Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Carbon Fixated has an amusing spoof of the "ClimateGate" scandal - Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’.

If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons – suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in covering up the truth, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

Here are a few tasters. They suggest dubious practices such as:

Conspiring to avoid public scrutiny:

There is nothing which I desire to avoid in matters of philosophy more then contentions, nor any kind of contention more then one in print: & therefore I gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concern then that for truth: but what passes between friends in private usually deserve ye name of consultation rather then contest, & so I hope it will prove between you & me.

Newton to Hooke, 5 February 1676

Insulting dissenting scientists and equating them with holocaust deniers:

[Hooks Considerations] consist in ascribing an hypothesis to me which is not mine; in asserting an hypothesis which as to ye principal parts of it is not against me; in granting the greatest part of my discourse if explicated by that hypothesis; & in denying some things the truth of which would have appeared by an experimental examination.

Newton to Oldenburg, 11 June 1672

Manipulation of evidence:

I wrote to you on Tuesday that the last leafe of the papers you sent me should be altered because it refers to a manuscript in my private custody & not yet upon record.

Newton to Keill, May 15 1674

Knowingly publishing scientific fraud:

You need not give yourself the trouble of examining all the calculations of the Scholium. Such errors as do not depend upon wrong reasoning can be of no great consequence & may be corrected by the reader.

Newton to Cotes June 15 1710

Suppression of evidence:

Mr. Raphson has printed off four or five sheets of his History of Fluxions, but being shew’d Sr. Is. Newton (who, it seems, would rather have them write against him, than have a piece done in that manner in his favour), he got a Stop put to it, for some time at least.

Jones to Cotes, 17 September 1711 ...

Kenyans plan a 300 MW wind and solar power project  

Posted by Big Gav in

Reuters has an article on yet another renewable energy project proposed for Kenya - Kenyans plan a 300 MW wind and solar power project.I'm not sure how many of these developments are actually getting built, but interest seems high at least.

A group of Kenyan investors want to start a 300 megawatts wind and solar power project in the north of the country next year, the head of their enterprise said on Thursday.

East Africa's biggest economy is seeking to increase electricity generation from alternative sources like wind and solar to meet demand that is expected to rise to 9,000 MW by 2030 from this year's 1,050 MW.

"The choice of the project was informed by blackouts, low penetration rate of electricity and instability of the power that we have. We are trying to secure land for the whole project," Michael Nderitu told Reuters.

Nissan to double electric car battery power  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

AFP has a report on a new electric car battery being developed by Nissan - Nissan to double electric car power: report

Japan's Nissan Motor Co. is working on a lithium-ion battery that can power an electric vehicle for 300 kilometres (190 miles) on a single charge, the business daily Nikkei said Sunday. The distance is nearly double the 160-kilometre range of the Leaf, Nissan's first all-electric car set to go on sale in late 2010 in Japan, the United States and Europe. Nissan, Japan's third largest automaker, aims to produce electric cars incorporating the new battery by 2015, according to Nikkei.

Nissan plans to boost the capacity of the lithium-ion battery's positive electrode by adding nickel and cobalt to its main material, manganese, it said. The enhanced battery can store about twice as much electricity as batteries with positive electrodes made only from manganese. It is robust enough for practical use, able to withstand about 1,000 charge cycles, the daily said.

The CPRS set to claim one victim - Malcolm Turnbull  

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While the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme (aka the CPRS) looks like achieving nothing in terms of reducing carbon emissions, it has wreaked havoc on the opposition Liberal party, with relatively enlightened leader Malcolm Turnbull facing revolt from the troglodyte wing of the party Crikey has a good set of articles on the fracas.

As defectors, disloyalty and confusion swirled around him last night, Malcolm Turnbull fronted the media in Parliament House. The widespread expectation among the hacks was that he would announce his resignation as Liberal leader.

Instead, he did the opposite. Instead of quitting, Turnbull passionately and articulately argued the case for why a Liberal Party without a prescriptive climate change policy was a Liberal Party without a chance of being elected. What we saw last night was the same person who unsuccessfully campaigned to make Australia a republic in the late nineties. What we saw last night was a conviction politician.

While a swathe of middle-aged men (and Bronwyn Bishop) disrespectfully disagree with him, the fact is that when it comes to the seminal issues, Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to place conviction ahead of political pragmatism.

If -- or probably when -- he is unseated as leader, Malcolm Turnbull will fail in his ambitions but still retain his convictions. Which is more than can be said for almost any other contemporary political leader.

As for the CPRS itself, The Guardian reckons its just a continuation of our 'do nothing" strategy started at Kyoto - Australia's Copenhagen climate strategy is smoke and mirrors.
So what is Australia bringing to Copenhagen? Rudd will be there in person. His headline grabber is the offer of a 25% cut in emissions. Except that the "conditions" he sets the rest of the world for this are so stringent that he is unlikely to have to deliver.

For instance, as the government spokesperson said, it would only be "fair" for Australia to make cuts that deep if other "advanced" countries made cuts "in the middle of the range identified by the IPCC" – that is, between 25-40%.

That's an odd definition of fairness. It is based, according to the spokesperson, on the fact that "Australia faces higher economic costs to achieve equivalent emissions reductions… than most other advanced countries." Funny, but I don't remember Australia offering bigger cuts in Kyoto because it was cheap and easy to end deforestation. Quite the contrary.

Otherwise, Rudd offers a range of reductions from 5-15%. That doesn't sound too bad until you remember the deforestation discount that Australia won in Kyoto. Along with other land-use changes since then, even a 15% "cut" would still allow Australians to emit more from burning coal in power stations, running cars and industry than they did in 1990. About 1% more, according to the analysis by the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

A new beginning in Copenhagen? Rudd's Copenhagen plan looks like a greenwashed version of the old Kyoto plan.

While I'd be tempted to say the CPRS is a useless waste of time and thus Malcolm is either fighting for nothing or playing "sensible" (in a very localised sense) politics by not being seen as opposing "progress" on climate change policy while supporting a scheme that does very little to penalise polluters, Ross Gittens is a little more charitable and think the CPRS may eventually evolve into something useful - The ills of Rudd's climate bills may be cured with time.
Malcolm Turnbull is right: there's no future for a Liberal Party that denies the reality of human-caused climate change and the need for early and decisive action to limit that change.

But a worry for many who accept the need for effective action is that Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme, especially as amended to (supposedly) win the Liberals' support, will do too little to change behaviour, reduce emissions and move us towards a low-carbon economy because it's so weak and so many options have been closed off.

Fortunately, the amended scheme - which I readily agree isn't a good one - will change behaviour despite all the hand-outs to big polluters (as I argued on Saturday) and does retain the potential to be improved over time, remembering that the scheme runs until 2020.

The first point to note is that some of the worst features of last week's deal are temporary. Much of the excessive compensation runs for only the first five years or so. There are various points where the legislation provides for reviews of the pace of progress and the urgency of the problem we're grappling with.

The next point is that though the pro-action critics of the scheme have focused on the unconditional target of reducing emissions by only 5 per cent, it now seems likely the global agreement to emerge from Copenhagen or a subsequent meeting will require us to lift that to the promised 15 per cent reduction.

The Government has avoided trumpeting this for fear of frightening off the Libs, but the seriousness of the actions being promised by the Indians, Brazilians and Chinese - mainly involving changes in land management, increases in energy efficiency and reductions in emissions per unit of gross domestic product - make some sort of deal between the developed and developing countries likely.

Admittedly, a target of reducing emissions in 2020 by 15 per cent of their level in 2000 represents only half the minimum reduction the scientists say we need to achieve by then.

But remember the compromise scheme is built to allow the target to be raised to 25 per cent should the multilateral agreement be sufficiently comprehensive as to limit global emissions to 450 parts per million. For such a deal to be achieved, the Americans and the Europeans would have to greatly increase their own targets.

One long-standing weakness in Rudd's scheme is the decision to neutralise the effect on petrol prices. But this exemption - made when the price of petrol was much higher than it is now - is only guaranteed for three years. It can and should be removed after that.

Bernard Keane reckons the writing has been on the wall for Malcolm's leadership for a while, but that this is a shame for Australian democracy given the alternatives on offer in the Liberal party - Reflections on Turnbull and his party.
It should never have been thus. Putting aside my professional role for a moment, I had high hopes for Turnbull. I knew the electoral timing was all wrong for him. But I thought he could build on the unappreciated work of Brendan Nelson in moving the Liberals back to the centre ground and set the Liberals up to be a viable force in 2013, a healthy union of conservatives and progressives, with perhaps a dash of libertarianism (my own personal creed) thrown in. And Turnbull fitted the bill perfectly – progressive, but with a strong belief in the core Liberal philosophy of personal freedom, immensely intelligent, a self-made man, charming, utterly ruthless. If anyone was going to break the rule that Oppositions don’t defeat first-term governments, it would be him.

