Queensland to be left in the dark ?  

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The Brisbane Times has an article on possible electricity shortages emerging in Queensland - Queensland to be left in the dark.

Warnings that Queensland could experience power shortages in two years proved the need for a carbon tax, according to the Climate Institute.

But the state government and energy provider Origin have denied the state is at risk of power shortages as argued by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Its Electricity Statement of Opportunities report found Queensland would be the first jurisdiction in Australia to experience shortages if it failed to attract more investment in power stations.

Climate Institute CEO John Connor said the report warned uncertainty over the carbon tax could deter or distort energy investments costing electricity consumers up to $5 billion in higher bills.

"It's clear that the best possible outcome for electricity consumers is decisive action from our politicians to cut our carbon emissions by putting a price on carbon," Mr Connor said.

"Without a pollution price and the clarity of the renewable energy target, investors will try and second guess government policy, make inefficient decisions or delay investment and this will increase electricity costs.

"A pollution price will be a green light for the electricity sector to get on with the job of building the infrastructure needed to provide clean energy power for Australians."

A spokesman for electricity company Origin responded to questions with a short statement saying the company was "well placed to underpin our positions in Queensland".

Energy Minister Stephen Robertson also said Queensland was "well placed" to have the electricity generating capacity to meet the energy demands of a fast-growing state.

‘‘Queensland is fortunate to have a number of large-scale energy project proposals that should ensure we meet energy demand in 2013-14 and beyond,’’ he said in a statement.

“These include ERM Power Ltd’s 500 megawatt Braemar 3 gas power station, Origin Energy’s 500 megawatt Darling Downs Stage 2 gas-fired project and the 44 megawatt solar thermal project at the Kogan Creek power station.’’

Japan: Simple ‘Wind Lens’ Triples Output from Wind Turbines  

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Cryptogon has a pointer to a Discovery article on a new Japanese wind turbine design - Japan: Simple ‘Wind Lens’ Triples Output from Wind Turbines. Apparently a worker at Fukushima has died of "acute Leukaemia" as well - Japan: Nuclear Plant Worker Dies of Acute Leukemia.

The wheel in the sky keeps on turning — or at least it will if a Japanese renewable energy professor’s “Wind Lens” turbine design is realized. Resembling giant white rims, these offshore turbines have the potential to produce up to three times as much energy as a standard offshore one.

Yuji Oyha, a professor of renewable energy dynamics and applied mechanics at Kyushu University in Japan, and his team presented their wild vision for wind power recently at the Yokohama Renewable Energy International Exhibition. The “Wind Lens” design is essentially a hoop roughly 360 feet in diameter — a brimmed diffuser — that functions like a magnifying glass. Blades turn quickly within the diffuser, so quickly that they could increase the energy output two or threefold, according to CNN International. One of these “lenses” should be able to power a household.

Obama's big dirty oil test  

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Andrew Leonard has a look at the choices facing Obama as he ponders the future of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to Texas - Obama's big dirty oil test.

Sometime before the end of this year, the State Department will decide whether to approve the 1,700-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline, intended to connect the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, with the refineries of southern Texas. For many environmentalists, the fate of the world, literally, depends on the Obama administration's yea or nay.

"The Keystone Pipeline," wrote global warming activist Bill McKibben, in a letter urging concerned citizens to join a two-week protest in front of the White House, would be "a fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet ..." In an essay titled "Silence Is Deadly," NASA climatologist James Hansen declared that if the tar sands are fully exploited for their oil deposits, "it is essentially game over" for the planet.

Hansen is sometimes criticized even by other environmentalists for the audacity of his rhetoric, but that doesn't mean he or McKibben is necessarily wrong. Extracting oil from tar sands is an expensive, massively environmentally destructive process that produces more greenhouse gases than the exploitation of conventional sources of oil. If the world continues down its current pell-mell path, avidly devouring dirtier and dirtier sources of fossil fuel, the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere will surely go far past the point of no return. The droughts currently plaguing exactly those regions where the southern end of the pipeline will stretch may one day be remembered fondly as an era of balmy weather.

So it has been inspiring to see how environmentalists have heeded McKibben's call to action. Each day this week, 50 or so protesters have linked arms in front of the White House and proudly waited their turn to get handcuffed and arrested, only to be replaced by a different 50 activists the next day. Their stories are invigorating. Environmental advocacy groups with a long history of squabbling with each other have joined together in an impressive display of unity. If Obama approves the Keystone Pipeline the backlash from the environmental community will be intense.

Politico reports: "We see this pipeline as the biggest environmental test President [Barack] Obama will have before the 2012 election," said Jamie Henn, a spokesman for jailed protest organizer Bill McKibben's group Tar Sands Action. "With the stroke of a pen, he'll be able to end a potential environmental disaster, stop the pipeline and electrify a base of support that hasn't been enthusiastic about his reelection."

Of course, at the same time, Obama will also be gift-wrapping his Republican opponents a handy bludgeon with which to clobber him on two of the most politically explosive issues likely to dominate the presidential campaign: jobs and gas prices. Big Labor wants the pipeline – it's a "shovel-ready" project with plenty of union job potential. And even though gas prices are on the way down from recent peaks – and both domestic oil and natural gas production have risen during Obama's presidency – there's still nothing Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry or Mitt Romney would love better than to bash Obama for limiting US access to oil from up North. Yes, any sane person understands that, no matter what Bachmann says, no US president can meaningfully affect the price of oil unilaterally, but that doesn't make high energy prices any less potent as a campaign issue, as we learned in 2008.

Even worse, there's zero chance that Obama actually will be able to avoid a "potential environmental disaster," even if he directs Hillary Clinton to put the kibosh on the pipeline. Without a global commitment to a carbon tax or cap-and-trade regime that properly penalizes the production of greenhouse gases, the tar sands will be fully exploited. If the dirty oil doesn't end up in Texas refineries, it will go straight to China. (It may end up going to China anyway, but but that's a separate story.)

Unfortunately, there is no conceivable chance that any significant carbon-limiting legislation will come out of this US Congress – and even if Obama had thrown the full weight of his bully pulpit into the climate change battle before the 2010 midterms it is far from obvious that he could have gotten anything through the Senate even when Democrats had a 60-seat majority. Too many members of his own party had cold feet – whether because of powerful energy-related special interests in their own states, or because of the dreadful condition of the US economy.

Guess what? The economy is still dreadful, and that puts Obama, again, in a tough position. Despite the passion of Keystone protesters, the payoff for climate change activism at the ballot box is highly dubious. Voters are looking for action on jobs – they may well question why the White House doesn't give the green light to a huge construction project, and instead makes what is fundamentally a symbolic gesture as far as restricting greenhouse gas emissions is concerned.

But at the same time, many voters have come to see Obama as a president unwilling to take strong stands. The Keystone Pipeline offers yet another test of this evolving consensus wisdom. Obama appointed a head of the EPA who has been willing to make tough decisions; maybe it is time he followed her lead. Because even though whatever he does, he won't be able to save the world -- there's still something to be said for saving your reputation.

New Holland Disease?  

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TOD ANZ has a post pointing to a SMH article on the "dutch disease" slowly destroying Australian industry - Squeezing the life out of local industry.

The cost of the mining boom is a high dollar and a desperate manufacturing sector.

WERE you among the multitudes who cheered last year when the mining industry managed to hobble Ken Henry's proposal for a comprehensive resources rent tax?

Did you begin to feel a strange sense of unease when, just a few weeks later, those same mining groups delivered earnings results that would have been unimaginable a couple of years earlier?

And are you becoming alarmed at the forces sweeping through the economy right now that are ravaging our ever diminishing manufacturing base?

At some stage, either demand for our minerals and energy will slow or we'll simply run out. That's the thing about natural resources; they are finite. You only get to dig them out of the ground once.

When this boom does end, you'd hate to think that as a nation we would be left with nothing more than a pile of worn out, imported flat screen televisions, a lot of empty holes in the landscape and no way of earning a crust in the future.

Yesterday's long-expected restructuring from BlueScope Steel, which will shed a quarter of its workforces at Port Kembla and Hastings, follows a similar announcement by OneSteel last week and proposed layoffs at Qantas and Westpac.

These workers aren't just units of labour, as the economics textbooks would have us believe, who can quickly transfer to the mines of Western Australia. They have families and commitments and specialised skills that make them far less mobile than machines.

The simple explanation for what is happening right now is that the resources sector is squeezing the life out of our manufacturing industries. The enormous amount of money flowing into Australia - from mineral exports and in new capital to fund new projects - has pushed our dollar and our interest rates higher.

There is a way forward for Australia but it requires bold leadership, a refusal to be held hostage to opinion polls and an end to the easy capitulation to vested interests.

