Neo Peak Oil  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , , , , ,

Edward Tapamor at Peak Oil Passnotes has some comments on his perception of the need for some of the old school peak oil movement to change tack to remain relevant as the subject becomes more widely understood.

If we think of peak oil as a subject in itself, rather than a subset of general discourse about oil and energy, then we can see it has been around for something approaching 100 years. After World War One there was sustained and popular debate about the prospect of the U.S.’s valuable resource running out. After all there was no more to be found and it was going to be too expensive anyway.

This debate has been repeated a few times since then, most notably in the 1970s, but it has never been stronger than it is now. Nor has it attracted such a wide range of people willing to discuss it.

The basics of peak oil are in fact quite simple. Under the present, failing, economic system scarcity breeds profits. Thus peak oil presents opportunities for those who control resources and powerful people, powerful nations and institutions rarely give away their golden goose. That the consequences may be painful for weaker people like you and me matters not.

Secondly there is the scale of the problem. That is if the world is consuming around 85 million barrels per day of oil - and demand is set at the very least to remain constant - one has to bring on stream around 3.4 million barrels per day of oil, each year and every year, just to stand still. That is a big task in the present day environment and is exacerbated by the first problem, the fact that scarcity breeds profits.

Unfortunately for the world, it appears to be – at least – stepping onto a plateau of global production that will only be altered by economics. In other words it is only recessions that can dampen demand, reduce costs and allow the oil industry to ‘catch up’ by bringing capacity on stream when demand is low. The oil industry is banking on a recession to do just that.

But sadly for the oil industry a few items have changed. Populations in producer countries, such as the poor people who live under the heel of the U.S. client state in Saudi Arabia, are growing in numbers. They will inevitably consume more energy. Then of course there is the wildcards of China and India. Even with a recession demand in those countries will continue to grow.

So following on from the meeting of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO) in Eire recently it is time for the peakers to get their act together. ASPO must cement itself as a credible, reasoned organisation. Not one that publishes fascist-eugenicist rants and calls anyone who diverts from the line a “cornucopian”.

It must have a global focus and structure, not one splintered and focussed upon individuals such as Colin Campbell. Nice man though he is – apart from that publication which was very worrying - he cannot hope to cement a global debate on peak oil. His treatment of Fatih Birol at the ASPO Berlin meeting was a disaster and dampened any reasoned debate. Kjell Aleklett, Jean Laherrere, Baquis and many others must also stand down, move aside.

ASPO must also take its place as part of a debate about the energy future. Not the bringer of all truth to the ignorant masses. It must be the OPEC of peak oil, with rotating nations’ organisations heading up debate. It must learn to debate with its enemies, with the industry. It must learn the art of persuasion, not ridicule, not conspiracy and be part of a world that accepts peak oil as part of energy supply issues. Not as a reason to write self promoting, self aggrandising books.

It is time for the new wave of peakers to take the stage. And they are there. Waiting.

After Gutenberg has a report on the Rocky Mountain Institute's efforts to design Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicles from the ground up, in the wake of (somewhat inconsistent) foot dragging from the big manufacturers.
Felix Kramer1 relays word of RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute) PHEV Exploratory Project: a multi-year process of designing and producing a new PHEV from the ground up.
Rocky Mountain Institute and its founder / chief scientist, Amory Lovins, have had an incalculable impact on the way we think about technology and society. From "negawatts" to "natural capitalism" and "tunneling through the cost barrier," RMI specializes in changing the way we look at energy, efficiency and our infrastructure.

RMI has put together what Kramer describes as “an exceptional automotive consulting group” led by John Waters. An engineer with experience in business development, Waters long background in the battery world includes stints at EnerDel, Delphi, and Electronic Data Systems (he led the battery design programs for GM’s EV1 and Electric S-10).
Originally part of RMI’s transportation consulting team, the PHEV now is working with Alcoa, Johnson Controls, Google, and the Turner Foundation to explore the possibilities of bringing a lightweight, fully functional PHEV to the US market. As this effort unfolds, various technologies and market strategies will be explored and developed.

The PHEV team will focus research on:
* Battery, motor, engine, and control technologies
* Optimized vehicle platform characteristics (i.e., aerodynamics, lightweighting, rolling resistance)
* Various market penetration scenarios
* Enterprise structures

RMI views the work of the PHEV as complementary and essential to its overall effort in shifting the current energy supply and energy use infrastructures to fully integrated systems. These new energy systems will leverage sustainable energy (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, etc.) and integrate vehicle-to-grid and building-to-grid scenarios. This is part of RMI’s "Smart Garage" methodology whereby whole system energy solutions can be realized through the integration of users to the overall energy system, thereby providing radical breakthroughs in energy savings and emission reduction.

Recently, RMI was one of the six organizations receiving grants from’s RechargeIT project. Kramer notes that RMI is renown for its technical depth and its initial partnerships. “In addition to the publicly-announced startups (Fisker, Visionary Vehicles, Venture Vehicles),” notes Kramer, “we can expect to hear from a few other such efforts in the near future.”

It is the impression of this blog that such initiative is occurring because of foot-dragging from the car makers. While there has been considerable hyperbole and puffery about reducing vehicle weight, there also has been a general reluctance to shift away from the heavy equates to quality paradigm. The RMI PHEV Exploratory Project is an example of leadership; someone will demonstrate to the car companies how to shift the paradigm. As previously noted, the argument for the use of lightweight advanced-composite structures to lessen oil consumption is basically one of physics; a lighter vehicle means less energy is required, which in turn could allow for the application of smaller power plants that consume less fuel and produce fewer emissions.

While much lighter, the Hypercar is designed for safety. Not only is the composite shell stronger than steel, the concept car includes an inner crashbox modeled after those used by formula race cars. Further safety features are the inclusion of crushable / shock-absorbing material plus front and side airbags.

A light weight, safe vehicle is a major accomplishment, and, yet the initial concept was bothersome since it stuck with propulsion that over time still contributed a significant amount of green house gases. A similar situation is the incongruous efforts by General Motors to use clean, renewable solar energy for an infrastructure that continues to produce gas guzzling, polluting transportation, or efforts by Ford to incorporate cradle to cradle design in its infrastructure and products while funding efforts to resist the reduction of particulate matter in diesel fumes that correlates to asthma and other respiratory illness, particularly in youth and the elderly.

Now that the banana farmers have gone back to the CADM, such development mean more than a theoretical hope that the entire body of an electric powered hypercar could be made of low-cost, environmentally-benign materials and serve as a repository for energy storage from 1) the Grid, 2) local energy production and 3) regenerative processes afforded by the power electronics of the vehicle.

After Gutenberg also has some further comments on solar thermal power, particularly in the MENA area.
From Renewable Energy Access1 we learn that “harnessing the sun’s energy falling on just 6,000 square kilometers of desert in North Africa would supply energy equivalent to the entire oil production of the Middle East of 9 billion barrels a year.” The German Aerospace Center made this estimate based upon the power generated by solar thermal electric power plants “of between 50 and 200 MW in size in different locations across North Africa.”
The study calculated that solar thermal power plants could supply 68 percent of North Africa’s as well as Europe’s electricity by 2050. Cables to transmit electricity from North Africa to Europe have already been built under the sea.

Who knows, staff at the center might even appreciate the United Arab Emirates using the billions acquired for their oil to develop new, renewable energy sources.

In any case, such a report comes at a time when significant development of CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) is underway in Spain. As previously noted, SyV (Sacyr-Vallehermoso), one of the largest Spanish infrastructure corporations, is undertaking three solar power plants in Spain with a total capacity of 150 MW and a total overall investment of $890 million. An estimated $500 million will go to the supplier of the technology. Solel parabolic trough thermal technology has been responsible for continuous production of utility scale power in California’s Mojave Desert over the last twenty years.

The RE article used the German proposal as a way to mention Flabeg, “a German-based manufacturer of parabolic trough mirrors for solar thermal power plants. The company recently developed a mirror that can reflect 93 percent of the sun’s rays.” Flaberg wants to sell high precision mirrors, which can concentrate the solar power onto an absorber tube with a diameter of 70 mm or less, in the solar thermal power plant market arising in Spain and North Africa.
The company is set to deliver 210,000 of the high precision mirrors to the 50 megawatt (MW) solar thermal power plant Andasol II, in Spain—the biggest in Europe—by the end of June 2008… Flabeg has already equipped the 50 MW Andasol I solar thermal plant with 210,000 RP 3 mirrors.

Flaberg is using the precision of their reflectors as a selling point. The author of the article, Jane Burgermeister, states that one of these 50 MW solar power plants can generate an estimated, “5 million kilowatt-hours more of electricity for every extra 1 percent of sunlight that is collected by solar mirrors.” (One would assume that estimate is based upon the expected lifespan of the installation.)

Optical characteristics are critical to design, manufacturing, operation and maintenance of the solar field, particularly with the required to build a utility-scale solar thermal electric power plant. There is a trade-off because of cost. (See 2007 National Renewable Energy Laboratory report on estimations of material costs2. The report compared polished aluminum, thin mirrored glass and silvered polymer film coated aluminum, all of which can make use of recycled materials.) Not only must developers consider reflective ability, but also congruency with design of the support structure and durability over the expected life of the facility. Some prefer metal reflectors because of their lower cost.

Vinod Khosla, an advocate for and investor in solar thermal electric power, has noted that “worldwide, the electric power industry creates 40 percent of total carbon emissions, and electricity use is rapidly growing.” Large-scale, affordable sources of clean power are needed “to meet the dual challenges of economic growth and carbon constraints.” Khosla also has advocated for development of the interconnected electricity system between regions, power brokers, etc. Sophistication in power generation needs to be equaled by elegance in distribution for CSP to be effective.

RE commentator Hussain Alrobaei reminds its readers that MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) is one of the principle regions around the globe that benefits from a higher solar radiance.
There will be a significant market for producing solar electricity under the ideal meteorological conditions in the sunbelt countries of the MENA and transferring part of this electricity to Europe. As proposed recently by the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, concentrating solar thermal power stations in MENA could be used for export electricity to Europe as well as for providing regional freshwater from combined thermal desalination of sea water [1,2]. The electricity produced in CSP plants can be used for domestic needs and export, as well as for additional desalination of sea water through reverse osmosis (RO), if required. The design of such combined solar power and desalination plants can be flexibly adapted to any required size and need. CSP plants can be designed from 5 MW to several 100 MW capacity [3]. Therefore, in the future European mix of energy sources for power generation, CSP can serve to cover base load, intermediate load or peaking load and even to compensate the fluctuations of PV and wind power.

One of the organisations pushing for the development of North African solar energy resources is TREC (the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation initiative), which was initiated by the Club Of Rome, with the motto "Clean Power From Deserts".
The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) is an initiative that campaigns for the transmission of clean power from deserts to Europe. Since it was founded in 2003 by The Club of Rome, the Hamburg Climate Protection Foundation and the National Energy Research Center of Jordan (NERC), it has developed the DESERTEC Concept and researched it in cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Now TREC is making this concept a reality in cooperation with people in politics, industry and the world of finance.

The DESERTEC Concept of TREC is to boost the generation of electricity and desalinated water by solar thermal power plants and wind turbines in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and to transmit the clean electrical power via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines throughout those areas and as from 2020 (with overall just 10-15% transmission losses) to Europe.

The technologies that are needed to realise the DESERTEC concept are already developed and some of them have been in use for decades. Several studies by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) confirm the viability of this concept and the usefulness of realising it very soon.

