The Third Industrial Revolution: Toward A New Economic Paradigm  

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The Huffington Post has an excerpt from Jeremy Rifkin's new book - The Third Industrial Revolution: Toward A New Economic Paradigm.

n the mid-1990s, it dawned on me that a new convergence of communication and energy was in the offing. Internet technology and renewable energies were about to merge to create a powerful new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) that would change the world. In the coming era, hundreds of millions of people will produce their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and share it with each other in an "energy Internet," just like we now create and share information online. The democratization of energy will bring with it a fundamental reordering of human relationships, impacting the very way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.

I introduced the Third Industrial Revolution vision at the Wharton School's Advanced Management Program (AMP), at the University of Pennsylvania, where I have been a senior lecturer for the past sixteen years on new trends in science, technology, the economy, and society. The five-week program exposes CEOs and business executives from around the world to the emerging issues and challenges they will face in the 21st century. The idea soon found its way into corporate suites and became part of the political lexicon among heads of state in the European Union.

By the year 2000, the European Union was aggressively pursuing policies to significantly reduce its carbon footprint and transition into a sustainable economic era. Europeans were readying targets and benchmarks, resetting research and development priorities, and putting into place codes, regulations, and standards for a new economic journey. By contrast, America was preoccupied with the newest gizmos and "killer apps" coming out of Silicon Valley, and homeowners were flush with excitement over a bullish real estate market pumped up by subprime mortgages.

Few Americans were interested in sobering peak oil forecasts, dire climate change warnings, and the growing signs that beneath the surface, our economy was not well. There was an air of contentment, even complacency, across the country, confirming once again the belief that our good fortune demonstrated our superiority over other nations.

Feeling a little like an outsider in my own country, I chose to ignore Horace Greeley's sage advice to every malcontent in 1850 to "Go West, young man, go West," and decided to travel in the opposite direction, across the ocean to old Europe, where new ideas about the future prospects of the human race were being seriously entertained.

Japan northeast could tap 740MW of geothermal power  

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The Climate Spectator has a brief report on the Fukushima disaster driven resurgence of interest in geothermal power in Japan - Japan northeast could tap 740MW of geothermal power.

Japan's northeast Tohoku region could develop 740 megawatts of new geothermal power supplies, the Japan Geothermal Developers' Council estimated on Thursday.

The Tohoku region has been trying to rebuild following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, with some local governments showing willingness to invest in renewable energy following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Studies show Japan, a land of volcanoes, ranks as the world's third richest nation in geothermal power, with the potential to derive 23,400 MW of energy.

Tidal projects make headway in Australia and New Zealand  

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Tidal Today has a look at the state of play for tidal power projects in Australasia - Tidal projects make headway in Australia and New Zealand.

Overall, the investment climate for renewables, including tidal, is set to improve significantly and tidal resources are being investigated, mostly along Australia’s northern coastline.

Indeed, since the federal government announced its Clean Energy Future programme, a 48MW tidal project originally proposed eight years ago for the north west of Western Australia (WA) is now back on the agenda by Derby Hydro Power, while a number of other projects are also the horizon. These include three large-scale (24-300MW) tidal stream proposals by Tenax to be located at Clarence Strait, near Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT), Port Phillip Heads (Victoria), and Banks Strait (Tasmania).

The company is currently undertaking environmental impact assessments for the projects. The 200MW A$500m (£300m) NT project will use 1MW turbines, while the Port Phillip Heads Tidal Energy Project, if approved, will comprise up to 45 turbines, says Tenax.

Meantime, BioPower Systems is another Australian firm hoping the domestic industry takes off. It’s behind the Biostream tidal turbine, a unit it expects to be deployed for utility-scale power production in future. A pilot installation is located at Flinders Island, Tasmania. [The company is also developing tech for the wave energy sector, with its Biowave device now at pilot demonstration off the coast of Victoria, Australia.]

But, as the company’s CEO, Dr Timothy Finnigan, points out, to avoid causing significant disruption the electricity generated by tidal turbines must be grid-ready. As in the wind energy sector, this makes power conversion technologies a critical component to the tidal industry’s future.

“Ocean energy devices typically oscillate slowly in response to huge forces, and this presents a significant challenge in terms of harnessing the energy to produce electricity," he says. To overcome this obstacle, the company has been working on a suitable system since 2008, thanks in part to funding from the Australian commonwealth government’s Renewable Energy Development Initiative.

Last month, testing of the system – the O-Drive power conversion module – was completed, “successfully delivering stable power to the grid over extended periods with a high level of efficiency."

Developed in collaboration with Bosch Rexroth, CNC Design and Siemens, the self-contained 250kW module plugs into turbines like Biostream. It combines a hydraulic circuit, an electric generator, and complex control algorithms to convert the large forces, and slow motions, inherent to ocean waves and tides into a steady flow of electricity.

“We are pleased with the efficiency of this system, and with the quality of power that is produced," says Finnigan. “The O-Drive not only gears up the motion, but also rectifies it and smoothes it, so that we can produce grid-ready electricity using a standard electric generator."
O-Drive is also designed to be detached from a moored ocean energy system, enabling easy and cost-effective maintenance. Plus, as it also produces high-voltage power (keeping potential transmission losses to a minimum) it allows systems to be installed at substantial distances from shore.

“The system is self-regulating in variable wave or tidal conditions, such that power to the grid is stable and of utility-grade quality," says the firm, noting it is also suitable for use with offshore wind turbines.

Chevron's Wheatstone LNG project gets go ahead  

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The ABC reports that Chevron's Wheatstone liquefied natural gas project in WA has been given the go-ahead - Wheatstone LNG project to make Aus second largest global producer.

The Chevron-operated Wheatstone liquefied natural gas (LNG) project will officially go ahead.

The project was given the federal environmental approval last week and the outcome of a final investment decision (FID) of $29 billion by Chevron was really little more than a formality.

Wheatstone is a joint venture project with Chevron 73.6 per cent, Apache 13 per cent, Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Co (KUFPEC) 7 per cent, Shell Australia 6.4 per cent.

The Wheatstone gas field is about 250 kilometres off the coast of Onslow, north-west Western Australia.

Gas from the field will be pumped via subsea pipelines to the onshore processing facility just north of the town of Onslow.

The project has come on stream in record time, from discovery in 2004 to first gas production by 2016.

Up to 3,500 jobs and 3,000 indirect jobs will be created during the construction phase of approximately six years.

A permanent workforce of 300 will operate the rigs and plant.

WA Premier Colin Barnett says Wheatstone will confirm WA as the world's second-largest supplier of LNG behind Quatar, and CEO of Shell, Ann Pickard, went one step further.

She says Australia will soon strip the title of leading producer from Qatar, in the Middle-East, within the decade.

Federal Government counting the royalties before they flow

The Federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, says the revenue stream from the Wheatstone project is estimated at $20 billion over the 20-year life of the project.

And he welcomes the commitment by the company to spend $17 billion on Australian goods and services over the lift of the project. "The investment of just under $30 billion means that we now have $140 billion committed in Australia to new LNG investments" he says.

British to Test Geoengineering Scheme  

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Technology review has a look at the latest scheme to test a geoengineering approach - British to Test Geoengineering Scheme.

In October, British researchers supported by the U.K. government will attempt to pump water a kilometer into the air using little more than a helium balloon and a rubber hose. The experiment, which will take place at a military airfield along England's east coast, is meant as a test of a proposed geoengineering technique for offsetting the warming effects of greenhouse gases. If the balloon and hose can handle the water's weight and pressure, similar pipes rising 20 kilometers could pump tons of reflective aerosols into the stratosphere.

The scheme, called SPICE (stratospheric particle injection for climate engineering), is one of several proposed geoengineering methods under study. In this case, the idea is that particles injected into the stratosphere would reflect a small percentage of the sun's energy back into space, thereby cooling the planet. The concept seeks to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes that inject sulfide particles into the stratosphere in large quantity. A 2009 study by the U.K. meteorological office estimated that 10 million metric tons of sulfide particles injected annually into the stratosphere would cool the planet by approximately 2 °C within a few years.

Other methods of geoengineering have also been tested, including fertilizing oceans to encourage algae blooms and pulling carbon dioxide out of the air. But a 2009 report by the U.K.'s Royal Society concluded that reflective aerosol injected into the stratosphere would be the least expensive and most effective way to rapidly cool the planet.

In addition to the pipe tethered to the balloon, airplanes and rockets could be used to deploy the particles. But Hugh Hunt, a senior lecturer in engineering at the University of Cambridge and a member of the SPICE project, says the balloon-and-pipe approach that his group is testing would be significantly less expensive. "Trying to use airplanes or rockets ends up costing 100 or 1,000 times more than a pipe and balloon," Hunt says. "At an altitude of 20 kilometers, an airplane can only carry one, maybe two, tons of payload. That means five to 10 million flights per year, burning roughly 1 percent of global oil production. It seems unlikely to me that that would be economically viable when a few dozen pipes would do just as good a job."