The fruits from the resources boom need to be harvested and invested for our future. And they could be invested in such a way as to take the pressure off our currency, thereby maintaining the competitiveness of our manufacturers. (Remember too, Henry proposed tax cuts to industry.)

Norway has done just that with its oil revenues. It has a sovereign wealth fund with accumulated assets of more than half a trillion dollars. All of it is invested offshore, thereby helping to stabilise the amount of cash flowing into the economy. That counteracts the pressure on its currency and longer term diversifies its earnings base.

Chile has a stabilisation fund while Alaska and the Canadian province of Alberta have similar funds. That's not to mention the Gulf states that invest the proceeds of their oil revenues abroad. Countries such as Singapore and China have massive sovereign wealth funds that invest the proceeds of their trade surpluses.

But the bulk of the owners are foreign institutions. And that is where the proceeds from the biggest-ever resources boom in our history are headed.

Network Tasman eyes $20m plan for smart meters  

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Stuff.co.nz has a report on NZ's slow progress rolling out smart meters - Network Tasman eyes $20m plan for smart meters.

Network Tasman is considering whether to invest up to $20 million to fit out homes in the Nelson region with so-called smart meters as part of a joint venture with other electricity lines companies.

Chairman Ian Kearney confirmed Network Tasman was undertaking a feasibility study into joining SmartCo, a consortium of 14 lines companies which wants to spend $200m around the country putting in electronic meters equipped with Home Area Network (HAN) radios capable of wirelessly controlling and communicating with smart home appliances. ...

Current meters were based on 80-year-old technology and did not permit easy electricity management or load control, whereas new generation meters were far more efficient and were able to provide extra services, Mr Kearney said.

However, to label them smart was overstating their usefulness, he said. "Potentially there are a number of things an electronic meter will make easier but at this point of time we don't see there is any significant demand for people who want to hook refrigerators or washing machines or dishwashers to them because most of these devices have a built-in timing system anyway."

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright criticised electricity retailers in a 2009 report for installing "dumb" smart meters that could relay half-hourly meter readings back to retailers, but which do not have home networking capabilities built in.

While the SmartCo initiative was "very encouraging" and would allow variable pricing, the fact electricity retailers had already started installing meters without HAN radios created "a mess", she said.

More than 614,000 "advanced meters" capable of sending half-hourly meter readings back to retailers have been installed on behalf of companies, including Genesis Energy and Mercury Energy.

Russia Green Lights $65 Billion Siberia-Alaska Rail and Tunnel to Bridge the Bering Strait  

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Inhabitat reports (quoting World Architecture News and The Times - the LaRouchies also seem to have an interest in the topic) that Russia has "approved" the long talked about Bering Strait rail tunnel / energy corridor - a critical component in Bucky Fuller's vision of a global energy grid - Russia Green Lights $65 Billion Siberia-Alaska Rail and Tunnel to Bridge the Bering Strait!.

The Register notes "this time its chances of actually being built are strengthened by a 500-mile link from the existing Trans-Siberian line to the Eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, scheduled for completion in 2013" - however I don't think anyone is holding their breath waiting for tunnel construction to start.

The high speed railway and tunnel will be a private public partnership whose economic impact could be startling. 100 million tons of freight could be moved per year using the most efficient known way of transport. Proposed tidal energy plants could provide 10 gigawatts of energy and a string of wind power fields could churn a constant supply of clean energy, serving as a vital link to a worldwide energy grid. The tunnel alone would take fifteen years to complete — and an energy and railway network would take many more — but the project would significantly change the shipping and energy industry.

In a time of austere measures by governments throughout the world we hear less and less of large-scale projects, but the economic and environmental benefits of developing critical infrastructure links is a key element to 21st century environmentally sound economic growth.

German Village Produces 321% More Energy Than It Needs  

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Inhabitat has a post on the success of distributed generation in Germany - German Village Produces 321% More Energy Than It Needs.

Ok, those Germans are just showing off now. Not only has the nation announced plans to shut down all of its nuclear power plants and started the construction of 2,800 miles of transmission lines for its new renewable energy initiative, but now the village of Wildpoldsried is producing 321% more energy than it needs! The small agricultural village in the state of Bavaria is generating an impressive $5.7 million in annual revenue from renewable energy.

It’s no surprise that the country that has kicked butt at the Solar Decathlon competition (to produce energy positive solar houses) year after year is the home to such a productive energy-efficient village. The village’s green initiative first started in 1997 when the village council decided that it should build new industries, keep initiatives local, bring in new revenue, and create no debt. Over the past 14 years, the community has equipped nine new community buildings with solar panels, built four biogas digesters (with a fifth in construction now) and installed seven windmills with two more on the way. In the village itself, 190 private households have solar panels while the district also benefits from three small hydro power plants, ecological flood control, and a natural waste water system.

All of these green systems means that despite only having a population of 2,600, Wildpoldsried produces 321 percent more energy than it needs – and it’s generating 4.0 million Euro (US $5.7 million) in annual revenue by selling it back to the national grid. It is no surprise to learn that small businesses have developed in the village specifically to provide services to the renewable energy installations.

Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable  

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The NYT reports that the Fukushima meltdown may have a wide ranging impact on Japanese land use - Large Zone Near Japanese Reactors to Be Off Limits.

Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.

The formal announcement, expected from the government in coming days, would be the first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant, an eventuality that scientists and some officials have been warning about for months. Lawmakers said over the weekend — and major newspapers reported Monday — that Prime Minister Naoto Kan was planning to visit Fukushima Prefecture, where the plant is, as early as Saturday to break the news directly to residents. The affected communities are all within 12 miles of the plant, an area that was evacuated immediately after the accident.

The government is expected to tell many of these residents that they will not be permitted to return to their homes for an indefinite period. It will also begin drawing up plans for compensating them by, among other things, renting their now uninhabitable land. While it is unclear if the government would specify how long these living restrictions would remain in place, news reports indicated it could be decades. That has been the case for areas around the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine after its 1986 accident.

Since the Fukushima accident, evacuations have been a sensitive topic for the government, which has been criticized for being slow to admit the extent of the disaster and trying to limit the size of the areas affected, despite possible risks to public health. Until now, Tokyo had been saying it would lift the current evacuation orders for most areas around the plant early next year, when workers are expected to stabilize Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors.

The government was apparently forced to alter its plans after the survey by the Ministry of Science and Education, released over the weekend, which showed even higher than expected radiation levels within the 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant. The most heavily contaminated spot was in the town of Okuma about two miles southwest of the plant, where someone living for a year would be exposed to 508.1 millisieverts of radiation — far above the level of 20 millesieverts per year that the government considers safe.

Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann: Manufacturing irrelevance ?  

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The Economist has a column wondering why nut-job Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann is getting lots of positive media coverage while her more principled and far more experienced competitor Ron Paul gets ignored (as in every other election he’ll continue to get no coverage unless he toes the Fox party line and gives up on half of his libertarian ideals) - Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann: Manufacturing irrelevance.

This passage from the text "Ron Paul is a goofily avuncular non-comformist ideologue who speaks unutterable truths about American foreign policy and delivers incessant indignant harangues about the monetary system that approximately no one in the media understands. I think Mr Paul's influence on the ideological cast of American conservatism has been underestimated and underreported, but to take even his influence, if not his candidacy, more seriously would require the talking haircuts and the newspaper typing corps to wrestle with a charged set of geopolitical and economic topics they would rather continue helping Americans not understand." is a classic.

It turned out that I was not wrong to wonder if Ms Bachmann would really pull it off. It was a squeaker. Mr Paul fell short by less than 1% of the vote. But, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Ms Bachmann scored a legitimising media boost from her victory while Mr Paul's near-win scored him bupkis. Even Jon Stewart says so!

But wait! If Jon Stewart is pointedly chastising the media for ignoring Ron Paul, and Jon Stewart is himself part of the media, is the media really ignoring Ron Paul? It is, yes. The subject of Ron Paul remains as willfully overlooked as an American war crime, even as the question of the justice of Ron Paul-neglect has become a white hot topic. Even Mr Stewart's amusing segment, which persuasively makes the case that much of the media has in fact conspired to slight Mr Paul, is not about Mr Paul so much as whether there is too little in the media about Mr Paul. And the generous Mr Stewart is at odds with the prevailing opinion that the media's present pattern of Ron Paul non-coverage gets it just about right. Here's Kevin Drum of Mother Jones. Here's Steve Kornacki at Salon. Here's Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune. Here's Dan Amira at New York. They speak with one voice: Mr Paul is a marginal candidate with a proven base of highly-motivated supporters who turn out in droves for mock-electoral trifles, but he lacks the the broader base of support necessary to qualify as a contender worth covering.

