On Strike  

Posted by Big Gav

The time has come for Peak Energy to take one of those periodic blogging breaks - partly so I can get through a large pile of books and DVDs I've accumulated in recent months, and partly so I can get a few other things done around the house that tend to get ignored when I'm busy filtering the news feed for energy related items (and any other stuff that catches my eye which doesn't get highlighted in the mass media).

See you in a few weeks...

Yes, We Have No Bananas  

Posted by Big Gav

The Guardian reports that a worldwide banana famine may be approaching. Australian customers had a taste of a banana free world last year after a cyclone destroyed the banana plantations and it was bitter indeed (it even resulted in higher interest rates, if I could be allowed to play with the largest lever of fear going - by the way, did anyone out there get my "Wisdom of Crocodiles" reference the other day ?).

It is a freakish, doped-up, mutant clone which hasn't had sex for thousands of years - and the strain may be about to tell on the nation's fruitbowl favourite. Scientists based in France have warned that, without radical and swift action, in 10 years' time we really could have no bananas.

Two fungal diseases, Panama disease and black Sigatoka, are cutting a swath through banana plantations, just as blight once devastated potato crops. But unlike the potato, and other crops where disease-resistant strains can be bred by conventional means, making a fungus-free variety of the banana is extraordinarily difficult.

Emile Frison, head of the Montpellier-based International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain, told New Scientist magazine that the banana business could be defunct within a decade. This doesn't just mean we will be eating aubergine splits and that future govern ments may be mocked for policy melon skins. The banana, in various forms, is the staple diet for some half billion people in Asia and Africa.

Almost all the varieties of banana grown today are cuttings - clones, in effect - of naturally mutant wild bananas discovered by early farmers as much as 10,000 years ago. The rare mutation caused wild bananas to grow sterile, without seeds. Those ancient farmers took cuttings of the mutants, then cuttings of the cuttings.

Plants use reproduction to continuously shuffle their gene pool, building up variety so that part of the species will survive an otherwise deadly disease. Because sterile mutant bananas cannot breed, they do not have that protection.

Commercial banana plantations were devastated in the 1950s when Panama disease slew the dominant variety, the Gros Michel. A resistant variety, the Cavendish, filled the gap. But only massive amounts of fungicide spray - 40 sprayings a year is common - now keep Sigatoka at bay, and a new version of Panama disease cannot be sprayed. The Amazon banana crop has been devastated by the fungi, and accord ing to Mr Frison, some parts of Africa now face the equivalent of the Irish potato famine. ...

The Daily Terror has taken a break from thrashing the terrorist bogeyman today and jumped across to instill some green fear instead - I've got to say their sub-editors need to get their act together - this article would be far better titled "Hell And High Water" than the rather drab "Frightening reality we face".
SYDNEY is looming as one of the world's major climate change casualties, with temperatures expected to soar 50 per cent higher than the average rise forecast for the entire planet. For the first time, Australian scientists have charted in detail the impacts on the nation's largest metropolis of man's insatiable demand for energy and burning of fossil fuels.

The Daily Telegraph today exclusively reveals the landmark CSIRO report commissioned by the State Government which - for the first time - specifically details the impact of climate change on NSW. It paints a picture of a city baking under average temperatures almost 5C higher than now - which will kill 1300 people a year - and one battered by extreme winds and permanent drought.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said the report's findings were alarming. "This might sound like a doomsday scenario, but it is one we must confront,'' Mr Iemma said.

And it will put pressure on Prime Minister John Howard to commit to the same tough targets set by NSW - to reduce greenhouse gases 60 per cent by 2050.

Our dams will be drained of water as the city plunges into a virtually permanent dry spell and evaporation rates increase by 24 per cent. The frequency of droughts now average three every decade. By 2070 there will be only one year out of 10 that is free of drought.

The bleak assessment suggested Sydneysiders would have to reduce water consumption by 54 per cent for the city to remain sustainable within the next 20 years. Extreme weather events, including 110m storm surges by 2100, will devastate the coastline as well as property. Bushfire frequency will almost double, with rainfall expected to be reduced by up to 40 per cent.

The Sydney Morning Herald is a little less breathless in delivery.

The results are part of a CSIRO report commissioned by the NSW Government and authored by CSIRO researcher Ben Preston.

Dr Preston predicts temperatures will continue to rise causing drought, flooding and heat waves. "What's important for people to understand is that this is not simply a lot of hand waving. There's quite a bit of scientific research and effort both within Australia and internationally that goes into producing these estimates," Dr Preston told ABC Radio. "And the problem there is that future climate change is already built into the system.

"So the warming we've been experiencing in recent years is really a function of greenhouse gases we emitted a few decades ago. Although there's a promise that large-scale reductions in future greenhouse gas emissions on the international basis will forestall ... large-scale warming by the end of the century, we've already sort of committed ourselves to additional warming and downstream climate change and consequences over the next few decades."

He said that, while past climate change was "natural in origin", the world's population is now living a "climate of our own making". "We have to look at this as sort of long-term preventive care for the environment," Dr Preston said. "Reducing emissions over the next couple of years isn't going to prevent any sort of climate catastrophe from occurring over the near term."

But all measures to combat climate change must go forward, which mean burning fewer fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Age has a report on a weatherman's view of the forthcoming IPCC report.
The job of Australia's most senior weatherman is not so much to forecast weather as to explain it, to political leaders and other policy makers. In the superheated climate-change debate, it is a job Geoff Love approaches with infinite care. "I interpret the science," says Dr Love, the head of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. "If the bureau gets perceived as an advocate (of a particular line), or as a sceptic, we lose influence."

In the next few weeks, the Director of Meteorology is anticipating spending a lot of time explaining the scientific process behind the declaration by a United Nations scientific panel this Friday that the impact and cause of global warming is unequivocal — it's dire, and it's man-made. "People will wriggle and squirm who don't like that outcome. But I think anybody who is in conventional science with a reasonably open mind will say the case is pretty well made by a number of very good scientists, I think quite rigorously," he says. "Some of these changes in climate can be explained in no other way."

Dr Love is in Paris this week to participate in the final scientific plenary session that will give line-by-line consensus to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the end of a six-year review of the state of the planet involving 2500 scientists and drawing on more than 6000 published papers.

The report will attribute climate change squarely to human activity and the release of greenhouse gases, says Dr Love, secretary of the IPCC until becoming Bureau of Meteorology director in 2003. "These statements will, I suspect, draw the most attention and the most political heat."

Agence France Press notes:
Billions of people will suffer water shortages and the number of hungry will grow by hundreds of millions by 2080 as global temperatures rise, scientists warn in a new report. The report estimates that between 1.1 billion and 3.2 billion people will be suffering from water scarcity problems by 2080 and between 200 million and 600 million more people will be going hungry.

The assessment is contained in a draft of a major international report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be released later this year, Australia's The Age newspaper said. Rising sea levels could flood seven million more homes, while Australia's famed Great Barrier Reef, treasured as the world's largest living organism, could be dead within decades, the scientists warn, the newspaper said. The Age said it had obtained a copy of the report, believed to be one of three prepared for release by the IPCC, which is highly regarded for its neutrality and caution.

Some 500 experts are meeting in Paris this week ahead of the release on Friday of the IPCC's first report since 2001 on the state of scientific knowledge on global warming. ...

Back at The Age, there is also a report that Oil Search will soon decide the future of the PNG gas pipeline, which seems unlikely to go ahead (which will probably turn out to be a bad thing for Australian east coast gas consumers later on.
Oil Search is expected to announce the fate of its troubled $8 billion Papua New Guinea gas project on Thursday, with a host of analysts suggesting it will end up on the shelf.

Fat Prophets analyst Gavin Wendt said while takeover speculation continues to surround Oil Search, an expected announcement on Thursday is likely to involve the future of the PNG Gas Pipeline. "There was a lot of takeover talk last week ... but I think an announcement on the future of the pipeline is the most likely thing in my book," Mr Wendt said. "Oil Search is increasingly looking outside the original plan of sticking the gas in a pipeline and bringing it to Australia and I think that is looking more marginal all the time. They are looking for a major project partner to look at other options, which may involve setting up a refinery business in PNG in itself and it has Japanese partners looking at that already. The other option is looking at an export business, setting up an LNG refinery and that could be something that is on the cards."

I see "The Power of Nightmares" is on TV tonight again - well worth a watch for those who haven't seen it and want some historical background for the politics of fear we've been intensely subjected to these past 4 years.
Should we be worried about the threat from organised terrorism or is it simply a phantom menace used to stop society from falling apart? This three-part documentary series explores the possibility that the threat of a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion. At the heart of the story are two groups, the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists formed by the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world.

These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way either intended. Together they created today's nightmare vision of an organised terrorism network - a fantasy politicians found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. Part one of the program looks at the origins of the neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists in the 1950s. The rise of the politics of fear began in 1949 with two men whose radical ideas would inspire the attack of 9/11 and influence the neo-conservative movement that now dominates Washington.

Both these men believed that modern liberal freedoms were eroding the bonds that held society together. The two movements they inspired set out to rescue their societies from this decay. But in an age of growing disillusionment with politics, the neo-conservatives turned to fear in order to pursue their vision, creating a hidden network that only they could see, run by the Soviet Union.

The TV news tonight led with the CSIRO's climate report, but it followed a report on the David Hicks case, which seems to be getting more and more attention as the election season approaches. I haven't really followed this one - by and large I suspect its just more "Power of Nightmares" bollocks, though I guess Gerard Henderson's fevered rantings that Hicks was Osama's right hand man (rather than the nutty loner with an obsession for armed adventure he appears to be) could actually be true. Either way he should be given a prompt trial and either imprisoned for any acts he committed or let go, not left to rot in a US detention camp.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) says the Australian Government has requested an independent assessment of the mental health of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks.

The DFAT statement contradicts earlier comments by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, who said Australia would not be requesting an independent evaluation because it was likely to be turned down by the United States Government. DFAT says the request has been made but initial US advice suggests independent mental and physical health care is not usually permitted in Guantanamo Bay.

The move comes after Labor and the Democrats today called on the Government to insist on an independent assessment. Those calls followed comments by Mr Hicks's lawyer, David McLeod, that he believed his client's condition was deteriorating.

In other developments:

* Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja says the Federal Government will suffer at the election if it does not allow David Hicks to be examined by a team of independent medical experts. (Full Story)
* Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks's father, Terry, believes his son has been in solitary confinement for 10 months because he spoke with Australian Government officials about his treatment. (Full Story)
* There are new calls for the Federal Government to insist on an independent assessment of David Hicks's mental health. (Full Story)
* Terrorist suspect David Hicks has urged the Federal Government to get him out of Guantanamo Bay. (Full Story)
* United States military lawyer Colonel Moe Davis has denied reports in the Australian media that Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks is in a bad physical and mental condition. (Full Story)

In other local news, the energy suppliers association (ie. a grouping of large coal fired power stations) released a report saying we have to stay with (thus far non-existant) "clean" coal and nuclear power, prompting widespread outrage and mockery. Maybe a counter-group should claim we will be completely dependent on "free energy" by 2050 as an equally rational alternative. And then we can all look at the practical option - converting to wind, solar, tidal and geothermal energy along with a smart grid...
The Federal Government has been urged to give little weight to a report by the power-generating industry that warns of a huge jump in the cost of electricity. The study predicts power would become twice as expensive if greenhouse gas emissions are cut by a third in the next 25 years. The report, commissioned by the Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA), says the cheapest way to reduce emissions is by using clean coal, gas and nuclear technologies.

