Turning Hot Water Green  

Posted by Big Gav in

Following on from Malcolm Turnbull's proposal to ban incandescent globes, there are now moves to try and eliminate electric hot water heaters. Life would be much easier if carbon taxes were levied instead of running around trying to think of particular point solutions to impose via regulation if you ask me, but what do I know...

A FEDERAL Government proposal to phase out inefficient light bulbs in a bid to tackle climate change has been welcomed by energy experts and environmentalists, who hope it will lead to other energy efficiency programs. The plan to introduce new lighting standards legislation by 2010, announced yesterday by the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, could be replicated in areas such as home insulation and hot water systems, they said.

Together, such programs would significantly cut demand for electricity and curb greenhouse gas pollution, without threatening jobs or industry, Greenpeace's energy campaigner, Mark Wakeham, said. "This will be a very fast way of getting compact fluorescent light bulbs into every house in the country," he said. "We are always talking about job losses … with energy efficiency it is really a win-win."

Greenpeace estimated replacing electric hot water systems with solar hot water and water efficient shower heads by 2020 would save 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent greenhouse gas pollution emitted by a large coal-fired power station.

Mr Turnbull said the most effective and immediate way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was to use energy more efficiently. "We have been using incandescent light bulbs for 125 years and up to 90 per cent of the energy each light bulb uses is wasted, mainly as heat," he said, explaining the Government's preference for the more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs. ...

Although the proposal was a good first step, it did not take much political courage because it didn't upset any industry lobby groups, the managing director of the energy efficiency company Big Switch, Gavin Gilchrist, said. "I look forward to the day when lobby groups are taken on and we ban off-peak electric hot water, selling residential and commercial buildings without any electricity performance data and electricity market regulation that favours coal-fired generators."

The Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, gave the idea his "complete support". The Greens also applauded it, but called on the Federal Government to do more.

London mayor Ken Livingstone is also getting in on the emissions reduction act. I suspect anyone who has ever been disgusted at the black mess created by blowing their nose after a day breathing London smog would agree that anything that reduces air pollution in the city must be a good thing...
THE Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is appealing to residents to stop using energy wastefully and will urge businesses to embrace green technology as part of a plan to slash the capital's carbon emissions by 60 per cent within 20 years.

Mr Livingstone wants a quarter of London's electricity supply to be shifted from the national grid to local combined heat-and-power systems by 2025. The city will offer "green gurus" to help families make their lifestyles more environmentally friendly, and will subsidise supplies of cavity wall and loft insulation.

The move is the most far-reaching attempted by a big city in Britain, but dozens of others are also planning action to cut emissions. Nearly 200 local authorities have signed a pledge to take action, known as the Nottingham Declaration, and other cities, such as Birmingham, have set targets to reduce greenhouse gases.

Officials say the "vast majority" of the measures announced yesterday will save money, mainly in reduced fuel and energy bills. They estimate that half the required carbon savings can be made through simple changes in behaviour.

In his foreword to the published details of the plan, Mr Livingstone says: "All of us have a responsibility; actions taken at an individual level can have consequences that are unacceptable for society as a whole. Buying a gas-guzzling 4x4 vehicle is an 'individual choice' but it creates carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and harm everyone. It should be no more socially acceptable than to claim the right to dump rubbish in the street."

Paul Krugman notes we can do something about global warming.
The factual debate about whether global warming is real is, or at least should be, over. The question now is what to do about it.

Aside from a few dead-enders on the political right, climate change skeptics seem to be making a seamless transition from denial to fatalism. In the past, they rejected the science. Now, with the scientific evidence pretty much irrefutable, they insist that it doesn't matter because any serious attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions is politically and economically impossible.

Behind this claim lies the assumption, explicit or implicit, that any substantial cut in energy use would require a drastic change in the way we live. To be fair, some people in the conservation movement seem to share that assumption.

But the assumption is false. Let me tell you about a real-world counterexample: an advanced economy that has managed to combine rising living standards with a substantial decline in per capita energy consumption, and managed to keep total carbon dioxide emissions more or less flat for two decades, even as both its economy and its population grew rapidly. And it achieved all this without fundamentally changing a lifestyle centered on automobiles and single-family houses.

The name of the economy? California.

There's nothing heroic about California's energy policy -- but that's precisely the point. Over the years the state has adopted a series of conservation measures that are anything but splashy. They're the kind of drab, colorless stuff that excites only real policy wonks. Yet the cumulative effect has been impressive, if still well short of what we really need to do.

The energy divergence between California and the rest of the United States dates from the 1970s. Both the nation and the state initially engaged in significant energy conservation after that decade's energy crisis. But conservation in most of America soon stalled: After a decade of rapid progress, improvements in auto mileage came to an end, while electricity consumption continued to rise rapidly, driven by the growing size of houses, the increasing use of air-conditioning and the proliferation of appliances. ...

I quite like my regular email updates from the Climate Change Coalition. One recent missive pointed out the problems caused by the thirst for water of coal fired power stations. Apparently the NSW generators are already having trouble with inland plants, with generation cut back and moved to coastal plants as far as possible, and something like 2 years of water supply left. Maybe our carbon dioxide emissions will be self regulating - once we run out of inland water we'll cut emissions by 50% straight away. I guess the old coal plant locations will be good places to install thermal solar power plants...

“A major problem with coal fired power stations is their insatiable thirst,” said Patrice Newell, who heads the Climate Change Coalition team for the New South Wales Legislative Council. “The giant facilities of Macquarie Generation in the Hunter Valley demand and get water no matter how dire the circumstances.

Producing 40 per cent of NSW’s energy requirements at just two coal-fired thermal stations, they take immense amounts of water from both the Hunter catchment and the Barnard River, a tributary of the Manning. This raises difficulties at the best of times but creates a deepening crisis for Hunter Valley communities during drought – and that’s before you factor in climate change.

Most people don’t realize that every time they turn on a light switch they’re also turning on a tap – that the flow of electricity is dependant on the flow of water. Yet water is not factored into the true price of coal-generated electricity.

On 15 Sept 2006 Macquarie Generation applied under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, to upgrade their power station with a low pressure pumping station. They want to put in new pipes and access 1,200 million litres of water a day. Their existing system accesses 400 million litres per day. Macquarie Generations’ entitlement already drains Glenbawn Dam, now a ghost of its former self. The problem is further dramatised by emission data. Take sulphur dioxide and mining.

Around Singleton alone 30,000 tonnes of fine dust is released into the air annually, with a further 1,200 tonnes from the coal-fired power stations. In the nearby agricultural area of Scone the total is 870 tonnes. Then there’s the problem of salinisation of water in the mining process – the high background salt level in the Hunter is of great concern. Even in times of normal rainfall Macquarie Generation’s thirst prevents the Hunter blossoming.

Any move to renewable and alternative energy could ease the situation for those at the other end of the queue and allow a diversification of agriculture to develop. There would also be water for new energy efficient communities”. Ms Newell concluded.

Recent additions to the CCC team include John McInerney, Nat Jeffery, Caroline Pidcock, John Polglase, Luke "Solarman" Williams, Lindsay Johnson, Stan Glaser, Louise Upton (associated with SmartShax) and Joe Herbertson of the Crucible Group.
Dr Joe Herbertson is a Principal and Managing Director of the Crucible Group Pty Ltd, a research and consulting business, which has been formed to enhance the link between sustainability, strategy, innovation and science. The Crucible has a core strategic focus on creating industrial solutions that are carbon neutral or better. This includes unlocking the potential for algae as a source of non-fossil fuels and chemicals and the potential for char products to regenerate soils and sequester carbon. The Crucible is currently piloting new technology for algae biomass production and its conversion by advanced pyrolysis methods into renewable oil, gas and char.

Dr Herbertson obtained his degree in Metallurgy from the University of New South Wales and his PhD from Imperial College, London University. He combines a distinguished career in technology with a commitment to sustainability.

Previously the General Manager for Research at BHP Steel, he was also head of the Central Research Laboratories in Newcastle, BHP's main global R&D facility at the time. Dr Herbertson initiated the Centre for Sustainable Resource Processing, a $90M collaboration between industry, government and research with a focus on minerals processing and metal production; is the Executive Director of The Natural Step in Australia, which is a global NGO with a science based, systems approach to sustainable development; is a Conjoint Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at Newcastle University and a Visiting Fellow at the Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University.

Dr Herbertson is also a member of the CSIRO Minerals Sector Advisory Committee, the Yarra Valley Water Sustainability and Environment Committee, the Melbourne Sewage Strategy Expert Panel, the AP6 Steel Reference Group and the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment Board at Newcastle University. He was the Chair of Green Processing 2006, an International Conference on Sustainable Processing of Minerals and Metals. Currently Dr Herbertson consults to a wide range of major companies in the resources and manufacturing sectors in Australia and overseas.

In announcing his decision, Dr Herbertson said:

"I am pleased to join Patrice Newell on the Climate Change Coalition team for the March 24 State elections. Patrice brings important qualities to the climate change debate, namely intelligence, a willingness to get to the bottom of complex issues, respect for people and a love of nature. At this critical period, we need independent and talented people taking a lead in government and public discussion that are not tied to party politics. The Climate Change Coalition provides the vehicle for a diverse range of experienced and passionate people to make a contribution. In joining the ticket, I bring a business innovation perspective to the team. Sustainable development will require large scale innovation throughout production and consumption systems and will be a lever for value creation for those companies that embrace it."

There have been a lot of reports that Rodent and some of his mates are trying to get their nuclear power plant building campaign going, prompting widespread abuse in states designated to host the money wasting monstrosities.
SUPPORT from the public and both main political parties was essential before Australia adopted nuclear power generation, the Federal Government said yesterday. The statement came as the Prime Minister came under attack in Parliament after reports that a group of businessmen planned to build a nuclear plant in Victoria or South Australia.

John Howard, and the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, were subjected to sustained attacks from the Opposition, which alleged they had been consulted on a proposal to build nuclear power plants by three of the country's most powerful businessmen - the former mining bosses Hugh Morgan and Robert Champion de Crespigny, and Ron Walker, the chairman of Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald...

The Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, said he would hold a plebiscite if the Federal Government tried to override state laws and build a plant in Victoria. "There's no safe way of storing radioactive waste, No. 1," he said. "No. 2, the general safety of the plan is questionable, and No. 3, the economics are just not there."

The South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, said no reactor would be contemplated while he was premier.

Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, said he was surprised the plans to build a plant were so advanced. "Australians are very clear that they don't want nuclear energy and nuclear power in this country."

One researcher noted Australia is 20 years behind Europe on the move to renewable energy.
A leading environmental researcher has called for a government taskforce to look into renewable energy to balance up debate on Australia's response to climate change.

Barney Foran, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Centre for Research and Environmental Studies, says Australia is 10 or 20 years behind Europe in thinking on renewable energy. ... "While I'm not here advocating the renewables transition, I do suggest that if we are to have a decent debate in Australia, then we need something the size and intensity of the Ziggy (Switkowski) report (into nuclear energy), to be done on a renewables transition so that we may have balance, if you like, in the national debate that ensues," he said. "We could have a very different economy here run by renewable electricity mainly, and also by vast areas of woodscapes supply our liquid fuels". ...

Mr Foran spoke of a building at an institution in Austria which replaced its marble frontage with photovoltaic (PV) cells and managed to convert its energy useage to 50 per cent renewable, as an example of renewable energy innovation happening in Europe. "The Europeans are 10 to 20 years in front of us," he said. "Step-change comes when we put a goal in national terms that say we're going to go for something like 50 per cent renewable electricity by 2050.

Solarhome reports that a 10GL combined solar power and desalination plant is planned for South Australia (its a shame the gas part of the plant is larger than the solar component - South Australia made for thermal solar generation - its never been hotter in fact).
A parabolic dish array producing steam for power and desalination, has been announced for the town of Port Augusta on the upper tip of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia. Australian company Acquasol has been chosen to build the facility, which will produce 10 GL of fresh water each year, as well as have an output of 200MW, of which 50MW will be generated from the sun, and 150MW by a gas-fired turbine. 2GL will be provided to the Port Augusta council. It is assumed the balance will be required by the Olympic Dam mine expansion in the state’s far north.

Construction is planned to commence this year. The project will employ 500 people over 2 years, and 60 employees permanently.

Acquasol is attempting to list on the ASX according to a media accouncement on http://www.renergy.com.au/headlines.htm

Moving away from local news, Ontario in Canada seems to be suffering fuel shortages, prompting some speculation (in the more paranoid parts of the internet) that oil is being diverted to help double the size of the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Its always handy to have plenty of oil in hand if you're thinking of embarking of some overseas adventurism of course.
The Ontario Trucking Association warned on Tuesday that the big rigs used to transport everything from chickens to car parts could soon be parked on the roadside if nothing is done to alleviate a growing fuel shortage in Ontario.

Tight supplies of fuel have bedeviled motorists in Canada's biggest market since a fire at an Imperial Oil Ltd. refinery slashed output two weeks ago. And the situation could quickly become "critical," said David Bradley, the trucking association's president. "We're not in a crisis situation at this moment, but things have been gradually getting worse as the days go by," Bradley said.