Though I think there's something to this line of thought, I also think there's something insidiously circular about it. Perhaps the best way to grasp this complaint is to compare Mr Paul's coverage to Ms Bachmann's. Both serve in the House of Representatives, though Mr Paul's record of service is decades longer. Both are significant figures within the populist tea-party movement. Real Clear Politics's average of recent national polls puts Ms Bachmann and Mr Paul at 9.6% and 8.8% of the Republican vote, respectively. Of course, poll results aren't independent of press coverage. Ms Bachmann, for reasons known only to the gods, has been lavished with media attention, even before dipping a toe in the presidential water. Yet she remains at least as unviable a candidate as Mr Paul is said to be. Indeed, had the media hivemind determined early on to treat Ms Bachmann as a badly underqualified tenderfoot legislator who was for a time the tea-party flavour of the month, chances are she'd be noshing deep-dish with Herman Cain at 5%. And had the hivemind resolved to treat Mr Paul as a conservative elder statesmen whose memorable 2008 run for the GOP nomination prepared the ideological ground for the tea-party movement and helped get his son elected to the senate, he very well might look like a "top-tier" candidate in this election season's weak Republican field.

None of this implies that Mr Paul deserves Ms Bachmann's ridiculous level of coverage. He doesn't. Rather, I think Ms Bachmann deserves to be treated like the unprepared also-ran she is. If a Ron Paul victory in Ames would have unmasked the straw poll as a colourful but politically irrelevant spectacle, Michele Bachmann's victory ought to have done the same. But it didn't because the MSM likes Michele Bachmann; it made Michele Bachmann. She's a photogenic embodiment of a certain polarising brand of conservatism that makes good copy and great TV. By contrast, Ron Paul is a goofily avuncular non-comformist ideologue who speaks unutterable truths about American foreign policy and delivers incessant indignant harangues about the monetary system that approximately no one in the media understands. I think Mr Paul's influence on the ideological cast of American conservatism has been underestimated and underreported, but to take even his influence, if not his candidacy, more seriously would require the talking haircuts and the newspaper typing corps to wrestle with a charged set of geopolitical and economic topics they would rather continue helping Americans not understand. So Ron Paul's a proven loser we can neglect with a clear conscience, while it is a matter of great public interest whether or not Michele Bachmann actually attended a family reunion, because, you see, the winner of the Ames straw poll is a real up-and-comer who's pulling down a fearsome 10% in national polls, right up there with non-candidates Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin. Right up there with Ron Paul.

From pit to port: India's $10bn coal export plan  

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The Australian has a look at an Indian corporation's plan to vertically integrate power consumption starting from Queensland's coal fields - From pit to port: India's $10bn coal export plan. When I read stories like this I tend to think averting serious global warming problems really isn't going to be easy...

INDIAN energy giant Adani Enterprises has moved foreign investment in Australia to a new level, with a $10 billion scheme to control every stage of its booming coal export business from mine to port.

In his first major interview, the chief executive of Adani's Australian operations, Jignesh Derasari, declared the company wanted to control "whatever component the coal touches", including a $3bn railway network to haul coal from the emergent Galilee Basin in central Queensland to two ports, one of which it purchased this year and the other which it will build at Dudgeon Point near Mackay.

From these outlets, Adani-owned bulk carriers would ship the coal to India to supply a chain of seven power stations operated by the company.

The scheme is one of the most ambitious vertically integrated resource developments ever proposed in Australia and comes after the federal government rejected bids by Chinese concerns to set up mine-to-port iron ore operations in Western Australia. It will make Adani India's largest single investor in this country.

The massive mine is being developed in the Galilee Basin about 400km inland of Mackay, Australia's new coal frontier, where Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting and Clive Palmer's Waratah Holdings are also pursuing major developments.

Hancock Prospecting is in negotiations with Indian company GVK to sell its holdings in the area for $2bn, while Waratah has a contract to sell 30 million tonnes of coal to China over the next 20 years.

Mr Derasari's candid admission that Adani wants to control the production chain at every level from the Galilee Basin adds another dimension to the intensifying row between coal and coal-seam gas developers and farmers over land access. NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell bought into this yesterday, saying he respected "the fact that there are parts of our state which should and always will be kept as agriculture".

Mr Derasari told The Weekend Australian that vertigal integration was central to the company's development plan in the Galilee. "Whatever component the coal touches, we would like to be in control of that," he said. "So that means the mine, the rail, the port where the coal is transported out of, the ship that the coal sits on until it gets to the port in India. Then it goes on a conveyer belt to the power station."

Central Planning and The Fall of the US Empire  

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John Robb has a look at the causes of America's decline - Central Planning and The Fall of the US Empire.

One of the most interesting underlying reasons for the decline of the Soviet Union, and soon the US, is misallocation of resources due to a reliance on central planning.

Misallocation in this context means that year after year, decade after decade, the wealth of a nation is spent on the wrong things. The wrong projects are funded. The wrong infrastructure is built (or not built -- the US is 38th in the world in Internet connectivity and falling). The wrong things were bought and so on. Eventually, the accumulation of bad investment made the USSR so fragile that even the smallest shock could topple them.

The reason for this failure was that the Soviets relied on central planning. A system of economic governance where small group of people -- in the Soviet Unions case bureaucrats -- had all the decision making power. They decided what was spent and where. Even with copious amount of information, they decided badly.

Why did they decide badly? The massive economy of a modern superstate is too complex for a small group of people to manage. Too much data. Too many uncertainties. Too many moving parts.

The only way to manage an economy as complex as this is to allow massively parallel decision making. A huge number of economically empowered people making small decisions, that in aggregate, are able to process more data, get better data (by being closer to the problem), and apply more brainpower to weighing alternatives than any centralized decision making group.

Of course, the misallocation due to centralized decision making wasn't supposed to be a vulnerability of the West. To allocate resources in our economy, we had a conceptually more efficient mechanism: markets. Markets are supposed to be a mechanism that allows massively parallel decision making.

Those assumptions are proving false. The succession of market bubbles, the global financial collpse of 2008, and the recent US debt problem is prima facie evidence that gross misallocation has occurred for decades. The wealth of the West, particularly the US, is being spent on the wrong things year after year, decade after decade. We are now as fragile as the Soviet Union in the late 80's.

What happened?

Central planning took over the decision making process in the US, both through the growth of government and through an unparalleled concentration of wealth.

The parallels between the rapid growth of US government bureaucracy and the Soviet bureaucracy is straight forward. As more and more of US economy was controlled by a narrow group of decision makers allocating government resources, the more sluggish the entire economy became (most of this was due to massive growth and mis-allocation in entitlements and defense). Further, the ability of government bureaucracies to extend their decision making to remaining majority of the economy through regulatory action, is also a form of centralization. However, even with all of this government growth, it's is still not enough to account for the level of misallocation we are seeing.

There's is something else at work.

The answer is that an extreme concentration of wealth at the center of our market economy has led to a form of central planning. The concentration of wealth is now in so few hands and is so extreme in degree, that the combined liquid financial power of all of those not in this small group is inconsequential to determining the direction of the economy. As a result, we now have the equivalent of centralized planning in global marketplaces. A few thousand extremely wealthy people making decisions on the allocation of our collective wealth. The result was inevitable: gross misallocation across all facets of the private economy.

To see what this extreme wealth concentration looks like as a distribution, we don't have to look further than income distribution in the US (classic power law). The liquid wealth of those on the extreme left of the curve completely outweighs the 99.5% of the population to the right (the distribution is FAR more skewed than most people even imagine -- Republican or Democrat). This graph would also be a good way to demonstrate how decision making in a bureaucratic dictatorship in a country like the Soviet Union looked like before it collapsed.

The result of central planning in the US has finally hit the wall. The list of problems is endless. The misallocations range from the dangerous $600 trillion derivatives market to the destruction of the US middle class (by exporting jobs and the substitution of income with debt).

The end result is that our economic and political system has become very fragile. All it will take is is one extremely bad decision and the cascade of failure that follows will catch everyone off guard.

Glenn Greenwald has a look at a different aspect of the same problem - A prime aim of the growing Surveillance State.
Several weeks ago, a New York Times article by Noam Cohen examined the case of Aaron Swartz, the 24-year-old copyright reform advocate who was arrested in July, after allegedly downloading academic articles that had been placed behind a paywall, thus making them available for free online. Swartz is now being prosecuted by the DOJ with obscene over-zealousness. Despite not profiting (or trying to profit) in any way -- the motive was making academic discourse available to the world for free -- he's charged with "felony counts including wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer" and "could face up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines."

The NYT article explored similarities between Swartz and Bradley Manning, another young activist being severely punished for alleged acts of freeing information without any profit to himself; the article quoted me as follows:
For Glenn Greenwald . . . it also makes sense that a young generation would view the Internet in political terms.

