The Six-Legged Meat of the Future  

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The Wall Street Journal points out that artificial meat isn't the only way of augmenting food supplies to fed an expanded population in future - insects may also become part of our diet - The Six-Legged Meat of the Future. Mmmm - fried spider...

At the London restaurant Archipelago, diners can order the $11 Baby Bee Brulee: a creamy custard topped with a crunchy little bee. In New York, the Mexican restaurant Toloache offers $11 chapulines tacos: two tacos stuffed with Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers.

Could beetles, dragonfly larvae and water bug caviar be the meat of the future? As the global population booms and demand strains the world's supply of meat, there's a growing need for alternate animal proteins. Insects are high in protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc, and they're low in fat. Insects are easier to raise than livestock, and they produce less waste. Insects are abundant. Of all the known animal species, 80% walk on six legs; over 1,000 edible species have been identified. And the taste? It's often described as "nutty." ...

Insects have a reputation for being dirty and carrying diseases—yet less than 0.5% of all known insect species are harmful to people, farm animals or crop plants. When raised under hygienic conditions—eating bugs straight out of the backyard generally isn't recommended—many insects are perfectly safe to eat.

Meanwhile, our food needs are on the rise. The human population is expected to grow from six billion in 2000 to nine billion in 2050. Meat production is expected to double in the same period, as demand grows from rising wealth. Pastures and fodder already use up 70% of all agricultural land, so increasing livestock production would require expanding agricultural acreage at the expense of rain forests and other natural lands. Officials at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently predicted that beef could become an extreme luxury item by 2050, like caviar, due to rising production costs.

Raising insects for food would avoid many of the problems associated with livestock. For instance, swine and humans are similar enough that they can share many diseases. Such co-infection can yield new disease strains that are lethal to humans, as happened during a swine fever outbreak in the Netherlands in the late 1990s. Because insects are so different from us, such risks are accordingly lower.

Insects are also cold-blooded, so they don't need as much feed as animals like pigs and cows, which consume more energy to maintain their body temperatures. Ten pounds of feed yields one pound of beef, three pounds of pork, five pounds of chicken and up to six pounds of insect meat.

Insects produce less waste, too. The proportion of livestock that is not edible after processing is 30% for pork, 35% for chicken, 45% for beef and 65% for lamb. By contrast, only 20% of a cricket is inedible.

Raising insects requires relatively little water, especially as compared to the production of conventional meat (it takes more than 10 gallons of water, for instance, to produce about two pounds of beef). Insects also produce far less ammonia and other greenhouse gases per pound of body weight. Livestock is responsible for at least 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Raising insects is more humane as well. Housing cattle, swine or chicken in high densities causes stress to the animals, but insects like mealworms and locusts naturally like to live in dense quarters. The insects can be crowded into vertical stacked trays or cages. Nor do bug farms have to be restricted to rural areas; they could sprout up anywhere, from a suburban strip mall to an apartment building. Enterprising gourmets could even keep a few trays of mealworms in the garage to ensure a fresh supply.

The first insect fare is likely to be incorporated subtly into dishes, as a replacement for meat in meatballs and sauces. It also can be mixed into prepared foods to boost their nutritional value—like putting mealworm paste into a quiche. And dry-roasted insects can be used as a replacement for nuts in baked goods like cookies and breads.

We continue to make progress in the Netherlands, where the ministry of agriculture is funding a new $1.3 million research program to develop ways to raise edible insects on food waste, such as brewers' grain (a byproduct of beer brewing), soyhulls (the skin of the soybean) and apple pomace (the pulpy remains after the juice has been pressed out). Other research is focusing on how protein could be extracted from insects and used in processed foods.

Though it is true that intentionally eating insects is common only in developing countries, everyone already eats some amount of insects. The average person consumes about a pound of insects per year, mostly mixed into other foods. In the U.S., most processed foods contain small amounts of insects, within limits set by the Food and Drug Administration. For chocolate, the FDA limit is 60 insect fragments per 100 grams. Peanut butter can have up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams, and fruit juice can have five fruit-fly eggs and one or two larvae per 250 milliliters (just over a cup). We also use many insect products to dye our foods, such as the red dye cochineal in imitation crab sticks, Campari and candies. So we're already some of the way there in making six-legged creatures a regular part of our diet.

Not long ago, foods like kiwis and sushi weren't widely known or available. It is quite likely that in 2020 we will look back in surprise at the era when our menus didn't include locusts, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, crickets and other insect delights.


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Transmaterial has a look at a material that can be used to control the amount of light let into buildings, thus making them more energy efficient - Solucent.

Solucent is an energy-saving and daylighting mesh shading system for building exteriors and interiors. It was developed by Cambridge Architectural to meet the ever-increasing energy-saving needs facing architects today, but without sacrificing beauty in design. The system combines the aesthetic qualities of architectural mesh with shading and daylighting capabilities to create a compelling energy and light management solution.

Solucent mesh shading systems reduce solar heat gain, leading to significant savings on cooling costs. Solucent is also a versatile and transparent daylighting material which can allow the desired amount of natural light into a building without obstructing views out of the windows. As a result, Solucent systems seamlessly reduce the need for electric light, which is the number one energy consumer in buildings and a contributor of unwanted heat gain.

Each Solucent system is designed based on a building’s solar orientation. The mesh pattern is also chosen according to these specifications, allowing each piece of the system to fit together precisely and effectively.

Oil May Surge to $220 If Libya, Algeria Halt, Nomura Says  

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Bloomberg has an article quoting an investment bank predicting oil prices may hit $220 a barrel if Libya and Algeria cease exports - Oil May Surge to $220 If Libya, Algeria Halt, Nomura Says. This makes the assumption that the global economy could handle prices at this level before growth (and demand) fall away, bringing prices back with them...

Oil prices may surge to $220 a barrel if political unrest in North Africa halts exports from Libya and Algeria, Nomura Holdings Inc. said.

Crude futures rose to almost $100 in New York today, the highest in more than two years, as violence in Libya threatened to disrupt exports from Africa’s third-biggest supplier. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi vowed yesterday to fight a growing rebellion until his “last drop of blood.” Protests in Algeria led to the ending of a 19-year state of emergency.

“If Libya and Algeria were to halt oil production together, prices could peak above $220 a barrel and OPEC spare capacity will be reduced to 2.1 million barrels a day, similar to levels seen during the Gulf war and when prices hit $147 in 2008,” the Tokyo-based bank said in a note today.

The SMH reports that rising oil prices are making Wall Street nervous - Oil price touches $US100 as Libya crisis worsens.
US crude surged to a 28-month high of $US100 a barrel on Wednesday as escalating violence in OPEC producer Libya slashed output there and investors bet the unrest could spread to other oil exporters.

Brent has posted the biggest three-day gain since October 2009, rising to as much as $US111.85 a barrel. That marked its highest since October 2008, shortly after the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers. US crude has shot up more than 15 per cent since Friday.

West Texas Intermediate futures rose 3.7 per cent to $US99 a barrel in New York, paring some earlier gains.

Brent gave up some of its earlier advance to trade up 5.1 per cent at $US111.18. A lethal political standoff between Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi and rebel factions now in control of oil-rich eastern Libya has already cut output in the world's No 12 crude exporter by more than 25 per cent, or 400,000 barrels a day, according to Reuters calculations.

The price surge raised concern about the impact of costly fuel on a fragile US economic recovery and dragged US equities lower. A jump in oil to a record $US147 a barrel during 2008 led to demand destruction and contributed to the deepest global economic downturn since World War II.

The FT has a look from some comments by John Roberts about the Libyan revolt implying the Saudis may not be able to prevent a similar occurence by handing out more of their oil income to the people - If Libya revolts, Saudi Arabia could be next.
If you look at Libya right now, something like 56 per cent of per capita income is directly attributable to oil. The government directly controls most household budgets.

It should be able to buy people off in the way that the Kuwaitis have done and the Bahrainis are now seeking to do, by raising incomes and increasing subsidies.

Whatever the Libyans are doing on this front is not working – the people want more. Simply having availability to cash doesn’t bail you out.

If that is the case with Libya, which has a comparible ratio of income to population to Saudi Arabia, one might worry more about the stability of Saudi Arabia, which is of course the big one.

AP reports the Saudis are going to give it a try anyway, announcing a $36 billion handout - Saudi opens its wallet to stave off protests.
As Saudi Arabia's 86-year-old monarch returned home from back surgery, his government tried to get ahead of potential unrest in the oil-rich country Wednesday by announcing an unprecedented economic package that will provide Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and sweeping debt forgiveness.

The total cost was estimated at 135 billion Saudi riyals ($36 billion), but this was not largesse. Saudi Arabia clearly wants no part of the revolts and bloodshed sweeping the already unsettled Arab world.

