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At present, the baseline scenario for peak oil is a negative one. The smoothest transition we can hope for given current global inaction is one where conservation and renewables make up the depletion gap, if we are lucky enough to have a nice, gradual down slope.
The idea that during the decline of oil and natural gas we will continue business and progress as usual is highly questionable. Entertain optimistic scenarios, but necessarily hold them to a higher burden of proof than the negative ones.
This is opposite the experience of all of us living in western culture, where every year has brought energy fueled progress. Our gut tricks us, tells us it ain’t so – that IRA will be there for us when we retire, and if we’re real lucky Janet Jackson will flash her other boob during the 2015 Super Bowl.
Peak Energy will flip progress on its head.
Is this a fair contention? I think so. There are numerous positive and promising ideas out there for alternative modes of living, but they are not actually reflected in current culture. There is a large gap between the idea of something –- and even a working a prototype -- and the ability to start producing it on a large scale.
Would you know how to grow and produce algae based bio-diesel in a pinch? Or build a vertical garden that gets enough sun and water? What happens to our manufacturing base in general when electricity and liquid fuels become sporadic? Will western nations suffer a malaise, or will strong leadership carry us through?
These are open questions, and they are endless.
(29 June 2005)
Can democracy survive without fossil fuels?
Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights
Is it an accident that the great modern revolutions, both American and French, occurred shortly after James Watt vastly increased the efficiency of the steam engine? Recall that the steam engine's primary purpose at the time was to pump water out of coal mines. Its perfection ignited an industrial revolution built on fossil fuels. Those fuels also indirectly ignited huge social and political changes that included modern demands for greater equality and democracy. Can those values thrive without fossil fuels?
(29 June 2005)
David Ignatius, Washington Post (columnist)
Oil prices hit a record $60 a barrel this week, inducing that familiar feeling that the world is a prisoner of energy gods beyond its control. Some analysts worry that high prices will eventually bring on a global recession that will shrink demand for a while -- until the next spike begins.
...It doesn't have to be this way. Some problems are genuinely difficult to solve, because they involve painful moral choices. Iraq is such an issue; so are abortion and global poverty. But addressing the energy crunch isn't complicated. It just requires facing up squarely to the problem, summoning the necessary political determination and then taking rational action.
The right starting point is to understand that supplies of oil are tight and will become even more so over the next 15 years as demand grows in China, India and other rising powers. Because supply is constrained, that means adjustment will have to come mainly on the demand side. And, inescapably, that means more conservation, better fuel efficiency and new approaches to transportation.
In a rational world, President Bush would call for a meeting of all the stakeholders in America's energy future. That doesn't mean the usual convocation of oil companies and environmental groups. It means tapping the political clout of retirees in AARP, of farmers, of big retailers such as Wal-Mart whose customers must travel long distances, and of state and local governments.
The president would tell these stakeholders the blunt truth: Sometime in the next 15 years, the world's demand for oil is going to be greater than its supply. So now is the time to begin reducing demand -- and thereby regain control of our destiny. If Bush won't call for such a national commitment, then the Democrats should do it.
(29 June 2005)
David Ignatius hasn't mentioned P* O* yet, but he's getting close.
Independence Day 2005: Reflections on Patriotism
Julia Butterfly Hill, AScribe newswire
...I am ashamed that regardless of scientific evidence pointing to global warming and peak oil production, we aren't making any significant strides towards a sustainable new society where all of us can thrive together in harmony with nature.
an editorial by activist and author Julia Butterfly Hill
(29 June 2005)
A brief mention of Peak Oil in a more general call to activism.
Impressions of "The Deal" (a Peak Oil movie)
Ianqui, The Oil Drum
At Prof. Goose’s urging, we went to go see The Deal tonight. As Prof Goose noted, this is an independent movie that tries to address some of the issues surrounding our country's dependence on oil. As advertised, there's a love story plot, as well as some boardroom drama and violence to keep people interested.