The SMH reports that the latest US Climate change conference has been branded a failure.
The White House-sponsored climate change conference, which ended today, has been labelled a failure by one of Australia's most powerful commentators on the environment. Don Henry, executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said Australia needed to stop copying the US position on climate change immediately.

"It is disappointing the conference has not delivered,'' Mr Henry said. ''(US) President Bush is still resisting setting binding targets or commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. "He wants the flexibility of voluntary targets. "The US is the world's biggest climate laggard and are holding up global action on climate change.''

Mr Henry said Mr Bush's climate change policies were "disastrous'' and Australia had to "disconnect'' itself from them. "More than any other country on Earth we should tackle this issue seriously with our water supplies at risk and the Great Barrier Reef,'' he said. "At the conference every developed country has taken on board binding targets and every developing country has committed to cleaning up their economy and set long-term aspirational goals. "The only two that have not are Australia and the US who have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and stand out like sore thumbs.''

Tom Paine has a post predicting that as Bush's reign of terror comes to a close, the atmosphere is in further danger from cloud of toxic lame duck executive decisions.
If this week's revelations by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., are any indication, it's going to be an ugly time for breathers during the last 16 months of the Bush administration. And it could be a boom time for special interests seeking to cash in before the President heads off to the ranch.

Possible deals are in store for coal, cars, and a variety of smokestack industries - a veritable "onslaught" as my friend, John Walke of the National Resources Defense Council puts it.

Usually we can only guess how these deals are cut behind the scenes. But Waxman provided a rare glimpse of Bush administration skullduggery as he released the results of an investigation of furtive administration attempts to sandbag a request by California to enforce its landmark greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles.

The California standards are extraordinarily important because more than a dozen other states have adopted or plan to adopt them.

The car companies have launched an all-out war to kill the standards. In one key battleground, a federal judge in Vermont recently upheld that state's version of the standards despite a ferocious attack by the auto industry, which basically claimed the California/Vermont standards would put them out of business. ...

Waxman's investigation makes it appear as if the fix is in to kill California's request simply to satisfy one special-interest polluter. And that doesn't bode well for other key administration decisions to be made in the coming months regarding pollution requirements for coal-burning power plants, mining, fuels and other matters. To cite one shocking example, an EPA official noted last week that the administration is likely to promote the notion of making liquid fuel from coal as part of its answer to the Supreme Court decision on global warming - even though doing this likely would make global warming even worse!

One thing is certain: the polluters have really bulked up to deal with the Bush final days. The two key architects of air pollution policy for the Bush Administration — Jeffrey Holmstead and William Wehrum — have both gone through the proverbial revolving door to law firms that represent electric power companies and other big polluters. (Holmstead to Bracewell Giuliani, Wehrum to Hunton & Williams.)

They are very smart fellows and will probably do a great job representing their clients. But that may not be the best news possible for the rest of us who can't afford to hold our breath for 16 months.

Distibuted manufacturing of uniquely identifiable and locatable objects is one of those emerging fields I think will help us to omplement full cradle to cradle manufacturing techniques and to put problems like peak oil behind us - this is one of Bruce Sterling's favourite topics (usually tagged with words like spime or blobject) these days, and TreeHugger reports he has made a movie on "Downloadable Designs".
Bruce Sterling has not only written the book on downloadable designs (called Shaping Things), He made the movie too!

According to Putting People First", The future will see a new kind of object — we have the primitive forms of them now in our pockets and briefcases: user-alterable, baroquely multi-featured, and programmable — that will be sustainable, enhanceable, and uniquely identifiable. Sterling coins the term “spime” for them, these future manufactured objects with informational support so extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. Spimes are designed on screens, fabricated by digital means, and precisely tracked through space and time. They are made of substances that can be folded back into the production stream of future spimes, challenging all of us to become involved in their production.

Last night Sterling showed an amazing video in Italy; you can see it :: Here

Bruce himself reports that the "Climate Crisis Is Stirring Brain-Eating Amoeba". Another horror from down under...
(((I don't make the news, I just blog it, folks....)))

Link: Arizona Boy Dies Of Rare Infection - Local News Story - KPHO Phoenix.

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational water-born illnesses for the CDC. "This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

Though infections tend to be found in southern states, Naegleria has been found almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even some swimming pools. Still, the CDC knows of only several hundred cases worldwide since its discovery in Australia in the 1960s. The amoeba typically live in lake bottoms, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment. Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose -- say, by doing a cannonball off a cliff -- the amoeba can latch onto the person's olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up to the brain. People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers, Beach said. In the later stages, they'll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes. Once infected, most people have little chance of survival.....

I included a couple of links about the evolution of social entrepreneurship in a post a week or so ago, including one to grassroots loan broker Kiva, which is the subject of an article in today's SMH - apparently they have been so successful raising money lately that there is a shortage of firms to lend to.
Last month I became a financier, or, to be more specific, a microfinancier. I lent $50 to Saitia Teropika in Samoa. I've never been to Samoa or met Teropika, but I know she's 37 years old and has nine children. I know the money is to help her buy seeds and pesticides to expand her market garden.

I know all this because of an innovative organisation called Kiva, which supports charity in the form of zero-interest business loans. It does this by using a website to link people in the First World to people in the Third. Founded in 2005 by an American couple, Matt and Jessica Flannery, it is a fascinating use of the internet.

Kiva (the word is Swahili for "unity"), in San Francisco, deals with potential borrowers through 68 microfinance companies in the Third World. These "field partners" charge the borrowers interest and take responsibility for identifying responsible entrepreneurs, disbursing the loan, collecting repayments and giving lenders periodic updates on how the business is going.

The concept has been a modest hit in America. So far $US11 million ($12.5 million) has been lent by 119,000 people. When I visited the website this week to look for a second business to fund, I found a message possibly unique in the history of charity: "Due to a recent surge in support ignited by viewers of the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today Show, and readers of President [Bill] Clinton's newly released book Giving, there is currently a shortage of businesses in need of loans. The staff and our field partners are working overtime to get more businesses on the website."

But it's not just Americans who are involved. Contributors to Saitia Teropika's $750 loan also come from Germany, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Italy and Taiwan, and there are several Australians. Lenders can create a profile on the site and put up their photo and some personal details: this is charity for the MySpace generation.

Common Dreams has an article from Ray McGovern on Bush, Oil and Moral Bankruptcy.
It is an exceedingly dangerous time. Vice President Dick Cheney and his hard-core “neo-conservative” protégés in the administration and Congress are pushing harder and harder for President George W. Bush, isolated from reality, to honor the promise he made to Israel to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.On Sept. 23, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned pointedly:
“If we escalate tensions, if we succumb to hysteria, if we start making threats, we are likely to stampede ourselves into a war [with Iran], which most reasonable people agree would be a disaster for us…I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq.”

So why the pressure for a wider war in which any victory will be Pyrrhic-for Israel and for the U.S.? The short answer is arrogant stupidity; the longer answer-what the Chinese used to call “great power chauvinism”-and oil.

The truth can slip out when erstwhile functionaries write their memoirs (the dense pages of George Tenet’s tome being the exception). Kudos to the still functioning reportorial side of the Washington Post, which on Sept. 15, was the first to ferret out the gem in former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan’s book that the Iraq war was “largely about oil.”

But that’s okay, said the Post’s editorial side (which has done yeoman service as the White House’s Pravda) the very next day. Dominating the op-ed page was a turgid piece by Henry Kissinger, serving chiefly as a reminder that there is an excellent case to be made for retiring when one reaches the age of statutory senility.

Dr. Kissinger described as a “truism” the notion that “the industrial nations cannot accept radical forces dominating a region on which their economies depend.” (Curious. That same truism was considered a bad thing, when an integral part of the “Brezhnev Doctrine” applied to Eastern Europe.) What is important here is that Kissinger was speaking of Iran, which-in a classic example of pot calling kettle black-he accuses of “seeking regional hegemony.” What’s going on here seems to be a concerted effort to get us accustomed to the prospect of a long, and possibly expanded war.

Don’t you remember? Those terrorists, or Iraqis, or Iranians, or jihadists…whoever…are trying to destroy our way of life.

The White House spin machine is determined to justify the war in ways they think will draw popular support from folks like the well-heeled man who asked me querulously before a large audience, “Don’t you agree that several GIs killed each week is a small price to pay for the oil we need?”

The Bush policy toward the Middle East is at the same time consistent with, and a marked departure from, the U.S. approach since the end of World War II. Given ever-growing U.S. dependence on imported oil, priority has always been given to ensuring the uninterrupted supply of oil, as well as securing the state of Israel. The U.S. was, by and large, successful in achieving these goals through traditional diplomacy and commerce. Granted, it would overthrow duly elected governments, when it felt it necessary-as in Iran in 1953, after its president nationalized the oil. But the George W. Bush administration is the first to start a major war to implement U.S. policy in the region.

Just before the March 2003 attack, Chas Freeman, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia for President George H.W. Bush, explained that the new policy was to maintain a lock on the world’s energy lifeline and be able to deny access to global competitors. Freeman said the new Bush administration “believes you have to control resources in order to have access to them” and that, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. is uniquely able to shape global events-and would be remiss if it did not do so. This could not be attempted in a world of two superpowers, but has been a longstanding goal of the people closest to George W. Bush.

In 1975 in Harpers, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger authored under a pseudonym an article, “Seizing Arab Oil.”

Blissfully unaware that the author was his boss, the highly respected career ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, committed the mother of all faux pas when he told a TV audience that whoever wrote that article had to be a “madman.” Akins was right; he was also fired.

The Huffington Post has an article on John Dean and his alienation from the Republican tribe - "From Nixon to Bush to Giuliani--"Much, Much Worse"".
John Dean knows something about White House abuse of power. He wrote a bestseller in 2004 on the Bush White House called Worse Than Watergate. In a recent interview I asked him what he thinks of that title now. Now, he replied, a book comparing Bush and Nixon would have to be called Much, Much Worse.

"Look at the so-called Watergate abuses of power," he said. "Nobody died. Nobody was tortured. Millions of Americans were not subject to electronic surveillance of their communications. We're playing now in a whole different league."

And how does Bush compare with the Republicans seeking to succeed him? "If a Rudy Giuliani were to be elected," Dean said, "he would go even farther than Cheney and Bush in their worst moments."

What about the rest of the pack? "I'm very concerned about the current attitude in the Republican party," he said. "However there are candidates on the Republican side who are not quite as frightening as Giuliani." When I asked who he had in mind, he laughed and said "Ron Paul." He conceded that "there's no chance he's going to be president."

Dean's new book is Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches. It's a massively documented and thorough indictment, arguing that, over the last 30 years, Republicans have broken or ignored laws, rules, and the Constitution. He's especially critical of the growth of presidential power under Bush II, and what he calls the "corruption" of the courts by "radical conservatives."

I asked Dean to imagine the moment when Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, presumably to be replaced by a Democrat, presumably Hillary -- will it then be possible to say "our long national nightmare is over"? Dean replied with one word: "Yes." He quickly added, "I do feel strongly that the Republicans have so abused the law and embedded so many people within the system, within the executive branch, that's it's going to take a couple of terms of Democratic presidents before you have people there who are representing the American people." Does that mean he is supporting Hillary? "She's obviously the one the other Democrats have to beat," he said, "but I don't take any position."

How then would he describe his political position? He says in his new book that he's left his "former tribe" - does that make him a Democrat today? "It doesn't," he replied. "I carry water for nobody. My only interest is being an honest information broker about what's happening. I have no agenda other than explaining - and being shocked at my former tribe."

