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Ten Ways to Kick our Oil Habit

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Gail over at The Oil Drum has a surprisingly comprehensive list that goes beyond merely ‘trying to drive less’:

1. A better “cash for clunkers” program. A two year plan that gives credit for only replacement vehicles with 35 miles per gallon efficiency or greater is suggested. This program would be paid for by extending the 1978 gas guzzler tax to cars and trucks.

2. Emergency funding for endangered mass transit. The article notes that 59% of public transit networks have cut service, raised fares, or both since January 2009. More federal funding could help this situation.

3. A national telecommuting and videoconferencing initiative. Federal employees should be directed to do these as much as possible. “For everyone else, a campaign would make these more normative and socially acceptable.”

4. Smarter freight movement. Grist suggests that Congress commission a study of methods to make trucking, rail and jet transport more efficient, including approaches to improve milage and ways to reduce empty travel of vehicles.

5. Smarter land use. Grist suggests that Congress could direct (and help fund) efforts to update zoning and land use regulations, to encourage more compact development.

6. Smarter travel through IT. Grist recommends a national study, noting that UPS saved 3 million gallons of fuel in a year, by equipping its trucks with software that allowed them to map out routes that avoided left-hand turns. Also, traffic lights could be timed better.

7. Educating drivers. Drivers ed programs and other outreach programs might teach the importance of slower acceleration and maintaining tire pressure for getting good gas mileage.

8. A resolution saying efficiency is a new national priority. Congress should pass a resolution on the importance of efficiency, and tell government agencies to improve efficiency. Funding for new projects might also depend on efficiency.

9. Prizes for tech breakthroughs. A prize is now awarded for 100 mph vehicle. Similar prizes could be offered for other breakthroughs.

10. Efficiency “visibility.” Congress should fund the development of a National Energy Efficiency Data Center (NEEDC), which would study efficiency technologies.

Written by pavanvan

May 28, 2010 at 12:06 am

Posted in environment

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Exxon-Valdez Spill “Pales in Comparison” to Current Louisiana Spill

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It’s true. From the BBC:

Five times as much oil as previously thought could be leaking from the well beneath where a rig exploded and sank last week, US officials said earlier.

The slick is 45 miles (72km) by 105 miles (169km) – almost the size of Jamaica – and heading for the US coast.

A third leak has been discovered, and a fire-fighting expert said the disaster may become the biggest oil spill ever.

“Probably the only thing comparable to this is the Kuwait fires [following the Gulf War in 1991],” Mike Miller, head of Canadian oil well fire-fighting company Safety Boss, told the BBC World Service.

“The Exxon Valdez [tanker disaster off Alaska in 1989] is going to pale [into insignificance] in comparison to this as it goes on.”

Scientists say only a quarter of local marine wildlife survived the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Written by pavanvan

April 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm

This Week in Good Ideas

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Finally harnessing offshore wind power:

The Cape Wind project, the nation’s first offshore wind farm, is go for launch. After nine years of controversy and heated negotiations, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that Nantucket Sound, about five miles off the coast of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod, will host a 130-turbine wind farm covering 24 square miles that will begin generating electricity as early as 2012. Salazar made the announcement from the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston and was joined by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a big supporter of the project.

Salazar included a few modifications to help protect the historical, cultural, and environmental assets of Nantucket Sound. The farm was originally intended to include 170 turbines, but he dropped the number to 130 to help reduce visual impact. He also stipulated that developers need to take additional marine archaeological surveys and other “commonsense measures” to “minimize and mitigate” potential adverse effects of the project.

Written by pavanvan

April 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Oilman T.Boone Pickens Says Peak Oil is Here

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Via the Christian Science Monitor:

Speaking in a Senate committee hearing, the legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens said that world crude oil production has topped out.

“I do believe you have peaked out at 85 million barrels a day globally,” he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday, according to Reuters.

He noted that the United States is consuming “21 million barrels of the 85 million and producing about 7 of the 21, so if I could take just a minute on this point, the demand is about 86.4 million barrels a day, and when the demand is greater than the supply, the price has to go up until it kills demand.”

And when Mr. Pickens speaks about energy, the world listens. His ability to read markets has vaulted him into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest people. His hedge fund, BP Capital, manages more than $4 billion in assets.

This is about a year and a half old, but the trends Mr. Pickens identified have only progressed since he made his pronouncement. The Obama Administration, on the other hand, refuses to believe in the “Peak Oil theory”, instead plumping for something called the “undulating plateau”, which has absolutely no scientific basis. So naturally, he’s doing nothing about reducing our reliance on liquid fuels.

Folks, we are in a lot of trouble.

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 9:45 am

US Government Pays Its Companies To Violate Iran “Sanctions”

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The Times has a hilarious investigative report in today’s issue. Apparently $100 billion in government cash has gone into the pockets of energy companies doing business with the nefarious Iran.