But Dr Mark Diesendorf, a senior lecturer in environmental studies at the University of New South Wales, says the findings reflect the vested interests of the association's members, who own most of Australia's coal-fired power stations. "The ESAA model has several very absurd assumptions," he said. "For example, it assumes a very high growth in the demand for electricity. It assumes a very limited role for efficient energy use, which is the most cost-effective and the fastest kind of greenhouse response strategy."

The Greens agree the report is self-serving. Greens Senator Christine Milne says renewable energy is ready to go and more cost-effective in the long-term. "The only reason they're more expensive than coal at the moment is the coal industry has had 100 years of polluting the atmosphere for free," she said. "Let's put a price on carbon, let's have a national reduction emissions target, introduce a greenhouse gas trading scheme and then we'll see on a level playing field the renewables really surge."

Senator Milne says renewable energy needs to be embraced before investment dries up.

Warren at TreeHugger has a look at adoption of GreenPower in NSW (which is getting plenty of TV advertisment attention in the leadup to the state election).
Coal production and use is a very significant contributor to Greenhouse Gas concerns. Unfortunately for Australia it remains a millstone around the country's neck. And the reason is easy to see. We are the world’s largest exporter of the stuff and have been for about 20 years, in fact it is our single largest export, worth over $24 billion AUD. And at home it provides a source of fiscally cheap electricity. But ever so slowly it is dawning on people that it's environmentally very costly. Could this be why in recent weeks the state of NSW has been carpet bombing TV screens with commercials for their Green Power scheme, with a young girl cavorting beneath wind turbines. Since it was first introduced back in 2003 as “a world-first” in greenhouse gas reductions, the program is said to have cut GHG emissions by 31 million tonnes, or as they say, equal to “taking 7 million cars off our roads for a year.”

At this time NSW gets about 6% of its electricity from renewables. The plan now is to get the state to the point where 15% of electricity is renewably generated by 2020, assuming the goal of 10% by 2010 can be first achieved. Mandatory targets have been proscribed for energy retailers, but the person on the street is also encouraged to purchase ‘GreenPower’ from their provider, or change to another provider who offers a better deal. The website is quite clear to follow. But will it be enough? In 2004 the Australian Greenhouse Office reported that NSW had shown just a 1.2% reduction in GHG emissions since 1990. Yet the same government behind the GreenPower push has been actively pursuing yet another coal mine for the state. Well, it was until a few months ago, when a court ruled against it on climate change grounds.

Jerome a Paris at the European Tribune reports that there is "No technical limitation to wind power penetration" - at least some investment bankers live in a real world when it comes to realistic energy sources to fund in future (with wind likely being the single largest energy source in a few decades time).
One of the main arguments against wind power is that it is intermittent and thus unreliable because not always available when needed. A corollary is that it is usually stated (and I've used these numbers myself in earlier diaries) that wind power will not be able to provide more than 20% of power - or that beyond that number, its costs rise significantly.

Well, the National Grid, the entity which manages the electrical grid in the UK, is providing some interesting commentary in a special report about the long term outlook of their job, as posted here: National Grid 2006 Great Britain Seven Year Statement.
The output of some renewable technologies, such as wind, wave, solar and even some CHP, is naturally subject to fluctuation and, for some renewable technologies, unpredictability relative to the more traditional generation technologies. Based on recent analyses of the incidence and variation of wind speed, the expected intermittency of the national wind portfolio would not appear to pose a technical ceiling on the amount of wind generation that may be accommodated and adequately managed.

The Europeans also understand just how much money can be saved on fossil fuel imports by adopting renewable energy solutions - no more steady drip of money offshore...
A binding European Union target to buy 20% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020 would cut the region's fossil-fuel costs by about $96 billion a year, according to figures from an EU official.

Achieving that target would curb demand for fossil fuels by about 250 million metric tons of oil equivalent a year, said Fabrizio Barbaso, the deputy director general of energy and transport at the European Commission, the EU's regulatory arm. Barbaso was speaking at the European Renewable Energy Policy Conference in Brussels. There are about 7.1 barrels in a ton and the price of oil today is about $54 a barrel. It will be an „uphill battle,” to prompt many EU members to agree to binding targets, because they are on average about a third of the way to the 20%, Jorgen Koch, an energy official in Denmark and former director of the International Energy Agency in Paris, told the conference.

To help cut emissions and boost energy security, the European Commission January 10 proposed a binding target of getting a fifth of its energy, including transport energy, from renewable sources by 2020. That includes a binding target to boost use of so-called biofuels to 10% of vehicle fuel consumption by that year. Achieving the 20% target would cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, Barbaso said. ..

The New York Times has a pair of reports on Silicon Valley's War On Big Oil - "Tech Barons Take on New Project: Energy Policy" and "Silicon Valley Rebounds, Led by Green Technology" (also noted at The Energy Blog).
President Bush set broad goals last week for the adoption of alternative energy. Hoping to take on the role of filling in the details is an unlikely group: Silicon Valley’s technology investors.

These venture capitalists, backers of giants like Google and Genentech, have traditionally been free-market advocates, favoring ideas and innovation over government intervention. Now they are heading to Washington on a crusade to influence energy policy because they have a big stake in the outcome.

The investors in recent years have poured billions of dollars into alternative energy start-ups in areas like solar and wind power or the production of fuel for cars from feedstock and crop waste. Many of these projects, they say, could stall without subsidies or government mandates for greater energy efficiency.

These barons of the new economy are not new to politics, though their interest in energy places them in a powerful spotlight. And it puts them in conflict with the oil and gas industries, which are more politically potent and have far deeper pockets.

“It’s very different from the business world, where you come in with a good idea and leave with a deal,” said Mark Baldassare, research director for the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research group. The question, he said, is whether venture capitalists “have the patience to be part of the political process.”

The venture capitalists say they have earned political credibility through their track record of creating jobs and technological change. However, if they are to translate their formula for innovation successfully to the world of energy, they say, they need the government to be, in effect, an investment partner.

The message to politicians is that “you have to create a playing field to make it possible for us to back these companies,” said Nicholas Parker, chairman of the Cleantech Group, a research and trade organization representing venture investors in alternative energy.

With President Bush’s State of the Union address emphasizing alternative energy, and with the ascension of Democrats, who are less aligned with oil interests than the Republicans, the time might seem right for Silicon Valley to speak up.

Mr. Baldassare and other political analysts said the venture capitalists could become a powerful part of the realignment of energy politics. They are lending a new voice to the debate, one that politicians are likely to listen to given the investors’ reputation as smart backers of next-generation companies.

“They’re responsible for huge chunks of economic activity,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, noting that the investors are also major potential donors. “If they choose to get the ear of Congress, they can do it more and more, and they’re just waking up to that.”

"Inside Greentech" notes the home of venture capital is making moves to make it easier to connect renewable energy sources to the grid (again, also noted at The Energy Blog).
In a move that could have national implications, the California Independent System Operator (California ISO) has filed with its regulator for approval of a new financing model to make it easier for clean energy companies to connect to the grid.

The ISO wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve a financing plan that would lower the up-front costs required today from energy producers for transmission lines.

If the new payment mechanism is approved and implemented, it would be a first-of-its-kind removal of a huge financial barrier that has hindered development of wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy resources across the country, the ISO said.

Unlike natural gas-fired power plants that can usually be built relatively close to existing high-voltage facilities, renewable generation is often built in remote areas. "Wind turbines, large solar power plants and geothermal resources all need to be built close to their natural fuel sources," said California ISO President and CEO Yakout Mansour.

"We don’t have a choice as to where these natural resources are located," said Rich Ferguson research director for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. "If we’re going to use these assets to offset less environmentally friendly types of power generation, we need to be able to build the transmission lines that reach those remote locations."

WorldChanging has a post on "Jeff Christian and the Zero-Energy House" (its important to remember the cheapest and cleanest energy source is energy efficiency).
Jeff Christian directs the Buildings Technology Center at the Oak Ridge National Labs. Over the last four years he has conducted research on five prototype houses that cost between 60 cents and one dollar a day in energy costs to operate. The talk was part of the Weston Global Distinguished Lecture series sponsored by the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (Disclaimer: I am pursuing my graduate degree there). The 3-hour long seminar that he delivered is available on the web as both slides and video (Zero Energy Series pt 1 & 2).

David Zaks: Jeff, why don't you tell me a little bit about what you do.

Jeff Christian: The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a multi-disciplinary laboratory, and as far as energy efficiency, is the largest of the national laboratories in the country working on all aspects: transportation, industry, utilities and buildings. In the buildings area, there are about sixty of us that are working on various aspects of buildings everything from individual components, residential buildings, commercial buildings, combined heating and power, pretty much the whole gamut. As far as sponsorship, historically, most of our work is with the Department of Energy, although when it comes to buildings, it is the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that comes out of DoE. The Building Technology Center is an interesting concept in it is a user facility, so it houses some fairly expensive pieces of equipment for making measurements on new roofs, walls, foundations, and appliances and heating and air conditioning equipment. We invite manufacturers, individuals and entrepreneurs to come in to use these facilities and the idea is not "we work for money" but we want you to come in a collaborate with us and the idea is that they wouldn't have to invest in expensive research equipment, we would have that and be able to work with them to help. The underlying theme is energy improvements in the improvements of buildings, or components of buildings.

DZ: Last month we reported that in the next 10 years all new houses in the UK are going to be zero-carbon. How close is the US to this kind of goal. What is it going to take to get there?

JC: At this point, I think we are quite a long ways away, but I am part of a program called Building America, and that is a major theme coming out of the Department of Energy where they have set as a goal, and the year of attainment is something like the year 2020 that we would have zero-energy buildings and the technical definition of that is quite precise and you would have expected energy services, so we aren't talking about radical lifestyle alterations to get there. We have been progressing towards zero-energy and we have committed ourselves and Congress and the people who fund us that we will make gradual improvements as the years go on. We are not working with a very isolated group, major builders who are building 50,000 houses a year embrace our participation. We help them get to the Energy Star level, and if they weren't doing it, why not? Today, we are at somewhere between 30-40%, from our base code-built house in 2004, cost effectively. It is great to be able to find a market where people demand these type of houses from their builders, is what really has to happen, although there is clearly some research and development that needs to be there to do this on a cost effective basis. ...

Dan at The Daily Reckoning has some notes on the Scottish power crisis.
--Energy rationing. Energy famine. Are they even possible? It's almost unthinkable in our bright, shiny, well-lit modern world that we'd have to get along without electricity. But it seems to be happening more and more often in densely populated urban areas that rely on centrally generated and distributed power. This time, it's Scotland.

