The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Quagmire  

Posted by Big Gav

Martin Eberhard from Tesla Motors made a classic if rather sarcastic speech thanking the California Air Resources Board for encouraging their competitors to remain mired in the slow progress world of hydrogen fuel cells instead of the future of personal transport, electric vehicles.

Good afternoon, Members of the Board.

I am Martin Eberhard, cofounder and CEO of Tesla Motors, based here in California.

Tesla Motors will begin shipping highly-desirable, DOT-compliant electrical cars with well over 200 miles range later this year – perhaps you saw one of our prototypes outside. We have already pre-sold more than 400 cars; 2008 production will easily exceed 1,000 cars, exceeding the worldwide fleet of fuel cell cars.

Additionally, we will deliver Tesla-built battery systems for the newly revived TH!INK City Car this year, with a standing order for many thousand batteries per year.

The Air Resources Board continues to show a bias toward hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and against the less expensive and more efficient battery electric vehicles. This bias is clearly seen in the ARB Independent Expert Panel Report. Tesla Motors believes this bias is not justified by science or the evidence of actual vehicles and infrastructure.

However, we are actually delighted by the way this bias finds implementation in the ZEV mandate. For the results of this mandate is that all of our potential EV competitors – all the big car companies – remain mired in non-productive, deeply-expensive fuel cell programs, keeping them out of the EV marketplace, and indeed out of the serious ZEV marketplace entirely.

Every year spent on fuel cell programs by GM, Ford, Honda, and the rest is another year we at Tesla Motors can build our technological and market lead in the obvious winning technology: battery electric vehicles. We therefore sarcastically and enthusiastically encourage you to maintain the hydrogen bias and keep our competitors in the quagmire.

Meanwhile, we are on schedule to place 15,000 battery electric Tesla vehicles on the road by the end of 2010.

Sarcasm aside, wouldn’t it be nice for our environment if we had a few competitors?

The SMH reports on the disappearing glaciers of Mt Everest.
These two photographs - taken 40 years apart - show how one of the world's most spectacular ice formations, the field of ice towers ("serac forest") around Mount Everest, is shrinking. Environmental group Greenpeace, which released the photographs today, say this is global warming in action.

The photographs are of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which is called the world's "third pole" because it contains the biggest fields of ice outside of the Arctic and Antarctic. Its glaciers are the source of Asia's biggest rivers - Yangtze, Yellow, Indus and Ganges.

The melting of this glacier is also significant because the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last month that if current trends continue, 80 per cent of the Himalayan glaciers, the water source for a sixth of the world's population, could disappear in 30 years if the current rate of emissions is not reduced. Other reports have suggested that the impact would be lower, at about 30 per cent.

The original picture from 1968 was taken by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Greenpeace has made three expeditions to the same area in the past two years.

The Greenpeace campaigners were unable to reach the same spot where they think the 1968 picture was taken because a smaller glacier that was there four decades ago has disappeared, making it impassable. The season in which the 1968 photograph was taken is also unknown, though there are really only two periods when the area is habitable by humans, which is April to May (spring) and September to October (autumn).

Li Yan, one of the expedition members, said climate change was transforming the ancient Himalayan landscape. The first photograph shows a long valley filled with ice towers as high as 20 metres that form the Rongbuk glacier, the biggest glacier on Mount Everest's northern slopes. The second photograph taken on April 29 this year (early spring here), shows that the ice forest has retreated dramatically.

"A big piece of the Rongbuk glacier ... has disappeared," Ms Li said. "The demise of the ice towers is the most significant sign of global warming in the Himalayas. But this is just one example of what is happening right across the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. All the glaciers are depleting, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people."

The melting glacier has created many new lakes, which can create havoc through flooding when they burst. Unfortunately for the farmers who live in the area, the extra water has been more than offset by less and less rainfall and the hotter temperatures.

China has acknowledged that global warming is adversely affecting its environment and has pledged to reduce its emissions, but this week, along with India, another developing country and also the world's second most populous, again rejected mandatory targets because it would slow development.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article on an odd tool for mapping the currents of the world's oceans - rubber ducks.
Computer models of ocean currents and wind directions developed by a friend of Ebbesmeyer's, Jim Ingraham, accurately predicted the arrival of the ducks off the Washington State coast in 1995, after they had been round the Pacific's circular current three times, in a 45,000 mile journey. And they were not the only pieces of plastic flotsam around. The Pacific gyre, a huge circular current "is like a toilet that never flushes," says Moore, who has run a number of scientific expeditions to two particularly polluted giant eddies he calls the "garbage patches."

In those areas, he astonished the scientific community by finding six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton. Broken down into smaller and smaller particles, "it is insinuating itself into the bottom of the food chain," he worries. Larger pieces are probably eaten by albatross and other birds, he says: of 28,000 pieces of plastic he analyzed in the Eastern Garbage Patch, only 83 fragments were tan-colored. The rest had probably been snapped up - mistaken for shrimp, he says. And since plastic is a sponge for pollutants such as PCBs and other chemicals which are estrogenic, Moore worries, "we are changing the sex of the ocean and its creatures," feminizing them.

Pairs of female seagulls have been found nesting together on the California coast, he points out, wondering whether this might not have something to do with the plastic in their diet.

Kevin Rudd has tried to upstage the Rodent's upcoming announcement on global warming (which will most likely amount to absolutely nothing tangible other than lots of spin and hot air) with some more announcements on Labor's global warming policy. I've yet to see if his "cao and trade" system involves handouts to existing polluters or a much fairer and more competitive auctioning of permits. Crikey says the Rodent's climate change policy machinations show why he is out in the cold with voters.
THE Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, tried to pre-empt John Howard's imminent policy announcement on climate change last night by announcing a new grab bag of measures and outlining the necessary conditions for an emissions trading scheme.

Today Mr Howard will receive the report from the emissions trading taskforce he commissioned last year and his response is expected on Sunday. ...

Mr Rudd, speaking in Canberra last night, promised another $50 million to upgrade the CSIRO's National Solar Energy Centre and another $50 million to further the development of geothermal energy. He also promised that a Labor government would lead by example by making Parliament House and all electorate offices reliant on renewable or clean energy. Government offices would be made to turn lights off at night, all Commonwealth buildings would have to have a five-star greenhouse rating, and all computers, fridges and other appliances in such buildings would have high-efficiency ratings.

Mr Rudd said an emissions trading scheme must be "cap and trade". This means total emissions would be capped and trading of emissions permits would be allowed as long as the overall cap was not exceeded. The scheme would be in place by 2010 and need to be accompanied by a mandatory renewable energy target to ease the reliance on fossil fuels.

The SMH also has an article from Clive Hamilton on the seven tests of an effective carbon trading system.
Can we trade our way out of the climate crisis? There seems to be convergence of opinion on the need for an emissions trading system in Australia. Even the Prime Minister, a closet sceptic, has succumbed to pressure from business.

The report of his task group on an emissions trading system is due today, but how would such a scheme work, and what features must it have to reduce Australia's burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions? What are the tests that will distinguish an effective system from one that is just more window-dressing by the Government?

Before an emissions trading system can work, it must be made illegal to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without a permit. In passing such a law, the Government must nominate the polluters to which the restrictions apply.

Electricity generators and big industrial polluters are obvious candidates. To cover transport emissions, it would be unwieldy to ask motorists to buy a permit each time they fill up the tank. An "upstream" system would require oil refiners and importers to hold permits to cover the emissions that result from the petrol and diesel they sell.

This would cover all fossil fuel emissions and account for about three-quarters of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture and waste accounting for much of the rest. So, comprehensive coverage of the main emission sources is the first test the system must pass.

A trading system is pointless unless the number of emission permits issued each year is less than demand. The cap on emissions makes permits valuable and therefore open to trade. If a polluter wants to emit more than its allocation, it must find someone to sell it more.

The second test is how deeply the cap bites into emissions. A trading scheme must be introduced in the context of clear and legislated short- and medium-term emission caps, coupled with a long-term planning target. A long-term target of a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 is the minimum acceptable to ensure the scheme passes the test of environmental integrity.

The third test will be if the scheme has loopholes built into it allowing polluters to get out of their obligations to reduce emissions. It already looks like the scheme will fail this test, with the Government's announcement in the budget that it will provide incentives for investment in forest plantations and allow growing forests to generate emission "credits" that can be substituted for emissions permits. This will let polluters off the hook because growing forests can, at best, only delay the need to cut carbon emissions.

The mechanism for allocating emission permits provides the fourth test of an effective system. For the market to work well and be fair, permits should be auctioned to the highest bidder. The revenue can support other greenhouse reduction programs, ease structural adjustment, or offset the effects of rising energy prices on low-income households.

The Government will be under pressure to give the permits to existing big polluters, however. This would represent a huge transfer of wealth from the public to polluters and has no economic justification....

Spot on Clive.

TreeHugger has a post on energy and water efficient washing machines. We went through a similar process not that long ago and (presumably like Warren) ended up with a not quite perfect but pretty good Fisher&Paykel Aquasmart machine.
Normally I don’t pay much attention to television adverts. But recently I had to go through the process of buying a new washing machine, so it was with interest that I noticed Fisher&Paykel promoting their Aquasmart machine. The first top loader sold in Australia to qualify for a 4 Star water rating. Impressive, but the energy rating still needs work.

Jogged the memory though. “Haven’t I seen a hybrid top loader before?” Of course I had. It was the Staber, launched onto the US market a full dozen or so years ago. Inside this normal looking top loader is a hexagonal-like stainless steel drum that opens to the top. Staber reckon their ’Made in America’ machines will provide a return of around $300 each year for the rest of their life. Although about twice the price of a standard top loader, they calculate that considering water, energy and detergent saved over just three years of use, you are pretty much making money with their designs.

They figure this based on saving a third of the water, a quarter of the energy to heat water, at least a quarter of the washing detergent and a third of the drying time (due to their efficient spins cycle). The company even have some sound reasons why their design outperforms a front loader. Interestingly, for folk on wind and solar power, Staber also claim to have ‘the most energy efficient washer available and the best choice for consumers living "off-grid,"’ as a result of only needing 110–150 watt-hours of electricity per wash load.

Not being in the US, I ultimately made a different choice, but would welcome comments below from anyone with experience (good or bad) on the effectiveness of the Staber design

TreeHugger also has a post on Radiation-Loving 'Shrooms.
he recent discovery by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that certain species of fungi such as Cryptococcus neoformans possess the remarkable ability to use radioactivity as a source of energy for consumption and growth has led to much speculation over its potential applications. Possible uses range from supplying a steady source of food for astronauts on long space voyages to providing an effective means of nuclear waste disposal.

Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of microbiology & immunology at Albert Einstein and the senior author of the study, noted that, "The fungal kingdom comprises more species than any other plant or animal kingdom, so finding that they're making food in addition to breaking it down means that Earth's energetics—in particular, the amount of radiation energy being converted to biological energy—may need to be recalculated."

Ekaterina Dadchova, one of the lead authors of the study, has even suggested that the fungi could be grown at high altitudes where little besides radiation is prevalent to be used as a source of biofuel (just imagine a car running on 'shrooms). But how does this all work? ...

The WSJ Energy Roundup has a roundup of articles on food vs fuel. They also point to BP's deal with Libya, one of the remaining under-developed oil provinces (and, as I've noted previously, at one time the world's largest oil producer before various machinations put a halt to that).
Government subsidies and surging demand for biofuels is encouraging European farmers to switch from food crops to rapeseed and other biofuel feedstock, bringing hefty profits to the farmers, but driving up food prices, the New York Times reports.