"I've had invitations to become involved with Democrats," he added, "and have turned them all down. I'm an independent. That happens to be the largest group of voters in the country today - we're about 40 per cent strong."


* Scientific American - Sunny Outlook: Can Sunshine Provide All U.S. Electricity?
* CSP Today - First Forum On Concentrating Solar Thermal Power To Take Place In Seville
* Europa Rapid - Energising Europe: A real market with secure supply
* WorldChanging - Taking Public Transit: The Most Effective Route to Cutting Carbon. Or even better, walk or ride a bike...
* Alt Energy Stocks - Visual Comparison of Alternative Transportation Fuels
* Alt Energy Stocks - Visual Comparison of Electricity Generation Technologies
* Brisbane Courier Mail - Global food shock real, says former Nats leader
* TreeHugger - The 100 Mile Café: More for the Locavore
* TreeHugger - The Exxon FIles: The Denial Continues
* Andrew Leonard - Don't cry for Saudi Arabia
* Huffington Post - New Rule: Stop Saying Iraq is Another Vietnam, it's Another Enron. I wonder how Ken Lay is doing these days.
* New York Times - Pressure to deal with Blackwater mounting
* The Nation - Congress Quietly Approves Billions More for Iraq War. Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold (+ 12 other Democrats in the House) vote against.
* NY Post - Bloomberg: Insurgents In Iraq Like Americans Who Fought British. How indiscreet - I thought we were liberating them from tyranny.
* Lancaster Intelligencer Journal - Ellsberg Calls for Actions to Prevent War with Iran
* Democracy Now - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Indigenous Rights, Climate Change, Iraq, Establishing Diplomatic Relations with Iran, Che Guevara's Legacy and More
* Beyond The Beyond - Germans Take to the Streets. "Liberty instead of fear !".
* Common Dreams - The Internet: Our Last Hope for a Free Press
* LRC Blog - What Really Happened on the Ferry From Mackinac Island?

Prepare For Food Shortages  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Rodent is doing some of his customary fear-mongering and wedge politics, warning voters to prepare for food shortages and blaming greens for preventing dam construction in past years. If rain doesn't fall (and thus not fill dams that do not exist) is it the fault of those who didn't build the dams, or those who helped make the rain go away...

The drought will cause a food shortage and Australians may have to get used to paying much higher prices, Prime Minister John Howard said. "There will be a food shortage and that will have an effect on prices. We do have to face that reality," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting in Melbourne. "We are seeing what the experts call a climate shift, and I do think we should keep our heads about it. I don't think we should write off farming."

Mr Howard said it was not possible to avoid water restrictions because of the current inadequate water infrastructure. "But if some years ago we had not bowed so much to the greens and had built more dams, maybe things would have been different, and that applies all around the country," he said. Mr Howard said the days of endlessly hosing the car on the back lawn on Sunday mornings were gone. [BG: heaven forbid]

The prime minister said he did not believe the drought would drive many farmers off the land, even though the federal government had doubled exit grants to $150,000. The government paid such grants to farmers and not to other struggling businesses because of the special significance of maintaining a viable farm sector.

Meanwhile, one big dam which does exist is now covered with blue green algae that is thriving in the elevated temperatures. It was a balmy 30 degrees here today - quite a lot higher than average. No wonder my tap water is starting to taste like pool water - they must be using a lot of chlorine now...
A BLUE-GREEN algal bloom has taken over most of Warragamba Dam, with small levels of toxins found just below the surface. Recent testing of the algae had shown three positive samples of microcystins, toxins that can cause skin irritation and stomach upsets if consumed in large doses. But NSW Health has stressed that the quality of Sydney's drinking water is not under threat.

Kerry Chant, the acting NSW chief health officer, said the levels of toxins were very low and had been found about three metres below the surface, not from where drinking water was being sourced.

The Water Minister, Phil Koperberg, said the bloom now stretched across 75 per cent of the dam - more than 58 kilometres - and more than twice the area it occupied at the beginning of the month. He said it was possible drinking water could be mildly affected, but this would be limited, with water being safely drawn from 48 metres below the algae. "There could be a discernible odour or taste with the water in the coming months," he said.

Warmer weather had provided the perfect conditions for the bloom to grow and could be present until at least Christmas. "It is a bloom which, due to the warm weather, is likely to persist," Mr Koperberg said. "It is very unlikely, unless there is some unforeseen meteorological event, that this bloom will either dissipate or disappear during the summer. It's, more likely than not, going to be around at Christmas."

The SMH reports the Howard government's climate "strategy" has been branded "a disaster" No sh*t Sherlock.
THE Howard Government's strategy to deal with climate change - including support for "aspirational" goals rather than binding targets - could lead to catastrophic consequences in Australia, a study has found. These include a threefold increase in heat-related deaths, the collapse of crop yields and a serious decline in river flows.

The scientific report, commissioned by the conservation group WWF, will be released today, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, join ministers from the main polluting economies in Washington to discuss climate change negotiations.

The head of WWF, Greg Bourne, criticised the Government yesterday over its support for "aspirational" goals to reduce emissions. It promoted the goals at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting that resulted in the Sydney Declaration. "The Australian Government continues to tinker while Rome burns," Mr Bourne said. "This report proves that it is contrary to the national interest for the Australian Government to negotiate any deal which is not intended to cut global emissions in half."

The report, "Dangerous Aspirations: Beyond 3degreesC Warming" in Australia, was written by Barrie Pittock, the former head of the CSIRO's Climate Impacts Group. Dr Pittock analysed a report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, released during APEC, that found that even with new technologies, greenhouse emissions were still projected to rise 60 per cent above 1990 levels by 2050 if deep cuts are not made. Dr Pittock said the latest report of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found this level of emissions would lead to a global temperature rise of between 3.2 and 4.9 degrees.

"On an even more serious note, such a rise in temperature would almost certainly trigger an unstoppable climate tipping point," Dr Pittock said. This is the point where climate change reaches a point of instability, causing the changes to magnify.

Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett has done a Nelson and uttered "Three little words to freak out the farmers", provoking some bizarre misrepresentation from the restless fever swamps of the Coalition backbenches.
IT TOOK just three words for Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, to provoke the allegation that he was the "Grim Reaper" of Australia's farmers. All Mr Garrett did was say "Well, it is" when asked by the host of the ABC's Lateline, Tony Jones, whether it was time to audit agricultural land to see if any would be rendered unviable by global warming.

With that Malcolm Turnbull's assistant minister, John Cobb, declared he was horrified, saying farming voters in his seat of Parkes were terrified about what might happen to them under Labor. "It would be akin to letting the Grim Reaper loose on our people," he said. "Are we going to end up with a Garrett line across NSW which states where you can and can't farm? So-called experts pontificating in the media on which areas of agricultural land are viable, from the comfort of their air-conditioned, carbon-spewing office buildings in the middle of our capital cities, truly make me fear that sanity and the facts will be lost and our western communities could be destroyed."

But Mr Garrett did not exactly hold up a scythe when he made his appearance on Lateline on Wednesday night. Instead, he spoke of the need to have a "cost benefit analysis of the impact of climate change on the Australian economy or environment". He pointed out that there was already "a fair amount of information that is accumulated by our natural resource management agencies". He said: "What we don't have is an overall natural picture right now of the national impacts that climate change will have on agricultural lands that you can look at in one central location."

But this is the election campaign that's happening even before an election has been called. And Mr Garrett is fair game for the Government, which has already accused him of wanting to destroy the jobs of coalminers with his support for action on global warming. "It will be over my dead body that anyone is forced to leave their properties because the Labor Party wants to look like it is doing something about climate change," Mr Cobb said.

Mr Garrett issued a statement saying the claims were "ridiculous" and denying there was a "secret plan to throw farmers off their land".

Meanwhile, an ad mocking the Government's expensive climate change ad campaign has raised $100,000 in a day. The executive director of the campaign group GetUp, Brett Solomon, said the response had been "jaw dropping" with more than 2000 donating an average of $50 each.

While global warming driven drought is one factor making food less affordable, the other is the biofuel craze. The Economist has had enough and says Ethanol, schmethanol, looking at the drawbacks of ethanol and some of the leading edge alternatives (sounds like they've been reading Tech Review).
SOMETIMES you do things simply because you know how to. People have known how to make ethanol since the dawn of civilisation, if not before. Take some sugary liquid. Add yeast. Wait. They have also known for a thousand years how to get that ethanol out of the formerly sugary liquid and into a more or less pure form. You heat it up, catch the vapour that emanates, and cool that vapour down until it liquefies.

The result burns. And when Henry Ford was experimenting with car engines a century ago, he tried ethanol out as a fuel. But he rejected it—and for good reason. The amount of heat you get from burning a litre of ethanol is a third less than that from a litre of petrol. What is more, it absorbs water from the atmosphere. Unless it is mixed with some other fuel, such as petrol, the result is corrosion that can wreck an engine's seals in a couple of years. So why is ethanol suddenly back in fashion? That is the question many biotechnologists in America have recently asked themselves.

The obvious answer is that, being derived from plants, ethanol is “green”. The carbon dioxide produced by burning it was recently in the atmosphere. Putting that CO2 back into the air can therefore have no adverse effect on the climate. But although that is true, the real reason ethanol has become the preferred green substitute for petrol is that people know how to make it—that, and the subsidies now available to America's maize farmers to produce the necessary feedstock. Yet such things do not stop ethanol from being a lousy fuel. To solve that, the biotechnologists argue, you need to make a better fuel that is equally green. Which is what they are trying to do. ...

One route might be to go for yet-larger (and thus energy-richer) alcohol molecules. Any simple alcohol is composed of a number of carbon and hydrogen atoms (like a hydrocarbon such as petrol) together with a single oxygen atom. In practice, this game of topping up the carbon content to make a better fuel stops with octanol (eight carbon atoms) as anything bigger tends to freeze at temperatures that might be encountered in winter. But living things are familiar with alcohols. Their enzymes are geared up to cope with them. This makes the biotechnologists' task that much easier.

The idea of engineering enzymes to make octanol was what first brought Codexis, a small biotechnology firm based in Redwood City, California, into the field. Codexis's technology works with pharmaceutical precision—indeed, one of its main commercial products is the enzyme system for making the chemical precursor to Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug that is marketed by Pfizer. Codexis controls most of the important patents for what is known as molecular evolution. This designs enzymes in the way that normal evolution designs organisms. It creates lots of variations on a theme, throws away the ones it does not want, and shuffles the rest in a process akin to sex. It then repeats the process on the survivors until something useful emerges—though, unlike natural evolution, there is a bit of intelligent design in the process, too. The result, according to Codexis's boss, Alan Shaw, is enzymes that can perform chemical transformations unknown in nature.

Dr Shaw, however, is no longer so interested in octanol as a biofuel. Like two other, nearby firms, he is now focusing Codexis's attention on molecules even more chemically similar to petrol. The twist that Codexis brings is that unlike petrol, of which each batch from the refinery is chemically different from the others (because the crude oil from which it is derived is an arbitrary mixture of hydrocarbon molecules), biopetrol could be turned out exactly the same, again and again, and thus designed to have the optimal mixture of properties required of a motor fuel.

Exactly which molecules Codexis is most interested in these days, Dr Shaw is not yet willing to say. But Amyris Biotechnologies, which is also based in California, in Emeryville, and which also started by dabbling in drugs (in its case an antimalarial medicine called artemisinin), is slightly more forthcoming. Under the guidance of its founder Jay Keasling, it has been working on a type of isoprenoid (a class of chemicals that include rubber).