Its worth getting out of the way first that sanctions don’t work. They never have. Numerous studies have concluded that the net effect of “sanctions” is invariably to strengthen the targeted regime, and an article on sanctions in Iran – especially on how US companies are violating them – should probably mention this.

Instead, The Times plumps for the opposite approach – that instead of the sanctions themselves being a vicious attack on the Iranian people, the violation on the part of the US companies of the sanctions is the real crime. It bears mentioning that the major Israeli paper, Haartez, ran a similar story, “US Rewarding Firms That Defy Iran Sanctions“, with a much angrier headline. The pro-Israel lobby clearly isn’t happy about this.

The whole Times article really deserves to be read in full, as it presents a case study in systemic bias. Observe:

For years, the United States has been pressing other nations to join its efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy, in hopes of reining in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Now, with the nuclear standoff hardening and Iran rebuffing American diplomatic outreach, the Obama administration is trying to win a tough new round of United Nations sanctions.

The third paragraph. Note how nonchalantly The Times speaks of “squeezing” the Iranian economy and “reining in” its nuclear ambitions, as though we have an implicit right to do such things. The next sentence accuses Iran of “rebuffing American diplomatic outreach” (an Orwellianism, that), completely ignoring Iran’s agreement to ship its uranium for inspection in Russia. The US demanded to send its own specialists into Iran to “inspect” their sites, something which Iran rightfully refused. Actually, when one thinks of it, the Americans rebuffed Iran’s outreach, but in true propaganda style, The Times reverses the accusation.

After a few paragraphs describing how easily US companies and those of our “allies” can operate in Iran and how eager Iran is for foreign investment, The Times says:

One of the government’s most powerful tools, at least on paper, to influence the behavior of companies beyond the jurisdiction of the embargo is the Iran Sanctions Act, devised to punish foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in a given year to develop Iran’s oil and gas fields. But in the 14 years since the law was passed, the government has never enforced it, in part for fear of angering America’s allies.

That has given rise to situations like the one involving the South Korean engineering giant Daelim Industrial, which in 2007 won a $700 million contract to upgrade an Iranian oil refinery.

Once again, the implicit assumption is that these “sanctions” (a) work, and (b) are legitimate. After all, why shouldn’t South Korea be allowed to invest where it wishes? The Times claims that the Army’s $111 million investment in S. Korea should have bought at least some respect for our sanctions, but this is a facile argument.

Later, they complain that Brazil, the Netherlands, France, and other “US allies” are investing in Iran while taking US dollars.

The Iranian government has engaged in some unsavory acts this past year, but the amount of violence it visited upon its citizens is minuscule compared to that of our “allies”, particularly Israel. Even the highest estimates of the death toll in Iran’s post-election violence only reach the low hundreds. In January of the same year, Israel killed more than 2,000 Gaza civilians, and dozens die from lack of food, water, or sanitation as a result of that action and the surrounding blockade every day.

If we’re really going to castigate countries for human-rights violations and write massive “exposes” on US companies violating sanctions , shouldn’t we focus on a more murderous country than Iran?

Written by pavanvan

March 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Maliki Giving Away US Arms to Win Election

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Here’s a story the US mainstream wouldn’t dare report. Luckily we have The Guardian! It’s election season in Iraq once again, and these guys buy their votes a little differently than our politicians do. Instead of simply buying votes with cash or misleading advertisements, or via “political action committees”, US-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has decided to just do away with the middleman and directly hand out US arms to his citizens in exchange for votes. I have the feeling these tactics would have done much to ingratiate President Obama with the “tea party” faction in American politics.

As The Guardian says:

A senior Iraqi spy has accused the prime minister, Nour al-Maliki, of handing out thousands of guns to tribal leaders in a bid to win votes. The claim was made by Iraqi National Intelligence Service former spokesman, Saad al-Alusi, a week before Iraq’s general election, in which allegations of vote buying and exorbitant handouts have become widespread

“He has given at least hundreds of them to tribal leaders in Amara, Nasireya, Diwaniya and many other provinces, Sayedi said. “They are American-made and arrived by the middle of 2009. It is a cheap way to buy votes. Saddam used to do the same. Maliki said he gave the guns out so that tribal leaders could protect themselves. So he wants to protect them and yet judges and lawyers die every day. What is the role of the Iraqi army and police? I hope the tribes will see through this.”

How charming. Our efforts at “building Democracy” in Iraq are certainly paying off! I hasten to remind my readers that if Maliki were an “unfriendly” dictator, the US media would be howling against this latest transgression against democracy, this blatant attempt at vote-rigging, and the severe danger that comes from giving away free guns to volatile tribes in Iraq. We’d be screaming about how Maliki is “supporting terror”, blatantly arming the “worst elements” within his polity. As it is, our press is utterly silent on this issue.