"How information is able to be distributed over the Internet, it is the free speech battle of our times," he said in interview. "It can seem a technical, legalistic movement if you don't think about it that way."

He said that point was illustrated by his experience with WikiLeaks -- and by how the Internet became a battleground as the site was attacked by hackers and as large companies tried to isolate WikiLeaks. Looking at that experience and the Swartz case, he said, "clearly the government knows that this is the prime battle, the front line for political control."

This is the point I emphasize whenever I talk about why topics such as the sprawling Surveillance State and the attempted criminalization of WikiLeaks and whistleblowing are so vital. The free flow of information and communications enabled by new technologies -- as protest movements in the Middle East and a wave of serious leaks over the last year have demonstrated -- is a uniquely potent weapon in challenging entrenched government power and other powerful factions. And that is precisely why those in power -- those devoted to preservation of the prevailing social order -- are so increasingly fixated on seizing control of it and snuffing out its potential for subverting that order: they are well aware of, and are petrified by, its power, and want to ensure that the ability to dictate how it is used, and toward what ends, remains exclusively in their hands.

The Western World has long righteously denounced China for its attempts to control the Internet as a means of maintaining social order. It even more vocally condemned Arab regimes such as the one in Egypt for shutting down Internet and cell phone service in order to disrupts protests.

But, in the wake of recent riots in London and throughout Britain -- a serious upheaval to be sure, but far less disruptive than what happened in the Middle East this year, or what happens routinely in China -- the instant reaction of Prime Minister David Cameron was a scheme to force telecoms to allow his government the power to limit the use of Internet and social networking sites. Earlier this week, when San Francisco residents gathered in the BART subway system to protest the shooting by BART police of a 45-year-old man, city officials shut down underground cell phone service entirely for hours; that, in turn, led to hacking reprisals against BART by the hacker collective known as "Anonymous." As the San-Fransisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation put it on its website: "BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak." Those efforts in Britain and San Fransisco are obviously not yet on the same scale as those in other places, but it illustrates how authorities react to social disorder: with an instinctive desire to control communication technologies and the flow of information.

The emergence of entities like WikiLeaks (which single-handedly jeopardizes pervasive government and corporate secrecy) and Anonymous (which has repeatedly targeted entities that seek to impede the free flow of communication and information) underscores the way in which this conflict is a genuine "war." The U.S. Government's efforts to destroy WikiLeaks and harass its supporters have been well-documented. Meanwhile, the U.S. seeks to expand its own power to launch devastating cyber attacks: there is ample evidence suggesting its involvement in the Stuxnet attacks on Iran, as well as reason to believe that some government agency was responsible for the sophisticated cyber-attack that knocked WikiLeaks off U.S. servers (attacks the U.S. Government tellingly never condemned, let alone investigated). Yet simultaneously, the DOJ and other Western law enforcement agencies have pursued Anonymous with extreme vigor. That is the definition of a war over Internet control: the government wants the unilateral power to cyber-attack and shut down those who pose a threat ot it, while destroying those who resists those efforts.

There have literally been so many efforts over the past several years to heighten surveillance powers and other means of control over the Internet that it's very difficult to chronicle them all. In August of last year, the UAE and Saudi Arabian governments triggered much outrage when they barred the use of Blackberries on the ground that they could not effectively monitor their communications (needless to say, the U.S. condemned the Saudi and UAE schemes). But a month later, the Obama administration unveilled a plan to "require all services that enable communications -- including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer to peer' messaging like Skype" to enable "back door" government access.

This year, the Obama administration began demanding greater power to obtain Internet records without a court order. Meanwhile, the Chairwoman of the DNC, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, is sponsoring a truly pernicious bill that would force Internet providers "to keep logs of their customers’ activities for one year." And a whole slew of sleazy, revolving-door functionaries from the public/private consortium that is the National Security State -- epitomized by former Bush DNI and current Booz Allen executive Adm. Michael McConnell -- are expoiting fear-mongering hysteria over cyber-attacks to justify incredibly dangerous (and profitable) Internet controls. As The Washington Post's Dana Priest and William Arkin reported in their "Top Secret America" series last year: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." That is a sprawling, out-of-control Surveillance State.

One must add to all of these developments the growing attempts to stifle meaningful dissent of any kind -- especially civil disobedience -- through intimidation and excessive punishment. The cruel and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, the attempted criminalization of WikiLeaks, the unprecedentedly harsh war on whistleblowers: these are all grounded in the recognition that the technology itself cannot be stopped, but making horrific examples out of those who effectively oppose powerful factions can chill others from doing so. What I tried to convey in my NYT interview was that the common thread in the Swartz and Manning persecutions -- as well as similar cases such as the two-year prison term for non-violent climate change protester Tim DeChristopher, the FBI's ongoing investigation of pro-Palestinian peace activists, and even the vindictive harassment of White House/DADT protester Dan Choi -- is the growing efforts to punish and criminalize non-violent protests, as a means of creating a climate of fear that will deter similar dissent.

It is not hard to understand why the fears driving these actions are particularly acute now. The last year has seen an incredible amount of social upheaval, not just in the Arab world but increasingly in the West. The Guardian today documented the significant role which poverty and opportunity deprivation played in the British riots. Austerity misery -- coming soon to the U.S. -- has sparked serious upheavals in numerous Western nations. Even if one takes as pessimistic a view as possible of an apathetic, meek, complacent American populace, it's simply inevitable that some similar form of disorder is in the U.S.'s future as well. As but one example, just consider this extraordinary indicia of pervasive American discontent, from a Gallup finding yesterday (click on image to enlarge):

The intensely angry "town hall" political protests from last August, though wildly misdirected at health care reform, gave a glimpse of the brewing societal anger and economic anxiety; even Tea Party politicians are now being angrily harangued by furious citizens over growing joblessness and loss of opportunity as Wall Street prospers and Endless Wars continue. This situation -- exploding wealth inequality combined with harsh austerity, little hope for improvement and a growing sense of irreversible national decline -- cannot possibly be sustained for long without some serious social unrest. As Yale Professor David Bromwich put it in his extraordinarily thorough analysis of the "continuities" in what he calls "the Bush-Obama presidency":
The usual turn from unsatisfying wars abroad to happier domestic conditions, however, no longer seems tenable. In these August days, Americans are rubbing their eyes, still wondering what has befallen us with the president’s "debt deal" -- a shifting of tectonic plates beneath the economy of a sort Dick Cheney might have dreamed of, but which Barack Obama and the House Republicans together brought to fruition. A redistribution of wealth and power more than three decades in the making has now been carved into the system and given the stamp of permanence.

Only a Democratic president, and only one associated in the public mind (however wrongly) with the fortunes of the poor, could have accomplished such a reversal with such sickening completeness.

Economic suffering and anxiety -- and anger over it and the flamboyant prosperity of the elites who caused it -- is only going to worsen. So, too, will the refusal of the Western citizenry to meekly accept their predicament. As that happens, who it is who controls the Internet and the flow of information and communications takes on greater importance. Those who are devoted to preserving the current system of prerogatives certainly know that, and that is what explains this obsession with expanding the Surveillance State and secrecy powers, maintaining control over the dissemination of information, and harshly punishing those who threaten it. That's also why there are few conflicts, if there are any, of greater import than this one.

Foreign Policy has a look at the authors of "Future Shock" (whose work heavily influenced John Brunner's book "The Shockwave Rider" which did a good job of predicting many modern day trends)- Technology Will Take on a Life of Its Own ?.
They may be octogenarians now, but pick up a copy of the Tofflers' most famous books -- Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980) -- and you will quickly wonder why anyone bothers to write the redundant meta social and political commentaries that drown us today. These books, written when we were children, contain such stunning and prescient insights, encapsulated in elegant yet racing prose, that they ought to be essential reading four decades onward. Indeed, you couldn't be blamed for thinking they had just been published this year.

Terms and concepts that are on the tip of everyone's tongue today leap off the pages: the crisis of industrialism, the promise of renewable energy, ad-hocracy in business, the rise of the non-nuclear family, technology-enabled telecommuting, the power of the pro-sumer, sensors embedded in household appliances, a gene industry that pre-designs the human body, corporate social responsibility, "information overload" -- and yes, right there on p. 292 of The Third Wave, the phrase Wired magazine can't get enough of today: "DIY Revolution." No wonder the book has been dubbed the "classic study of tomorrow." (Of the very few things they seem to have gotten wrong, or at least not yet right, is widespread polygamist communes.) ...

IN THE THIRD WAVE, the Tofflers foresaw that advanced societies would no longer be content to see humankind as the pinnacle of evolution. Instead, they wrote, we are moving into a brave new world where knowledge will become an inexhaustible commodity and transform not just our economies but more deeply our sense of who we are -- and "not just for a generation, but forever," as they put it.