The current pilot program will pump 100 kilograms of water per hour to an altitude of one kilometer. Full-scale designs call for as many as 64 pipes spread around the world, each lifting five kilograms of sulfur dioxide or other reflective particles per second—approximately 160,000 metric tons per year. Each pipe alone would weigh 30 tons and would be held aloft by a balloon 100 meters in diameter, slightly larger than the largest balloons ever built. The biggest challenge of all, however, would be developing a flexible pipe that can withstand ultrahigh pressures.

CETO Reaches Reunion  

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The Climate Spectator reports that wave power company Carnegie Wave Energy has delivered its first CETO units to Reunion island - Wave Power.

Perth-based Carnegie Wave Energy has delivered the first of its new generation CETO 4 units to the Indian Ocean island of Reunion in what it expects will be the first step towards the establishment of a 15MW facility there. The CETO 4 unit, an upgraded version of the CETO 3 unit that has been tested off Fremantle, was delivered to Reunion by French naval defence logisitics group DCNS.

The unit will be deployed during the coming summer, and if successful wlll be followed by a grid-connected 2MW project, and a further expansion to 15MW. The project is being supported by the French government, which is providing two thirds of the funding through grants, and also a marine energy feed-in-tariff equivalent to Eur22c/kWh.

Carnegie CEO Michael Ottaviano said the new unit would test new design ideas, and also a different wave climate. The project was the first to be jointly conducted with French energy giant EDF, as well as DCNS. Carnegie will receive a licensing fee from EDF for the deployment of any further projects in Reunion and the northern hemisphere.

Clean energy: A faded shade of green  

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The NZ herald has an article looking at the forces both pushing the adoption of renewable energy forward and those retarding it - Clean energy: A faded shade of green.

For clean technology fans, the dawn of the 21st century appeared to be the best of times. As the world confronted the growing scientific consensus that rising greenhouse gases were driving climate change, a move from fossil fuels to renewables seemed irresistible. Clean technology looked a hot prospect.

Now that vision seems more muddied. Renewables are on the rise, but fossil fuels are fighting back. Coal mining has soared to feed China's energy appetite.

Oil exploration is expanding in the Arctic - where ice covers an estimated 160 billion barrels of oil, five years' supply at today's consumption rates, plus unknown amounts of natural gas - in New Zealand, and elsewhere.

Despite BP's catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling is poised to resume at depths of up to 3300m. Regulation remains lax. Three years after President Obama talked up clean tech, it is business as usual at the White House.

Outside its front gate, hundreds of protesters have been arrested demonstrating against plans to build a 2597km pipeline to ship crude oil strip-mined from Canadian tar sands - estimated to contain 175 billion barrels, the world's third-largest reserve after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela - from Alberta to refineries in Texas. Another Canadian pipeline is envisaged to carry oil to the Pacific.

Critics fear spills and say carbon emissions from refining the tar sands will "turbocharge global warming". Nine Nobel Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, have weighed in, saying the pipeline will fuel climate change and "endanger the entire planet".

Elsewhere, Obama is accused of reaching into George W. Bush's pro-polluter playbook as he gives Shell tentative approval to drill off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - a goal denied Bush - and of siding with the American Petroleum Institute, calculating that renewed exploitation of fossil fuels will increase jobs and relax the foreign stranglehold on America's energy supply (in this calculation at least, Canada doesn't count as foreign).

In the green camp, there is a despairing sense of clean tech opportunities missed.

"When Obama won the White House the oil business saw a threat and they rearmed," says Kert Davies, research director with Greenpeace USA. "And they sent hordes of lobbyists to Washington, and doubled down on ... campaigns to keep things the way they are. The President said some harsh things about the industry after the Deepwater oil spill.

"But in the end all US policy has bent to the oil industry. And we don't see any change."

Economic woes have also stalled investment in renewable energy alternatives.

But while frontier oil exploration and record coal sales remain the in-your-face energy reality, three inexorable, linked factors are driving deeper change.

The first is the huge energy demand caused by runaway population growth - by 2050, humankind is expected to number 9 billion, compared with 1.6 billion in 1900 - and the rise of industrial titans such as India, China and Brazil.

The second is "peak oil" - the moment when oil production reaches its highest point, then starts to decline. Whether this has occurred is contentious. It is hard to know the world's fossil fuel reserves, but they are finite.

Last year's annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast global oil production would reach 96 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2035 (in June it was 88.7 mb/d), driven by natural gas and "unconventional oil" such as tar sands, as conventional crude levels out.

Extracting oil would become more expensive and leave a bigger legacy of polluting carbon. And energy demand would soar 36 per cent by 2035, with most of that extra demand coming from non-OECD nations, led by China.

Oil drives transport, but electricity generation is the key to record coal consumption. Nuclear power, meanwhile, faces an uncertain future after the meltdown at Fukushima: Germany will close its reactors by 2022 and this month's explosion at a French nuclear waste site fuelled fears about safety, radioactive waste and CO2 emissions from uranium processing.

Meanwhile, infinitely sustainable renewables - solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biofuel and ocean power - produced 16 per cent of world energy last year. The IEA forecasts that renewable use will triple between 2008 and 2035.

The third factor is climate change. When the OECD announced five "global shocks" likely to destabilise the world economy, climate change wasn't mentioned.

But money men at the sharp end, such as those in the reinsurance business, routinely factor in findings agreed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

However, if the past is any clue, switching energy sources will be a protracted, stop-start affair during which competing realities co-exist.

Sail didn't give way to steam overnight, just as steam didn't surrender to oil in an instant. Big Oil and renewables may co-exist for decades, given the complex challenge of rejigging vital infrastructure - transport, power generation and the like - in developed societies addicted to the old fossil fuel order.

But while making the transition is expensive, delaying may be more so. Studies suggest that choosing renewables increases jobs and wealth by more than expanding sunset industries. At the same time, clean energy costs are coming down, as oil costs climb.

Subsidies for Nuclear Power And Fossil Fuels Dwarf Those Given To Renewable Energy  

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The Smarter Planet blog has a post showing the vast gap between the flood of government subsidies received by the nuclear and fossil fuel industries in the US compared to the trickle that has been allocated to renewables - Energy subsidy showdown: Fossil fuels, nuclear, biofuels vs. renewables.

Renewable energy has snagged just a fraction of the federal subsidies that fossil fuels and nuclear received when they were emerging technologies, according to a new report from venture capital firm DBL Investors.

The report probably isn’t surprising to renewable energy backers who have long argued that subsidies for fossil fuels make it impossible to compete. And it’s unlikely to settle the debate over ending subsidies for the oil and gas industry. But it does provide a valuable historical view of each energy source and helps explain why they’re so dominant today (check out the charts below).

The analysis was conducted by Nancy Pfund, a managing partner at DBL Investors of San Francisco, and Ben Healy, a Yale graduate student and former staff director for the Massachusetts legislature’s environment and natural resource committee. Pfund and Healy say — as far as they know — they’re the first to quantify exactly how the current federal commitment to renewables compares to support for earlier energy transitions.

To be clear, the analysis has its shortfalls. For example, the authors acknowledge the difficulty of determining what should count as a subsidy. The report also doesn’t quantify the value of renewable energy mandates nor does include state levels subsidies. And the report only takes data up to 2009, meaning stimulus bill money isn’t included.

Even so, the report shows a distinct gap in support between the early days of fossil fuels, nuclear and biofuels and today’s emerging technology of renewable energy. The report tracked the actual dollar subsidies to each sector during the first 30 years of those subsidies’ existence (check out the chart below for an illustration). It found:
Early subsidies to nuclear dwarf all others;
Biofuels subsidies had a consistent, linear trajectory and then jumped significantly after policy changes in the mid-2000s




Peak Oil - Now or Later? A Response to Daniel Yergin  

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Daniel Yergin's "no peak for 20 years" piece in the WSJ generated quite a bit of comment last week - here's a brief selection of posts.

I'll kick off with The Oil Drum - Peak Oil - Now or Later? A Response to Daniel Yergin.

Over the years there has been significant convergence between the peak oil and business-as-usual camps, each hopefully learning from the other. Yergin, whilst attempting to debunk peak oil, appears to have been converted to a late peakist. I can certainly relate to many of the concepts described by Yergin - price influencing supply and demand, technology, innovation and new plays etc - but wonder when these are going to result in new production capacity (supply) that exceeds annual declines?