Here's a summary of the movie in a nutshell...The movie is an attempt to bring some of the issues surrounding the oil industry and our dependence on oil into focus. Primarily, how far will we go to keep gas prices low in this country, rather than looking for alternative solutions?
(18 June 2005)
Oil spike a reminder of 1990 but world has changed
Brian Love, Reuters
PARIS (Reuters) - When Iraqi tanks thundered into Kuwait in August 1990, oil prices doubled, car sales tumbled, recession hit the United States, and crude costs retreated within a year as a result of a slump in demand.
As oil tops $60 a barrel, people wonder if a re-run is on the cards -- firstly whether recession will strike again and secondly whether that is the only way prices will abate.
The answer from economists is "probably not" on prospects of recession because oil is still relatively cheap by comparison to the extremes seen in recent decades and the most industrialised nations are generally more efficient, and thus resilient.
(28 June 2005)
Zimbabwe triples price of petrol
The cost of petrol in Zimbabwe has been raised by a factor of three, in an attempt to curb rampant fuel smuggling and cope with the rising cost of oil.
An announcement in the official Herald newspaper said a litre of petrol would cost 10,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($1; £0.55), up from Z$3,600. The rise follows months of extreme fuel shortages in Zimbabwe.
The country is also beset by sky-high unemployment, soaring inflation and a moribund economy. Inflation has fallen from a high of more than 600% to about 144% in May, but could go up on the back of the fuel price hike.
After five years in which farmland has effectively been renationalised and - up to a point - redistributed, both agriculture and industrial production in Zimbabwe have collapsed. The result has been a punishing shortage of hard currency, making fuel imports hard to come by.
The government's announcement follows a recent increase in world oil prices, which have risen above $60 a barrel. It was confirmed by Reuters, which visited five petrol stations.
The news agency's survey found that few stations had fuel to sell, but those which did were using the new price. What little fuel is available is being routed first to public transport, hospitals, agriculture and government departments, the Herald said.
Very little is available on the free market, forcing commuters in the cities to give up on the normally-ubiquitous minibus taxies. Instead, they rely either on walking or on lifts from those truck drivers who can lay their hands on petrol.
The shortages, many observers say, are exacerbated by cross-border smuggling. The old fixed official price made Zimbabwean fuel the cheapest in the region.
With most Zimbabweans suffering the effects of the country's economic collapse, employees and officials of the state petroleum firm are believed to have diverted petrol to be sold in neighbouring countries.
(29 June 2005)
...However, some scientists question whether the bold attempt to replicate the way the sun generates energy by fusing atomic nuclei at extremely high temperatures, using fuel extracted from seawater, will ever be commercially viable.
Ian Fells, of the Royal Academy of Engineering in Britain and an expert on energy conversion, described the ITER as a huge physics experiment.
"If we can really make this work, there will be enough electricity to last the world for the next 1,000 to 2,000 years. So it is really quite important but quite difficult to do it," Fells told Reuters.
(29 June 2005)
Related story: France wins contest to develop world's first fusion power reactor (LA Times)
Could Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor Save the World From Peak Oil?
David J. DesLauriers, Resource Investor
TORONTO (ResourceInvestor.com) -- The investment community is familiar with the threat posed by 'Peak Oil', and Resource Investor has done its part to keep its readers informed on the situation with articles highlighting some well-known prognosticators including Boone Pickens, Henry Groppe and Matt Simmons, and the threat they see of a crisis emerging.
What investors, and those who ponder the future of cheap energy might not be aware of is an international project at the experimental stage called the "International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)," that could supply "enough electricity to last the world for the next 1,000 years." Indeed, the word ITER means "the way" in Latin.
...Despite its detractors, ITER is a project whose benefits could be of literally inconceivable proportions in providing the world with cheap energy. For that reason, every effort must be made to see through the long process of development ahead.