It didn’t play out that way, mostly because Kevin Rudd expertly responded to the global financial crisis and recession, and Turnbull took the disastrous decision to oppose him on the stimulus early this year. At the time, I thought the Liberals were committing suicide, and the opinion polls ever since have confirmed that.

There are senior Liberals who also believe that was a mistake, but it’s all too late now.

And other, equally senior, Liberals have repeatedly pointed out Turnbull’s glaring failure as a leader: his inability to understand that he must bring his colleagues with him, not treat them like idiots.

The default Turnbull response to disagreement is to demolish whoever it is that’s unfortunate enough to disagree with him. He can dish it out with a ferocity probably not seen in political life since Paul Keating. He has no concept that someone treated that way may not forget about it, may be genuinely aggrieved by their treatment, may not be inclined to forgive the bloke who dished it out and get on with it. ...

Any option other than Turnbull at this point will be an electoral calamity for the Liberals. Forget the nonsense about a Sunrise election between Hockey and Rudd. The Rudd machine will devour Hockey, who in any event will stumble and bumble his way to polling day so badly there’s a risk his party will want to replace him even before then. Abbott will reduce the party to a reactionary rump struggling to accept the 20th, let alone the 21st, century.

A vote to dispose of Turnbull on Tuesday will be an act of lunacy from the Liberals. It will condemn Australia to a one-party government for much of the next decade. It will give the Rudd Government a virtual free hand, without effective scrutiny. And it won’t solve a damn thing.

Anyone who wants a semblance of an effective Opposition should fervently hope for a Turnbull win.

Crikey also has a column noting the Liberals may be headed for a series of "big wins" as a result of being held hostage by the conservative fringes - Just like the Libs, the Republicans face the conundrum of courting crazies.
The Republican Party base increasingly takes ideological inspiration from Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and Sean Hannity and other culture war demagogues. As the tens of thousands attending the ‘Tea Party’ rallies show, such people can, far more than any traditional Republican, whip the party activists into a frenzy. Yet, because the majority of Americans regard the Limbaugh/Beck brand of conservatism as perfectly lunatic, when it comes to a poll, the populist candidates fail and fail again. ...

The Australian situation is not the same. There’s no-one marching to Canberra to teabag Kevin Rudd; we don’t have Fox News or Clear Channel radio network denouncing Labor as a communist-fascist death camp conspiracy.

Nonetheless, for some time now, there’s been considerable media support for a populist skepticism around global warming. It’s not just Andrew Bolt, either — The Australian has been for years devoting its opinion pages to overt climate denialists.

Furthermore, these days it’s perfectly possible, even from Australia, to tap directly into the main vein of climate wingnuttery. If you think Miranda Devine correct to call a climate change to be a fraud, well, why not log on to hard-core nutters like Michelle Malkin or Ann Coulter, who will assure you that the whole business is an overt conspiracy cooked up by America-hating leftists?

In the US, the populist tide means that only 34 per cent of Republicans want legislation on climate change compared to 84 per cent of democrats. Here, the polarization is not so overt but it’s trending in the same direction, with seventy per cent of those who vote Labor supporting action against global warming and only 44 per cent of Liberal voters.

And that’s voters, not party members. One would hazard a guess that the proportion of overt skeptics amongst conservative activists is much, much higher, since it’s hard to imagine anyone joining the Liberal Party because of Malcolm Turnbull’s climate pragmatism, whereas an understanding of global warming as a dastardly con job provides exactly the kind of urgency likely to inspire political action.

Hence the deluge of angry phone calls and emails Coalition MPs now claim to have been receiving. The populists have a genuine passion that the moderates entirely lack.

An organization dominated by activists taking direction from media figures who themselves never have to face election – media figures who are, in fact, entirely unaccountable – well, it’s a dilly of a pickle, isn’t it?

Remember, too, the populists view matters in a quite different way to traditional politicians.

In the wake of Doug Hoffman’s loss to the Democrats, the influential wingnut blog Red State declared that, actually, the result represented ‘a huge win’, since it demonstrated to the Republican hierarchy that the rank-and-file could not be taken for granted. One suspects that, here in Australia, the Liberals now have many such huge wins ahead of them.

Eddie Maguire may have a (rare) point when he says Malcom's biggest mistake was joining the wrong party, though I think Bob Ellis is more accurate when he dubs Malcolm the Lost Liberal Democrat.
I guess I can't call Malcolm a friend any more but I used to and I've known him all of his adult life and feel sorry for him now. He's a bigger man than all the fleas that are currently nibbling at him, but from a bunch that trusted and followed the mendacious midget Howard (twenty years as Deputy Leader, Leader and P.M.) it's what you might expect.

They resent the questions of latter-day adjustment and philosophical consistency and the oxygen he brings into the room, they hate (I guess) cradle Anglicans and the kind self-made rich man who takes risks, dares new horizons, sticks out his chest and pounds it and yodels, punches above his weight, chiacks her Majesty and mostly prevails.

He's a Liberal Democrat through and through and they are clenched-up Thatcherites, Royalist nostalgics and, to a great extent, fearful Catholics. ...

It's not quite as simple as this, of course. Other factors in play this week, this month, this year, include Rudd and Wong's unending and cruel gamesmanship, tormenting and humiliating an Opposition they should have been gently wooing, preferring lordly sadistic onrushing deadlines to democratic discourse, jeering at their foes' understandable divisions rather than crafting honest policy, preferring the monkey-tricks of municipal politics to wise inclusive consensus on the most important problem since the Ice Age.

Crikey points to another alternative - the Liberals could split into 2 - a conservative party and a genuine liberal party (re-enacting the long ago creation of the now defunct Australian Democrats) - No party lasts forever - Split Happens.
It is time for liberals, or moderates as the media terms them, to start thinking laterally. They owe it to those Australians who find Labor and the Liberal Party too conservative on a range of issues to contemplate the beginnings of a new political force along the lines of those that currently exist in the UK, Canada and Germany.

But who would vote for a genuine liberal party that stood for action on climate change, market-driven economic policies, and new thinking on issues such as drugs, gay marriage and indigenous self-empowerment and refugees? Turnbull’s own electorate of Wentworth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is one that might find such a political force very attractive. It is a diverse, educated electorate as is, for example, Peter Costello’s former electorate of Higgins in Melbourne, or Chris Pyne’s electorate of Sturt in inner urban Adelaide. Sydney’s north shore, particularly the lower reaches, also represents a generally liberal profile.

That there is yawning gap in the political ideas marketplace in this country is made abundantly clear to a “liberal” voter when he or she looks down at the ballot paper come election time. Do they vote for a cautious Labor Party that is fearful of embracing issues such as a charter of rights or more humane treatment of refugees? Or do they plump for a Liberal Party, which has some decent progressives within it such as Turnbull but whose policy direction is steered by hard-line conservatives? Of the minor forces there is only the Greens, which, while socially progressive, is economically illiterate and prone to bouts of extremism.

So what sort of vote would a liberal force attract? The Free Democrats and the Liberal Democrats in the UK are the third force — they never outpoll the major parties but they influence policy through being coalition partners in the case of the Free Democrats or by potentially holding the balance of power as may occur with the Liberal Democrats after next year’s UK election. One could expect a similar scenario in Australia with a liberal party perhaps winning a handful of House of Representatives seats and some senate seats. This would make them a powerful player in the numbers game.

Guy Rundle thinks the end of the Liberals will happen regardless, simply because of the way the world has changed in recent decades - The Liberal Party Is Trapped In A Death Spiral.
Consider what Fusion was. It was not simply an arrangement between two groups, not a coalition. It was a recognition that one entire political framework – empire versus free-trade, restraint on capital versus its expansion – had been superseded.

Protection was not simply a series of measures to protect local industry – it was an idea about what a society should be, in which social relations held economic relations in place, limited their purview. Free trade was the idea that economic relations should be allowed to reconstruct social relations (which for free traders chiefly meant that it would rive out rent, and rentiers).

The rise of socialism and Labour parties from the 1890s simply instituted a whole new political division, by energising real social forces – labour unions that had once been isolated unified and collectivised, parties giving them political expression, a doctrine of social transformation.