Cargill’s new CEO warned that the biofuels boom could turn ugly, creating a risk of global food shortages, the Financial Times reports.

Sudan’s lucrative oil exports will likely not be affected by the new economic sanctions President Bush is imposing on the country, the New York Times reports.

The U.S. government plans to help Asian countries use more energy efficient appliances and develop “clean coal” technology to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, the Financial Times reports.

A global consortium of researchers is developing a way to trigger nuclear fusion with a high-powered laser, which “has the potential to solve the world energy crisis without destroying the environment,” the Guardian reports.

Tom Whipple's latest peak oil column looks at the most important areas to consider when preparing for depletion. As usual, these areas are also the most important to consider when dealing with global warming...
News on the gasoline stockpile situation was delayed this week due to the Memorial Day holiday. As gasoline consumption figures over the long weekend won’t be available until the middle of next week, we may get a better insight into prospects for this summer then. While waiting, however, it seems like a good time to start thinking a bit about the years ahead and what we should be doing to get ready for them.

There are two areas of energy consumption we, as individuals, can do something about: transportation and buildings. The cost and availability of our food is something that few of us have much control over. If food becomes too expensive, then we simply reduce or forego eating out; reduce our use of prepared, packaged, and expensive foods; or even reduce the quantity we consume until the costs of food meet our budget.

Commercial use of energy to make and distribute things will be sorted out by the market – here again, there is little most of us can do to effect change other than generally reducing consumption either because we are trying to save the world’s resources, or, more likely, we simply can’t afford to pay what stuff is going to cost.

Unaffordable gasoline will affect each of us differently depending on how dependent we are on our automobile and what our alternatives are. In the U.S. we have something on the order of 210 million cars and light trucks in service and, even if the resources are available to replace a fleet of this size, it will be many decades before they can be replaced with vehicles that use little or no gasoline. Worldwide, the situation is even worse.

It probably won’t be too long before we figure out whatever supplies of motor fuel are available will be better spent on growing and distributing food and maintaining vital-to-civilization systems such as water, sewers, electricity, and communications rather than being burned in private cars. For the immediate future though, unaffordable gasoline will be coped with through a combination of increased public transit and a lot more ride sharing.

Soon, there will be lots of room for changes in public policy as we tackle the job of reworking our transportation systems. For now, we are not ready to think seriously about changes, for the reality of imminent oil depletion is not widely recognized. Another three or four dollar increase in gasoline prices should do the trick.

Buildings, however, are another matter -- be they offices, factories, commercial space, or homes. In the developed world, most use prodigious amounts of energy. Although our electricity and natural gas bills currently are not increasing as fast as gasoline prices, price increases for other forms of energy won’t be many years behind. Unlike a gas guzzler which can be parked, used infrequently, or scrapped for a more efficient vehicle, few of us will have the opportunity to replace our buildings for more efficient ones.

A couple of hundred years ago most homes were heated and lit by wood plus a little candle wax. That’s obviously not going to work anymore. My guess is that most people’s access to firewood, if any, would be sufficient for a couple of days or, at best, a couple of weeks. For awhile, there will be a rush to huddling around electric heaters, but just as natural gas, oil, propane will soon be too expensive to for many to afford, large amounts of electricity will not be far behind. We are going to have to transition to solar and maybe a little wind energy to control our personal climates.

One of the redeeming features of our current living and work place arrangements is that we waste prodigious amounts of energy in heating, cooling and lighting them, so that there is a lot to be saved. We all know by now that eliminating incandescent bulbs and moving first to compact fluorescents and then, as they become more affordable, to LED’s most of the lighting costs in homes and offices can be eliminated.

Equally big jumps in household efficiency can be achieved by disconnecting clothes dryers and going back to clothes lines. Pulling the plug on the central air would be the third big energy saver.

Given the trends in fossil fuel availability, it is clear that our goal will have to be zero net energy for all our inhabited buildings. This means that the preponderance of the energy used in buildings will soon have to come from the sun, wind, water power, and perhaps a little biomass and will not be delivered in by pipe and power lines or in trucks.

The course from our current building stock to highly efficient ones will be long and difficult. Starting on this course is not difficult or particularly expensive. Plugging air leaks, adding some more insulation, and perhaps improving the window and doors is a good place to start provided one knows what to do, where to start and is physically and financially capable of taking action in the face of rapidly rising energy costs.

Later steps on the way to zero net energy buildings, such as major insulation and window upgrades, solar heating and electric panels, new heating and air conditioning equipment will be very expensive and perhaps unaffordable for many in an inflation-wracked world of depleting oil. ...

Cryptogon points to a report on a Remote New Zealand Tidal Power Project.
By 2013, power companies will have the option of cutting off power distribution to “unprofitable” parts of New Zealand.

Will the lights go out in the Hokianga? No. You see, the simple and sane solutions become possible once a place isn’t profitable anymore. ...

Via: / Northnern News:

Tidal turbines in the Hokianga Harbour could power up to 1000 homes, saving residents money and securing power supplies to remote areas facing an uncertain energy future. A working party exploring renewable energy options in the Far North says marine currents at The Narrows, Te Karaka Point, Rangi Point and North Head may be swift enough to generate up to 2.5 megawatts of electricity.

The tidal power scheme is one of several generation schemes that could be embedded in the district’s electricity network, says working party member Dr Zuben Weeds. Similar schemes, using wind and hydro power, could be modelled on the Hokianga project if it proves viable, says Mr Weeds, a Waikato University energy researcher. “An objective of this project is to develop a model community- distributed generation scheme that could supply up to 1000 houses in the Far North through Top Energy’s network,” he says.

There are two good reasons for developing the schemes in Northland, he says. Domestic electricity prices in the region have risen by 65 percent since 1999, adding $725 to household power bills, while prices nationally have gone up by an average of 39 percent. “For many Far North households, the increase in power costs is significant because incomes in these areas are lower than the national median income,” says Mr Weeds.

Generating power locally would reduce loads on the national grid at Auckland, which Transpower predicts will exceed capacity by 2013, he says. It would also secure electricity supplies in isolated areas where it is not economic for Top Energy to maintain power lines.

Under present law, the line company won’t have to maintain uneconomic power lines after 2013. “In effect, the distribution line to a remote area may potentially deteriorate to the point where it cannot carry electricity.” The Hokianga project could take at least five years to complete if it goes ahead, Mr Weeds says.

Partners in the project would likely be the Far North District Council, Te Runanga O Te Rarawa, Scottish firm Gentec Venturi, Waikato University and Kerikeri firms Small Hydro Enterprises and IES Construction. Capital funds could come from an $8 million government fund for marine power schemes. “As we are one of the only groups looking at small-scale generation for remote communities, we have a good chance of being successful once the grant applications open,” Mr Weeds says.

Apparently Joe Lieberman has visited Iraq - to be asked by the troops when can they come home ? Never said Joe (or maybe in 50 years, like Bush wants). Not until the oil runs out anyway...
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) made an unannounced trip to Iraq today, telling reporters, “what I see here today is progress, significant progress.” Hours later, he was confronted by U.S. soldiers with a very different message: “We don’t feel like we’re making any progress.”

McClatchy reports tonight on Spc. David Williams, who collected questions for Lieberman from 30 other troops.
At the top of his note card was the question he got from nearly every one of his fellow soldiers:

“When are we going to get out of here?”

The rest was a laundry list. When would they have upgraded Humvees that could withstand the armor-penetrating weapons that U.S. officials claim are from Iran? When could they have body armor that was better in hot weather?

Williams missed six months of his girlfriend’s pregnancy when he was given six days’ notice to return to Iraq for his second tour. He also missed his baby boy’s birth. Three weeks ago, he went home and saw his first child.

“He looks just like me,” he said. “I didn’t want to come back. . . . We’re waiting to get blown up.” […]

Next to him, Spc. Will Hedin, 21, of Chester, Conn., thought about what he was going to say.

“We’re not making any progress,” Hedin said, as he recalled a comrade who was shot by a sniper last week. “It just seems like we drive around and wait to get shot at. … It’s just more troops, more targets.”

In the past two months, the unit has lost two men. In May alone, at least 120 U.S. troops died in Iraq, the bloodiest month in 2007 and the highest number since the battles of Fallujah in 2004.

Spc. Kevin Krasco, 20, of Medford, Mass., and Spc. Kevin Adams, 20, of Moosup, Conn., chimed in with their dismay before turning the conversation to baseball.

“It’s like everything else in this war,” Adams said, referring to Baghdad. “It hasn’t changed.”

Andrew Sullivan reports that US torture techniques in Iraq were pioneered by the Gestapo.
The phrase "Verschärfte Vernehmung" is German for "enhanced interrogation". Other translations include "intensified interrogation" or "sharpened interrogation". It's a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods, as you can see above, are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the president. As you can see from the Gestapo memo above, moreover, the Nazis were adamant that their "enhanced interrogation techniques" would be carefully restricted and controlled, monitored by an elite professional staff, of the kind recommended by Charles Krauthammer, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner. At least, that was the original plan.

Also: the use of hypothermia, authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld, was initially forbidden. 'Waterboarding" was forbidden too, unlike that authorized by Bush. As time went on, historians have found that all the bureaucratic restrictions were eventually broken or abridged. Once you start torturing, it has a life of its own. The "cold bath" technique - the same as that used by Bush against al-Qahtani in Guantanamo - was, according to professor Darius Rejali of Reed College, "pioneered by a member of the French Gestapo by the pseudonym Masuy about 1943. The Belgian resistance referred to it as the Paris method, and the Gestapo authorized its extension from France to at least two places late in the war, Norway and Czechoslovakia. That is where people report experiencing it." ...

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

Jerome a Paris has a look at bloodthirsty neocon warmonger Norman Podhoretz's full page call in the Wall Street Journal to unleash an aerial holocaust on Iran.
n an explicit (and unambiguously titled) article that takes a full page in the Wall Street Journal (The Case for Bombing Iran - I hope and pray that President Bush will do it), one of the senior neoconservatives, Norman Podhoretz calls for an immediate bombing campaign against Iran, as a preemptive strike to avoid the nuclear destruction of Israel.

It is full of hate, of scaremongering, of contempt for everybody that does not support the neocon views, and it is given a lot of space in what is supposed to be a serious newspaper. This HAS to generate some outrage.

As the piece is behind a sub wall, I'll extract a few key paragraphs below:
Although many persist in denying it, I continue to believe that what Sept 11, 2001, did was to plunge us headlong into nothing less than another world war. I call this new war World War IV, because I also believe that what is generally known as the Cold War was actually World War III, and that this one bears a closer resemblance to that great conflict than it does to World War II. Like the Cold War, as the military historian Eliot Cohen was the first to recognize, the one we are now in has ideological roots, pitting us against Islamofascism, yet another mutation of the totalitarian disease we defeated first in the shape of Nazism and fascism and then in the shape of communism; it is global in scope; it is being fought with a variety of weapons, not all of them military; and it is likely to go on for decades.

This is the traditional thesis of the necoons, and the basis for the "9/11 changed everything" mindset: the ardent belief in an all out ideological struggle - Good vs Evil, just like the good old days of the Cold War. It's the chance for today's pundits and Deciders to be heroes, too.
As the currently main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11, and as (according to the State Department's latest annual report on the subject) the main sponsor of the terrorism that is Islamofascism's weapon of choice, Iran too is a front in World War IV. Moreover, its effort to build a nuclear arsenal makes it the potentially most dangerous one of all.