--The latest power crisis in Europe started, apparently, with a busted conveyor belt at a coal-burning power plant in the city of Longannet. The Scottish Parliament is considering a new law that would allow that same plant to burn natural gas in order to meet base-load demands. Since when did it take an act of Parliament to keep the lights on?

--What's strange about the situation in Scotland is that the country appears to have plenty of energy generating capacity. It's just that it doesn't have much margin for error. And that's the key risk in most of the world's current power systems. When electricity is centrally generated and distributed, you naturally have energy "choke points" at which supply can be disrupted. And then when it gets dark, it stays that way until the sun comes up.

--"The problems began last September when safety at the Hunterston B power station in Aryshire revealed higher-than-expected levels of cracking in the station's boiler tubes. It has been shut ever since, leaving Scotland's power supply dangerously exposed," reports the Scotsman.

--If it's just a one-off freakish conveyor belt accident, we don't see any reason to lose sleep at night or turn the air con off. But the closer you look, the bigger the problem appears.

--"But behind this [latest problem], experts warn, lies a wider, more systemic, problem which will only exacerbate our energy worries in the future. Currently, Scotland's energy needs still largely rely on fossil fuels. Even by 2010, 45% of our energy will come from oil, coal, and gas. Nuclear will provide a quarter, as will wind. The remaining 5% will come from hydro power," the article continues.

--The problem-which a new primary school student would figure out quickly-is that energy needs everywhere are going up while fossil fuel supplies everywhere are not. Australia is not Scotland, of course. Scotland has haggis and St. Andrews and kilts and lots of fresh water. Australia has pies and high fashion t-shirts and Bondi beach and lots of coastline... and lots of coal. Provided Australian conveyor-belts don't break, a major breakdown in Australian power-generation is avoidable, right?

--Well, mostly. Australia has plenty of fuel to turn into electricity. But beyond that, there are still problems. That fuel (coal) burns dirty. And then there is the unavoidable problem of a fragile transmission grid. Victoria's recent blackouts are evidence of that. And there is the fundamental question of storing or efficiently transmitting electric power. On that score, we posted a chart over at the mother ship showing, in almost embarrassing fashion, how inefficient and wasteful energy generation and consumption is in America. Over half of the electricity generated at the source is wasted before it ever lights up your television at night.

--Granting that it other places might be more efficient than Team America, there is still this unavoidable reality: the current power system that relies on fossil fuels to generate electricity for distribution over a grid is barbarically inefficient and increasingly unreliable, given the lack of investment in the grid itself and the rising economic and environmental cost of fossil fuels.

--Not that we have a master plan for something different, better, more efficient, and cleaner. But we do know a company who's helping Europe move to a different, better, cleaner and more efficient way of getting electric power. This way does not rely on centralized electric generation. You basically put a power plant in your basement. Watch this space for details (and no, it's not a nuclear power plant, in case you were wondering.)

My bet is that he is talking about a combined heat and power (CHP) company, which is a great opportunity for now - but in the long run beware of natural gas depletion (of course, as Keynes said, "in the long run we're all dead")...

The Australian has a Philip Adams article on "Water and Wind" which sounds too good to be true, but is definitely something I'd like to see proved one way or the other.
FOR all sorts of personal and political reasons, Max Whisson is one of my most valued friends. We first made contact at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when this most ethical of men was a principal guardian of our Red Cross blood supply. More recently he's been applying his considerable scientific skills to the flow of another precious fluid. Water.

Does this country face a more urgent issue? Will the world have a greater problem? While we watch our dams dry, our rivers die, our lakes and groundwater disappear, while we worry about the financial and environmental costs of desalination and the melting of the glaciers and the icecaps, Max has come up with a brilliant and very simple idea.

It involves getting water out of the air. And he’s not talking about cloud-seeding for rain. Indeed, he just might have come up with a way of ending our ancient dependence on rain, that increasingly unreliable source.

And that’s not all. As well as the apparently empty air providing us with limitless supplies of water, Max has devised a way of making the same “empty” air provide the power for the process. I’ve been to his lab in Western Australia. I’ve seen how it works.

There’s a lot of water in the air. It rises from the surface of the oceans to a height of almost 100 kilometres. You feel it in high humidity, but there’s almost as much invisible moisture in the air above the Sahara or the Nullarbor as there is in the steamy tropics. The water that pools beneath an air-conditioned car, or in the tray under an old fridge, demonstrates the principle: cool the air and you get water. And no matter how much water we might take from the air, we’d never run out. Because the oceans would immediately replace it.

Trouble is, refrigerating air is a very costly business. Except when you do it Max’s way, with the Whisson windmill. ...

The secret of Max’s design is how his windmills, whirring away in the merest hint of a wind, cool the air as it passes by. Like many a great idea, it couldn’t be simpler – or more obvious. But nobody thought of it before.

With three or four of Max’s magical machines on hills at our farm we could fill the tanks and troughs, and weather the drought. One small Whisson windmill on the roof of a suburban house could keep your taps flowing. Biggies on office buildings, whoppers on skyscrapers, could give independence from the city’s water supply. And plonk a few hundred in marginal outback land – specifically to water tree-lots – and you could start to improve local rainfall.

This is just one of Whisson’s ways to give the world clean water. Another, described in this column a few years back, would channel seawater to inland communities; a brilliant system of solar distillation and desalination would produce fresh water en route. All the way from the sea to the ultimate destination, fresh water would be produced by the sun. The large-scale investment for this hasn’t been forthcoming – but the “water from air” technology already exists. And works.

Gist has an interview with one of the best global warming commentators, Ross Gelbspan.
Perhaps the most rewarding moment I witnessed at Sundance last week, after watching several post-screening Q&A's with Everything's Cool directors and stars, came on my last night in Utah.

They'd just finished the film's only screening in Salt Lake City, and the packed house had nearly all stayed for the rap session, armed with questions about the future and what they can do. The theater managers had to ask them to wrap up the Q&A more than once, and even when they finished, the audience poured out into the lobby, where they swarmed the directors and stars for advice and clamored for the free CFLs and handouts on what they can do to stop global warming. Theater managers didn't know what to do -- they kept pushing the swarm back into the lobby, and there was another film screening right behind it.

A mother and daughter skipped gleefully toward the exit, the mother waving her ticket stub, signed by government whistleblower Rick Piltz, featured in the film. She called out to a friend that he should get his signed by another of the film's stars -- Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ross Gelbspan. These guys were rock stars here.

I got a chance to sit down with Gelbspan, author of Boiling Point and The Heat Is On, and his wife Anne between the numerous Everything's Cool screenings. Gelbspan talked a bit about getting the message out through film, public opinion, American journalism -- and about what really needs to be done.

What do you think about the ability of film, specifically Everything's Cool, to make a difference in societal opinion on climate change?

I think it's a great compliment to An Inconvenient Truth because An Inconvenient Truth doesn't have any sympathetic characters you get involved with, and even Al isn't that much of a character in the film. It's Professor Gore telling you about how the climate systems work. It's a very good film, but there's nobody to relate to.

And here you have four or five really engaging people to relate to, and I think that gives it a kind of personalness that An Inconvenient Truth doesn't have. So for that reason I think it's very good. If it gets picked up commercially, here's the question for me: They have one scene in there of me doing a phone radio show, and it's after Katrina, and the interviewer is asking me on this radio show if I think Katrina is a triggering event. In other words, is this going to create a big upsurge on climate change? I said in the interview, "Gee, I have no idea, I thought the 35,000 heat deaths in Europe the summer before was the trigger, and that didn't do anything."

Maybe a film like this could be a triggering event. Part of the reason I think that is that having been working on this stuff for 10 years, global warming is really a moving target, and notions that were outrageous or just off the radar screen six, seven years ago are now conventional wisdom. And it's changing so fast that you just don't know what's going to work. I really do believe that rapid social change can happen as unexpectedly as rapid climate change. I think of the wall in Berlin coming down in two years, I think of apartheid being overthrown in South Africa very quickly. You know, as the film made clear, you've got thousands of groups all over the country working like earthworms on this issue, what is it going to take to catalyze a real movement that comes up out of that? If the film could end up playing that kind of role, that would be wonderful. But I don't know. I just don't know.

One of the things that I enjoyed about the film is that it chronicles some of this public opinion shift. How have you seen public opinion shift in the years that you've been covering climate change?

I think that there's a huge shift that hasn't caught up with Nordhaus and Shellenberger yet, and that shift is media coverage. And media coverage is much stronger now than it was when they were doing their surveys and polls. Climate change is really in the news much more frequently now than it has been for the last seven or eight years. I still think the media really is not at all up to speed in terms of the imminence, and the magnitude, and the gravity of this stuff, but at least it's in the vocabulary. I think the combination of Katrina and An Inconvenient Truth and that all began a wave of media coverage. You really see climate change in the papers every few days now.

Overall, how would you rate the quality of news coverage of climate change?

It's underestimating. The reality is that the climate is changing so much more quickly than the scientists thought even five years ago. One scientist told me we're seeing impacts now that we didn't expect to see until 2085, and the pace of this stuff is just blindsiding everybody in the scientific community. The newspapers are reporting it as yet another issue, like health care and budget deficits. So I don't think the press is giving it its due, but it is more frequently acknowledged and mentioned in the press. And so that's a hopeful sign.

One of the things I enjoyed most in the film is when you say that it's not worth going on TV to debate it -- you quote James Hansen in saying that he's not going to debate it. But then it shows you going on TV to debate people. Do you still see a reason to debate? Where are you on that these days?

I don't debate skeptics anymore, no.

At what point did you decide you were done with that?

In that same segment, even then I was on my way to Fox TV to debate a guy from ExxonMobil, or from one of the fronts for ExxonMobil. And what really struck me was this whole notion of keeping it cast as a debate is their central strategy. They don't care if they win or lose the debate, because as long as it's presented as a debate, the public can shrug its shoulders and say, come back and tell us what you know when you really know what you're talking about. For that reason, I just won't skeptics anymore, the same way Hansen won't. I will really debate people on what we should be doing about it. And that's really important.

Are you hopefully that there will be any changes as far as that in mainstream media?

I hope so. I don't know. I'll tell you an interesting story. [In the film] they spent some time on this op-ed I did after Katrina, ""Katrina's Real Name Was Global Warming." About two months later there came to town a group of German news editors from very high profile publications -- Der Spiegel, German Public Radio. They asked if they could meet with me to discuss journalistic issues on this stuff. The woman who was organizing their tour gave them copies of this op-ed. So we're in the middle a great discussion, talking about journalism issues and climate and two editors held up this op-ed, and one of them said to me, "No disrespect intended, Mr. Gelbspan, but we have no idea why the hell you wrote this. There is nothing new. You're not telling us anything new at all. Why did you waste the newsprint on this thing?" And I said, "Welcome to my world." There's just no debate in other countries about this stuff. The debate is really on the policy side, how do we get these huge 70 percent reductions without threatening our economy, which is where the debate should be.