Saudi officials are "pumping in huge amounts of money into areas where it will have an obvious trickle-down by addressing issues like housing shortages," said John Sfakianakis, chief economist for the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Banque Saudi Fransi. "It has, really, a social welfare purpose to it."

The Less Discussed Part of Walker’s Wisconsin Plan: No-Bid Energy Assets Firesales  

Posted by Big Gav

While some have compared the opposition to the Governor of Wisconsin's war on organised labor to uprisings in the middle east, one little commented aspect of the situation is the proposed fire sale of the state's energy assets - The Less Discussed Part of Walker’s Wisconsin Plan: No-Bid Energy Assets Firesales.

Have you heard about 16.896?

The fight in Wisconsin is over Governor Walker’s 144-page Budget Repair Bill. The parts everyone is focusing on have to do with the right to collectively bargain being stripped from public sector unions (except for the unions that supported Walker running for Governor). Focusing on this misses a large part of what the bill would do. Check out this language, from the same bill (my bold):
16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

The bill would allow for the selling of state-owned heating/cooling/power plants without bids and without concern for the legally-defined public interest. This excellent catch is from Ed at (who, speaking of Madison, took me to the Essen Haus on my 21st birthday, where the night began to go sideways). Ed correctly notes:
If this isn’t the best summary of the goals of modern conservatism, I don’t know what is. It’s like a highlight reel of all of the tomahawk dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism. Extra bonus points for the explicit effort to legally redefine the term “public interest” as “whatever the energy industry lobbyists we appoint to these unelected bureaucratic positions say it is.”

In case it isn’t clear where the naked cronyism comes in, remember which large, politically active private interest loves buying up power plants and already has considerable interests in Wisconsin. Then consider their demonstrated eagerness to help Mr. Walker get elected and bus in carpetbaggers to have a sad little pro-Mubarak style “rally” in his honor. There are dots to be connected here, but doing so might not be in the public interest.

It’s important to think of this battle as a larger one over the role of the state. The attempt to break labor is part of the same continuous motion as saying that the crony, corporatist selling of state utilities to the Koch brothers and other energy interests is the new “public interest.”

Why the silence on Libya ?  

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TOD has a history of oil discoveries in Libya, which gives some context to reports about the uprising in the country spooking oil traders in recent days (and probably the Italians as well, given Italy's dependence on Libyan oil and gas exports) - Libya and World Oil Exports.

Crikey's Guy Rundle has some thoughts about why the conservative media have gone so quiet about the wave of revolutions sweeping across the middle east, wondering if their silence is because a successful Libyan overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi implies the people of Iraq would have been able to ditch Saddam Hussein on their own too - Why the silence on Libya?.

Iran was the goods, uprising wise, for the neocons. Evil, Islamist/Shiite anti-Western dictator, good folks on streets, twittering away. Brave young folk, women being extra-persecuted, etc, etc. Slam dunk.

Tunisia? Pretty good. Place didn’t matter, uprising wasn’t Islamist, could make a claim that Dubya lit the (extremely slow-burning) fuse of freedom, etc, etc.

Egypt? Tricky. Really tricky. Our pharaoh in Cairo, keeping a lid on the Muslim Brotherhood, backstopping Gaza. On the other hand, the protesters sounded pretty modern, and dammit they had media access. Had to talk about the shadowy Islamists behind it all, and the damn Right got split down the middle by it.

Bahrain? Christ, there’s a US fleet there. It’s less a country than a jetty.

Libya? Libya?? Libya????? Oh shut up.

The Right’s gradual and encroaching silence about the Arab uprisings is a wonder to behold. On National Review, the US conservative website, which ran wall-to-wall coverage of the Iranian protests in 2009, and berated the left for not praising the brave Iranians, there is barely a word — just as there has been barely a word on Bahrain. In The Spectator, Melanie Phillips focused on the attack on US reporter Lara Logan, taking her attackers to be representative of the whole crowd — and not the women protesters and soldiers who rescued Logan. In Oz, the Bolter has a straight news rundown on his blog, and manages to use the Libyan thing to attack … the United Nations. Nothing at all on Quadrant. The News Ltd Blogger Who Cannot Be Named because S/he Will Sue (TNLBWCBNBS/HWS) confines self to a side issue. And at the Oz, a contribution from the opinion page is confined to … Strewth.

Why such reticence? The bravery of the Libyans is immense, inspiring. And they appear to be winning against a heavily armed regime whose fearsome power is crumbling …

Ah, of course. It is precisely because the Libyan uprising has occurred at all that it makes so little appearance on right-wing radar. For it kicks away another prop from the neocon argument about the Iraq invasion, and intervention more generally — that some regimes are so heavily armed that a people’s liberation must be done on their behalf. This was fall-back position No.2 in the war, as I recall, after the WMDs thing. For a giddy while there in 2003-4, the debate was mainly around who we’d invade next — Zimbabwe? North Korea, with nukes (Johann Hari’s choice)? Eventually we settled on the Northern Territory.

The “proxy liberation” defence survived for quite a while. Desperate members of the British Labour Party adopted the mantra — “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein” — although they didn’t mention the 200,000 or so other people the world was deprived of in the ensuing years.

The Libyan revolution makes it clear that the Iraqi people could have, and almost certainly would have, stood up to Saddam in this current wave of uprisings — taking upon themselves the responsibility for their own liberation, and the sacrifice of it. It’s a process whose importance lies as much in the meaning it gives to death — chosen, willed, as opposed to getting shot at a checkpoint or bombed — as it does to life. Furthermore, as the other uprisings have shown, it would have generated genuine solidarity among people, rather than the seemingly permanent divisions created by the US’s clientalism.

That’s a clue to the second reason why the Right has lost any ability to speak — the argument that there were anti-American ultra-dictators made it possible to defend dictators such as Hosni Mubarak. Thus Melanie Phillips in one of her 50,000 jeremiads bemoaned the simple abandonment of America’s allies in a process that would not challenge America’s enemies.

That got even more complicated when one of Gaddafi’s sons came on TV, in junior Dr Evil garb, to say that his dad was all that stood between his country and the Islamists.

The Right’s paralysis is that on the one hand this may be truer of Libya than of other places, due to the absence of organised political opposition. But they can’t support Gaddafi.

The confusion is now total for them — principally because the one thing they can’t admit is that had there been no Iraq invasion, Iraq would now be part of this process.

From there, it ramifies endlessly. For all the talk of not appeasing dictators, the red carpet has been rolled out for Gaddafi, ever since it became clear that Libya might have quite a bit more oil left than some of the other Arab states.

This involved a largely ceremonial process whereby Libya was welcomed back into the trade club after it surrendered its vestigial WMD program, and cemented further when Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi was released with extensive UK government support. Tony Blair is one figure who put a lot of hope in Gaddafi as “someone we can do business with”. There are more photos of Blair with Gaddafi, than with his youngest child.

Now the nightmare scenario has occurred. The Libyan UN delegation has quit the government en masse and asked the international community to intervene and help ordinary Libyans. Goddamit — after all that talk about the West having a mission for international solidarity and the defence of universal values, somebody actually believed it.

Listen to the sound of the pro-war party rushing to demand that their governments respond to the Libyans’ call.


Nevermind, some of them are on the case. David Aaronovitch has intervened — to remind us that a WikiLeaks associate once said some nice things about Gaddafi. Meanwhile in Cairo, where the public is starting to square off against the military, David Cameron has arrived … with the heads of eight arms manufacturing companies. You couldn’t make it up.

You don’t really need to. Can anyone not say that military humanitarianism is finally, utterly dead?

Saving Solar From The Floods (Levy)  

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The federal government's proposed new "flood levy" to pay for cleaning up after the Queensland floods had a number of flaws (even ignoring the fundamental injustice of making regular taxpayers foot the whole bill leaving business untouched), chief among them the axing of a number of alternative energy programs.

The Greens (with support from GetUp) seem to have managed to block at least one of the cuts, with the "solar flagships" program getting a reprieve (the bill has passed the house of reps but still remains stuck in the Senate).

PM Gillard originally tried to claim the programs were unnecessary given her intention to put a cost on carbon emissions one day - given the governments failure to do this in its first term (and the general inadequacy of the CPRS bill they put forward back then) its unsurprising people want to keep the programs in place.

The ABC has a look at the issue - Gillard is gambling with her climate credibility.

AT HER RECENT NATIONAL Press Club address, Prime Minister Julia Gillard rationalised Labor's decision to cut its investment in renewable energy to fund the flood levy on the basis that these policies "are no longer necessary" with a carbon price. Last week, addressing the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Gillard argued that "a carbon price will drive another sweeping technological revolution like Information Technology did in the 1980s and 90s."

Both cases reveal that those advising the PM grossly misunderstand climate and energy policy.