The situation in Ontario, which accounts for about a third of Canada's demand, was aggravated by reduced transport capability, partly due to a strike at Canadian National Railway Co. (CNR.TO: Quote). The combination of factors meant dozens of gas stations across the province were forced to shut off their pumps as fuel supplies ran out.

CN Rail reached a tentative contract agreement with workers on Saturday, but services were not expected to return to normal for several days. As well, Imperial has said its Nanticoke, Ontario, refinery will not return to full production until mid-March. Imperial is apportioning supplies to its chain of Esso gas stations and other customers, but rival oil companies have found their pumps running dry as they feel the spike in demand.

A growing number of trucking companies are also reporting that their bulk storage facilities are empty, or close to being depleted, and fuel suppliers are saying relief may not come for days, Bradley added. If the fuel shortage persists, he said, smaller firms could go out of business -- and eventually shortages would be seen on store shelves. Ninety percent of consumer products and foodstuffs are shipped by truck, he said.

Auto Blog Green had an interesting post recently on lithium supplies - noting "peak lithium" may be just as much a problem as peak oil. Lithium is an important material for many types of battery, so any real supply limits would be a problem for the V2G / smart grid idea if these become the dominant type of battery in plug in hybrids and electric cars. Of course, how much lithium is really out there (and how well lithium batteries will fare compared to ultracapacitors and the like) still seem to be fairly open questions.
Lithium ion battery technology is all the rage when talking about future vehicle propulsion systems. Everybody wants lithium ion batteries because so far they are the only electro-chemical batteries devised that come close to providing the energy density necessary to be truly useful for passenger vehicles. There are lots of promising variations that may be able to improve the lifespan and chargeability of such cells, but one question has remained unasked. At least until now. The ability of the electrical grid to support large scale use of EVs is an open question, although some recent studies seem to indicate that having vehicles charged mostly at night, might be beneficial. The new question is "Where do we get the lithium?"

In a story in the Toronto Star, William Tahil, research director with Meridian International Research asserts that there isn't enough lithium available to mine to support the world's 900 million vehicles. Evidently most of the known supplies of lithium are in South America, in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, potentially making them the new OPEC. Bolivia alone may have fifty percent of the world's metal lithium reserves. Production of 60 million PHEVs with smaller lithium batteries than would be needed for a full EV would require 420,000 tonnes of lithium every year, which is six times the current production level. So it looks like any potential savings from mass producing lithium batteries, could easily get negated and then some just by increasing demand driving up raw material costs.

Tahil proposes that battery research should be more focused on technology that uses more common metals like nickel and zinc. The article mentions sodium nickel chloride (Zebra) batteries and zinc air batteries. The Zebra batteries apparently tolerate cold and hot temperatures well, something lithium batteries generally don't. It looks like we need to start looking past lithium even before it gets established.

WorldChanging has a post on the future of food.
"The first freedom of man, I contend, is the freedom to eat" -- Eleanor Roosevelt

Perhaps because it is such a commonplace, defining the rhythms of our daily lives, many people who think seriously about the future have a tendency to dismiss food and food culture as a serious issue. That's too bad, not only because food is life, and questions of hunger and food supply still loom large on our planet (800 million people currently suffer from malnutrition, according to the FAO), but also because the growing, catching, selling and preparing of food creates some of our largest impacts on the planet and some of the largest conflicts between peoples.

The future of food is a gigantic issue, and that future is changing quickly.

That's why this week Worldchanging is focusing on the future of food. Sarah and I are at John Thackara's Doors of Perception conference in Delhi, India, which this year takes up questions of food and food culture and where they're headed: we'll be bringing you updates all week. But that's not all, because we will also have posts about new ideas and solutions and debates from a number of our regular contributors, and updates from some of our allies around the world, including Anna Lappé reporting from the first international Forum on Food Sovereignty in Mali.

How can we design food systems which are fair, sustainable and both efficient and holistic? How can we fill our plates without eating up our future?

Below is a round-up of many of the food-related posts from the Worldchanging archive. You may find it interesting to peruse as we add more to this section of our library in the coming days. ...

WorldChanging also has an inetrview with climate scientist Kerry Emanuel.
Kerry Emanuel, one of the world's leading authorities on hurricanes, is a professor of tropical meteorology and climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His book, Divine Wind, delves into the history and science of hurricanes. He visited Madison last week as part of the Weston Global Distinguished Lecture series sponsored by the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

David Zaks: In the "statement on the U.S. hurricane problem" a group of scientists called upon leaders of government and industry to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of building practices, insurance, land use, and disaster relief policies that currently serve to promote an ever-increasing vulnerability to hurricanes. What role do you see adaptation play alongside mitigation when assessing courses of action for dealing with global warming?

Kerry Emanuel: Even if climate science could tell you exactly what would happen to the physical climate over the next 100 years, to undertake the analysis of the optimum route for society, what's the mixture of trying to mitigate it versus trying to adapt to it, it is a profoundly complicated problem and I would be foolish to have a shot at it. Invariably it will be a mixture of things because unless someone discovers some absolutely spectacular alternative energy source, and we can't rule that out it might happen.

People will have a demand for energy, but there are things we can do; conserve, use less, all the things that are recommended in the book, of course. It is foolish to say that we shouldn't do some of that, and maybe most of it, some of it is just easy, but a certain amount of adaptation is inevitable. What concerns me is that to some extent the free market is a vehicle for adaptation, I'm not saying it is perfect, or the only extent, but if you don't let the free market do what it does because of regulation then you are handicapping yourself. Right now the regulation of insurance in the United States, which is here to stay unfortunately, has led to wholesale subsidy of risk taking in a way that is not profitable to society and I don't see why that has not carried over to the other consequences of global warming. If as government says, we expect sea level to go up 2 feet over the next 50 years, and as a consequence of that, we will pay for it. Paying people to put themselves in the way of that doesn't make any sense.

DZ: Touching on what you said about new sources of renewable energy and your work on hurricanes, would it be possible to strategically place wind turbines or other devices in the path of hurricanes to collect some of that energy?

KE: It is very tempting and there are some very almost freakish coincidences about hurricanes. If you take your typical Atlantic hurricane it dissipates about 2 x 10^12 watts of energy. That happens to equal the global electrical capacity. Which means that if you could efficiently harvest it all, you could power the world. On the average there is one hurricane going on in the world at any given time. To make that even more intriguing, you can calculate for the same hurricane the amount of fresh water it produces, as it is a great desalinator taking salt water, evaporating it and making rain. The amount of rain falling out of an average hurricane is about equal to the global human freshwater consumption. One hurricane could solve all the problems, although I don't think it is feasible because you are dealing with such excessive force and the engineering challenges would be large, so I don't see that happening, unfortunately.

On a smaller scale, in Spain they have created what they call a dynamic chimney where they create a giant greenhouse over the desert floor and in the middle of the glass you have a chimney about 100 feet high and then you have some veins. The sun makes it very hot in there and the air goes rushing up the chimney, and you apply a swirl to that, which is essentially a tornado. The beauty of it is that once it leaves the chimney it keeps going and that is important because the thermodynamic efficiency of the engine is basically proportional to the temperature difference between the bottom and the top, and 100 feet is tall enough for that temperature difference to be appreciable, but if the column of rotating air goes a kilometer into the sky, you now have a change in temperature of about 10 degrees, and they use that to generate electricity. If salt water is used instead of just the desert surface, you have a much high albedo (reflectivity) so you get more efficient generation. You get moist air going up, which means it can go higher into the atmosphere, and then the rain that comes down can be harvested into fresh water! ...

The Chinese stockmarket was the trigger for a reasonably large fall on the markets everywhere today. Dan Denning from The Daily Reckoning has a look at recent falls on global markets, closing with an intriguing conspiracy theory (as I know you guys at the State Department have nothing better to do with your time than read conspiracy theories).
--Shanghai down 8.8%, London down 2.3%, the Dow down 3.3%. And so far, the ASX down by 3.5%. Is this the crash for which we've been flying a flag for weeks now?


--This, as we pointed out earlier in the week, is what you get when global markets go up for nearly eight months without a significant pull-back. It's more of a collision than a crash, the kind of thing that happens when you go over a speed bump too quickly. You bang your bumper into the asphalt. It's not so much that there were a lot of sellers yesterday, but that there were a lot fewer buyers.

--Not that we'd ever want to be accused of being bullish, but let's keep things in perspective. The same Shanghai 300 Index that fell 9% yesterday had been up 23%, year to date. In the context of its rise the last three years, yesterday's collision was tiny. A real crash would be more like what happened to American sub-prime lender Novastar. The company fell by 50% over three days when it reported rising defaults from its sub-prime borrowers. It also added, ominously (a ridiculous understatement) that it did not think it would make money any time in the next five years. Gulp.

--Yet what is so different about paying too much money for a stock like Novastar and paying too much money for stocks as an asset class? In both cases the faulty assumption was the same: abundant liquidity would drive earnings and prices higher. With Novastar, it was higher interest rates that burst the bubble. With global stock markets, it was something else.

--This brings us to the key vulnerability of the Goldilocks Paradigm: money supply, or liquidity. It takes a constantly increasing amount of money to drive stocks up. The same amount won't do. Bubbles require more buying power, always more. That's why liquidity theory is a better explanation of global stock price movements these days than valuation. Stocks long ago ceased to be correlated to real measures of value. With superannuation, private equity, and institutional buying, the ready supply of liquidity has been pretty smooth into all stocks-emerging markets and the Dow alike.

--But not yesterday. So just what happened? And where to from here? Probably more selling this week to shave another 5% off index values, followed-and we're only guessing here-by a fresh run toward record highs in the North American spring. If we're wrong, the crash to end all crashes will be this month. And though we think that day is coming, we don't think it's arrived just yet. Why?

--Did you know that on any given day, just over 30% of the volume on the New York Stock Exchange comes from automatic, computer-generated buy and sell programs? The NYSE makes the data public on its website. We'll quote some of it in a minute. But it's important for a simple reason: the direction of global markets is determined a lot less by human beings and a lot more by computer programs, models, and algorithms.

--The upside of this is that automated buying power pushes stocks higher. The downside is the Dow falls 200 points in two minutes as sell orders are automatically generated and executed. There's not even time for some good old fashioned hand-wringing and sweaty brows. Computers don't sweat. And they don't panic. They just execute. "Sell."

--The NYSE keeps data on a weekly basis, so we can't see quite what happened yesterday, at least not officially. But here's what it said about last week, "During Feb. 12-16, program trading amounted to 32.1% percent of NYSE average daily volume of 2,962 million shares, or 952 million program shares traded per day…Program trading encompasses a wide range of portfolio-trading strategies involving the purchase or sale of a basket of at least 15 stocks with a total value of $1 million or more."

--For the week, just 15 separate firms trade over 4 billion shares using program trading. The NYSE classifies about 7% of these trades as "index arbitrage," and the rest as "all other strategies." So just what are those strategies? We don't know, of course. But our guess is that some of them involve liquidating a position if the Dow falls, say 100, points.

--You can see how the process of program-driven selling becomes self-fulfilling, each order triggering more selling, which triggers further orders. There are computer programs designed to prevent this, called "trading collars," which apparently failed yesterday. At some point-probably later this week-other "buy programs" will kick in, and may in turn, trigger other "buy programs."

--Our point in all of this is that all rational discretion about what a business is really worth is thrown out the window. The index is driven by the programs, which then influences fund and ETF buying, none of which has anything to do with what a particular stock is worth. Buying and selling become reflexive, rather than reflective.

--This is what we call speculation driven by liquidity. And ironically, it's why recent history shows major one-day slides in financial markets seem to have little or no impact in the real economy. And it's not just one-day slides either. Remember the tech-wreck? The Russian bond-default? LTCM? All of these mini financial panics took place in the stock market without, apparently, causing so much as a ripple in the real economy.

--What happens in markets does matter, of course, and not least because it affects the net worth of consumers, who spend and earn money in the real economy. And in that sense, the stock market is a psychological leading indicator of the real economy. If investors are getting skittish-or become skittish because program trading causes a series of steep one-day declines-it can carry over into real world behaviour.

--God forbid most Western investors look at the real world. Then they'd really get scared, seeing millions of consumers in debt, with stagnant wages and large mortgage liabilities. Fully price that into the market and you'd start to see some real selling, as investor flee stocks into, of all things, short-term bonds with stable yields.

--Hmm. Here's a conspiratorial thought. Maybe all of this is an elaborate plot orchestrated by the GoldmanSachs/White House plunge protection team to drive global saving back into the U.S. bond market, just as the government needs to refinance its deficit and pay for its wars. Hmmn. Show of hands? Yea? Nay?

How Many Legislators Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Malcolm Turnbull is one of the few members of the government who both understands global warming and has the wits to make some political capital from it, with his new proposal to ban incandescent light bulbs getting lots of attention around the world.

THE inefficient standard light bulb could be phased out within three years to save up to 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is expected today to announce a commitment to phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2009-10, a world first by a national government. It hopes to convince state and territory governments to introduce energy performance standards that would lead to the replacement of standard light bulbs with more efficient but more expensive alternatives such as compact fluorescent lights. It will also negotiate with manufacturers to phase out the bulbs.

Though the days of supermarket shelves full of 40-cent light bulbs may be numbered, the lighting industry predicts the price shock will not last long. In many cases, compact fluorescent lamps sell for about $10 each, but typically last six times as long as their predecessors.