Unlike Codexis, which deals in purified enzymes, Amyris employs a technique called synthetic biology, which turns living organisms into chemical reactors by assembling novel biochemical pathways within them. Dr Keasling and his colleagues scour the world for suitable enzymes, tweak them to make them work better, then sew the genes for the tweaked enzymes into a bacterium that thus turns out the desired product. That was how they produced artemisinin, which is also an isoprenoid. Isoprenoids have the advantage that, like alcohols, they are part of the natural biochemistry of many organisms. Enzymes to handle them are thus easy to come by. They have the additional advantage that some are pure hydrocarbons, like petrol. With a little judicious searching, Amyris thinks it has come up with isoprenoids that have the right characteristics to substitute for petrol.

The third Californian firm in the business, LS9 of San Carlos, is cutting to the chase. If petrol is what is wanted, petrol is what will be delivered. And diesel, too, although in this case the product is actually biodiesel, which is in some ways superior to the petroleum-based stuff. LS9 also uses synthetic biology, but it has concentrated on controlling the pathways that make fatty acids. Like alcohols, fatty acids are molecules that have lots of hydrogen and carbon atoms, and a small amount of oxygen (in their case two oxygen atoms, rather than one). Plant oils consist of fatty acids combined with glycerol—and these fatty acids (for example, those from palm oil) are the main raw material for the biodiesel already sold today.

LS9 has used its technology to turn microbes into factories for fatty acids containing between eight and 20 carbon atoms—the optimal number for biodiesel. But it also plans to make what it calls “biocrude”. In this case the fatty acids would have 18-30 carbon atoms, and the final stage of the synthetic pathway would clip off the oxygen atoms to create pure hydrocarbons. This biocrude could be fed directly into existing oil refineries, without any need to modify them.

These firms, however, have one other competitor. His name is Craig Venter. Dr Venter, a veteran of biotechnological scraps ranging from gene patenting to the private human-genome project, has been interested in bioenergy for a long time. To start with, it was hydrogen that caught his eye, then methane—both of which are natural bacterial products. But now that eye is shifting towards liquid fuels. His company, modestly named Synthetic Genomics (and based, unlike the others, on the east side of America, in Rockville, Maryland), is reluctant to discuss details, but Dr Venter, too, is taken with the pharmaceutical analogy. Indeed, he goes as far as to posit the idea of clinical trials for biofuels—presumably pitting one against another, perhaps with petroleum-based products acting as the control, and without the drivers knowing which was which.

Whether biofuels will ever be competitive with fossil fuels remains to be seen. That will depend on a mixture of economics and politics. But the political rush to back ethanol, just because it is green and people have heard of it, is a mistake. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and see which one wins Dr Venter's Grand Prix.

Architecture 2030 points out that if you want to stop global warming there is one thing you must do - "Stop Coal".

* Because coal is the only fossil fuel plentiful and supposedly cheap1 enough to push the planet to 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
* Because reaching 450 ppm (or possibly less) triggers potentially irreversible glacial melt and sea level rise.
* Because 53% of Americans live in and around coastal cities and towns and, beginning with just one meter of sea level rise, many of these cities and towns will be inundated.

Scientists are forewarning that at approx. 450 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, we will trigger potentially irreversible glacial melt and sea level rise “out of humanity’s control”2. We are currently at 385 ppm, and are increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at approx. 2 ppm annually.

At this growth rate, we will reach 450 ppm in 2035.

We are now reaching the peak in global oil and natural gas production. The global static lifetime of conventional oil is approx. 40 years, natural gas 60 years. As oil and gas peak, prices will increase dramatically and alternatives will become more economically attractive. After they peak, oil and gas consumption will decline, being consumed more sparingly, with their depletion rates stretching out over many years.


We call for a moratorium on new conventional coal plants and phase out existing coal plants. This puts an immediate cap on coal plant emissions while allowing enough time to retrain coal workers for healthier jobs.

In the US, there are over 600 existing coal plants and 151 new coal plants in various stages of development. ...

Where do we start?


Buildings use 76% of all the electrical energy produced at coal plants. Buildings are the single largest contributor to global warming, accounting for almost half (48%) of total annual US energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

The Washington Post has an article on "The Climate Change Peril That Insurers See".
Montana is burning again. This summer, some of the nation's worst wildfires incinerated homes, barns and fences, killing livestock and forcing families to evacuate. Wildfires have increased fourfold since the 1980s, and they are bigger and harder to contain because of earlier-arriving springs and hotter, bone-dry summers. Last year's fires broke records; this year could be worse. As courageous firefighters beat back the flames, insurance companies continue to pay out billions for wildfire losses across the West.

Meanwhile, Florida is bracing for the duration of the hurricane season even as rebuilding continues from the eight hurricanes that crisscrossed the Sunshine State in 2004 and 2005. Storms grow ever more intense: Since the 1970s, the number intensifying to Category 4 or 5 hurricanes has almost doubled, costing insurers tens of billions of dollars.

Montana and Florida are not the only states suffering huge insurance losses from natural disasters. Increasingly destructive weather -- including heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms and drought -- accounted for 88 percent of all property losses paid by insurers from 1980 through 2005. Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U.S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005.

Ten years ago, Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyds of London, was skeptical about global warming theories, but no longer. He believes carbon emissions caused by human activity are warming the Earth and causing severe weather-related events. "At Lloyds, we feel the effects of extreme weather more than most," he said in a March speech. "We don't just live with risk -- we have to pick up the pieces afterwards." Lloyds predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers.

Lloyd's has warned: "The insurance industry must start actively adjusting in response to greenhouse gas trends if it is to survive." The Association of British Insurers has called on governments to "stem ominous weather related trends" by cutting carbon emissions. U.S.-based companies AIG and Marsh -- respectively, the largest insurer and broker -- have joined with other corporate leaders to urge Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. AIG's policy statement on climate change "recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere."

Marsh issued a similar statement, as did European insurance giants Swiss Re, Munich Re and Allianz. The chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions, an industry risk forecaster, responded to an April report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by announcing that climate change is already increasing "financial losses from extreme weather catastrophes." A.M. Best, the historical voice of insurance, began a series in the August edition of Best's Review on the risks, regulatory issues and economic impact of climate change.

Nervous investors have begun asking insurers to disclose their strategies for dealing with global warming. At a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Andrew Logan, insurance director of the Ceres investor coalition, representing $4 trillion in market capital, warned that "insurance as we know it is threatened by a perfect storm of rising weather losses, rising global temperatures and more Americans living in harm's way." Ceres cites estimates that losses related to catastrophic weather have increased 15-fold in the U.S. property casualty industry in the past three decades.

Insurance companies are reacting. Some have simply abandoned catastrophe-prone markets or are jacking up rates. Other insurers have taken steps in the battle against climate change by offering premium incentives for "green" construction and hybrid cars, investing in companies that cut carbon emissions or develop clean energy, and offering "pay per mile" car insurance. Still others are reducing their own carbon footprints, promoting markets for carbon-credit trading and even moving to protect carbon-consuming forests.

Insurance companies make money by accurately assessing risk. For decades environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about global warming. Now major insurers are becoming engaged as they look after their own assets and those that they cover. Federal reluctance to commit to international agreements on climate change, or otherwise cap total carbon emissions, appears to be driven by influential businesses that fear the limitations will hurt their bottom lines. But the risk perceived by the insurance industry -- the world's largest economic sector -- may shift that political balance. At the least, it should tell us something.


* Tom Whipple (Energy Bulletin) - The peak oil crisis: Has the media become the message?
* Khebab (The Oil Drum) - Declining net oil exports--a temporary decline or a long term trend?
* New York Times - Banks Urging U.S. to Adopt the Trading of Emissions. Unfortunately they are arguing for carbon trading instead of simpler and more efficient carbon taxes.
* The Guardian - Diplomats accuse Bush of attempting to derail UN climate conference
* Sharon Astyk - How Fast is Global Warming Happening?
* IPS - An International Court to Try Ecological Crimes?
* The Ticker - UN: Thirty-five years to half-extinction
* Bolivia Rising - Morales to UN: "Let’s respect our Mother Earth". In theory I disagree with part of his argument, in practice its a little difficult to dispute at the moment...
* Salon - Dan Rather stands by his story. So why didn't he (and the rest of the spineless "liberal" media) stand up for themselves at the time the story was aired. Any half awake technology person (or media savvy one) knew those one handed typists at Powerline and the like were abusing themselves and the truth with all those ridiculous stories about the capabilities of Microsoft Word versus typewriters. What a crock.
* AP - U.S. Soldier: 'I Was Ordered to Murder Unarmed Iraqi'
* ACLU - The Surveillance Clock. "It's not too late - there is still time to save our privacy". A little over-optimistic I think, though some will always find ways to be anonymous.
* Open The Future - Security Through Ubiquity. And others just won't care...
* Reuters -Death Of A Photographer. The participatory panopticon option isn't without its risks.
* Danger Room - Do You Write Like a Terrorist?
* Cryptogon - Sarkozy Calls for “New World Order” at UN. Do politicians do this sort of thing just to wind up conspiracy theorists ?
* Wayne Madsen - "Lost" B-52 nuke cruise missiles were on way to Middle East for attack on Iran. Never reliable but I've seen lots of variations on this piece of tinfoil lately.

Gas prices set to soar as supply falls  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Nigel Wilson at The Australian has a look at the local gas supply scene. Obviously we aren't actually short of gas - Australia has lots of the stuff, its just that the biggest reserves are off the north west of the country and mostly destined for offshore LNG markets, while the east coast (where most of the people live) is steadily using up its own local reserves. Coal seam methane will likely be the answer for the east coast, unless companies like Santos think they can get away with turning it into LNG and exporting it as well. The article points out how little gas is consumed by households - if we stop burning the stuff to generate power and instead build a lot more clean energy generation capacity this will become less and less of an issue. High gas prices should help make any further construction of gas fired peaking plants uneconomic with any luck...

DOMESTIC gas prices are expected to soar after more than a decade when they have been too low to stimulate production, according to a study due to be released today. Argonaut Securities research director Ian Christie said yesterday the trend towards higher prices that had been evident in Western Australia for the past year or so was beginning to emerge in the eastern states.

While eastern states' domestic gas price movements might be affected by the increased use of coal seam methane, it was unlikely customers would be cushioned totally from price increases elsewhere. The WA Government's domestic gas policy forces developers of LNG projects using shore-based infrastructure to quarantine 15 per cent of reserves for domestic gas users.

Mr Christie forecasts that gas prices in WA could quadruple from $2 a gigajoule earlier this decade. A short-term supply gap would push prices to between $7/GJ and $10/GJ in the next two to three years until new supplies came online early next decade. His research showed there would be little respite in the longer term, as the costs of finding, developing and producing gas would rise sharply, he said. "The four Ds - gas becomes more distant, deeper, dirtier and dryer - will ensure a higher floor for prices even when supply comes on stream," he said.

His report indicates that the mining, minerals processing and electricity generating sectors in WA use 95 per cent of domestic gas production. Mr Christie said households, while politically important, used only 5 per cent. Western Australia has about 118 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, mainly in the Carnarvon and Browse Basins, but only about 17 per cent of these reserves have been developed.