The stakes are high. Should policy makers listen to Pulitzer Prize winning historians? Or should they listen to geologists and a growing band of economists who can see the dependency of economic growth upon increasing supplies of cheap energy that quite simply do not appear to exist? Most important of all, will the WSJ publish a modified view of the oil world than that presented by Daniel Yergin?

James Hamilton at Econbrowser seems to have received the most attention - More thoughts on peak oil.
In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, gave his explanation of what's wrong with peak oil. Here's why I don't find his analysis altogether convincing.

Yergin does not offer a statement of exactly what he means by "peak oil", though his essay refers to it as a "fear" and a "specter". Let me therefore begin my remarks with a clarification of exactly what I intend to discuss. I propose the following three propositions as the core claims that need to be evaluated:

1. The annual flow rate of oil production from a given reservoir eventually reaches a maximum, after which it declines.
2. The annual flow rate of total global oil production will eventually have to decrease as a necessary consequence of (1).
3. This peak in global production will be reached relatively soon.

Of these statements, I honestly don't understand how a reasonable person could dispute (1). You could almost take it as tautological, and furthermore point to many, many examples of fields that passed their peak production long ago. I likewise see neither a conceptual nor an empirical basis for challenging (2). Thus it seems to me that the relevant debate is whether proposition (3) has any merit, and exactly what one means by "soon." That question may or may not be what Yergin was intending to address with his essay. But since for me it is the core question, I would like to comment here on the implications of what Yergin wrote for what I perceive to be the main question of interest. ...

Even in the absence of these facts, there's a real problem with Yergin's line of argument for the question at hand, and it troubles me because I have seen the same argument raised almost every time someone takes the skeptic's position on the question of peak oil. Suppose I was trying to convince you that you are a mortal being, and your counterargument was, "but that's what you said in 2005, and I didn't die then! You said it again in 2007 and 2009, and each time you were wrong. Why should I believe you this time?"

Perhaps acknowledging one's own mortality is a similar proposition to embracing the possibility that global oil production need not continue to rise forever.

In any case, I was not among those who claimed that the peak would arrive by Thanksgiving 2005, nor 2007, nor 2011. But I am among those who did claim, and still believe, that the slow rate of increase in annual oil production over the last 5 years has caused significant economic problems for countries like the United States.

Moreover, if having been wrong in the past were a valid reason to disregard everything someone says, it might be wise to ponder these words that Daniel Yergin wrote in 2005:
There will be a large, unprecedented buildup of oil supply in the next few years. Between 2004 and 2010, capacity to produce oil (not actual production) could grow by 16 million barrels a day -- from 85 million barrels per day to 101 million barrels a day -- a 20 percent increase. Such growth over the next few years would relieve the current pressure on supply and demand.

Michael Levi has some commentary at the CFR's blog - Peak Oil and Faith Based Energy Debates.
As for me, I find these sorts of muddled, often faith based dustups utterly exasperating. Peak oil types tend to assume that stagnant global production over the past half decade is, in itself, evidence that oil production is headed for decline, when in reality, it doesn’t predict anything by itself. (They also tend to throw in some Hubbert peak theory, but that doesn’t really work once you pay attention to economics.) They also tend to assume that any decline will be economically disastrous, when there’s actually very little analysis of what it would really imply. On the other side, those who are convinced that peak oil is nonsense tend too often to resort to a similar sort of slippery logic: people predicted peaks in the past, but they were wrong; ergo, they are wrong this time too. Peak oil proponents didn’t realize that innovation would deliver more oil in the past; therefore, it will also deliver more oil in the future. Peak oil opponents also seem to claim that since the peak oilers have mangled their economics, the opposite of whatever they predict is what will actually happen. Not exactly sound logic.

Is there a way out of this morass? Let me try. There are three different debates being conflated here. The first is over whether geological limits are bringing the world to a point where global production must soon start to steadily decline. The second is over whether political decisions will lead global production to soon start steadily declining. The third is over what the consequences will be if either of these things actually happen.

And finally, John Daly has a dissection of Yergin's piece at Foreign policy Journal - Daniel Yergin and Peak Oil: Prophet or Mere Historian?.
The essay will doubtless have widespread influence amongst prosperous The Wall Street Journal readers, but in his glib dismissal of “peak oil” theory advocates, Yergin glosses or ignores a number of issues fundamental to the larger picture, for whatever reason, and these oversights should be considered in any evaluation of the piece and the peak oil “specter.”

Yergin notes, “Just in the years 2007 to 2009, for every barrel of oil produced in the world, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added.” But this fails to take into account the following points.

First is that for oil producing nations, reserves are like money in the bank, and inflated reserve figures are common. Even with the newest technology, oil reserve figures remain at best “guesstimates” and should not be taken as hard and fast figures.

Secondly, while the Middle East for the foreseeable future will remain the world’s top producing area, it is unhappily also one of the most politically unstable regions of the world. The “Arab Spring’s” impact is still playing out, much less the potential impact of Palestine’s incipient bid at the United Nation’s for recognition, both of which could yet still throw a major spanner in the works.

To recap briefly:

Saudi Arabia, the world’s first or second-largest producer, vying with the Russian Federation for top position, is not immune from either of the two aforementioned effects. Saudi Arabia does not allow foreign oil companies concessions and has adopted a strict conservation policy, so don’t expect to see a massive rise in production there anytime soon. As for Palestine’s impact, last week former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence and ex-ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, in an essay in the New York Times warned that an American veto of Palestinian U.N. membership would end the “special relationship” between the two countries, and make the US “toxic” in the Arab world.

As for Iraq, eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, holder of massive amounts of untapped reserves, the country remains mired in a low-grade civil war and unresolved political issues between its oil-rich northern Kurdish region and Baghdad. Further east, Iran is most unlikely to boost production significantly anytime soon because of U.S. sanctions imposed in 1979.

Libya remains the wild card, with only 25 percent of the country’s oil potential explored, but it has been wracked by six months of civil unrest, and the irredentist cadre of Gaddafi supporters could easily target the country’s oil infrastructure in the future.

In the Western Hemisphere, OPEC recently announced that Venezuela’s potential reserves could top those of Saudi Arabia, but the deteriorating relations between Caracas and Washington make an increase here unlikely anytime soon.

Many optimists pin their hopes on increased offshore production, from Brazil through Western Africa, the Mediterranean and the Caspian to the South China Sea, but these regions’ output will suffer from the twin curses of both greatly increased “lifting costs”, in the billions, as well as political instability. West Africa is synonymous with corruption and civil war; Lebanon, the Republic of Cyprus, Israel, and Turkey are sparring over eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbons; two decades after the collapse of the USSR, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Turkmenistan have yet to reach a definitive agreement on the division of the Caspian’s offshore waters, and tension is rising markedly in the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei are all pursuing contesting claims.

Of the aforementioned areas, only Brazil has uncontested national sovereignty claims over its offshore deposits, and the government is sufficiently concerned about their security that it is considering building a nuclear submarine to patrol its offshore oil platforms. As for the rest, it is difficult to see how the nations involved will be able to attract large-scale investment into potential conflict zones.

Furthermore, quite aside from political wrangles, offshore drilling is both extremely expensive and comes with increased environmental risks.

Interestingly, the word “environment” appears only once in Yergin’s essay, in the sentence, “Environmental and climate policies can alter the timing and scale of development, as can geopolitics and politics within oil-producing countries.”

Given that the majority of the future’s oil production increase will come from offshore developments, the term should have been given greater prominence.

Floating tidal power plant opened in Norway  

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Renewable Energy Focus has an update on the trial of a floating tidal power plant in Norway - Floating tidal power plant opened in Norway.

Hydra Tidal’s floating tidal power plant, Morild II, has been officially opened in Gimsøystraumen in Lofoten, Northern Norway.

The opening of the 1.5 MW tidal power plant marks the start of the planned two-year trial period for testing and verification of Morild II and the technology. The tidal turbine blades are made of laminated wood with a diameter of 23 m.

“We know of no comparable floating tidal power plants in the world. There are smaller scale models that have been installed, but Morild II is a full-scale plant. The largest known turbine diameter of other power plants is 18 meters, and the largest installed power known to us is 1 MW. Thus we can imply with a fair amount of certainty that Morild II is the largest tidal power plant of its kind," says the CEO of Hydra Tidal, Eivind Nydal. Morild II is expected to supply power to the grid by the end of 2010.

Fighting Climate Change Is Not About Environmentalism  

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Alexis Madrigal has a column on a better way of framing the impact of global warming - Fighting Climate Change Is Not About Environmentalism.

I've been kicking around an idea recently that crystallized in the form of a short "Room for Debate" op-ed on green jobs that I wrote for The New York Times yesterday. Here's the relevant snip:
The president should remind people that stopping global warming isn't about nature or "saving the planet." Some set of plants and animals will survive. Human infrastructure is what's in danger. We've built cities predicated on one climate and now those places have a new one. Climactic chaos is expensive.