Colin Goldman, the head of Nelson Industries, a lighting importer, supported the move. "These days you can buy a six-pack at the $10 mark," he said. "The prices are coming down, and as soon as you get volume with greater numbers on the market they come down further." The Government is under pressure to improve its green credentials. Climate change will be a big issue in the federal election.

Australia was not the first with the idea. Last month legislators in California proposed a "How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act" that would phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012 in favour of compact fluorescent bulbs.
According to the Federal Government, up to 95 per cent of the energy each standard light bulb uses is wasted, while compact fluorescents use only 20 per cent as much electricity to produce the same amount of light. EnergyAustralia says by using just one 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb instead of a 75-watt standard bulb, consumers could save about $10 a year.

In Australia lighting represents about 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from households, about 25 per cent of commercial sector emissions, and a quarter of the emissions associated with public and street lighting. The Federal Government estimates replacing the old bulbs with compact fluorescents in homes could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 800,000 tonnes a year in 2008-12. Australia's emissions in 2004 totalled 564.7 million tonnes. ...

Greg Bourne, the chief executive of the conservation organisation WWF, said phasing out standard bulbs was a useful step in the transition to an energy-efficient world, but it passed on the cost directly to consumers. "Architecturally, in some places it is difficult to change over," he said. "It [the federal decision] does feel like a knee-jerk reaction, but it is a step in the right direction."

While I quite like Malcolm (something I can't say about most members of the government) I still have a few reservations about outright bans and other heavy handed forms of regulation (given my generic fear and loathing of a future carbon dictatorship).

In general, I'd prefer a simple, flat carbon tax (with matching offsets in income tax) to deal with the problem of reducing carbon emissions rather than a slew of regulations targetting various forms of energy inefficiency. As an example, if someone is on a 100% green energy plan (as you should be) then it doesn't matter all that much if they are "wasting" energy - so long as they aren't emitting any carbon dioxide when doing so.

Somewhat ominously, I'm just slightly aligned with Fairfax's resident right wing nutcase Miranda Devine, who goes rather further than I would and compares Malcolm to Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro (I didn't realise these guys had also banned incandescent bulbs - though at least they have the excuse that they run command and control economies). Miss Loony Tunes also manages to complain that the government isn't giving the globes away for free. Oh what tangled webs the big government conservative can weave...
YOU KNOW Australia has lost its mind on the green front when the conservative Howard Government starts emulating the communist dictatorship of Cuba.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull's plan, foisted without warning on the nation last week, to ban incandescent light bulbs from 2010 and force us to replace them with more energy-efficient fluorescent ones, was hailed almost unanimously around the world as a bright idea.

While the Government billed the switch as a world first the Associated Press soon pointed out that Cuba's dictator Fidel Castro launched a similar program two years ago to make citizens swap incandescent bulbs for fluorescents. His protege, Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez, soon followed suit.

You might say Turnbull, Castro and Chavez are the three amigos of the climate change nanny state. But at least the communists gave fluorescent bulbs away for free. In Australia we are expected to pay six times more for the new bulbs, as well as for any new fittings.

In Cuba, Castro has enforced his light bulb giveaway by using thousands of students, euphemistically called "social workers", to enter people's homes, whether they like it or not, and change the bulbs. At the same time, they take an inventory of electrical appliances in the home. Now there's an idea.

This is not to say that encouraging Australians to replace their 135 million incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient lights is not worthwhile.

It's just that we should have a choice about it. The Government could achieve a similar result by offering incentives such as free bulbs or rebates, in much the same way that the NSW Government has given $150 rebates for water-efficient, four-star-rated washing machines.

Instead, in a stroke of political brilliance, the entire cost of the light bulb extravaganza is to be borne by individual consumers, while Turnbull gets the kudos.

Meanwhile Labor's Kevin Rudd is making a few bad moves (even though he's now well ahead of the Rodent in the polls) declaring he'll invest billions of taxpayer dollars into the development of "clean coal" technology, to the dismay of the Climate Change Coalition. Why not leave it to the market (ie. the coal mining companies) Mr Rudd ? If coal can't compete with wind and solar, it should be left as a dirty relic of the industrial age...
"'Clean Coal' is a contradiction in terms. It doesn't exist," says Patrice Newell, who is heading the Climate Change Coalition team for the Upper House elections on March 24.

"It is an idea, a hope, not a fact. Yet politicians across the board, state, federal and municipal, talk it up desperately. It's a major issue on the NSW elections and on SUNDAY Kevin Rudd gave it a huge boost.

More concerned with electoral 'damage control' than with the vast damage coal is causing to the atmosphere, Rudd called for 'billions' to be invested in the hypothetical technology so that Australia can continue to profit from the coal exports 'we cannot afford to lose'. The real fear, however, is the loss of seats in electorates close to coal mines, particularly in the Hunter Valley.

Taxpayers should not be paying for clean coal technology. Mining companies should fix up their own industry. Clean coal research should be paid for by the record profits currently generated by coal mining.

When Australian miners of asbestos were finally held to account for the hundreds of thousands of miners, carpenters and others affected by asbestos-related diseases there was no call for 'clean asbestos' or for the profits earned from its mining to be protected. Nor was the local tobacco growers lobby received with open arms when the links to cancer and other lung diseases could no longer be denied.

Now, finally, it is recognised that coal mining is wrecking the lungs of the entire planet - that it's the greatest single contributor to the greatest crisis this planet has faced. Yet our leaders talk of a magic answer - clean coal - when it is as far away as 'safe nuclear'.

Coal isn't clean. It's filthy. It may get a little cleaner down the track. But Rudd's billions would be much better spent on the renewable energies that are 100 per cent clean right ruddy now!!"

The Climate Change Coalition was formed to work with any group, organisation, political party or individual taking action against climate change.

The (UK) Daily Telegraph has an article on the potential of CIGS solar power.
Within five years, solar power will be cheap enough to compete with carbon-generated electricity, even in Britain, Scandinavia or upper Siberia. In a decade, the cost may have fallen so dramatically that solar cells could undercut oil, gas, coal and nuclear power by up to half. Technology is leaping ahead of a stale political debate about fossil fuels.

Anil Sethi, the chief executive of the Swiss start-up company Flisom, says he looks forward to the day - not so far off - when entire cities in America and Europe generate their heating, lighting and air-conditioning needs from solar films on buildings with enough left over to feed a surplus back into the grid.

The secret? Mr Sethi lovingly cradles a piece of dark polymer foil, as thin a sheet of paper. It is 200 times lighter than the normal glass-based solar materials, which require expensive substrates and roof support. Indeed, it is so light it can be stuck to the sides of buildings.

Rather than being manufactured laboriously piece by piece, it can be mass-produced in cheap rolls like packaging - in any colour.

The "tipping point" will arrive when the capital cost of solar power falls below $1 (51p) per watt, roughly the cost of carbon power. We are not there yet. The best options today vary from $3 to $4 per watt - down from $100 in the late 1970s.

Mr Sethi believes his product will cut the cost to 80 cents per watt within five years, and 50 cents in a decade.

It is based on a CIGS (CuInGaSe2) semiconductor compound that absorbs light by freeing electrons. This is then embedded on the polymer base. It will be ready commercially in late 2009.

"It'll even work on a cold, grey, cloudy day in England, which still produces 25pc to 30pc of the optimal light level. That is enough, if you cover half the roof," he said.

"We don't need subsidies, we just need governments to get out of the way and do no harm. They've spent $170bn subsidising nuclear power over the last thirty years," he said.

Solar power plant size is growing rapidly, with Abu Dhabi the latest to announce a large solar power plant (Wonder what they know about oil and gas reserves that other people don't).

Except it's Abu Dhabi investing $350 million in a 500 MW solar plant. My colleague JP Ross just traveled there and met with those guys -- they are serious as a heart attack about building large-scale, central-station solar power.

When even these guys get it ...

In unrelated news, I once heard a story about a company that was entirely dependent for their raw materials on a single supplier. This company heard that their supplier was investing in other products, but thought nothing of it. Soon, the supplier announced they were out of the raw material, and the company went bankrupt. Sad story, huh?

TreeHugger has pick up an interesting post from After Gutenberg on a different form of energy storage - using a hysteresis loop to control cold storage warehouses and thus using off peak energy, hopefully from wind.
Critics of wind power are quick to jump on the issue of intermittence: essentially, wind turbines produce power when the wind blows, and that's not always when demand for electricity is at its high points -- solar power suffers from the same issue. Until we find a way to store the electricity produced when it's not needed, large-scale wind power is just a pipe dream, they argue. A group of Danish researchers will be testing out a novel solution to this problem: using refrigerated warehouses as giant "batteries" for electricity storage. According to Nature, the idea is pretty simple on its face:
Say you lowered the temperature of all large coldstores in Europe by just 1°C during the night when electricity demand is low, then let it rise 1°C by switching them off during the day when demand is at peak. The net effect would be that the warehouses would act as as batteries — potentially storing 50,000 megawatt-hours of energy — and the food wouldn't melt.

Theoretically, it is simple; in reality, there are still a number of hurdles to overcome, including the proximity of coldstores to wind turbines. Still, researchers from other parts of the world believe the idea is worth testing, and could serve as a useful counterpart to other storage proposals, including plug-in hybrids and "heat pumps that convert electricity to hot water..." The cold storage concept has one particular strength, though: the infrastructure for it is largely in place. After Gutenberg notes that the US, for instance, might have as much as 900 GWH of "energy-banking capability," or roughly 2 hours of average US electrical consumption, and "We’d have to build out one huge amount of wind and solar power capacity to strain that."

Is this a promising project, or are there elements of cold storage researchers haven't yet considered? We'll know in a year and a half: the Night Wind project runs through June 2008.

Michael Klare has a new post at TomDispatch on Bush's talking points for the next war.
At 10:16 PM on March 19, 2003, after copious military preparations in the Persian Gulf region and beyond, after months of diplomatic maneuvers at the United Nations, after a drumbeat of leaked intelligence warnings and hair-raising statements by top U.S. officials and the President about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and how close Saddam Hussein might be to developing a nuclear weapon, after declaring Saddam's regime a major threat to Americans, after countless insinuations that it was somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks on our country, after endless denials that war with Iraq was necessarily on the administration's agenda, President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office. "My fellow citizens," he began, "at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger…"

Almost four years later, all the above elements are again in place, this time in relation to Iran -- with Iranian responsibility for the deaths of Americans in Iraq replacing Iraqi responsibility for the deaths of Americans in New York and Washington. On a careful reading of our President's latest speeches and statements, Michael Klare has noted that an actual list of charges against Iran, a case for war, has already essentially been drawn up, making it easy enough to imagine that at 10:16 PM on some night not so very distant from this one, from that same desk in the Oval Office, the President of the United States might again begin, "My fellow citizens, at this hour…" But read on for yourself. Tom

Bush's Future Iran War Speech
Three Charges in the Case for War
By Michael T. Klare

Sometime this spring or summer, barring an unexpected turnaround by Tehran, President Bush is likely to go on national television and announce that he has ordered American ships and aircraft to strike at military targets inside Iran. We must still sit through several months of soap opera at the United Nations in New York and assorted foreign capitals before this comes to pass, and it is always possible that a diplomatic breakthrough will occur -- let it be so! -- but I am convinced that Bush has already decided an attack is his only option and the rest is a charade he must go through to satisfy his European allies. The proof of this, I believe, lies half-hidden in recent public statements of his, which, if pieced together, provide a casus belli, or formal list of justifications, for going to war.

Three of his statements, in particular, contained the essence of this justification: his January 10 televised speech on his plan for a troop "surge" in Iraq, his State of the Union Address of January 23, and his first televised press conference of the year on February 14. None of these was primarily focused on Iran, but the President used each of them to warn of the extraordinary dangers that country poses to the United States and to hint at severe U.S. reprisals if the Iranians did not desist from "harming U.S. troops." In each, moreover, he laid out various parts of the overall argument he will certainly use to justify an attack on Iran. String these together in one place and you can almost anticipate what Bush's speechwriters will concoct before he addresses the American people from the Oval Office sometime later this year. Think of them as talking points for the next war. ...

The War On Terror  

Posted by Big Gav

Dynamite Surfing  

Posted by Big Gav

My pre-Christmas "Gone Surfing" post featured some extremely dedicated dudes in Cleveland (or thereabouts) who spent their winters surfing the breaks of Lake Erie.

While the lakes of Copenhagen are even less of a surfing destination than the Great Lakes, dedicated surfers can catch a wave from time to time if they have the right equipment.

(For those wondering if this blog has gone completely off the rails, I'll get back on topic when I resume the normal posting schedule in a week or two)

Go Home Cheney  

Posted by Big Gav

Dick the Torturer is in town and is now messing up the traffic - just one more minor item to add to his immense list of crimes. The Sydney Morning Herald celebrated the little creep's arrival with a great review of his accomplishments, noting he is just a lame duck (hunter) - a mere "blast from the past".

Dick Cheney has arrived in Sydney, as popular as the traffic snarls he brings, as palatable as the gulag at Guantanamo he helped create. We are told he's here to show appreciation for Australia's support in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He is an odd choice as an emissary of goodwill.