Do I see this happening in [U.S.] journalism? I certainly haven't seen it fast enough, and I think the journalists are really betraying their responsibility. I think they're really betraying their trust by not getting off their asses and finding out where the weight of opinion lies, and not being suckered into a false sense of balance. ...

Jeremy Leggett has an article on post peak food production (even though I'm a heretic on the subject of a post peak energy crisis - at least in countries smart enough to put renewables infrastructure and a mostly electric transport system in place - I think a low fertiliser and low pesticide agriculture system is still one that is worthy of a lot of thought)
The tipping point of global oil production will be accompanied by a dire energy shock, and we will have to redefine the concept of farming.

On Friday and Saturday last week, a potentially historic meeting took place in the rather unpromising location of the CIA, otherwise known as the Cardiff International Arena. Britain's organic farming community gathered en masse for the annual meeting of the Soil Association, and their theme was peak oil and farming in the post-petroleum era. Organisers and peak-oil whistleblowers alike thought that perhaps this was the first time an organisation in a critically affected sector has held a conference on the theme of peak oil.

If the peak-oil proposition is correct, the tipping point of global oil production will happen - largely unexpectedly - in this decade or early in the next, accompanied by a dire energy shock. The people in the room will be in the front rank of those first affected. They can also be in the vanguard of those who can offer a proactive vision of what a survivable post-shock future could look like.

Discussion ranged across many potential impacts and implications. Let me choose just two: the number of farmers, and where they farm. So oil-dependent is modern industrial agriculture, and so relatively few are the people employed in it, that we will need to redefine the very concept of a farmer after the peak hits us. Today our typical farmer might tend 500 acres with tractors and other expensive bits of oil-addicted kit. But in the post-peak era - with the oil price sky high, and oil supplies fast-shrinking and therefore probably rationed - our farmers will need to be tending an area of maybe one-tenth the size, using more human labour and strategic use of a tractor powered by something other than petroleum, plus good old-fashioned draft animals. Many more people will need to be working the land if we are to feed ourselves. When the collapsing Soviet Union turned the oil taps off on Cuba, 15-25% of the population had to take to the fields in some form or other. (The good news is that they succeeded, to the extent that nobody starved.) Today in the UK, 1% of us farm. In 1900, before mass addiction to oil, fully 40% did.

We will need to be farming in the cities and towns as well as the countryside. The conference heard encouraging stories of urban farming in Cuba, and how surprising amounts of fruit and veg can be grown on astonishingly small areas of land in cities.

Who is planning for this kind of counter-intuitive impact? Not governments, for certain, and very few individuals and organisations. There are oases of foresight. In the US, the City of Oakland has a target of growing 30% of its own food within the city boundaries by 2020. In the British Isles, community-level responses are underway in Kinsale, Totnes and other towns. The list is not long. Most people and institutions are either unaware of the coming tsunami, or in denial.

However, as became clear over the two days of discussion, there is much that organic farmers are doing that moves us away from oil and other fossil fuels. And there are many ideas on offer for what more could be done. As the director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden, put it: "What I have found is that the prospect of developing a strategic plan to do everything we can to equip ourselves for a post-fossil fuels age is, strangely, an inspirational proposition." ...

For those hankering to review some depletion model mathematics, Mobjectivist has a World Forecast Update.
...After the solution of the differential equations, the result gives P(t), the yearly world-wide production of oil assuming an initially finite resource and impending collapse.

I post this as I listen to author Dilip Hiro discuss his latest book ("Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources") on Laura Flanders' Air America radio show. I really could not follow too much of what he said because of a hyper-speedy Indian accent (somewhere in there I heard a mention of "Hubert's (sic) curve"), so I suppose I shouldn't feel bad if I lose somebody due to too much math in my own posts, ha ha. Must ... try ... to ... concentrate. Apparently Chomsky likes the book.

TreeHugger has a look at Newsweek's "Efficient Seven" - energy efficiency techniques.
We’d all love a bunch of heroes to ride into town and save us from our dilemma’s. Although Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and their buddies are no longer available to perform such a service, Newsweek’s International edition reckons there might other heroes up to the task - seven energy efficiencies. They note that the International Energy Agency (IEA) figures on a 50% surge in energy demand through to 2030, while citing the example of a German hotelier who embraced energy efficient and realised a 60% return on investment. The article then proceeds to spell out the case for the following cast of characters:

1. Insulation (36% of the world’s energy is said to be used for heating and cooling),
2. Compact Fluoro Lighting (moving to all CFL’s by 2030 would negate the need for 650 power plants - Philips last month announced they were phasing our incandescents), 3. Heat Pumps (Japan in offering subsidies has seen 1 million installed in past couple of years for heating water)
4. Industrial Manufacturing (Inefficient factories consume about a third of all the world’s energy, but producers like BASF have cut €200 million a year and nearly half their CO2 emissions through factory redesign and energy synergies),
5. Green Driving (save 6 % in fuel use by keeping car tyres properly inflated. Drive a diesel - 40% better mileage than petrol. If one third of US cars were diesel the US would no longer need to import the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil a day),
6. Buy a Better Fridge (looking at actual energy use costs rather than purchase price could save 43% in total. Govt supported appliance energy labelling helps purchasers make such informed decisions) and finally
7. Energy Service Contracts (infrastructure providers don’t charge customers for installation but take a cut of the energy savings their clients make.

Amory Lovins’s ancient and beloved ‘negawatts’ idea shows that utilities spending money on energy demand, through helping customers instal the likes of CFLs and insulation saves them millions in having to cough up big bucks to create new supply. While none of these heroes are indeed new, that Newsweek cares to share them with their readers indicates that acceptance something needs to be done and done soon is, at least, most encouraging.

Past Peak points to a WSJ / Rigzone article on the collapse of Mexico's largest oil field, Cantarell - 25% in a single year. Jonathan (unlike the subbies at The Terror) can write a good headline - "The Way Of The Ostrich" gets my award for best of the day.
Daily output at Mexico's biggest oil field tumbled by half a million barrels last year, according to figures released Friday by the Mexican government. The ongoing decline at the Cantarell field could pressure prices on the global oil market, complicate U.S. efforts to diversify its oil imports away from the Middle East, and threaten Mexico's financial stability.

The virtual collapse at Cantarell — the world's second-biggest oil field in terms of output at the start of last year — is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. Cantarell's daily output fell to 1.5 million barrels in December compared to 1.99 million barrels in January, according to figures from the Mexican Energy Ministry.

Mexico made up for some of the field's decline. Mexico's overall oil output fell to just below three million barrels a day in December, down from almost 3.4 million barrels at the start of the year. It marked Mexico's lowest rate of oil output since 2000.

Mexico's troubles at Cantarell mirror the larger problems in the global oil market. Many of the world's biggest fields are old and face decline, which can be sharp and sudden. Like other big producers, Mexico is struggling to make up the difference because new big fields are in harder-to-reach places like the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The field's decline is expected to continue, if not worsen, this year, according to most estimates. That will subtract valuable oil from the world market, which is under pressure from rising demand by growing economies like China and India. It also means less oil headed to the U.S. from Mexico, which has long relied on Mexico as one of its top-three oil suppliers.

"This is bad news for Mexico. The field is declining faster than even the government's pessimistic scenarios," says David Shields, an oil industry consultant in Mexico City who has been warning about Cantarell's collapse for the past two years. [...]

TPM reports that new US Senator Jim Webb is still waiting for a response from Condoleeza Rice and others about his questions about invading Iran.
A couple weeks ago, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) asked Secretary Condoleeza Rice if the administration thought President Bush had the power to take military action against Iran without permission from Congress.

She deferred an answer, saying, "I'm really loathe to get into questions of the president's authorities without a rather more clear understanding of what we are actually talking about. So let me answer you, in fact, in writing. I think that would be the best thing to do."

Well, it's been two weeks, and Sen. Webb is still waiting. So he's asked again, in a letter sent to Rice yesterday. To help speed a response, he even suggested the range of answers she might provide: "This is, basically, a 'yes' or 'no' question regarding an urgent matter affecting our nation’s foreign policy."

And to ensure that the administration got the message that Webb remained interested, he also asked the question of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte during this morning's hearing. ...

Another US Senator, Russ Feingold, has made a statement at a committee hearing declaring that US troops should withdraw from Iraq within 6 months.
Our founders wisely kept the power to fund a war separate from the power to conduct a war. In their brilliant design of our system of government, Congress got the power of the purse, and the President got the power of the sword. As James Madison wrote, “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued or concluded.”

The President has made the wrong judgment about Iraq time and again, first by taking us into war on a fraudulent basis, then by keeping our brave troops in Iraq for nearly four years, and now by proceeding despite the opposition of the Congress and the American people to put 21,500 more American troops into harm’s way.

If and when Congress acts on the will of the American people by ending our involvement in the Iraq war, Congress will be performing the role assigned it by the founding fathers – defining the nature of our military commitments and acting as a check on a President whose policies are weakening our nation.

There is little doubt that decisive action from the Congress is needed. Despite the results of the election, and two months of study and supposed consultation -- during which experts and members of Congress from across the political spectrum argued for a new policy -- the President has decided to escalate the war. When asked whether he would persist in this policy despite congressional opposition, he replied: “Frankly, that’s not their responsibility.”

Last week Vice President Cheney was asked whether the non-binding resolution passed by the Foreign Relations Committee that will soon be considered by the full Senate would deter the President from escalating the war. He replied: “It’s not going to stop us.”

In the United States of America, the people are sovereign, not the President. It is Congress’ responsibility to challenge an administration that persists in a war that is misguided and that the country opposes. We cannot simply wring our hands and complain about the Administration’s policy. We cannot just pass resolutions saying “your policy is mistaken.” And we can’t stand idly by and tell ourselves that it’s the President’s job to fix the mess he made. It’s our job to fix the mess, and if we don’t do so we are abdicating our responsibilities.

Tomorrow, I will introduce legislation that will prohibit the use of funds to continue the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq six months after enactment. By prohibiting funds after a specific deadline, Congress can force the President to bring our forces out of Iraq and out of harm’s way.

This legislation will allow the President adequate time to redeploy our troops safely from Iraq, and it will make specific exceptions for a limited number of U.S. troops who must remain in Iraq to conduct targeted counter-terrorism and training missions and protect U.S. personnel. It will not hurt our troops in any way – they will continue receiving their equipment, training and salaries. It will simply prevent the President from continuing to deploy them to Iraq. By passing this bill, we can finally focus on repairing our military and countering the full range of threats that we face around the world.

There is plenty of precedent for Congress exercising its constitutional authority to stop U.S. involvement in armed conflict.

In late December 1970, Congress prohibited the use of funds to finance the introduction of United States ground combat troops into Cambodia or to provide U.S. advisors to or for Cambodian military forces in Cambodia.

In late June 1973, Congress set a date to cut off funds for combat activities in South East Asia. The provision read, and I quote:

“None of the funds herein appropriated under this act may be expended to support directly or indirectly combat activities in or over Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam by United States forces, and after August 15, 1973, no other funds heretofore appropriated under any other act may be expended for such purpose.”