Written by pavanvan

March 1, 2010 at 11:02 am

Profiles in Idiocy: Thomas Friedman

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Here we go again! Another evasive, revisionist piece of trash from none other than our favorite warmonger, Thomas Friedman! I hasten to point out that Friedman was one of the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders, once exhorting the starving Iraqi masses to “Suck. On. This.” (i.e. our bombs). That linked YouTube video comes highly recommended because it reveals, for all the world to see, just what a slimy reptile Mr. Friedman really is. But no, he’s not finished! In his February 24th New York Times column he takes his complete lack of ethics, his shifting morality, and his base “intellectualism” to a new low.

Tongue-twistingly entitled “Iraq’s Known Unknowns, Still Unknown” (a ‘clever’ play, I suppose, on Rumsfeld’s famous quote), his article begins with one of the most poorly written, eurocentric, history-denying openings I’ve ever seen:

From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

Maybe Iraq was “the way it was” because the Untied States actively funded Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship for decades. Has this man ever read a history book? We supported Saddam all through the ’80s, and then after his failed adventure in Kuwait we imposed “sanctions” on Iraq which had the net effect of strengthening his regime, albeit at the cost of 500,000 Iraqi children (what Madeline Albright called “a price worth paying”). Does he think that may have something to do with it? Nah, it’s much easier to just be a racist and tar Iraq as a “collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist”. That way the US invasion almost seems justified!

It’s hard to imagine anyone topping that astounding bit of stupidity, but really, Friedman is just getting started:

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was a place where the past would always bury the future.

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.

Oh boy! I’m sure the Iraqis were just thrilled that we gave them the chance to “freely write their own social contract” – I mean, sure, it was at the barrel of US artillery, but it’s not nice to talk about that, right, Friedman? And I think you’re missing something here. Do you remember something called “WMDs”? You know, the ones that we never found? I think that was the real reason we attacked Iraq, in blatant violation of international law. All this talk of “supporting democracy” came afterward.

Also, the “liberals and realists” did not contend that Iraq was an “irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest”, you miserable racist. We said that America shouldn’t “stick [its] hand there” because attacking a country that was not actively preparing to declare war would be a monstrous act of aggression and an express violation of international law. It’s “irredeemable” to “contend” otherwise.

Then Mr. Friedman talks about his latest meeting with Gen. Odierno, who, along with Joe Biden, has apparently done the most to “coax, cajole, and occasionally shove Iraq away from the abyss”. You know, the abyss that we opened up. The Iraqis sure are lucky they had Uncle Sam around to “cajole” them away from it!

I found the general hopeful but worried. He was hopeful because he has seen Iraqis go to the brink so many times and then pull back, but worried because sectarian violence is steadily creeping back ahead of the elections and certain Shiite politicians, like the former Bush darling Ahmed Chalabi — whom General Odierno indicated is clearly “influenced by Iran” and up to no good — have been trying to exclude some key Sunni politicians from the election.

Wrong, you colossal ass, a thousand times wrong! Jesus Christ, I can’t believe you work for the New York Times. The real reason “some key Sunni politicians” are being excluded from the Iraqi election is because of a specific order by our own Paul Bremer that banned former Ba’ath party members from contesting elections. Your own newspaper reminded us of this just five days before your column ran. Don’t you read newspapers? But it’s so much easier to shift the blame onto our scapegoat Chalabi, isn’t it? Facts are just too cumbersome.

How does Friedman think the elections might play out? Well…

The ideal but least likely scenario is that we see the emergence of an Iraqi Shiite Nelson Mandela. The Shiites, long suppressed by Iraq’s Baathist-led Sunni minority, are now Iraq’s ruling majority. Could Iraq produce a Shiite politician, who, like Mandela, would be a national healer — someone who would use his power to lead a real reconciliation instead of just a Shiite dominion? So far, no sign of it.

Okay, you want to see a “Shiite Nelson Mandela”. What has the US been doing to promote this? Well, we’ve been arbitrarily arresting and throwing Shiites in jail on false pretexts for a while now. Didn’t Nelson Mandela go to jail? We’ve brutally occupied their country and left it swarming with mercenaries. I guess that’s kind of like South Africa? I don’t know. Maybe Mr. Friedman could just drop this dishonest comparison to Nelson Mandela and try and give some real solutions. Nah, that’s too hard.

So tell us what you don’t want, Mr. Friedman:

The two scenarios you don’t want to see are: 1) Iraq’s tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq’s Shiite government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon.

Again with the racial overtures! Good lord, what kind of human being are you? “Iraq’s tribal culture”, eh? “A big Somalia with oil”? Did you really write that with a straight face? You “pundits” are all the same. If a country doesn’t have cars and multinational corporations in it, then its automatically a “tribal” culture. Man, you would have fit right in with the European imperialists laying waste to Asia and South America. You were born in the wrong century, Mr. Friedman!