The nugget of the argument here is the framing fighting climate change as a way to help nature is flawed. Even in a really clear example of climate-induced ecological change -- the loss of many species in the forests Thoreau explored near Walden Pond -- other species are doing just fine. We're changing the ecosystem, but life isn't leaving the forest. We're applying a very certain kind of filter on the forest (specifically, which plants can change their flowering time quickly) but life there survives because ecosystems, even those stressed by rising temperatures, are resilient.

Human-built environments, on the other hand, are very efficient and very brittle. They function best in a very narrow set of temperature and precipitation conditions. Witness what happens when it snows in Portland or it gets very hot in a cold place or it rains somewhere where it's always dry. A people as rich as Americans can deal with any climate, but only if we put the right infrastructure in place. People in Buffalo have snow plows. People in Phoenix have air conditioners.

Now start fiddling with the climate of the place. Most of the time things are fine, but when you hit an extreme that you don't normally (floods, snow, heat, etc), stuff starts to go haywire. The infrastructure you built is encountering conditions it wasn't designed to withstand. And so it breaks. (See a similar argument I made specific to cities in 2010.)

Somehow polar bears became the charismatic emblem of what was wrong with global warming; I think we should have made it a mayor instead.

Updates on Greenland’s Ice  

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The NYT's Dot Earth blog has an update on Greenland's melting ice - Updates on Greenland’s Ice.

New research on the dynamics of Greenland’s ice sheets complicates efforts to forecast sea level rise in this century, as the Green Blog reports. Expanding fields of crevasses appear to be limiting the flow of water to the base of the ice through tube-like moulins. That flow has been thought to ease the seaward movement of the ice over bedrock. But the crevasses also warm the ice as liquid water descends deep inside the frozen mass, with that process also potentially speeding its flow. This diagram shows the two types of plumbing.

In the meantime, the high recent rate of ice loss in Greenland, according to other new research, has largely continued.

The Mystery Of Stonehenge, Revealed  

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New York City Bike Share Program Will Have 10,000 Bikes, 600 Stations  

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EcoGeek has a post on New York's new bike share program - New York City Bike Share Program Will Have 10,000 Bikes, 600 Stations.

Last year, we heard that New York City was considering a huge bike sharing program and now it's becoming a reality. New details have been released about the program and it's just as big as had been hoped. There will be about 600 stations with 10,000 bikes and the program could be up and running by next summer.

The stations will be widespread, covering the Upper East and West sides all the way down to the tip of Manhattan and then across the East River into Brooklyn as far as Greenpoint and Crown Heights.

The city has chosen Alta Bike Share to install and operate the system. Alta operates bike share programs in Washington, D.C., Boston and Portland, but the New York system will dwarf those systems by a few thousand bikes, making it the largest in the country. Above is a video featuring the Capital Bikeshare program in D.C.

The program will allow for 24-hour, multi-day or annual subscriptions as well as shorter rentals charged by the half-hour. Monthly subscriptions will be cheaper than a monthly MetroCard.

Peaks and spikes  

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The Economist has a refreshing sensible post on Daniel Yergin's latest criticism of peak oil (having slowly modified his wildly inaccurate positions over time to "we're facing a plateau" - no doubt his views will eventually swing around to reality once no other credible options remain) - Peaks and spikes.

OVER the weekend, energy expert Daniel Yergin took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue that "peak oil" is a phony concept, a "specter" that's unlikely ever to materialise. The concept of peak oil, for the unitiated, is that humanity is close to reaching peak production of the world's finite supply of oil. Most of the extractable oil has now been brought out of the ground and used, and henceforth new discoveries are unlikely to replace falling output from old fields, leading to a steady decline in supply. Mr Yergin argues that people have been warning of a looming oil crisis for over a century and have never yet been right.

Economist James Hamilton has a measured and wise reply to the piece, in which he points out that supply growth has been worryingly slow of late. He concludes:
I submit that meeting the growing global demand for crude oil over the last five years has posed significant challenges for the world economy. And those who worry that the next 5-10 years might be like the last should not be dismissed as crackpots.

I'd just note that the phenomenon of peak oil is unlikely to manifest itself as a sudden sharp decline in supply. What you're more likely to see in a climate of more or less steady demand growth is supply that first tracks demand, then lags demand as the peak approaches while still growing. If oil demand were elastic, demand growth would ease with supply while prices rose moderately with the cost of producing the marginal barrel of oil. If oil demand is inelastic, however, then supply shortfalls will generate price spikes, producing recessions and a volatile cycle of rising and falling demand. The pain of occasional spikes and the economic damage of price swings is likely to drive investment in alternatives, by consumers and governments, leading to a substitution away from oil in key sectors long before people are ever caught standing at dry petrol stations. Electric car technology and infrastructure is improving rapidly; given enough pain, societies will make the switch, drastically reducing oil demand in the process.

Of course, it isn't easy to define "enough pain"; it might well take a decade of these gyrations to facilitate a meaningful switch away from petrol. The prospect of this kind of difficult transition ought to be enough to get governments to take the issue seriously, whether or not actual peak oil output is imminent.

Ford turns its attention to two-wheels  

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The SMH has an article on an electric bike concept being displayed by Ford -Ford turns its attention to two-wheels.

The Blue Oval brand has revealed its new E-Bike concept pushbike that it says “could be an innovative solution for urban mobility". The E-Bike concept is part plug-in and part pushy, with a conventional cog set at the rear wheel and a front wheel-mounted electronic hub that can also be used to propel the bike.

"The e-bike market is growing very, very rapidly, with some 30 million units sold globally last year," says Axel Wilke, director of vehicle personalisation from Ford’s European service division.
"We see e-bikes as an important element of urban electric mobility. More and more people are using e bikes for short distance commuting and they are becoming comfortable with the concept of electric mobility."

Ford says it has taken inspiration from technology used in formula one in the form of “magnetostrictive" materials, which “are used to convert magnetic energy into kinetic energy, and vice versa", with sensors able to provide “a seamless integration of the power of the legs with the power of the motor" by switching between or blending the two power sources “within a hundredth of a second".

The trapezoidal frame is constructed of lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre, tipping the scales at just 2.5kg. The frame houses the integrated lithium-ion battery which is good for 85 kilometres on a full charge, and takes just two hours to charge to 80 per cent or four hours for a full fill.

Despite Ford admitting that bikes like this are important for the future of transport, the US-based company says it isn’t planning on bringing the E-Bike to production.

The Shrinkage Solution  

Posted by Big Gav

Technology Review has a recap of an unusual old idea to reduce resource consumption - The Shrinkage Solution.

In 1966, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist named Joshua Lederberg suggested, in an essay in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that because human evolution could now be directed by scientific means, we ought to seriously consider what kinds of changes we might like to see. A year later, in a provocative—and bizarre—essay for the July 1967 issue of Technology Review, a pair of MIT civil-engineering professors named Robert Hansen and Myle Holley considered one such change: making people smaller.

We wish here to comment on one kind of human change—a change of physical size—which apparently would be far less difficult to achieve than the modifications we infer to be potentially feasible through genetic alchemy. Indeed, it is our understanding that controlled, substantial modification of size may require only the judicious application of findings in the area of endocrinology.

The authors never got into the specifics of how humans might be made smaller, or how much smaller they should be. They acknowledged that the idea would probably generate "widespread antagonism," but they argued that given our emerging capacity for genetic engineering, it would be reckless to ignore the possibilities altogether: "Can we afford not to consider, in all its aspects, the question of human size?"

If, as the authors believe, the question of human size merits thought, it appears more reasonable to consider a decrease rather than an increase in size. First, an increase in size would clearly aggravate the problems we already associate with our excessive rate of population growth. Second, the advantages of large size and physical strength (in the performance of useful labor, the resolution of individual and group conflicts, etc.) have been almost entirely eliminated by technology.

Smaller people, they wrote, would need less food and tinier houses. They'd create less waste. And the smaller you are, the bigger the world seems. "A reduction in man's size might be compared to an increase in the size of the earth," the authors noted.

The Recovery of 2008 ? What Bloody Recovery ?  

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Crikey has another column from Guy Rundle expounding his theory that the recession in the West (dubbed by some libertarians “the Great Correction") is permanent unless the economic framework is changed (as there is no tool available to policymakers to revive growth in the west under the neoliberal model of globalisation other than letting wages fall to developing world levels, thus inciting some real class warfare - not the nonsense being peddled by demented Fox News pundits about Obama’s proposed tax increases for higher income earners in the US) - The Recovery of 2008 ? What Bloody Recovery ?.