Nations with fast-developing renewable energy sectors are using policies like feed-in-tariffs (among other mechanisms) to drive investment. Feed-in-tariffs (FiT) in Spain, for example, have kick-started a domestic solar thermal industry. The Spanish engineering giant SENER has just completed its flagship concentrating solar thermal (CST) plant, and there are another US$20 billion worth of solar thermal projects in the pipeline.

Bizarrely, the Australian Prime Minister thinks that a carbon price alone will drive an economic boom comparable to the IT revolution even though pricing instruments did not kick-start those industries. "We didn't tax typewriters to get the computer. We didn't tax telegraphs to get telephones," the Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger is fond of saying. On the contrary, there was a long history of US government investment that helped nurture IT into the profitable sector that it is today.

Matthew Warren, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, correctly notes that "many of the biggest technological 'leaps' forward and infrastructure projects in modern history have been underwritten by government. Typically these are large-scale investments with either big risks or long paybacks - or both." This is where the Gillard government needs to increase its focus. The government must craft policy that mobilises the investment needed for driving clean technologies down the cost reduction curve. "Relying on a carbon price alone," warns Warren, "is institutionalising market failure."

Gillard's narrow focus on a carbon-price is just the most recent example of a string of clumsy strategies. Since taking over the prime ministership from Kevin Rudd, Gillard announced and killed the 'cash for clunkers' program that was estimated to abate carbon at $394 per tonne. The now defunct program won't be missed. Similarly, the idea of a citizen's assembly was met with derision before being quietly replaced with the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee thanks to the influence of the Greens. Whether Gillard's climate policy gaffs were based on poor advice from outgoing chief-of-staff Amanda Lampe or for other reasons, the current government's approach to the climate crisis to date has been anything but prolific.

It's clear that PM Gillard has it backwards. She has been led to believe that carbon pricing alone is enough to decarbonise our economy, when in fact, it's carbon pricing that is the ultimate complementary measure. It will take a range of policies to drive renewable energy deployment, clean technology uptake, and energy efficiency improvements. This is the true consensus.

Gillard's carbon-price-only position is not only off the mark policy-wise, but out of step with even the most cautious voices in climate policy debates. The hitherto carbon price-focused Climate Institute has changed their tune - perhaps realising the inherent difficulty of explaining emissions trading to the public or the political liability of increasing energy prices. They concede that a carbon price "will not completely replace the need for public investment in developing clean energy technologies," adding that "… public investments are crucial to develop cleaner energy industries even with a price on pollution".

Politically speaking, the PM's decision to abandon public investment also misses the opportunity to rally people who support investment in renewable energy more than carbon pricing. GetUp's post-election survey showed that 83 per cent of over 33,000 members who participated strongly support investing in renewable energy. Given that renewable energy investment was the top ranked issue out of ten and carbon pricing last, Gillard's agenda makes for bad politics and bad policy.

Ross Gittins at the SMH also has an interesting column on the value of a carbon price versus additional programs to accelerate development of renewable energy sources - Carbon price is no fix-all.
Our wide brown land has always been subject to ''extreme weather events'' - droughts, floods, cyclones, bushfires and heatwaves. That's why no one can say the extreme events we've been suffering lately are a direct consequence of climate change.

But scientists have long predicted that one effect of global warming would be for extreme events to become more extreme, which is just what seems to be happening. So it would be a brave or foolhardy person who denied recent events had anything to do with climate change. And, certainly, the insurance industry, which keeps careful records of these events, is in no doubt that climate change is making things worse.
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All this being so, you'd expect it to strengthen our determination to get on with doing our bit to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Yet cuts in spending on climate change programs are one of the main ways Prime Minister Julia Gillard proposes to cover the cost of rebuilding public infrastructure in Queensland. The cuts will save almost $1.7 billion over four years, compared with the $1.8 billion the temporary tax levy will raise.

So what on earth is Gillard on about?

She says the key to it is her determination to deliver a carbon price. ''There is complete consensus that the most efficient way to reduce carbon is to price carbon. Some of these policies are less efficient than a carbon price and will no longer be necessary - others will be better delayed until a carbon price's full effects are felt,'' she says.

She's right that there's strong agreement among economists and others that the most efficient - that is, the least costly in terms of economic activity discouraged - way to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide is to build the cost of the damage done by the emissions into the prices of the emissions-intensive goods and services we produce.

This is the way to enlist market forces - our tendency to change our behaviour in response to changes in the prices we pay - in the service of the environment. It encourages us to find ways to reduce our emissions while giving us freedom to choose the ways that work best for us.

It also removes the price disadvantage suffered by the various forms of renewable energy because the prices of fossil fuels don't include the cost of the damage they're doing to the environment.

But, as the Australia Institute's Richard Denniss and Andrew Macintosh point out in a paper to be released today, imposing a price on carbon emissions won't solve the problems most of the affected climate programs were intended to tackle.

For instance, the cash-for-clunkers scheme and the Green Car Innovation Fund are designed to reduce emissions from cars. But the government's former emissions trading scheme specifically excluded petrol, and there's been no suggestion the new arrangements will include it.

The government plans to cut research into carbon capture and storage. But though raising the price of coal in Australia will provide some incentive for coal companies to continue pursuing clean-coal technology, they're unlikely to put in nearly as much money as the government was promising because the technology is not at all promising.

The government plans to cap or cancel various programs aimed at encouraging households to install solar panels. Again, it's doubtful whether raising the price of coal-based electricity will be sufficient to overcome the various impediments to better energy use in the home. So Gillard's claim that a price on carbon will remove the need for other measures to discourage emissions doesn't stand up.

But that's not to say she shouldn't be cutting back or getting rid of those particular measures. Most of them would be no loss. The cash-for-clunkers scheme is a hugely expensive way of encouraging a modest reduction in omissions. The green car fund is just a disguise for giving further help to car makers.

And the hope that the carbon dioxide emitted during the generation of electricity from coal could be captured and stored underground in a commercially viable way is probably a pipedream.

As for the schemes to encourage households to go solar, they've been far too generous, requiring the taxpayer to pay much too much for the reduction of emissions - up to $280 a tonne in the case of one scheme.

No, the disappearance of most of these programs will be no loss. But in claiming they will be made redundant by a carbon price, Gillard is trying to cover the government's embarrassment because most of them were introduced by Labor itself. And, as Denniss and Macintosh argue, she is inflating expectations about how much a carbon price could achieve. It may be the most important thing we need to do, but it's not the only thing.

Because market forces are powerful but far from perfect, the carbon price needs to be complemented by other measures. Getting rid of bad complementary measures is fine, but they need to be replaced by measures that are more cost effective.

And if Gillard is looking for cost savings to help pay for flood damage, she should start by getting rid of programs that actually subsidise the use of fossil fuels: the concessional taxation of company cars, the exemption from fuel excise for aircraft and natural gas and certain other tax concessions. Getting rid of those would not only help reduce emissions, it would save the budget more than $4 billion a year.

The Gas Rush  

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The ABC's Four Corners program has a look at resistance to the coal seam gas rush in Queensland - The Gas Rush (it can be seen again later this week on ABC News 24 or online with iView). Robert Gottliebsen at The Business Spectator (who cheerled the mining industry's campaign against Kevin Rudd and his mining tax) seems somewhat alarmed by the idea of a fight between farmers and the gas industry - A cloud over coal-seam gas - it seems its not as easy to dismiss cranky cockies as it was a Labor Prime Minister.

With access to guerrilla activists and their undercover filming, Matthew Carney reports on the coalition of farmers, local townspeople and even a corporate titan who want to halt Australia's gas rush.

Imagine you are running a successful farming operation; then one day a man from the gas company arrives with news that a coal seam gas field lies beneath your feet. From there 3 wells are sunk, then another 18. And then a proposal for another 30, turning your property into a thriving gas field, while threatening the viability of the working farm.

Down the road, the neighbour sells after 48 wells are sunk into his property. The compensation of $250 a year, per well was not much inducement to stay. The wells themselves are estimated to be making the companies a million dollars a year, each.

And then the gas company says they might have to move your house to sink another well into the land.

This is the experience of just one of the farmers featured on Four Corners this week.

Right across Australia gas companies are drilling down through the earth to extract the resource that the industry says will be one of the answers to our future energy needs. Already some $31 billion worth of gas projects have been approved by the Federal Government, which are expected to generate thousands of jobs and billions in revenues.

But this precious resource lies beneath homes and farms, and the food bowls of Australia.

And this is where the gas companies are drilling; prompting a heated conflict over who should pay the price for our energy supplies.

Matthew Carney reports from communities in Queensland and NSW that are directly affected. Farmers tell of their feelings of violation and frustration; their belief that they are losing control of their properties and their ability to plan for the future. As one says "It's really frustrating. We have taken on extra debt to fund our farming business and we are powerless to stop people accessing it and abusing it."

But it's not only what's happening above ground that worries them.

One farmer claims his water supplies are dropping alarmingly as the coal seam drilling causes the water table to drop at an accelerated rate. This cattle farmer believes he may only have two years supply left in one of his key water bores.

