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 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


It's almost as if he was reading our mail or listening to our phone calls. Well, duh! How else are ya goin' to have a Free Country!

It tell you what, amphibians can be very dense sometimes!

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