A generation later, it is time to revive the Tofflers' methodology as we try to understand an incipient future in which technology has insinuated itself into every sphere and nook of human activity -- from the manipulation and replication of DNA to space exploration -- and in which humans continuously seek ways to speed up their biological evolution to match the breakneck pace of technological evolution. The only way to do that is to incrementally integrate with technology, launching an era of change and innovation that we call the Hybrid Age. If the first wave was agrarian and tribal, the second industrial and national, and the third informational and transnational, then the Hybrid Age is what the Tofflers might call the "Fourth Wave." In this new era, human evolution has become human-technology co-evolution: We're becoming part of the machine, and it is becoming part of us.

There is no adequate word in English to capture this complex entanglement of humans and technology. The German word Technik comes closest: It means not just technology, but the mastery of the methods and processes that shape and steer it. In today's emerging world, Technik can be something of a broad index of preparedness for the future Hybrid Age. It rejoins the scientific and mechanical dimensions of technology with a necessary concern for its effect on humans and society. So while today we talk about promoting democracy, tomorrow we will realize we should be promoting good Technik.

Five characteristics differentiate this Hybrid Age from those that came before it: the ubiquitous presence of technology, its growing intelligence, its increasingly social dimensions, its ability to integrate and combine in new forms, and its growing power to disrupt, faster and on a larger scale than ever before in human history. ...

And it's not just business models that will be affected. Take the coming advent of do-it-yourself manufacturing. At first blush, the United States' first-mover advantage in developing these affordable designer devices will empower its mom-and-pop shops to tailor-make niche products at cut-rate costs, threatening China's manufacturing base while reviving the U.S. economy. But if China suddenly loses revenue to America's heartland, how will it continue to recycle its vast foreign exchange reserves into U.S. Treasury bonds? In the end, one technological innovation in the United States could lead to its interest rates skyrocketing and economy tanking (again). Be careful what you wish for: The Hybrid Age is also an age of disruption.

A feast for foragers when fruit is ripe for the picking  

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The SMH has an article on a variant of guerilla gardening (guerilla harvesting ?) on foreclosed and vacant lots in the US - A feast for foragers when fruit is ripe for the picking.

As she does every evening, Kelly Callahan walked her dogs through her East Atlanta neighbourhood. As in many communities in a city with the 16th-highest foreclosure rate in the nation, there were plenty of empty, bank-owned properties for sale.

She noticed something else. Those forlorn yards were peppered with overgrown gardens and big fruit trees, all bulging with the kind of bounty that comes from the high heat and afternoon thunderstorms that have defined Atlanta's summer.

So she began picking. First, there was a load of figs, which she intends to make into jam for a cafe that feeds homeless people. Then, for herself, she got 2½ kilograms of tomatoes, two kinds of squash and - the real prize - a Sugar Baby watermelon.
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''I don't think of it as stealing,'' she said. ''These things were planted by a person who was going to harvest them. That person no longer has the ability to. It's not like the bank people who sit in their offices are going to come out here and pick figs.''

Of course, a police officer who catches her might not agree with Ms Callahan's legal assessment. And it would be a rare bank official who would sign off.

But as the world of urban fruit and vegetable harvesting grows, the boundaries around where to grow and pick produce are becoming more elastic.

Over the past few years, in cities from Oakland, California, to Clemson, South Carolina, well-intentioned foraging enthusiasts have mapped public fruit trees and organised picking parties. Volunteers descend on generous homeowners who are happy to share their bounty, sometimes getting a few jars of preserves in return.

There are government efforts to turn abandoned land into food, too. In Multnomah County, Oregon, officials offer property that has been seized for back taxes to community and governmental organisations for gardens.

But with more properties in foreclosure and large stretches of vacant lots available in some cities, a new, guerilla-style harvest is taking shape.

Have helmet laws put the skids on Australia’s bike share schemes ?  

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The Age has an article on Australia's bicycle helmet laws and how they are impeding share cycle schemes here that have been successful in Europe - Change of tune. I agree with the author's view that helmets should be optional for "utility" bikes but remain mandatory for racing or mountain bikes - having put my helmet to good use during a recent bike race I'd say they are worth there weight in gold in those situations.

A few months ago I wrote about my views on helmet use after a friend of mine spent 13 days in intensive care with a head injury after a bike accident. At that time I was slightly sensitive to the topic, but since then I've changed my sweeping opinion on helmet regulations.

At the tail end of my Tour de France journey I spent some time in Paris and London, exploring the cities using public hire bikes. No planning, no lycra, no clip-in shoes, and no helmet. It was liberating. I put my credit card in and 30 seconds later I was riding.

As a tourist this was an incredible way to get around and see the sights. It was spontaneous, convenient and inexpensive. After experiencing the system for myself (as more than a novelty in my home town), I would love to see the bike hire schemes flourish in Australia. Unfortunately I can’t see it happening.
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I’m sure I’ll cop it, but I renege on some of my words back from my Fairfax post. No, I didn’t wear a helmet while riding these bikes in Europe, but I didn’t feel unsafe doing so. (Why do I feel so guilty for saying that?) These bikes are obviously not immune from accidents, but the geometry is much less aggressive than a mountain or road bike, the tyres-width is ample, and the absence of a top tube means that you are very manoeuvrable if you need to get off in a hurry. They are no less safe than walking across the street. Besides, riding safely has much more to do with paying attention to what is happening on the road rather than wearing a helmet.

In my view, the biggest possible threat is traffic. To be honest, I can’t say for sure if there was any difference in the space that drivers gave me in Paris and London while riding helmet-less on a hire bike. I don’t have much of a problem in Melbourne with motorists, but more than anything I think that motorists treat varying genres of cyclists differently. A helmet-less rider on a utility bike is much more "human" to drivers than a bunch of us lycra clad warriors racing at 45km/h. It’s sometimes called the Mary Poppins effect.

I cannot see how the bike-hire schemes will succeed in Australia without relaxing our helmet restrictions on these particular bikes. These hire bikes are an excellent idea that are attempting to alleviate transport problems, make our cities more enjoyable to live in, and a making positive social change. We only have one chance at making this work.

I’m not the first person to say this, but a solution to this problem is simple. This class of "utility" or "upright" bike should be exempt from our current helmet laws. I still believe that helmets are beneficial to the type of riding I do 90 per cent of the time, but the use of these hire bikes is at the absolute bottom end of the risk spectrum.

The Conversation also has a look at this topic - Have helmet laws put the skids on Australia’s bike share scheme?.
Public bicycle hire schemes have the potential to generate the well-known health benefits that come with increased exercise.

But while Australia has bravely adopted such schemes, mandatory helmet laws continue to deter would-be cyclists.

Worldwide, more than 135 cities have developed bicycle share schemes to help reduce vehicle congestion and car parking problems, including Paris, London, Hangzhou, Montreal, Mexico City.

Melbourne and Brisbane started similar but smaller schemes last year to encourage bicycle use for short trips.

But unlike other schemes, Australia is the only country to mandate the use of helmets.

Benefits and risks of cycling

In this week’s British Medical Journal, researchers looked at the health risks and benefits of users of the “Bicing” public bicycle sharing scheme in Barcelona, Spain.

The researchers considered the 181,982 resident users of the bike share program and looked at deaths related to physical activity, road traffic incidents and exposure to air pollution.

Overall, they concluded that the additional physical activity from cycling instead of driving played a role in preventing 12 deaths.

They estimated the health benefits of riding a bicycle outweighed the risks of injury by a huge ratio of 77:1 – even if the bike was only ridden for comparatively short journeys.

The main reason for such a large benefit-to-risk ratio is the relatively low injury risk of cycling, despite minimal bicycle helmet use.

World's biggest solar power plant shifts technology  

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Reuters reports the giant Blythe solar power project in California is switching from solar thermal to solar PV for the first 500 MW stage of development - World's biggest solar power plant shifts technology.

he company behind what is expected to one day be the world's largest solar power plant on Thursday said the California project will use photovoltaic technology instead of solar thermal power because of the dramatic drop in the price of solar panels.

Germany's Solar Millennium AG said it will convert the first 500 megawatts of its 1,000 MW Blythe solar power plant in the Mojave desert to PV. It will decide what technology to use for the second half of the project at a later date. The company did not name a PV panel supplier for the project. …

The move is the latest in a string of such conversions this year by solar thermal power plant developers in California. So far this year, at least four projects, representing about 1,850 MW of generation, have elected to change most or all of their technology to PV, which turns sunlight into electricity, from concentrating solar power, or CSP, which uses heat to create steam that powers a generator.

The price of PV panels has plummeted in the five years since California mandated that the state's utilities source 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010, sparking a building spree of solar and wind projects. Since 2008, the price of PV solar modules has fallen by more than half, including about a 25 percent drop this year alone.