That division in turn died in the 1970s, with both the political defeat of socialist experiments, and the emergence of deep contradictions which made it unworkable. Labor simply took over what should have been the Liberals’ historical role – neoliberal reconstruction – and badged it as a form of modernisation, making it part of a distinctive progressive package, and leaving the Libs with nowhere to go but populism with a use-by date.

But now politics has re-divided. The hitherto small information/cultural producer class has become a force in its own right, cutting across old economic class divisions and old affiliations. You can see this in a whole lot of processes – the way in a seat like Higgins for example, one can anticipate a lot of people who would vote Liberal in a Liberal-Labor stoush, flowing to the Greens, even with an, erm, interesting candidate like Clive Hamilton.

Socialism in its 20th century form is over, and the question is no longer framed by private-public, worker-company divisions. Increasingly the divisions is between knowledge frameworks – people inside the new global economy, often working mainly with information, who see the world in terms of systems, networks, processes, global entities, as part of a single humanity on the one hand, and those tending to be in the old world of more local, parochial, and fixed ideas of morality, work and social order.

Farmers, sections of the old middle class, the ‘petty bourgeoisie’ etc – people increasingly excluded from the cultural and financial mainstream.

That division now runs smack down the middle of the Liberal Party, which is why the party is on the verge of ceasing to exist as anything other than a shell – and leading to the real possibility of real recombination of the non-Labor forces.

And Guy followed up today with another column pondering a Turnbull party - Sensible and Silly .. Time For A Liberal Split.
Minchin said, in response to Turnbull's Dr Strangelove act on the weekend, that he had been in the Liberal Party too long to want to destroy it.

Maybe, but he's also a stalwart Right-wing warrior, the Bill Hartley of his team. For the Liberals to win in their current constellation, or even for it to become the standard set-up, would be to cement in a politics that excludes the world-vision ably expressed by Minchin's remark that climate change politics was "communism by other means".

So the moderate Libs should jump or be ready to turn into a genuine liberal party – the only chance that moderate liberals would have to fight such a battle from a position of incumbency.

The great strength of such a party would be that they would get preference flows from both the other major parties – the existing Libs, who might well merge with the Nationals – and they would be in a position to negotiate with the Greens, who would then have someone they could first preference to ahead of Labor.

Quite aside from holding a fair brace of their own seats, they would be real competition for the ALP in a number of metro seats – especially if, freed of their country cousins, they could offer a more genuinely liberal social policy. That would scoop a bunch of prosperous social liberal voters who continue to vote ALP despite the party's increasingly socially conservative rhetoric and appetite for state censorship and repression.


Turnbull's "Dr Strangelove Act" of the weekend was his interview with Laurie Oakes where he basically declared war on the conservatives - great to see a politician being honest for a change.

MT: Look the Minchin-ites do not want to delay consideration of the legislation, they do not believe that climate change is real, they do not believe that humans are causing it and they do not want to do anything about it. Nick Minchin made that very clear in the Four Corners programme as did a number of his acolytes. What he is trying, what he is is a climate change denier. He stands for doing nothing on climate change. He said a majority of our party room do not believe that humans have any impact on climate change. Now that is a view contrary to the opinion of the vast majority of Australians, contrary to the opinion of every government in the world, and every major political party in the world. Now, if Nick Minchin wins, if he wins this battle, he condemns our party to irrelevance, because what he is saying on one of the greatest issues and challenges of our time, one that will affect the future of the planet and the future of our children and their children, Nick Minchin is staying "do nothing". He wants us to be the "do nothing on climate change" party and he has been, he's on the record about that, and when he talks about a delay or a deferral, what that means is denial.

LO: But if you …

MT: That is political death for us.

LO: If you agree to delay, you could probably save your leadership and live to fight another day. You must know in your heart that you are going to get done on Tuesday?

MT: Laurie, I will win on Tuesday and I am not interested in becoming a mouth piece or a Patsy or a tool for people whose views are completely wrong and are contrary to the best interests of our nation, our planet and indeed the Liberal Party. Just remember this, John Howard was a noted sceptic about climate change, he had doubts about the science. But John was enough of a leader to recognise that we had to act. And the emissions trading scheme that is currently in the Parliament this coming week and which must be passed this week is one which is very similar to the scheme that John Howard took to the last election, John Howard himself has said that. Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews for that matter, were in that Cabinet. They didn't object, they went along with it and now they say "We didn't ever believe in it". What does that say about their integrity.

LO: But this is destroying the Liberal Party.

MT: Well they are destroying the Liberal Party, there is a recklessness and a wilfulness in these men which is going to destroy the Liberal Party. Remember this: we took an ETS to the last election. John Howard did. We then had a party room meeting back in October in which we overwhelmingly agreed to take a set of amendments, Rudd's ETS to the government. And the basis of that negotiation was if you agree with what we're asking, or enough of it, to satisfy us, then we will vote it through. Then we will give you what we want, we will pass the bill with our amendments. We achieved massive concessions, everyone was amazed how much the government gave us. We went back to the party room, and as you have note in your column the party room, by a majority, not a huge majority to be fair, but by a majority, agreed with the recommendation of the Shadow Cabinet. So we shook hands with the government, an agreement was done and we agreed to support those amendments.

LO: Then the Liberal Party fell apart, now...

MT: No, no, no, what …

LO: If you survive on Tuesday, the Liberal Party will remain bitterly divided, it will remain in meltdown won’t it?

MT: Laurie that’s not the… look, the only way the Liberal Party can get over this is to get this issue passed. If this issue is not resolved, the climate change war that Nick Minchin and his wreckers have started will continue to destroy the Liberal Party until such time as we are destroyed by Kevin Rudd in an election.

Peak oil: the summit that dominates the horizon  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Guardian seems to be running a lot of peak oil articles lately - one recent example declares "Crude is still being discovered; existing fields are not being exploited to the full. So it's hard to predict the exact point at which the world's dwindling reserves will precipitate a crisis. But it's coming" - Peak oil: the summit that dominates the horizon.

Massive new oil finds off the southern states of America and Brazil plus exciting discoveries in currently non-producing countries such as Ghana and Uganda sit uneasily with claims the world is running out of crude.

BP recently boasted about a "giant" strike on the Tiber field in the Gulf of Mexico and BG, the former exploration arm of British Gas, talked of its "supergiant" at the Guará prospect off South America, yet critics argue they cannot make up for the fast depletion of existing fields.

These "peak oil" believers say the high point of oil output could even have passed already. They argue it will take 10 years to develop the likes of Tiber while a string of similar discoveries would have to be made at very regular intervals to move the peak point back towards 2030 the projection used in some scenarios put forward by the International Energy Agency.

The debate has intensified in recent weeks after whistleblowers claimed the IEA figures were unreliable and subject to political manipulation – something the agency categorically denies. But the subject of oil reserves touches not just energy and climate change policy but the wider economic scene, because hydrocarbons still oil the wheels of international trade.

Even the Paris-based IEA admits that the world still needs to find the equivalent of four new Saudi Arabias to feed increasing demand at a time when the depletion rate in old fields of the North Sea and other major producing areas is running at 7% year on year.

"The fields which are producing today are going to significantly decline. We are very worried about these trends," says Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the IEA, who has gradually ramped that depletion figure upwards and has expressed deep concerns at a huge fall-off in the current levels of investment in the sector.

Birol and the wider industry are certainly well aware that the days of "easy" oil are over. The big international companies such as BP and ExxonMobil are struggling to find enough new oil to replace their exploited reserves year-on-year and Shell found itself on the end of a major fine for exaggerating its reserves report to the Securities & Exchange Commission in the US.

The Big Green Idea  

Posted by Big Gav

The British Council is offering grants for green projects as part of an initiative called "The Big Green Idea". Entries close on December 4, so get one in quick if you are interested.

The Big Green Idea is a new funding initiative from the British Council designed to help put eco-visionary ideas into action. We’re offering five (5) project grants of AU$10,000 each to people who will make a real contribution to Australia's environmental future.

With urban centres expanding rapidly throughout the world, the challenge of making them sustainable becomes even more pressing. Big Green Idea is designed to assist initiate new projects that motivate people to minimise their own climate change impacts.

We’re looking for eco-entrepreneurs with savvy ideas that will help address some of the biggest sustainability challenges for urban communities while making a positive impact on the way people live.

Specifically, funded projects should address the following urban issues:

* waste reduction and efficiency
* transport and travel
* energy reduction
* water efficiency
* sustainable design

The Big Green Idea is a part of the British Council’s International Climate Champions programme that works in sixty countries across the globe, with people who are passionate and committed to action on climate change.