More recently, President Clinton signed into law language that prohibited funding after March 31, 1994, for military operations in Somalia, with certain limited exceptions. And in 1998, Congress passed legislation including a provision that prohibited funding for Bosnia after June 30, 1998, unless the President made certain assurances.

TomDispatch has an article by Calmers "Sorrows of Empire" Johnson on "Empire v. Democracy - Why Nemesis Is at Our Door".
The dream of the Bush administration -– eternal global domination abroad with no other superpower or bloc of powers on the military horizon and a Republican Party dominant at home for at least a generation -- long ago evaporated in Iraq. A midterm election and subsequent devastating polling figures tell the tale. The days when neocons, their supporters, and attending pundits talked about the U.S. as the "new Rome" of planet Earth now seem to exist on the other side of some Startrekkian wormhole.

And yet the imperial damage remains everywhere around us. Give the Bush administration credit. They moved the goalposts. They created the sort of dystopian imperial reality (as well as a mess of future-busting proportions) that a generation of relative sanity might not be able to fully reverse. The facts on the ground -- the vastness of the Pentagon, the power of the military-industrial complex, the inept but already bloated Homeland Security Department (and the vast security interests coalescing around it), the staggering alphabet (or acronym) soup of the "Intelligence Community" -- all of this militates against real change, which is why we need Chalmers Johnson.

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, the final volume of his Blowback Trilogy, is about to storm your local bookstore (and can be pre-ordered at Amazon now). It is a reminder of just how far we've moved from the sort of democratic America that the President is always holding up as a model to the rest of the world. As with Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire before it, Nemesis, Johnson's grand, if grim, conclusion to our American tragedy, is simply a must-read. While you're waiting for the book to arrive in your hands, you can get a little preview of its themes below. Tom

Empire v. Democracy
Why Nemesis Is at Our Door
By Chalmers Johnson

History tells us that one of the most unstable political combinations is a country -- like the United States today -- that tries to be a domestic democracy and a foreign imperialist. Why this is so can be a very abstract subject. Perhaps the best way to offer my thoughts on this is to say a few words about my new book, Nemesis, and explain why I gave it the subtitle, "The Last Days of the American Republic." Nemesis is the third book to have grown out of my research over the past eight years. I never set out to write a trilogy on our increasingly endangered democracy, but as I kept stumbling on ever more evidence of the legacy of the imperialist pressures we put on many other countries as well as the nature and size of our military empire, one book led to another. ...

I had set out to explain how exactly our government came to be so hated around the world. As a CIA term of tradecraft, "blowback" does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to, and in, foreign countries. It refers specifically to retaliation for illegal operations carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. These operations have included the clandestine overthrow of governments various administrations did not like, the training of foreign militaries in the techniques of state terrorism, the rigging of elections in foreign countries, interference with the economic viability of countries that seemed to threaten the interests of influential American corporations, as well as the torture or assassination of selected foreigners. The fact that these actions were, at least originally, secret meant that when retaliation does come -- as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 -- the American public is incapable of putting the events in context. Not surprisingly, then, Americans tend to support speedy acts of revenge intended to punish the actual, or alleged, perpetrators. These moments of lashing out, of course, only prepare the ground for yet another cycle of blowback. ...

A World of Bases

As a continuation of my own analytical odyssey, I then began doing research on the network of 737 American military bases we maintained around the world (according to the Pentagon's own 2005 official inventory). Not including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, we now station over half a million U.S. troops, spies, contractors, dependents, and others on military bases located in more than 130 countries, many of them presided over by dictatorial regimes that have given their citizens no say in the decision to let us in.

As but one striking example of imperial basing policy: For the past sixty-one years, the U.S. military has garrisoned the small Japanese island of Okinawa with 37 bases. Smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, Okinawa is home to 1.3 million people who live cheek-by-jowl with 17,000 Marines of the 3rd Marine Division and the largest U.S. installation in East Asia -- Kadena Air Force Base. There have been many Okinawan protests against the rapes, crimes, accidents, and pollution caused by this sort of concentration of American troops and weaponry, but so far the U. S. military -- in collusion with the Japanese government -- has ignored them. My research into our base world resulted in The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, written during the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

As our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq turned into major fiascoes, discrediting our military leadership, ruining our public finances, and bringing death and destruction to hundreds of thousands of civilians in those countries, I continued to ponder the issue of empire. In these years, it became ever clearer that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their supporters were claiming, and actively assuming, powers specifically denied to a president by our Constitution. It became no less clear that Congress had almost completely abdicated its responsibilities to balance the power of the executive branch. Despite the Democratic sweep in the 2006 election, it remains to be seen whether these tendencies can, in the long run, be controlled, let alone reversed.

Until the 2004 presidential election, ordinary citizens of the United States could at least claim that our foreign policy, including our illegal invasion of Iraq, was the work of George Bush's administration and that we had not put him in office. After all, in 2000, Bush lost the popular vote and was appointed president thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. But in November 2004, regardless of claims about voter fraud, Bush actually won the popular vote by over 3.5 million ballots, making his regime and his wars ours.

Whether Americans intended it or not, we are now seen around the world as approving the torture of captives at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at a global network of secret CIA prisons, as well as having endorsed Bush's claim that, as commander-in-chief in "wartime," he is beyond all constraints of the Constitution or international law. We are now saddled with a rigged economy based on record-setting trade and fiscal deficits, the most secretive and intrusive government in our country's memory, and the pursuit of "preventive" war as a basis for foreign policy. Don't forget as well the potential epidemic of nuclear proliferation as other nations attempt to adjust to and defend themselves against Bush's preventive wars, while our own already staggering nuclear arsenal expands toward first-strike primacy and we expend unimaginable billions on futuristic ideas for warfare in outer space.

The Choice Ahead

By the time I came to write Nemesis, I no longer doubted that maintaining our empire abroad required resources and commitments that would inevitably undercut, or simply skirt, what was left of our domestic democracy and that might, in the end, produce a military dictatorship or -- far more likely -- its civilian equivalent. The combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, an ever growing economic dependence on the military-industrial complex and the making of weaponry, and ruinous military expenses as well as a vast, bloated "defense" budget, not to speak of the creation of a whole second Defense Department (known as the Department of Homeland Security) has been destroying our republican structure of governing in favor of an imperial presidency. By republican structure, of course, I mean the separation of powers and the elaborate checks and balances that the founders of our country wrote into the Constitution as the main bulwarks against dictatorship and tyranny, which they greatly feared.

We are on the brink of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation starts down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play -- isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy.

History is instructive on this dilemma. If we choose to keep our empire, as the Roman republic did, we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates. There is an alternative, however. We could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire. The British did not do a particularly brilliant job of liquidating their empire and there were several clear cases where British imperialists defied their nation's commitment to democracy in order to hang on to foreign privileges. The war against the Kikuyu in Kenya in the 1950s and the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956 are particularly savage examples of that. But the overall thrust of postwar British history is clear: the people of the British Isles chose democracy over imperialism.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt offered the following summary of British imperialism and its fate:
"On the whole it was a failure because of the dichotomy between the nation-state's legal principles and the methods needed to oppress other people permanently. This failure was neither necessary nor due to ignorance or incompetence. British imperialists knew very well that 'administrative massacres' could keep India in bondage, but they also knew that public opinion at home would not stand for such measures. Imperialism could have been a success if the nation-state had been willing to pay the price, to commit suicide and transform itself into a tyranny. It is one of the glories of Europe, and especially of Great Britain, that she preferred to liquidate the empire."

And to close, here's an article on the ever expanding reach of big brother from Cnet - FBI turns to broad new wiretap method. Its amazing just what a large impact oil dependence (given that I view this as the driving force behind American policy since world war 2 finished) has when you look at the bigger picture...
The FBI appears to have adopted an invasive Internet surveillance technique that collects far more data on innocent Americans than previously has been disclosed.

Instead of recording only what a particular suspect is doing, agents conducting investigations appear to be assembling the activities of thousands of Internet users at a time into massive databases, according to current and former officials. That database can subsequently be queried for names, e-mail addresses or keywords.

Such a technique is broader and potentially more intrusive than the FBI's Carnivore surveillance system, later renamed DCS1000. It raises concerns similar to those stirred by widespread Internet monitoring that the National Security Agency is said to have done, according to documents that have surfaced in one federal lawsuit, and may stretch the bounds of what's legally permissible.

Call it the vacuum-cleaner approach. It's employed when police have obtained a court order and an Internet service provider can't "isolate the particular person or IP address" because of technical constraints, says Paul Ohm, a former trial attorney at the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. (An Internet Protocol address is a series of digits that can identify an individual computer.)

That kind of full-pipe surveillance can record all Internet traffic, including Web browsing--or, optionally, only certain subsets such as all e-mail messages flowing through the network. Interception typically takes place inside an Internet provider's network at the junction point of a router or network switch.

The technique came to light at the Search & Seizure in the Digital Age symposium held at Stanford University's law school on Friday. Ohm, who is now a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Richard Downing, a CCIPS assistant deputy chief, discussed it during the symposium.

In a telephone conversation afterward, Ohm said that full-pipe recording has become federal agents' default method for Internet surveillance. "You collect wherever you can on the (network) segment," he said. "If it happens to be the segment that has a lot of IP addresses, you don't throw away the other IP addresses. You do that after the fact."

"You intercept first and you use whatever filtering, data mining to get at the information about the person you're trying to monitor," he added.

On Monday, a Justice Department representative would not immediately answer questions about this kind of surveillance technique. (Late Tuesday, the Justice Department responded with a statement taking issue with this description of the FBI's surveillance practices.)

"What they're doing is even worse than Carnivore," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who attended the Stanford event. "What they're doing is intercepting everyone and then choosing their targets."

The Silver Donut Cometh  

Posted by Big Gav

I see Australia's premier investment bank is causing a little stir in parts of Texas with some novel tactics for influencing debate about toll road policy - it will be interesting to see how our premier exponents of the art of capitalism fare in the Texas political system (I guess we should also be worried about what new tricks they'll learn and bring back home).

Critics charge that the Macquarie purchase of American Consolidated Media is designed to silence critics of a Texas toll road project.

Australian toll road giant Macquarie agreed Wednesday to purchase forty local newspapers, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma, for $80 million. Macquarie Bank is Australia's largest capital raising firm and has invested billions in purchasing roads in the US, Canada and UK. Most recently the company joined with Cintra Concesiones of Spain in a controversial 75-year lease of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road.

Sal Costello, the leading opponent of toll road projects as head of the Texas Toll Party, says the move is directly related to a 4000-mile toll road project known as the Trans-Texas Corridor. It will cost between $145 and $183 billion to construct the road, expected to be up to 1200 feet wide, requiring the acquisition of 9000 square miles of land in the areas through which it will pass.

"The newspapers are the main communication tool for many of the rural Texan communities, with many citizens at risk of losing their homes and farms through eminent domain," Costello wrote.

Many of the small papers purchased, most have a circulation of 5000 or less, have been critical of the Trans-Texas Corridor. An article in the Bonham Journal for example, states, "The toll roads will be under control of foreign investors, which more than frustrates Texans."