If peak oil has just occurred, or is set to occur in the next few years, ITER based plants coming online in three decades or so could prove very timely. Maybe by then there will be economically feasible ways to harness the wind and the sun, but in the meantime the scientists must apply their trade.
(29 June 2005)
Dreaming of 'controlled' thermo-nuclear fusion
Andrew McKillop, VHeadline
...In resume we can therefore say that the ITER project, as with all previous and failed attempts to achieve ‘controlled’ fusion, will be faced with a huge number of constraints. These extend from the gravitational and thermal, to mechanical and quantum mechanical, and metallurgical and physical.
Almost exactly 50 years of TOKAMAK research reactors has produced nothing.
Press and media comment on the ITER project has ‘generously’ included interviews with the well-paid scientific researchers who will staff the centre when it is built. These scientists, being aware and concerned about the economy, have not failed to explain that "We are close to the end of oil," and therefore it is up to us, now, to start research into providing cheap energy for our descendants. Such asinine comments, which are well-coordinated and produced, using the same graphics and charts, are never completed with the real world facts and figures concerning ‘Our electrical salvation.’
When, if ever, the ITER project led to controlled and safe, economically feasible and permanent fusion it would enable the construction and operation of commercial fusion reactors producing electricity and only electricity....
Not one press comment on the ITER project, however enthusiastic, claimed that ‘commercial fusion reactors’ would be possible before 2040 or 2050. Peak Oil is now -- in the period 2005-2007. From about 2006 world oil production will start its inexorable decline, triggering massive price rises for oil, and also leading to a vast expansion of natural gas consumption...
The real energy crisis therefore concerns the period 2007-onwards, and this crisis will be inextricable by the 2012-2018 period. Whether or not ITER leads to ‘controlled’ fusion in 30 or 40 years is therefore of mere academic interest...
Electricity is impossible to cheaply and easily stock or store, unlike hydrocarbon fuels. The list is very long of the reasons why ‘cheap fusion energy’ is not only a far-away dream but is totally unrelated to our actual energy needs and the coming, short timeframe, and rapid decline of oil and gas supplies.
Andrew McKillop is an energy economist and consultant who recently edited a book for Pluto Books, ISBN 0745320929, title 'The Final Energy Crisis' including articles by Colin Campbell and Edward R D Goldsmith....
(29 June 2005)
Panel Rejects Nuclear Industry Claim, Affirms Radiation Link to Cancer
H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press (via Common Dreams)
The preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even very low doses of radiation pose a risk of cancer or other health problems and there is no threshold below which exposure can be viewed as harmless, a panel of prominent scientists concluded Wednesday.
The finding by the National Academy of Sciences panel is viewed as critical because it is likely to significantly influence what radiation levels government agencies will allow at abandoned nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons production facilities and elsewhere.
The nuclear industry,, as well as some independent scientists, have argued that there is a threshold of very low level radiation where exposure is not harmful, or possibly even beneficial. They said current risk modeling may exaggerate the health impact.
The panel, after five years of study, rejected that claim.
(29 June 2005)
Cost of nuclear 'underestimated'
The cost of new nuclear power has been underestimated by a factor of three, according to a British think tank.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) says existing estimates do not allow for the cost of building novel technologies and expensive time delays in construction.
They claim that renewable energy sources like wind and solar should be relied upon instead of nuclear power. However their report has been dismissed as inaccurate by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA).
(29 June 2005)
In this situation, it is worth looking at the overall significance of the May opening of the Baku to Ceyhan, Turkey, oil pipeline. This 1,762 kilometer long oil pipeline was completed some months ahead of plan.
... As the political makeup of the Central Asia Caspian region is complex, especially since the decomposition of the Soviet Union opened up a scramble in the oil-rich region of the Caspian from the outside, above all from the US, it is important to bear in mind the major power blocs that have emerged.