That may well be a more astute judgment about the world than that of the pro forecasters, and more in accord with the notion of materialist economists such as Robert Brenner and David Harvey — that the West is tapped out, and cannot again grow in the neoliberal framework currently imposed on it. In its existing framework, the argument goes, neither free-market nor Keynesian approaches will work. Apply cuts to clear the balance sheet and restore confidence, and the collapse of demand will be so great that the economy will stall — and, something economists never consider, the social unrest from a new wave of poverty will destroy any nascent confidence anyway.

But they also turn on the Keynsians who believe that higher wages and public spending would refloat demand as it did in the postwar period. True, they say, but the aggregate effect, at national and regional levels, will be nothing like you hope. Local industry will not, of course, restart, the money will flow out of the economy to manufacturing sources in the East, and the endlessly promised growth in new sectors — services, etc — won’t eventuate.

Online shopping, automatic checkouts and myriad other automations (of service jobs — hamburger flippers — that it was once assumed would sop up those for whom manufacturing provided employment), narrow the employment base further, and push the poorly educated permanently out of the sphere of work. No public education or training program is in place to make them employable, and individual firms do not need to provide it.

Why is there such a critical assessment of the notion of boom and bust on the street? I suspect it has something to do with the centrepeiece of the “boom" from the ’90s onwards, discretionary consumer spending. In the postwar Keynesian boom, a sense of forward motion was around because people could see not merely consumption but production increasing. Factories reopened after the Depression and the war, cities grew based on rational lending and so on.

In this “boom", people saw not an increase in production, but its dismantling. This occurred as — via franchising, chains, increased advertising presence — consumption spread into every available area of life. Housing became not more affordable but less so, as property prices became dizzyingly unreal, beyond any notion of merely paying for permanent habitation.

In other words, the boom always looked like what it was, a bubble. Its fantastical character was hiding in plain sight. At some level people knew that they were living through an unreality, and that the best thing to do was grab as much sh-t as you can while you can (the English riots were really a repetition of that, done at high speed and in dell’arte style).

Yet even if people were willing to accept this stasis, it is not possible to do so. The Western economy is boxed in. Slash costs? You would need to drive down pay levels, abolish the legally mandated minimum wage and usher in ever greater levels of inequality — effectively restarting large-scale class conflict. Stimulate production? What would be stimulated? What remains of the economic sectors that could grow fresh roots — only low-employment “services", intellectual property rents and the like.

Stimulate consumption? You would deepen the debt reliance of Western economies whose savings levels are zero — and, culturally, simply extend a set of expectations of consumption that cannot be sustained on a mass basis. Indeed it is the near-total reliance on consumption that tells us how late in the day the ’90s/2000s boom-bubble was, how desperate its attempt to fill in the gap. Capitalism has always lived by holding something back — the fruits of people’s labour, and the promise of satisfaction chief among them. For two hundred years, the system has relied on two techniques — violence and ideology — to create compliance. After violence, the system was sold on the notion that a thrifty, modest life was a sign of virtue, that honest work was its own reward.

From the 1870s onward, Western capitalism had a demand crisis, and the modern science of demand creation — advertising, the shopping arcade/mall — dates from this time. Confined initially to a privileged class, such consumption was made general in the 1950s, and then — in the ’90s — was cut loose of any notion of rational accounting. That is surely, a very late, if not a final stage, of system maintenance by demand creation — and what makes the current era interesting is that we are now out the other side of it, and no one knows what to do about it. And everyone knows it.

Car-sharing in Sydney on the increase  

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The SMH has an article on the growth of car sharing in inner city Sydney - Families give the green light to car-sharing.

The use of car share is growing at about 230 members a month. The total recently passed 14,000. GreenShareCar and Flexicar also provide a service.

''We've been pleasantly surprised by the uptake from families with kids and from people who had two cars but downsized to one and are using us as their second,'' Mr Jeffreys said. The financial crisis had '' accelerated the trends ''because it's made people think really hard about whether they really need a private car''.

In response to criticism that the scheme takes up public parking spots for private profit, Mr Jeffreys said ''obviously people see the car-share spaces, but behind that one GoGet car there are 20-25 people using it, and they don't see the cars that have effectively disappeared''.

The City of Sydney has provided 280 car-share parking spots. For each one the companies pay for a residential parking permit, and since July a $400 fee for signs and road markings.

The council has backed car-share schemes as a way of easing congestion, and estimates car-share has so far replaced 700 private cars in the area. The council is keen to double membership from 7500 to 15,000 car-share users, or one in 10 city households, by 2016.

Forget Tar Sands: Canada’s Geothermal Resources >1 Million Times Electricity Consumption  

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Cleantechnica has a post on a recent report on geothermal power in Canada - Forget Tar Sands: Canada’s Geothermal Resources >1 Million Times Electricity Consumption.

Canada’s sitting on “massive” geothermal resources, according to news reports, more than 1 million times its current electricity consumption. “As few as 100 projects could meet Canada’s energy needs,” notes the Geological Survey of Canada research team whose 322-page report will be presented at a geothermal industry conference in Toronto Thursday, Sept. 15.

Better yet, the 12-scientist team found that geothermal heat reservoirs found across “large swaths of British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and Northwest Territories” lie close to the surface, making them easier to reach and tap into.
The research team estimates that there are at least 5 gigawatts (GW) of geothermal power available in British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon alone. British Columbia has so much that it could produce as much electricity as the controversial $7.9-billion, 1,100 megawatt Site C hydroelectric dam the provincial government has proposed, according to the research team’s findings.
While the geothermal resources in these areas hold the greatest potential to be developed commercially, such opportunities exist across the country, the researchers say.

Australian Carbon Tax Law Introduced To Parliament  

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The Australian Parliament has commenced debating the new carbon tax law (dubbed Australia's Clean Energy Future - nice title !).

The debate isn't highlighting anything new - the opposition thinks the world will end when it is introduced, the government and greens think it an essential step forward (which is true, though it doesn't go far enough) and the media is by and large producing almost no useful analysis of the various claims being made.

Still - it should go through regardless - the only interesting question is will Malcolm Turnbull tell Abbott to get stuffed and cross the floor to vote with the government. Fingers crossed.

The Climate Spectator has an article on a PwC report into low carbon growth - Down to business on carbon.

The sudden evaporation of a goodly portion of the federal opposition's sitting members on Tuesday as the Prime Minister began introducing the bills of her government's Clean Energy Future package might betray a lack of consensus on carbon pricing among Australia's politicians, but it seems big business is well and truly present on the issue. A new major global report has found that the world’s largest listed companies are increasingly embracing climate change policies, regardless of – and even in spite of – broad-ranging uncertainty in politics. The 10th annual Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Global 500 report, put together in conjunction with global accountancy firm PwC, has examined the carbon reduction activities of the world’s largest listed companies through an in-depth analysis of 396 of the world’s largest companies, and has found that 68 per cent have climate change at the heart of business strategies, up from 48 per cent in 2010.

The report, Accelerating Low Carbon Growth, which is due to be released Wednesday, also shows a significant rise in the number of companies reporting reduced greenhouse gas emissions as a result of various emissions reduction activities (45 per cent, up from 19 per cent in 2010). A correlation was also established between higher stock market performance over time, and representation on CDP’s Carbon Performance Leadership Index (CPLI) and the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI). Companies with a strategic focus on climate change provided investors with approximately double the average total return of the Global 500 from January 2005 to May 2011.

CDP's Director for Australia and New Zealand, James Day, said the results highlighted that, despite all the debate in Canberra, emission reductions are being made in large companies throughout the world.

And the SMH notes the carbon tax plan will allow polluters to buy permits from abroad (and that the Abbott alternative plan is hopelessly impractical) - Abbott plan 'would double carbon cost.
TONY ABBOTT has described the carbon tax as ''the longest political suicide note in Australian history'' and a ''completely pointless exercise'' because it would allow Australian companies to buy some greenhouse gas emission reductions overseas.

But the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network - which represents mining and manufacturing industries - said it agreed with the federal Treasury that Mr Abbott's plan of achieving 5 per cent emission reductions domestically would at least double the cost, whether done with a carbon price or through his proposed ''direct action''. ...

But Michael Hitchens, the chief executive of the industry network, said if Australia wanted the cheapest way to cut emissions, ''we should have full flexibility to purchase international units''. ''We understand from Treasury modelling that the cost of abatement might double if we try to achieve the full abatement domestically. We think those figures are about right,'' he said.

Treasury modelling found that domestic-only reductions would cost an average of $69 a tonne between now and 2020, compared with $29 a tonne under the government plan, which allows some overseas permits. The Coalition has budgeted $15 a tonne in its ''direct action'' plan and says this is capped.