After dismissing Iraq and Afghanistan as mere skirmishes in a wider battle ("theaters that have been opened up in the early stages of a protracted global struggle") Podhoretz zooms in on THE enemy - the evil nasties who dared humiliate the USA almost 30 years ago. This is never said, of course, but his whole texte just burns with hate for the absolute evil that emanates from that country, and its leaders, and it is the typical discourse of a bully that has just been smacked in the face and wants - demands! - cannot live without!! - retribution. 9/11 was a similar case of lèse-majesté for these guys, but created a great opening for action (read invading countries and killing the local population); the Iranian embassy hostage crisis is a festering wound that has yet to be given closure, and these guys desperately itch to go and smack the insolent offender once and for all. ...

Clean Coal Project Collapses  

Posted by Big Gav in

Nigel Wilson at The Australian reports that Queensland's ZeroGen clean coal project has collapsed as it is not commercially viable, prompting vituperation between state and federal vassals of the coal industry (while I'm not fan of MacFarlane I doubt he is on drugs as Premier Beattie suggested).

WHAT'S claimed to be Australia's most advanced clean coal project is unlikely to receive federal funding because it cannot attract sufficient commercial backing. Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said yesterday that the ZeroGen project in Queensland had collapsed, sparking a row with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who accused Mr Macfarlane of being on drugs.

But the federal Minister stuck to his guns, saying Mr Beattie was well aware of ZeroGen's deficiencies and he was seeking support for alternative clean coal projects. ... ZeroGen, in which Shell has an option to take up 10 per cent equity, was taken over by the Queensland Government in March when Mr Beattie threatened to place a levy on coal producers to encourage clean coal projects.

It is understood that despite the federal Government investing $70 million in clean coal projects, ZeroGen failed the criteria required for grants under the Low Emissions Technology Development Fund. Essentially, ZeroGen has been unable to convince federal bureaucrats that its proposal to produce syngas from coal and sequester carbon dioxide in the Northern Denison Trough near Emerald has a commercial future. The project has been heavily promoted at international carbon sequestration conferences supported by the federal Government.

While clean coal is doomed to failure, The Age reports that the Rodent and his minions are still considering how to make us adopt nuclear power.
THE Federal Government is seeking legal advice on whether it can force the states to allow the construction of nuclear facilities, including power stations, inside their borders. In the wake of Prime Minister John Howard's recent statements supporting nuclear power, a Resources Department official, Tania Constable, has confirmed that legal advice has been sought on whether Canberra could override state laws to introduce it.

Her admission could intensify the nuclear debate in the lead-up to this year's federal election, with Labor and the states having already flatly rejected Mr Howard's push for nuclear power as a possible option to counter global warming. Victoria is one of several states that have laws designed to prevent the establishment of nuclear power stations. A Bracks Government spokeswoman said last night that if Canberra tried to force nuclear power on Victoria, it would have a fight on its hands.

A spokesman for Mr Howard last night referred The Age to comments made previously by him and Resources and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane that nuclear power would not be forced on the states.

But Federal Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett said the states should be extremely concerned about Ms Constable's admission, particularly if the Government was already considering weakening laws governing nuclear matters. Mr Garrett said that along with forcing the establishment of a nuclear power industry, the Commonwealth could override state laws designed to prevent or control the transportation or storage of nuclear materials.

The Age reports that the flustered Rodent may be going crazy as he finds himself hemmed in by his own disastrous policies on global warming and Iraq. The Daily Flute has an entertaining list of possible coalition victims at next election if current poll results hold.

Howard, even when in full attack mode, usually keeps a degree of measure in his rhetoric. Yesterday he simply let rip with every insult he could muster against Kevin Rudd, accusing him of everything from being puffed up to thuggish behaviour.
Perhaps the most revealing line was his observation that Rudd was feeling "very much cock of the walk", adding: "I understand why he might behave like that." Howard, the latest 20-point poll gap in mind, acknowledged that Rudd has the upper hand while reminding him there was a "long way to go" before the election.

Howard had got himself into an absurd and unnecessary position by trying to deny the existence of planned climate change advertising on the ground it does not exist until it gets the ministerial tick. He simply sounds devious, stubborn and slightly crazy. He has, over several parliamentary days created a bigger problem than he needed to have. Despite the criticism over the advertising, it would have been better to answer Opposition questions by saying: "Yes, your whistleblower has given you the bones of our campaign, and we think it will be a good one." Or some such.

Then there was the odd, if understandable, switch of tack in the party room. One week he's telling MPs they face annihilation, the next he is keeping their chins up by saying it's important to maintain "a positive sense of self-belief". It sounds like he feels he went a bit far with that "wake up" call.

All this scattiness has come before Howard has to face the music when he releases an emissions trading decision soon. The signs yesterday were that it will not have targets. That risks the approach being condemned as mickey mouse.

If it is, all the advertising, all yesterday's lashing out at Sir Nicholas Stern will do him little good. This is a big issue and the PM has a challenging fight ahead to convince people that the Government is fair dinkum about it. Yesterday's performance would give his troops little confidence that he's up to winning on this issue.

Energy Bulletin has a good roundup of climate related news, including "Kookaburra in the Coal Mine" from TruthOut.
A recent trip to Australia to cover a conference on agrichar allowed me to see the Australian drought crisis on the ground and talk to a few Australians about their thoughts on climate change. Agrichar is an agricultural technique that sequesters carbon, see Birth of a New Wedge.

The conference took place in Terrigal, New South Wales, a beach town just north of Sydney. Out on the blue horizon, I could see an endless train of coal ships headed for the booming economies of Asia. Coal is Australia's No. 1 export and a mainstay of the economy. But at the same time, as a major contributor to global warming, it is undermining almost every other source of wealth in the country.

A few days after I arrived, Prime Minister John Howard suggested a solution for the multi-year drought that is shriveling Australia's farmland: "Pray for rain," he said. Only a superabundance of rain can head off the government's plans to cut off irrigation to thousands of farms that are dependent on Australia's largest river system, the Murray-Darling basin.

Howard is not willing to admit, however, that global warming is the cause of the drought. At most, he says "there does appear to be a change in the weather pattern." He said Australia might be "going back to a drier period," but he is conspicuously alone in that assessment. Unlike hurricane Katrina, whose global warming origins were more strongly debated, most Australians blame the drought on human-caused climate change.

Ross Gittens (the best of our economic commentators) says that the Rodent's water plan is just another mirage.
Sometimes I suspect that all our politicians care about these days is being seen to tackle problems. They don't want to fix problems, just be seen trying. The beauty of being in the appearance business is that you can make grand gestures while the problem is at the forefront of the electorate's mind.

Actually wanting to fix problems has a host of disadvantages. It takes time to come up with a sensible plan. The measures most likely to work often are far more complex than the simple solutions that appeal to voters and talk-back jocks. And it's hard to tackle a problem genuinely without offending some powerful interest group.

I've been led to these depressing thoughts by contemplation of John Howard's $10-billion plan to rescue the Murray-Darling basin. They're the only way to make sense of it.

There was a time when Howard ridiculed voters and politicians who thought you could solve a problem merely by throwing money at it. Not any more. That nice round figure of $10 billion has played a central part in his efforts to convince us he has the answer to our water problems.

The Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, is quite right to reject the national water plan. Trouble is, he's rejecting it for just the wrong reason. His stated objection is merely territorial - he doesn't want to hand over his state's power over rural water. But ending the interminable squabbling between the four Murray-Darling states and transferring overall responsibility to the national government is the one thing Howard's plan has going for it.

No, the legitimate objection is that the things he plans to do with his - sorry, our - $10 billion would achieve very little. ...

The nation's water problem comes in two parts. There's the destruction of our inland river systems because of over-irrigation, and there's the acute shortages of water in the capital cities - shortages that may just be the temporary consequence of a severe drought or may be a harbinger of the climate change to come.

Irrigation accounts for about 70 per cent of all water use in Australia. Households take only about 10 per cent, sewerage and drainage takes another 10 per cent and mainly city-based industry takes the rest. About 85 per cent of irrigation takes place in the Murray-Darling basin. City water prices are about 10 times the price of (admittedly, untreated) water for irrigation.

Although the cities' water problem would be most prominent in voters' minds, Howard's "national plan for water security" doesn't mention it. The obvious way to alleviate the cities' problems would be to allow them to buy some of the irrigators' water allocations.

Many irrigators would make more money from selling water to the city than from using it to produce low value-added crops. For the cities, buying rural water would be a lot more economic than spending a fortune on recycling and desalination plants.

But Howard's plan doesn't contemplate such sales. Why not? It's contrary to National Party policy. The Nats don't want to see any decline in irrigation activity, no matter how ecologically damaging or uneconomic it may be.

A rational approach to water policy would concentrate on making sure water - city and rural - was correctly priced to reflect its scarcity and on maximising the opportunity for water to be traded in markets so it finds its most valuable use.

That's what the economists would advise - and already have. But they were sidelined in favour of the big spenders. It's only taxpayers' money - what's your problem? ...

The Cleantech investment boom has finally reached down under, with early stage venture fund Southern Cross Venture Partners raising money to invest in various sectors including clean energy.
A BOOMING private equity sector has helped fill the boots of Australia's biggest ever, early-stage venture fund, a market languising since the dotcom boom. Southern Cross yesterday said it had grabbed $170 million, signaling the potential for a new golden era for local technology-related businesses that have been shunned as investors chased more established companies.

The funds manager, Southern Cross Venture Partners (SXVP) headed by venture capital industry veteran Bob Christiansen, has garnered investment support from Macquarie Bank - $60 million for funds it represents - as well as substantial commitments from Industry Funds Management (IFM) and SunSuper. The Southern Cross Fund, which launched in August last year, focuses on early-stage investments in electronics, technology, telecommunications, nanotechnology and environmental science including clean energy.

Red Herring reports that solar CSP technology company Entach has been acquired by WorldWater (strange spinoff for ESystems to have done I might add).
WorldWater & Solar Technologies, a developer of solar energy systems, announced Tuesday it has agreed to an $18.3 million cash-and-stock acquisition of Entech. Entech’s technology uses lenses to magnify the sun’s rays onto a smaller piece of solar cell, producing the same amount of energy from a smaller area. The company’s solar-concentrating technology has been used in outer space.

The deal reflects an industry shift toward higher-output terrestrially based sun power, analysts said. The acquisition will allow Keller, Texas-based Entech to crank up production of its concentrating technology for large solar power plants. ...

Entech will have to contend with numerous venture-backed startups in solar concentration, including SolFocus, Energy Innovations, Concentrix Solar, and Solaria. WorldWater develops solar-powered systems like water pumps using silicon-based solar cells and panels. ... “(Solar concentration) is an exciting new area for solar power,” said Mr. Tanous. “It’s sure to become a multibillion-dollar market.” ...

Entech, founded in 1983 as a spinoff of E-Systems, has pumped more than $40 million into developing solar concentrating technology for NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, according to Mr. O’Neill. Its photovoltaic concentrators, made to be a lightweight source of power for space probes, require an eighth of the area needed by conventional solar cells, according to Entech.

Renewable Energy Access has an article on Picture Perfect Parabolic Solar Collector Systems.
A mirror alignment measurement device, invented by Rich Diver, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, may soon make one of the most popular solar collector systems, parabolic troughs, more affordable and energy efficient.