As to your second scenario: forgive me, but why? Why shouldn’t Iraq be friends with its neighbor, Iran? Just because you, personally, wouldn’t like it? What do you mean by “kingmaker”? Iraq’s culture is predominantly Shi’a – so to a reasonable observer it should make sense that Iraq and Iran would be friends. Mr. Friedman, however, is not a reasonable observer.

He ends with a parting shot, and a last bit of historical revisionism:

Why should we care when we’re leaving? Quite simply, so much of the turmoil in the region was stoked over the years by Saddam’s Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, both financed by billions in oil revenues. If, over time, a decent democratizing regime could emerge in Iraq and a similar one in Iran — so that oil wealth was funding reasonably decent regimes rather than retrograde ones — the whole Middle East would be different.

Mr. Friedman, unlike myself, was actually alive to remember the Iran-Contra scandal, and thus has no excuse for this spectacular display of ignorance. “So much of the turmoil” in the region was not stoked by “billions in oil revenues”, as it was by billions in CIA dollars, paid to both sides, with express instructions to keep fighting. I mean Jesus, how can he not remember this? The United States gave arms and funding to both sides of the Iraq-Iran conflict, and used the proceeds to illegally fund a terrorist group in Nicaragua. Doesn’t he think that “stoked” some turmoil in the region? I guess when you’re Thomas Friedman, history just doesn’t matter.

I simply cannot believe this guy is writing for The New York Times while tens of millions of Americans are out of work. Anyone who has graduated from high school has a firmer grasp of history than Thomas Friedman. Anyone short of a Ku Klux Klan member has more ethical integrity. Thomas Friedman is a joke.

Is There Enough Food for 9 Billion People?

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Science has a fantastic paper on food scarcity in the 21st century:

A threefold challenge now faces the world (9): Match the rapidly changing demand for food from a larger and more affluent population to its supply; do so in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable; and ensure that the world’s poorest people are no longer hungry. This challenge requires changes in the way food is produced, stored, processed, distributed, and accessed that are as radical as those that occurred during the 18th- and 19th-century Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions and the 20th-century Green Revolution. Increases in production will have an important part to play, but they will be constrained as never before by the finite resources provided by Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere (10).

Any optimism must be tempered by the enormous challenges of making food production sustainable while controlling greenhouse gas emission and conserving dwindling water supplies, as well as meeting the Millennium Development Goal of ending hunger. Moreover, we must avoid the temptation to further sacrifice Earth’s already hugely depleted biodiversity for easy gains in food production, not only because biodiversity provides many of the public goods on which mankind relies but also because we do not have the right to deprive future generations of its economic and cultural benefits. Together, these challenges amount to a perfect storm.

Science studiously avoids giving a definite answer to the question implied in their article, instead plumping for various methods by which we can increase food production (aquaculture, reducing waste, changing diets, etc). The article definitely deserves points for putting sustainable agriculture front-and-center. As most of you know, our food is currently made of oil. Oil makes the fertilizer that makes the crops we eat. Nitrogen is generally the limiting factor in any agricultural enterprise, and without oil it remains unclear how we will be able to fix the massive amounts of atmospheric nitrogen that currently go into our fertilizers.

As always, the crux of this problem comes down to overpopulation. Cost-saving methods and changing diets may hold off the inevitable famines until after we’re all dead (2100) – but that does nothing for future generations. Unless we can remove the implacable human urge (some would say “right”) to breed, its clear that hard times are on the horizon. I don’t admit to know the solution to overpopulation; any answer one might give raises all sorts of ethical problems: Who should be allowed to have children? How many? How to regulate it?

These and kindred questions need answering, and fast – but for the time being our policymakers and even our general populations are content to have as many children as they can afford. This is not a solution.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:11 am

Major Oil Company CEO says Peak Oil in 2010

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(c/o The Oil Drum)

Mr. Gabrielli, CEO of oil giant Petrobras, gave a presentation last December, wherein he predicted the world’s oil capacity, including biofuels, will peak in 2010. You can download the presentation here. Some highlights from the Oil Drum’s analysis:

On another slide, Gabrielli plots cumulative decline in existing fields against time. Consequently, the world needs one Saudi Arabia every two years just to keep production constant. Fortunately, new oil capacity from sanctioned projects can offset some of cumulative decline of 30 mbd in 2015. However, the chart above still shows a gap of over 5 mbd which needs to be filled by projects yet to be sanctioned or development of undiscovered oil. If this gap cannot be filled then demand cannot be met and prices will increase to reduce demand down to supply.