They are two. On the one side is an alliance of US-Turkey-Azerbaijan and, since the "Rose" revolution, Georgia, that small but critical country directly on the pipeline route. Opposed to it, in terms of where the pipeline route carrying Caspian oil should go, is Russia, which until 1990 held control over the entire Caspian outside the Iran littoral. Today, Russia has cultivated an uneasy but definite alliance with Iran and Armenia, in opposition to the US group. This two-camp grouping is essential to understanding developments in the region since 1991.
... A geopolitical pattern has become clear over the past months. One-by-one, with documented overt and covert Washington backing and financing, new US-friendly regimes have been put in place in former Soviet states which are in a strategic relation to possible pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea.
F William Engdahl, author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, from Pluto Press Ltd.
(30 June 2005)
China on the International Oil Market
David Stanway, Interfax China
...China's foreign policy is almost completely dominated by these energy concerns. Liu Jianchao, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, last year said that energy was the single most important issue for China on the world stage.
The big oil companies have also been urged to "go abroad" to search for resources, which they have been doing consistently, often carried along in the diplomatic slipstream of China's top leaders as they sweep through Asia and Africa. Whenever there is a foreign visit, you can bet that CNPC will be there, signing deals and memoranda on "boosting oil cooperation". Hu Jintao made a tour of Africa last year, and constantly by his side was the senior management of CNPC. Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan recently completed an "energy tour" of Asia.
There has, again, been criticism of China's approach. The US China Commission said that China pursues bilateral deals rather than going through international mechanisms. It is clear that China prefers the government-to-government approach, which works quite well with "countries of concern" such as Sudan, and perhaps with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, where governments play an overwhelming role in the energy business.
...transcript of a presentation given at an American Chamber of Commerce event on Thursday, June 23 in Beijing
(23 June 2005)
Long, rather dry article but it seems to be a complete summary. The publisher, Interfax-China seems to have the approval of the Chinese government. According to the website: "Interfax-China is a leading provider of the English-language news on the key country’s industries: telecommunications, energy and metals."
Venezuela seeks to build oil alliance
Ian James, Associated Press via Business Week
JUN. 28 12:42 P.M. ET With oil prices hitting record highs, Caribbean countries are looking with interest to a Venezuelan plan that promises to bring them oil sales on preferential terms.
Leaders from across the Caribbean will join Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday for talks on forming a new joint company, Petrocaribe, aimed at building a regional oil alliance and distributing fuel more cheaply.
Chavez says the initiative is about more than just bargain oil prices, and represents the "union of the Caribbean." Others call the "oil diplomacy," as Chavez seeks support for his political aims.
While many Caribbean islands stand to benefit economically, Venezuela will likely gain political capital by winning allies for its frequent disputes with the United States, said Bishnu Ragoonath, a political science professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. "Chavez is seeking regional support for his administration, and that is what he's getting in return for the cheaper fuel prices," Ragoonath said. "It's simply a matter of shoring up support."
(28 June 2005)
Adam Jones and Lisa Michael, The Guardian (Opinion)
Giving more power to the G8 nations will not eradicate poverty...autonomous grassroots alternatives to capitalism will
Imagine a country paralysed by protest, with hundreds of thousands of people blockading the highways and barricades springing up everywhere. The orders of the police, the appeals of the government and the condemnations of the media are being ignored. More people are joining the popular uprising. The cause for dissent? The policies of the G8 industrialised nations.
This is not a vision of the anti-G8 protests soon to take place in Scotland. This is happening in Bolivia right now.
Bolivia has qualified for Gordon Brown's latest debt relief package, due to be ratified at next week's G8 summit. It also qualified for the previous one, the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative. The remit for qualification on both occasions was not only extreme poverty and indebtedness but also "good governance". A notion that, of course, for the G8, involves the privatisation of state assets, including water, gas and oil.
In fact, it was only in return for further control over Bolivia's economy that a portion of its debt was cancelled. This is but one example of why debt relief, in many parts of the world, has become synonymous with an intensification of the neo-liberal onslaught.