Cheney is generally regarded in Washington DC as the most powerful vice-president in memory. It is a pity of historical proportions that he used that power to advance dismally unsuccessful and destructive policy.

In decisions on the great issues of our times, he has represented the narrowest definition of US interest and the most violently counterproductive prescription for achieving it. He is the uber-hawk of the Western world.

The Iraq war is the first exhibit, but it is not the most extreme. In August 2002, frustrated that talk of a diplomatic solution was threatening to intrude on his personal timetable for the invasion of Baghdad, Cheney decided to push US policy into a more aggressive phase.

George Bush had said that Saddam Hussein "desires" weapons of mass destruction. Cheney took it further. "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is massing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us," he said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was "as great a threat as can be imagined".

The speech was tantamount to a declaration of war and we know from Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack that Colin Powell, Bush's then secretary of state, was "astonished". Powell said Cheney seemed to be in a "fever" for war.

His martial ambition for his country sat uncomfortably on a man who had none for himself. With the US at war in Vietnam, the young Cheney, of drafting age, applied for four deferments to avoid service. "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service," he would say later. This is why he has been branded in the US as one of the Administration's so-called "chicken hawks".

And yet Cheney has the hide, during his visit to Sydney, to schedule an event at Victoria Barracks where he will pose with Aussie war veterans, hoping, one presumes, for valour by association.

The Bush Administration's policy of obtaining information "under duress" from detainees in US facilities abroad, a practice otherwise known as torture, is another Cheney accomplishment.

Powell's former chief of staff, the retired army colonel Larry Wilkerson, told CNN in November 2005, during a discussion of torture policy: "There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated." In the office of the Vice-President of the United States.

Dick Cheney has arrived in Sydney, as popular as the traffic snarls he brings, as palatable as the gulag at Guantanamo he helped create. We are told he's here to show appreciation for Australia's support in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He is an odd choice as an emissary of goodwill.

Cheney is generally regarded in Washington DC as the most powerful vice-president in memory. It is a pity of historical proportions that he used that power to advance dismally unsuccessful and destructive policy.

In decisions on the great issues of our times, he has represented the narrowest definition of US interest and the most violently counterproductive prescription for achieving it. He is the uber-hawk of the Western world.

The Iraq war is the first exhibit, but it is not the most extreme. In August 2002, frustrated that talk of a diplomatic solution was threatening to intrude on his personal timetable for the invasion of Baghdad, Cheney decided to push US policy into a more aggressive phase.

George Bush had said that Saddam Hussein "desires" weapons of mass destruction. Cheney took it further. "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is massing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us," he said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was "as great a threat as can be imagined".

The speech was tantamount to a declaration of war and we know from Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack that Colin Powell, Bush's then secretary of state, was "astonished". Powell said Cheney seemed to be in a "fever" for war.

His martial ambition for his country sat uncomfortably on a man who had none for himself. With the US at war in Vietnam, the young Cheney, of drafting age, applied for four deferments to avoid service. "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service," he would say later. This is why he has been branded in the US as one of the Administration's so-called "chicken hawks".

And yet Cheney has the hide, during his visit to Sydney, to schedule an event at Victoria Barracks where he will pose with Aussie war veterans, hoping, one presumes, for valour by association.

The Bush Administration's policy of obtaining information "under duress" from detainees in US facilities abroad, a practice otherwise known as torture, is another Cheney accomplishment.

Powell's former chief of staff, the retired army colonel Larry Wilkerson, told CNN in November 2005, during a discussion of torture policy: "There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated." In the office of the Vice-President of the United States.

Where the war dismayed the peoples of the world, including many pro-American ones, the torture policy disgusted them. This Vice-President has betrayed the high idealism that the US, at its best, has long offered the world.

"How can America go around the world preaching democracy and human rights with a straight face while you have the Vice-President in Washington defending torture?" asks Jim Steinberg, the dean of international relations at the University of Texas and a former deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration.

So it may come as no surprise that Cheney, who vanishes to "an undisclosed location" in times of danger and whose only notable act of personal derring-do was to shoot his friend during a hunting expedition, is not terribly popular in today's America. A Harris poll this month put his approval rating at 29 per cent, his all-time low in the Harris series, making him several points more unpopular than the President.

John Howard will embrace the Vice-President today and tomorrow, but could he really want to be seen in close company with this man at this moment as Kevin Rudd brings his Iraq policy under fresh scrutiny? Even old Republican friends of Cheney have disavowed him for his fevered embrace of the neo-conservative agenda of imposing democracy at the point of a gun.

The national security adviser to two Republican presidents, Brent Scowcroft, one of the wise old men of US foreign policy, told The New Yorker magazine: "I consider Cheney a good friend. I've known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don't know any more."

Still, despite the political liability that Cheney has become, Howard can use the opportunity to reassert his title as the custodian of the US alliance, always a positive in the eyes of Australian voters.

Cheney may be in Australia to say thanks, but he is also here because he has a lot less to do in Washington these days. The Democratic Party's victory in the congressional elections brought a clear end to the power of the neocon agenda in US politics. The firing of Donald Rumsfeld, one of Cheney's greatest allies in the Administration, was the clearest public indication that the neocon era was over.

And look what has happened since. Last week the North Koreans agreed to suspend their nuclear weapons program. It was a deal the former Bush neocon John Bolton said that the US State Department had wanted to do six years earlier.

Why hadn't it? In part because Cheney vetoed it. Cheney has always believed that the US should never make any up-front concessions in any negotiation. Speaking of Cheney and Rumsfeld, the former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had said: "Their idea of diplomacy is to say, 'Look f---er, you do what we want."'

But the marginalisation of the neocon project has meant that Cheney's influence has been reduced, as The Washington Post pointed out this week. And so the deal was allowed to be done.

The US has moved into the post-neocon phase, and the fact that Cheney is here for the first time in six years, to say "thanks", is a sign that he doesn't have more important things to do in DC in his reduced status. And, however unloved he may be here, Americans are in no great rush to welcome him home again.

Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, yesterday made this generous offer: "We are willing to let you have him for as long as you like."

Cheney also showed up, as he does from time to time, in the tinfoil halls of RI.
When Oppenheimer said "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," I wonder whether he could have imagined how right and how wrong he was, and that he was speaking for more than himself and his bomb, because no force in the world today - and arguably any day - is a more efficient instrument of Will to Death than the United States of America.

The Jackass War

Pat Dollard might agree, and say "Fuck yeah." The former Hollywood agent is now lionized by Fox and Republican revanchists for his midlife makeover to "War on Terror" propagandist. His time self-embedded in Iraq has become Young Americans, the trailer of which plays like Jackass goes to War, and includes footage of a Marine raising a severed Iraqi head to the camera to a thrashing soundtrack of "If you don't like it you can suck my dick!"

Dollard is profiled in the March Vanity Fair - the longest profile in the magazine's history - and when asked about the footage he laughs: "The true savagery in this war is being committed by the American left on the minds of the young men and women serving over there by repeatedly telling them that their cause is lost. My goal is to de-sensitize young people to violence." He calls liberals "nihilistic."

Tony Snow describes Dollard as a "true believer," while a 17-year old high school student writes that "the clips I've seen of Young Americans are an inspiration and its time someone tells the truth. Thanks for putting your life on the line for the better of the country."

But there's much more to Dollard. He's also a ...

... And as awful as it is, Dollard is right. As right as Pasolini was when he had one of Salo's torturers say "We Fascists are the only true anarchists. Once we've become masters of the state, true anarchy is that of power." Transgressive brutality is a path of transformation, at least to a sociopath, and fascism is an ideology of sociopaths. Dollard is embraced by America's fascist elite because behind their paper house of flittering justifications for catastrophe, he's the exultant "Fuck Yeah!" the architects of mayhem still don't dare exclaim in public.

George Bush is not the architect of his wars, but rather another cowboy advocate, and like Dollard he can still delight in them even as he fulfills his job on the team by lying them into being. A couple of weeks ago Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi, a grandson of a Pahlavi-era minister of Iran, used a presidential reception to warn, Bush, as though he didn't already know, that "one US bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized." Bush answered, "I know," to which Soroush responded, "But does Vice President Cheney know?" Bush walked away, chuckling.

Of course, everyone wants to know what Cheney knows, and that's Cheney's delight. For one example some may find ridiculous, but which exists as an example nonetheless, when asked on April 11, 2001 about whether he'd ever been briefed on UFOs Cheney replied "Well, if I had been briefed on it, I'm sure it was probably classified and I couldn't talk about it." He then added, "I have not come across the subject since I've been back in government, on like since January 20th." In other words, he would only say that he hadn't met on the subject in 10 weeks, and any more must remain classified. He could have said much less, but he made instead a near-tacit admission and so strung along "Disclosure" junkies that he may be one of the keepers of the keys. Whether he is or not is a matter of speculation, but why he might like to subtly foster that impression ought to be self-evident.

The "Time of Jacob's Trouble"

One other thing: Dick Cheney also presents a problem for the broad, alternative consensus that America has been warring in Israel's service. There is a kind of truth there, but one which only accounts for the appearance of things rather than their depths, and can't account at all for Cheney's intent. As Joseph Cannon recently wrote, "Does anyone really think that Cheney gives a damn about Zionism or Jews or the return of Jesus or Islamofascism or any of the other religious motivations one hears about?" Radicalizing seventy million Iranians and baiting the entire Muslim world towards acts of retaliation doesn't seem like a sensible strategy for Israeli security, just as we have no problem admitting it isn't one to make America safe, either. So perhaps we should stop thinking that that's really what's going on here.

A couple of years ago I suggested that neoconservatives are the "Lone Gunmen of Iraq. They're the patsies who'll eventually take the fall for its failure, which will actually mean success to the real players who've allowed them the liberty to play their hand." Similarly and in turn, Israel will be sacrificed for the choices of its own patsy-elite who, as I wrote, are not themselves innocent, but neither should perfect blame be laid at their feet. The Dispensationalists' playbook - which is still in play for general consumption, even if few in power actually believe its prophetic narrative - calls for "the Time of Jacob's Trouble," which is the utter ruin of Israel. ...

Moving back to more mainstream analysis, Noam Chomsky has an interesting (and long) interview in "Foreign Policy In Focus", which also mentions Cheney, along with those topics which rarely get mentioned - the Asian Energy Grid and the idea that US strategy in Iran is oriented around splitting off Khuzestan (and thus the oil and gas, which is all that really matters). One beef I have with Chomsky's analysis is that losing control of the middle east won't make the US a second rate power - as long as its moved away from oil as a primary energy source before it happens. Admittedly it loses a lot of control over Europe, Japan and China, but it would still remain first amongst equals for the foreseeable future (that famous "multi-polar world people talk about from time to time).
Noam Chomsky is a noted linguist, author, and foreign policy expert. On February 9, Michael Shank interviewed him on the latest developments in U.S. policy toward Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Venezuela. Along the way, Chomsky also commented on climate change, the World Social Forum, and why international relations are run like the mafia.

Shank: With similar nuclear developments in North Korea and Iran, why has the United States pursued direct diplomacy with North Korea but refuses to do so with Iran?

Chomsky: To say that the United States has pursued diplomacy with North Korea is a little bit misleading. It did under the Clinton administration, though neither side completely lived up to their obligations. Clinton didn’t do what was promised, nor did North Korea, but they were making progress. So when Bush came into the presidency, North Korea had enough uranium or plutonium for maybe one or two bombs, but then very limited missile capacity. During the Bush years it’s exploded. The reason is, he immediately canceled the diplomacy and he’s pretty much blocked it ever since. ...

But there is some minimal sense of optimism about it. If you look back over the record—and North Korea is a horrible place nobody is arguing about that—on this issue they’ve been pretty rational. It’s been a kind of tit-for-tat history. If the United States is accommodating, the North Koreans become accommodating. If the United States is hostile, they become hostile. That’s reviewed pretty well by Leon Sigal, who’s one of the leading specialists on this, in a recent issue of Current History. But that’s been the general picture and we’re now at a place where there could be a settlement on North Korea.

That’s much less significant for the United States than Iran. The Iranian issue I don’t think has much to do with nuclear weapons frankly. Nobody is saying Iran should have nuclear weapons –nor should anybody else. But the point in the Middle East, as distinct from North Korea, is that this is center of the world’s energy resources. Originally the British and secondarily the French had dominated it, but after the Second World War, it’s been a U.S. preserve. That’s been an axiom of U.S. foreign policy, that it must control Middle East energy resources. It is not a matter of access as people often say. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. In fact if the United States used no Middle East oil, it’d have the same policies. If we went on solar energy tomorrow, it’d keep the same policies. Just look at the internal record, or the logic of it, the issue has always been control. Control is the source of strategic power.

Dick Cheney declared in Kazakhstan or somewhere that control over pipeline is a “tool of intimidation and blackmail.” When we have control over the pipelines it’s a tool of benevolence. If other countries have control over the sources of energy and the distribution of energy then it is a tool of intimidation and blackmail exactly as Cheney said. And that’s been understood as far back as George Kennan and the early post-war days when he pointed out that if the United States controls Middle East resources it’ll have veto power over its industrial rivals. He was speaking particularly of Japan but the point generalizes.