Gabrielli’s concerns about peak oil capacity in 2010 and future declining world oil capacity should be taken seriously. He shows that by 2012/13 the world oil capacity will only just meet world demand, based on Wood MacKenzie’s data, highlighting the risk of a potential oil supply crunch. If Wikipedia Oil Megaproject data are used then peak oil capacity is also indicated in 2010 as well as an an oil supply crunch in 2012/13. The IEA’s Fatih Birol has also stated that an oil supply crunch is likely to occur by 2014. In other words, the world does not have enough future Saudi Arabia equivalent capacity additions to stop world oil production from declining, causing an inevitable supply crunch within the next few years.

Well, I’m frightened.

Written by pavanvan

February 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Pentagon Officially Endorses Biblical Jihad

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A few days ago the story broke that US soldiers in Afghanistan use gun-sights with biblical verses inscribed on them. Naturally this caused some discomfort among our “enemies”, who did not enjoy being killed in the name of Jesus. But this was just an oversight, right?

Not quite. ABC reported that Trijcon, a major arms supplier to the US Army and Marines, had been inscribing the verses on its product – to give our soldiers that fightin’ edge, one assumes – since at least 2005. This has been going on for years. But now that they’re aware, I’m sure the Pentagon denounces this, right? I mean how would it look, sending our soldiers to fight with Jesus-branded weaponry?

Well, the Raw Story reported today that the Pentagon is A-OK with Jesus on the weapons, likening it to the phrase “In God we Trust” on money.

“This situation is not unlike the situation with US currency,” Maj. Redfield said. “Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used.”

How do biblical verses meet the “combat needs” of our soldiers? Oh, he didn’t say.

And also:

“Well if that were true, then we would not be allowed to display the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, because of its explicit reference to a creator,” Sasser said.

Yeah, ’cause it’s the same thing. Do you think this might have something to do with the belief among “terrorists” that America is engaging in a crusade against Islam?

In fact, Bush once specifically told Jacques Chirac that God wanted to “erase” his enemies “before a new age begins”, quoting an old testament prophecy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne.

Baffling indeed. It looks like we’ll be continuing this misbegotten murder rampage for the time being, but can we at least dispense with all this rhetoric against “islamofascism” and these crazy, irrational, religious Muslims? Someone is engaging in a holy war here, but I’m not sure it’s them.

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Edward Burtynsky

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Edward Burtynsky is the premier photographer of our time, grimly determined to document in spectacular imagery the folly of our oil-guzzling ways. He has a gallery open online at the Corocran Gallery of Art. I highly recommend. The man is, after all, a genius:

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Where our $1 Billion per day goes

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H/T: Andrew Sullivan

We spend about $1 Billion per day on oil imports, and nearly all of it comes from highly unstable countries. The Center for American Progress report which features this map is called is called “Oil Dependence is a Dangerous Habit.” I highly recommend reading this.

Written by pavanvan

January 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Iraq Oil Auction – Results

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Iraq has just finished its first round of oil field auctions, and the results are bewildering at first glance. The US made a dismal show, with only Exxon-Mobil securing a whole field. China and Russia, on the other hand, turned out the big winners, each dominating the first and second rounds respectively. The establishment blogs and pundits have taken this bit of evidence and gleefully crowed to those who proclaimed the US went to Iraq to gain control of its oil fields. “See? See?” they exhort, “If this was a war for oil, why the US get beaten out by China in the auctions?”

Such reasoning betrays, I think, a misunderstanding as to what “war for oil” means. It would have been nice to have US companies develop Iraq’s oil fields, but our primary concern in invading the country was to ensure that they would be developed. It is important to realize that Iraq’s oil fields were severely underused throughout the 1990s, leading to increased US interest in getting those fields up and running. We began to do so by the end of the ’90s (as one can see from the tail end of that graph), but in 2000 Saddam began refusing to sell Iraqi oil in US dollars.

Well, this was the real unforgivable sin, and for that he had to go. And now that he’s gone, the oil fields are open to be developed, and their product will duly go on the international, US-driven oil market.  Whichever country secures the development contracts will surely glean some profit, but so long as the oil gets on the market, America wins.

Also, it is best not to draw too many conclusions from this preliminary round of auctioning. Only a small fraction of Iraq’s oil fields were put up for sale this past week, and it’s impossible to say definitively that the US was “shut out” of them based on their results. When all the fields have been divvied up, we’ll see where the US stands.

Written by pavanvan

December 20, 2009 at 10:33 pm

CO2: Black, not Green

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The Center for Media and Democracy turns us on to a thoroughly scurrilous attempt on the part of Big Gas and Oil to downplay the negative effects of CO2 output.

“CO2 is Green”, a new Montana-based advocacy group, derives its dollars from the Coal and Oil Industry and has the sheer audacity to claim that “There is no scientific evidence that CO2 [carbon dioxide] is a pollutant. In fact higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth’s ecosystems.” without breaking into guilt-induced conniptions.  Here we have yet another example of “The Big Lie” technique. If you can make a such a statement as above on television with a straight face, many people will conclude that it must be true. No one could possibly be audacious enough to repeat such a patently absurd claim unless there was some truth to it of which the public is not aware. Thus, the idea that “CO2 is not a pollutant” will likely enter into mainstream discourse, despite the fact that almost every scientist declares the opposite.