We help them develop and implement projects within their local communities that raise awareness of climate change, limit the impact of climate change (adaptation), and reduce carbon footprint (mitigation). Champions work with other young people around the globe to share and develop their ideas through a networking site and other discussion forums.

As well as working in their local area, International Climate Champions meet with local and national leaders to share their experiences, and on occasions have the opportunity to express their views to world leaders at international meetings, such as the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Successful Big Green Idea applicants will have the opportunity to take part in this global network, with opportunities for training and networking at global events announced throughout the year.

British company to help India harness the power of the sea  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Times has an article on British efforts to enter the tidal power market in India - British company to help India harness the power of the sea.

A small British-based tidal energy company has won a landmark contract to attempt to harness the power of the sea around India for the first time.

Atlantis Resources has forged a deal with the western state of Gujarat, under which the privately owned company will establish the feasibility of developing tidal power projects capable of generating more than 100 megawatts of power — enough to supply about 40,000 households.

Of particular interest are the Gulf of Kutch and the Gulf of Khambhat in the Arabian Sea: two sites renowned for extreme daily tides. The project could lead to hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment in tidal energy if the results of the study are positive.

India has more than 4,500 miles of coastline and is scrambling to tackle a gaping power deficit but has yet to establish a single tidal power project. The move to explore the untapped resource comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, an event where India will strive to demonstrate that it is doing its utmost to limit emissions while refusing to cap economic growth.

India, which imports 70 per cent of its oil and relies on modest coal reserves to generate most of its electricity, is on course to become the third-largest user of energy by 2030, behind the US and China.

Atlantis’s backers include Morgan Stanley and Statkraft, the Norweigan state utility. The company, which is run by Tim Cornelius, an Australian former pilot of manned submersibles, is also hoping to establish a £400 million project to build one of the world’s biggest tidal power plants in the Pentland Firth, off the Scottish coast.

Renewable Energy Magazine has an update on wave power company Aquamarine Power - Oyster takes to the waves.
Last week’s launch of the Oyster took place at EMEC’s Billia Croo site near Stromness, where the device was installed this summer. Scotland’s First Minister was on site to switch on Oyster for the first time. The device, which was developed by wave energy company Aquamarine Power, is currently the world’s only hydro-electric wave energy device which is producing power.

Oyster generates power by pumping high pressure water to its onshore hydro-electric turbine, which will then be fed into the National Grid to power homes in Orkney and beyond. According to Aquamarine Power, “a farm of 20 Oysters would provide enough energy to power 9,000 three bedroom family homes”. ...

Scotland's renewables potential is estimated to be around 60GW, with its waters holding around 10% of Europe’s wave power potential and as much as a quarter of its tidal power potential. The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) provides world-leading test facilities for Aquamarine and other companies to develop the technology needed to harness this huge untapped potential.

Another Day, Another Dust Storm  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

When I headed out this morning and saw the air quality here I immediately wondered if yet another dust cloud had rolled over Sydney - according to the SMH the answer is "yes" (maybe those conservative climate skeptics don't ever go outside to notice the new weather patterns - too busy try to knife their moderate leader in the back) - Dust haze blankets Sydney and NSW.

A dust haze across Sydney should completely clear on Sunday afternoon but the Hunter Valley is expected to be blanketed until evening.

The Bureau of Meteorology insisted this morning it was not a dust storm such as the one seen in Sydney on September 23, just "raised dust". "It's shrinking... conditions are improving,'' Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Peter Zmijewski said.

Pitchfork-wielding mobs encircle smart meters  

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The Register has an article on the controversy surrounding one smart meter rollout in California - Pitchfork-wielding mobs encircle smart meters.

A push by California's electricity provider to modernize its power grid is turning into a public relations disaster, as allegations mount that it's responsible for stratospheric overcharges.

At issue are the 10 million smart meters Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, is rolling out to customers throughout the state. The digital meters, unlike the analog devices they're replacing, provide two-way communications between electricity users and the power stations that serve them. That eliminates the need for meter readers to visit each customer to know how much power has been consumed. ...

PG&E, and the providers of the smart meter gear take strong exception to those claims.

"The manufacturers test and certify the meters before they leave the factory," said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. "We also do some testing of meters upon arrival, and when meters are deployed in the field, before we convert the billing, we also check usage reads to ensure they're consistent with a customer's historic usage."

Once the complaints started rolling in, PG&E began paying visits to angry customers to test their meters. So far, it has tested more than 1,100 of them and none has been found faulty, he said.

Moreno said customers' bills are rising not as a result of the new meters, but because of recent rate increases and a hotter-than-normal summer, which has driven up air-conditioning costs.

Landis+Gyr and Silver Spring Networks, two of the companies providing technology for the smart meters, also insist their gear has been rigorously tested. Among other criteria, the equipment must pass accuracy and performance muster spelled out in in ANSI C12.20, they say.

"The system itself is working exactly as intended," said Eric Dresselhuys, an executive vice president for Silver Spring. "The accuracy of the meters and the accuracy of the system in total is excellent."

Erfan Ibrahim, a technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute, also argues that the meters are accurate.

"If the accuracy was in question, all the meters would be showing errors because it would be a structural issue," he said. To date, the complaints amount to a tiny fraction of the people using them.

Australia renewable energy certificate futures stall on take-off  

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Reuters has a report on the thus far unsuccessful launch of futures trading for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS) on the ASX - Australia renewable energy futures stall on take-off.

Australian securities exchange operator ASX Ltd's plans to take a lead in the renewable energy market stalled on Tuesday when a new futures contract failed to trade after listing for the first time.

The futures contract and a related options contract over renewable energy certificates (RECs) were launched to reduce price risks faced by electricity suppliers as Australia looks to cut its reliance on electricity from coal-fired power stations.

Traders said the debate over Australia's proposed emission trading scheme (ETS) had taken some of the interest out the contract. The government reached an agreement with the opposition on Tuesday over proposals that may allow the scheme to passed into law.

"It will take people a little bit of time to digest just what is going on in these markets and with the ETS where all the focus is at the moment," said Gary Cox, head of energy trading at Newedge Australia.

The ASX decided to launch the REC futures contract after the government passed legislation in August mandating that 20 percent of Australia's energy should be from renewable sources such as wind farms by 2020, more than four times the current level.

RECs are a form of currency that can be earned by installing solar panels, wind turbines and micro-hydro plants. Each REC represents one megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated from renewable energy and can be traded once registered.

Cox said there was also uncertainty after the government decided to hold an inquiry into the market being flooded with RECs generated from home-based solar panel installations that received government grants.

REC prices have dropped from a spot price in the over-the-counter market in June of A$50 to around A$31.10 at present amid the excess supply.

Peak oil panic? Dubai or not Dubai?  

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ZDNet has a post linking the Dubai debt crisis to post-peak oil periods in one time oil exporting economies - Peak oil panic? Dubai or not Dubai?

Could the mushrooming Dubai debt crisis be a preview of what peak oil will produce among the oil-selling nations?

Dubai–meaning the few poweful men in control–launched itself on a campaign to become the combo Las Vegas, Miami and Wall Street of the Mideast. That meant huge construction projects and rampant purchasing of key properties across the globe. A large portion of the action in Dubai is run by sovereign firms, belonging primarily to the Dubai government and its leaders. However, they’ve borrowed up to $60-billion from all over the globe. Stock markets today tanked when the story broke: no interest payments for six months from one arm of Dubai World.

Perhpas you recell the cause celebre in Washington when Dubai bought a British company that controlled a slew of American ports? Eventually the Dubai sovereign company sold its U.S. ports to the All-American patriots over at AIG. And we all know how good AIG has been to Americans.

Why would tiny Dubai start grasping and reaching for a different future? Because they know their oil is running out and they don’t wish to go back to living like nomads or sailing little wooden boats around the Persian Gulf. Of course, now it appears their investment plans looked better in theory than in practice.

Scottish invention promises wind power revolution  

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The Times has an article about a Scottish design innovation that allows wind turbines to be built without gearboxes, potentially resulting in large reductions in ongoing maintenance costs - Scottish invention promises power revolution.

A radical new design of electrical generator that solves an engineering quandary and promises to be cheaper, lighter and more reliable than anything currently available has been unveiled by scientists at the University of Edinburgh.

The work by Markus Mueller and Alasdair McDonald at the university’s Institute of Energy Systems has solved one of the fundamental engineering problems faced by builders of offshore wind turbines. ...