Then there is the danger posed by faulty gas wells. The program shows local activists testing for leaks and finding highly explosive gasses leaking at alarming levels.

Others talk of their fears that Australia's greatest underground water resource, the Great Artesian Basin will be contaminated and depleted. Four Corners details cases of water supplies being tainted by salty toxic water.

Many of those affected are beginning to work together on a national campaign to call a halt to "The Gas Rush".

Nothing Will Stop Power Prices Soaring in NSW  

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The SMH has an article on soaring power prices in NSW - which are rising even without a carbon tax or large scale investment in renewables, thanks to rising coal and gas prices and the large expense associated with upgrading the transmission network to cope with increasing demand - Nothing Will Stop Power Prices Soaring

ELECTRICITY prices are set to almost double, regardless of the election campaign and the sale of power assets.

An Australian Industry Group study released today finds the annual bill for a typical Sydney household will climb from $1257 to $2012 between 2009-10 and 2012-13 if the carbon price is set at $26 per tonne. Even with no carbon price, the bill is set to climb to $1705.

''A range of factors points relentlessly upward, from massive network investment to movements in international markets ...'' the group's chief executive, Heather Ridout, says in an introduction to the report. ''The NSW privatisation debate is unlikely to change this much.''

The study finds coal-fired generation will become more expensive whether or not Australia gets a carbon price as international prices for Australian coal climb. Paradoxically, weak international climate change policies could push Australian coal prices still higher.

Gas prices are also set to climb, with four large LNG export projects in Queensland set to drive eastern states prices towards world parity.

Consortium to build electric Commodore test fleet  

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GoAuto has a look at a proof of concept being run by some ex GM Holden executives looking to produce an electric version of the Holden Commodore - Consortium to build electric Commodore test fleet

A CONSORTIUM of five leading Australian automotive suppliers with global connections has formed a company to drive engineering research into electric vehicles – a $26 million project that they hope will not only generate cutting-edge technologies but culminate in an Australian-built rear-drive electric large car.

The new Melbourne-based company, EV Engineering Limited, says it will build seven proof-of-concept full-electric Holden Commodores by the middle of 2012, funded partly by a $3.5 million grant from the federal government’s now defunct Green Car Innovation Fund (GCIF).

Holden is involved only on the periphery of the project by providing some engineering support and use of its Lang Lang proving ground, but the new company has strong Holden flavour, with several former Holden senior executives heading the project, including Rob McEniry and Ian McCleave.

Among the major partners in the consortium are automotive component suppliers Futuris and its partner Air International, Bosch and Continental, along with EV charging network company Better Place Australia. Each are providing both financial and technical support. ...

Although the federal government has killed the GCIF and diverted future funding to flood damage restoration, this new project managed to squeeze through the door before it was slammed shut.

Announcing the grant, innovation and industry minister Kim Carr said the global electric vehicle market would be worth $2 trillion by 2020, and that Australia needed to take action to share in that business or risk being left behind.

He said that although the GCIF had been discontinued, the government would continue to fund the transformation of the motor industry to ensure that Australia remained one of only 15 countries with the capability of taking a new vehicle from concept to production.

Mr Carr said he was particularly interested in maintaining Australia’s motor industry as a major export force to markets such as the Middle East. ...

The concept for the EV consortium is believed to be the brainchild of EV charging infrastructure company Better Place, headed by former Labor state politician Evan Thornley and Alison Terry - the latter a former Holden executive director of corporate affairs.

Better Place, which is set to start roll-out of its national charging and battery-switching network in Canberra late this year, will provide charging technology support.

Mr Thornley said large-car owners had the most to gain from switching to electric propulsion, as they spent the most money on fuel.

He said Australia was in a unique position to take a lead role in rear-drive electric vehicle development, as Australia’s motor industry was largely built around such vehicles.

US the blind policy giant puts farmers before food  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Michael Pascoe has an interesting rant in The Age about the G20 and American corn ethanol policies and their impact on global food prices ("willfully burning food is a particular form of obscenity") - US the blind policy giant puts farmers before food.

For a little while there, in the eye of the global financial crisis, it looked like necessity would force the world's leaders into genuine international policy advances. The further we have retreated from the precipice of immediate disaster, the more useless the G20 becomes.

The platitude of the weekend was concern about food prices. For some governments, it's a very genuine concern. For all the nice talk about the appeal of democracy, the escalating price of basic foodstuffs was a bigger factor in Egyptian regime change.

So there was plenty of talk about food prices, with G20 types from the French to the Indians wanting to do something about evil speculators who must be behind the jump in soft commodities. Nice to have a convenient and simple scapegoat for a very complex problem.

The American scapegoat of choice though is China's foreign exchange policy. While the United States' dipsy and inefficient biofuels policy means it is literally burning somewhere between a third and 40 per cent of its massive corn crop as a gift to its farm lobby, Washington wants everyone to focus on the renminbi. ...

The US Treasury Secretary, little Timmy Geithner, used the Paris meeting to demonstrate again that he's as bad as his predecessors. He would have us believe that the cheap RMB means China is growing too fast and that's what's causing food inflation.

Economic growth, a nation of more than 1.3 billion people forging a way out of poverty, does result in increased food consumption, among other things. Effectively, if only more people ate less, were happy to starve for the greater good, food would be cheaper. And this sort of suggestion from the Treasury Secretary of the world's most obese nation.

The US trashing its own dollar has had a much bigger impact on prices as the greenback happens to be the world's currency of trade. And then there's the ethanol policy.

Everyone knows the US has a real estate problem with crashing house prices and shopping centre and office block owners in Chapter 11. What the US also has is a boom in farm prices that's in danger of becoming a bubble. ...

The big driver for US grain farmers has been biofuels policy that effectively links the price of corn to the price of oil while absorbing $US7.7 billion a year in government subsidies.

And the bad news is that it's early days yet. As told in a Goldman Sachs report the current US production of more than 10 billion gallons a year (nearly 9 per cent of America's gasoline supply) is slated to increase to 36 billion gallons by 2022 under the Renewable Fuels Standard of the Energy Independence and Security Act introduced in 2007. And it could get worse:

“Lately there has been a push for raising the ethanol-gasoline blending requirements from 10 per cent all the way to 15 per cent and we would not be surprised if the EPA agrees to something closer to 11-12 per cent. Each percentage increase in ethanol blending is equal to 550 million bushels of corn or approximately the equivalent of 4.5 per cent of total US production.”

There's a lot more to higher global grain prices than just the US preoccupation with gas-guzzling cars and subsidising farmers. Drought in China, floods in Australia, fires in Russia, more people wanting more food, they all play a role. But while natural disasters and human hunger happen, willfully burning food is a particular form of obscenity.

What's more, American corn isn't even an efficient source of ethanol. The scale and productivity of Brazilian sugar cane plantations perhaps makes a case for turning that sweet giant grass into fuel – but tariffs and tax subsidies for the locals keep it out of the US. American corn farmers can't begin to compete with it.

With oil prices back up around $US100 a barrel, there's increased incentive to grow more corn and thus more is being planted at the expense of other crops. Such is the totally interrelated nature of the world economy that dumb US agricultural policy plays a roll in changing third-world governments and improving the lot of Australian wheat farmers as they face less competition from the US.

Meanwhile, China is getting on with it. China has lent more money than the World Bank to developing nations over the past two years – no doubt for its own pragmatic reasons. For all the concentration on China's surplus with the US, it trades much more with its fellow developing nations. On the food front, the very necessary main growth in global food production has to come from developing nations.

And India, in a very different way, also is getting on with it. According to figures included in the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics demographics report, India's population will increase from 1173 million people in 2010 to 1657 million in 2050 – roughly half a billion extra mouths to feed in 40 years.

I somehow doubt that problem is going to be solved by a more expensive renminbi.

Bioplastics Become Material  

Posted by Big Gav in

The latest "State of Green Business Report" has a section on the growth of the bioplastic market - Bioplastics Become Material.

For years, the search for alternatives to petroleum-based plastics has led researchers down a variety of paths, many of which turned out to be dead ends. Henry Ford, the automaker and showman, produced a prototype plastic car made from soybeans in 1941, but plastic from plants wilted as plastic from oil gained favor as a substitute for scarce steel during World War II.

Since the 1970s, as concern over plastic's environmental impacts grew in lockstep with the growth of plastic itself, a steady parade of innovators in both large and small companies have tried to create more environmentally benign alternatives. Few succeeded, failing to meet the demanding price and performance specifications of today's manufacturers. Now suddenly, bioplastics made from plants and agricultural materials are sprouting like -- well, weeds.