Some of you may recall this is not the first time our oil companies have undertaken such an advertising campaign. Indeed, as Greenpeace revealed earlier this year, Exxon-Mobil secretly funded much of the Global Warming denial we saw earlier this decade. On podium after podium, cable news show after fabricated report, their hired “scientists” spread the claims that (a) Global warming doesn’t exist and (b) even assuming it does, Global Warming isn’t man-made. Now, of course, we see both of those statements for the patent falsehood  they present, but at the time they proved quite influential and likely set us back years in dealing with this problem.

Today, a new generation of pseudo-scientists, such as our friend H. Leighton Steward, a former executive of Enron, wish to spread the message that CO2 is a “net benefit” for the planet – and, presumably, that we are doing our earth a huge service by burning coal and oil.

Please watch their commercial. It gives an excellent overview of the false populism and junk science employed by the coal and oil industries to defend what remains, in the last analysis, a thoroughly indefensible business. And I would encourage everyone to do precisely what they suggest at the end by contacting your Senator, except instead of agitating for even more pollution, ask them to clear our airwaves of deleterious propaganda.

Iran and the Dollar

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iran-nuclear-facility

America and Iran are now engaging in high-level talks with the reported aim of inducing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. This development comes at a point of extra ammunition for US negotiators, having just revealed their knowledge of a secret enrichment facility in Qom.

But wait a minute. The US Government admits it has known about the Qom facility for at least three years. Why should they choose this particular moment to show their hand? Given that these high-level meetings occur literally on the heels of their Qom revelation, a sort of bargain using the facility as leverage isn’t difficult to imagine. But what do we want from the Iranians?

Administration officials claim the main goal of these talks is to persuade Iran to give up its claims to a bomb, but recent events would suggest that is only a secondary objective. Primarily, our policy planners wish to ensure Iran’s cooperation with the dollar.

Last week, mere days before the US government made public the nuclear facility in Qom, Iran began shifting its foreign currency reserves from the Dollar to the Euro. This comes well after Iran created its own oil exchange, The Iran Oil Bourse, and began trading a majority of its oil in Euros or Yen. It cannot be a coincidence that the US decided to reveal its knowledge of a secret facility and ramp up its vilification campaign immediately after Iran undertook this decision.

Much has been made of the similarities between our current stance toward Iran and our statements regarding Iraq immediately before we invaded (the hysteria over “weapons of mass destruction”, the demonization of their leaders,the open threats, etc.), but to those we can add one more example: Both countries threatened to liquidate their dollar holdings shortly before the melodrama over their “weapons programs” materialized. On October 4, 2000, on the eve of President Bush’s election, Iraq decided to begin selling its oil in Euros, the only OPEC country at the time who dared to do so. The quickening drumbeat in favor of war in Iraq began soon after.

Written by pavanvan

October 1, 2009 at 10:36 pm

From the Summit of Peak Oil

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I would like to draw my readers’ attention to this deceitful little article in yesterday’s New York Times . The editorial, penned by “energy consultant” Michael Lynch, purports to refute fears of Peak Oil. Instead, it reveals Mr. Lynch’s own logical shortcomings and his unwillingness to deviate from a goal of endless consumption. Inadvertently, his article highlights the gravity of the resource issues before us today.

Peak Oil, for those unaware, is a model first devised by geoscientist M. King Hubbert. He predicted, in short, a specific point at which the rate of petroleum extraction would peak (hence, “Peak Oil”), and after which extraction rates would inevitably decline.

In retrospect it should not have been hard to arrive at such a conclusion. Given that only a limited amount of oil exists (the stuff takes millions of years to create), and we extract and burn it at an ever-increasing rate, there should be no controversy in the conclusion that its production will eventually peak and then decline.

The Hubbert Peak Theory suggests that oil production over a geographical area should follow a bell-curve distribution, with a clearly defined peak. Hubbert used this theory, in 1956, to predict that the peak in US oil production would occur from 1956-1970. The US peak occurred in 1970.

US Oil Production and Imports: 1920-2005

US Oil Production and Imports: 1920-2005

Much of the controversy today centers around the timing of the worldwide peak. We know that many countries (India, Iran, the US, Egypt, and others) have already peaked, and everyone is holding their breath to see when worldwide production will do the same. However there are appears to be no dearth of people willing to shill the false optimism that “we’re nowhere near running out of oil” and sell it to a public increasingly desperate for good news.

For a vivid illustration, please read the Times article in the first link. The author employs a classic “strawman” technique; instead of assessing credible fears of resource depletion, he chooses to focus on the concerns of a minority of  “ardent pessimists”, whose position Mr. Lynch caricatures then demolishes with glee.