Maybe now they'll understand how Bolivians feel...

The Australian has a long article on the oil price, which it feels is on a "slippery slope".
ONLY five months ago crude oil prices nudged $US80 a barrel amid predictions by informed observers - not apocalyptic ravers - that the commodity would reach the $US100 level. Since then, oil has tumbled 30 per cent and the contango on futures pricing has disappeared, which means investors aren't punting on a quick recovery.

What has shifted sentiment in such a short time? After all, the global economy still ticks over nicely and the Middle East remains a time bomb - literally and figuratively - ready to explode. "It's a hard slog convincing investors about the the oil recovery story," Bell Potter research head Peter Quinton says. "Anecdotally, people are waiting on the sidelines for the oil price to bottom, but the trouble is, by then it's too late."

It's useful to remember the long-term context. According to Commonwealth Bank of Australia commodities analyst Tobin Gorey, the oil price has tumbled more than 20 per cent five times since late 2004, but the price of oil has still risen 25 per cent over this period. The oil price has just returned to the levels of the second oil shock following the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution, he says.

Much of the price decline has been driven by speculators (that is, hedge funds) deserting their long positions. Of the $US13 decline since mid-December, Quinton attributes only $US4 to the mild weather and the rest to technical factors: hedge funds unwinding long speculative positions. The supply and demand balance has tilted in favour of supply. Positive factors include a (so far) mild US and European winter, which has built up inventories, and the non-appearance of a showdown over Iran. ...

On the local bourse, oil stocks are starting to reveal the effect of the price slide.

Santos last week reported an 11 per cent $306 million decline in December quarter crude oil revenues, the result of the average achieved price falling to $78.29 a barrel from $96.71 in the September quarter. Two weeks ago Woodside posted record annual revenue of $3.8 billion for 2006, nearly 39 per cent higher than the previous 12 months. Woodside received an average of $84.74 a barrel, 16 per cent more than a year earlier on 67.9 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe).

Not that it's all one-sided gloom for the majors, because lower oil makes it cheaper to acquire acreage or to take over minnows. Their fortunes will also be enhanced by ongoing increased production. And as Patersons energy analyst Simon Oaten notes: "They should be making exceptionally good money even at $US40 a barrel." As is the case with any market, there are cogent arguments in favour of both the bullish and the cautious stance. The optimists argue that failing the emergence of a new wonder fuel, oil demand will creep inexorably higher.

So far, the consumer reaction to high bowser prices has been predictable: no idle Sunday drives and downsizing to four cylinders (or at least from the Hummer to the Prado). "They've done the easy bits already," Gorey says. "It's easier to cut the extra magazine or cup of coffee." ...

It's also true that oil is becoming harder to extract and the biggest upgrades are in difficult locations such as Russia, Nigeria, Libya and Borat's homeland, Kazakhstan. Australia, incidentally, accounts for a mere 1.59 billion barrels, compared with 2.89 billion barrels in 2000.

For investors punting on a price recovery, BHP Billiton, Woodside and Santos - the leading producers by volume - are the obvious targets. However, given that oil accounts for only 20 per cent of BHP's profits and Woodside and Santos are oriented to gas, the cleanest exposure to the oil price lies elsewhere. In order of leverage, Quinton rates Tap Oil, Oil Search, Santos, Australian Worldwide Exploration, Woodside and Roc Oil. (Oil Search shares last week surged on takeover speculation.)

Oil Search says it knows nothing about any takeover.

Oil Search Ltd has moved to hose down speculation it could be the focus of a takeover bid following an unexplained rise in its share price. The oil and gas producer and explorer says it is not aware of any reason for the price hike.

The company made the comment in a response to a query from the Australian Stock Exchange after the company's share price rose from $3.32 on January 23 to $3.57 the next day. "In particular, the company is not aware of any takeover bid for the company," Oil Search said.

But it did admit that higher profits for 2006 were likely. "Higher oil prices last financial year are likely to translate into higher profits. However, at this stage, we are unable to say what the change will be in operating profit," the company said.

Forbes reports that upcoming profits look good - but the real prize is Oil Search's gas reserves in New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea based oil and gas company Oil Search Ltd said sales revenue for the three months to December rose 19 pct to 171.3 mln usd compared to the previous quarter, while total oil and gas production climbed 14 pct to 2.65 mln barrels of oil equivalent. The solid fourth quarter sales raised full year revenue to 628.2 mln usd, only two pct shy of the 638.4 mln record revenue achieved in 2005.

The Australian listed company said the positive December quarter result was due to normal operations resuming in PNG following the weather-related cargo loading issues which affected third quarter output. Average realized oil price achieved during the December quarter fell 15 pct to 61.33 usd a barrel compared to the third quarter, reflecting the fall in global crude oil prices.

The company's average oil price achieved over 2006 was 67.22 usd a barrel, 16 pct higher than in 2005.

Chief executive Peter Botten said during the fourth quarter a considerable amount of time was focused on reviewing optimal methods for developing the large gas resources in PNG. He said expressions of interest continued to be sought from pipeline companies to build, own and operate the Australian section of the proposed PNG-Queensland gas project.

The India Times reports that Petronet LNG expects a 50 per cent cost escalation for its Koch project while it waits to sign up for Gorgon gas.
Petronet LNG is expecting a 50 per cent cost escalation of its Kochi project as it gets ready to sign the LNG supply contract with Gorgon project in Australia.

The need for a deeper pile work because of unstable soil and rising price of nickel to be used inside the storage tanks will push up the project cost by Rs 1000 crore to Rs 3000 crore, Petronet CEO and MD P.Dasgupta told reporters here.

After concluding all commercial negotiations, Petronet is discussing the draft sales purchase agreement for supply of 2.5 million tones of LNG from Gorgon for 25 years. ``We will have to conclude it by June 30,’’ Mr Dasgupta said. ..

Petronet is expecting to start construction by mid-year after awarding the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract and shipping contract by March 31. The Gorgon gas will be available from 2011 while the Kochi project is expected to be completed by July 2010. Petronet will buy LNG from other sources to fill the temporary gap, according to Mr Dasgupta.

Chevron and Shell are delaying LNG projects, as the gas price continues to rise.
Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc are delaying construction projects from Australia to Nigeria, threatening to drive natural gas prices higher for years to come.

None of the world's biggest energy companies approved developments last year to increase production of liquefied natural gas, which helps heat homes and run power plants from Tokyo to Boston. The main reason is the cost to build LNG plants has tripled in six years, according to Bechtel Group Inc., the biggest U.S. contractor.

Natural gas prices are three times higher than during the 1990s and consumption of the fuel will outpace the 1.6 percent annual gain in energy demand for the next 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency. Gas is also becoming more popular because it emits 29 percent less carbon dioxide than oil and 45 percent less than coal burned in power stations.

``Costs are going up and they're going up far faster than anybody expected,'' said Andy Flower, a U.K.-based consultant to the LNG industry and a former BP Plc executive. He forecasts that the world LNG shortage will last until at least 2011.

Gas may become more important than oil in the next 50 years because crude supplies are running out faster, according to the Paris-based IEA. Global oil and natural gas reserves were about the same at the end of 2005, equal to 1.2 trillion barrels of crude, according to data compiled by BP. Oil reserves are being burned almost twice as quickly as gas. ..

Two of the newest and biggest LNG projects have been over budget and late. Shell's Sakhalin-2 LNG in Russia has doubled in cost to more than $20 billion. Stavenger, Norway-based Statoil ASA's Snohvit LNG plant will cost $9.5 billion, almost 50 percent more than first anticipated in 2002. ..

Meanwhile Shell has signed up to develop a major Iranian gas field (one day), prompting the ire of the US State Department.
Shell has signed an important deal to help Iran develop a major gas field, ignoring growing pressure from George Bush to isolate the country for being part of what he alleges is an "axis of evil".

The Anglo-Dutch group, which is struggling to bring more momentum to its business after being forced to hand over vital Russian reserves at Sakhalin island to the Kremlin, confirmed it had finally reached agreement on various aspects of its "Persian LNG" - liquefied natural gas - project centred on the South Pars gas field.

Grist has some notes from a recent Cleantech Venture Forum in San Francisco.
Lately, politicians from Tony Blair to comrade-in-arms George Bush have raced to embrace green technology -- at least on the surface. But is there substance behind their carefully crafted words?

Well, while government funds may be slow to swing around to so-called "cleantech," venture capitalists are suddenly sniffing the air. We recently had the chance to take the pulse of the VC crowd, and it seems they're ready for action in what is shaping up as a multibillion-dollar market.

In San Francisco last month, the latest Cleantech Venture Forum -- number IX for those keeping count -- gathered 500 delegates from around the world, its biggest crowd yet. With issues like abrupt climate change now climbing up the agenda even inside U.S. energy companies, the buzz around cleantech can only grow. Meanwhile, with a growing pool of capital now chasing a precariously small number of cleantech companies, we think we detect the sound of frothing in the air -- as during the headiest days of biotech, IT, and search-engine investing.

On the heels of our own cleantech session on "green chemistry" came a surprising pitch from VC mavens Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. As early investors in little companies like Amazon, Google, and Intuit, the firm is widely seen as having a highly sensitive collective nose for the Next Big Thing. This, though, was a very different spiel from the ones that KPCBers John Doerr and John Denniston would normally make to investors -- or hear from entrepreneurs.

To break the ice, they tried to request the audience's best "green" jokes. (If only they had read Grist, they wouldn't have been surprised by the repeated, thunderous silence.) While they fished for jokes, the only thing that came to mind was a cartoon from way, way back. It featured a small group of bacteria huddled together in a lead-lined puddle in the wake of the long-expected nuclear apocalypse. "Next time," said one reflectively, "no brains!"

Well, exactly wrong. To combat the unnervingly apocalyptic crises Denniston and Doerr moved on to discuss -- from looming energy-security issues to the growing dominance of megacities to the risk of abrupt climate change -- the world needs more and better brains. We also desperately need the inspiration and the impossible-takes-a-little-longer thinking of the entrepreneurs who will drive the huge waves of innovation and creative disruption needed to steer the global economy onto a more sustainable trajectory. And to ensure the cleantech rocket reaches escape velocity, we need to fire up the appetites of the venture capitalists, investment bankers, and financial institutions that will invest in, underwrite, and hedge the next wave of innovation, whatever it may be called.

But will these necessary brains be best motivated by money or ideology? That was the essence of one of the dynamic duo's key points, which touched on a distinction we have long wrestled with and believe will define the future of cleantech: missionary versus mercenary. ...

As they spoke, Denniston and Doerr insisted that "green is the new red, white, and blue." They came across as mercenary-missionaries, passionate about the potential for making a difference with -- but in the process making insane amounts of money from -- everything from solar photovoltaics to biomimicry to nanotubes. (But not hydrogen, they said, which they labeled a "dud.")

It's that combination of approaches that may well make this industry work. Touchingly, Nicholas Parker, cofounder of the Cleantech Venture Network, announced to the world that SustainAbility's first book, The Green Capitalists, published way back in 1987, "saved my soul" -- by showing him that it was possible to occupy the missionary and mercenary positions simultaneously.