Borrowing from variations on methods used to align mirrors in solar dish systems, Diver has come up with theoretical overlay photographic (TOP) technology alignment, an optical approach to rapidly and effectively evaluate the alignment of mirrors in parabolic trough power plants and prescribe corrective actions.

"TOP alignment could cure a significant problem with trough systems—inaccurate mirror alignment that prevents sunlight from precisely focusing on solar receivers," Diver says, adding a common issue with parabolic trough systems has been lack of accurate mirror alignment that prevents maximum energy efficiency.

Parabolic troughs use mirrored surfaces curved in a parabolic shape. The mirrors focus sunlight on a receiver tube running the length of the trough. Oil runs through the focal region where it is heated to high temperatures and then goes through a heat exchanger to generate steam. The steam is then used to run a conventional power plant.

The world's largest parabolic trough facilities, located in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California, consist of nine plants producing 354 megawatts (MW) of power at peak output.

If you're ever passing through the Barstow area watch out for the bats...

Grist and Eco Libertarian (who quips "Wouldn’t energy independence be better achieved by kicking the habit, rather than finding a more reliable dealer?") note that the US Congress is considering more subsidies for mining coal (the enemy of the human race) and turning it into liquids that generate twice as much CO2 as regular dirty oil. Why can't they let renewables compete on a level laying field so we can switch to an electric transport system faster ?
What if there was a liquid fuel with the potential to produce nearly twice as many greenhouse gases as petroleum? And it would cost nearly four times as much to build a processing plant for this fuel as for petroleum? You'd say no thanks. But Congress is saying yes please to this flawed fuel, commonly known as "coal."

Legislation currently making its way through House and Senate committees includes federal tax credits, subsidies, and loan guarantees to the tune of billions of dollars, as well as a plan for 25-year military contracts for coal-to-liquid fuels. "For so many, filthy coal is a dirty four-letter word," says Rep Nick V. Rahall (D-W.Va.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and coal captive. "These individuals, I tell you, have their heads buried in the sand."

Because coal is from Middle America, not the Middle East! And the industry is figuring out how to separate and bury carbon emissions! And coal is the magic solution! Oh wait, no, it's still the enemy of the human race.

The SMH reports that cities fuel hope the US can kick its oil addiction.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the American summer. Summer is when Americans become real petrol heads. It's the time of year when they get in their cars and travel, and, of course, the time of the year when petrol prices rise.

Last week, the national average petrol price was equal to $1.03 a litre, which for Americans, is considered a national scandal. Everybody is blaming somebody else; mostly the oil companies, Iraq, the oil companies, Iran, oil companies, George Bush or the oil companies.

The economists predict that the high price won't necessarily affect the driving habits of Americans. They are, in the words of George Bush, addicted to oil. Instead, they will give up a meal out or that new electronic gizmo.

In other words, Americans won't easily give up driving those Hummers, although over time the price of petrol spells bad news for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which have based their businesses on selling monster SUVs, and left the small-car market to the Japanese, the Koreans and Europeans.

In New York, summer means air-conditioners, as most apartments, jammed together, have almost no flow-through ventilation.

The recent report into New York City's future found that the metropolis was one of the most greenhouse gas efficient cities in the nation. If that is true, then the rest of the country must have turned burning coal into a sport.

The report found that a New Yorker, on average, produces 7.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, compared with the American average of 24.5 tonnes, thanks to a lack of heavy industries and to New York being one of the few cities in America with an efficient, patronised public transport system (and enough congestion that public transport becomes a good alternative).

Next week, the G8 industrialised nations meet, and a greenhouse gas declaration is on the agenda. Despite a latter-day conversion to the dangers of climate change, the Bush Administration appears set to reject setting any target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Europeans want to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

Like a lot of other issues, the Bush Administration is running a long way behind the mood of the country. Where the Federal Government has failed to act, states and cities have stepped in. California, on its own the world's 12th-worst emitter of greenhouse gases, has enacted a law meant to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which will require a 25 per cent cut from present levels.

WorldChanging has a post on a green referendum for Mexico City. WorldChanging also has the latest in their "Principles" series - Principle 17: Environmental Justice.
Mexico City is one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, home to nearly 21 million inhabitants. About four million cars travel every day through the city, causing serious pollution and congestion problems. Mexico City’s Major Marcelo Ebrard, who goes to work on a bike at least once a month, is committed to adopting and adhering to environmentally friendly practices to improve the sustainability of the city.

Mr. Ebrard recently joined other leaders of the world’s largest cities and CEOs of international corporations to pursue joint efforts to combat global warming while ensuring economic benefits for cities. The occasion was the C40 Large Cities Summit, a gathering of Mayors dedicated to reducing carbon emissions and to developing infrastructure that encourages more efficient use of energy. His objective was securing $200 millions of external funding from Bill Clinton’s recently crated Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program.

The Program aims to reduce carbon emissions by outfitting city-owned buildings with green technology. Under the umbrella of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), 16 cities around the world (among them, Mexico City) will receive more than $1 billion worth of financing for renovation projects such as: making roofs white or reflective to deflect more of the sun’s heat; replacing lightning, heating and cooling systems with energy efficient technologies, etc.

During the event, Major Marcelo Ebrard, who also happens to be one of the masterminds behind Mexico City’s successful ‘One Day Without A Car Program,’ announced the city will conduct a green referendum on issues relating to the environment. It will serve as a reference point for policy makers to design the environmental strategy of the city. Ebrard argues that citizen consultation is crucial, since some of the initiatives he wants to promote require their direct involvement.

Questions residents of Mexico City (including children) will find in the referendum include:

» Should the government continue building second decks (as an alternative to reduce car congestion) to Mexico City’s freeways?
» What characteristics must the new subway line have?
» Should hybrid and electric cars be subject to a special regulation?
» How can public transportation be reformed and upgraded?
» Should the government invest more in unmotorized movement corridors (specifically designed for bikes)?

The Straight Dope has a summary of why you shouldn't freak out about bee colony collapse disorder.
First and most important: There are some 20,000 species of bees in the world, and many thousands more types of pollinating insects. What you're hearing about, "colony collapse disorder," affects one species of bee – the European honey bee. That species happens to be the one global agriculture relies upon for about 30% of its pollination requirements. So while we're not talking about losing all the world's pollinators, we are talking about losing a significant fraction of them. That's the worst-case scenario, with the species wiped out completely.

Second, there's no reason at this point to think European honey bees are going to be wiped out, now or ever. The die-offs so far appear to affect some beekeepers more than others, sometimes in the same area. That's one reason scientists are so puzzled, but it strongly suggests the losses may have something to do with how individual beekeepers are managing their bees. The "significant percentage" of failing hives is still a drop in the bucket when viewed against the global population of honey bees, and there are lots of beekeepers (even in the U.S., which appears hardest hit) who have not had, and may never have, significant losses of colonies. Plenty of honey bees remain to replace the ones that have died. It's not yet time to scream that the sky is falling.

Third, it's almost impossible to get hard numbers on how many colonies have died recently, and how much of the current uproar is media hype based on guesses, estimates and anecdotal accounts from the handful of beekeepers who have had the most colony losses. If you talk to other beekeepers, most admit they have colonies die off every winter, but they don't always keep records on how many. A lot of the reports we're hearing are based on personal recollection rather than careful documentation. In other words, the scary figures you're hearing could be exaggerated.

Fourth, even the original report describing and naming the phenomenon explicitly says it's something that has been seen before (repeatedly), named before, and studied before – in all cases without coming to any conclusion about the cause. The researchers didn't like the older names for the syndrome (which usually included the word "disease," which has connotations about infectiousness that don't seem applicable here), so they renamed it colony collapse disorder. That point has largely eluded the press, with the result that most people think this is a new phenomenon, when in fact the researchers who described it note reports of similar die-offs dating back to the 1890s.

Fifth, if what we're seeing is indeed a recurrence of a century-old phenomenon, that's a pretty good argument against theories of causation involving things that haven't been around that long. ...

Sixth, it's never a good idea to trust what the media are telling you. At least once in the present case the media got something completely wrong and created a huge mess: The story about cell phones was basically a misrepresentation of what one pair of reporters wrote about a study that they misinterpreted. In a nutshell, the original research didn't involve cell phones, and the researchers never said their research was related to honey bee colony die-offs. Even details like the alleged Einstein quote are dubious. No one has yet found proof that Einstein said anything about bees dying off – the earliest documented appearance of the "quote" is 1994 and, yes, Albert was dead at the time.

The bottom line? No one is certain what's going on, but a lot of the theories can't – by themselves – explain everything we're seeing. More important, the situation hasn't yet risen to the level of a catastrophe (except, sadly, for some of the affected beekeepers). If the same thing keeps happening every winter for another decade or so, then we might really start worrying. But for now, classifying this as a "problem with potentially severe economic impact should it persist" would be a more realistic assessment.

The Huffington Post has a column on The Limits To Growth which does tend to misrepresent the book somewhat (remember - it was a set of scenarios that modelled what would happen under various assumptions over a 100 year period, not a prediction of what would definitely happen in a decade or two - and the impact it (and the oil price spike) had in the 1970's was partly responsible for things improving (via Energy Bulletin, who point to Matt Simmon's review of the book (PDF)).
In 1972, the Club of Rome published the infamous Limits To Growth. The book (which I read in the early eighties) used a computer model to simulate the world and predicted that we would be running out of a lot of key resources by, well, now. It said, simply enough -- that there were limits to growth.

Needless to say, we haven't run out of the resources that Limits to Growth expected us to run out of, though with the rise of Peak Oil and such, the triumphalism of the late nineties, where practically every commodity's price was at generational lows, is not quite so sharp. Nonetheless, it's certainly the case that the Club of Rome got it wrong - at least in terms of timetable, and perhaps overall. It's worth, in this time of the resurgence of environmentalism, and the basic argument that there are limits to growth "the rest of the world can't have a Western style of life", to walk back and examine why the Club of Rome got it wrong.

They made three main mistakes with respect to production -- they didn't account for substitution; they didn't account for marginal production and they didn't deal with technological advance.

...The late science fiction author Robert Heinlein got caught in the Malthusian trap, assuming that food production would be a problem by the end of his life. He got it wrong, and admitted it, and wrote that he believed the reason he had gotten it wrong was because the controlling resource wasn't the amount of land under cultivation, but was petroleum - 1st world agriculture had become so energy intensive, and in particular petroleum intensive, that oil shortages were where the problem would arise.

Which leads us back to the modern day.

The problem we have is twofold -- the end of cheap energy in the form of oil; and a limited carbon sink.

...So in terms of using substitution we've got a problem -- there really isn't a good substitute yet, and we aren't working very hard on making sure that there is. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the simplest reason is this -- a lot of people are getting very rich from the current situation, and they like it that way.

...Let's bring this back to the idea of limits of growth. Do they exist?

Yeah, they do -- for any given economic and technological system.

...That doesn't mean the earth's theoretical carrying capacity isn't very close to infinite. If we could capture much of the solar energy blasting through with any amount of efficiency, and if we could use that energy in a way that didn't overwhelm Earth's ability to sink them; or to mitigate them, we could support a much larger population in an even better than 20th century standard of living.

The Huffington Post also has a post on why Al Gore Urges Us to Think Differently.
Al Gore has -- I believe -- transcended the victim mentality that so many people (to the delight of the legal profession, which encourages this kind of thinking) have bought into here in America. He knows that we have a socio-political system which is designed to work, but that there are a great many factors -- not just some "bad people" -- that are preventing it from working the way our Founding Fathers intended it to.