The report says about 70 per cent of gas produced in WA is exported in the form of LNG. The remainder is sold into the domestic market, and because it has been plentiful and cheap it has been the major driver of the WA economy during the past few decades. "Ample supply and competition has ensured that domestic gas prices in WA have traditionally been low (about $2/GJ) in comparison to international prices. This has changed dramatically over the past couple of years and we understand new contracts are being negotiated at prices in excess of $7/GJ," the report states.

With continued demand growth, larger projects such as Apache's Reindeer and BHP Billiton's Macedon reservoirs should come on stream in 2010-11, meaning there would be a short-term price spike, he said. "The main winners from this will be low-cost producers of domestic gas (not necessarily LNG projects). Onshore project development and proximity to pipelines and markets will be the key drivers of margins."

Technology Review has an excellent article on solar thermal plants and storing energy efficiently (as heat rather than electricity) using Ausra as the primary example. It points out that Ausra's solar plants should be cheaper than natural gas fired power in California by 2010.
Solar proponents love to boast that just a few hundred square kilometers' worth of photovoltaic solar panels installed in Southwestern deserts could power the United States. Their schemes come with a caveat, of course: without backup power plants or expensive investments in giant batteries, flywheels, or other energy-storage systems, this solar-power supply would fluctuate wildly with each passing cloud (not to mention with the sun's daily rise and fall and seasonal ebbs and flows). Solar-power startup Ausra, based in Palo Alto, thinks it has the solution: solar-thermal-power plants that turn sunlight into steam and efficiently store heat for cloudy days.

"Fossil-fuel proponents often say that solar can't do the job, that solar can't run at night, solar can't run the economy," says David Mills, Ausra's founder and chairman. "That's true if you don't have storage." He says that solar-thermal plants are the solution because storing heat is much easier than storing electricity. Mills estimates that, thanks to that advantage, solar-thermal plants capable of storing 16 hours' worth of heat could provide more than 90 percent of current U.S. power demand at prices competitive with coal and natural gas. "There's almost no limit to how much you can put into the grid," he says.

Major utilities are buying the idea. In July, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) signed a 25-year deal with Ausra competitor Solel Solar Systems of Beit Shemesh, Israel, to buy power from a 553-megawatt solar-thermal plant that Solel is developing in California's Mojave Desert. The plant will supply 400,000 homes in northern and central California when it is completed in 2011. Florida Power & Light, meanwhile, hired Solel to upgrade the 1980s-era solar-thermal plants it operates in the Mojave. Ausra, meanwhile, is negotiating with PG&E to supply power from a 175-megawatt plant that it plans to build in California, for which it secured $40 million in venture financing this month.

What distinguishes Ausra's design is its relative simplicity. In conventional solar-thermal plants such as Solel's, a long trough of parabolic mirrors focuses sunlight on a tube filled with a heat-transfer fluid, often some sort of oil or brine. The fluid, in turn, produces steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Ausra's solar collectors employ mass-produced and thus cheaper flat mirrors, and they focus light onto tubes filled with water, thus directly producing steam. Ausra's collectors produce less power, but that power costs less to produce.

One megawatt's worth of Ausra's solar collectors has been producing steam in New South Wales, Australia, since 2004; the steam is fed into the turbines of a primarily coal-fired power plant. The final piece of the system--a proprietary heat-energy-storage system--should be ready by 2009.

Mills will not say what material his company's system will heat, although several recent solar-thermal plants by Ausra competitors--including one in Nevada that started up this summer and two under construction in Spain near Granada--plan to use molten-salt storage. Molten salts are inexpensive salt solutions that absorb considerable energy when they melt and give up that energy when they freeze.

What Mills can say for certain is that Ausra's storage system will lower its power-generation costs. That is a surprising statement since energy storage can as much as double the cost of electricity from photovoltaics or wind turbines.

Heat storage is more efficient than electricity storage: just 2 to 7 percent of the energy is lost when heat is banked in a storage system, compared with losses of at least 15 percent when energy is stored in a battery. More important, says Mills, is the fact that storage enables thermal plants to use cheaper turbines.

The bottom line is that Mills vows that adding storage plus savings from economies of scale and lower cost of capital (as banks become familiar with solar-thermal technology) will cut Ausra's current 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour cost of power in half. By 2010, he expects solar thermal to provide California with baseline power cheaper than natural gas, currently set by the state at 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Why has solar-thermal power received little attention from the energy-storage community despite such promise? John Boyes, manager of the Energy Storage & Distributed Energy Resources at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, NM, says that solar thermal is viable but inflexible compared with other means of storing energy, such as, say, coupling wind farms to large batteries, flywheels, and supercapacitors that can be placed almost anywhere on a power grid. "You can store energy anywhere you have electricity and a little bit of floor space," says Boyes.

The footprint of Ausra's planned 175-megawatt plant will be, in contrast, about one square mile.

Technology Review also has an article on genetically modified algae to create hydrogen and biofuels, noting yellow algae are more efficient at processing sunlight as they let the light penetrate deeper into the bioreactors.
Algae are a promising source of biofuels: besides being easy to grow and handle, some varieties are rich in oil similar to that produced by soybeans. Algae also produce another fuel: hydrogen. They make a small amount of hydrogen naturally during photosynthesis, but Anastasios Melis, a plant- and microbial-biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that genetically engineered versions of the tiny green organisms have a good shot at being a viable source for hydrogen.

Melis has created mutant algae that make better use of sunlight than their natural cousins do. This could increase the hydrogen that the algae produce by a factor of three. It would also boost the algae's production of oil for biofuels.

The new finding will be important in maximizing the production of hydrogen in large-scale, commercial bioreactors. In a laboratory, Melis says, "[we make] low-density cultures and have thin bottles so that light penetrates from all sides." Because of this, the cells use all the light falling on them. But in a commercial bioreactor, where dense algae cultures would be spread out in open ponds under the sun, the top layers of algae absorb all the sunlight but can only use a fraction of it.

Melis and his colleagues are designing algae that have less chlorophyll so that they absorb less sunlight. That means more light penetrates into the deeper algae layers, and eventually, more cells use the sunlight to make hydrogen. ...

The process is still at least five years from being used for hydrogen generation. Researchers will first have to increase the algae's capacity to produce hydrogen. During normal photosynthesis, algae focus on using the sun's energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose, releasing oxygen in the process. Only about 3 to 5 percent of photosynthesis leads to hydrogen. Melis estimates that, if the entire capacity of the photosynthesis of the algae could be directed toward hydrogen production, 80 kilograms of hydrogen could be produced commercially per acre per day.

The soon-to-be-no-more Business 2.0 has an interview with IdeaLab's Bill Gross - "The Startup King's new gig" - which touches on both distributed energy generation and distributed manufacturing on demand.
Some people can't stop thinking about food. Bill Gross can't stop thinking about new businesses. One of the world's great serial entrepreneurs, he's launched more than 50 startups through Idealab, his incubator in Pasadena, Calif. His track record includes both winners (CitySearch,, NetZero/United Online) and losers (eToys,, Free-PC). But he's best known for inventing the pay-per-click advertising model behind Overture Services (formerly, the pioneering search engine he sold to Yahoo! in 2003 for $1.6 billion.

Now, after more than a decade of launching dotcoms, Gross has rediscovered the pleasures - and profitability - of the physical world. Idealab's current lineup is crowded with companies that make actual products: robots, 3-D printers, electric cars, rooftop solar collectors. As Gross puts it, he's much more interested today in "atoms businesses" than "bits businesses." He recently sat down with Business 2.0 Editor-at-large Erick Schonfeld to talk about why. ...

Q. Tell me about Energy Innovations. How is it disrupting the utility companies?

Well, I feel that the biggest disruption that will happen in this century is distributed energy generation. In the past, there was an economy of scale, so you had to build a 1-gigawatt nuclear or coal plant somewhere, and you had to do it far away from people because no one wanted it in their backyard. That was possible because of copper. Only copper could keep that plant far enough away that we wouldn't see it or smell it, and copper could bring those electrons magically into our house. But there's a huge loss by the time the power gets to us - with copper, it's up to 15 percent.

When you can build distributed energy generation on your roof with 10 feet instead of hundreds of miles of copper, you can avoid those huge losses. If you can get lower-cost solar, which we're working on very hard, and if you have the subsidies, all of a sudden it makes sense to have your own power plant on your own roof. Having your own power plant on your roof is just an unbelievable concept that wasn't even possible in the 20th century. It is going to be possible - and necessary - this century if we're going to solve the climate problem.

Q. Why solar?

We have to do all of them, but solar is the only distributable resource. Wind is very concentrated; there are very few locations where the wind is above 17 mph on average. Geothermal is unbelievably cost-effective but only in a few locations. Solar is the most uniformly distributed natural resource on the entire planet. Every day, 10,000 times as much energy strikes the earth as we use. Not to take advantage of it is a crime.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for Desktop Factory?

Desktop Factory is a 3-D printer - a device that takes a drawing from a graphics program and, rather than producing a piece of paper, outputs a physical object. It actually grows an object out of plastic. This is unbelievable. You can go from concept visualization to having a physical part in your hand in an hour. We have a 3-D printer for our own rapid prototyping at Idealab. It's amazing technology, but it costs between $50,000 and $500,000.

Q. You want to make this available to everyone, like a regular printer?

Right, so my dream was to take this $500,000 machine and make it available for less than $1,000. If you have one of these on your desk, then anytime you want to make an object, you just send it to the printer.

I thought that would be incredible. Not just for visualizing things but also for downloading things. It's a form of transporting, almost like faxing an object. It's not cost-effective for manufacturing, but it's very cost-effective for replacement parts.

Q. What is this going to disrupt?

We think this technology will certainly disrupt the way people deal with replacement parts. But it will also disrupt the way people use their imagination and prototype objects. We think it'll make 3-D creators out of people who are used to only working with 2-D, only printing on paper. Kids today think very visually and very interactively, and this new technology is going to have a big impact on the way they think.

Q. And down the road?

I think we could disrupt manufacturing. So much of our life is supported by cheap oil transporting stuff around. If you could make devices locally when they're needed, on demand, you save on packaging costs and you save on transportation costs. I think for a sustainable future, the idea of making just what you need is very, very powerful. People are thinking about doing it for books right now; people are thinking about maybe not cutting down trees to make print runs and only printing books on demand. I'd like to bring the same mentality to the printing of actual objects.

Q. Can you make metal objects?

Right now it's plastic, but it's possible that some day we could be able to make metal objects. Atoms and bits are becoming interchangeable ... It's really exciting that you could send someone bits and let them print out their own atoms. Many things have to go right for disruption to succeed. You have to have the right management team. You need an idea that customers actually care about. And the timing needs to be right.

Engadget has a post on "Inexpensive solar panels nearly ready for commercialization" (thin film cadmium telluride panels in this case).
We've been inching closer to low(er) cost solar panels (for the mainstream public to enjoy) for some time now, and apparently, AVA Solar Inc. is just about ready to start cranking out units that "will cost less than $1-per watt by the end of next year." The technology was reportedly developed by Colorado State University's Professor W.S. Sampath, and production is slated to begin soon in a "200-megawatt factory" that could employ some 500 individuals. Of note, it was said that the "cost to the consumer could be as low as $2 per watt," but even that figure purportedly rings up at about half the cost of current options.