Mr Shepherd said of NGenTec: “Our technology has the potential to revolutionise the renewable energy industry by making wind power cheaper and more reliable and greatly increasing the efficiency of wind turbines for electricity companies.”

The blades of conventional turbines are connected to a generator via a gearbox. In harsh conditions at sea, this is prone to breakdown, leading to costly repairs which themselves are at the mercy of the weather. The alternative is to dispense with the gearbox and connect the blades directly to a generator via an axle.

The institute’s design — through a novel arrangement of the magnets inside the generator and the copper coils that produce electricity as they pass the magnets — has succeeded in cutting the weight of direct-drive generators by up to half and made assembly much easier. A prototype installed on a wind turbine has proved that the design works.

Blasphemy  

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Jamais at Open the Future has a post on the dodgy rhetorical tactics used by climate skeptics and the underlying belief systems that guide them - Blasphemy.

Superfreakonomics author Steven Levitt has been fighting against the myriad critics going after him for the many, many mistakes in (at least) the global warming section of the book. Interestingly, a phrase that keeps coming up in his rebuttals is "I'm not sure why that is blasphemy."

Blasphemy. Hmm.

What strikes me as interesting about the use of this term is that it (along with the use of "belief" and explicit references to "global warming religion") changes the frame of the discussion of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to something for which faith overrides analysis. By claiming that AGW scientists are simply pushing their beliefs, AGW critics can position themselves in front of the general public and the traditional media as simply having differing beliefs, in a social milieu in which multiplicity of faiths is a Good Thing (™). Attacking them for not believing in AGW is akin (in this framing) to attacking them for being Presbyterian. You may disagree with their beliefs, they say, but they have every right to believe what they want.

The parallel here is with scientific subjects such as evolution, the biological origins of sexual orientation, and the age of the universe, all of which have opponents who insist on framing all sides of the argument in terms of beliefs (you can probably add vaccinations to that pile, too). It's not just that they're faith based -- they insist that everyone else in the discussion is, too.

There's some utility for them in this. If the discussion around AGW (or evolution, or vaccinations) was solely scientific -- with the use of relatively objective evidence, open analysis, and a willingness to learn from mistakes -- the disbelievers would quickly lose all standing. The scientific evidence for AGW is simply so overwhelming that the only way to perpetuate a "debate" is by playing the belief card. As long as AGW deniers and "skeptics" can keep the framing religious, they can maintain their perceived legitimacy.

As far as I know, Steven Levitt does not adopt an explicitly religious view of the issues discussed in his book, and might even take offense at being lumped in with anti-vaxxers and creationists. But he's the one who has decided to frame his arguments in the language of faith and belief. The lesson is here is simple: pay attention to language. The messages and meanings underlying the terms chosen by interest groups can say more about them than they might intend.

The world's first osmotic power plant  

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Gizmag has an article on the world's first osmosis power plant - The world's first osmotic power plant from Statkraft.

The principle of harnessing osmosis has the potential to produce enormous amounts of energy anywhere that salt water and fresh water meet. We looked at some of the approaches to turning this theory into reality earlier this year, including Statkraft's plans to build a prototype power plant. The company's plans are now coming to fruition with Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway officially opening the world's first osmotic power plant prototype on November 24.

The osmotic power plant guides sea water and fresh water into separate chambers, which are divided by an artificial membrane. Salt molecules pull the fresh water through the membrane, increasing the pressure in the sea water chamber. This pressure is then utilized in a power generating turbine.

The prototype has a limited production capacity and will be used primarily for testing and data validation leading to the construction of a commercial power plant in a few years time. Statkraft claims that the technology has the global potential to generate clean, renewable energy equivalent to China's total electricity consumption in 2002 or half of the EU's total power production (some 1600 to 1700 Twh).

In theory, such power plants could be located wherever sea water and fresh water meet, such as the mouth of a river. They run without producing noise pollution or polluting emissions and can be integrated into existing industrial zones, perhaps being installed within unused areas of existing buildings.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Sobering Update on the Science  

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Yale Environment 360 has an article on the latest climate research summary released in the lead up to the Copenhagen summit - The Copenhagen Diagnosis:
Sobering Update on the Science
.

Ahead of talks in Copenhagen, a group of leading climate scientists has issued a new report summarizing the most recent research findings from around the world and concluding that scientists have underestimated the pace and extent of global warming. The report — titled “The Copenhagen Diagnosis” — finds that in several key areas observed changes are outstripping the most recent projections by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and warns that “there is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2 °C unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly” within the next decade.

The report points to dramatic declines in Arctic sea ice, recent measurements that show a large net loss of ice from both Greenland and Antarctica, and the relatively rapid rise in global sea levels — 3.4 millimeters per year — as particular reasons for concern. Sea-level rise this century, it states, “is likely to be at least twice as large” as predicted by the most recent IPCC report, issued in 2007, with an upper limit of roughly two meters.

“Sea level is rising much faster and Arctic sea ice cover shrinking more rapidly than we previously expected,” Stefan Rahmstorf, department head at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said in a press release accompanying the report. “Unfortunately, the data now show us that we have underestimated the climate crisis in the past.”

According to the report, which was released today, there are several elements of the climate system that could reach a “tipping point” in coming decades if current emissions trends continue. The report notes that even at current greenhouse gas concentrations, it is already “very likely” that a “summer ice-free Arctic is inevitable.” The Greenland Ice sheet, too, the report warns, “may be nearing a tipping point where it is committed to shrink.”

The report’s 26 authors include scientists from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, the U.S., and Australia. Most were also authors of the last IPCC report, and donated their time to draft “The Copenhagen Diagnosis.” The University of New South Wales’ Climate Change Research Centre provided logistical support.

Inelastic Russian Oil  

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Stuart Staniford has returned to the blogging world with a new blog called "Early Warning", with this post on Russian oil production being one example of his new style - Inelastic Russian Oil.

It's interesting to look at a few of the larger producer countries through the lens of these price/supply scatterplots (introduced on Tuesday, following this week's main post). In 2008, according to BP, the largest oil producers were as follows:

In general, oil supply is a long-tailed thing, with many countries in the world contributing to the overall supply. However, Saudi Arabia and Russia are the twin largest suppliers, contributing a bit less than a quarter of the global supply between them. Then comes the US quite a distance behind.

In this post, we look quickly at Russia - the graph is above and pretty much speaks for itself. After the "Russian Revival" of the late 1990s and early 2000s, production is now not increasing with higher prices (and indeed not decreasing at lower prices either - Russia lately behaves like it pretty much produces what it can regardless of price, which seems to be in the 9.5-10mbd range).

Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture  

Posted by Big Gav

One of a number of interesting new TED talks - Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture.

A living laboratory for energy efficiency  

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The Jakarta Post has an article on a green building experiment in Singapore - A living laboratory for energy efficiency.

Changes start at home, they say. And Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy lives up to that adage with its recently opened Zero Energy Building.

At first glance, the 15-year-old retrofitted building looks just like any other. But, upon closer inspection, a monitor on its first floor tells an entirely different story.

As of Oct. 30, some twelve days after the building reopened, the energy meter showed the cumulative energy consumed by the tower, around 6,300 kilowatt per hour (kWh), was covered by its cumulative energy production of 7,700 kWh.

That’s right, energy produced by the various new features in the building.

“We named the building Zero Energy because we wanted it to reflect our objective of at least matching our annual cumulative energy consumption with our yearly energy production. It would be even better off if we could produce more [energy than consume],” BCA senior development officer Tan Li Sirh said.

With that ambitious but not impossible objective, BCA invested S$11 million to fit solar panels, a green façade and other features to help reduce energy use and increase energy generation.

Using passive design principles, the 4,500-square-meter building features shading devices, “living” walls and mirror ducts, reducing its electricity needs by 5 percent.

Kenya to Boost Geothermal Output by 4,000MW in Two Decades  

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Bloomberg has a report on efforts to expand geothermal energy output in East Africa - Kenya to Boost Geothermal Output by 4,000MW in Two Decades.

Kenya plans to boost geothermal generation capacity by 4,000 megawatts over the next two decades to ensure East Africa’s biggest economy has clean and reliable energy supplies, the Geothermal Development Co. said.

Three production sites at the Olkaria geothermal field, 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Nairobi, can now produce a combined 167 megawatts, against a national potential of 7,000 megawatts, said Silas Simiyu, chief executive officer of the state-run company that was set up in February.