He reduces concerns of oil depletion thus: “For the most part the peak-oil crowd rests its case on three major claims: that the world is discovering only one barrel for every three or four produced; that political instability in oil-producing countries puts us at an unprecedented risk of having the spigots turned off; and that we have already used half of the two trillion barrels of oil that the earth contained.” So clearly, if he can prove these three arguments tenuous, then free oil shall flow for all!

For the first, he claims that estimates of a decline in new field discovery are based on faulty data, because petroleum engineers tend to under-report the size of newly discovered fields. It is not worth mentioning, apparently, that the rate of new field discovery has sharply dropped – Mr. Lynch contents himself to dismiss this with the vague claim that “The combination of new discoveries and revisions to size estimates of older fields has been keeping pace with production for many years.” – a fact I have not the knowledge to dispute, but have the wisdom to distrust.

Mr. Lynch gives the second claim only a few lines. Fears over oil inflation in the ’70s (after the oil embargo), the’80s (after the Iranian Revolution), and today (after the Iraq War) have not come to pass – thus, he argues, political instability has a negligible effect on oil prices. Had Peak Oil activists truly taken “political instability” as an argument for their ideas, surely Mr. Lynch would have scored his point. However, Mr. Lynch gets it entirely backwards. The “political instability” to which he refers is invariably caused by the United States. He ends up making this opponents’ point.

Peak Oil protesters bewail the horrific foreign policy the US must resort to in order to secure cheap oil, not the “political instability” that threatens it. Iran in 1953, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia – those countries have all bent to US will, one way or another. This oil-driven foreign policy is what the Peak Oil movement points to as a symptom of resource depletion. Of course, Mr. Lynch is incapable of seeing that – his viewpoint is utterly fixated upon dollars. Since the price of oil has gone down, it must not be scarce. Mr. Lynch is fully content to ignore the fact that the US purchased low oil prices for itself in Arab blood. Europe, for instance, pays almost double what we do for oil.

Finally, Mr. Lynch’s dismissal of the Peak Oil claim that only 2 Trillion total barrels of oil exists (two-thirds of which we have already depleted), is only one line. “Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there.” That takes care of that. He provided, of course, no source for that figure – we are to take his word for it.

At the end of his article, Mr. Lynch declares that “Oil remains abundant”, and suggests tar sand as a suitable alternative.

Apparently the man has never heard of climate change. Indeed, the whole article stinks of a pro-consumption, pro-waste philosophy. Its most insidious aspect is the blindness it imposes upon the average, newspaper-reading person, who will no doubt be content to take The Times’ word on this issue. Meanwhile, oil runs our entire society, in every aspect of the word. We literally cannot eat without oil. It is dastardly and irresponsible to shove the very real problem of depletion aside for future generations to deal with while we exult today in the “abundance” of oil.

Written by pavanvan

August 26, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Population

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It is a strange fact, not often discussed in polite circles, that the world population has doubled in the past 40 years. This means that when my father was born, in 1958, there existed only half as many people as do now. The implications are mind-boggling – so much so, in fact, that most people would rather not consider them. If we are able to add three thousand million new persons in the span of only 35 years, what does that betoken for the future?

From Wikipedia, a small graph detailing successive population doubling periods.

Doubling time for World Population

Doubling time for World Population

As one can see, the time it takes for our population to double has decreased roughly by half for each iteration. It took 204 years to get from 500 million to 1 Billion, roughly 100 years to go from 1 to 2 Billion, 50 years to go from 2 to 4 Billion, and now, thirty-five years later, we stand at nearly 7 billion, with many more to come. As America fought its civil war it had a population of 30 million. 150 years later its population is more than ten times that (300 million +)

Most are familiar with the ideas of Thomas Malthus, who famously predicted imminent overpopulation in the 18th century. As his prophecies did not bear out, many were content to assume his ideas were invalid. But though he failed to predict precisely when a world-wide famine or somesuch would occur, that it should occur, given a sufficient time period, seems a foregone conclusion.

Though our numbers increase, the physical space we occupy remains constant in size. Malthus took that observation one step further to say that since our world is not growing, the maximum amount of food it can produce must also be a constant: a specific point after which, given exponential population growth, famine would ensue.  Malthus could not foresee industrial agriculture; he assumed the techniques used in his day (many of which had not changed in centuries) would continue indefinitely.

Oil entered the picture only fifty years after Malthus’s death, and with it came a new agriculture:  mechanized, energy-intensive, offering multiplied crop yields and divided labor. In 1918 the Haber-Bosch Process was discovered, allowing infinite production of fertilizer (assuming, of course, infinite oil and coal). By the 21st century, 10 oil or coal calories went into every calorie of agrarian energy produced. The ratio is nearly 100:1 for meat energy. (Hamburgers and so forth). We entered the 20th century with 2 billion people and a very little in the way of “modern agriculture”. As we enter the 21st we have 7 billion people, and extensive mechanization. It is not hard to see the cause and effect.