So Iran is a different situation. It’s part of the major energy system of the world.

Shank: So when the United States considers a potential invasion you think it’s under the premise of gaining control? That is what the United States will gain from attacking Iran?

Chomsky: There are several issues in the case of Iran. One is simply that it is independent and independence is not tolerated. Sometimes it’s called successful defiance in the internal record. Take Cuba. A very large majority of the U.S. population is in favor of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and has been for a long time with some fluctuations. And even part of the business world is in favor of it too. But the government won’t allow it. It’s attributed to the Florida vote but I don’t think that’s much of an explanation. I think it has to do with a feature of world affairs that is insufficiently appreciated. International affairs is very much run like the mafia. The godfather does not accept disobedience, even from a small storekeeper who doesn’t pay his protection money. You have to have obedience otherwise the idea can spread that you don’t have to listen to the orders and it can spread to important places.

If you look back at the record, what was the main reason for the U.S. attack on Vietnam? Independent development can be a virus that can infect others. That’s the way it’s been put, Kissinger in this case, referring to Allende in Chile. And with Cuba it’s explicit in the internal record. Arthur Schlesinger, presenting the report of the Latin American Study Group to incoming President Kennedy, wrote that the danger is the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into your own hands, which has a lot of appeal to others in the same region that suffer from the same problems. Later internal documents charged Cuba with successful defiance of U.S. policies going back 150 years – to the Monroe Doctrine -- and that can’t be tolerated. So there’s kind of a state commitment to ensuring obedience.

Going back to Iran, it’s not only that it has substantial resources and that it’s part of the world’s major energy system but it also defied the United States. The United States, as we know, overthrew the parliamentary government, installed a brutal tyrant, was helping him develop nuclear power, in fact the very same programs that are now considered a threat were being sponsored by the U.S. government, by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kissinger, and others, in the 1970s, as long as the Shah was in power. But then the Iranians overthrew him, and they kept U.S. hostages for several hundred days. And the United States immediately turned to supporting Saddam Hussein and his war against Iran as a way of punishing Iran. The United States is going to continue to punish Iran because of its defiance. So that’s a separate factor.

And again, the will of the U.S. population and even US business is considered mostly irrelevant. Seventy five percent of the population here favors improving relations with Iran, instead of threats. But this is disregarded. We don’t have polls from the business world, but it’s pretty clear that the energy corporations would be quite happy to be given authorization to go back into Iran instead of leaving all that to their rivals. But the state won’t allow it. And it is setting up confrontations right now, very explicitly. Part of the reason is strategic, geo-political, economic, but part of the reason is the mafia complex. They have to be punished for disobeying us. ...

Shank: How can the U.S. government think an attack on Iran is feasible given troop availability, troop capacity, and public sentiment?

Chomsky: As far as I’m aware, the military in the United States thinks it’s crazy. And from whatever leaks we have from intelligence, the intelligence community thinks it’s outlandish, but not impossible. If you look at people who have really been involved in the Pentagon’s strategic planning for years, people like Sam Gardiner, they point out that there are things that possibly could be done.

I don’t think any of the outside commentators at least as far as I’m aware have taken very seriously the idea of bombing nuclear facilities. They say if there will be bombing it’ll be carpet bombing. So get the nuclear facilities but get the rest of the country too, with an exception. By accident of geography, the world’s major oil resources are in Shi’ite-dominated areas. Iran’s oil is concentrated right near the gulf, which happens to be an Arab area, not Persian. Khuzestan is Arab, has been loyal to Iran, fought with Iran not Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. This is a potential source of dissension. I would be amazed if there isn’t an attempt going on to stir up secessionist elements in Khuzestan. U.S. forces right across the border in Iraq, including the surge, are available potentially to “defend” an independent Khuzestan against Iran, which is the way it would be put, if they can carry it off.

Shank: Do you think that’s what the surge was for?

Chomsky: That’s one possibility. There was a release of a Pentagon war-gaming report, in December 2004, with Gardiner leading it. It was released and published in the Atlantic Monthly. They couldn’t come up with a proposal that didn’t lead to disaster, but one of the things they considered was maintaining troop presence in Iraq beyond what’s to be used in Iraq for troop replacement and so on, and use them for a potential land move in Iran -- presumably Khuzestan where the oil is. If you could carry that off, you could just bomb the rest of the country to dust.

Again, I would be amazed if there aren’t efforts to sponsor secessionist movements elsewhere, among the Azeri population for example. It’s a very complex ethnic mix in Iran; much of the population isn’t Persian. There are secessionist tendencies anyway and almost certainly, without knowing any of the facts, the United States is trying to stir them up, to break the country internally if possible. The strategy appears to be: try to break the country up internally, try to impel the leadership to be as harsh and brutal as possible.

That’s the immediate consequence of constant threats. Everyone knows that. That’s one of the reasons the reformists, Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji and others, are bitterly complaining about the U.S. threats, that it’s undermining their efforts to reform and democratize Iran. But that’s presumably its purpose. Since it’s an obvious consequence you have to assume it’s the purpose. Just like in law, anticipated consequences are taken as the evidence for intention. And here’s it so obvious you can’t seriously doubt it.

So it could be that one strain of the policy is to stir up secessionist movements, particularly in the oil rich regions, the Arab regions near the Gulf, also the Azeri regions and others. Second is to try to get the leadership to be as brutal and harsh and repressive as possible, to stir up internal disorder and maybe resistance. And a third is to try to pressure other countries, and Europe is the most amenable, to join efforts to strangle Iran economically. Europe is kind of dragging its feet but they usually go along with the United States.

The efforts to intensify the harshness of the regime show up in many ways. For example, the West absolutely adores Ahmadinejad. Any wild statement that he comes out with immediately gets circulated in headlines and mistranslated. They love him. But anybody who knows anything about Iran, presumably the editorial offices, knows that he doesn’t have anything to do with foreign policy. Foreign policy is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Khamenei. But they don’t report his statements, particularly when his statements are pretty conciliatory. For example, they love when Ahmadinejad says that Israel shouldn’t exist, but they don’t like it when Khamenei right afterwards says that Iran supports the Arab League position on Israel-Palestine. As far as I’m aware, it never got reported. Actually you could find Khamenei’s more conciliatory positions in the Financial Times, but not here. And it’s repeated by Iranian diplomats but that’s no good. The Arab League proposal calls for normalization of relations with Israel if it accepts the international consensus of the two-state settlement which has been blocked by the United States and Israel for thirty years. And that’s not a good story, so it’s either not mentioned or it’s hidden somewhere.

It’s very hard to predict the Bush administration today because they’re deeply irrational. They were irrational to start with but now they’re desperate. They have created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. This should’ve been one of the easiest military occupations in history and they succeeded in turning it into one of the worst military disasters in history. They can’t control it and it’s almost impossible for them to get out for reasons you can’t discuss in the United States because to discuss the reasons why they can’t get out would be to concede the reasons why they invaded.

We’re supposed to believe that oil had nothing to do with it, that if Iraq were exporting pickles or jelly and the center of world oil production were in the South Pacific that the United States would’ve liberated them anyway. It has nothing to do with the oil, what a crass idea. Anyone with their head screwed on knows that that can’t be true. Allowing an independent and sovereign Iraq could be a nightmare for the United States. It would mean that it would be Shi’ite-dominated, at least if it’s minimally democratic. It would continue to improve relations with Iran, just what the United States doesn’t want to see. And beyond that, right across the border in Saudi Arabia where most of Saudi oil is, there happens to be a large Shi’ite population, probably a majority.

Moves toward sovereignty in Iraq stimulate pressures first for human rights among the bitterly repressed Shi’ite population but also toward some degree of autonomy. You can imagine a kind of a loose Shi’ite alliance in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, controlling most of the world’s oil and independent of the United States. And much worse, although Europe can be intimidated by the United States, China can’t. It’s one of the reasons, the main reasons, why China is considered a threat. We’re back to the Mafia principle.

China has been there for 3,000 years, has contempt for the barbarians, is overcoming a century of domination, and simply moves on its own. It does not get intimidated when Uncle Sam shakes his fist. That’s scary. In particular, it’s dangerous in the case of the Middle East. China is the center of the Asian energy security grid, which includes the Central Asian states and Russia. India is also hovering around the edge, South Korea is involved, and Iran is an associate member of some kind. If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power. A lot is at stake in not withdrawing from Iraq.

I’m sure that these issues are discussed in internal planning. It’s inconceivable that they can’t think of this. But it’s out of public discussion, it’s not in the media, it’s not in the journals, it’s not in the Baker-Hamilton report. And I think you can understand the reason. To bring up these issues would open the question why the United States and Britain invaded. And that question is taboo.

It’s a principle that anything our leaders do is for noble reasons. It may be mistaken, it may be ugly, but basically noble. And if you bring in normal moderate, conservative, strategic, economic objectives you threatening that principle. It’s remarkable the extent to which it’s held. So the original pretexts for the invasion were weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida that nobody but maybe Wolfowitz or Cheney took seriously. The single question, as they kept reiterating in the leadership, was: will Saddam give up his programs of weapons of mass destruction? The single question was answered a couple of months later, the wrong way. And quickly the party line shifted. In November 2003, Bush announced his freedom agenda: our real goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, to transform the Middle East. That became the party line, instantly. ...

We prefer your extinction to the loss of our jobs  

Posted by Big Gav

While posts will remain sparse until the end of the month, the link bucket is getting the occasional refill now.

The Independent has an article from a Bangladeshi on who is suffering the effects of global warming first.

I invite anyone who remains cynical about the impact of climate change on the planet to visit Bangladesh. We have more floods. Our droughts have become more intense. The biggest mangrove forests in the world - the Sundarbans - are dying. We are losing precious biodiversity. You can see the effects of global warming with your own eyes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report released last month made clear the impact climate change could have on the world. But the terrible fact is that, even if all countries signed up to protect the environment, climate change will take its toll because the damage has been done.

For Bangladesh, a low-lying and densely populated country, the consequences are serious and unavoidable. We have learned to live with the kind of floods that come sporadically and last maybe three or four months. But it is estimated that by the end of the century up to 20 per cent of its land will be under water. We are talking about millions of people being displaced by permanent flooding.

These people - those who will be affected the most by climate change - are not the ones who caused it. It is time for the international community to realise that the countries that have damaged the environment will now have to pay for it.

More research is needed so that developing countries can learn how to strengthen their adaptive capacities. In Bangladesh, we need to restructure our development programme to accommodate the global sea rise. The issue of environmental refugees - the people who must be relocated when the floods come - has to be dealt with. We, like all developing nations, need more external funding for in-depth climate change research projects.

A reduction in carbon emissions is also crucial. We are very grateful to those countries who are doing their bit and trying to reduce the levels of their emissions. But the biggest players - the United States and Australia, for example - are not on board.

In this, the question of accountability is paramount. At the moment most Bangladeshis are not angry with anyone in particular because they do not understand the science behind what is happening. But slowly their frustration may turn into anger because this poor country had absolutely nothing to do with global warming. And yet, as ever, it is they who suffer.

The post title refers to a classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon (which refuses to embed in this page for some reason) which seems appropriate in this case...

Why Not Now ?  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm still on strike but I liked this speech from Ron Paul on "The Neoconservative Empire" this week so I thought I'd throw it in here. Frank Gaffney will no doubt be trying to have him hanged for treason as we speak...

Statement on the Iraq War Resolution
Before the U.S. House of Representatives February 14, 2007

This grand debate is welcomed but it could be that this is nothing more than a distraction from the dangerous military confrontation approaching with Iran and supported by many in leadership on both sides of the aisle.

This resolution, unfortunately, does not address the disaster in Iraq. Instead, it seeks to appear opposed to the war while at the same time offering no change of the status quo in Iraq. As such, it is not actually a vote against a troop surge. A real vote against a troop surge is a vote against the coming supplemental appropriation that finances it. I hope all of my colleagues who vote against the surge today will vote against the budgetary surge when it really counts: when we vote on the supplemental.

The biggest red herring in this debate is the constant innuendo that those who don’t support expanding the war are somehow opposing the troops. It’s nothing more than a canard to claim that those of us who struggled to prevent the bloodshed and now want it stopped are somehow less patriotic and less concerned about the welfare of our military personnel.

Osama bin Laden has expressed sadistic pleasure with our invasion of Iraq and was surprised that we served his interests above and beyond his dreams on how we responded after the 9/11 attacks. His pleasure comes from our policy of folly getting ourselves bogged down in the middle of a religious civil war, 7,000 miles from home that is financially bleeding us to death. Total costs now are reasonably estimated to exceed $2 trillion. His recruitment of Islamic extremists has been greatly enhanced by our occupation of Iraq.

Unfortunately, we continue to concentrate on the obvious mismanagement of a war promoted by false information and ignore debating the real issue which is: Why are we determined to follow a foreign policy of empire building and pre-emption which is unbecoming of a constitutional republic?

Those on the right should recall that the traditional conservative position of non-intervention was their position for most of the 20th Century-and they benefited politically from the wars carelessly entered into by the political left. Seven years ago the Right benefited politically by condemning the illegal intervention in Kosovo and Somalia. At the time conservatives were outraged over the failed policy of nation building.