This is not to say that Al doesn't think that bad people sometimes do bad things which effect the rest of us. Charlie asked him about the Supreme Court's decision regarding the Florida recount. I loved Al's response. He said that in America the only alternative to going along with a final decision by the Supreme Court is armed rebellion. Al knows it was a bad decision. But he also knows that the only option -- other than going along with that decision -- available to him was not a viable option.

Here are two things I took away from what Al said last night:

(1) The vast majority of the American people are being hugely misdirected away from the subject matter that counts by the demands of our modern communications system to make money and the knowledge by that system that emotion-driven stories lock people into a mindset that allows them to be "sold to" better than stories that force people to think (my way of summing up this point), and

(2) The America people have it within their power to redirect this system so that it gives them the information they need, once enough of them wake up to the danger posed by the continuation of the current system's emphasis on "emotion" rather than "reason" (again, my way of summing up Al's point).

In writing The Assault on Reason, Al hopes to wake us all up to the danger of continuing the anti-fact and anti-truth, emotion-driven thinking habits we have slipped into since television became a dominant part of our culture. (Last night he mentioned the Nixon -- Kennedy debate of 1960 as one of the early markers of this journey, when image began to be as important to the public as substance.) He realizes that unless we regain the ability to focus on facts and truth (I would call it science instead of pseudo-science), we will fail to address the challenge of global climate change, something we are rapidly running out of time to deal with. Al said that he wrote this book because he knows we won't change how we deal with the environment until we -- as a culture -- start to think differently.

My little contribution to the case Al is making is this: If we start to think differently... if a critical mass of Americans starts asking questions like "What do we really, scientifically know how to do?", "How much better could things be if our political and business leaders did what's possible rather than what's easy?", and "Is it true that one of the root causes of war is scarcity of food, water, shelter, and education... and that mankind now has the ability to provide all of those basic needs to everyone on Earth?"... we can get to that better world that - great "wonk" that he is -- Al Gore knows is possible. There are scientifically-proven methods -- many of which have enormous money-making potential as detailed here, by Amory Lovins, and here, by Bill McDonough - for getting us not just out of this mess but to a much, much better future. It's possible. We have the technology!

"Thinking differently" is a critical part of the solution. Using reason and logic -- rather than emotional manipulation and "vote for me and I'll protect you" daddy-ism -- is the route to the future we all say we want.

Rudy Giuliani's claim to be the hero of 911 is being disputed by firefighters, who claim he was nothing more than a glorified TV anchorman.
Here’s an unwelcome birthday gift for Rudy Giuliani, as he travels around the city raising money: protests from fire fighters and family members of September 11th victims.

They've shown up in the past at Giuliani's presidential events. Today, they’re gathering in Bay Ridge, and they have plans to follow him nationwide starting sometime around January, according to Jim Riches, a deputy chief with the fire department whose son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. “We have all the UFA, the UFOA, and the fire members are all behind us -- the International Association of Fire Fighters,” said Riches. “And we’re going to be out there today to let everybody know that he’s not the hero that he says he is.” ...

And Riches disputes the notion that Giuliani provided any form of leadership on September 11 or in the days following. “If somebody can tell me what he did on 9/11 that was so good, I’d love to hear it. All he did was give information on the TV”. “He did nothing,” Riches continued. “He stood there with a TV reporter and told everyone what was going on. And he got it from everybody else down at the site.”

The Ron Paul Rebellion continues to gather steam amongst the disaffected right, with a divide forming between those interested in freedom versus those purely interested in power like the waterboard brigade. Obviously the geek world is closely attuned to my thinking as a Slashdot poll has Paul first, Al Gore second and daylight third (with fake front-runners like McCain, Clinton and the firefighter's enemy Rudy Giuliani each attracting a pitiful 1%).
That was when Rudy Giuliani blew his top—giving this writer the best reason I’ve seen not to vote for him and to urge others not to support him. Giuliani jumped in with, “That’s really an extraordinary statement. As someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. I would ask the Congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.” Delivered with the tone of a true authoritarian. An overwhelmingly neocon audience cheered.

Paul hadn’t said we invited 9/11, of course. He used the phrase contributing factor, which implies there were other contributing factors. When asked to reply, he elaborated:

“I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there. I mean, what would we think if we were—if other foreign countries were doing that to us?”

We saw, dramatized on national television and in ensuing media discussion, the two worldviews that may battle it out over the next year or so for control of the Republican Party—and possibly the country itself—with ramifications well beyond Election 2008. The one Rudy Giuliani represents (which is that of the Bush clan, the neocons, and the corporatist elite generally): the U.S. is an empire obliged or destined to rule the world, capable of building “democracies” in the Middle East and perhaps elsewhere, relying on a value system based on money and power. Power does not necessarily corrupt. We peons should fall in line behind our leaders.

The second, which Ron Paul represents, sees the U.S. as a Constitutional republic with a limited government, believes that sound economics requires sound money (not our present fiat dollar), would distinguish genuine free enterprise from corporatism, and advocate a foreign policy of trade with all but entangling alliances with none—i.e., a foreign policy rooted in respect for other nations’ sovereignty and their right to self-determination. Other nations’ internal affairs are not our business unless we are explicitly invited in.

This is not simply a clash between “left” and “right,” or between “liberal” and “conservative.” We may be approaching a major dust-up between those who want freedom and those who want power, between those who believe society must be aggressively centralized and those who wish to see power dispersed. We may see a struggle between those who want policies that allow the common man to live as he sees fit if he isn’t bothering anyone else, and a cadre of oligarchs who view the world as theirs, and who see themselves as unaccountable.

The Republican National Committee and its talk-show fellow travelers are all on the side of power. The latter immediately went into attack-dog mode. After the debate, Paul appeared on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes show. Sean Hannity spluttered incoherently against Paul to the point where Paul had difficulty getting a word in edgewise; to his credit, he did not get flustered and refused to back down. He stood his ground the next day when Wolf Blitzer on CNN asked if he wanted to apologize for his statements. He retorted that Rudy Giuliani ought to apologize to him. He told Blitzer that Americans have the right to disagree with bad policy. Interventionism is bad foreign policy, he said, and ought to be challenged. Fox News anchor John Gibson tried to associate Paul with the 9/11 Truth movement by crediting Paul with saying “the U.S. actually had a hand in the terrorist attacks.” Paul, of course, had said nothing of the sort. Glenn Beck, yet another neocon talk-show host and Rush Limbaugh wannabe, has repeatedly smeared Paul on his show, calling him “crazy” after the first debate and a “dope” after this one.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis proposed barring Ron Paul from future debates. After the RNC and the Michigan GOP received thousands of phone calls and several online petitions totaling over 20,000 signatures, they scrapped that idea. We may thank the growing number of people who get their news over the uncensored Internet, where Ron Paul is now practically the frontrunner, for protecting free speech from Republican Party elites.

Ron Paul’s point of view is gaining an audience whether the neocons like it or not. Major CNN contributing writer Roland S. Martin has said that his thinking on U.S. foreign policy should at least be discussed. Paul, after all, is hardly the first to say that our policies in the Middle East might have contributed to our being attacked. Jacob G. Hornberger, of the Future of Freedom Foundation, in fact has a detailed timeline of our interventions in the region going back to 1953, the year a CIA-backed coup in Iran ousted democratically elected Mohammed Mosadegh and instilled the Shah. As the Shah proceeded to butcher the Iranian people for the next quarter-century, the Islamic terror underground formed and began to ferment (see Hornberger’s article “Iraq, Iran and September 11: A Chronology,”

But more generally, the Ron Paul candidacy is exposing how the power system in this country is gutting the Constitution. This is very good news! Ron Paul has arguably won two national debates now—won in the sense that he came from the incredible disadvantage of a media blackout and has reached the point of having a message that is resonating with that growing segment of the public that is fed up with government lies, whether the topic is Iraq, illegal immigration, the economy, or any number of other front burner issues. ...

It might be worth noting as an aside that Giuliani has been linked to the proposed NAFTA Superhighway system. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, his Houston-based law firm, Bracewell & Guiliani, represents Cintra Concesiones, the Spanish megacorporation that has joined with San Antonio’s Zachry Construction on the Trans-Texas Corridor. This positions Giuliani firmly with the power elite. So again: do Americans really want him in the White House?

And should conservatives trust information from elite-controlled outfits like Fox News (owned by News Corporation, globalist Rupert Murdoch’s media empire)? Arguably the exchange between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani was a set-up. During debates such as the one last Tuesday, microphones of non-speakers are turned off. Giuliani’s, however, was left on while Ron Paul was speaking. Why? Was someone waiting for something Giuliani could attack? Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media has observed, “[Fox News] seems to be emerging as an arm of the Giuliani-for-President campaign. Honest conservatives should demand better coverage.” Fox News Online published a dishonest Dick Morris column declining to mention Paul and portraying the race as “nine-way.”

A growing number of people aren’t buying it. They are responding to Ron Paul’s message of limited government, bringing America’s troops home from a pointless and increasingly destructive war, abolishing the IRS and the Federal Reserve, getting out of bad trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, getting out of the WTO, restoring the Constitution, and returning to the idea of America as republic, not empire. It would be, as I’ve noted elsewhere, a first. But those who believe that America is still worth fighting for will get behind Ron Paul’s candidacy, and defend him from the media’s attack dogs. Since Ron Paul shows no signs of caving in, and I don’t see the neocons backing down, the next year promises to be very interesting!

Cryptogon has a number of classic posts - the Indian compressed air powered car, Volkswagen’s 282MPG Car, U.S. Legislation Would Bring Wind Power to ‘Grinding Halt’ and one on a UK Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for Three Years Who Received a £6,800 Government Bill for “Board and Lodging”.
Introduced this week by Congressman Nick Rahall (D. WV), and scheduled for action in early June at the House Resources Committee which he chairs, H.R. 2337 would burden wind power with sweeping new requirements that have never applied to other energy sectors, Swisher said, noting:

— Subtitle D of the bill would direct the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to review every existing and planned wind project, a mandate far beyond the agency’s resources and capabilities, and criminalize operation of wind energy facilities not formally certified by USFWS.

— Under the legislation, landowners and farmers with wind turbines on their property would be subject to invasive inspection requirements.

— Landowners and farmers could face jail time or a $50,000 penalty for putting a wind turbine, regardless of whether it is for personal use or of a commercial scale, on their property without certification by the USFWS director.

A hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled for May 23 on the bill. “This bill is an unprecedented threat to clean, renewable energy,” said Swisher. “It would undermine an essential piece of the global warming solution. Wind energy is the one readily deployable, cost-effective option we have available to meet this challenge, and Rep. Rahall’s proposal would put a massive roadblock in its path.

And thats from Renewable Enrgy Access, not Kevin. Amazing.

And to close, "Your New Reality" looks at "Apocalypse 2012 - How To Market The End Of The World". Those new agers who think that some sort of aliens will be arriving in 2012 will be gratified to elarn that there are billions of habitable planets that they could come from. I might add I think Pinchbeck's take on 2012 is a little misunderstood.
There is a remarkable and very modern myth that the world is going to end in 2012, because that is the year that the ancient Mayan calendar expires, marking the end of a 5126 year 'cycle'.

So of course this means time for all of us is set to run out as well. Yeah, if you're looking for a new disaster-book-publishing-angle it does.