Parker and his cofounder, Keith Raab, estimate that since 1999 more than $8.3 billion has been invested in cleantech deals in North America alone, with the continent's demand for such capital estimated to average $3.9 billion a year between 2006 and 2009. The current pace of deal-making, says Parker, puts cleantech ahead of the semiconductor sector -- and just about level with telecoms. (In terms of who "counts" as cleantech, Parker and Raab offer a definition, of sorts, but it's a fairly broad-mouthed trawl through the emerging ecosystem of sustainable-minded industries.)

It will be interesting to see what Bill Joy -- who cofounded Sun Microsystems, wrote UNIX, and joined KPCB as a partner last year -- will make of all of this. In the April 2000 issue of Wired, he wrote a long and impassioned warning that some of the technologies now linked with cleantech -- including genetic engineering and nanotechnology -- could make the human species redundant. Will he be, perhaps, an IT-missionary-turned-Sun-mercenary- turned-Nano-missionary, now returning to the mercenary world?

While the $100 million of KPCB's funds earmarked for cleantech to date -- part of a $600 million fund dedicated to IT, life sciences, and medical devices -- won't save the world anytime soon, it's a signal of the importance they attach to this emerging area. Their voice is an important one -- and their lobbying could make a real difference among politicians hot to attract the entrepreneurs of the future.

In keeping with the sector's accelerating timescales, Cleantech X is slated for early June, in our hometown of London, where the congestion charge imposed by Mayor Ken Livingstone was designed to spur the development and use of cleaner vehicles and transportation systems. Interestingly, in this context, Denniston and Doerr noted that one of today's biggest challenges is that we don't have enough of the kind of political leaders the future deserves, "who have the courage not to invade Iraq but to impose a [U.S.] gas tax." Can we expect Kleiner Perkins to lobby for the necessary political changes to get cleantech fully up and running? "We have been politically active," Denniston noted, "and we'll see a lot more of that."

Green Car Congress has an article on V2G and the potential for plugin owners to make money from frequency control services for the grid.
Think you’ve heard all there is about the benefits of plug-in hybrids? Sure, substituting “cleaner/cheaper/domestic” electricity for gasoline that has none of those characteristics is good enough reason to evolve cars. It turns out there’s much more.

Plug-In Partners, the national PHEV support campaign led by utilities, including local governments, companies and individuals, launched with a splash a year ago. On its first anniversary, Plug-In Partners’ Congressional and press briefing in Washington, co-sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), served as the platform for a new way of thinking about electrifying transportation.

You’ll find it in four slides by Jon Wellinghoff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, about aspects of what’s often described as “Vehicle-to-Grid” (V2G). Much becomes possible when millions of PHEVs and electric vehicles, parked more than 20 hours a day, are available as distributed energy storage for the electric power grid. A quick description and old links are found at the CalCars.org FAQ.

CalCars has soft-pedalled the potential of all the variants of V2G. It’s seemed too futuristic to talk about without sounding like a snake-oil salesman. And it’s not one thing: it’s about perhaps a dozen different services or relationships. But experts are starting to get excited about these opportunities. Remember when we used “personal” computers? Wasn’t it a surprise when the home and business computers of the ’80s in the mid ’90s evolved into a global network that has profoundly changed the world?

V2G and variants like V2H (emergency home backup) could some day overshadow the initial PHEV benefits on which we now focus. It’s still far away. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t motivate our decisions now—both to begin real-world demonstration programs and to provide more reasons for car-makers to move rapidly from “interest” in PHEVs to demonstration fleets.

In October we highlighted two reports about V2G and its reverse, G2V, showing parked PHEVs’ potential to store wind power in Sacramento and to offer Bay Area Rapid Transit commuters free parking and charging. And this month the Pacific National Lab’s eye-opening report dispelled capacity concerns by showing that if overnight all our cars became PHEVs, we could fuel 84% of them off-peak on today’s grid without adding more generators.

Now a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission weighs in. Wikipedia explains FERC as “the United States federal agency with jurisdiction over interstate electricity sales, wholesale electric rates, hydroelectric licensing, natural gas pricing, and oil pipeline rates. FERC also reviews and authorizes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, interstate natural gas pipelines and non-federal hydropower projects.” FERC has clout.

When Jon Wellinghoff, a former Nevada utility lawyer who is one of five FERC Commissioners, looks at the future potential for PHEVs, everyone starts to take notice. Wellinghoff’s opening graphic of a green dollar sign on a road is powerful. Even more compelling is what he calls PHEVs: “The Cash-Back Plug-In Car.” He shows annual fuel costs: $1,200 for a conventional car, $720 for a hybrid, $495 for a PHEV. Next come the important new numbers. After paying for fuel, CAR OWNERS GET $425 NET ANNUAL PAYMENTS for a Cash-Back Plug-In Car that provides “spinning reserves” to utilities (relieving them of having to maintain plants ready to kick in for unexpected demand). And CAR OWNERS NET $2,790 by providing both spinning reserves and “regulation services” (helping utilities maintain the system voltage within narrow ranges. (Not calculated are revenues for providing peak power!)

Wellinghoff also projects how rapidly a PHEV could pay back its additional costs. Calculations are based on additional costs of $19,000 for a PHEV or $20,000 cost for a V2G-capable PHEV—probably several times higher than mass-production costs. But even saddled by such conservative assumptions, the $2,790 number gives a five-year payback (see slide two for Wellinghoff’s sources).

After Gutenberg has a follow up post on solar thermal power after my complaint yesterday about Solar Heat and Power fleeing to the US because of the better opportunities for renewable energy companies there (more links in the post itself).
It is difficult to believe that someone would be leaving another modern country to come to America to develop renewable energy. Given the United States current energy policy, you might think the reverse to be true. Yet, according to the Big Gav, David Mills and Solar Heat and Power Pty Ltd, are moving to America.

Given Australia is the No. 1 nation in the world in terms of available land and available hours of sunlight to develop solar energy, given Australia once led the world in solar energy research, given our appalling level of greenhouse emissions, and given one of the most advanced companies in the field of solar thermal energy is Australian, you might think this would be the place to build an industrial-scale solar power plant. But no.

This blog previously cited Australia as one place in particular that seemed to be well suited to the development of thermal solar. Indeed, it was a “Solar Energy Advisory” from the South Australia Government, which indicated that desert locations were ideal since the skies are predominantly clear throughout the year.

Whereas photo voltaic systems are suited for providing household power or supplemental power for larger sites, the cost of PV systems still prohibits large scale usage by utility companies. On the other hand, thermal solar has a comparitively quick ROI (Return On Investment) compared with PV. And, while the retail price and initial plant construction costs of solar thermal energy are higher than more traditional power plant construction, according to David Mills “once carbon emissions and energy inputs are accounted for, then solar thermal power is cheaper and, obviously, incomparably cleaner over the long term.”

The departure of an advanced technology company from Australia in part may be on account of the current Australian government favors coal and nuclear options. Yet it also could be the attraction of demonstration projects, such as the one that has stimulated thermal solar development in the Southwest United States.

How a Concentrating Solar Power System Works
Illustration from Arizon Public Service
Solar thermal power systems use solar-generated heat to drive an engine or turbine connected to an electric generator.

With signifcant help from the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Southern California Edison was able to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of a CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) installation competitive with traditional load-following / peaking generation. Now several other Southwestern utilities are investing in thermal solar, albeit using parabolic trough collectors.

Parabolic mirrors concentrate solar energy onto thermal receivers containing a heat transfer fluid. A heat transfer fluid is circulated and heated through the receivers, and the heat released to a series of heat exchangers. Parabolic trough solar technology thus converts sunshine into useful thermal energy and, by concentrating the heat, generate super-heated steam. The steam powers a turbine/generator to produce electricity.

There are two, parabolic trough, solar power plants located in Spain, each with 50MW capacity and one 500MW plant in Israel. (The Israeli company is building another plant in Spain.) Still, the United States and China are the more power hungry nations in the world and where the best, current opportunity is seen for CSP development.

The BBC reports that the melting of glaciers is accelerating.
Mountain glaciers are shrinking three times faster than they were in the 1980s, scientists have announced. The World Glacier Monitoring Service, which continuously studies a sample of 30 glaciers around the world, says the acceleration is down to climate change.

Its announcement came as climate scientists convened in Paris to decide the final wording of a major report. There is reported to be some disagreement over what forecasts they will make for sea level rise. But whatever form of words they agree on, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will declare that human-induced climate change is happening and needs to be tackled.

"[The report] embodies substantial new research, it addresses gaps that existed in our knowledge earlier, it has reduced existing uncertainties," IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told reporters at a news briefing in Paris. "I hope policies and actions will be formed to address the problem." The report, due out on Friday, forms the first part of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, and will be the latest definitive assessment of climate science.

Of all the various features that make up the surface of the Earth, glaciers are perhaps showing the starkest signs of rising temperatures.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based in Switzerland, continuously studies a set of 30 mountain glaciers in different parts of the world. It is not quite a representative sample of all mountain glaciers, but does give a reliable indication of global trends. The latest survey, just released, shows accelerating decline. During 2005, this sample of 30 glaciers became, on average, 60-70cm thinner.

TreeHugger has a post in their "Convenient Truths" series on "Greenland's Warming Island".
As a follow-up to Bush’s State of the Union address last week, the TERRA vlog is announcing their “State of the Planet” address, to consist of weekly videos. This week’s film, “Warming Island,” is an inspiring piece. (Watch the full version here.) If you aren’t already convinced of all the reasons why you should enter the Convenient Truths contest,

one huge reason is the power of motion picture to effect change. Watch as Arctic explorer, Dennis Schmitt provides visual proof that our world is rapidly changing. In a remote coastal region of Greenland, the ice shelf connecting the peninsula to the mainland has melted. Close to three miles thick in some areas, the Greenland ice sheet is melting at an extraordinary rate. And if it melts entirely, the world’s sea level will rise twenty-three feet!

It is clear that short films can bring the realities of the world into homes that otherwise wouldn’t have proof of a changing world (e.g., homes that don’t overlook the Greenland ice sheet). I, for one, just watched the video while currently nestled in my Brooklyn street-level apartment, looking out at an inch of fresh snow and an icy sidewalk. While my alter-ego likes to consider herself an Arctic explorer, and my body confuses my poorly heated apartment for a northern pole, I am by no means a “Dennis Schmitt.” However, I know that an ordinary person like myself can help make a difference, right here in Brooklyn, by taking action to reduce my personal carbon emissions.

Instead of putting in a request to my landlord to raise said apartment’s poor heat, I opt for a cozy sweater, thick socks, and hot cocoa to warm me up because, as mentioned in our How to Green Your Heating guide, “winter heating is responsible for sending nearly four tons of greenhouse gases into the air each month.”