It’s important to recall that the left, in 2003, offered little opposition to the pre-emptive war in Iraq, and many are now not willing to stop it by de-funding it or work to prevent an attack on Iran.

The catch-all phrase, “War on Terrorism,” in all honesty, has no more meaning than if one wants to wage a war against criminal gangsterism. It’s deliberately vague and non definable to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere, and under any circumstances. Don’t forget: the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with any terrorist attack against us including that on 9/11.

Special interests and the demented philosophy of conquest have driven most wars throughout history. Rarely has the cause of liberty, as it was in our own revolution, been the driving force. In recent decades our policies have been driven by neo-conservative empire radicalism, profiteering in the military industrial complex, misplaced do-good internationalism, mercantilistic notions regarding the need to control natural resources, and blind loyalty to various governments in the Middle East.

For all the misinformation given the American people to justify our invasion, such as our need for national security, enforcing UN resolutions, removing a dictator, establishing a democracy, protecting our oil, the argument has been reduced to this: If we leave now Iraq will be left in a mess-implying the implausible that if we stay it won’t be a mess.

Since it could go badly when we leave, that blame must be placed on those who took us there, not on those of us who now insist that Americans no longer need be killed or maimed and that Americans no longer need to kill any more Iraqis. We’ve had enough of both!

Resorting to a medical analogy, a wrong diagnosis was made at the beginning of the war and the wrong treatment was prescribed. Refusing to reassess our mistakes and insist on just more and more of a failed remedy is destined to kill the patient-in this case the casualties will be our liberties and prosperity here at home and peace abroad.

There’s no logical reason to reject the restraints placed in the Constitution regarding our engaging in foreign conflicts unrelated to our national security. The advice of the founders and our early presidents was sound then and it’s sound today.

We shouldn’t wait until our financial system is completely ruined and we are forced to change our ways. We should do it as quickly as possible and stop the carnage and financial bleeding that will bring us to our knees and force us to stop that which we should have never started.

We all know, in time, the war will be de-funded one way or another and the troops will come home. So why not now?

Dropping In Again  

Posted by Big Gav

Another temporary visit (I'll be back properly in 2 weeks), to note the release of the Senate inquiry into peak oil. Nigel Wilson in The Australian reports that our "Oil future raises burning questions", correctly noting that "Investment in alternative fuels may be key to self-sufficiency".

AT the height of last year's debate on oil prices, which led to governments increasing billion-dollar subsidies on LPG conversions for cars, a senate inquiry was launched into Australia's oil supply and the prospects for alternatives. The inquiry was prompted by a question posed by the Greens: whether Australia should be concerned about "peak oil", the theory that conventional oil production will reach a peak and then begin an irreversible decline.

Some would argue the world has already hit peak oil, but the consensus of peak oil theorists is that the peak will occur within the next 20 years. Of course, oil industry officials, particularly at ExxonMobil, argue that oil supply is a function of price and that for the foreseeable future there will be supplies adequate to meet demand.

But it is certainly true that oil discoveries in Australia are failing to keep up with demand. Analyst Graeme Bethune, of Energy Quest, noted last week that for two quarters last year Australia was in net energy deficit, that is, our revenue from oil, gas and coal exports was less than the cost of importing crude oil and refined petroleum products.

But the bringing into production of the Woodside-operated Enfield development on the North West Shelf brought the equation back into surplus late in the year. Incidentally, output at Enfield, which is 40 per cent owned by Mitsui, has been a lot less than predicted and Woodside has said that more wells are needed to extract the oil and lift production to 100,000 barrels a day (b/d).

The federal Government in its 2004 energy white paper acknowledged that Australia's oil discovery rate was falling and that essentially the country would have to rely on imports. It suggested that this increase in the balance of payments could be offset by high volumes of LNG exports. But what the past two years have shown is that while the price of crude oil has soared, there has not been a similar sustained increase in export LNG prices.

ASPO Australia comments:
This is the first time any Australian parliament has recognised Peak Oil as real.

The report is a most useful step forward. There is a lot of very valuable information in the depths of the report, giving a more balanced approach than the Executive Summary.

The report does follow somewhat the same path our conservative government has been taking for years with Global Warming, of tending to downplay the risks and consider only the best-case scenario.

Committee Chair, Government Senator Bill Heffernan, said in his tabling speech that Peak Oil was forecast in 20-40 years, if I recall his words correctly. This is in contrast to the many reliable forecasts that global oil production may probably peak in say 3-5 years or thereabouts. Inquiry originator, Senator Milne (Greens) was much better informed. In her summary speech she suggested that we may well be at Peak Oil now.

The report downplays the documented risks, gives high credence to biased US Government information and policies rather than to the warnings from independent petroleum scientists. The International Energy Agency is the OECD oil consuming nations’ counterbalance to the OPEC cartel, so it is far from unbiased. The IEA view is given far more credence and coverage by the Senate Committee than would be proper in an independent assessment of our oil vulnerability. However, the detailed report is more encouraging than one would assume from reading just the executive summary.

ASPO-Australia calls for an Intergovernmental Panel on Oil Depletion to be formed under the existing IPCC structure. It should provide a science-based view of the world oil production data, as free as possible from the political constraints which have influenced the Australian Senate report and also the US Government and IEA oil production estimates.

We also call on Australians to challenge the inertia and complacency of Federal and State Governments on the Peak Oil issue, just as is now happening with Climate Change. We should be preparing, well in advance, for the Petrol Droughts which are likely to come far sooner than Senator Heffernan would have us believe.

Crikey reports that Greens leader Bob Brown's proposal to ban coal exports from Australia has set the fox amongst the chickens. Hopefully they'll start to think a little more seriously about what Australia's economic future will look like in a decade's time, when king coal is getting killed off by international carbon taxes.
There's nothing better for a politician than a third party endorsement to add credence to your claims. That's especially so when the claim is that the Prime Minister is pursuing policies that will ruin the world for our children and the third party is the new Australian of the Year.

Greens Leader Bob Brown was in this position this morning when he launched into a stinging attack on both the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Opposition for not moving to shut down Australia’s coal industry. Senator Brown reinforced his already strong environmental credentials with support for the view of Professor Tim Flannery that it's no longer socially acceptable for Australia to keep exporting coal knowing the damage it's doing.

“Tim Flannery is right here and this is where politicians will panic, but we're exporting to the rest of the world what is effectively a deadly threat to the whole planet and to our children,” Senator Brown told Fran Kelly on Radio National.

The politicians will indeed panic - as they clamour to be the first to dismiss the notion that coal fired electricity generation be quickly phased out.

In the words of Flannery: "I think that we do need to ultimately close down those coal-fired power plants, but first we need to build the bridge to the new energy future."

Or of Senator Brown: “...We’re a rich and wealthy country, we can look after the coal miners and we can replace their fortunes with a much more job productive industry…”

Within the Labor Party there are already concerns that the party’s modest plans for more controls on carbon dioxide emissions will cost them the votes of miners and power station workers. In this morning’s Australian there was a report of nervous frontbenchers insisting “the future of the coal industry was safe.”

Those backbenchers clearly believe that Howard strikes a chord with his promise to balance climate change policies with the need to protect Australian jobs and economic growth. Advocating a phasing out of the coal industry would be impossible without splitting the Labor party so Kevin Rudd will no doubt join government ministers in dismissing Bob Brown as a crazed environmental zealot.

The Greens leader won't be concerned about that. His team don't have to worry about being seen as extremist. They're not after securing a majority of votes. A militant minority is all that's needed to elect a Green Senator in every state and Senator Brown did not miss the opportunity this morning to advocate the importance of the balance of power in the Senate being held by minor parties.

“...Labor can’t win in the senate, they can’t go from 27 to 38 or 39 seats and it’s up to the Greens to take back the balance of power….Take it [the Senate] back from being a rubber stamp for the Howard government," said Brown.

That argument will appeal to a lot of Australians and the cries of anger from industry, affected trade unions, Liberal, National and Labor won't cause any moderation of the Green view.

Expect to hear more such statements over the coming months as these from Bob Brown this morning:

BROWN: To suddenly ban coal exports would be massively dislocating [KELLY: Absolutely]… but we have to do it.. and we have to do it within a period of a government… [KELLY: within a period of one government?] ...that should be the sort of aim we’re looking at…
… the Prime Minister might say a 4 or 6 degree temperature rise, which is the upper end of expectations this century, is going to reduce the comfort level of people but in fact it's going to see massive death tolls, particularly with elderly people in Australia…massive extinction of Australia’s wildlife, it will see the Murray Darling flow shrink in a way that is almost unthinkable, water shortages for our big cities, massive dislocation of the lives and jobs of Australians and…tens of millions of people displaced around the world…

I usually retain a small amount of respect for The Rodent's large reserves of ratlike cunning, so I'm somewhat baffled by his recent initiation of hostilities with US Senator and Presidential candidate Barrack Obama, especially given his usual servile grovelling to anything that resembles political leadership from the US. I have 3 theories - first, he was so afraid of Laurie Oakes eating him that he was just gibbering in fear (seriously, has the Sphere of Influence been getting larger ? He seemed about 5 times Howard's size in their TV interview), second, he figures the Democrats hate him so much now that nothing he says will make any difference, and thirdly, that he genuinely believes the Republicans can somehow steal the next election (or Dick Cheney will just declare himself Emperor and dispense with polite fictions I guess).

Whatever the cause of this act of diplomatic stupidity (especially for someone who acts as though the US alliance is far more important than the feelings of local voters), its caused a well deserved furore, with the now resurgent Labor party getting in plenty of digs at Question Time (and the US media and various Democratic politicians getting stuck in as well - I even saw Wolf Blitzer taking some time to look at the matter, which I suspect is unusual for the utterances of Australian politicians). I think keeping the alliance on an even keel will require a change of government here before the Democrats take the White House...

From the SMH:
US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has blasted as "empty rhetoric" Australian Prime Minister John Howard's attack on Senator Obama's plan to bring US troops home from Iraq. The 45-year-old senator waded into a major foreign policy row just one day after formally announcing his candidacy, telling Mr Howard he should dispatch 20,000 Australians to Iraq if he wanted to back up his comments.

"I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced," Mr Obama told reporters in the mid-western US state of Iowa. "I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1400, so if he is ... to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq. "Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."

Mr Howard earlier attacked Senator Obama's plan to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. The conservative leader said on commercial television that Senator Obama's pledges on Iraq were good news only for insurgents operating in the war-ravaged country. "I think he's wrong. I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Mr Howard told the Nine Network. "If I were running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has defended his leader and dismissed Senator Obama's comments. "That would be half of our army. Australia is a much smaller country than the United States and so he might like to weigh that up," Mr Downer told ABC Radio. "It's entirely appropriate the Australian Government expresses its view in a free world. You won't get anywhere trying to close down debate."

However, both Republicans and Democrats have attacked Mr Howard's foray into their domestic affairs.

Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Convention, criticised Mr Howard's strong links to Mr Bush. "The Prime Minister has been a great friend of George Bush; he has been with him lock-step from day one on this war in Iraq," Mr McAuliffe said. "He and George Bush, they can go off and talk to each other, we don't care what he says."

Democrat senator Ron Wyden said it was hard to be polite about Mr Howard. "The most charitable thing you can say about Mr Howard's comment is bizarre," Senator Wyden said. "We'll make our own judgements in this country with respect to elections and Barack Obama is a terrific public servant."

Even Republicans have criticised Mr Howard for interfering in US domestic affairs. "I would prefer that Mr Howard stay out of our domestic politics and we will stay out of his domestic politics," Texas Republican senator John Cornyn said.

BAck to Crikey, a note on rapidly expanding local oil and gas services company Worley Parsons (one of the more successful denizens of my peak oil portfolio). One aspect of peak oil for investors to bear in mind is that the hunt for large numbers of the remaining smaller, more difficult to exploit oil fields means boom times for services companies for quite a few years to come (they'll probably be a better bet than most oil caompanies in fact).
The papers are gushing today about the $1.1 billion acquisition of Canada’s oil services company Colt Group by Perth-based engineering company WorleyParsons.

The AFR’s Street Talk column even quotes UBS, which is running the $480 million rights issue, as predicting the shares will hit $30.20. WorleyParsons shares are suspended whilst the raising is bedded down but they last traded at just $22.60.

If co-founder and CEO John Grill takes up his full entitlement and the mooted re-rating does indeed come through, he’ll quickly join the exclusive club of Australians with a paper holding exceeding $1 billion.

Richard Branson is continuing his little crusade against global warming, with the latest flurry of publicity surrounding the Virgin Earth Challenge.
Today, Sir Richard Branson and Al Gore announced the setting up of a new Global science and technology prize – The Virgin Earth Challenge – in the belief that history has shown that prizes of this nature encourage technological advancements for the good of mankind. The Virgin Earth Challenge will award $25 million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without countervailing harmful effects. This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate.

Sir Richard also announced that he would be joined in the adjudication of the Prize by a panel of five judges - all world authorities in their respective fields: Al Gore, Sir Crispin Tickell, Tim Flannery, Jim Hansen and James Lovelock. The panel of judges will be assisted in their deliberations by The Climate Group and Special Advisor to The Virgin Earth Prize Judges, Steve Howard (see Editors notes for biographies).