...Some of the most important threads that run throughout this "movement of movements", and which connect the Bolivian uprising and the groups organising around the G8 summit, are those of decentralisation, autonomy and horizontality. These are movements in which power is dispersed in diffuse networks, where difference is celebrated rather than sublimated, and where there are no official leaders or spokespeople.
Lisa Michael is a member of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and Adam Jones is a member of Brighton Dissent; both are involved with the Dissent Network, promoting resistance to the G8 summit.
(29 June 2005)
Reliant on fossil fuels, and so reluctant to engage in the shift in energy sources that climate change demands, the G8 countries are investing in the other end of things - capture of the greenhouse gases emitted when these fuels are used. G8 members are supportive of the idea of storing carbon dioxide both above and below ground to prevent it being released into the atmosphere, with G8 countries pledging to invest in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. Underground burial involves great stashes under land or sea, with no current certainty over the logistics of such a process, nor guarantee against leaks at a future date.
(28 June 2005)
Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post (political columnist)
Almost a decade ago I suggested that global warming would become a "gushing" source of political hypocrisy. So it has. Politicians and scientists constantly warn of the grim outlook, and the subject is on the agenda of the upcoming Group of Eight summit of world economic leaders. But all this sound and fury is mainly exhibitionism -- politicians pretending they're saving the planet. The truth is that, barring major technological advances, they can't (and won't) do much about global warming. It would be nice if they admitted that, though this seems unlikely.
...Facing this prospect, we ought to align rhetoric and reality.
First, we should tackle some energy problems. We need to reduce our use of oil, which increasingly comes from unstable or hostile regions (the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia, Africa). This is mainly a security issue, though it would modestly limit greenhouse gases. What should we do? Even with today's high gasoline prices, we ought to adopt a stiff oil tax and tougher fuel economy standards, both to be introduced gradually. We can shift toward smaller vehicles, with more efficient hybrid engines. Unfortunately, Congress's energy bills lack these measures.
Second, we should acknowledge that global warming is an iffy proposition. Yes, it's happening; but, no, we don't know the consequences -- how much warming will occur, what the effects (good or bad) will be or where. If we can't predict the stock market and next year's weather, why does anyone think we can predict the global climate in 75 years? Global warming is not an automatic doomsday. In some regions, warmer weather may be a boon. [Editor: Aaagh!]
Third, we should recognize that improved technology is the only practical way of curbing greenhouse gases. About 80 percent of CO2 emissions originate outside the transportation sector...
(29 June 2005)
Mentioned at Gristmill by Andy Brett.
...The trend toward co-ownership is also fueled by the city's high proportion of young adults, many of whom express interest in pursuing alternative, community-oriented lifestyles.
(26 June 2005)
Return of the 60/70s: an unpopular foreign war, energy crisis, and now communes, albeit in a more upscale version.
Seattle's a hothouse of green power
Joel Connelly, Seattle Post Intelligencer (columnist)
The contrast between stale, inside-the-Beltway Washington, D.C., thinking and fresh Seattle, Wash., innovation caught my eye one recent morning.
Just outside the capital, President Bush touted as a "good bill" a House-passed energy measure that would dole out more than $37 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to the coal, nuclear and oil industries.
"It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again," the president declared to applause from nuclear workers at Lusby, Md.
In the Emerald City, at that hour, the Seattle City Council was getting an initial briefing on Green-Up, a Seattle City Light program that will offer utility customers the option of buying into renewable energy sources such as wind power.
(29 June 2005)
Hydrogen cars will save lives -- and the planet
Roland Piquepaille, WorldChanging
What would happen if all U.S. current vehicles -- powered by fossil fuels -- were converted to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles? In this article, Nature writes that a very detailed study from Stanford University reveals that a move to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could save up to 6,400 lives each year due to improvements in air quality. The study's lead author, Marc Jacobson, argues that a focus on the health benefits of non-fossil-fuel vehicles may be a more familiar issue for policymakers than the climate, who may therefore be more willing to act.