* SMH - Woodside bails out of Mauritania, Africa to follow?. They must have lost money on the Mauritanian adventure.
* The Australian - Kazakh move for local Chevron boss. From Gorgon to Tengiz.
* The Australian - All gassed up, BHP pulls plug on its sales
* The Australian - Range Resources takes punt on oil in Somalia. Another empty log.
* Human Rights News - Burma: Natural Gas Project Threatens Human Rights. "Energy analysts estimate that Burma may have the largest natural gas deposits in Southeast Asia. Natural gas exports are now Burma’s main source of foreign exchange". A case of the curse of gas...
* New York Times - Inspector Finds Broad Failures in Oil Program. Big oil pay taxes ? What a ridiculous idea.
* The Oil Drum - To Grandmother's House We Go: Peak Oil Is Here
* ODAC - ASPO conference confirms a peak in global oil production by 2012
* Forgetomori - Aliens and Peak Oil
* SMH - Karl Kruszelnicki to run for Climate Coalition for Senate
* Grist - An amazing AP article on sea level rise
* TreeHugger - Quote of the Day: Al Gore on Climate Change Leadership, Montreal Protocol
* TreeHugger - Wild & Scenic Film Festival: Seeds, Hope, and Concrete
* SMH - China admits Three Gorges miracle could become disaster
* Renewable Energy Access - Solar Power 2007 is Focal Point of Industry's Success
* The Australian - Green light for geothermal comapny KUTH energy
* Groovy Green - I Ride My Bike
* The Raw Story - Jon Stewart tells Bolivian president America's elections are 'rigged'. Morales himself played it straight - interesting to see how much money they are making from oil and gas exports now.
* After Downing Street - Kucinich: Congress Must Stop Funding The War
* Open Democracy - America and Iran: the spark of war. "France's motives may include an oil-related desire to improve relations with Washington; the French oil company, Total, is now linked with Chevron in plans to develop the Majnoun oilfield in southeast Iraq".
* News And policy - Kucinich Opposes Iran Counter-Proliferation Act: 'We need to create a new opening to Iran, not proceed with another war based on falsehoods'
* Past Peak - Privatizing War
* Open The Future - Turning the Body Against Itself. Are "War on Terror" over-reactions a form of auto-immune response ?
* Open The Future - Give an XO, Get an XO. "I don't think the One Laptop Per Child project knows what it is about to unleash". All sorts of interesting things.
* 10 Zen Monkeys - Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?. Today's police state horror story.
* Cryptogon - Lehman Brothers Forced to Juggle Some of Its Own Hand Grenades; Where Are the Rest and When Will They Blow?. Financial doomerism is in fashion lately.
* Reuters - Rare van Gogh letters offer insight into artist

Green Dreams  

Posted by Big Gav

National Geographic has an excellent feature on biofuels this month called "Green Dreams" (much longer than the excerpt below).

Producing fuel from corn and other crops could be good for the planet–if only the process didn't take a significant environmental toll. New breakthroughs could make a difference.

When Dario Franchitti steered his sleek, 670-horsepower, orange-and-black Indy car to victory at this year's Indianapolis 500, the ebullient Scotsman chalked up an odd footnote in sports history. He became the first driver ever to win the iconic American auto race on pure ethanol–the gin-clear, high-octane corn hooch that supporters from midwestern farmers to high-ranking politicians hope will soon replace gasoline as America's favorite motor fuel.

Indy's switch back to the old bootlegger's friend is just one indicator of the mad rush to biofuels, homegrown gasoline and diesel substitutes made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane. Proponents say such renewable fuels could light a fire under our moribund rural economy, help extract us from our sticky dependence on the Middle East, and–best of all–cut our ballooning emissions of carbon dioxide. Unlike the ancient carbon unlocked by the burning of fossil fuels, which is driving up Earth's thermostat by the minute, the carbon in biofuels comes from the atmosphere, captured by plants during the growing season. In theory, burning a tank of ethanol could make driving even an Indy car carbon neutral.

The operative word is "could." Biofuels as currently rendered in the U.S. are doing great things for some farmers and for agricultural giants like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, but little for the environment. Corn requires large doses of herbicide and nitrogen fertilizer and can cause more soil erosion than any other crop. And producing corn ethanol consumes just about as much fossil fuel as the ethanol itself replaces. Biodiesel from soybeans fares only slightly better. Environmentalists also fear that rising prices for both crops will push farmers to plow up some 35 million acres (14 million hectares) of marginal farmland now set aside for soil and wildlife conservation, potentially releasing even more carbon bound in the fallow fields.

The boom has already pushed corn prices to heights not seen in years, spurring U.S. growers to plant the largest crop since World War II. Around a fifth of the harvest will be brewed into ethanol–more than double the amount only five years ago. Yet such is the thirst for gasoline among SUV-loving Americans that even if we turned our entire corn and soybean crops into biofuels, they would replace just 12 percent of our gasoline and a paltry 6 percent of our diesel, while squeezing supplies of corn- and soy-fattened beef, pork, and poultry. Not to mention Corn Flakes.

Still, the prospect of amber waves of home-grown energy crops is too seductive to ignore, especially given the example of Brazil. Thirty years after launching a crash program to replace gasoline with ethanol from sugarcane, Brazil announced last year that thanks to ethanol and rising domestic oil production, it had weaned itself off imported oil. Investors, led by superstar CEOs Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems fame, have bought into the vision, sinking more than 70 billion dollars into renewable energy companies. The U.S. government has ponied up hefty ethanol subsidies, and President Bush has proposed over 200 million dollars for research, with a goal of replacing 15 percent of our projected gasoline use with ethanol and other fuels by 2017.

"We can create ethanol in an incredibly dumb way," says Nathanael Greene, a senior researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But there are many pathways that get us a future full of wildlife, soil carbon, and across-the-board benefits." The key, Greene and others say, is to figure out how to make fuel from plant material other than food: cornstalks, prairie grasses, fast-growing trees, or even algae. That approach, combined with more efficient vehicles and communities, says Greene, "could eliminate our demand for gasoline by 2050." ...

Grist has a look at a new study that claims ethanol and biodiesel may actually boost greenhouse gas emissions.
By all accounts, biofuels deliver startlingly modest reductions in greenhouse gases. In a relatively generous assessment of the environmental benefits of ethanol and biodiesel released last year, University of Minnesota researchers credited corn-based ethanol with 12 percent less net greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline, while finding that soy-based biodiesel emits 41 percent less.

But here's the catch: It takes so much corn to produce a gallon of ethanol, and so much soy to produce a gallon of biodiesel, that the net GHG advantages are likely to be almost nil. The U of Minn researchers write [emphasis mine]:
[I]f one replaced a total of 5 percent of gasoline energy with ethanol energy, greenhouse gas emissions from driving cars would be a bit more than a half percent lower (5 percent times 12 percent).

Whoa. In 2006, U.S. ethanol producers burned through 18 percent of the corn harvest to offset 3 percent of gasoline use. What the Minnesota study is telling us is that we could increase corn ethanol production by two-thirds (to achieve a 5 percent offset) -- burning through 40 percent of the corn crop -- and still only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by just a bit more than a half percent.

By my calculations -- based on 2006 output of 4.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol -- it would take about 8 billion gallons to achieve that 0.5 percent drop in GHG emissions. Ethanol production is subsidized by a dizzying array of public programs; the most direct one is the $0.51 per gallon blender's tax credit for using the stuff.

To gain that razor-thin GHG advantage, the Treasury would be out some $4 billion ($0.51 times 8 billion) per year, just from that one form of public support. This is sound public policy? In a rapidly warming world, dropping $4 billion on corn ethanol seems clinically insane as a strategic use of the public purse.

And -- finally coming to the point of this post -- a new study [PDF] has emerged declaring that even that comically paltry GHG benefit may be spectral. Biofuel use may actually increase GHG emissions. The study, published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, was performed by American, German, and British researchers, and included the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. I have no information on funding.

It claims that biofuel production emits far more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas some 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide, than has normally been assumed. The source is artificial fertilizer, a potent source of nitrogen. When farmers apply it to soil, a certain amount of it -- between 3 percent and 5 percent, according to the study -- enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide. ...

Tyler Hamilton's latest column in the Toronto Star looks at bioplastics and our throw away culture.
There's been a lot of talk of making "green" plastics out of the starch in corn, wheat or rice, not only to wean us from petrochemicals, but also to create plastics that can easily biodegrade through large-scale composting without harming the nearby environment.

It's a tempting idea, but one that's open to some legitimate criticism. For example, we're already seeing bioplastic water bottles (processed from man-made polylactic acid, or PLA) hitting the market as a way for bottled-water companies to put a green spin on what many consider an unethical business – kind of like hybrid SUVs or carbon offsets, both of which exist to ease our consumption guilt. But beyond the question of whether the bottled-water market should exist or not, bottles made out of bioplastic could "contaminate" and ultimately impair the plastic bottle recycling systems currently in place and working.

Dr. Michel Huneault, a scientist at the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Materials Institute, says the best place to use green, biodegradable plastics is in places where recycling isn't an economic and energy-efficient option. "It's not the ultimate goal for everything," said Huneault in a recent interview. "It's for materials we can't recycle."

This brings us back to polystyrene foam. If it could be made from natural, biodegradable materials it's a direction we probably should embrace. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to "foam" PLA, which at the moment is the leading bioplastic on the market.

Huneault may have overcome this problem. In the January 2007 issue of the international journal Polymer, his research team demonstrated a way to blend vegetable starch with PLA, two materials that typically react like oil and water. By doing so, they made it possible to create a variety of new bioplastic blends with unique characteristics for a range of niche applications. "Nobody has ever brought them (starch and PLA) together before," Huneault said. "We're the first to publish that."

Then in the July 2007 issue of Macromolecular Bioscience, the team revealed another breakthrough: development of a bioplastic blend that could be injected with carbon dioxide to create a biodegradable foam.

Huneault figures he'll be able to license his blending approach in about 12 months, perhaps enabling the mass-manufacture of polystyrene cups and packaging that's made out of crops like corn and that biodegrade in weeks, not thousands of years. You might argue that the use of food crops to replace anything made from petrochemicals is a disaster waiting to happen. It will lead to more taco riots in Mexico, drive up feedstock prices in Alberta and take food from the poor to "green up" consumption of the rich.

Caution is in order. Indeed, Huneault said it would be a huge mistake to make biofuels out of corn because demand from transportation clearly threatens world food supplies. He prefers that biofuels be made from the cellulosic material in biomass, such as agricultural residue, wood debris and non-food crops. But green, biodegradable replacements for polystyrene and other plastics used for packaging wouldn't pose such a threat. They would represent a tiny sliver of the overall plastics market, which itself is dwarfed by the fuel market. Besides, using corn to make bio-foam certainly makes more sense than throwing foam cups and containers in the garbage.

"You wouldn't see any change in the price of starch or corn," he said. "I think the market will have to move in this direction."

The Times reports that UK ocean energy company Pelamis is on the crest of a wave in marine power.
A British company will play the lead role in the start-up of the world’s first commercial wave farm this week off Póvoa de Varzim, northern Portugal. Pelamis Wave Power, an Edinburgh-based producer of marine power equipment, has supplied three of its wave devices to Babcock & Brown, the developer, which is about to switch on the first stage of an eventual 20MW project, enough to power 13,500 homes. ...

Though initially modest in capacity, the Portuguese project is significant because it goes beyond the prototype or concept-testing that is in progress at other sites in Europe, North America and South Africa. It involves the Portuguese Government rolling out a €1.5 billion (£1 billion) 550MW wave power plan. Costs should fall as investors benefit from the experience gained during the first phase, leading to further generations of more efficient machines and, it is hoped, a competitive technology within ten years.