Rob Oakeshott, who with fellow crossbenchers Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor will ensure the bills pass the lower house, told Parliament the Coalition's plan did not make sense because it assumed ''the ongoing ability to buy a product [greenhouse abatement] at one third of its price''. …

The former Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull said he had not yet decided whether to speak on the bills, which will be voted on in the lower house on October 12. He said the Gillard government scheme had ''a lot in common'' with the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme, which he had agreed to pass.

Australia to host geoengineering conference  

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The Brisbane Times reports that a geoengineering conference will be held in Canberra later this month - Australia to broach radical global warming solutions.

Clouds could be made more reflective and oceans fertilised to increase carbon dioxide absorption under ideas to be discussed at Australia's first high-level climate engineering conference later this month. International interest in climate engineering – also known as geoengineering – is increasing as efforts to curb the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases continue to falter.

Scientists said the event was an important step for Australia into the controversial geoengineering debate but expressed grave concerns some proposed technologies could have dangerous and far-reaching side effects.

The two-day science symposium, starting in Canberra on September 26, is being hosted by the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. Among the more controversial ideas being discussed is the injection of sulphur particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and slow global warming.

Other technologies include fertilising oceans to increase uptake of carbon dioxide and spraying aerosols into the atmosphere to increase the reflectiveness of clouds. But the meeting will also cover relatively benign ways to pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, including planting more trees and using climate-friendly agricultural techniques.

33% Renewable Energy Now the Law in California  

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Greentech media reports that California has set a new standard for renewable energy use in the state - 33% RPS Now the Law in California.

This afternoon, the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard became law in California. Governor Jerry Brown conducted a formal signing ceremony at the SunPower production facility at Flextronics in Milpitas, California to make it official. ...

I spoke with Dan Adler, the President of CalCEF, the California Clean Energy Fund, about the milestone. Adler is uniquely qualified to discuss the matter, as he wrote the implementation rules for the last RPS while at the CPUC.

The bill Adler worked on originally called for 20 percent by 2017, but the California Public Utility Commission and other regulatory bodies accelerated those goals to be met by 2010. In fact, California’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) achieved 18 percent of 2010 retail electricity sales with renewable power.

"We are on track to hit our 20 percent target next year, despite widespread skepticism at the outset of the RPS, and the renewable energy industry continues to show dramatic growth potential," said Adler, adding, "We will soon be talking about the next goal -- 40 percent, 50 percent and beyond, bringing in the transport sector and improving efficiencies across the board -- and we can hit those targets, too."

The governor seems to agree with Adler. Earlier in the week, he told reporters, "I believe we can get to 40 percent, and I think we should."

Are jobs obsolete ?  

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Douglas Rushkoff has a column at CNN looking at the future of work - Are jobs obsolete ?

The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology's slow but steady replacement of working humans. Unless an external source of funding comes in, the post office will have to scale back its operations drastically, or simply shut down altogether. That's 600,000 people who would be out of work, and another 480,000 pensioners facing an adjustment in terms.

We can blame a right wing attempting to undermine labor, or a left wing trying to preserve unions in the face of government and corporate cutbacks. But the real culprit -- at least in this case -- is e-mail. People are sending 22% fewer pieces of mail than they did four years ago, opting for electronic bill payment and other net-enabled means of communication over envelopes and stamps.

New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures -- from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.
We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs -- as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there's something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.
I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks -- or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?

We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day. And that's even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high. Meanwhile, American banks overloaded with foreclosed properties are demolishing vacant dwellings to get the empty houses off their books.

Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff. …

While this is certainly bad for workers and unions, I have to wonder just how truly bad is it for people. Isn't this what all this technology was for in the first place? The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with "career" be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?

Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.

The Guardian recently had a column noting that (for those with jobs), the trend towards a shorter working week was rapidly reversed by the arrival of the corporate Blackberry and the “tyranny of technology" - Four-day working week? Three cheers!. Personally I have no trouble ignoring work related email over the weekend, but apparently I’m unusual in that regard.
Oddly enough, the four-day week was once envisaged as the future. As Prime Minister in the 1950s, Winston Churchill saw a time when accelerating technological advancement would enable us to "give the working man what he's never had – four days' work and then three days' fun". This did not seem as improbable then, as it sounds now. After all, the weekend was a comparatively recent and expanding invention. "What's a weekend?" asked the (fictional) Edwardian Dowager Countess of Grantham quite plausibly in Downton Abbey, set at a time when Saturday mornings were still worked.

Thirty years ago, as a schoolboy, I spent a summer working as a warehouseman in the London district of Moorgate. We had a practice of doing no work after tea-break on a Friday afternoon, sitting around playing word-games until it was time to clock off. "You'll see," the foreman said to me. "Soon, everyone will get Friday afternoons off."

Now the warehouse is a bank with a fleet of chauffeured Mercedes parked outside at all hours. I'm sometimes nostalgic about my conversation with the foreman, as I am about the horse-drawn cart that still delivered beer from the nearby Chiswell Street brewery. So where did it all go wrong? Not only has the concept of the three-day weekend evaporated, but, for many, the two-day weekend is in jeopardy. A survey of 4,000 workers conducted by Premier Inn last November found we don't unwind, on average, until 12.38 on Saturday night; by 3.55 on Sunday afternoon we are beginning to worry about work again and 53% of us are "too tired" to enjoy the weekend fully. Nearly half check our work emails over the weekend. ...

My own research into the use of a BlackBerry, and other smartphones, took workers from all over the world in a variety of organisational sizes and contexts, and measured email behaviours. I compared those that used BlackBerry (or similar "smart" devices with "push" functionality) with those that checked email through other means (an older phone or a laptop). Those with BlackBerrys, or similar, had 13% higher email volumes but spent two and a half times as long as the second group checking their emails outside working hours.

It is as if simply owning a BlackBerry, or similar device, drives this compulsive checking behaviour. Of course, our brains are "wired" to seek out new information – in our ancestral environment information about a food source or the presence of an enemy might have made the difference between life and death. Today, it is more likely to be a mundane email about somebody losing their keys in the office. Yet the vibrating device, with its flashing light, stimulates our brain's dopamine system in much the same way as the flashing lights of a fruit machine do to a gambling addict. The weary jokes about "CrackBerry" and email "addiction" have more than a grain of truth. ...

While the way we work in the 21st century may be long on hours, but short on productivity, there are other ways in which the culture of frenetic activity actually works against us. We are not, after all, production workers like Churchill's "working man" of the 1950s. A far higher proportion of us – men and women – work with our brains doing tasks of cognitive complexity. Our job titles include words such as analysis, knowledge and intelligence; almost all of us are required to do some level of deep thinking.

And yet the unintended result of our busy way of working, straddling evenings and weekends, is that we have crowded out deep thinking. If, even in our time in the car, we are in thrall to the inbox, there is a risk that we simply do not give ourselves the space for problem-solving, reflection and creativity. How often have we stumbled upon the answer to a problem when doing something else altogether such as showering, gardening or taking a walk?

There have been a number of recent advances in the understanding of the way or brain works – or doesn't work. Most of the cognitively complex work we are required to do is highly dependent on the brain's pre-frontal cortex, and neuroscientists, such as Russell Poldrack of the University of Texas, have observed that too much dopamine – perhaps the result of over-stimulation from our flashing BlackBerrys – can cause the functioning of the cortex to falter, leaving us frazzled, forgetful and finding it difficult to focus.

Is it any wonder that attention deficit disorder specialists are observing that we can invoke the symptoms of this malaise simply by the way we work? Worse still, for those in senior positions, the frenetic way we work can affect our leadership capabilities. As we fire from the hip as each email arrives, we risk losing the art of delegation – thereby taking yet more work on our own shoulders – but also start to slip on many of the other pre-frontal cortex functions such as the treatment of people. We lose our sense of decency and courtesy as our 24/7 way of working leads to irascibility.

It has long been recognised among occupational psychologists and physicians that proper rest and recovery is important, not just for long-term health and happiness but also for resilience at work, productivity and performance. The sad truth is, most of us are simply too busy to wake up to the facts.

So while we are further than ever from enjoying a four-day week as a permanent fixture in the calendar, the period about to unfurl before us offers us an opportunity to feel what it might be like. So treat this bounty of bank holidays as a chance to unplug from work and allow time for recovery, reflection and deep thinking. Who knows – we may end up reclaiming the two-day weekend. ...

A short history of shorter working

c.890 King Alfred the Great reputedly proclaims: "Eight hours' work, eight hours' sleep, eight hours' play, make a just and healthy day."

1496 Henry VII orders a 14-hour work day for field labourers from March to September (5am-dusk in winter).

1815 Foundation of the Ten Hours Movement, which aims to restrict hours for industrial workers.

1847 Women and children granted 10-hour working day, with a max of 60 hours a week, incorporating a shorter working day on Saturdays.

c.1900 Concept of two-day weekend forms in US as labour movements try to help Jewish workers taking Saturday instead of Sunday as the sabbath.