After looking at several ways to produce hydrogen, the scientists also concluded that wind is the most promising means of generating hydrogen. It's even cheaper if some hidden costs to produce gasoline are taken into account: gasoline's true cost in March 2005, for example, was $2.35 to $3.99 per gallon, which exceeds the estimated mean cost of hydrogen from wind ($2.16 per gallon of gasoline equivalent).
Now the researchers are calling for an 'Apollo Program' for hydrogen energy. Will Jacobson's 'Apollo Program' be ever launched -- and if it is, will it work? Read this overview and tell us what you think.
Roland Piquepaille is an IT consultant who lives in Paris, France. He writes about Technology Trends and about the use of blogs by businesses.
(29 June 2005)
See original articles for links. It would take a book to detail all the problems with this proposal. For starters, the tremendous amount of energy consumed by vehicles vs the tiny fraction of energy currently produced by wind. The unlikelihood of massive spending to replace the energy/transportation infrastructure in a period of deficits and energy shortfalls. Finally, the immorality of using an increasingly precious resource, energy, to ensure that Americans can continue driving as they have in the past. One change I've seen in myself after being involved in Peak Oil is how much more critical I've become of proposals that I formerly would have backed. The study of energy may be as important in the future as business is in the current culture. -BA
Living on the Hundred-Mile Diet
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, TheTyee.ca
Eating a truly local diet for a year poses some tricky questions. First in a series.
...on March 21, the first day of spring, we took a vow to live with the rhythms of the land as our ancestors did. For one year we would only buy food and drink for home consumption that was produced within 100 miles of our home, a circle that takes in all the fertile Fraser Valley, the southern Gulf Islands and some of Vancouver Island, and the ocean between these zones. This terrain well served the European settlers of a hundred years ago, and the First Nations population for thousands of years before.
This may sound like a lunatic Luddite scheme, but we had our reasons. The short form would be: fossil fuels bad. For the average American meal (and we assume the average Canadian meal is similar), World Watch reports that the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone. This average meal uses up to 17 times more petroleum products, and increases carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount, compared to an entirely local meal.
...But forget about virtue. Think instead about the pure enjoyment that should come with eating. Few would deny that all this seasonless supermarket produce often has very little taste. Those grapefruits the size of your head, and strawberries the size plums used to be, have the consistency of cardboard. On the other hand, we took our inspiration from a meal we created entirely from the bounty around us while staying at our off-the-grid cabin in northern British Columbia: a Dolly Varden trout, chanterelle mushrooms, dandelion greens and potatoes--all from the fields, forests, and streams within easy walking distance.
So our rules, when we began, were purist. It was not enough for food to be locally produced (as in bread made by local bakers.) No. Every single ingredient had to come from the earth in our magic 100-mile circle. Our only "out" was that we were allowed to eat occasionally in restaurants or at friends' houses as we always had, so that we did not have to be social outcasts for a year. And, if we happened to travel elsewhere, we could bring home foods grown within a hundred miles of that new place.
Immediately there were problems. First was the expense. We used to eat a nearly vegan diet at home-our dwindling bank accounts emphasized how much cheaper beans, rice and tofu are than wild salmon, oysters and organic boutique cheeses.
Then, we wasted away. We were unable to find any locally grown grains-no more bread, pasta, or rice. The only starch left to us was the potato. Between us, we lost about 15 pounds in six weeks. While I appreciated the beauty and creativity of James' turnip sandwich, with big slabs of roasted turnip as the "bread," this innovation did little to stave off the constant hunger. James' jeans hung down his butt like a skater boy. He told me I had no butt left at all.
At the end of these desperate six weeks, we loosened our rules to include locally milled flour.
(28 June 2005)
Nutritionist Joan Dye Gussow documented her (less perfectionistic) effort to eat locally in her book This Organic Life.