“There is a political push in Kenya to produce electricity that is more affordable, reliable and from green energy,” Simiyu said in an interview in Nairobi, the capital, yesterday.

Western Australia sea level rising fast  

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The BBC reports that WA is seeing a much larger than average rise in the level of the ocean - W Australia sea level rising fast.

New figures have revealed that sea levels along the coast of Western Australia are rising at a rate double that of the world average. Statistics from Australia's National Tidal Centre show levels have increased by 8.6mm a year off the coast of the state capital Perth. That compares to a global average of just over 3mm.

Scientists have said that man-made climate change has played a significant role in the rise. Climatologists have said that a combination of natural variability and man-made pollution have caused sea levels to rise around the world.

Nuclear power: less effective than energy efficiency and renewable energy?  

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The LA Tmes has a post on the effectiveness of nuclear power for mitigating global warming - Nuclear power: less effective than energy efficiency and renewable energy?.

The Environment California Research & Policy Center concluded that launching a nuclear power industry nearly from the ground up is too slow and expensive a process. Energy efficiency standards and renewable energy options are better solutions, researchers said.

Currently, no new nuclear reactors are under construction in the country, and no U.S. power company has ordered a nuclear plant since 1978. All orders for nuclear facilities after fall 1973 were eventually canceled, according to the report.

Meanwhile, building a reactor would probably take around a decade – 2016 at the earliest, the study suggested. Without an existing infrastructure, manufacturing reactor parts with the dearth of trained personnel would be difficult.

But even if the nuclear industry managed to build 100 reactors by 2030, the total power produced would reduce total U.S. emissions only 12% over the next 20 years, which Environment California deemed “far too little, too late.”

The $600-billion upfront investment necessary for the 100 reactors would slice out twice as much carbon pollution in that period if invested in clean energy, according to the report. And given the costs of running a power plant, clean energy could deliver five times as much progress per dollar in lowering pollution.

Energy Positive House to Supply Power to Grid in Sweden  

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Green Building of the week from Inhabitat is this energy-positive house in Sweden - Energy Positive House to Supply Power to Grid in Sweden.

Karin Adalberth, a doctor of building physics, partnered with local green utility company E. ON when she designed the plans for Villa Akarp, which is being built outside the Swedish city of Malmo. Together, the two worked out a plan where the residence would purchase energy from the utility during Sweden’s dark winter months and sell electricity back to the grid during sunny summer months. If calculations are correct, the house will sell back about 4,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually while only purchasing 2,600 kilowatt-hours, creating a positive net energy ratio.

To achieve such lofty green goals, designers plan to implement a ton of energy efficient technologies into Villa Akarp. For one, wool fiber insulation 5.5 decimeters thick will line the home’s walls–compared to a home with insulation one decimeter thick, the extra lining would save the average family about 75 percent in energy costs. Foam insulation will line the building’s foundation, and triple-glazed windows will prevent air from escaping while also letting in lots of natural light. In terms of heat and hot water, the home will use a combination of Passiv Haus heating concepts (using energy already being generated by appliances and other household items to warm the interior), a solar thermal system, and traditional radiators. During the sunny months, 32 square meters of solar panels will produce power.

A New Route to Cellulosic Biofuels  

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Technology Review has an article on a pilot plant being built by Zeachem to make ethanol using termite microbes - A New Route to Cellulosic Biofuels.

Biofuel startup ZeaChem has begun building a biofuel pilot plant that will turn cellulosic feedstocks into ethanol via a novel approach that uses microbes found in the guts of termites. The company says the ethanol yields from the sugars of its cellulosic feedstocks are significantly higher than the yields from other biofuel production processes. ZeaChem says its process also has the potential to produce a plastic feedstock.

The company employs a hybrid approach that uses a combination of thermochemical and biological processes. It first uses acid to break the cellulose into sugars. Then, instead of fermenting the sugars into ethanol with yeast, as is typically done, the company feeds the sugars to an acetogen bacteria found in the guts of termites and other insects. The bacteria converts the sugar into acetic acid, which is then combined with hydrogen to form ethanol.

"It's a little more complicated than a conventional process. It's not the obvious, direct route, but there is a high yield potential," says Jim McMillan of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO.

Leaked UK government plan to create "Pirate Finder General" with power to appoint militias, create laws  

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Boing Boing has a post on the bizarre lengths the British government is going to to try and eradicate file sharing - Leaked UK government plan to create "Pirate Finder General" with power to appoint militias, create laws.

A source close to the British Labour Government has just given me reliable information about the most radical copyright proposal I've ever seen.

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson is planning to introduce changes to the Digital Economy Bill now under debate in Parliament. These changes will give the Secretary of State (Mandelson -- or his successor in the next government) the power to make "secondary legislation" (legislation that is passed without debate) to amend the provisions of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

What that means is that an unelected official would have the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright. Mandelson elaborates on this, giving three reasons for his proposal:

1. The Secretary of State would get the power to create new remedies for online infringements (for example, he could create jail terms for file-sharing, or create a "three-strikes" plan that costs entire families their internet access if any member stands accused of infringement)

2. The Secretary of State would get the power to create procedures to "confer rights" for the purposes of protecting rightsholders from online infringement. (for example, record labels and movie studios can be given investigative and enforcement powers that allow them to compel ISPs, libraries, companies and schools to turn over personal information about Internet users, and to order those companies to disconnect users, remove websites, block URLs, etc)

3. The Secretary of State would get the power to "impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement" (for example, ISPs could be forced to spy on their users, or to have copyright lawyers examine every piece of user-generated content before it goes live; also, copyright "militias" can be formed with the power to police copyright on the web)

U.S. Army’s New Research Center Puts Fossil Fuels on Notice  

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Gas 2.0 has a report on efforts by the US military to reduce their dependence on oil - U.S. Army’s New Research Center Puts Fossil Fuels on Notice.

If we need just one more reason to be convinced that the era of fossil fuels is quickly winding down, 30,000 square feet of evidence is going up right now in the suburban Detroit town of Warren, Michigan. That’s where the U.S. Army is building its new Ground System Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL), and it’s no accident that the site is deep in the heart of the U.S. auto industry.

The high tech GSPEL complex features eight separate laboratories, all dedicated to the development of more sustainable military vehicles and related systems: increasing energy efficiency, using more renewable resources, focusing on ready access to energy and power, and reducing environmental impacts. It’s all part of the military’s overall drive to shed fossil fuels—both foreign domestic—and focus on energy security for the 21st century.


The New World Of Ordos  

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Urban Photos has an interesting post on an unsettling indication (for Australian raw material suppliers anyway) that China's infrastructure building boom may be a house of cards - Inner Mongolia's Empty City.

In August, I came across an intriguing photo in Tokyo’s Mori Museum — a group of what appeared to be a group of urban sophisticates wandering, seemingly lost, in a desert landscape. The image was part of an exhibit on the work of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, but it wasn’t the photo itself that was on display: Ai was the “curator”, working along with hip Swiss architects Herzog & deMeuron, of a project called “Ordos 100,” and the wanderers were among one hundred architects, each selected to develop a villa in a development near a booming city called Ordos in China’s resource-rich Inner Mongolia, which is apparently gaining a reputation as “the Chinese Texas”.

Since the onset of the global recession, Ordos has come to resemble its Texas counterparts in more ways than one: a vast, hypermodern extension of the city sits almost completely empty. Ordos cannot fill the hundreds of rank-and-file apartments that were conceived and constructed while Ordos 100’s vanity villas have remained in the design stage.

But if the symptom — depopulated tracts of gleaming new suburban housing — is the same, the underlying problem is far different in Ordos than in the United States, where bank foreclosures have depopulated so many Sunbelt cul-du-sacs. Facing its own downturn, China used part of its massive economic stimulus program to build the new Ordos. That has spurred the growth of the country’s GDP, but all the housing that went up remains too expensive for most residents of Ordos’ old city to move out.

In 2008, movingcities enthusiastically declared Ordos “waiting to be populated”. In a more recent, and grimmer assessment, Al-Jazeera’s correspondent deemed it “China’s empty city”, in a segment starting around 1:15 below:

Benjamin Franklin on Global Warming  

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The New York Times has an article on historical observations of anthropogenic climate change - Ben Franklin on Global Warming .

In the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson opined in his “Notes on Virginia” that “both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory even of the middle-aged,” expressing views articulated as early as 1721 by Cotton Mather: “Our cold is much moderated since the opening and clearing of our woods, and the winds do not blow roughly as in the days of our fathers, when water, cast up into the air, would commonly be turned into ice before it came to the ground.”