The switch will also enable the project to get up and running in smaller phases than the 250 MW chunks required by the CSP technology, the company said in a separate statement released by its U.S. unit, Solar Trust of America.

Because it is switching to a more ubiquitous technology, the company plans to finance the project in the commercial bank market rather than with a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. ...

Solar Millennium said it still sees strong demand for concentrating solar power, also known as solar thermal power, in markets such as Africa, the Middle East, India, China and Southern Europe.

Adrift on global market currents  

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Jeffrey Sachs has a column in The Business Spectator noting that a major reason for the economic morass Europe and the US are in is globalisation, and that policy needs to change from tax cuts to tax increases for the rich and increased investment in the future - Adrift on global market currents.

A failure of economic strategy and leadership lies behind the near simultaneous collapse of market confidence in the eurozone and US economies. No need to blame the ratings agencies: governments in Europe and America have been unable to cope with the realities of global capital markets and competition from Asia – and deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

I’ve watched dozens of financial crises up close, and know that success means showing the public a way out that is bold, technically sound and built on social values. Transatlantic leadership is falling short on all counts. Neither the US nor Europe have even properly diagnosed the core problem, namely that both regions are being whipsawed by globalisation.

Jobs for low-skilled workers in manufacturing, and new investments in large swaths of industry, have been lost to international competition. Employment in the US and Europe during the 2000s was held up only by housing construction stoked by low interest rates and reckless deregulation – until the construction bubble collapsed. The path to recovery now lies not in a new housing bubble, but in upgraded skills, increased exports, and public investments in infrastructure and low-carbon energy. Instead, the US and Europe have veered between dead-end, consumption-oriented stimulus packages and austerity without a vision for investment.

Macroeconomic policy has not only failed to create jobs, but also to respond to basic social values too. Let me be clear: good social policy does not mean running big deficits. Public debts are already too large in both Europe and the US. But it does mean a completely different balance between cuts to social services and tax increases on the rich.

The simple fact is that globalisation has not only hit the unskilled hard but has also proved a bonanza for the global super-rich. They have been able to invest in new and highly profitable projects in emerging economies. Meanwhile, as Warren Buffett argued this week, they have been able to convince their home governments to cut tax rates on profits and high incomes in the name of global tax competition. Tax havens have proliferated even as the politicians have occasionally railed against them. In the end the poor are doubly hit, first by global market forces, then by the ability of the rich to park money at low taxes in hideaways around the world.

An improved fiscal policy in the transatlantic economies would therefore be based on three realities. First, it would expand investments in human and infrastructure capital. Second, it would cut wasteful spending, for instance in misguided military engagements in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Third, it would balance budgets in the medium-term, in no small part through tax increases on high personal incomes and international corporate profits that are shielded by loopholes and overseas tax havens.

Geelong to get smart meters  

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The Geelong Advertiser reports that Victoria’s smart meter rollout is continuing - Geelong to get smart meters.

EVERY Geelong home will be fitted with a new electricity smart meter in the next year after Powercor yesterday revealed plans to start installations next month. Starting in Grovedale and Waurn Ponds, the company will install 110,000 of the controversial electricity readers at homes and businesses throughout the Geelong region.

Hundreds of workers will be involved in the Geelong roll-out, part of a four-year, statewide project to replace 2.5 million traditional electricity meters with the new smart meters.

Whereas data from older models is recorded every three months by a team of meter readers, smart meters record power consumption every 30 minutes and automatically send readings to the customers' power company.

In time, power companies plan to make that detailed information available to customers.

Greens dig a hole for Tony Abbott on farmers' rights  

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The Australian has an article on The Greens' canny exploiting of a new wedge issue for the Coalition, trying to get Tony Abbott to side with either farmers or mining companies over the impact of coal seam gas extraction on farmland - Greens dig a hole for Tony Abbott on farmers' rights. There was more today - Greens urge rethink of investment on coal seam gas; want scientific analysis of emissions and Greens question the science of gas for power generation .

THE Greens will move to give farmers veto powers over coal-seam gas operations on their land after seizing on comments from Tony Abbott, who last week backed the right of farmers to deny miners access to their properties.

After the Opposition Leader declined on Saturday to elaborate on remarks he made on Friday that farmers had "a right to say no", Greens leader Bob Brown said he would seek Mr Abbott's support for a private member's bill on the issue.

The bill, to be brought into the Senate in the next fortnight by Greens Queensland senator Larissa Waters, would require the written permission of landholders be obtained before companies could explore for, or extract, coal-seam gas.

As senior Coalition figures accused Senator Brown of trying to wedge the Coalition on the issue, which pits its rural constituency against the mining industry, Mr Abbott's spokesman said he "stands by his recent comments that the Coalition supports a vibrant coal-seam gas industry". ...

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson accused Mr Abbott of risking the $45 billion of investment in the Queensland industry through his comments on Friday and of dodging questions on the issue in Perth on Saturday.

He said Mr Abbott was a "rank opportunist" and an "economic vandal".

"Mr Abbott's comments jeopardise future investment, raise the spectre of sovereign risk and are contrary to Australia's policy of welcoming foreign investment -- a policy that has in no small way helped ensure the fundamental strength of our economy," Mr Ferguson said.

"Two of the major companies operating in the coal-seam gas industry -- Santos and Origin -- are Australian companies. Is Mr Abbott saying to other major companies in the energy sector, like British Gas or Chevron with their $43bn Gorgon project, that their investment is not welcome?"

The Greens move comes amid rising anger over coal-seam gas extraction in Queensland and NSW, where the rapid expansion of the industry has sparked protests amid concerns about the industry's impact on prime agricultural land and its effect on ground water reserves.

The Climate Spectator has a look at the issue of potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin - A double-sided CSG dilemma.
Four years ago, fund manager John Abernethy wrote a prescient article for Business Spectator explaining how we were degrading our 'economic environment' just as much as the physical and biological environment.

Abernethy, executive director and chief investment officer of Clime Investment Management, knows plenty about money and his article, published in the throes of the initial 2007 sub-prime crisis, is worth re-reading as a reminder that we have been through the financial and economic equivalents of a Chernobyl, an Exxon Valdez and the American dustbowl of the early 1930s (Economic warming, November 2007).

Today we limp forward wondering whether the 'ecological system' of global finance and economics will collapse altogether.

Increasingly 'economics', the study of scarcity, and 'ecology', the study of the biological systems that fill our world, are different sides of the same coin.

Thus the Greens believe they are speaking great economic truths, but based on a much longer timeframe than conventional economists. If you'll bear with me for a moment, it's fair to say that in theory they are right – the fairly radical suite of policies they promote would, in theory, hand a better world to our great grandchildren than the one we inhabit. In theory. ...

The CSG majors have refined their extraction techniques in recent years to avoid the most hazardous chemicals – one, on condition of anonymity, explained to me yesterday that what is pumped down into the ground to release CSG is around 97 per cent water and sand, with the remaining 3 per cent being "essentially the kind of household chemicals you'd find in a normal home".

Sounds pretty benign, doesn't it. But the other view of that harmless mixture is this: imagine filling hundreds of water tankers with a 3 per cent chemical solution, then pouring the lot into an old quarry to create a wetland environment. It might do alright, but then again it might not.

Jim Cox, professor of hydrology at the University of Adelaide, explained to me yesterday the unique characteristics of the Great Artesian Basin that extends over much of the areas of Queensland and some of NSW where CSG extraction is occurring. (This report has a neat little map of where the water is.)

In many parts of the world, underground aquifers are quite discrete, so any pollution of one is likely to be contained. This is not necessarily true of the GAB – Cox explains that areas of heavy rainfall in the north create a long, percolating flow of water that makes its way south, taking perhaps 100 years to reach the southern regions.

And that is where the two sides of the ecology/economics coin come together. The flow of pollutants created by the 'fracking' process of extraction is either an unacceptable burden for future generations who may rely on this water to irrigate crops in an increasingly hungry world; or it is a cost that, with the right discount rate applied, is almost negligible alongside the immense benefit of the energy we extract from CSG.

Bob Brown yesterday questioned the science used by fans of CSG, who claim that as an energy source it releases 50 to 70 per cent less CO2 than coal.

The SMH has an article looking at the issue from a farmers viewpoint - Our food bowls should not be sacrificed to mining.
Australia is the driest continent on earth and as we push towards an ever increasing population we must be mindful of the fact the less than 9 per cent of our continent's surface is arable land: a far smaller portion of that is prime agricultural land, and an even smaller portion of that has underground water resources.

This limited area for producing food for the nation is under threat from coal seam gas mining and so far the pendulum has been firmly tilted towards the miners' interests. There is a way the two industries can co-exist, but it will require a moratorium on further mining exploration while a regional plan is formed.