With its long coastline, Portugal has a potentially strong energy resource on hand and wants to cut its 85 per cent dependency on energy imports by investing in marine power. “We don’t have coal, but we have waves,” Rui Barros, the project manager, said. The plan means that Portugal is likely to be the marine energy sector’s most important sponsor for some time. The country has chosen to alleviate the costs and risks born by newer renewable energy technologies through a guaranteed price for the electricity, paid by utilities.

The renewables obligation certificate (ROC), Britain’s mechanism for encouraging renewables development, has not worked in the same way and has been directed towards the less capital-intensive technologies, leading to the spread of onshore wind farms, for example. Scotland may be well placed to host Britain’s first commercial site. The Scottish Executive has leapfrogged a reform of the ROC scheme that is due to start in 2009 in the rest of Britain and introduced changes in April. ...

ScottishPower, npower and E.ON, the German energy company, are among the utilities interested in wave power. ScottishPower plans to pay for further wave power device-testing in Orkney from next year, while E.ON may buy seven Pelamis devices to use at Wave Hub, a Cornish test centre.

In most of Britain, the sector has had difficulty in gaining acceptance, although the planned restructured ROC system will make a big difference by doubling the incentives for wave power, while also helping to develop investment in a broader range of renewable energy types. Critics argue that it is more expensive than most of those other sources, although Mr Carcas argued that “opening costs are substantially below where wind started 25 years ago” and that wave power is only three or four years behind offshore wind.

TomDispatch has an excellent article from Dilip Hiro on the war in Iraq, telling us something we all should know by now - "It's the Oil, Stupid" (click through for more - lots of links in the article itself). One flaw is that it doesn't mention the history of Iraq's "undiscovered" oil and how that relates to the terms of the oil law the Bushies are pushing so hard for. How is that law coming along anyway - those guys still haven't handed over the loot, have they...
Before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, discussion of Iraqi oil was largely taboo in the American mainstream, while the "No Blood for Oil" signs that dotted antiwar demonstrations were generally derisively dismissed as too simpleminded for serious debate. American officials rarely even mentioned the word "oil" in the same sentence with "Iraq." When President Bush referred to Iraqi oil, he spoke only of preserving that country's "patrimony" for its people, a sentiment he and Great Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasized in a statement they issued that lacked either the words "oil" or "energy" just as Baghdad fell: "We reaffirm our commitment to protect Iraq's natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used only for their benefit."

That May, not long after the President declared "major combat" at an end in Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz did point out the obvious -- that Iraq was a country that "floats on a sea of oil." He also told a Congressional panel: "The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

But his relatively obscure comments, as well as his oil-based miscalculations, passed largely unnoticed in the mainstream. Had Iraq then produced a significant percentage of the globe's toys rather than possessing the planet's third largest oil reserves, the pre-war media would undoubtedly have been chock-a-block full of worried discussions about our children and the coming video drought; on the other hand, that there might have been any significant connections between the motivations of top administration officials planning an invasion and global oil flows or the garrisoning of the oil heartlands of the planet was clearly a laughable thought. It didn't matter that our Vice President, when the CEO of a major energy firm, had worried quite publicly about global energy supplies, that our President had failed in the oil business, and that our national security advisor had once had a Chevron double-hulled oil tanker, the Condoleezza Rice, named in her honor. Now, it turns out that, among the simpleminded was former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan.

Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro, whose newest book Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources, focuses on oil and blood as well as recent the geopolitics of Iraqi oil (pp. 137-148), considers Greenspan's recent oil statement in the context of the historical record. - Tom

How the Bush Administration's Iraqi Oil Grab Went Awry - Greenspan's Oil Claim in Context
By Dilip Hiro

Here is the sentence in The Age of Turbulence, the 531-page memoir of former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, that caused so much turbulence in Washington last week: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Honest and accurate, it had the resonance of the Bill Clinton's election campaign mantra, "It's the economy, stupid." But, finding himself the target of a White House attack -- an administration spokesman labeled his comment, "Georgetown cocktail party analysis" -- Greenspan backtracked under cover of verbose elaboration. None of this, however, made an iota of difference to the facts on the ground.

Here is a prosecutor's brief for the position that "the Iraq War is largely about oil":

The primary evidence indicating that the Bush administration coveted Iraqi oil from the start comes from two diverse but impeccably reliable sources: Paul O'Neill, the Treasury Secretary (2001-2003) under President George W. Bush; and Falah Al Jibury, a well-connected Iraqi-American oil consultant, who had acted as President Ronald Reagan's "back channel" to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88. The secondary evidence is from the material that can be found in such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

According to O'Neill's memoirs, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, written by journalist Ron Suskind and published in 2004, the top item on the agenda of the National Security Council's first meeting after Bush entered the Oval Office was Iraq. That was January 30, 2001, more than seven months before the 9/11 attacks. The next National Security Council (NSC) meeting on February 1st was devoted exclusively to Iraq.

Advocating "going after Saddam" during the January 30 meeting, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, according to O'Neill, "Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that's aligned with U.S. interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond. It would demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about." He then discussed post-Saddam Iraq -- the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, and the reconstruction of the country's economy. (Suskind, p. 85)

Among the relevant documents later sent to NSC members, including O'Neill, was one prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). It had already mapped Iraq's oil fields and exploration areas, and listed American corporations likely to be interested in participating in Iraq's petroleum industry.

Another DIA document in the package, entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts," listed companies from 30 countries -- France, Germany, Russia, and Britain, among others -- their specialties and bidding histories. The attached maps pinpointed "super-giant oil field," "other oil field," and "earmarked for production sharing," and divided the basically undeveloped but oil-rich southwest of Iraq into nine blocks, indicating promising areas for future exploration. (Suskind., p. 96)

According to high flying, oil insider Falah Al Jibury, the Bush administration began making plans for Iraq's oil industry "within weeks" of Bush taking office in January 2001. In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight program, which aired on March 17, 2005, he referred to his participation in secret meetings in California, Washington, and the Middle East, where, among other things, he interviewed possible successors to Saddam Hussein.

By January 2003, a plan for Iraqi oil crafted by the State Department and oil majors emerged under the guidance of Amy Myers Jaffe of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. It recommended maintaining the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company, whose origins dated back to 1961 -- but open it up to foreign investment after an initial period in which U.S.-approved Iraqi managers would supervise the rehabilitation of the war-damaged oil infrastructure. The existence of this group would come to light in a report by the Wall Street Journal on March 3, 2003.

Unknown to the architects of this scheme, according to the same BBC Newsnight report, the Pentagon's planners, apparently influenced by powerful neocons in and out of the administration, had devised their own super-secret plan. It involved the sale of all Iraqi oil fields to private companies with a view to increasing output well above the quota set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for Iraq in order to weaken, and then destroy, OPEC.

Secondary Evidence

On October 11, 2002 the New York Times reported that the Pentagon already had plans to occupy and control Iraq's oilfields. The next day the Economist described how Americans in the know had dubbed the waterway demarcating the southern borders of Iraq and Iran "Klondike on the Shatt al Arab," while Ahmed Chalabi, head of the U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress and a neocon favorite, had already delivered this message: "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil -- if he gets to run the show."

On October 30, Oil and Gas International revealed that the Bush administration wanted a working group of 12 to 20 people to (a) recommend ways to rehabilitate the Iraqi oil industry "in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible U.S. military occupation government," (b) consider Iraq's continued membership of OPEC, and (c) consider whether to honor contracts Saddam Hussein had granted to non-American oil companies.

By late October 2002, columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times would later reveal, Halliburton, the energy services company previously headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, had prepared a confidential 500-page document on how to handle Iraq's oil industry after an invasion and occupation of Iraq. This was, commented Dowd, "a plan [Halliburton] wrote several months before the invasion of Iraq, and before it got a no-bid contract to implement the plan (and overbill the U.S.)." She also pointed out that a Times' request for a copy of the plan evinced a distinct lack of response from the Pentagon.

In public, of course, the Bush administration built its case for an invasion of Iraq without referring to that country's oil or the fact that it had the third largest reserves of petroleum in the world. But what happened out of sight was another matter. At a secret NSC briefing for the President on February 24, 2003, entitled, "Planning for the Iraqi Petroleum Infrastructure," a State Department economist, Pamela Quanrud, told Bush that it would cost $7-8 billion to rebuild the oil infrastructure, if Saddam decided to blow up his country's oil wells, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his 2004 book, Plan of Attack (pp. 322-323). Quanrud was evidently a member of the State Department group chaired by Amy Myers Jaffe.

When the Anglo-American troops invaded on March 20, 2003, they expected to see oil wells ablaze. Saddam Hussein proved them wrong. Being a staunch nationalist, he evidently did not want to go down in history as the man who damaged Iraq's most precious natural resource.

On entering Baghdad on April 9th, the American troops stood by as looters burned and ransacked public buildings, including government ministries -- except for the Oil Ministry, which they guarded diligently. Within the next few days, at a secret meeting in London, the Pentagon's scheme of the sale of all Iraqi oil fields got a go-ahead in principle.

The Bush administration's assertions that oil was not a prime reason for invading Iraq did not fool Iraqis though. A July 2003 poll of Baghdad residents -- who represented a quarter of the Iraqi national population -- by the London Spectator showed that while 23% believed the reason for the Anglo-American war on Iraq was "to liberate us from dictatorship," twice as many responded, "to get oil". (Cited in Dilip Hiro, Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and After, p. 398.)

As Iraq's principal occupier, the Bush White House made no secret of its plans to quickly dismantle that country's strong public sector. When the first American proconsul, retired General Jay Garner, focused on holding local elections rather than privatizing the country's economic structure, he was promptly sacked.

Hurdles to Oil Privatization Prove Impassable

Garner's successor, L. Paul Bremer III, found himself dealing with Philip Carroll -- former Chief Executive Officer of the American operations of (Anglo-Dutch) Royal Dutch Shell in Houston -- appointed by Washington as the Iraqi oil industry's supreme boss. Carroll decided not to tinker with the industry's ownership and told Bremer so. "There was to be no privatization of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved," Carroll said in an interview with the BBC's Newsnight program on March 17, 2005.

This was, however, but a partial explanation for why Bremer excluded the oil industry when issuing Order 39 in September 2003 privatizing nearly 200 Iraqi public sector companies and opening them up to 100% foreign ownership. The Bush White House had also realized by then that denationalizing the oil industry would be a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions which bar an occupying power from altering the fundamental structure of the occupied territory's economy.

There was, as well, the vexatious problem of sorting out the 30 major oil development contracts Saddam's regime had signed with companies based in Canada, China, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Vietnam. The key unresolved issue was whether these firms had signed contracts with the government of Saddam Hussein, which no longer existed, or with the Republic of Iraq which remained intact.

Perhaps more important was the stand taken by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric in the country and a figure whom the occupying Americans were keen not to alienate. He made no secret of his disapproval of the wholesale privatization of Iraq's major companies. As for the minerals -- oil being the most precious -- Sistani declared that they belonged to the "community," meaning the state. As a religious decree issued by a grand ayatollah, his statement carried immense weight.

Even more effective was the violent reaction of the industry's employees to the rumors of privatization. In his Newsnight interview Jibury said, "We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities and pipelines built on the premise that privatization is coming."

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, much equipment was looted from pipelines, pumping stations, and other oil facilities. By August 2003, four months after American troops entered Baghdad, oil output had only inched up to 1.2 million barrels per day, about two-fifths of the pre-invasion level. The forecasts (or dreams) of American planners' that oil production would jump to 6 million barrels per day by 2010 and easily fund the occupation and reconstruction of the country, were now seen for what they were -- part of the hype disseminated privately by American neocons to sell the idea of invading Iraq to the public.