The weather historian James R. Fleming has noted that the vexing scientific challenge in the climate debate has always been “the response of a large, complex, potentially chaotic system to small changes in forcing factors.” Benjamin Franklin understood climatic forcing factors better than anyone, surmising in a 1763 letter to Ezra Stiles that “cleared land absorbs more heat and melts snow quicker.” Franklin, our meteorologist emeritus for his seminal work on everything from lightning to northeasters, later surmised (correctly) that a prevailing haze over parts of North America and northern Europe was associated with the eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland in June 1783, and was possibly the source for the exceptional chill experienced in the winter of 1783-84 in the new United States.

On the other side of the developing weather controversy in the late 18th century, Webster quarreled with Jefferson, insisting that he relied too heavily on the memories of “elderly and middle-aged people” for his observation that the climate had moderated. While Webster conceded an anthropogenic influence might still be at work, he argued that it caused something less than climate change: “All the alterations in a country, in consequence of clearing and cultivation, result only in making a different distribution of heat and cold, moisture and dry weather, among the several seasons.”

Hugh Williamson, astute in his understanding of the hydrological cycle, a key component in any climate change debate, wrote, “The vapors that arise from the forests are soon converted into rain, and that rain becomes the subject of future evaporation, by which the earth is further cooled.” A century and a half later, land-use studies would confirm quantifiable relationships between clearing trees for extensive farmland and changes in soil temperature, moisture distribution and local and regional climate responses, as well as the urban heat-island effect. In our time, we have learned that tropical deforestation is linked to as much as 15 percent of the world’s global warming pollution, largely due to the release of carbon dioxide, one of several “greenhouse gases” that trap and re-radiate terrestrial heat.

A Turning Point for Geothermal: DOE Funding Wins Industry Approval  

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REW has a report on US DOE funding for geothermal energy R&D - A Turning Point for Geothermal: DOE Funding Wins Industry Approval.

DOE's October 29 announcement awarding $338 million in stimulus funding to geothermal energy research and development projects is the largest injection of funding into new geothermal technology development in over 25 years.


“This marks a critical turning point for the Department of Energy's geothermal technology program, and responds to the clear direction given DOE by Congress when it passed the Advanced Geothermal Research and Development Act of 2007,” a leading industry group said.

With this announcement the U.S. government is now one of the largest investors in new US geothermal energy technology — a spot Google.org had held since it announced that it was investing heavily in the industry in August 2008.

The CRU Hack  

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The climate tinfoil world is abuzz with discussion of a large volume of emails hacked out of the University of East Anglia's email servers recently (funny how these sorts of things tend to happen just before large climate summits like Copenhagen). RealClimate casts an eye over the chatter and notes that it seems to be much ado about nothing - The CRU Hack.

As many of you will be aware, a large number of emails from the University of East Anglia webmail server were hacked recently (Despite some confusion generated by Anthony Watts, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Hadley Centre which is a completely separate institution). As people are also no doubt aware the breaking into of computers and releasing private information is illegal, and regardless of how they were obtained, posting private correspondence without permission is unethical. We therefore aren’t going to post any of the emails here. We were made aware of the existence of this archive last Tuesday morning when the hackers attempted to upload it to RealClimate, and we notified CRU of their possible security breach later that day.

Nonetheless, these emails (a presumably careful selection of (possibly edited?) correspondence dating back to 1996 and as recently as Nov 12) are being widely circulated, and therefore require some comment. Some of them involve people here (and the archive includes the first RealClimate email we ever sent out to colleagues) and include discussions we’ve had with the CRU folk on topics related to the surface temperature record and some paleo-related issues, mainly to ensure that posting were accurate.

Since emails are normally intended to be private, people writing them are, shall we say, somewhat freer in expressing themselves than they would in a public statement. For instance, we are sure it comes as no shock to know that many scientists do not hold Steve McIntyre in high regard. Nor that a large group of them thought that the Soon and Baliunas (2003), Douglass et al (2008) or McClean et al (2009) papers were not very good (to say the least) and should not have been published. These sentiments have been made abundantly clear in the literature (though possibly less bluntly).

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.

Intel sees opportunities in wind, electric cars  

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Reuters has a report on Intel's interest in clean energy technology, particularly sensor technology to help optimise wind power generation - Intel sees opportunities in wind, electric cars.

Technology giant Intel Corp is seeing big opportunities in wind forecasting for power generation, and in information management for electric vehicles, John Skinner, Intel's director of marketing for its Eco-Technology division said on Tuesday. Intel already sells microprocessors to wind turbine manufacturers and this would be an expansion of that business.

Adoption of wide-scale wind power would rely on accurate forecasting, such as when the wind would blow and how fast, he said. "There's a lot of opportunities for sensor technology and high performance computing," he said in an interview on the sidelines of an industry conference. "We are starting to explore it."

Global temperatures could rise 6C by end of century, say scientists  

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The Guardian has a report on climate forecasts for the coming century - Global temperatures could rise 6C by end of century, say scientists.

Global temperatures are on a path to rise by an average of 6C by the end of the century as CO2 emissions increase and the Earth's natural ability to absorb the gas declines, according to a major new study.

Scientists said that CO2 emissions have risen by 29% in the past decade alone and called for urgent action by leaders at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen to agree drastic emissions cuts in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The news will give greater urgency to the diplomatic manoeuvring before the Copenhagen summit. President Obama and President Hu of China attempted to breathe new life into the negotiations today by announcing that they intended to set targets for easing greenhouse gas emissions next month. Obama said that he and Hu would continue to press for a deal that would "rally the world".

The new study is the most comprehensive analysis to date of how economic changes and shifts in the way people have used the land in the past five decades have affected the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

"The global trends we are on with CO2 emissions from fossil fuels suggest that we're heading towards 6C of global warming," said Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia who led the study with colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey.

"This is very different to the trend we need to be on to limit global climate change to 2C [the level required to avoid dangerous climate change]." That would require CO2 emissions from all sources to peak between 2015 and 2020 and that the global per capita emissions be decreased to 1 tonne of CO2 by 2050. Currently the average US citizen emits 19.9 tonnes per year and UK citizens emit 9.3 tonnes.

Peak Oil Files: Why Is Saudi Aramco Building Supercomputers?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The WSJ's Environmental capital blog has an interesting post on Saudi Arabia's interest in supercomputers - Peak Oil Files: Why Is Saudi Aramco Building Supercomputers?.

So, what to make then of Aramco’s recent interest in supercomputers?

The biannual list of the world’s 500 fastest computers was released on Tuesday and Aramco had two new entries at No. 119 and No. 134. Both are Dell clusters, running Intel processors and both are very, very fast.

The oil industry uses Concorde-jet speed computing to aid it understanding underground reservoirs and to look for new sources of oil and gas. Aramco used another computer cluster to build a “full field model” of the Safaniya oilfield in 2008.

Clearly, Aramco is taking a sophisticated approach to understanding its remaining oil resources. And peak oilers will likely argue that Aramco’s interest in teraflops is a sign that it needs all the help it can get to ensure oil keep flowing out of its once mighty fields. After all, why bother throwing so much muscle into understanding the reservoir if there were no worries about its future performance.

We’re not sure who is right or wrong in the peak oil debate. But the oil industry’s interest in speed computing is intriguing. It’s not just Saudi Arabia turning to computers to find increasingly elusive oil. The world’s fifth-fastest supercomputer – Tianhe-1 in Tianjin, China – will be used in part for “petroleum exploration.”

What They Really Believe  

Posted by Big Gav

Tom Friedman has another installment of his geo-green, "green is the new red, white and blue" / "the world is getting hot, flat and crowded" sermon in the NYT - What They Really Believe.

I am a clean-energy hawk. Green for me is not just about recycling garbage but about renewing America. That is why I have been saying “green is the new red, white and blue.”

My argument is simple: I think climate change is real. You don’t? That’s your business. But there are two other huge trends barreling down on us with energy implications that you simply can’t deny. And the way to renew America is for us to take the lead and invent the technologies to address these problems.

The first is that the world is getting crowded. According to the 2006 U.N. population report, “The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion ... passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050.”

The energy, climate, water and pollution implications of adding another 2.5 billion mouths to feed, clothe, house and transport will be staggering. And this is coming, unless, as the deniers apparently believe, a global pandemic or a mass outbreak of abstinence will freeze world population — forever.