I cannot overstate the importance to the country of our food producing areas. The Liverpool Plains in the north-west of NSW, where I am from, is an area of just 1.2 million hectares that produces about 37 per cent of the nation's cereal crops. After 185 years of working the land, locals now use some of the most advanced broad-acre farming practices in the world, while local irrigators led the state in water reform.

Many Australians have their wealth tied up in mining stocks and it is in their own interests to imagine that these companies will never affect the agricultural viability of our nation. A few well-run media campaigns have ensured that Australians hold this view. I too felt the same way until mining came into my life six years ago.

The truth is far different – pollution, damage and destruction are the norm, and water resources are being compromised and destroyed on an hourly basis. For far too long, this industry has been able to fix any problem by waving the cheque book.

The legislation in this area is totally inadequate to deal with the coal and gas rush in this nation. Farmers in the Liverpool Plains engaged in the process as set out by the Acts, but the process failed to protect our property and water rights and interrupted our ability to work our own land. We then went to NSW Supreme Court and won, only to have the NSW Labor government of the time retrospectively change the laws, with the full support of the opposition.

Yet while agricultural areas are under siege, Queensland will protect urban areas from mining. NSW and Victoria say they will not follow suit, but the issue of urban mining and the controversial extraction method of fracking is gaining prominence.

The issue of mining in agricultural areas, leading to questions of how the country will feed itself, sits alongside broader questions about how the nation will generate heat and light into the next millennium. ...

We still need a mining industry but, like other industries, it must be held accountable for the damage it inflicts. Until now, the nation has turned a blind eye – we love our wealth and we love our prosperity, and Australians have been unaware what they've been sacrificing to meet these ends.

Good fences make good neighbors, but at present the mining industry is not prepared to be fenced out of anywhere. They say they do no harm, but all around we see evidence to the contrary. Throughout the Hunter Valley wells are dry and rivers no longer run clean, while aquifers in central Queensland are predicted to drop more than 50 metres following coal seam gas extraction.

The only way agriculture and mining will be able to co-exist is if extractive industries are kept away from productive agricultural land and the precious water resources on which it relies. A regional plan is needed that sets out areas for certain land use, including agriculture, wine production, thoroughbred breeding and mining. Boundaries drawn in black are the only way to achieve a diverse regional Australia where the various industries can co-exist in peace.

Forcing the mining industry to be accountable could also serve to promote renewable energy policies and investment. We cannot eat money or coal, yet we still need light, warmth and industrial activity. Technologies to harvest energy from the sun, the wind and the ocean are advancing fast – if we cast our minds to it, who knows what wonders are ahead? The time to take action to preserve our future is now or there will be no turning back.

There is plenty more commentary on the subject with Robert Gottliebsen at The Business Spectator weighing in with Beware the CSG enfants terribles and Who'll take the CSG blame? and the ABC's "World Today" with Coal seam gas good for environment: Santos.

The smart future of public transport ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Conversation has an article on the use of "infostructure" to improve public transport - The smart future of public transport.

Can you imagine a public transport environment free from the complications of buying a ticket and validating it? What if fare evaders were automatically singled out for their faux pas? Or how about the information you require to complete your journey following you around on a wall surface, allowing you to use a mobile phone application which integrates your real time location with a game so you can play and not miss your stop?

These are some of the scenarios outlined in Infostructure: A Transport Research Project, which explores how digital media technologies can improve the customer experience on public transport.

In many cities rising traffic congestion and the sustainability agenda has brought renewed focus to public transport utilisation. Infostructure argues network and station expansion efforts are not the only solutions to public transport issues.
Information is key to the journey

As the information around us becomes ever more dense, access to high quality facts has gained increasing importance.

Within public transport environments, effective provision and access to information shifts greater control to the customer. That in turn enables them to make informed decisions about their commute, helps them manage their time and experience. ...

Got a ticket?

The project entitled Forward Motion proposes a station environment where digital technologies are seamlessly integrated with the building fabric to enable an innovative mode of ticket validation for public transport users.

Described as the “shame security system,” and comprising Radio Frequency Identification Detectors (RFID), a multi-touch sensor system and LED lighting integrated within the flooring, the system detects a customers presence, and automatically communicates with their RFID embedded ticket. Or it automatically red-flags those trying to evade paying their fare. ...

Updating in real time

The mobile phone application designs demonstrate the convenience of access to location-based real time information. Not only does this information travel with you, but it can also be responsive to other context specific information as your environment changes.

The digital technologies featured here are in many cases already operational in small and large scale applications. RFID technology is used for public transport ticketing in London with the Oyster card, Hong Kong’s Octopus system, and in San Francisco’s Clipper cards. It’s also used for facial recognition with biometric data integrated into passports and augmented reality information applications on many smart phones. ...

As demonstrated by projects such as Dare to Be Aware, Lead the Way and Intelligent Tunnel the integration of urban digital media technologies with broader design solutions for public transport environments provides opportunities to simultaneously address both operational and customer experience issues.

The design of a station – its architecture and the way it defines space, has the potential to operate “informationally.” That means surfaces such as the wall, floor or ceiling have the possibility to both transmit and receive information. They can become responsive to the user, and therefore focussed on the customer.

And these ideas may not be too far away from becoming a reality. The University of Technology Sydney, and the University of Sydney have been awarded an ARC grant to work with Transport NSW and Railcorp to develop them further. Work on improving the spatial and visual user information technologies for public transport will start at the end of this year. Stand by for your daily commute to get a lot smarter.

Solar thermal shoots for the sky  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The Climate Spectator has a look at advances in the solar thermal power industry - Solar thermal shoots for the sky.

BrightSource is currently building a 392MW solar thermal plant called Ivanpah in the Mojave Desert in California, and has just unveiled plans for a new 500MW plant just 60km to the south. Solar towers use software to control thousands of tracking mirrors, known as heliostats, to directly concentrate sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower. Ivanpah will feature three towers each of 450 feet (137 metres, or the equivalent of a 33-storey building), at the centre of three modules that will each have a capacity of 130MW. Just by comparison, the solar tower research facility launched at the CSIRO’s flagship facility last month by Prime Minister Julia Gillard stands 30m high.

Last week, the company released plans for a 500MW plant at Hidden Hills, some 60km north of Ivanpah, and about the same distance west of Las Vegas, that will feature 750-foot towers (228m), the equivalent of a 55-storey building. According to the company, the extra height will enable it to pack more heliostats into a smaller area, reduce the space required, and boost the economics of the project significantly. Each of 750-foot towers will cost around 40 per cent more than the 450-foot towers, but their capacity will be doubled, and each will be able to generate 250MW, instead of 130MW at Ivanpah.

BrightSource also unveiled a molten salt storage option to go with its solar towers. Rather than aiming for energy produced 24/7, as has been achieved at the Gemasolar plant in Spain, the company says just six hours of storage would more than double the amount of output from the same plant – from 1,900 hours a year to more than 4,000 hours – and deliver a huge cost advantage. This will particularly be the case in when pushing output into the high-value evening peak, and will give it an advantage over other renewables such as wind and solar PV, where economically viable storage options are proving more elusive.

Carlos Aguilar, the head of international development for BrightSource, says the storage option will not likely be used at the Ivanpah project, because the summer peak load tends to fall in summer afternoons when Californian air conditioners are in most demand. But it will be applicable in other regions where local factors mean that peak loads occur later in the evening. “What we are trying to do is adapt to each plant’s needs,” he tells Climate Spectator in an interview. “When you have load curves that go into the evening – that affects the value of the energy.”

Aguilar has arrived in Australia for a week-long visit which will take him to most capital cities. Like other solar developers, BrightSource’s interest in Australia – which already has some of the best solar resources in the world – has been renewed by the government’s plans to introduce a carbon price, and create a new body, the Clean Energy Finance Corp – which will have up to $10 billion to invest to boost the deployment of new technologies.

“Australia is one of the most important markets, longer term, for solar thermal – without a doubt,” he said. “The solar research you have is fantastic. The other important reason is policy. There clearly is a focus on developing a regulatory environment that is favourable to this technology. The carbon price, when it comes into law, is an example. But there are many factors that will influence this. How fast it is going to develop we really don’t know. That’s the reason for me to visit.”

BrightSource and other solar developers in the US have benefited greatly from the use of loan guarantees from the US Department of Energy. Such mechanisms are also likely to be used now in Australia, both to help financing of some coal-fired power stations that may be affected by the carbon price, but also to help roll-out new technologies under the CEFC.