Introductions of bioplastic materials and products reached a crescendo during 2010, as more mainstream companies introduced bioplastics from a dizzying array of commodities. Beverage maker Odwalla, a Coca-Cola subsidiary, said it was switching all of its single-serve drinks to bottles made almost entirely of plastic derived from molasses and sugarcane juice. (In 2009, Coke announced it would begin phasing in a similar bioplastic bottle for its flagship cola.)

Procter & Gamble is bringing sugarcane to shampoo and makeup with new packaging that will be on shelves next year. The company will start using sugarcane-based plastic packaging for certain products from its Pantene Pro-V, Covergirl and Max Factor brands, made with ethanol derived from Brazilian sugarcane.

Sugarcane is just the start. Electronics company NEC said it developed a bioplastic made with an extract from non-edible cashew nut shells and plant cellulose that is twice as strong as another bioplastic typically made from corn starch. The company says its material is not just doubly strong, but also more than twice as heat-resistant and molds in half the time as bio-plastic made from polylactic acid resin, which is typically derived from corn starch or sugarcane.

Nuclear power's great leap forward  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Climate Spectator has yet another article spruiking the fantasy of the nuclear renaissance, with all the usual wild claims being made about Gen IV reactors (only 20 years away - we need to get on board right now !) - Nuclear power's great leap forward.

The Chinese Academy of Science announced on January 26 that it planned to finance the development of a program to develop thorium fuelled molten salt reactors (TFMSR). This is the first of four "strategic leader in science and technology projects" that the Chinese Academy of Science will be supporting. ...

The Academy stated that"The scientific goal is to develop a new generation of nuclear energy systems [and to achieve commercial] use [in] 20 years or so. We intend to complete the technological research needed for this system and to assert intellectual property rights to this technology."...

So, can we expect to see the Chinese announcement catalyse the countries and researchers who have been working on TFMSR’s for years to put together a team to deliver a second TFMSR program?

Given the intellectual capital developed 50 years ago by the talented team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, under the leadership of the visionary Dr Alvin M Weinberg, it would be surprising if a team were not assembled and funded to deliver a second TFMSR program.

Well - I'm sure the reason it failed the first time around is no longer applicable - so we'll see if these reactors can compete with solar and wind in 20 years or so time.

The CS has another article criticising a lot of the fantasising going on by the nuclear lobbyists - Behind nuclear's new face.
With Martin Ferguson calling for a nuclear power debate at the ALP National Conference and the Weekend Australian’s front page headline reading, "Nuclear power's friendly new face," it's looking like the nuclear lobby has been busy.

Of course that’s what lobby groups do – lobby. Except in this case the lobbying is being done by the Minister responsible for Australia’s renewable energy portfolio and the story in The Australian was written by a reporter, not a lobbyist.

It would be tempting to think that, after four weeks of fire, floods, and historic storms, the national debate would be focusing on how to make our country more resilient with tough, flexible housing options, infrastructure designed for the 21st century and a sustainable, cheap, low-risk energy mix.

But no. The months leading up to the Labor Party's National Conference will now be filled with environmentalists calling on the Prime Minister to clarify her position on nuclear power – with all the accompanying leadership speculation that will encourage. And it will be necessary to spend precious time and resources once again outlining the reality of nuclear power.

If it remains on the agenda, it looks like nothing but a train wreck for federal Labor. However the issues raised by The Australian need to be addressed well before the National Conference in late July.

As the headline suggests, the story is about the possibilities still open to a nuclear power industry – nuclear power as friendly and small. But there are five central assertions made by the nuclear industry in the article that, in the interests of an informed debate, need closer examination.

The first is contained in the opening lines: “Nuclear electricity generation is undergoing expansion in some countries and intensified research as nations seek to restrict carbon output and diversify their sources of power.”

Wrong. Nuclear power is declining in market share. In fact, while expansion is happening in China, Korea and Russia, in the rest of the world, the number of reactors are stagnating or decreasing. In Europe, for example, there has been a net decrease of nuclear capacity by 7,200 MW since year 2000. Twenty years ago, in 1989, there were 177 reactors in what is now known as the EU-27; today there are only 144. What we see is a decline of nuclear power, not an expansion.

Secondly, there is the suggestion that "mini reactors may be one way to go, supplying specific locations."

Mini nuclear plants are the stuff of science fiction. None of them have even developed enough on paper to be seriously considered for construction. None are licenced, which by itself is a process that takes many years.

Thirdly, the article raises the potential of Generation IV reactors, saying they are "now under research for possible future development." The Generation IV project covers several technologies that now lie more in the realm of theory, such as gas-cooled fast reactors, and others that would be helium-cooled instead of the present water-cooling.

Nobody seriously thinks about deployment of Gen IV before 2030 – including the International Energy Agency in its most recent scenarios (World Energy Outlook 2010, or Energy Technology Perspectives 2010).

The article‘s fourth point is that nuclear power "has gained support among some environmentalists and many long-standing opponents as an effective way to reduce global carbon emissions and combat climate change."

This is nonsense. The fact is, no established environmental groups support nuclear power, quite the opposite. During the climate conference in Poznan in 2008, more than 300 NGOs signed a declaration against nuclear power and its inclusion in the CDM – including every large group such as WWF, Friends of the Earth, CAN, etc.

The fifth point they make is that "Finland has several plants already and is expanding its complex at Olkiluoto from two to three plants."

The third reactor of Olkiluoto has been a disaster for Europe’s “nuclear renaissance”. Promoted as a flagship of brand new, improved, reliable and economic Generation III+ reactors, the project was passed through the Finnish parliament in 2002 with a price tag of €2.5 billion. When the construction started in 2005, the contract was already at €3.2 billion. Since then, thousands of technical problems have caused massive delays, so the construction is now officially four years behind schedule (the reactor should have started in May 2009 but will not be in commercial operation before 2014), and the cost has climbed up to €6 billion so far, with more troubles, delays and extra costs very likely to come.

Next, the article asserts that "a true environmental cost-benefit analysis is difficult because of the uncertainty inherent in the long-term storage and disposal of waste.“

"Uncertainty" is the operative word. What we do know is the UK government is preparing to pay well over $A110 billion to clean up some of its old installations. Though it’s fair to say that while no one knows how much it costs to safely store nuclear waste for over 100,000 years, it‘s probably a lot.

Finally, the article says that: "Nuclear power provides an environmental benefit by almost entirely eliminating airborne wastes and particulates generated during power generation. This is offset by the relatively small volumes of radioactive wastes that are produced that must be managed prior to ultimate disposal."

This is not true. The largest volumes of nuclear waste are generated during the fuel chain, ie. during uranium mining, processing, enrichment and fuel fabrication. Very roughly, operation of one reactor of 1,000 MW capacity results in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste in the front end of the cycle (ie. before the fuel eventually reaches the reactor), then has routine emissions during operation (namely tritium – and this is not negligible, there are solid and strong epidemiological studies proving increased incidence of childhood cancer in the neighbourhood or nuclear reactors).

The most dangerous waste, however, comes in the form of spent fuel: One 1000 MW reactor generates about 20 tonnes of spent fuel every year. This is enough to poison millions of people, and will remain deadly for over 100,000 years. Those 20 tonnes of spent fuel also contain 200 kg of plutonium – enough to build 20 nuclear bombs.

The nuclear energy debate in Australia is diverting attention away from the real need to plan how we harness our unparalleled renewable resources. The real question is, in whose interest is it? One thing is for certain, it’s not the Australian public.

The evolution of Silver Spring Networks  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Smart Grid News has a look at the evolving business model of smart grid technology provider Silver Spring Networks - The evolution of Silver Spring Networks.

No, I don't know why Silver Spring Networks (SSN) failed to go public last year as widely expected. And yes, I asked during my latest briefing. And no, Executive Vice President Eric Dresselhuys wouldn't answer my IPO questions.

But I do know that the delay could end up for the best. In that intervening year, SSN has matured its vision in a way that could increase its valuation. And it all comes down to one word: Platform.

The evolution of a vision

Take a look at SSN's self description circa 2005:
Silver Spring Networks connects utilities with their customers over a two-way, real-time network...

And how it described itself a year ago at the height of the IPO speculation:
Silver Spring Networks is a leading smart grid solution provider...

Now look at how it describes itself today:
Silver Spring Networks is a leading smart grid platform provider...
You can see the evolution visually as well. Look at the nearby drawing taken from SSN's Web site. In its early days, SSN thought of itself as a communications provider -- the blue layer at the bottom. Today, its vision embraces the blue layer plus the platform in the middle. It even reaches up into the green applications layer with the help of more than 40 companies now certified as SSN partners.

So what's the big deal about platforms?

Smart Grid News has been preaching about the value of platforms for years. I think they are essential to smart grid progress. (For a primer, review our survival guide to the smart grid platform by professor Geoffrey Parker, Director of the Tulane Energy Institute). Done right, platforms are good for the provider and good for customers too.