Three books forecasting our own planetary demise have already been published, with many more to come. But you better get reading, and fast, you've only got four a half years to get all caught up in the biggest date-related hysteria since YK2.

There is no surprise to be found that some of these books pump a 'spiritual' connection between the allegedly looming disasters of climate change, the end of the Mayan calendar and a need for humanity to rediscover its connection to nature, and recognise its collective impact on the Earth.

From USA Today :
With humanity coming up fast on 2012, publishers are helping readers gear up and count down to this mysterious — some even call it apocalyptic — date that ancient Mayan societies were anticipating thousands of years ago. Each (new book) arrives in the wake of the 2006 success of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which has been selling thousands of copies a month since its release in May and counts more than 40,000 in print.

Authors disagree about what humankind should expect on Dec. 21, 2012, when the Maya's "Long Count" calendar marks the end of a 5,126-year era. Journalist Lawrence Joseph forecasts widespread catastrophe in Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization's End. Spiritual healer Andrew Smith predicts a restoration of a "true balance between Divine Feminine and Masculine" in The Revolution of 2012: Vol. 1, The Preparation. In 2012, Daniel Pinchbeck anticipates a "change in the nature of consciousness," assisted by indigenous insights and psychedelic drug use.

Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor at Publishers Weekly...says publishers seem to be courting readers who believe humanity is creating its own ecological disasters and desperately needs ancient indigenous wisdom.

"The convergence I see here is the apocalyptic expectations, if you will, along with the fact that the environment is in the front of many people's minds these days," Garrett says. "Part of the appeal of these earth religions is that notion that we need to reconnect with the Earth in order to save ourselves."

But scholars are bristling at attempts to link the ancient Maya with trends in contemporary spirituality.

Maya civilization, known for advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy, flourished for centuries in Mesoamerica, especially between A.D. 300 and 900. Its Long Count calendar, which was discontinued under Spanish colonization, tracks more than 5,000 years, then resets at year zero.

"For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Fla. To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in."

Trouble Brewing  

Posted by Big Gav notes that there is trouble brewing in Germany as beer prices rise because of crop substitution for biofuel production. Biofuels aren't as evil as coal but a lot of hungry and thirsty people may not see it that way - especially cranky beer lovers...

Like most Germans, brewer Helmut Erdmann is all for the fight against global warming. Unless, that is, it drives up the price of his beer.

And that is exactly what is happening to Erdmann and other German brewers as farmers abandon barley - the raw material for the national beverage - to plant other, subsidized crops for sale as environmentally-friendly biofuels.

«Beer prices are a very emotional issue in Germany - people expect it to be as inexpensive as other basic staples like eggs, bread and milk,» said Erdmann, director of the family-owned Ayinger brewery in Aying, an idyllic village nestled between Bavaria's rolling hills and dark forests with the towering Alps on the far horizon.

«With the current spike in barley prices, we won't be able to avoid a price increase of our beer any longer,» Erdmann said, stopping to sample his freshly brewed, golden product right from the steel fermentation kettle.

In the last two years, the price of barley has doubled to ¤200 (US$271) from ¤102 per ton as farmers plant more crops such as rapeseed and corn that can be turned into ethanol or bio-diesel, a fuel made from vegetable oil.

As a result, the price for the key ingredient in beer - barley malt, or barley that has been allowed to germinate - has soared by more than 40 percent, to around ¤385 (US$522) per ton from around ¤270 a ton two years ago, according to the Bavarian Brewers' Association.

For Germany's beer drinkers that is scary news: their beloved beverage - often dubbed 'liquid bread' because it is a basic ingredient of many Germans' daily diet - is getting more expensive. While some breweries have already raised prices, many others will follow later this year, brewers say.

George Monbiot is wondering, "What if the Oil Runs Out?".
Motorised transport is a form of time travel. We mine the compressed time of other eras – the infinitisimal rain of plankton onto the ocean floor, the settlement of trees in anoxic swamps – and use it to accelerate through our own. Every tank of fuel contains thousands of years of accretions. Our future depends on the expectation that the past will never be exhausted.

The energy white paper the government published last week talks of new taxes, new markets, new research, new incentives. Anyone reading the chapter on transport would be forgiven for believing that the government has the problem under control: as a result of its measures, we are likely to see a great reduction in our use of geological time.

But buried in another chapter, and so far missed by all journalists, there is a remarkable admission. “The majority (66%) of UK oil demand is derived from demand for transport fuels which is expected to increase modestly over the medium term.” To increase? If the government is implementing all the exciting measures the transport chapter contains, how on earth could our use of fuel increase?

You won’t find the answer in the white paper. It mysteriously forgets to mention that the government intends to build another 4000km of trunk roads and to double the capacity of our airports by 2030. Partly to permit this growth in transport, another white paper, also published last week, proposes a massive deregulation of planning law. There is no discussion in either paper of the implications of these programmes for energy use or climate change. There are plainly two governments of the United Kingdom: one determined to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel; the other determined to raise it.

What happens beyond the medium term is anyone’s guess. But it should be pretty obvious that more roads and more airports will mean that our rising use of transport fuel becomes hard-wired: the future health of the economy will depend on it. So the government must have examined this question. If our economic lives depend on continued growth in the consumption of transport fuels, it must first have determined that such growth is possible. Mustn’t it? ...

I should point out that peak oil is not like climate change: there is no consensus among scientists about when it is likely to happen. I cannot state with confidence that the IEA’s assessment is wrong. But a report published in February by the US department of energy shows how dangerous it is to rely on a single source. “Almost all forecasts are based on differing, often dramatically differing geological assumptions … Because of the large uncertainties, it is difficult to define an overriding geological basis for accepting or rejecting any of the forecasts.”

The report then publishes a long list of estimates by senior figures in and around the oil industry of a possible date for peak oil. They vary greatly, but many are clustered between 2010 and 2020. Another report, also commissioned by the US department of energy, shows that “without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.” The disasters invoked by the peaking of global oil supplies can be avoided only with a “crash progamme” beginning 20 years before it occurs. If some of the estimates in the department of energy’s report are correct, it is already too late.

The IEA believes that this crisis will be averted by opening new fields and using unconventional oil. But these cause environmental disasters of their own. Around half the new discoveries the agency expects over the next 25 years will take place in the Arctic or in the very deep sea (between 2000 and 4000 metres). In either case, a major oil spill, in such slow and fragile ecosystems, would be catastrophic. Mining unconventional oil – such as the tar sands in Canada or the kerogen shales in the US - produces far more carbon dioxide than drilling for ordinary petroleum. It also uses and pollutes great volumes of freshwater, and wrecks thousands of acres of pristine land. “In the long-term future,” the IEA says, “non-conventional, heavy oils may well become the norm rather than the exception.” If our future growth relies on these resources, we commit ourselves to ever-growing environmental impacts.

We don’t need to invoke peak oil to produce an argument for cutting our use of transport fuel. But you might have imagined that the government would have shown just a little curiosity about whether or not its transport programme will bring the economy crashing down.

The SMH reports Indonesia is threatening to seize control of undeveloped oil fields in the country. Its these sorts of stories about undeveloped fields in places Indonesia and Iran (plus "undiscovered" fields in Iraq and Libya and uncertainty about Russian reserves) that make me rather wary of predictions of imminent peak oil - clearly we aren't currently facing geological limits on how much oil is being produced right now, but political limits.
Indonesia is considering revoking licences of oil companies that fail to start developing oil and gas fields within ten years, a senior government official said on Monday. Indonesia, OPEC's second-smallest producer, has been offering new exploration rights and financial incentives for oilfields in a bid to stem a steady decline in production as the country has failed to tap new oilfields fast enough to meet domestic demand.

"We will see the contracts. If the companies do not meet their commitments on exploration after the 10-year period, we will revoke their licences," the oil and gas director general, Luluk Sumiarso, told Reuters by phone. He said the government would consider problems facing oil firms before taking a decision.

The EcoLibertarian points to a recent Oil Drum column on how much nuclear power would be required to process Alberta's tar sands - "Alberta’s oilsands need an energy infrastructure as big as Ontario’s". I came across this one as I was idly wondering today if there was an eco-libertarian movement (eco-socialists, eco-anarchists and eco-fascists are a dime a dozen, but other than the general tone of my rantings and the Viridian movement in general I'd never seen anything suggesting that eco-libertarianism was anything other than a contradiction in terms) - so I was pleasantly surprised to find this guy's blog.
Brian Wang, who blogs at Advanced Nano, has a guest post at The Oil Drum surveying what’s involved in using nuclear reactors, rather than natural gas, to power the vast facilities in Alberta’s oilsands that extract the oil from the sand.

I’m not going to lie to you: it’s extremely technical, and probably needlessly so. But here’s the nut:
If oil prices stay high and we go past peak oil and the prices go higher then it seems that making the nuclear reactors to extract the most oil for other purposes is the way to go. If all current conventional oil in North America had to be replaced with oil from the oilsands that would be about 24 million bpd [barrels per day]. 9 billion barrels per year. If Henuset/AECL/CERI are correct in the 500,000-630,000 bpd estimate [for the extraction work that one nuclear plant can power] then 48 of the 2.2[-gigawatt] twin reactors would be needed for the SAGD extraction process.

Forty-eight plants, 96 actual reactors, to power all the oilsands production if they were to supply all of North America’s oil needs.

So it’s an outside estimate, current production being only about a million barrels a day and even optimistic estimates of expansion reaching only about four million barrels a day in the foreseeable future. At four million barrels a day, we’d be talking about 16 reactors, in a province that currently has none.

Ontario, Canada’s most nuclear-dependent province, has 22 reactors for power-generation, only 16 of them functional and none of them as big as the ones Wang is talking about. The “fleet” has been a nonstop headache of underbudgeted repairs and blown-schedule refuelings for years for the succession of poor suckers who’ve been energy minister in the province, and the taxpayers who pay the bills for the provincial power system.

So anyway, that gives us a sense of the scale of what’d be involved in taking the oilsands nuclear. It’s big.

Speaking of radioactive waste, the pressure on the Aboriginal owners of the Jabiluka uranium deposit is never-ending, with a large array of carpet-baggers itching to help Rio Tinto start digging the place up, in spite of the owners saying they aren't interested.
THE Northern Land Council plans to broker a meeting between Rio Tinto and indigenous owners of Jabiluka, reviving hopes of reopening the $50 billion uranium deposit in the Kakadu National Park. Norman Fry, chief executive of the council, which represents Aboriginal groups in northern Australia, has declined to pre-empt the outcome of the meeting even though the Mirarr traditional owners said last week their approval for a mine was "not forthcoming".

Asked about the possibility of the Mirarr reversing their opposition, Mr Fry said: "We will be sitting down with Rio Tinto and the Mirarr in the not too distant future and that particular issue will be fleshed out." Mr Fry made the comments last Friday on the sidelines of a full council meeting of the NLC at a bush site at Gulkula near Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, but they have not been made public until now.

Mirarr elders last week reacted angrily to comments made in London by Rio's chief executive, Preston Chiaro, that there was good reason to believe Mirarr senior elder Yvonne Margarula would soon say yes to the development of the mine.

The Mirarrs Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation later issued a statement scathing of Rio's comments, which caused the share price of its subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia to fall 5 per cent. Gundjeihmi late last week withdrew from training and cultural development projects with ERA, which also operates the Ranger uranium mine on Mirarr land in Kakadu, 20 kilometres south of the abandoned Jabiluka site.