Australia currently has several large-scale solar thermal projects under planning or development. Two – a 250MW gas fired booster plant in Queensland using Areva’s compact linear Fresnel reflector technology, and a 150MW solar PV plant in NSW – will be sponsored by the Solar Flagships program; a 40MW plant using solar dish technology developed at the ANU will be built in Whyalla; and a 44MW solar boost plant will be added to the Kogan Creek coal-fired power station.

The second round of the Solar Flagships program will also likely support more and smaller utility-scale solar projects, and there have been calls for this to support solar tower and storage technologies. However, even without the Solar Flagships, some consortia – such as one supported by investment bank Investec – are expressing interest in developing projects, particularly in WA, where energy prices are high and there is a shortage of power in regional areas, and a particular problem with peak loads.

Australia, however, is not the only country to have a flagships program. South Africa launched the bidding process for its version lat week, while Morocco is expected to have a solar tower-specific round of grants next year. India is also preparing a new round of bids for its solar program, which aims to have 20GW installed by 2022, and the China market also looks promising. “They are very large markets, we will see how those evolve,” Aguilar says.

Australian Parliamentary Library - The development of Australia’s coal seam gas resources  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Coal seam gas is the big energy and environment story of the year in Australia, with the potential to become a big wedge issue in federal politics for the Liberal and National parties (along with minor right wing MPs).

More on that later, but in the meantime its interesting to see that Michael Roarty from the the Australian Parliamentary Library has produced a note on the industry - The development of Australia’s coal seam gas resources.

The aim of this Background Note is to outline recent developments in this increasingly important part of Australia’s energy sector. The Note is primarily about the extent of this resource and its development (including some environmental matters related to this) but it does not cover the details or controversies relating to how and where it is developed.

Coal seam gas (CSG) occurs naturally, in varying quantities, in coal seams. It consists mainly of methane (CH4) – hence its other name of coal bed methane (CBM). Methane burns well in air, and thus can be used as fuel.

Gases in coal seams are formed during the long geological process of coal formation (coalification) when organic matter is converted into coal. The gas accumulates underground, held within the cleats (natural fractures) and pores of the coal itself. Not all coal seams contain useful quantities of methane. In some cases, the coal gas may consist mainly of carbon dioxide (CO2), or it may contain poisonous carbon monoxide (CO), or nitrogen. There may also be quantities of hydrocarbon gases other than methane (for example, ethane, propane, butane).

When methane is released as a side-effect of coal-mining operations it is called coal mine methane (CMM) and is usually vented to the air (although in particular cases it can be captured and used as an energy source[1]). It used to be considered a nuisance that hindered coal mining as it was responsible for serious coal mine fires and explosions in earlier years. CMM nowadays is much more effectively managed using methods such as methane drainage, in association with mining activities.

Coal seam methane is identical to “natural gas” (also methane) associated with traditional oil and gas fields, but its exploitation and use is a relatively new phenomenon. Until recently, the natural gas or methane used in Australia and elsewhere was nearly all supplied from reservoir gas—that is, ‘conventional gas’ that occurs in underground porous sedimentary rock reservoirs (gas fields) rather than in coal seams. But coal seam gas, just like conventional gas, can be used to power water and space heating for industrial, commercial and domestic users, as well as in gas turbines to generate electricity. Thus, the coal seams are merely a new source for an old and valued fuel.

The Eastern Australian natural gas market has for some time been supplied from the Cooper/Eromanga oil and gas fields in central Australia and the Gippsland Basin located offshore from south-east Victoria. While some new, but small, oil and gas fields have been developed in offshore Victoria, and some additions to the central Australian gas fields have been found, the consensus is that these fields are slowly depleting and will be unable to supply the growing Eastern Australian gas market well into the future.

The development of the coal seam gas deposits in Queensland and New South Wales associated with the coal fields will not only enable the supply of natural gas for the growing Eastern Australian market but also enable the establishment of major export liquefied natural gas (LNG) industries, providing an impetus to employment, infrastructure investment and Australia’s exports.

It should be noted that as well as pumping out the methane from a coal seam, another method for extracting the gas involves in situ combustion of the coal seam and any included methane to form ‘syngas’, which can be used to generate electricity at the surface. This technology, known as “underground coal gasification”, is at a less advanced stage in Australia, with a 5MW facility undergoing development and demonstration near Dalby in Queensland[2]. It offers the potential to extract energy from coal seams that are too deep to mine economically. As this technology represents a different set of technical and environmental challenges to those of coal seam gas, and the timeline for commercial large-scale development is probably a decade or more away, underground coal gasification is not included in the scope of this paper.

New Contributor at TOD ANZ  

Posted by Big Gav

In a rare turn of events, The Oil Drum ANZ finally has a regular contributor from New Zealand - Denis Tegg. Recent posts from Denis include :

* New Zealand at greater risk from oil shocks - official advice ignored

* New Zealand’s Tui Oil Field - Peak Oil With Bells On

* Public Receptive to Peak Oil Debate and Policy Ideas - Survey

Australia in 84 billion dollar LNG deal with South Korea  

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

The Australian reports that Korean utility Kogas is soon to sign up to purchase around $84 billion of natural gas from offshore Australian developments - Shell’s Prelude floating LNG project and the Inpex / Total owned Ichthys field - Australia in 84 billion dollar LNG deal with South Korea.

AUSTRALIA is set to supply millions of tonnes of liquefied natural gas to South Korea over the next 20 years under an historic deal worth billions of dollars.

South Korea's government last night approved two deals worth $US84 billion sought by the country's state-run Korea Gas Corporation to import more than five million metric tonnes per year of LNG, the bulk of which will come from Australia.

The deals, the biggest in South Korea's history, are with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA.
The state-run utility will buy 3.64 million metric tons of LNG a year from Shell's Prelude gas project in Australia for 26 years starting 2014, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement. It will also buy 2 million tons of the fuel a year from Total's Ichthys field gas projects in Australia and other fields in Nigeria, Norway and Egypt for 18 years starting 2014.

The shipments are valued at $US84 billion and are equivalent to 17 percent of Korea's gas consumption in 2010, according to the statement.

Alex Steffen on carbon-free cities  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Dave Roberts at Grist has a pointer to a new TED talk from Alex Steffen - Alex Steffen on carbon-free cities.

I hope that everyone will watch this short, excellent presentation on the promise of sustainable cities from Alex Steffen, proprietor of the late, lamented Worldchanging and all-around smart dude. If it sounds reminiscent of my great places series, it's only because I stole most of that from Alex.

U.S. national politics is extraordinarily depressing right now. My refuge right now is keeping in mind the lede of this recent Foreign Policy feature story:
The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built.

If we want to accommodate 10 billion people on this planet and provide them all with some measure of security and dignity, we have to master cities. That is, or should be, a central axiom of 21st century politics, economics, environmentalism, and humanism.

TreeHugger has a post comparing Steffen's vision to that of James Kunstler and Kaid Benfield - Three Views of Urbanism: Alex Steffen, Kaid Benfield and Jim Kunstler.
Three important urban theorists are making the rounds this week, with Alex Steffen delivering a TED talk on the Sharable Future of Cities. He starts of with our "clean energy problem"- that we cannot possibly generate enough to replace the fossil fuels we use in our cars.

Steffen uses the famous UNEP graph to demonstrate that our energy use is predestined by the kind of city we live in, that there is a direct correlation of energy consumption to density. The talk is really a summary of much of what he had written and promoted on Worldchanging, starting with what I think i probably the best post he ever wrote, 2008's My Other Car is a Bright Green City, in which he wrote
The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.

or, as he puts it in the TED talk,
The most sustainable trip is the one you never had to take in the first place.

It is a terrific summary of everything Alex has been saying, and writing about for years. If you have followed Alex and Worldchanging you will be familiar with it, but it never hurts to hear it again. More at TED.

But the problem with that UNEP graph, and the position developed by David Owen in the Green Metropolis and Edward Glaeser in The Triumph of the City is that while those extremely dense cities like Hong Kong and New York use less energy per capita, they still use a hell of a lot of energy and the back of house required to support it, the food supplies, the water and electricity infrastructure, are all huge and not particularly efficient. Nor are they necessarily terrific places to live.

Kaid Benfield of the NRDC writes in Seeing cities as the environmental solution, not the problem that while Owen and Glaeser
are sometimes excessive in extolling the virtues of urban density without giving attention to the other things that make cities attractive and successful, they are absolutely right that city living reduces energy consumption, carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.

But he doesn't see it all happening in forty storey towers, but in a rebuilding of our existing inner cities and towns.
For our cities and towns to function as successful people habitat, they must be communities where people want to live, work and play. We must make them great, but always within a decidedly urban, nonsprawling form. As it turns out, compact living - in communities of streets, homes, shops, workplaces, schools and the like assembled at a walkable scale - not only helps to save the landscape; it also reduces pollution and consumption of resources. We don't drive as far or as often; we share infrastructure.


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