With the insurgency taking off, attacks on oil pipelines and pumping stations averaged two a week during the second half of 2003. The pipeline connecting a major northern oil field near Kirkuk -- with an export capacity of 550,000-700,000 barrels per day -- to the Turkish port of Ceyhan became inoperative. Soon, the only oil being exported was from fields in the less disturbed, predominately Shiite south of Iraq.

In September 2003, President Bush approached Congress for $2.1 billion to safeguard and rehabilitate Iraq's oil facilities. The resulting Task Force Shield project undertook to protect 340 key installations and 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of oil pipeline. It was not until the spring of 2004 that output again reached the pre-war average of 2.5 million barrels per day -- and that did not hold. Soon enough, production fell again. Iraqi refineries were, by now, producing only two-fifths of the 24 million liters of gasoline needed by the country daily, and so there were often days-long lines at service stations.

Addressing the 26th Oil and Money conference in London on September 21, 2005, Issam Chalabi, who had been an Iraqi oil minister in the late 1980s, referred to the crippling lack of security and the lack of clear laws to manage the industry, and doubted if Iraq could return to the 1979 peak of 3.5 million barrels per day before 2009, if then.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government found itself dependent on oil revenues for 90% of its income, a record at a time when corruption in its ministries had become rampant. On January 30, 2005, Stuart W. Bowen, the special inspector general appointed by the U.S. occupation authority, reported that almost $9 billion in Iraqi oil revenue, disbursed to the ministries, had gone missing. A subsequent Congressional inspection team reported in May 2006 that Task Force Shield had failed to meet its goals due to "lack of clear management structure and poor accountability", and added that there were "indications of potential fraud" which were being reviewed by the Inspector General.

The endorsement of the new Iraqi constitution by referendum in October 2005 finally killed the prospect of full-scale oil privatization. Article 109 of that document stated clearly that hydrocarbons were "national Iraqi property". That is, oil and gas would remain in the public sector.

In March 2006, three years after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the country's petroleum exports were 30% to 40% below pre-invasion levels.

Bush Pushes for Iraq's Flawed Draft Hydrocarbon Law

In February 2007, in line with the constitution, the draft hydrocarbon law the Iraqi government presented to parliament kept oil and gas in the state sector. It also stipulated recreating a single Iraqi National Oil Company that would be charged with doling out oil income to the provinces on a per-capita basis. The Bush administration latched onto that provision to hype the 43-article Iraqi bill as a key to reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites -- since the Sunni areas of Iraq lack hydrocarbons -- and so included it (as did Congress) in its list of "benchmarks" the Iraqi government had to meet.

Overlooked by Washington was the way that particular article, after mentioning revenue-sharing, stated that a separate Federal Revenue Law would be necessary to settle the matter of distribution -- the first draft of which was only published four months later in June.

Far more than revenue sharing and reconciliation, though, what really interested the Bush White House were the mouthwatering incentives for foreign firms to invest in Iraq's hydrocarbon industry contained in the draft law. They promised to provide ample opportunities to America's Oil Majors to reap handsome profits in an oil-rich Iraq whose vast western desert had yet to be explored fully for hydrocarbons. So Bush pressured the Iraqi government to get the necessary law passed before the parliament's vacation in August -- to no avail.

The Bush administration's failure to achieve its short-term objectives does not detract from the overarching fact -- established by the copious evidence marshaled in this article -- that gaining privileged access to Iraqi oil for American companies was a primary objective of the Pentagon's invasion of Iraq.

Energy Bulletin points to a article from History News Network - "What Would William Appleman Williams Say Now?".
The work of the late William Appleman Williams constitutes the most comprehensive and sophisticated critique of American foreign policy offered during the last half century. ...In the giddy triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, the power of Williams’s ideas seemed to wane. ...

With American empire no longer hiding behind the verbal veil of globalization, Williams’s work has suddenly reacquired relevance not always evident in the decade since his death. Recognizing this, a number of his former students—and, in turn, their students—found themselves discussing and speculating what William Appleman Williams would say now about the current state of affairs. ... let me offer eight such propositions that I think Bill Williams might have advanced for our consideration today. ...

Fourth, Williams would have stressed the centrality of oil in current foreign policy. He would not do so in a single-cause way; contrary to his critics, Williams was never a narrow economic determinist. But he still would have seen the oil issue as crucial—partly because of the economic value of the oil itself, but more largely because of the geopolitical clout over others made possible by control of oil. The struggle for oil is, of course, one that is a century old. But that struggle has, for several reasons, reached a new and critical phase.

Few new major fields have been discovered since the early 1970s, and predictions are that oil production will peak in the next five to ten years and decline sharply thereafter. More to the point, oil companies believe those dire predictions and have commenced a renewed search for new reserves. But Big Oil, however, has not been a prime mover pressuring the American State to aggressively act in its behalf. The giant multinationals, by and large, are fairly content with their relationship to the Saudis and to OPEC and anxious that war not upset the stability of their arrangements. The push really comes from the independent oil companies like Occidental, Unocal, Murphy and Kerr-McGee and from the Texas-based oil service companies tied to them, like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Bechtel. As their U.S. holdings decline, they have looked elsewhere and sought to influence U.S. foreign policy in ways not seen since the Eisenhower days and the oil depletion allowance. And they have found ready ears in this administration and its aggressive policies in Iraq, Iran and Central Asia.

There is also an abiding fear that without its U.S. control of the oil market, OPEC may in the medium-term start pricing its oil in euros. Iraq had already done so—which was one of its great sins—but there is strong talk that OPEC will eventually follow. If that happens, Japan and China will have to start cashing in their massive dollar reserves for euros in order to meet their immense energy needs; that in turn would send the value of the dollar plummeting and bring the U.S. economy—highly vulnerable because of its fiscal and trade deficits—to its knees. Finally, control over oil provides the likeliest leverage for the United States to reassert its hegemony and geo-strategic dominance. This is not a new variable, but it is one that has never been as decisive as now. Western Europe, Japan, China and India are highly dependent on the Middle East for their energy needs. With the United States as uncontested power in the region, those nations would have a far greater incentive to defer to American rules of the game on other matters of global concern. They would be far more inclined to accept American dominance rather than continuing to find ways to limit it.

Fifth, Williams would have characterized the current period not as the triumph of conservatism, but as the degradation of conservatism. ...

Sixth, Williams would have seen the current stress on preemptive empire and military solutions as a manifestation not of American omnipotence, but of American decline. In his view, empires at their zenith tend to prefer imperialism on the cheap—informal empires that eschew formal colonies and protectorates and use their economic and ideological hegemony to exert their will.

...Empires on the make and empires in decline, however, are not satisfied with the status quo and are more inclined to alter that status quo aggressively through force and formal protectorates (nation-building is the current euphemism). ...

Former Czech president (and Club of Rome member) Vaclav Havel has an article in the IHT noting "The planet is not at risk. We are".
Over the past few years questions have been asked ever more forcefully whether global climate changes occur in natural cycles or not, to what degree we human beings contribute to them, what threats stem from them and what can be done to prevent them. Scientific studies demonstrate that any changes in temperature and energy cycles on a planetary scale could mean a generalized danger to all people on all continents.

It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don't know how big its specific contribution is. Is it really necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren't we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?

Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on Earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for past hundred years at least, the Euro-American world has been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following its example.

Nature is now issuing warnings and demanding that we not only stop the debt growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.

The effects of possible climate changes are hard to estimate. Our planet has never been in a state of balance from which it could deviate through human or other influence and then, in time, return to its original state. The climate is not like some kind of pendulum that will return to its original position after a certain period. It has evolved turbulently over billions of years into a gigantic complex of networks, and of networks within networks, where everything is interlinked in diverse ways. Its structures will never return to precisely the same state they were 50 or 5,000 years ago. They will only change into a new state, which, so long as the change is slight, need not mean any threat to life.

Larger changes, however, could have unforeseeable effects within the global ecosystem. In that case, we would have to ask ourselves whether human life would be possible. Because so much uncertainty still reigns, a great deal of humility and circumspection is called for. We can't go on endlessly fooling ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our consumer lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there is no danger of any major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn't relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.

I don't agree with those whose reaction to the possible threats is to warn against the restrictions on civil freedoms. Were the forecasts of certain climatologists to be fulfilled, our freedoms would be tantamount to the freedom of someone hanging from a 20th-story parapet. We live in a world ringed by a single global civilization comprising various areas of civilization. Most of them these days share one thing in common: technocracy. Priority is given to everything that is calculable, quantifiable or ratable. That is a very materialistic concept, however, and one that is drawing us toward an important crossroads for our civilization.

Whenever I reflect on the problems of today's world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights - these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium. We must return again and again to the roots of human existence and consider our prospects in centuries to come. We must analyze everything open-mindedly, soberly, unideologically and unobsessively, and project our knowledge into practical policies.

Maybe it is no longer a matter of simply promoting energy-saving technologies, but chiefly of introducing ecologically clean technologies, of diversifying resources and of not relying on just one invention as a panacea.

I'm also skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and regulations are important, but equally important is support for education, ecological training and ethics - a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility. ...

A good article, except for that bit about restrictions on civil freedoms (and the incomprehensible passage about civilisation), which is the sort of comment that provides grist to the mills of conspiracy theorists. Dealing with climate change requires placing a price on carbon emissions - one large enough to make burning fossil fuels uneconomic. No other 'restrictions" are required.

Grist has a post on icy creature populations depleting as temperatures rise.
Reports are all over the headlines recently of creatures, particularly Arctic and Antarctic marine creatures, being threatened by extinction because the Earth is warming too fast for them or their icy environments to be able to sustain themselves.

A colony of Antarctic penguins, for one, could be extinct in as little as eight years, according to one researcher who's been documenting their population since the mid-1970s. Upward of two-thirds of the Arctic polar bears could be wiped out by 2050 because their habitat is melting, according to one study.

Sounds a little like the Science report released last fall that said commercial fisheries will effectively collapse by mid-century at the rate we fish our oceans. There's definitely a pattern here -- is anyone else noticing this dismal trend?


* Tacoma News Tribune - Hydropower could come of age again
* PhysOrg - Splitting Water with Sunlight. Some people just love hydrogen.
* LA Times - Sun-powered homes defy a cool housing market How to make your house more valuable - solar panels, solar hot water, lots of insulation and water tanks.
* TreeHugger - Sun Microsystems Launches Open Business Community for Carbon Savings
* Planet Ark - Wal-Mart to Look at Suppliers' Energy Efficiency. Trying to leverage the power of the empire for good.
* Planet Ark - NRG Seeks First US Nuclear Plant Permit in Decades. Only in Texas, and maybe not even there (I hope).
* BBC - UN chief urges action on climate
* Center For American progress - The Top 100 Effects of Global Warming. Perhaps that should be the Bottom 100 Effects.
* TreeHugger - EU On Collison Course With US Over Airline Carbon Cap Proposal
* WorldChanging - Chinese Link Typhoon Wipha to Climate Change
* Dave Roberts - Coal is the enemy of the human race: New Republic edition
* Huffington Post - HuffPost Video: John Cusack Interviews Naomi Klein
* New York Times - Blackwater Inquiry Blocked by State Dept
* BreitBart - Parallel universes exist - study
* RI - The Autumn People


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