Almost the whole of world food production depends critically upon oil – to power tractors, to run combines, to create fertilizer, to inject it into the ground, to transport the finished product, and for a hundred smaller tasks.

Then the implication is not that Malthus’s ideas were wrong – only that their timing was. He did not foresee that we could make food out of oil. But the central analysis – that once consumption outstrips supply we are all in a lot of trouble – remains true.

It is impossible to digest current population and consumption statistics without a feeling of dread. The production of food from oil has made our numbers explode, and now it looks as though oil is running out.

The fact that our doubling time has reduced to 40 years should come as an enormous shock to anyone who was yet unaware of it. The extent of our dependence on oil for food should shock one doubly so. It is not hyperbole to suggest that we are all made of oil, the black liquid which creates the fertilizer which grows our food which comprises our biomass.

Most people, however, when confronted with these facts, usually respond with a shrug. It is a fact that people would rather discuss almost anything than overpopulation. I would like to end this article by enumerating a few arguments I have heard as to why a 40 year doubling period should not horrify.

1) “New Technology”

I have heard boundless faith in the idea that “we’ll think of something”, some “new technology” to replace oil and allow us to keep growing. Essentially the idea is that technology will keep up with population. Some go so far as to believe that once the earth becomes overpopulated we will have perfected interstellar travel and begun to colonize other worlds. Needless to say this explanation does nothing to solve current problems – (One-sixth of our population is chronically hungry) – and it displays an unseemly optimism in the face of very grim facts.

2) Low-fertility rates in “developed” nations

This argument supposes that since the US and Europe have low, relatively stable (though still growing) birthrates, once the rest of the world “catches up to the west”, they’ll presumably also decide against having more than two kids. Ignored is the fact that our prosperity is directly connected to the fearful poverty of the oppressed nations. We can enjoy a high standard of living only because we have the power to steal other countries’  resources. Even taking that aside, our low-fertility societies imply an enormous consumption of oil, coal and natural gas. Hydrocarbons literally do all of our work: they transport us around, run our factories, grow our food, and deliver it to us. Without such consumption, our way of life collapses. And we expect everyone else to adopt such methods? There do not appear to be enough resources for every family to own a house, have two cars, and eat 2500 refined calories per day. Such conditions are a large reason we enjoy such low birthrates.

3) “So you’re a eugenicist?”

Frequently when discussing these issues, I have been accused of subscribing to eugenics, or once, even Nazism. Such personal attacks are meaningless, and belie a deep anxiety and unwillingness to discuss this issue.

Nobody is offering any iron-clad solutions, but the very lest one can do is admit it’s a problem and take individual responsibility for it. “Social solutions” are dubious by nature, but individual solutions are not. I expect everyone who understands this issue to do what they can to alleviate it: consume a minimum of resources and have one or no children. It is callous and unseemly to remain silent, to regard it as “someone else’s problem” and to use one’s privileged status to gorge themselves on resources. Not talking about the issue, praying that it will just go away – that solves nothing.

Written by pavanvan

August 21, 2009 at 7:36 pm

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US finds no fault in Kyrgyzstan Dictatorship

The on-again, off-again relationship between the US and Kyrgyzstan appears to be on once again, as US officials stolidly refused to comment on brutal police action in the post-Soviet state. State Department officials cited Uzbek expulsion of our bases after a strongly-worded statement against their police practices. Clearly the US would not relish the loss of yet another Central Asian ‘ally’.

Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have all been loyal (if not always obedient) US allies after the loss of their Soviet patron, and the state department considers their military cooperation critical to our efforts in Afghanistan. Thus, bygones will be bygones – at least until their assistance is no longer required. Kyrgyzstan, in particular, has attempted to play both sides this year, announcing total closure of US bases in Februrary followed by a quick redaction in March. Evidently the Kyrgyzstani government is angling for a US-commitment to its regime stability, an outcome which, if it continues to play its cards correctly, it should likely receive.

As with all diplomatic maneuvers in the region, there is an oily bottom to our dealings with that slimy government. The Central Asian oil pipeline runs through the aforementioned countries in addition to Afghanistan (surely our only interest in that godforsaken desert). With resource scarcity becoming an undeniable fact, it would appear that free-flowing oil trumps human rights any day of the week. Not that one need look any further than Iraq for evidence.

A bidding war for these countries between the West and Russia-China appears likely. Russia has already shown its proclivity for pipeline dominance with its annual shutoff of natural gas to Europe (now three years running). In light of these considerations, a few ignored beatings is surely the least the US can do.

Written by pavanvan

July 23, 2009 at 5:24 pm

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