Groovy Green comments an on article by The Independent, noting a huge iceberg wandering towards the shipping lanes of the Beaufort sea.
Like something out of a Michael Bay movie, scientists are ringing the warning bells of danger over an imposing mass of ice set to wreak havoc on shipping lanes this summer. The two-million-ton, 25-square-mile block of ice is part of the Ayles ice shelf and was recently spotted using NASA satellites. While it is a docile beast this “winter” season, come summer, it will slowly start to drift as pack ice melts away. This is bad news for oil rigs and large commercial ships. Imagine seeing an island come towards you the size of London….
“The ice could move several hundred miles over the summer, taking it closer to busy shipping routes for oil and gas. “If it ever came on a collision course with an oil rig, it is unlikely that we would be able to do much to stop it,” said Dr Copland. “Maybe you would have to consider aerial bombardment to break it up, or use lots of tugs to try and move it, but it would be a lot of ice to move.”

No kidding. The usual suspects are at play here with climate change and temperature increases. Average temps over the past few months have been almost 7 degrees Celsius than normal. Adding to more sleepless nights, the ice shelves have shrunk by up to 90 per cent in the past century - a loss of 3,500 square miles of ice, along with an unknown number of life forms.

Poor oil rigs. Looks like mother nature is striking back. Though unleashing frozen angry Yetis buried for thousands of years would make for a much more interesting plot line. Maybe they’re on the island.

Apparently Bush mentioning climate change in his recent lame duck blathering to the nation hasn't affected day to day lysenkoism being practiced by White Horse political apparatchiks.
The NYT reports that the White House has issued a directive giving its political commissars more direct control of regulatory policy at the various agencies of the executive branch, taking control away from civil servants and scientists. Excerpts:
President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, "This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable." [Satire?] [...]

Many, if not most, regulatory matters are highly technical applications of specialized expertise. The White House couldn't care less about such technical matters. It wants control of the regulatory carrot and stick. Instead of scientists and civil servants, people like Karl Rove will get the final say on regulatory policy. Which means it will be about politics, period. And which gives the White House enormous leverage to reward corporations friendly to it and punish those that aren't. A gigantic protection racket. Everything's for sale. Science is for liberal suckers. The thing is, though, if you ignore what science tells you about reality long enough, reality has a way of getting the last word.

MonkeyGrinder has some comments on the Bushies insane terraforming for dummies proposals shovelled into the IPCC report.
In the first case, these hypothetical techniques proposed to address global warming are all extremely energy intensive (as are proposed techniques for excess carbon to be interred during production of energy.) If one is constantly spending energy to make up for the fact that one is constantly spending energy, there is bound to be less energy on hand for things like stir fried goat tacos for the super bowl party on the plasma telly.

Let's be frank. These ideas are desperate proposals for ad-hoc experimentation on our last planet. Asinine techno-fixes from folks who can't or won't cross their respective peer groups but don't mind torching the globe, if only they can maintain their professional dignity until they die.

The most reliable way to generate a linear outcome for the climate is to head back for familiar territory. Climate models are tuned for the stuff that has been observed, not the outlying edge cases which have a whiff of extreme non-linearity - along with the sulphur. Obviously, it is past time to give up carbon energy in measured chunks, replacing it with conservation and systems which can use ambient energy.

The thoughtful approach isn't yet in the cards. As Jesus observed, (sic,) it is easier for a (carbon rich) human to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for them to enter the Kingdom of (Earth). Because plastic is forever.

I'm getting concerned that Peak Oil, when it breaks through the plateau, could be a barrier to a planned energy descent to prevent runaway global warming. Yes, we'll be burning less - the question is will it be enough less.

TreeHugger radio has an interview with Natural Capitalism author Paul Hawken (mp3). TreeHugger radio podcasts are also avalable on iTunes now.
Paul Hawken is a rare luminary, a unique voice in the world of sustainable business and the search for a whole, nurturing society. His books have been hugely influential and include The Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. In addition to writing and speaking, he is an entrepreneur and head of The Natural Capital Institute. TreeHugger is also honored to have Paul Hawken as a judge in the Convenient Truths video contest on climate change. In this nice, long extended interview, Simran asks Paul about the evolution of environmental consciousness, changes in the political sphere, the recent World Social Forum in Davos, Paul's forthcoming book, Blessed Unrest, and a good deal more.

"Sustainability in Hawaii" comments:
His book and documentary called “Blessed Unrest” will be out May 1, and Paul Hawken is still moving forward to spark a larger movement in civil society. Having served as one of the environmental movement’s early inspirations, Hawken now criticizes the movement as too narrowly focused.

In this nice, long extended interview, treehugger asks Paul about the evolution of environmental consciousness, changes in the political sphere, the recent World Social Forum in Davos, Paul’s forthcoming book, Blessed Unrest, and a good deal more.

His “WiserEarth” initiative (where WISER stands for World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility) intends to increase movement’s ability to see itself. WiserCommons is a member-centric network in which members co-create a common-pool of sustainability-related information and resources to be freely used by all members of society. Participating members have access to a larger body of knowledge, allowing them to more effectively fulfill the goals of their organization and to deliver greater value to their constituency.

This is one rare luminary — a unique voice in the world of sustainable business and the search for a whole, nurturing society. Always a pleasure to listen as Hawken pours out his heart.

A leading environmentalist and social activist's examination of the worldwide movement for social and environmental change

Paul Hawken has spent over a decade researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice.
From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes, these groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture. and is emerging to be an extraordinary and creative expression of people's needs worldwide.

Blessed Unrest explores the diversity of the movement, its brilliant ideas, innovative strategies, and hidden history, which date back many centuries. A culmination of Hawken's many years of leadership in the environmental and social justice fields, it will inspire and delight any and all who despair of the world's fate, and its conclusions will surprise even those within the movement itself. Fundamentally, it is a description of humanity's collective genius, and the unstoppable movement to reimagine our relationship to the environment and one another.

Blessed Unrest
How the Largest Movement In the World Came Into Being
and Why No One Saw it Coming
292 pages, Hardcover, Viking Press New York

Publication Date - May 1, 2007

It seems Australia is about to be blessed with the presence of one of the world's most admired statesmen in the near future - Dick Cheney is coming ! Judging by the reaction on the SMH blog, the populace is overjoyed with the prospect of a visit by our fearless warmongering lord of darkness. I suspect the political class may all be quivering at the prospect of an invitation to go hunting with a shotgun wielding madman though. One commenter opined that Dick was coming down to tell Johnny when the Iran war starts (seems a long way to come when a simple text message would suffice) - but that might explain this new bill proposing all americans between 18 and 42 perform a 2 year term of national service (I guess thats the modern version of a draft).
S Vice President Dick Cheney is coming to Australia in a few weeks. His main task is to thank Prime Minister John Howard for Canberra's unwavering support through the Iraq War.

Mr Cheney has been one of the prime architects of the now disastrous Iraq conflict. As such, he's been one of the most powerful vice presidents in American history. He remains one of that country's most controversial politicians, surviving in office when other hawks, like former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have bben pushed out.

President George W Bush admits that the Iraq War has gone wrong and now hopes a 21,000-troop surge will bring some stability to Baghdad, even though many - including key members of his Republican Party - doubt this latest strategy will work. Meanwhile Bush has hit a new low in popularity.

But the march of time goes on. America will have a new president and vice president two years from now. And, who knows, Mr Howard may have also left Australia's political stage by then.

Dick himself was copping a caning in the US press today after giving a delusional interview on CNN.
While Dick Cheney undoubtedly remains the most powerful vice president this nation has ever seen, it's becoming increasingly unclear whether anyone outside the White House believes a word he says.

Inside the West Wing, Cheney's influence remains considerable. In fact, nothing better explains Bush's perplexing plan to send more troops to Iraq than Cheney's neoconservative conviction that showing the world that we have the "stomach for the fight" is the most important thing -- even if it isn't accomplishing the things we're supposed to be fighting for. Even if it's backfiring horribly.

But as his astonishing interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer laid bare last week, Cheney is increasingly out of touch with reality. He seems to think that by asserting things that are simply untrue, he can make others believe they are so.

Maybe that works within the White House. But for the rest of us, it's becoming a better bet to assume that everything -- or almost everything -- Cheney says is flat wrong.

Meanwhile, the trial of Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby is exposing to public view the vice president's role as master-manipulator of misinformation and vindictive retaliator-in-chief -- once again, indifferent to the truth. (For example, Cheney ordered his staff to lie to reporters about the contents of a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate.)

And former aide Cathie Martin's testimony on Friday validated the most cynical conspiracy theories about how Cheney manipulates the press.

President Bush, while taking action that clearly suits the vice president, has nevertheless moderated some of his rhetoric -- acknowledging serious troubles in Iraq, for instance, and admitting that American soldiers are now caught in the middle of sectarian warfare.

But for Cheney, Iraq is an "enormous successes," it's the media's fault that more people don't recognize that, and showing "lack of stomach" in Iraq would lead not just to a debacle there but to cataclysmic domino-style effects across the globe and terrorist attacks within our borders.

So perhaps it's not a surprise that Cheney is losing support even from fellow Republicans who, looking ahead to the 2008 elections, do not relish carrying the burden of defending his increasingly indefensible world-view.

Bruce Schneier has a post on a recent incident in Iraq and opines that military uniforms are not a reliable token of identity. Cryptogon has a rather different take on it (I guess every pundit has a fixed frame of reference).
Iraqi Gunmen Dressing Up in American Military Uniforms

I've previously written about how official uniforms are inherent authentication tokens, even though they shouldn't be (see also this and this for some less deadly anecdotes). Now we see this tactic being used in Baghdad:
The armored sport utility vehicles whisked into a government compound in the city of Karbala with speed and urgency, the way most Americans and foreign dignitaries travel along Iraq's treacherous roads these days.

Iraqi guards at checkpoints waved them through Saturday afternoon because the men wore what appeared to be legitimate U.S. military uniforms and badges, and drove cars commonly used by foreigners, the provincial governor said.

Once inside, however, the men unleashed one of the deadliest and most brazen ambushes of U.S. forces in a secure, official area. Five American service members were killed in a hail of grenades and gunfire in a breach of security that Iraqi officials called unprecedented.

Uniforms are no substitute for real authentication. They're just too easy to steal or forge.

Bruce also has an interesting post on thought crimes.

"Prophetic Justice," by Amy Waldman (The Atlantic Monthly, Oct 2006) is a fascinating article about terrorism trials in the U.S. where the prosecution attempts to prove that the defendant was planning on committing an act of terrorism. Very often, the trials hinge on different interpretations of Islam, Islamic scripture, and Islamic belief -- and often we are essentially putting the religion on trial.

Reading it, I was struck with the eliminationist rhetoric coming out of the Christian Right in the U.S. today, and how it would fare under the same level of scrutiny.

It's a long article, but well worth reading. There are many problems with prosecuting people for thoughtcrimes, and the article discusses some of them.

I'll close with a Bush joke (Mr 30% - for now) from Past Peak.
I'll give President Bush credit though. He addressed the problems troubling Americans — the war in Iraq, the economy, the need to develop alternative fuels. He seemed to know what we were thinking. It's almost as if he was reading our mail or listening to our phone calls. — Jay Leno


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