, New York Times included, knew that the problem went much higher, but instead of focusing on the threat to democracy, it became too-much an amusing story about a renegade trying to reverse scientific understanding of the “big bang”, etc.

The actual story is made crystal clear in the new book “Censoring Science” by Mark Bowen (author of “On Thin Ice”, a gripping, albeit long, story about Lonnie Thompson’s quest for ice cores from alpine glaciers). Bowen gets insiders at HQ and elsewhere to provide extensive information, most of it “on the record”, about how PAO works to cover its tracks (“Gretchen, don’t e-mail me on this!” There are some heroines in this story, middle level people who refused to comply with orders from political appointees that they recognized as being inappropriate.) By the way, I gave Bowen some long interviews and documentation (and my mug is on the book jacket), but I have no financial interest in the book.

The scary part of this story is that PAO political appointees are learning how to cover their tracks. The picture that Bowen presents is one in which PAO political appointees can communicate directly with the White House. One has to wonder, if the Administrator objected to the PAO political appointee activities, how long would it be before he was on the soup line?

As the tracks are covered better and better, it is as if we have a shadow government organization controlling information that the public receives.

How to fix it?

There is an article “Freedom of Speech in Government Science” in the current, Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2008, pages 31-34, by David Resnik. Presumably, Resnik is well-intentioned, but I take vehement exception to one of his bottom lines. The article sounds fine for the most part, but keep in mind the common technique of telling you ten things that are true followed by slipping in the whopper, the very questionable point or conclusion concerning the main point of interest.

“…when a government scientist communicates with the media, the public (or even journalists) may mistakenly assume that the scientist is speaking for the government, when he or she is expressing only a personal opinion. If the scientist expresses an opinion that goes against official policy, this can creates (sic) confusion in the public mind. To minimize confusion and to enable an administration to convey consist (sic) policy messages, it is appropriate to allow public relations officers to review a government scientist’s communications with the media.”

Perhaps I am taking his statement out of context, but he seems to mean review the statement before it is made. This is where we need the Mercedes-driving lawyers (http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/distro_Lawlessness_070927.pdf) to help us. What Resnik is saying, which PAO would latch onto in a heartbeat, consists of “prior restraint”, as he suggests review prior to a testimony or statement being made, not correction after the fact by the government. If prior approval for scientific opinions are required, a scientist does not have a snowball’s chance in Hades of providing his unadulterated opinion on a “sensitive” subject.

This is true regardless of which party is in power. The most horrific experience that I ever had with NASA PAO was in 2000 during a Democratic administration when I tried to get a press release through on “Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario”, which emphasized the importance of non-CO2 climate forcings. After umpteen iterations, I threw in the towel.

Resnik suggests that the best way to safeguard free speech in government science is for a scientific organization, such as the American Association for the Advancement for Science (AAAS), to designate a committee or group to focus on these issues. That may do some good, but by itself it will do little.

The presumption of democracy is that the public is informed, honestly informed. Government scientists work for the tax payer and should be allowed to report their research results without political interference. Elected officials can use scientific information as they see fit – they must consider all factors in making policies, not just scientific data. But they should not be allowed to torque the scientific data, or choose what information is allowed to be presented and what information is “deep-sixed.” Such filtering, which is a recipe for bad decisions and poor management, has never been as intense as in the past several years, in my opinion.

The main problems could be fixed as follows:

1. (1) Public Affairs Offices should be staffed by career professionals protected by civil service rules, not headed by political appointees,
2. (2) The practice of the White House OMB reviewing scientific testimony should be dropped.

These changes would be simple to make, they would allow the public to be better informed, the government would have a more complete picture for making decisions, the tax payers would get their money’s worth. So why doesn’t it happen?

Because, when a new Administration comes in they say “Hey, now WE can control the Offices of Propaganda (even though they consider them offices of their enlightened truth) and make OUR administration look good!

What is needed is a bi-partisan agreement that these changes would be in the interest of the nation. But it is just not going to happen unless the public gets involved. Politicians do not give up instruments of political power AFTER an election that they have won, unless they made an unambiguous promise before the election. We should be asking the candidates for President “will you make these two specific changes, to take the politics out of scientific reporting?”

And, then, we must check to see that the changes are made when a new administration takes over.

Hansen concludes by recommending Bowen’s “Censoring Science” (Dutton, 2008), for an exposition on the relation between the threat to our democracy (in Texan, pronounced do-re-mi) and the threat to our planet, admitting that Bowen does a better job than his (Hansen’s) 2006 treatise, “Swift Boating, Stealth Budgeting, & Unitary Executives“.

He closes with a query, “Would you believe that the current head of NASA PAO had a senior position in the Southern Company, the second largest holding company of coal-burning utilities in the United States?

“Naw, just kidding.”

“Or am I?”

“Read the book.”




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