And they're really good if you want to go public. IPO underwriters and investors love the word "platform." To them it stands for high growth and high barriers to competition. Microsoft has a computing platform. Cisco has a network platform. Qualcomm has a cellular platform. Google has a search platform.

If I were going public, that's the kind of company I would want to keep. Smart grid platform has a very nice ring.

There's another aspect to SSN's evolution: It has moved away from an over-reliance on smart metering. Look back at SSN's platform drawing. It now shows five applications. Not just metering, but also distribution automation, demand response, smart home and electric vehicles. Of those five, metering is nearing a plateau but the other four are growing, especially DA and DR.

By expanding its vision, SSN has inserted itself into those growth paths. Most market researchers expect smart meter sales to plateau in 2012. But they expect both OT (operational technology including distribution automation) and IT (information technology) to surge, with each one climbing to tens of billions in annual sales worldwide. They have equally cheerful predictions for the demand response sector.

Graph of the Day: The Cost of Production Of Oil  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

TreeHugger points to a TOD post looking at the cost of production for oil from various sources - Does Peak Oil Even Matter?. The summary - "Peak Oilers have always pointed out that we will never run out of oil, it will just get a lot more expensive. And when it does, it will crush the economy" - might well be the view of a lot of peak oilers, but is entirely wrong - it should be rephrased as "And when it does, we will become both more efficient in our use of oil and replace it with alternatives (aka. convert our transport systems to use electricity and source this from renewable energy sources)"

Whenever we speak of Peak Oil, the optimists point out that the technology for finding replacements will turn up as the prices rise; look at what has happened with the oil sands and with shale gas. But as this graph shows, each alternative just gets more expensive.

A fascinating article by David Murphy in The Oil Drum questions the logic that these expensive options prove that peak oil is not a problem. But Peak Oilers have always pointed out that we will never run out of oil, it will just get a lot more expensive. And when it does, it will crush the economy. Murphy writes:
Oil infiltrates almost every facet of an industrial economy, from personal disposable income, to manufacturing, to service sectors. Therefore higher oil prices restrain growth via declining discretionary consumption as individuals allocate more money towards gasoline and home heating, or as the cost of producing a good increases, etc. Chris Nelder described this situation succinctly, writing: "The true import of peak oil, therefore, may not be sustained high prices, but economic shrinkage. Demand will be destroyed long before oil gets to $200 a barrel.

George Monbiot vs Stewart Brand  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

I've always liked Stewart Brand (the subject of "From Counterculture To Cyberculture") but he does come off poorly in this exchange with George Monbiot late last year - Dear Stewart Brand: If we can't trust your claims on DDT, why should we trust you on anything else?.

Last week I gave Stewart Brand a simple challenge. In his book Whole Earth Discipline he claimed that the pesticide DDT "was banned worldwide" as a result of campaigning by environmentalists, killing millions. Complaints meant the explicit claim was cut at the last minute from the film he fronted for Channel 4, What the Green Movement Got Wrong, but the impression remained. I challenged Brand either to provide evidence to support his claim or to admit that he got it wrong.

In replying to me he did neither. He also failed to provide the sources he had promised to show me during the televised debate following his film. I wrote this up on this website. In response he sent me a long series of emails, which you can read in full on my site.

None of them meet my challenge, but they have opened my eyes to what I fear is his real agenda – one that seems very different to what he claims to be doing. Here is the open letter I have just sent to him, in which I answer his new claims and voice my concerns.

Dear Stewart,

Thank you for your emails and sorry for taking a while to reply: I had to check your claims before responding to them. Before I go on, let me remind you of some of things you say in your book:
"Every interview with a public figure should include the question 'What have you been wrong about, and how did that change your views?' The answer will tell us if the person is intellectually honest or a tale-spinner with delusions of infallibility."

"Fessing up aids learning."

"Failure to acknowledge a mistake is paralysing."

Are we to assume that this advice applies only to other people? I have now given you several opportunities – before, during and after our televised debate - to admit that you made a mistake when you claimed, in relation to the control of malaria, that "DDT was banned worldwide". Instead of doing so, you have dug a deeper hole for yourself.

It's not a complicated matter. A worldwide ban cannot take place without an international instrument. The only instrument I'm aware of that regulates DDT at the global level is the 2001 Stockholm convention. This does not ban its use for disease control. Rather, DDT is banned for agricultural purposes, not least because spraying it indiscriminately encourages resistance in malarial mosquitoes. If there is another instrument, please name it and quote the relevant text. If there isn't, all you need to do is to admit that you got it wrong. As the passages I've quoted from your book suggest, there's no shame in doing so. The shame lies in sticking to a claim when it has been shown to be false.

Instead of answering my challenge, you begin your emails by selectively quoting two articles that make broad and generalised allegations (several of which turn out to be false), but which provide no evidence for a global ban. I took the trouble of reading these articles in full, and found that both of them, in sections you don't quote, make it clear that there was no global ban. That hardly helps your case.

Then you take the extraordinary step of turning for help to Patrick Moore. Moore, as I am sure you are aware, represents a number of polluting and destructive industries, and helps them with their battles against environmentalists. For example, he fronted the logging industry's campaign against people trying to stop the clear-cutting of old-growth forests in western Canada. He has been a prominent spokesman in the movement denying that man-made climate change is taking place, and has been criticised for failing to declare his commercial interests. He is the source of a number of lurid myths about the environment movement.

For example, in the Great Global Warming Swindle, broadcast on Channel 4 in 2007, he made the following claim: "When I left Greenpeace it was in the midst of them adopting a campaign to ban chlorine worldwide. Like I said, 'you guys, this is one of the elements in the periodic table, you know; I mean, I'm not sure if it's in our jurisdiction to be banning a whole element'."

But Greenpeace has never campaigned to ban chlorine worldwide. Instead it has campaigned against certain organo-chlorines, like dioxin, and sought – successfully – to stop chlorine being used to bleach wood pulp in Ontario and British Columbia because of the pollution it was causing in rivers and lakes.

This alone should make you wary of calling on Moore as an expert on what has and has not been banned worldwide. True to form, this master of spin tried to help you out by inventing a whole new concept in international law: a "de facto worldwide ban". What a marvellous weasel phrase that is - and how little it helps your case. Either there has been a worldwide ban or there hasn't. If there has, show me where and when.

It may be true, in some places and at some times, that DDT has been hard to obtain for the purposes of disease control when it was believed to be the most effective option, though you have yet to show me hard evidence that even this is the case. If it is true, however, I regret it. Like you, I believe that eliminating malaria by the most effective means has to be a global priority. In 1989 I got into trouble with a friend in Manaus in the Amazon whose house I was staying in by letting officials come in and spray his walls with DDT. I thought it was the right thing to do; he did not.

Moore also sent you an extract from his book in the hope that it might deliver you from the fix you're in. I checked out some of the claims he makes in this extract, and immediately found that they are exaggerated and inaccurate.

For example, he maintains that:
"DDT was even discontinued for use in malaria control by the World Health Organisation and USAID"

and that
"the WHO and USAID refused aid to countries that used DDT for malaria control"

These claims are untrue. Not only did these agencies not refuse aid on these grounds, they never stopped using DDT for malarial control, where they believed this was the best option. In many cases it was not the best option. As the malaria expert and former World Health Organisation (WHO) global malaria programme coordinator, Allan Schapira, points out in the Lancet (hat tip: Tim Lambert):
"Indoor residual spraying is an effective intervention, provided a programme infrastructure can be set up and maintained to include trained sprayers, supervisors, managers, stocks, equipment, and vehicles, that roads allow access to every village at the right time at least once a year, and that insecticides are not diverted to agriculture … In view of the difficulties encountered in maintaining indoor residual spraying, WHO has invested substantially in exploring other methods, especially insecticide-treated bed nets. … In the choice between indoor residual spraying and insecticide-treated nets, a WHO study group convened in 2004 noted that the decision should, in most cases, be based on operational factors. Because long-lasting insecticidal nets can be managed easily with minimum risk of diversion of insecticide, for most high-burden countries that have not developed an infrastructure for indoor residual spraying, the priority will be to ensure coverage of at-risk populations with such long-lasting nets."

Here's what USAID says:
"USAID has never had a 'policy' as such either 'for' or 'against' DDT for IRS [indoor residual spraying]. The real change in the past two years has been a new interest and emphasis on the use of IRS in general – with DDT or any other insecticide – as an effective malaria prevention strategy in tropical Africa."

That wasn't hard to find – it took me 20 seconds on Google – so why does Moore continue to spread this myth?

USAID also says that the use of DDT spraying "to prevent malaria is an allowable exception under the Stockholm convention" and that the decision about whether or not to use DDT "is based on cost-effectiveness; on entomological factors; on local building materials; and on host-country policy."