1926 US car manufacturer Henry Ford (pictured left) shuts down factories on both Saturday and Sunday while paying staff the same rate as before. "The country is ready for the five-day week," he announces.

1953 Winston Churchill foresees end of the Cold War heralding increased production and more leisure time for workers. "A four-day week, then three days' fun," he predicts.

1974 Government introduces three-day week to conserve electricity, in short supply due to miners strikes.

2008 Onset of credit crunch forces many UK manufacturing firms to restrict workers to four-day weeks.

2010 The New Economic Foundation claims a 21-hour working week would reduce power consumption and increase productivity.

US Gas-to-Liquid Plant Planned By SASOL May Cost $10 Billion  

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The WSJ reports that South African coal to liquids company SASOL is looking to build a GTL (gas to liquids) plant in Louisiana, using the (at least currently) cheap supply of shale gas as feedstock - Gas-to-Liquid Site May Hit $10 Billion.

Sasol Ltd., a chemical company long known for squeezing motor fuel out of coal, is now turning its sights on the glut of natural gas in the U.S.

South Africa-based Sasol on Tuesday announced plans to build a plant in Louisiana, at a cost of up to $10 billion, that would convert natural gas into diesel fuel for trucks and other vehicles.

The company's board last week approved an 18-month feasibility study for the project, which would be constructed on land adjacent to Sasol's existing chemical facility in Calcasieu Parish, La.

If given the final go-ahead, the plant would be the first in the U.S. to use "gas-to-liquids" technology. Once seen as futuristic, the technology has gained traction in recent years as discovery of gas supplies have outpaced that of oil.

"The initial numbers look positive," said Ernst Oberholster, Sasol's managing director of new-business development, who stood alongside Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal at the company's Louisiana complex when the decision was announced.

What makes the U.S. an attractive location for such a project is the low level of natural-gas prices in the country. Benchmark futures have hovered between $3 and $6 per million British thermal units for two years, well below prices paid by consumers in Europe and Asia.

Sasol would buy the natural gas from suppliers using long-term contracts, convert the gas to liquid fuel and then sell that fuel to blenders, who wouldthen sell it for the open market.

The project is the latest to address what to do with a surplus of natural gas caused by the boom in drilling in shale-rock formations in places like Texas and Pennsylvania. Energy investor T. Boone Pickens and natural-gas producers such as Apache Corp. have promoted the use of natural gas as a road-transportation fuel, one that would be cleaner burning than oil-based alternatives. In addition, some companies have put forward plans to export gas out of the U.S. in cool-liquefied form.

Sasol's idea is one of the most ambitious, because it would essentially put natural gas on par with higher-priced crude oil as a key raw material for transportation fuels. And diesel prices trickle down into the cost of consumer goodseverywhere because the fuel is mainly used in trucking. So far this year, retail diesel prices in the U.S. are up 16%, even as the economy grows more fragile.

Sasol officials estimate that a plant producing 96,000 barrels a day of diesel, and some jet fuel, would cost $10 billion to construct. They say they could opt for a smaller facility, however.

By converting natural gas into a liquid, the fuel could be used without retrofitting vehicles or creating new fueling infrastructure, an issue that would affect motorists using compressed natural gas as Apache and Mr. Pickens have advocated. The proposed site in Louisiana is close to Gulf Coast natural-gas fields and is crisscrossed by pipelines that could be easily linked to a new facility, Mr. Oberholster said.

The Local / Global Flip  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Jaron Lanier has an interesting column at Edge Magazine, looking at the phenomenon of companies “flipping” from local to global businesses - The Local / Global Flip.

The Apple idea is that instead of the personal computer model where people own their own information, and everybody can be a creator as well as a consumer, we're moving towards this iPad, iPhone model where it's not as adequate for media creation as the real media creation tools, and even though you can become a seller over the network, you have to pass through Apple's gate to accept what you do, and your chances of doing well are very small, and it's not a person to person thing, it's a business through a hub, through Apple to others, and it doesn't create a middle class, it creates a new kind of upper class. ... Google has done something that might even be more destructive of the middle class, which is they've said, "Well, since Moore's law makes computation really cheap, let's just give away the computation, but keep the data." And that's a disaster.

... If we enter into the kind of world that Google likes, the world that Google wants, it's a world where information is copied so much on the Internet that nobody knows where it came from anymore, so there can't be any rights of authorship. However, you need a big search engine to even figure out what it is or find it. They want a lot of chaos that they can have an ability to undo. ... when you have copying on a network, you throw out information because you lose the provenance, and then you need a search engine to figure it out again. That's part of why Google can exist. Ah, the perversity of it all just gets to me.

... What Wal-Mart recognized is that information is power, and by using network information, you could consolidate extraordinary power, and so have information about what could be made where, when, what could be moved where, when, who would buy what, when for how much? By coalescing all of that, and reducing the unknowns, they were able to globalize their point of view so they were no longer a local player, but they essentially became their own market, and that's what information can do. The use of networks can turn you from a local player in a larger system into your own global system.

... The reason this breaks is that there's a local-global flip that happens. When you start to use an information network to concentrate information and therefore power, you benefit from a first arrival effect, and from some other common network effects that make it very hard for other people to come and grab your position. And this gets a little detailed, but it was very hard for somebody else to copy Wal-Mart once Wal-Mart had gathered all the information, because once they have the whole world aligned by the information in their server, they created essentially an expense or a risk for anybody to jump out of that system. That was very hard. ... In a similar way, once you are a customer of Google's ad network, the moment that you stop bidding for your keyword, you're guaranteeing that your closest competitor will get it. It's no longer just, "Well, I don't know if I want this slot in the abstract, and who knows if a competitor or some entirely unrelated party will get it." Instead, you have to hold on to your ground because suddenly every decision becomes strategic for you, and immediately. It creates a new kind of glue, or a new kind of stickiness.

... It can become such a bizarre system. What you have now is a system in which the Internet user becomes the product that is being sold to others, and what the product is, is the ability to be manipulated. It's an anti-liberty system, and I know that the rhetoric around it is very contrary to that.

... Essentially what happened with finance is a larger scale, albeit more abstract version of what happened with Wal-Mart, where a global system was optimized by being able to build data that could be concentrated locally using a computer network. It tremendously enriched the people who ran the network. It seemed to create savings for people initially who were the end users, the leafs of the network, very much as Google, or Groupon, seem to save them money initially. But then in the long-term it took away more from the income prospects of people than it could offer them in savings, very much as Wal-Mart did. ... This is the pattern that we'll see repeated again and again as new applications of computer networks come up, unless we decide to monetize what people do with their hearts and brains. What we have to do to create liberty in the future is to monetize more and more instead of monetize less and less, and in particular we have to monetize more and more of what ordinary people do, unless we want to make them into wards of the state. That's the stark choice we have in the long-term.

...if you're adding to the network, do you expect anything back from it? And since we've been hypnotized in the last eleven or twelve years into thinking that we shouldn't expect anything for what we do with our hearts or our minds online, we think that our own contributions aren't worth money, very much like we think we shouldn't be paid for parenting, or we shouldn't be paid for raking our own yard. In those cases you are paid in a sense because there's still something that becomes part of you in your life, for all that you did. ... But in this case we have this idea that we put all this stuff out there and what we get back are intangible or abstract benefits of reputation, or ego-boosting. Since we're used to that bargain, we're impoverished compared to the world that could have been and should have been when the Internet was initially conceived. The world that would create a strengthened middle class through what people do, by monetizing more and more instead of less and less. It's possible that that world could have never come about, but that was never tested. If we are absolutely convinced that this third way is impossible, and that we have to choose between "The Matrix" or Marx, if those are our only two choices, it makes the future dismal, and so I hope that a third way is possible, and I'm certainly going to do everything possible to try to push it.

What It Takes to Power Google  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Technology Review has an article on Google’s (suprisingly low) energy consumption - What It Takes to Power Google.

Google is the first major Web company to reveal exactly how much energy it uses—information that will help researchers and policy makers understand how the massive explosion of Internet usage and cloud computing is contributing to global energy consumption.

Google uses 260 million watts continuously across the globe, the company reported on Wednesday. This is equivalent to the power used by all the homes in Richmond, Virginia, or Irvine, California (around 200,000 homes), and roughly a quarter of the output of a standard nuclear power plant.

By far, the majority of Google's energy use is associated with its data centers, according to Jonathan Koomey, a professor at Stanford University and a researcher who focuses on energy and IT. He says that 80 to 90 percent of those watts are used solely by the company's data centers, based on estimates he made of Google's power use in an August 2011 report. Most of this energy is used in powering the IT equipment in Google's data centers. Google custom builds many data centers, such as a new one in Finland that uses a seawater cooling system, to cut down on electricity costs.