The timing of the announcement of the Virgin Earth Challenge was particularly apt given the recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes, which last week announced that temperatures on earth could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of this Century.

The report, the most comprehensive to date from a UN Agency detailed the catastrophe results which even seemingly small temperature raises could have on our planet: at + 2.4C coral reefs around the world would become extinct; + 3.4C would result in the rain forests becoming deserts; an increase of + 4.4C would result in the ice caps melting and severe heat waves across the globe displacing millions; the IPCC further predicted that sea levels could rise by 5 metres if temperatures reached + 5.4C which would result in ten of millions of climate refugees.

For the first time ever a 6.4C raise was mentioned within UN predictions. If this were to occur it would result in most of life on our planet being exterminated.

Sir Richard Branson commented: “We all now know that something radical has got to be done to turn back the tide of global warming. By launching the $25 million Virgin Earth Challenge, the largest ever science and technology prize to be offered in history, we want to encourage scientists and individuals from around the world to come up with a way of removing lethal carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere. By competing for this prize they will follow in the footsteps of many of history’s greatest inventors and innovators. But in this case potentially save the planet. It is our hope and belief that the winner of The Virgin Earth Challenge will help to reverse the collision course our beautiful world is currently on. They will not only make history but preserve history for many, many generations to come.

However, it is important to remember that there is a real possibility that no one will win this prize. Governments, and their people, must continue to use every effort to radically reduce CO2 emissions. “

A Titan Arum has flowered mid-winter at the Eden Project in Cornwall, giving off its customary Bush-like stench.
Unseasonably warm weather may have tricked the world's smelliest plant into blooming in the middle of the northern hemisphere winter, botanists at the Eden Project where the native of Sumatra is housed, told Reuters.

The warmth of 2006 and mild winter to date have encouraged the Titan Arum or Corpse Flower into a phenomenal growth spurt and into flower - an event that usually happens only once every six to nine years.

"The Titan, standing at 164 cms tall is now giving off a revolting stink," said curator Don Murray. "It is a cross between rotten cheese, dog poo and something dead. Tonight the flowers will be in full bloom - as will the stench - and that will last through Tuesday and Wednesday. But by Thursday it will have started to die back," he told Reuters from the project in Cornwall, southwest of London.

Murray said it was highly abnormal for the plant to flower in winter. "Last year's unprecedented warm temperatures and high sunshine levels and the extremely mild winter we are currently experiencing have to be considered as a factor in this rare occurrence," he said.

On an off topic note, I've been following the various afflictions the bee population has been suffering in recent years (something far more important than might be immediately apparent, given their crucial role in keeping the world's plant life breeding. The latest adversary is Colony Collapse Disorder.

A mysterious illness is killing tens of thousands of honeybee colonies across the country, threatening honey production, the livelihood of beekeepers and possibly crops that need bees for pollination. Researchers are scrambling to find the cause of the ailment, called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Reports of unusual colony deaths have come from at least 22 states. Some affected commercial beekeepers _ who often keep thousands of colonies _ have reported losing more than 50 percent of their bees. A colony can have roughly 20,000 bees in the winter, and up to 60,000 in the summer. "We have seen a lot of things happen in 40 years, but this is the epitome of it all," Dave Hackenberg, of Lewisburg-based Hackenberg Apiaries, said by phone from Fort Meade, Fla., where he was working with his bees.

The country's bee population had already been shocked in recent years by a tiny, parasitic bug called the varroa mite, which has destroyed more than half of some beekeepers' hives and devastated most wild honeybee populations.

Along with being producers of honey, commercial bee colonies are important to agriculture as pollinators, along with some birds, bats and other insects. A recent report by the National Research Council noted that in order to bear fruit, three-quarters of all flowering plants _ including most food crops and some that provide fiber, drugs and fuel _ rely on pollinators for fertilization.

Hackenberg, 58, was first to report Colony Collapse Disorder to bee researchers at Penn State University. He notified them in November when he was down to about 1,000 colonies _ after having started the fall with 2,900. "We are going to take bees we got and make more bees ... but it's costly," he said. "We are talking about major bucks. You can only take so many blows so many times."

One beekeeper who traveled with two truckloads of bees to California to help pollinate almond trees found nearly all of his bees dead upon arrival, said Dennis vanEnglesdorp, acting state apiarist for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "I would characterize it as serious," said Daniel Weaver, president of the American Beekeeping Federation. "Whether it threatens the apiculture industry in the United States or not, that's up in the air."

Scientists at Penn State, the University of Montana and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are among the quickly growing group of researchers and industry officials trying to solve the mystery.

Technology Review has good news for birds about the impact of offshore wind farms.
Uncertainty surrounding wind power's impact on wildlife--particularly the potential for deadly collisions between birds and turbines--has tarnished its image and even delayed some wind farms. Indeed, the first large offshore wind farm proposed for U.S. waters--the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts's Nantucket Sound--has been held up in part by concerns that its 130 turbines could kill thousands of seabirds annually. Now a simple infrared collision-detection system developed by Denmark's National Environmental Research Institute is helping clear the air.

The Thermal Animal Detection System (TADS) is essentially a heat-activated infrared video camera that watches a wind turbine around the clock, recording deadly collisions much as a security camera captures crimes. The first results, released this winter as part of a comprehensive $15 million study of Denmark's large offshore wind farms, show seabirds to be remarkably adept at avoiding offshore installations. "There had been suggestions that enormous numbers of birds would be killed," says Robert Furness, a seabird specialist at the University of Glasgow, who chaired the study's scientific advisory panel. "There's a greater feeling now among European politicians that marine wind farms are not going to be a major ecological problem, and therefore going ahead with construction is not going to raise lots of political difficulties."

The Danish findings are also resonating across the Atlantic, casting doubt on worst-case scenarios presented by Cape Wind's opponents. "The results make us guardedly optimistic," says Taber Allison, vice president for conservation science at the Lincoln, MA-based conservation group Mass Audubon and an outspoken critic of ecological studies by Boston-based Cape Wind Associates.

TADS was developed to solve a problem specific to monitoring bird collisions at offshore wind farms, in this case the 80-turbine Horns Rev wind farm off Denmark's North Sea coast and the 72-turbine Nysted wind farm in the Baltic. The Danish researchers at Horns Rev and Nysted used visual monitoring and radar tracking, which showed that most birds avoided the farms altogether or flew down the half-kilometer-wide gaps between the wind farms' orderly rows of turbines. But the researchers still could not rule out the possibility that some birds were flying close enough to strike the turbine blades, which spin as fast as 80 meters per second at the tip. Of particular concern were larger seabirds, especially the common eiders that migrate through the area. "We were concerned that these large, rather clumsy birds might not be able to maneuver around the turbines," says Danish environmental institute researcher Mark Desholm, who designed TADS.

What makes TADS practical for continuous operation is software Desholm wrote to activate recording when a warm object enters the video camera's field of vision. According to Furness, the need to sift through thousands of hours of film was a major limitation for researchers who had previously tried infrared monitoring. He says that other automated collision monitoring that relies on vibration sensors on the blades and towers has failed to produce a reliable system. "This is the first system which has really functioned," says Furness.

WorldChanging has some good news from Niger, which is managing to make the desert greener.
Last year, Alex wrote a piece about the importance of climate foresight for subsistence farmers in drought-prone areas like the Sahel. Desertification and rainfall variation, along with the resulting loss of topsoil and land productivity, pose a tremendous threat to those already living at the edge of survival on arid farmland. At the same time, significant population growth places added stress on scarce food sources and unpredictable crop yields.

But in the face of these unpromising odds, Niger has in fact become more green in the last few decades, with more than 7.4 million formerly barren acres of the countryside now covered in trees, a feat "achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility."

Geoff Manaugh covered this citizen-driven restoration about four months ago when the New Scientist mentioned the unexpected green resurgence. Given that we've just been handed proof of human accountability in causing climate change, it's a timely moment to learn that humans are also ameliorating dire regional conditions, essentially establishing an emergency preparedness plan even without the advantages of high-tech foresight methods.
Today, the success in growing new trees suggests that the harm to much of the Sahel may not have been permanent, but a temporary loss of fertility. The evidence, scientists say, demonstrates how relatively small changes in human behavior can transform the regional ecology, restoring its biodiversity and productivity.

It's hard to trust the words "temporary" and "permanent" in the context of absolutely unpredictable planetary shifts, but the idea that people can heal as well as harm offers a seed of hope. The farmers simply chose to start tending to saplings in the cultivation of their land, allowing them to grow amongst the staple sorghum, millet, peanuts and beans instead of clearing them. The resulting benefits for rural farmers touch every facet of life. Not only do the trees provide additional nutrition sources, they fix and fertilize soil, hold moisture in the ground, and create the possibility of extra income.

The Energy Blog has a post on the use of lightweight plastics in the design of the new GM Volt electric car (yes - its just a GE press release but it shows Amory Lovins' vision for vehicles is slowly coming true, contrary to the assertions of one recent ill-informed commenter).
GE Plastics’ differentiated technologies helped reduce the Volt weight and optimize its fuel efficiency so that drivers can now skip the pump to extend their mileage and increase savings. GE fuel saving technologies showcased on the Chevy Volt include:

* Roof made with Lexan™ GLX resins and Exatec™ Coating Technology
* Rear Deck Lid and Fixed Side Glazing made with Lexan™ GLX resins and Exatec™ Coating Technology
* Doors and Hood made with Xenoy™ iQ High Performance ThermoPlastic Composites (HPPC)
* Global energy absorber and hybrid rear energy absorbers with Xenoy iQ resins
* Steering Wheel and Instrument Panel with integrated airbag chute made with Lexan™ EXL resins
* Front Fenders made with Noryl GTX™ resins
* Wire Coating made with Flexible Noryl™ resins

These plastic materials allow for less fuel consumption, fewer carbon dioxide emissions, and improved overall performance.

The BBC has a report on the new controls on information access in Windows Vista - apparently its an energy sapper as well as a tool for big brother...
The launch of Windows Vista last week was accompanied by widespread criticism from advocates of open systems, open networks and the free flow of information.
Particular attention was lavished on the digital rights management (DRM) features of the new operating system, the tools that determine whether you can play or copy video or audio on your computer.

Vista's DRM even aroused the wrath of the Green Party, which condemned it for requiring "more expensive and energy-hungry hardware". It claimed that "there will be thousands of tonnes of dumped monitors, video cards and whole computers that are perfectly capable of running Vista - except for the fact they lack the paranoid lock down mechanisms Vista forces you to use". ...

It is also as easy for an oppressive, illiberal and authoritarian government to make use of the network as it is for a liberal social democratic administration, as we see in China, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. Yet now governments and corporations around the world are making a concerted effort to dismantle the open internet and replace it with a regulated and regulable one that will allow them to impose an "architecture of control".

The freedom of expression that was once available to users of the Internet Protocol is being stripped away. Our freedom to play, experiment, share and seek inspiration from the creative works of others is increasingly restricted so that large companies can lock our culture down for their own profit. If a closed network is built then the losers will be those who want to use the net freely, to share information across borders, to explore ideas or challenge institutions. ...

Microsoft's Vista will be used in millions of homes, and people will find it simpler, easier, safer and more stable than previous versions of Windows. They will appreciate the effort that went into developing the "Aero" user interface, the new security features that protect them more effectively from spam and viruses, and the way lots of things just work, like the improved wireless networking.

They will rarely notice the limitations, because they are not the sort of people who download films from the net or try to make copies of their DVDs. But the day will come when they do notice. It is not that the features built into Windows are evil, as some of the more hyperbolic bloggers claim, nor even that they are unnecessary.

It is that they change the way our computers work and the way they relate to the network, and those changes could be used to take away our freedoms. Thanks to the internet we are seeing an unprecedented shift of power from the centre to the people, a shift that we observe in the media, in politics and in the way large companies respond to their customers.

We need to ensure that the freedoms we currently enjoy online are preserved as the network evolves, or this shift could easily end up as minor historical footnote

The war drums are beating ever louder in preparation for the attack on Iran - the big link farms are full of articles either highlighting the work of the propaganda machine or analysing what is going on in and around the gulf.

The Australian is always the best local place to get the party line, with Iran being blamed for US casualties in Iraq (cassus beli number 1). I love the way these briefings are always made anonymously - why can't they trot out Colin Powell to run us through the evidence again. Moon Of Alabama (Billmon may be gone but his fans live on) is continuing to cast a cynical eye over the news flow.

SOPHISTICATED Iranian-built bombs smuggled into Iraq have killed at least 170 US and allied soldiers since June 2004, senior US defence officials have said, amid ongoing carnage.

The allegation that Iran is backing Shi'ite extremists came as suspected Sunni insurgents killed more than 30 people, most of them members of the security forces, in a spate of bomb and gun attacks in northern Iraq. US defence officials presented their evidence yesterday at a background briefing in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, after Washington stepped up criticism of Iran.

The allegations will feed a fierce international debate over relations with the Islamic republic, whose nuclear program is already at the centre of mounting tension amid reports that the US is readying air strikes. "Iran is involved in supplying explosively formed projectiles or EFPs and other material to Iraqi extremist groups," a senior official from the US-led multinational coalition told journalists.