In other words, you have yet to show me any hard evidence of anything, let alone the claim that there was a worldwide ban. You can go on wasting my time and yours if you like, by seeking to defend something that is evidently false, or you could show a little of the intellectual honesty you call for in your book by accepting that you got it wrong. At the moment you are making yourself look like "a tale-spinner with delusions of infallibility", to use a phrase from your book.

In the meantime, all this has got me thinking: you call yourself an environmentalist and claim to be trying to reform the environmental movement for its own good. Yet you repeat and then try to defend a myth circulated by corporate lobbyists about the environment movement – that it obtained a global ban on DDT, killing millions – even when you are unable to produce evidence to support it. Then you turn for help to one of the environment movement's most entrenched enemies. Why should we continue to believe you when you claim that you're on our side?

Like Moore, you trade on your credentials as a founder of the early environment movement. Like Moore, you now work as a corporate consultant. By the way, who does your company, the Global Business Network, now represent? The list of corporations Sourcewatch gives as its clients – including ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Cargill, Dow Chemical, Shell and BP – makes my hair stand on end. But is it correct? And why have you ceased to carry this list on your website? Like Moore, you attack the environment movement in ways that suit corporate interests: calling us, in effect, to drop our campaigns for regulation and democratic control in favour of techno-fixes.

When I first came across your work, I took it at face value. As I read more, I began to wonder if you are not, as you claim, pioneering a new form of environmentalism, but a new form of corporate consultancy. You seem to be seeking to shape the environmental debate to suit the businesses you work for. Our correspondence does nothing to dispel this impression. Can you disabuse me of my suspicions?

You are more dangerous than the other corporate-sponsored adversaries of the green movement. You don't deny that climate change is happening. You don't get abusive, you remain polite and charming, you sound reasonable at all times. You are, as a result, a more effective operator than them: you have persuaded a lot of influential people that you are working for the good of the planet. I fear you are running the most insidious and subtle exercise in corporate propaganda I have yet encountered. As a result, no one, until now, has called you out on it. With this response, that changes.

Related posts from Monbiot :

Deep Peace in Techno-Utopia
Is Stewart Brand the New Ian Plimer?.
Correspondence with Stewart Brand.
Correspondence with Stewart Brand – Second Tranche.

Cornucopia or Malthusia - a reply to John Tierney  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Heading Out has an interesting blog post in the wake of the Tierney-Simmons bet over oil prices being resolved in Tierney's favour, looking at the famous Simon-Erlich bet about metal prices many years ago, pointing out that if the bet had been over 30 years instead of 10, Erlich would have won handsomely Cornucopia or Malthusia - a reply to John Tierney.

Five years ago John Tierney agreed on a bet with Matt Simmons that by this year the average price of crude oil would average $200 a barrel. The bet is now due, although, sadly, in the interim Matt has passed away. And Mr Tierney has just posted (h/t Leanan) his comment upon winning the bet. While recognizing the impact of the recession on oil prices, after their rise to $147 in the intervening years, he points out that this year crude averaged $80. This he feels justifies the position of the Cornucopian approach to life, rather than the Malthusian.

Would that he were right! In his article he cites oil from new fields coming ashore from fields off Africa and Brazil, and increased production from the oil sands of Canada and the United States, as promising a maintenance of this Cornucopian era into the future. And he uses a historic parallel to show how in an earlier time Julian Simon won a similar bet against Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren and John Harte over the price of a basket of 5 metals.

Admittedly he is currently in good company, since the EIA is not looking for the price of crude to rise above $100 a barrel for another six years, and the IEA recently posted in their December Oil Market Report that global production increased from both OPEC (up 45 kbd) and non-OPEC (up 355 kbd) sources in November. It sees that production will continue to increase through 2011, meeting an increase in demand to 88.8 mbd. 0.5 mbd of that will come from an increase in NGL from OPEC, rising to 5.8 mbd.

Art Berman has just explained some of his concerns with the optimistic projections of the EIA Annual Energy Outlook and I agree with his line of argument. But let me take a slightly different tack in disagreeing with the Cornucopian position.

And it is true that oil companies are now gearing up for a much greater level of investment in this next year than in the recent past. The WSJ quotes a Barclay’s Capital report that levels will reach $490 billion, up 11% on last year. It also notes that the price rises of 2008 led to a boom in deepwater rig construction, and the 25 built in 2010 will be joined by 35 next year. All of which allows the Journal to end with a quote that “Higher investment now will mean lower prices than they would otherwise be in the future.” (Well yes, but . . . . ) But the reality is that the levels of investment that will be required to sustain current levels of production are likely to exceed these numbers, and we are in a time when greater prospecting will likely only lead to a diminished return. Not that we don’t need that investment.

So how does one address this issue. Well Let’s just go back to that original bet by Simon against Ehrlich et al on the price of metals. The original bet was as follows:
Ehrlich and his colleagues picked five metals that they thought would undergo big price rises: chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten. Then, on paper, they bought $200 worth of each, for a total bet of $1,000, using the prices on September 29, 1980, as an index. They designated September 29, 1990, 10 years hence, as the payoff date. If the inflation-adjusted prices of the various metals rose in the interim, Simon would pay Ehrlich the combined difference; if the prices fell, Ehrlich et alia would pay Simon.

Then they sat back and waited.

Between 1980 and 1990, the world's population grew by more than 800 million, the largest increase in one decade in all of history. But by September 1990, without a single exception, the price of each of Ehrlich's selected metals had fallen, and in some cases had dropped through the floor. Chrome, which had sold for $3.90 a pound in 1980, was down to $3.70 in 1990. Tin, which was $8.72 a pound in 1980, was down to $3.88 a decade later.

Which is how it came to pass that in October 1990, Paul Ehrlich mailed Julian Simon a check for $576.07.

Just out of curiosity I went to Infomine and looked at the price of those metals over the past 10 years (though they only plot chromium and tungsten prices for five). The plots for the 5 metals follow, and to make the calculations simple I have rounded the metal values a little.


$200 in 2000 would have bought 66.7 lbs (it was $3), and in 2005 would have bought 160 lbs of chrome, which would now be worth $425 roughly. Over the 10-year interval however, buying $200 of chromium would have cost you $23, not counting inflation.


However, when we look at copper, that $200 would have bought 250 lb of copper in 2000, and over the decade that purchase has gained $862, roughly.


A similar situation applies to nickel, where $200 would have bought about 66.7 lbs of nickel in 2000, and that investment would have gained $533 over the 10 years.


The same is also true for tin, where $200 would have bought 91 lb of tin in 2000, and that would sell today for about $1,090; the investment thus making $890 over the decade.


$200 would have bought 6.25 lb of tungsten in 2005, which would now be worth $265 roughly. It has been difficult to find the price of tungsten in 2000, although the price is reported to have trebled from that pre-2004, suggesting that it was around $14 back then. That would give a purchase of some 14 lb, which would now be worth around $600.

So the $1,000 investment from 2000 would now be worth (in 2010 dollars) $177+$1,062+$733+$1090+$600 = $3,663

Using the Inflation Calculator there has been 27% inflation since 2000, so that the $1,000 would now be worth $1,270. The price of the metals has thus roughly trebled over the time period.

I have not been able to find an accurate value for tungsten in 2000, though I know that the price went up significantly in 2003 when the only mine in the North Americas (the Cantung mine in Canada) closed. It is now re-opening. Most of the world’s tungsten now comes from China.

This reality suggests the underlying longer-term truth to the supply situation for materials that are extracted from the earth. There is only a finite amount there, and while it is possible, due to changing economic circumstance, that a Cornucopian viewpoint might for a while appear true, the growing demand for product, as countries, particularly those in Asia, aspire to Western levels of consumption, will rapidly emphasize the Malthusian long-term condition. (Although cherry-picking specific dates may allow one to transiently make the alternate case).

One has only to consider what is happening to gold and silver, not to mention the rare earth minerals.

Matt may have been a little early in his prediction on $200 oil, but I would be very surprised if we did not see a bit more than $100 within the year. The impact that a price rise above this level will have on the global economy makes it difficult to predict what will happen after that, but we could easily see $150 a barrel by 2015, if the economy can sustain it.

UK Immigration Officer Puts Wife on the No-Fly List  

Posted by Big Gav in

Bruce Schneier has another sorry tale about no-fly lists, a legacy of the phoney "war on terror" - UK Immigration Officer Puts Wife on the No-Fly List.

A UK immigration officer decided to get rid of his wife by putting her on the no-fly list, ensuring that she could not return to the UK from abroad. This worked for three years, until he put in for a promotion and -- during the routine background check -- someone investigated why his wife was on the no-fly list.

Okay, so he's an idiot. And a bastard. But the real piece of news here is how easy it is for a UK immigration officer to put someone on the no-fly list with absolutely no evidence that that person belongs there. And how little auditing is done on that list. Once someone is on, they're on for good.

That's simply no way to run a free country.

Unscrambling the food price spike  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Climate Spectator has an article on global food prices and the impact of Chinese demand on them - Unscrambling the food price spike.