This has enabled Google to be relatively energy efficient, says Koomey, who estimates that the company owns about 3 percent of servers worldwide and uses only 1 percent of electricity for data centers worldwide. "They're operating more efficiently than other data centers," he says.

Other Web giants, including Amazon and Facebook, probably operate their data centers with similar efficiency due to hardware and software customization, and innovative cooling equipment, Koomey says. However, the majority of data center power use comes from non-IT companies running their own data centers less efficiently [which is in turn, far less than that used by equipment in homes and offices].

In its report, Google compares the energy usage of companies' in-house computer systems to the energy used by its cloud servers. It estimates that running Gmail instead of an in-house e-mail system can be almost 80 times more energy efficient. Google says that 25 percent of its energy was supplied by renewable fuels—such as from wind farms—in 2011, and plans to increase that to 30 percent this year.

Arctic ice melts to lowest level on record  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The SMH reports that this year is a new low for Arctic sea ice coverage - Arctic ice melts to lowest level on record

Ice at the North Pole has melted to the lowest level since satellite observations began in 1972, meaning the Arctic is almost certainly the smallest it has been for 8000 years, polar scientists said. If the trend continues, the Arctic will be largely ice-free in the northern summer 40 years earlier than anticipated in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report.

Daily satellite sea ice maps released by Bremen University physicists show that with a week's further melt expected this year, the floating ice in the Arctic covered 4.24 million square kilometres on September 8. The previous one-day minimum was 4.27 million square kilometres on September 17, 2007. ...

The German researchers said the record melt was undoubtedly because of human-induced global warming. ''The sea ice retreat can no more be explained with the natural variability … caused by weather,'' the head of the Institute of Environmental Physics at Bremen, Georg Heygster, said. ''Climate models show that the reduction is related to the man-made global warming, which, due to the albedo effect, is particularly pronounced in the Arctic.'' ...

Separate research suggests Arctic ice is in a downward spiral, declining in area and also thinning. Scientists at the Polar Science Centre of the University of Washington, Seattle, said last week that Arctic sea ice volume hit its lowest level in 2010 and was on course to set more records this year. Their data suggests that the volume of sea ice last month was half the average and 62 per cent lower than the maximum covering the Arctic in 1979. The research will be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. …

The last time the Arctic was uncontestably free of summer-time ice was 125,000 years ago, at the height of the last major interglacial period. Arctic ice plays a critical role in regulating Earth's climate. Retreating summer sea ice is described by scientists as a measure and a driver of global warming. This year, the Northwest and Northeast passages were mostly ice free, as they have been twice since 2008.

Last month, the 74,000-tonne STI Heritage tanker passed through the Northeast Passage in just eight days on its way from Houston, Texas, to Thailand. The north-east sea route, which links the Atlantic to the Pacific, is likely to become a ship operator's favourite.

The carpet-tile philosopher  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Economist has an obituary for Ray Anderson, “America’s greenest businessman" - The carpet-tile philosopher.

The turning point, his “mid-course correction", came in 1994. He was 60, but not yet ready to retire to the mountains or chase a little white ball. Under pressure from customers to produce some sort of environmental strategy for his company, he got a small task-force together. Someone gave him a book, Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce" to help him prepare his first speech on the subject. Thumbing vaguely through it, he chanced on a chapter called “The Death of Birth", about the extinction of species. Reading on, he came to a passage about reindeer being wiped out on St Matthew Island in the Bering Sea. Suddenly, the tears were running down his face. A spear-point had jammed into his heart. It was the very same feeling, he said later, as when he had first seen carpet tiles, but orders of magnitude larger. He was to blame for making the world worse. Now he had to make it better.

Interface, he decided, would leave no print on the green-and-blue carpet of the world. By 2020 it would take nothing from the earth that could not be rapidly replenished. It would produce no greenhouse-gas emissions and no waste. That meant using renewables rather than fossil fuel; endeavouring to make carpet tiles out of carbohydrate polymers rather than petroleum; and recycling old-carpet sludge into pellets that could be used as backing.

Some of the technologies Mr Anderson hoped for (and half-envisaged, as a graduate in systems engineering from his much-loved Georgia Tech) had not been invented when he started. Several colleagues thought he had gone round the bend again. He had to bring them along slowly, in his quiet way, until they “got it" by themselves. But by 2007 the company was, he reckoned, about halfway up “Mount Sustainability". Greenhouse-gas emissions by absolute tonnage were down 92% since 1995, water usage down 75%, and 74,000 tonnes of used carpet had been recovered from landfills. The $400m he was saving each year by making no scrap and no off-quality tiles more than paid for the R&D and the process changes. As much as 25% of the company’s new material came from “post-consumer recycling". And he was loaded with honours and awards as the greenest businessman in America.

Most satisfying of all, sales had increased by two-thirds since his conversion, and profits had doubled. For Mr Anderson always kept his eye on the bottom line. He could be sentimental, ending his many public speeches with an apologetic poem to “Tomorrow’s Child" written by an employee after one of his pep talks, but he was only half a dreamer. His company was his child, too. Profits mattered. This made some greens snipe at him, but it also made Walmart send two of its senior people round to his factory in LaGrange to see what he was doing right. As a success, he could powerfully influence others.

He never dreamed of giving up carpet tiles. Their beauty and variety delighted him, just as Nature’s did. In his office in LaGrange they were laid out like abstract art on tables, while hanks of yarn hung on the walls. His company introduced Cool Carpet®, which had made no contribution to global warming all along the supply chain, and multicoloured FLOR for the home, “practical and pretty, too". He was proudest, though, of Entropy®, a carpet-tile design inspired directly by the forest floor. No two tiles were alike: no two sticks, no two leaves. They could be laid and replaced quite randomly, even used in bits, eliminating waste. And when you lay down on them you might almost be in Mr Anderson’s 86-acre piece of forest near Atlanta, listening to the sparrows in the long-leaf pines, rejoicing in being a non-harming part of the web of life, like him.

Sydney's New 1 Bligh St Skyscraper is Australia's Greenest Office Tower  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Inhabitat has a post on a new green building in Sydney - Sydney's New 1 Bligh St Skyscraper is Australia's Greenest Office Tower. I haven't had a close look at it but the lobby certainly looks impressive...

Ingenhoven Architects + Architectus recently unveiled a brand new glass high-rise in downtown Sydney that has earned the highest score in Australia’s Green Star standard. Inaugurated by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and commissioned by the Dexus Property Group, the 1 Bligh office tower glows from within with 28 story-high atrium that stretches from the building's lobby to a massive skylight up top.

The floor-to-ceiling atrium also acts as a natural cooling system, siphoning hot air and funneling it out the top of the building. Office balconies line the interior of the atrium, benefitting from the breeze and natural light.

The shape and design of the building is based on solar orientation – the layout creates advantageous shady and sunny areas. Employees can enjoy harbor views from any height through the clear glass façade. An outdoor patio on floor 15 offers a place to have lunch with a view. The entire roof is a green planted terrace accessible from the 28th floor that offers superior harbor and city views, fresh air, and greenery. The roof deck is also partially covered so employees can still enjoy it in rain. The soil and greenery on the roof cuts down on the building’s solar gain.

The double skinned façade glitters in Sydney’s skyline, while cooling the inside. The building is partially powered by a vacuum tube solar collector. Sydney frequently experiences water issues, so the building has an on-site wastewater recycling system that is so prolific it recycles some public sewage system water as well. On-site bicycle parking encourages employees to take green transportation to work.

A Greek Energy Sell-off ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

The FT has a report on the possibility of Greece defaulting on its debt payments, noting the government is considering selling a number of energy projects - Greece vows to avoid default at all cost

The plans include offering licences for undersea oil and gas exploration in the Ionian Sea off the west coast and also south of Crete. They are also looking for investment in solar installations that would export electricity to northern Europe and in offshore wind parks in the eastern Aegean.

Queensland Farm to use coal seam water for irrigation  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The ABC has a report on an experiment in Queensland to use waste water from coal seam gas extraction for irrigation - Farm to use coal seam water for irrigation.

A project using treated coal seam gas water for irrigation and beef production has kicked off in Roma in southern Queensland. Gas company Santos says it's the first partnership between a coal gas producer and a family-owned agribusiness in Queensland.

President of Santos GLNG project, Mark Macfarlane, says the water goes through a vigorous process to ensure it's safe. "Processes called reverse osmosis and also water amendment, and it absolutely guarantees that we have the very highest quality of clean water that can be used to irrigate crops on their property," he said. "We'll be providing around about 700 megalitres of clean water over a four-year period."

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