The pro-nuclear NLC appears certain to try to influence Ms Margarula and other Mirarr to agree to develop Jabiluka, the world's largest known untapped uranium deposit.

The debate about solar vs nuclear power has made it to the letters to the editor section of the Barossa Herald.
Dear Editor,


Michael Stuart's letter about concentrating solar power (CSP) ("Solar power is no substitute for nuclear energy", 2007-04-21) contains several errors. For readers not familiar with CSP, this is the simple but effective technique of concentrating sunlight with mirrors to create heat and then using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. Solar heat can be stored in melted salts and in the splitting of ammonia and then recombining it and this turns out to be a very easy and cheap way so that generation of electricity will continue at night and on cloudy days and no additional fossil fuel burning is required. This storage method allows for variable output for peak, medium and base power production at demand.

Far from being inefficient, CSP has huge potential to supply the world with clean electricity. It has been calculated that, if it was covered with CSP plants, an area of hot desert measuring 254 km x 254 km-which is less than 1% of the area of deserts around the world-would generate as much electricity as the world currently consumes. And it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. 90% of the world's population could be supplied from this source.

CSP is much less expensive than suggested in the letter, and costs are falling all the time. US venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems says that CSP is poised for explosive growth because of its low costs. In part this has been brought about by the use of simple cheap flat mirrors and the ammonia storage method developed by Australian scientist Dr David Mills. The 'TRANS-CSP' report, commissioned by the German government, calculates that CSP is likely to become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission.

By contrast, nuclear power is much more expensive than commonly suggested. Figures for the cost of nuclear power normally ignore hidden subsidies such as the costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations and the costs of guarding against terrorist attacks. One of the biggest hidden subsidies is the fact that nuclear power only has to pay a small fraction of the cost of insuring against the costs of a Chernobyl-style accident, or worse. "... in the United States, the Price-Anderson Act limits the nuclear industry's liability in the event of a catastrophic accident to $9.1 billion, which is less than 2% of the $600 billion guaranteed by the Congress. In any case, $600 billion is considered to be a gross underestimate ..." (Helen Caldicott, "Nuclear power is not the answer", p. 32).

Compared with the horrendous pollution problems and risks associated with nuclear power (see, the environmental impacts of CSP are tiny. Since a very small proportion of the world's hot deserts would be needed for CSP, there would be plenty left over for wildlife. Further information about CSP may be found at and

Seth Godin has a post on the choice between [More] or [Less].
Many people are arguing for a fundamental change in the way humans interact with the world. This isn't a post about whether or not we need smaller cars, local produce, smaller footprints and less consumption. It's a post about how deeply entrenched the desire for more is.

More has been around for thousands of years. Kings ate more than peasants. Winning armies had more weapons than losing ones. Elizabeth Taylor had more husbands than you.

Car dealers are temples of more. The local Ford dealership lists four different models... by decreasing horsepower. Car magazines feature Bugattis, not Priuses on the cover. Restaurants usually serve more food (and more calories) than a normal person could and should eat.

Is this some sort of character flaw? A defective meme in the system of mankind? Or is it an evil plot dreamed up by marketers?

There's no doubt that marketers amplify this desire, but I'm certain it's been around a lot longer than Jell-O.

One reason that the litter campaign of the 1960s worked so well is that 'not littering' didn't require doing less, it just required enough self control to hold on to your garbage for an hour or two. The achilles heel of the movement to limit carbon is the word 'limit.'

It's a campaign about less, not more. Even worse, there's no orthodoxy. There's argument about whether x or y is a better approach. Argument about how much is enough. As long as there's wiggle room, our desire for more will trump peer pressure to do less. "Fight global warming" is a fine slogan, except it's meaningless. That's like dieters everywhere shouting, "eat less" while they stand in line to get bleu cheese dressing from the salad bar.

As a marketer, my best advice is this: let's figure out how to turn this into a battle to do more, not less. Example one: require all new cars to have, right next to the speedometer, a mileage meter. And put the same number on an LCD display on the rear bumper. Once there's an arms race to see who can have the highest number, we're on the right track.

Jamais at Open The Future notes that earth became an Urban Planet last week. From the point of view of my "cities are the future" slogan, this is a good thing.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007. Remember that date. It's the day the Earth became an urban planet.
Working with United Nations estimates that predict the world will be 51.3 percent urban by 2010, the researchers [demographers from North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia] projected the May 23, 2007, transition day based on the average daily rural and urban population increases from 2005 to 2010. On that day, a predicted global urban population of 3,303,992,253 will exceed that of 3,303,866,404 rural people.

For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. This is, in many ways, the single most important indicator of whether we'll survive this century. Here's why:

Urban centers support people more efficiently than do small towns, villages, and the countryside. This isn't just true environmentally or economically; it's arguably also the case when it comes to the kind of intellectual ferment that drives innovation. New ideas are the sparks coming from the friction between minds -- and you get a lot more friction in the city. Urban growth, over time, makes us all stronger.

Cities require complex support systems, however. Complex infrastructure offers plenty of opportunities for failure, whether via natural disasters or human causation. Isolated failures will happen, and not pose a systemic threat. But repeated -- or un-repaired -- system failures would inevitably drive people out of the cities, by choice or by necessity.

As long as the overall proportion of urban dwellers to rural denizens continues to grow, we can reasonably conclude that human civilization is doing a decent job of maintaining its overall system integrity. If that pattern reverses -- if we start to see the proportion of urban to rural edge back towards rural dominance -- it's time to look for signs that civilization's systems are collapsing.

The APEC Energy meeting is on in Darwin at the moment, with US flunkies avoiding any action on global warming. Meanwhile, Crikey has asked some experts what should a carbon trading scheme look like ? While I far prefer carbon taxes to cap and trade schemes, I would note I could support a scheme which auctions off the permits to all bidders - however handing out pollution rights to existing carbon emitters is anti-competitive in the extreme and punishes new and more efficient competitors. Which is why big government conservatives will adopt these as their next fallback position in their battle to delay action on global warming.
Ian T Dunlop is a former senior executive in the oil, coal and gas industry. He chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on emissions trading from 1998-2000, and was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors from 1997-2001.

The science in my view is saying that climate change starts at 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere, so the objective has to be to stabilise that figure. We’re now at 430ppm, and we're currently increasing at 2ppm per annum, meaning we’ve got ten years -- if we’re lucky -- to turn these emissions down. Australian cannot hit that target on its own, but to play its role in the gobal effort, an Australian emissions trading scheme should aim to:

* Help in contracting annual global carbon emissions from 8GTC today to 3.5 GTC by 2050, a reduction of 55%;
* Reduce Australian emissions by 50% by 2025 and 90% by 2050.
* Using a modified Kyoto Protocol to provide the framework for the contraction (ie, dropping global emissions) and convergence (ie, arrive at an equal per capita carbon allocation for everyone person on the planet) process, and for international emissions trading.
* Meeting the national carbon reduction budget by a system of tradable energy quotas (TEQs) within Australia;
* Negotiating a global Oil Depletion Protocol to allocate available oil equitably between nations, determining national oil descent budgets and providing for international trading;
* Allocating oil domestically via a similar TEQ concept to emissions reduction.

Renee Garner, carbon trading policy expert

The eventual policy will need to take into account a complex range of issues, but here are three of the most crucial elements:

1. Deliver greenhouse gases reductions successfully and efficiently. Environmental integrity is essential. Binding emissions reduction obligations under the scheme must be such that emissions are reduced. The scheme should not provide some emitters with a free lunch, so to speak.

2. It needs to be compatible with international schemes and account for the varying political landscapes it will encounter overseas. Designing the scheme with the ability to link to other international schemes allows for a more frictionless entry into overseas markets in the future.

3. It needs to be economically sound in order to survive the vicissitudes of the global economic market. The amount and allocation of permits under the scheme must be seriously considered -- over-allocation can result in a lower price per permit. Where over-allocation occurs, participants are not compelled to take action to reduce their own emissions more than business as usual.

To come back to the price of carbon, the system needs to be structured so the permits are valuable. If they are not, the bottom of the market could fall out, which will have a dampening effect on investor certainty. Many of these infrastructure projects are long term and have long term investment horizons. Certainty is absolutely necessary in that regard.

Steve Hatfield Dodds, Senior Policy Economist, CSIRO Division of Land and Water.

An Australia emissions trading system needs to balance two competing issues: We need a system that signals to the world and the Australian energy sector that we are serious about taking action, but that we are going to pay particular attention to our trade exposed industries. There’s a reasonable case for providing transitional insulation for aluminium and similar sectors, but that’s quite complicated. The task group’s response to the PM will need to consider that carefully.

The policy recommendations need to prepare Australia for any future engagement with a regional or international carbon trading system, and that relies primarily on having a scheme that bites. That is, a scheme must constrain emissions more than if you didn’t have a scheme at all. This is one of the key messages out of the Stern report. Although we need everybody playing on the same field, we don’t need everybody aiming for the same targets. China’s targets do not apply to the Australian system, but the Australian targets must provide for a meaningful abatement of our emissions. If we start the scheme by signalling we’re not going to cut emissions very much and then apply stricter emissions targets, that would have very large economic costs later on. Getting the balance right initially is crucial.

Then you’ve got criteria for assessing the policy recommendations. This forms the nuts and bolts of the scheme: Do they cover most emissions in Australia? Do they promote least cost abatement? Do they provide long term enough signal to really give business confidence for investment, given that power station last 50 or 60 years? These questions need to be applied to the final report.

The SMH has an article on different wind power options.
Small wind turbines have been attracting a lot of attention recently, especially overseas. In Britain, the Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron, famously attached a micro wind turbine to the chimney of his London home, provoking a furious debate there about whether domestic turbines were of any real value.

There are plenty of turbine kits for sale in Australia. However, Dr Mark Diesendorf, a senior lecturer from the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of NSW, says wind turbines such as Cameron's would be "almost useless" because they are situated in suburban areas where much of the wind is screened by houses, trees or other obstacles.

"There is a fashion in Britain for people to buy these things and stick them on their chimneys, and in most cases it's a complete waste of money," Diesendorf says. "They would get the same amount of energy [savings] by replacing an incandescent lamp with a fluorescent bulb."

However, he says large wind turbines are extremely efficient. They are able to convert more than 45 per cent of the wind that passes through the circle of the blades into energy. He regards the Southern Tablelands, Southern Highlands and parts of the Northern Tablelands as areas with "a lot of potential" for wind farms.

But the smaller turbines that would be used in domestic settings are less efficient and, Diesendorf believes, not especially practical.

"There will be exceptional cases, usually in places on the coast with a lot of sea breeze exposure, but generally speaking there are much more cost-effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the home," he says.

On the far South Coast of NSW - where, happily, it often gets very windy - Steve Garrett, the owner of Pyramid Power, has been installing domestic-sized wind turbines for 21 years. He agrees they are not for everyone but says that during the windier months in his area the small 400-watt wind generators he installs are able to provide about two kilowatt hours a day.

He estimates this is equivalent to one-sixth of the power used by a reasonably energy-efficient house and 7 per cent of the power in a non-energy-efficient house.

Of course, in some months there is little or no wind, so no energy is provided. In addition, Garrett says, most domestic turbines are inefficient because they are not placed at a sufficient height above the building. "You need to get clear air," he says, "so it's more an energy-efficiency flag than an energy-efficiency doer."