Now, in the latest episode of this gripping global drama, all eyes are turning to China, where the country's northern grain-producing regions have been in the grip of a brutal drought for more than three months, raising fears about its winter wheat crop.

In many areas, the drought is the worst in six decades; in Shandong province, a key grain producer, the drought is the worst in 200 years. The government is spending nearly a billion dollars on emergency measures (extending even to firing anti-aircraft guns at clouds). Media coverage is mushrooming; futures markets are taking fright.

In the back of many minds is the worrying thought that while rice prices may not be spiking yet, there's a school of thought that believes they did so in 2008 in large part because high wheat prices prompted consumers to substitute rice for wheat. And it was when rice spiked that things really started to go haywire in 2008 – with export bans, hoarding and all the rest of it.

So just how bad is it?

Not necessarily as bad as the more lurid media coverage might lead you to think – though it could become that bad, depending on what happens in the next few weeks. That's the key message from the Food and Agriculture Organization, whose Global Information and Early Warning System team published a Special Alert on China on Tuesday this week.

Winter wheat doesn't get harvested until June, and early February in China is still in the dormant phase for winter wheat rather than its active growth phase – so as yet, wheat yields haven't necessarily been affected by the drought. Instead, the impact of low soil moisture and snow cover so far has been to reduce the wheat plants' protection against frost, which hasn't been a serious problem as yet, as temperatures have been pretty mild.

But with wheat plants made vulnerable by the drought so far, a cold snap in the next few weeks would be devastating – as, needless to say, would a continuation of the drought into the active growth period.

In the background is the factor that no-one really knows whether China has large reserves of wheat or not, as commodities journalist Javier Blas noted in the FT recently: “A senior Western official recently told me that his estimates of stocks of wheat, corn and soyabean in China – which are widely followed by the market – are nothing more than ‘informed guesses’. The problem is that many countries see information about agricultural commodities markets, particularly the level of stocks, as state secrets.”

It's uncertainties, maybes and what-ifs like these that have futures markets spooked by the drought in China – that, and a more generalised sense of what a game-changer it would be if China became a net importer of wheat.

As noted above, Chinese demand for corn and soya imports has been a major factor in rising prices for those crops. Wheat, on the other hand, is something that China's long been self-sufficient at producing. But what happens if it has to turn to world markets to meet its needs – in particular, to the world's largest wheat exporter, the United States? Here's Lester Brown's take on it, in his book Plan B:

"This will pose a fascinating geopolitical situation. More than 1.3 billion Chinese consumers, who had an estimated $160 billion trade surplus with the US in 2004 [which is nothing to what it is now, of course] ... will be competing with Americans for US grain, driving up US food prices.

"In such a situation 30 years ago, the United States simply restricted exports. But China is now banker to the United States, underwriting much of the massive US fiscal deficit with monthly purchases of US Treasury bonds."

As Brown implies, the underlying point in all this is that the global food security agenda – like the geopolitics of resource scarcity more broadly – is currently treading a fine line between a zero-sum game of resource nationalism and a non-zero sum game of international cooperation based on clear-eyed recognition of global interdependence.

Moving decisively towards the latter outcome will involve China and other G20 countries agreeing to much greater transparency over their national food reserves, a clear commitment not to impose sudden export restrictions and probably also a multilateral system of food buffer stocks.

It will involve substantial investment in resilience at country level, through scaling up social protection systems and other risk-reduction mechanisms, and a “21st century Green Revolution” in agriculture that not only produces more food, but does it more sustainably and resiliently too.

But above all, the path to a non-zero sum outcome on food security will involve a need for franker discussion about fair shares in a world of limits. It’s already clear that reaching a global deal on climate change will require agreement on how to share out remaining “carbon space”. As global food supplies become tighter, in a world of resource scarcity and climate impacts, similarly charged equity issues will arise over questions about whether the world can afford to use vast amounts of grain, land, water and energy for “western diets” or inefficient biofuels, when 925 million people remain undernourished.

Signals and Signposts: The world is heading for an oil drought, says Shell  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Australian has an article on Shell's latest set of scenarios for world energy consumption, called "Signals and Signposts" (see here for their previous version, "Blueprints or the Scramble"), which predicts a plateau in oil production by the end of the decade (its still mostly optimistic for fossil fuels and overly pessimistic about renewables) - The world is heading for an oil drought, says Shell. In the latest report, Shell predicts Iraq will double oil output over the next 10 year.

THE global appetite for energy is likely to swell far more rapidly than available supply in coming decades as oil production hits a plateau and emerging markets see rampant economic growth, Royal Dutch Shell has said.

The oil giant predicts that by 2050 world energy demand may have tripled compared with 2000 levels, based on historical patterns of development.

However, energy supplies may grow by only 50 per cent in the same period.

Improvements in energy efficiency could curb demand by 20 per cent.

But the world still needs to figure out how to bridge a looming gap between supply and demand equivalent to the global energy industry's entire output in 2000, Shell calculated. By the end of this decade the world will run into a plateau in oil production, a development that will put "upward pressure" on oil prices. Jeremy Bentham, the vice-president for Business Environment at Shell, said: "The coming surge in energy demand reflects the surge in developing nations. China will be continuing through its industrialisation period over the next 10 years, and India is probably 10 years behind that.

"This will be followed by the likes of Indonesia, Vietnam, and so on. These successive waves of development will create a surge in underlying demand for energy. This is leading us to a vast zone of uncertainty."

The projections came in a report updating energy scenarios that Shell published in 2008.

Since then the recession set global energy demand back by about two to three years, meaning that 2008 demand levels will be reached again only this year.

However the broader trend in energy markets is clear, a Shell report said. The world faces rapid demand growth as emerging markets industrialise, coupled with increasing strains on traditional sources of energy.

Oil production is likely to rise 16 per cent between last year and 2020, Shell's projections show.

Growth over the subsequent 10 years will be virtually non-existent, however, leaving oil production at about 96 million barrels of oil a day, Shell said.

Mr Bentham said that while oil production is set to plateau at the end of the current decade, "the stresses in the oil markets may come much earlier".

He said: "You saw the foreshocks of those developments in 2007-08, interrupted by the recession. Now you are seeing in the market a building up of tension again. In the short term you are in a manageable situation given Opec's spare capacity but you get to a more stressed situation later in the decade."

Brent crude prices currently hover above $US100 a barrel amid tensions in the Middle East and growth of about 10 per cent a year in China.

Solar PV Increases by 16 GW in 2010  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Reuters reports that the growth in global solar PV installation last year was 16GW - double that of the previous year - Global solar power growth doubled in 2010: study.

The world added about 16 gigawatts of new solar photovoltaic (PV) power in 2010, double the growth seen a year earlier, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association told Reuters on Monday.

Uncertainty about Italian figures made a precise figure difficult, after an end-of-year rush to qualify for a higher solar power price premium, called a feed-in tariff.

The global increase compared with 7.2 GW of new capacity in 2009, confounding a financial crisis and reflecting sharp falls in solar panel prices and generous subsidies, especially in Germany and Italy.

"Solar PV is continuing to develop in countries that put a feed-in tariff in place," said EPIA economist Gaetan Masson.

The added capacity in 2010 brought cumulative, global solar PV power to nearly 40 GW, up 70 percent from nearly 23 GW in 2009.

Europe dominated new solar power installations last year, at about 13 gigawatts (GW), Masson estimated, with Germany and Italy accounting for nearly 7 GW and about 3 GW respectively.

Estimates for the other major European players included the Czech Republic (1.3 GW), France (0.5 GW), Spain (0.4), Belgium (0.25) and Greece (0.2).

Outside Europe, the biggest markets were Japan (about 1 GW), United States (0.8 GW) and China (0.4 GW).

Solar panel prices have halved since 2007, say analysts, at about $1.8 per watt at the end of 2010 compared with $3.7 three years earlier.

Corn For Ethanol  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

From the "bad idea of the day" file comes this report from The Des Moines Register looking at corn that has been genetically modified to make it more suitable for biofuel production (and less suitable for human consumption) - Vilsack OKs industrial corn.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has approved a biotech corn variety that was engineered solely for producing fuel ethanol. Companies that mill corn for breakfast cereals and other foods have been fighting the move for fear the grain will contaminate their supplies.

The corn, a product of Syngenta, contains an enzyme that reduces the cost of turning the grain into the biofuel. That same enzyme can make the corn unsuitable for some food products, including cereals and coatings on corn dogs, according to millers. But Syngenta insists that the corn will be kept away from food channels through the use of grower contracts and financial incentives and by growing it only in areas where food companies don’t procure their grain supplies.

The corn, which will go by the trade name Enogen, is to be grown this year only in western parts of Kansas and Nebraska, but Syngenta hopes to eventually offer it to areas around ethanol plants in Iowa and other states.


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