Now, add one more thing. The world keeps getting flatter — more and more people can now see how we live, aspire to our lifestyle and even take our jobs so they can live how we live. So not only are we adding 2.5 billion people by 2050, but many more will live like “Americans” — with American-size homes, American-size cars, eating American-size Big Macs.

“What happens when developing nations with soaring vehicle populations get tens of millions of petroleum-powered cars at the same time as the global economy recovers and there’s no large global oil supply overhang?” asks Felix Kramer, the electric car expert who advocates electrifying the U.S. auto fleet and increasingly powering it with renewable energy sources. What happens, of course, is that the price of oil goes through the roof — unless we develop alternatives. The petro-dictators in Iran, Venezuela and Russia hope we don’t. They would only get richer.

So either the opponents of a serious energy/climate bill with a price on carbon don’t care about our being addicted to oil and dependent on petro-dictators forever or they really believe that we will not be adding 2.5 billion more people who want to live like us, so the price of oil won’t go up very far and, therefore, we shouldn’t raise taxes to stimulate clean, renewable alternatives and energy efficiency.

If Nothing Else, Save Farming  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

George Monbiot is giving the peak oil story another run, in typically gloomy fashion, declaring "It’s probably too late to prepare for peak oil, but we can at least try to salvage food production" - If Nothing Else, Save Farming .

I don’t know when global oil supplies will start to decline. I do know that another resource has already peaked and gone into freefall: the credibility of the body that’s meant to assess them. Last week two whistleblowers from the International Energy Agency alleged that it has deliberately upgraded its estimate of the world’s oil supplies in order not to frighten the markets(1). Three days later, a paper published by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden showed that the IEA’s forecasts must be wrong, because it assumes a rate of extraction that appears to be impossible(2). The agency’s assessment of the state of global oil supplies is beginning to look as reliable as Mr Greenspan’s blandishments about the health of the financial markets.

If the whistleblowers are right, we should be stockpiling ammunition. If we are taken by surprise; if we have failed to replace oil before the supply peaks then crashes, the global economy is stuffed. But nothing the whistleblowers said has scared me as much as the conversation I had last week with a Pembrokeshire farmer.

Wyn Evans, who runs a mixed farm of 170 acres, has been trying to reduce his dependency on fossil fuels since 1977. He has installed an anaerobic digester, a wind turbine, solar panels and a ground-sourced heat pump. He has sought wherever possible to replace diesel with his own electricity. Instead of using his tractor to spread slurry, he pumps it from the digester onto nearby fields. He’s replaced his tractor-driven irrigation system with an electric one, and set up a new system for drying hay indoors, which means he has to turn it in the field only once. Whatever else he does is likely to produce smaller savings. But these innovations have reduced his use of diesel by only around 25%.

Well - he could try generating biofuel (probably co-operating with other farmers in the region) to fuel his machinery - or install wind turbines and/or solar panels and look to acquire electric machinery. In both cases his need for (oil derived) diesel would plummet a lot more than 25%.

Uber-Thin Modular Solar Panels Energize Any Building  

Posted by Big Gav in

Inhabitat has a post on some pleasant looking new thin film solar panels - Uber-Thin Modular Solar Panels Energize Any Building.

The recent evolution of solar technology has been nothing short of amazing, and we are continuously impressed by all the products hitting the market that make it easier to integrate clean tech into our daily lives. One innovative company at the forefront of the solar energy bustle is Sulfurcell, the producer of a new kind of modular solar panel that add energy-generating capabilities to any building. The super-thin panels are entirely self contained, so they don’t require any substructure, and they can be applied to new buildings as well as retrofitted old buildings to provide a sleek look and plenty of power. ...

Sulfurcell utilizes copper-indium-sulfide semiconductors, which enable them to produce cells hundreds of times thinner than conventional photovoltaics, which in turn reduces the manufacturing costs. Production is said to use only half the energy used to manufacture conventional solar modules. Sulfurcell has been a pioneer in the photovoltaic industry since 2003, and the company has been named by The Guardian as one of the world’s top 100 cleantech companies for two years running.

Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The NYT has a post on the effect of exercise on the brain - Phys Ed: Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious.

Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery about the brains of rats that exercise. Some of their neurons respond differently to stress than the neurons of slothful rats. Scientists have known for some time that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells (neurons) but not how, precisely, these neurons might be functionally different from other brain cells.
Phys Ed

In the experiment, preliminary results of which were presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, scientists allowed one group of rats to run. Another set of rodents was not allowed to exercise. Then all of the rats swam in cold water, which they don’t like to do. Afterward, the scientists examined the animals’ brains. They found that the stress of the swimming activated neurons in all of the brains. (The researchers could tell which neurons were activated because the cells expressed specific genes in response to the stress.) But the youngest brain cells in the running rats, the cells that the scientists assumed were created by running, were less likely to express the genes. They generally remained quiet. The “cells born from running,” the researchers concluded, appeared to have been “specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience.” The rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm.

For years, both in popular imagination and in scientific circles, it has been a given that exercise enhances mood. But how exercise, a physiological activity, might directly affect mood and anxiety — psychological states — was unclear. Now, thanks in no small part to improved research techniques and a growing understanding of the biochemistry and the genetics of thought itself, scientists are beginning to tease out how exercise remodels the brain, making it more resistant to stress. In work undertaken at the University of Colorado, Boulder, for instance, scientists have examined the role of serotonin, a neurotransmitter often considered to be the “happy” brain chemical. That simplistic view of serotonin has been undermined by other researchers, and the University of Colorado work further dilutes the idea. In those experiments, rats taught to feel helpless and anxious, by being exposed to a laboratory stressor, showed increased serotonin activity in their brains. But rats that had run for several weeks before being stressed showed less serotonin activity and were less anxious and helpless despite the stress.

Gor-gone?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The SMH has an article pondering how much of the investment being made into the Gorgon gas project will be spent in Australia - Gor-gone?.

It has been dubbed Western Australia's own stimulus package. However, the value of most contracts awarded so far in the $43 billion Gorgon liquefied natural gas juggernaut will either head overseas or cannot be guaranteed to include Australian content and local jobs.

A BusinessDay analysis of the $10 billion or so in contracts awarded to date shows more than a quarter will definitely head overseas, prompting calls by unions to maximise the value of the gas project to benefit its owners, the Australian public.

The Australian Workers Union says it will monitor the flow of contracts. Another $2 billion worth are expected to be announced before Christmas. ''We think projects like Gorgon should not just be beneficial for resources workers in the north-west but for manufacturing workers on the east coast as well,'' said Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union.

''No one is disputing that Gorgon is big, and there will always be things that we don't make here. But, where possible, Australian processes operated by Australian workers should take precedence in delivering this major Australian project.''

The large numbers attached to Australia's largest resource development can make you giddy. The operator, Chevron, and the joint venture partners ExxonMobil and Shell will tap into the 40 trillion cubic feet of gas in the greater Gorgon field off the north-western coast. About 120 million tonnes of greenhouse gas will be pumped into aquifers under Barrow Island, resulting in a saving of 40 per cent in emissions.

A total of 15 million tonnes of LNG will be produced each year at Barrow Island from 2014 for the 30-year life of the project. About 83 per cent of that has already been sold through sales and purchase agreements. Chevron says it will spend $33 billion on local goods and services.

A report by ACIL Tasman on the economic benefits of Gorgon puts its contribution to Australia's gross domestic product at $64 billion and revenue to the state and federal governments at about $40 billion.

At its peak Gorgon is expected to generate 10,000 direct and indirect jobs - figures Chevron says are conservative. It seems unnecessary to pump up the already colossal figures but the Gorgon spin machine, and that of the Federal Government, has been in overdrive.

Take, for instance, the hundreds of billions of dollars attached to the off-take agreements. If those are to believed, then it assumes that LNG prices will rise from current levels of about $400 a tonne to somewhere north of $1100. Analysts forecast the long-term price of LNG to reach about $600 a tonne.

A $50 billion price tag was attached to ExxonMobil's 2.25 million tonnes a year deal with PetroChina, announced in August. But even PetroChina scoffed at whether it would amount to that much over the 20 years of the deal.

''There is no such conception [$50 billion] in the total trade value of the agreement as some media reported'' PetroChina's parent, China National Petroleum, said at the time.

But the question does arise if gas prices were to almost triple. And that price is usually one-sixth of the oil price, so does that mean petrol prices are also set to zoom? Perhaps that is why the Government is reluctant to break down these numbers.

Details of the carbon capture and storage part of the project, set to be a ''world demonstration of CCS technology'' are also sketchy.

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