Garrett has to prepare a council development application for every wind turbine tower over a certain height, so he recommends that people thinking about installing a wind generator at home check their council's regulations regarding height limits. "And it's a really good idea to talk to your neighbours as well".

Der Spiegel has an article raising the interesting question on some legal turbulence in "who owns the wind ?". I wonder if there is any wind equivalent of the concept of "ancient lights" ?
With a growing number of wind power stations in Germany, a new kind of legal case is rearing its ugly head. The crime: stealing wind.

It's an offense not mentioned in the bible or the statute books. But in a broader sense it is about theft, even when the booty itself is invisible. But it is still a major problem for the German legal system, including a court in Leipzig that is currently hearing a case involving a dispute between the operators of two wind turbine facilities. Who owns the wind?

The parties in the dispute are the owner of a wind farm in Deliztsch in the eastern German state of Saxony and a businessman, who wants to set up a bigger wind farm in the immediate vicinity.

The crux of the case is earnings. When two wind turbines are located too close to one another, one often falls into a slipstream. The propellers in the first wind farm decrease the wind pressure hitting the rotor blades in the second wind farm located in the slipstream. "This wind theft naturally affects profits," Leipzig lawyer Martin Maslaton says, justifying his client's complaint.

This also reduces the amount of electricity that can be produced. According to the plaintiff's own calculations, there has been a 15 percent drop in income. Over the lifespan of a wind farm, that could result in losses of several hundred thousand euros.

Technology Review reports that petrol price web sites see huge increase in visitors as Americans look for the cheapest fuel.
The higher U.S. gasoline prices go, the more money business Web entrepreneur Jason Toews makes. He started an Internet site,, in 2000 to track daily gasoline prices using volunteers to e-mail what they find. ''Hardly anybody ever used it,'' Toews, of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, recalled.

By 2004, 1 million people were visiting the site daily, although the numbers dropped when prices went down. But at the pace hits were being recorded Thursday, the site was likely to break its record of 4 million visitors, Toews said. As gasoline prices have risen, so have the hits on his site and another, ''We have had to buy more servers and it looks like we will need more,'' he said. offers information from 180 locations in the U.S. and Canada, including every major city. The site said the average price nationally in the U.S. was $3.22 (euro2.39) for a gallon -- nearly 4 liters -- of unleaded gasoline Thursday afternoon, compared with $2.86 a year ago.

Brad Proctor, founder of in Centerville, Ohio, said his site has added prices for ethanol, biodiesel, truck diesel and ultra-low-sulfur diesel. Hits on his site have doubled. As many eight people log in every second during peak periods, he said.

Dan Gilligan, president of the Arlington, Virginia-based Petroleum Marketers Association of America, said the system is a good idea but warned consumers to remember that if they drive more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) to save a few cents, they are losing money. He also said there is no guarantee the price will be the same when they arrive. ...

The SMH has an article on clear conscience investing.
Investing with a conscience can help save the planet - and be good for the hip pocket. In fact, investors who incorporate environmental and social factors into how they invest tend to do better than those using financial measures alone.

A study by AMP last year showed socially responsible investment (SRI) funds outperformed the Australian stockmarket over one, three and five years. Over five years to March 31 last year, the median-performing SRI fund produced an average annual return of 17.08 per cent compared with 14.83 per cent for the Australian sharemarket, as represented by the S&P/ASX 200 index.

Until recently, the debate was whether it was possible to invest ethically without sacrificing investment returns, Shane Oliver, AMP's chief economist, says. Now, most fund managers recognise the value of investing ethically, he says.

Michael Walsh, a former investment researcher who is now the editor of Ethical Investor magazine, says the AMP study supports academic research that investing ethically leads to better returns.

A study by Citigroup last year found many of Australia's biggest companies will be hard hit by climate change, with coal and oil companies the most at risk, while others, such as alternative-energy providers, are likely to benefit. Walsh says climate change will further cement the place of sustainability issues in the "normal" investment process.

Bruce Sterling points to an article on the ongoing conflict between humans and rodents - "Florida Tries to Wipe Out Cat-Sized African Rats". Just wait until the man sized ones arrive. Bruce also notes that the Book of a Blog is a "Blook".
Deep in the heart of the Florida Keys, wildlife officials are laying bait laced with poison to try to wipe out a colony of enormous African rats that could threaten crops and other animals.

US federal and state officials are beginning the final phase of a two-year project to eradicate the Gambian pouched rats, which can grow to the size of a cat and began reproducing in the remote area about eight years ago.

"This is the only place in the United States where this is occurring," said Gary Witmer, a biologist with the US Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado.

"They don't belong here and they need to be controlled." A former exotic pet breeder, living in a small house, bred the species and allowed the critters to escape....

Digby is pondering the politics of funding the Iraq occupation.
ou see, the Pentagon is so strapped for cash --- every single year --- that they have to come begging for more money just to put shoes on the troops' feet. They do this on purpose so they don't have to cut any of that juicy delicious Military Industrial Complex pork. We know this. It's on the record, easily found in 30 seconds worth of Googling. But because of this absurdly cryptic, symbolic way we have of communicating in this country now, not to mention the ownership of our politics by big money interests, we aren't even allowed to bring it up. The yearly "supplemental" battle is really just the latest administration blackmail demand for more taxpayer money for their contributors, with Bush holding a gun to the troops' heads and saying "don't make me do it." We are arguing about a solution for a problem that wouldn't exist if the president didn't create it each and every year.

But that is such an obscure point that it isn't even relevant. Instead of questioning why we are funding anything in this clearly opaque and illegal way, we are stuck in this confusing feed-back loop of PR, marketing and spin, struggling forward to 2008 trying to see through the dirty political water to what is actually going on. It's difficult.

The only thing I know for sure is that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are not going to withdraw from Iraq. They are playing a rough game and would rather see the troops die without bullets and body armor than admit in any way that their occupation is a failure. The Democrats remain somewhat paralyzed in the face of such sociopathic intransigence (who believes Cheney won't pull the trigger?) and the media remain unwilling to report this in any but schoolyard terms. So, the country must debate this under water --- and that makes us feel helpless and panicked as we watch more people dying in this useless ridiculous face saving exercise.

I don't know what we can do other than just keep building, building, building the pressure until it's unthinkable for Republicans to win their next election supporting this "war." Making the argument falls mainly on us, the activists and the grassroots --- and we are going to take a beating from the media for our trouble. Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll be able to come up for air in 2008.

How we fix the intellectual crisis is another problem and don't have the faintest idea how to do it. I just got Gore's new book. Perhaps it has some pointers.

According to the troops themselves, the best way to support them is to let them go home. I wonder how they would feel if you told them they need to stay another 30 years to control the oil.
Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

“In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place,” he said. “There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought: ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.”

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers — the younger, more recent enlistees in particular — seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in the company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers in this 83-man unit over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

They had seen shadowy militia commanders installed as Iraqi Army officers, they said, had come under increasing attack from roadside bombs — planted within sight of Iraqi Army checkpoints — and had fought against Iraqi soldiers whom they thought were their allies.

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

Richard Dawkins is bemoaning the sinister challenge of cultural relativism, while elsewhere in the Guardian the demise of science itself is being fretted over.
Thirty per cent of physics departments have either been closed or merged in the past five years. What is one to make of the deafening silence of ministers when, last year, the small Sussex chemistry department - a fantastic department to work in, where I stayed for some 37 years and which has housed some 12 fellows of the Royal Society, three Nobel laureates and a Wolf prize winner since it was created in 1962 - was under threat of closure? It was only through the concerted efforts of staff and students that a U-turn occurred.

Does no one in the government care, or is there a hidden agenda? Some government measures, such as those aimed at improving technology transfer and the encouragement of start-ups, have been successful. However, nothing effective has been done by this government, or for that matter the previous one, to improve the situation on the science education front. Indeed, several new measures have exacerbated the problem. The laissez-faire attitude to science education has resulted in a disaster exemplified by the fact that more young people are opting for media studies than physics.

As a new five-storey chemistry building nears completion here at Florida State University (where I was wanted!), the jaws of American colleagues drop with incredulity at news of each successive UK science department closure.

All of this matters because the need for a general population with a satisfactory understanding of science and technology has never been greater. We live in a world economically, socially and culturally dependent on science not only functioning well, but being wisely applied.

Unfortunately, the numbers of young people opting for scientific training has dwindled frighteningly all over the developed world, not just in the UK. It is worth noting that, over decades, the US has been spectacularly successful in making up its homegrown science and technology shortfall by draining first western European scientists, and now eastern European and Asian scientists.

As well as trained engineers and scientists, we desperately need a scientifically literate general population, capable of thinking rationally - and that includes lawyers, businesspeople, farmers, politicians, journalists and athletes. This is vital if we are to secure a sustainable world for our grandchildren.

The facts that a) we use in one year an amount of fossil fuel that took a million years to accumulate, b) we may be on the verge of a climate change catastrophe of global proportions and c) powerful technologies may soon fall into the hands of disturbed individuals with minds riven with those twin cancers of nationalism and religious fanaticism, seem to concern the scientific community a lot more than they do politicians or the media. As my Sussex colleague, the Nobel laureate Sir John Cornforth, has written: "If you are a scientist, you realise before long that if the world is in anyone's hands, it is in yours." ...

Do I think there is any hope for UK? I am really not sure. It is beyond belief that in the 21st century, our prime minister and the Department for Education and Skills are diverting taxpayers' money to faith-based groups intent on propagating culturally divisive dogma that is antagonistic to the secular, enlightened philosophy that created the modern world.

It is a scandal that the present system is enabling a car salesman to divert significant government funds to propagate dogma such as "intelligent design" in our schools. State funds are also being used to support some schools that abuse impressionable young people by brainwashing them into believing that non-believers will burn for all eternity in the fires of hell. This policy is a perfect recipe for the creation of the next generation of homegrown and state-educated suicide bombers.

I think there is every likelihood that the lack of scientifically educated and aware young people in the UK will result in ever poorer performance on a global scale, and a takeover by the next generation of young Chinese and Indians, ravenous for the scientific knowledge that will free them from the shackles of present poverty levels. They are being actively encouraged by their governments, who understand that the future lies in a scientific education based on doubt and questioning, rather than on belief.

It is truly disturbing that a well-funded cohort of religious groups - aided, abetted and condoned by the Labour government - is undermining our science education. If they achieve any more success in their subversion of the intrinsic secular safeguards embodied in our democratic institutions and our educational system, there can be no doubt there is major trouble ahead. So my final message is: "Do Panic!"

I'm not sure if I should stick this right after a piece on the demise of science, but here's one for free energy buffs - "Florida Man Invents Machine To Turn Water Into Fire". Video here.
A Florida man may have accidentally invented a machine that could solve the gasoline and energy crisis plaguing the U.S.

Sanibel Island resident John Kanzius is a former broadcast executive from Pennsylvania who wondered if his background in physics and radio could come in handy in treating the disease from which he suffers: cancer.

Kanzius, 63, invented a machine that emits radio waves in an attempt to kill cancerous cells while leaving normal cells intact. While testing his machine, he noticed that his invention had other unexpected abilities.

Filling a test tube with salt water from a canal in his back yard, Kanzius placed the tube and a paper towel in the machine and turned it on. Suddenly, the paper towel ignited, lighting up the tube like it was a wax candle.

"Pretty neat, huh?" Kanzius asked WPBF's Jon Shainman.

Kanzius performed the experiment without the paper towel and got the same result -- the saltwater was actually burning.


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