Three coalition officials met reporters to point the finger at the Al-Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, part of Tehran's elite forces accused of links with foreign militants. "The Qods Force arms extremists and insurgents to carry out terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare," he said. "The Qods Force provides advice, training and weapons to proxy forces in Iraq." The men spoke on condition of anonymity for their security and cameras and recording devices were barred from the briefing, where an array of mortar shells and booby traps were laid out for inspection.

Reporters were issued with a disc containing photographs of alleged Iranian weapons seized in Iraq - a Misagh-1 ground-to-air missile, EFPs and mortar shells - showing manufacturing dates in late 2006.

A senior defence analyst said US-led forces had evidence that Iran had stepped up shipments of EFPs, factory-built explosives designed to cut through armour, to armed Iraqi Shiite groups. He said five Iranians arrested in January in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil were Al-Qods force officers who had no diplomatic cover and had tried to flush documents down a toilet as they were arrested. "We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government," he said, noting that the Al-Qods brigade reports to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.

The senior official said Iran's involvement was being revealed as a "force protection measure". "They're pretty devastating," he said of the EFPs, holding up a lump of melted metal that he said had been fired through a US vehicle. More than 170 US and coalition troops have been killed by these things, and 620 wounded. There was a significant increase in their use over the past six months," he added.

MOA has a post wondering where the missiles that have downing US choppers in Iraq are coming from. I'll add another contender to the list of possible suspects - parts of the Russian military that remember their own disaster in Afghanistan, in a angry kind of way...
In Iraq the U.S. today lost its fifth helicopter in just 18 days.

It took them a while, but now the resistance claims to have received new weapons. Man-portable-air-defense-systems (MANPADS) like the Stinger or the equivalent Russian model Strela-2(SA-7).
In December, a spokesman for Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath party, Khudair al-Murshidi, told The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria, that Sunni insurgents had received shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and "we are going to surprise them," meaning U.S. forces.

In their war in Afghanistan the then surprised Sowjets lost hundreds of helicopters after the U.S. equipped the Taliban with such weapons.

Over the years, the U.S. tried to minimize using roads to transport personnal in Iraq and switched to more air transport. The roads became too dangerous.

Expensive new devices were developed and deployed against IEDs. Bush's new budget requests another $2.4 billion for anti-IED technology.

But while the U.S. upgrades its equipment, the resistance downgrades to cheaper and less complicate technology. Instead of radio or infrared controlled bombs, they now use simple pressure switches, baking tray mines and they doubled the numbers of deployed IEDs.

With both means of transport now equally endangered and a surge plan that emphasizes more and smaller bases, the U.S. casualty rate will jump upwards.

Next to transport, another major use of helicopters is direct fire support for ground troops. If helicopters are not able to provide that anymore, the alternative is less precise bombing from fixed wing aircraft or heavy artillery. Both are less precise. The result will be more collateral Iraqi casualties.

As the Sunni (and Al-Qaida in Iraq) claim to have received these weapons, and the helos downed over Anbar support that claim, it is unlikely that their Iranian arch-enemies have supplied these. More likely are Egyptian and Saudi origin and supply lines through Jordan. But those are moderate countries while Syria and Iran are extremist and U.S. propaganda will therefore claim the weapons came from there.

But if the resistance is can acquire a warehouse full of U.S. uniforms and equipment, "enough to supply a whole army battalion," their real supplier might still be somewhere else.

Noam Chomsky has an article in The Independent on the Iraq occupation and once again mentioning the Chinese plan for an Asian Energy Grid.
There was unprecedented élite condemnation of the plans to invade Iraq. Sensible analysts were able to perceive that the enterprise carried significant risks for US interests, however conceived. Phrases thrown in by the official Presidential Directive from the standard boilerplate about freedom that accompany every action, and are close to a historical universal, were dismissed as meaningless by reasonable people. Global opposition was utterly overwhelming, and the likely costs to the US were apparent, though the catastrophe created by the invasion went far beyond anyone's worst expectations. It's amusing to watch the lying as the strongest supporters of the war try to deny what they very clearly said.

On the US motives for staying in Iraq, I can only repeat what I've been saying for years. A sovereign Iraq, partially democratic, could well be a disaster for US planners. With a Shia majority, it is likely to continue improving relations with Iran. There is a Shia population right across the border in Saudi Arabia, bitterly oppressed by the US-backed tyranny. Any step towards sovereignty in Iraq encourages activism there for human rights and a degree of autonomy - and that happens to be where most of Saudi oil is.

Sovereignty in Iraq might well lead to a loose Shia alliance controlling most of the world's petroleum resources and independent of the US, undermining a primary goal of US foreign policy since it became the world-dominant power after the Second World War. Worse yet, though the US can intimidate Europe, it cannot intimidate China, which blithely goes its own way, even in Saudi Arabia, the jewel in the crown - the primary reason why China is considered a leading threat. An independent energy bloc in the Gulf area is likely to link up with the China-based Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Council, with Russia (which has its own huge resources) as an integral part, and with the Central Asian states (already members), possibly India. Iran is already associated with them, and a Shia-dominated bloc in the Arab states might well go along. All of that would be a nightmare for US planners and their Western allies.

There are, then, very powerful reasons why the US and UK are likely to try in every possible way to maintain effective control over Iraq. The US is not constructing a palatial embassy, by far the largest in the world and virtually a separate city within Baghdad, and pouring money into military bases, with the intention of leaving Iraq to Iraqis. All of this is quite separate from the expectations that matters can be arranged so that US corporations profit from the vast riches of Iraq.

These topics, though high on the agenda of planners, are not within the realm of discussion, as can easily be determined. That is only to be expected. These considerations violate the fundamental doctrine that state power has noble objectives, and while it may make terrible blunders, it can have no crass motives and is not influenced by domestic concentrations of private power. Any questioning of these Higher Truths is either ignored or bitterly denounced, also for good reasons: allowing them to be discussed could undermine power and privilege. ...

On withdrawal proposals from élite circles, however, I think one should be cautious. Some may be so deeply indoctrinated that they cannot allow themselves to think about the reasons for the invasion or the insistence on maintaining the occupation, in one or another form. Others may have in mind more effective techniques of control by redeploying US military forces in bases in Iraq and in the region, making sure to control logistics and support for client forces in Iraq, air power in the style of the destruction of much of Indochina after the business community turned against the war, and so on.

As to the consequences of a US withdrawal, we are entitled to have our personal judgements, all of them as uninformed and dubious as those of US intelligence. But they do not matter. What matters is what Iraqis think. Or rather, that is what should matter, and we learn a lot about the character and moral level of the reigning intellectual culture from the fact that the question of what the victims want barely even arises. ...

US policy should be that of all aggressors: (1) pay reparations; (2) attend to the will of the victims; (3) hold the guilty parties accountable, in accord with the Nuremberg principles, the UN Charter, and other international instruments. A more practical proposal is to work to change the domestic society and culture substantially enough so that what should be done can at least become a topic for discussion. That is a large task, not only on this issue, though I think élite opposition is far more ferocious than that of the general public.

The Washington Post has an article by a man who worked as a US interrogator in Iraq about his recurring nightmares.
A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.

That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The man, whose name I've long since forgotten, was a suspected associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath Party leader in Anbar province who had been captured two months earlier.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.

While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I'm ashamed of that failure, but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to infect my every thought, I'm becoming more ashamed of my silence.

Some may suggest there is no reason to revive the story of abuse in Iraq. Rehashing such mistakes will only harm our country, they will say. But history suggests we should examine such missteps carefully. Oppressive prison environments have created some of the most determined opponents. The British learned that lesson from Napoleon, the French from Ho Chi Minh, Europe from Hitler. The world is learning that lesson again from Ayman al-Zawahiri. What will be the legacy of abusive prisons in Iraq?

We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me have refused to tell our stories, and our leaders have refused to own up to the myriad mistakes that have been made. But if we fail to address this problem, there can be no hope of success in Iraq. Regardless of how many young Americans we send to war, or how many militia members we kill, or how many Iraqis we train, or how much money we spend on reconstruction, we will not escape the damage we have done to the people of Iraq in our prisons....

Richard Behan has an interesting analysis of the resource wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, declaring them "a colossus of failure".
The objectives of the oil wars may be non-negotiable, but that doesn't guarantee their successful achievement.

The evidence suggests the contrary.

As recently as January of 2005, the Associated Press expected construction of the Trans Afghan Pipeline to begin in 2006. So did News Central Asia. But by October of 2006, NCA was talking about construction "... as soon as there is stability in Afghanistan."

As the Taliban, the warlords, and the poppy growers reclaim control of the country, clearly there is no stability in Afghanistan, and none can be expected soon.

Unocal has been bought up by the Chevron Corporation. The Bridas Corporation is now part of BP/Amoco. Searching the companies' websites for "Afghanistan pipeline" yields, in both cases, zero results. Nothing is to be found on the sites of the prospective funding agencies. The pipeline project appears to be dead.

The Production Sharing Agreements for Iraq's oil fields cannot be signed until the country's oil policies are codified in statute. That was supposed to be done by December of 2006, but Iraq is in a state of chaotic violence. The "hydrocarbon law" is struggling along -- one report suggests it may be in place by March -- so the signing of the PSA's will be delayed at least that long.

The U.S. and British companies that stand to gain so much -- Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, Concoco/Phillips, BP/Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell -- will stand a while longer. They may well have to stand down.

On October 31, 2006 the newspaper China Daily reported on the visit to China by Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani. Mr. Shahristani, the story said, "welcomed Chinese oil companies to participate in the reconstruction of the Iraqi oil industry." That was alarming, but understated.

Stratfor, the American investment research service, was more directly to the point, in a report dated September 27, 2006 (a month before Minister Shahristani's visit, so it used the future tense). The Minister "... will talk to the Chinese about honoring contracts from the Saddam Hussein era. ... This announcement could change the face of energy development in the country and leave U.S. firms completely out in the cold."

The oil wars are abject failures. The Project for a New American Century wanted, in a fantasy of retrograde imperialism, to remove Saddam Hussein from power. President George Bush launched an overt act of military aggression to do so, at a cost of more than 3,000 American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and half a trillion dollars. In the process he has exacerbated the threats from international terrorism, ravaged the Iraqi culture, ruined their economy and their public services, sent thousands of Iraqis fleeing their country as refugees, created a maelstrom of sectarian violence, dangerously destabilized the Middle East, demolished the global prestige of the United States, and defamed the American people.

Daniele Ganser (who tinfoil types will probably recognise) has some comments about peak oil and resource wars in the middle east.
Silvia Cattori: You have talked about an important emotional factor in the strategy of tension. Therefore, the terror, whose origin is vague, uncertain, the fear that it causes, all that helps to manipulate the public opinion. Are we not assisting today to the same kind of procedure? Yesterday, we fuelled the fear of communism, today aren’t we fuelling the fear of Islam?

Daniele Ganser: Yes, there is a very clear parallel. During the planning of the war in Iraq, it was said that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons in his possession, that there was a link between Iraq and the Al-Qaeda terrorists. But none of that turned out to be true. By means of these lies, it was intended to make people believe that Muslims wanted to spread terrorism all around, and that this war was necessary to fight against terror. However, the true reason for this war is the control of energy resources. This is due to the fact that the geology, the richness in gas and oil, are concentrated in the Muslim countries. He who wants to monopolize them, must hide behind this type of manipulations.

We cannot say that there is not a lot of oil left because the global production - the ’peak oil’ - is going to arrive probably before 2020, and that therefore oil must be taken from Iraq, because people would say that children must not be killed to obtain oil. And they are right. They can’t be told, either, that in the Caspian Sea there are huge reserves and that there is a plan to create a pipeline that would go to the Indian Ocean but, given that it’s is not allowed to go through the South of Iran or the North of Russia, it must pass through the East, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, and therefore, this country must be under control. That is why Muslims are labelled as "terrorists". It is all a big lie, but if it is repeated a thousand times that Muslims are "terrorists", people will end up believing it and thinking that the wars against Muslims are useful; and to forget that there are several types of terrorism, that violence is not necessarily a feature of Islam.

Here are some interesting snippets of media that I came across recently:

A TED talk from Hans Rosling on development, with some great visualisations of a wide range of statistics - recommended for those afraid of the population bomb.

A great (albeit rude) karaoke song from onetime Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker on the type of people who are running the world (I once had the honour of narrowly missing being run over by Jarvis as he rode his bike down Bayswater Road in London).

A sermon from spoken word artist Henry Rollins (also slightly rude).

And to close, here's a look at some industrial history - a failed experiment called "Fordlandia" (via Energy Bulletin).
Built by Henry Ford in the 1929, Fordlandia was Henry's answer to a growing dependence on foreign rubber supply-chains that were desperately needed to produce the millions of tires demanded by the developing world of the automobile in the U.S.

As the automobile began to re-shape human settlement in North America, the industries that produced and maintained this emerging society began to reshape the lands and people who held the resources necessary to effect this change.

Henry Ford sought to control every aspect of supply and manufacture along the way. He would follow his supply lines down to the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil to begin what would be the first and last attempt at factory-style mass production of rubber, on rubber tree plantations. Unfortunately (or fortunately) he failed. There are several primary causes for this failure that I believe can serve as examples of larger trends within the dominant culture. ...


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