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Peak Oil

New Solutions #5: Peak Oil – Peak Economy
(PDF – 312KB)
Community Solutions
In the last issue of New Solutions, we proposed that in addition to Peak Oil, we are at a time of Peak Technology as there are no new technologies which can replace fossil fuels.

In this issue, we examine the impact of Peak Oil on the world economic structure, one built on the confidence in ever-expanding markets fueled by technology, itself fueled by oil. Our analysis suggests that there is every reason for concern – and unless serious action is begun now, we may very well be headed toward another Great Depression. We are hovering on the edge of an unsustainable Peak Economy.
(April 2005 issue)

After the oil is gone
(Kunstler interview)
Say goodbye to your suburban house, yoke up that horse, and stand by to repel pirates! Author James Howard Kunstler talks about the dire world of his new book, “The Long Emergency.”
By Katharine Mieszkowski
May 14, 2005 | Suburbs will collapse into slums. Farmhand will be a more viable career choice than public relations executive. And avoiding starvation will replace avoiding boredom as the national pastime.

Those are just a few of the predictions that James Howard Kunstler makes in his new book. “The Long Emergency” paints a dystopic view of the United States in the wake of what Kunstler dubs the “cheap oil fiesta.” It’s a future the author insists is not apocalyptic. Calling it the end of the world would be too easy.

No, Kunstler believes the human race will survive as we slip down the other side of Hubbert’s Oil Peak. But the high standard of living we’ve built by gorging on cheap oil will not. America, as a political entity, will be history too.
When will the doom begin? It already has. “There have been no significant discoveries of new oil since 2002,” Kunstler says. And the Saudis have screwed up their super-giant Ghawar oil field, long a fossil-fuel font for the U.S. “They have damaged it by pumping enormous amounts of salt water into it; in fact, the field itself may be entering depletion,” he says.

A former journalist turned novelist turned social critic, Kunstler is best known for his book excoriating the suburbs, “Geography of Nowhere.” Now he foresees the end of the entire artifice of American life, from the suburbs to the interstate highway to Wal-Mart and the global supply chain that supports it.

In Kunstler’s world, a teenager will be better off learning how to yoke up a horse-drawn buggy than how to change the oil in a car. Woodshop will be more important than computer literacy. Among Kunstler’s predictions: The South will devolve into agricultural feudalism and the Pacific Northwest will be beset by a plague of pirates from Asia. Forget about sleek hydrogen-powered cars coming to the rescue. For that matter, quit tilting your hopes toward wind power.
(14 May 2005)
Ed: Also posted on marxmail.

Create and Resist: Our Declaration of Independence

The house was welcoming, laughter and an old grand piano. It was a great gathering, the interconnections of Mira and Obi’s lives, Quakers, fellow activists and writers, friends and relatives, black and white, African garb, a gaggle of little kids romping in the back yard. The hosts offered a table loaded with fruited rice, spicy potato samosas, fried plantains, the guests supplied the chatter.

Talking in the yard with Terry, a fellow teacher, I asked him his good word for the planet. “Peak oil,” was his immediate reply, no hesitation. I detected a real hope and longing. Rather than a dire warning, it was a promissory word of new birth. Rather than decline, a new vista. From that peak we’ll see our liberation. The beginning of the new age that is radically local and human in its scale. Something of what Rebecca Solnit talks about as the “global local,” thinking locally while acting globally.

The promise, though, comes wrapped in a dire threat. In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, James Howard Kunstler describes the beginning of a “long emergency” brought on by the end of cheap and readily available energy.
(9 May 2005)

Energy-related News

Lack of vision on policy clouds energy future

SF Chronicle
By Daniel M. Kammen
Late last month, President Bush unveiled five new energy “initiatives” as solutions to our energy, security and economic ills. None of them addresses any of the real issues facing the country, and in total they demean our country’s capacity to take control of our energy future, ignoring the ways we can solve our energy problems by promoting economic growth, technological innovation and environmental protection.

Daniel M. Kammen holds the Class of 1935 Distinguished Chair in Energy at UC Berkeley, where he is also a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and in the Goldman School of Public Policy. He also co-directs the Berkeley Institute of the Environment.
(13 May 2005)

Climate change’s nuclear fix

By Paul Rogers
…The dramatically visible evidence of climate change from Mount Kilimanjaro and elsewhere has further boosted concerns over climate change that are slowly moving towards the centre of the global political agenda – despite the resistance of the United States, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to ratify the Kyoto agreement.

Two strong but contradictory responses are already evident. First, an enhanced interest in renewable energy resources and energy conservation, which will undoubtedly grow as the severe security implications of climate change come to be recognised. Second, campaigns advocating a new large-scale civil nuclear power programme, which argues that this is the only way to make a practical impact on carbon emissions in time. )
(12 May 2005)

Ecuador Gets Chávez’d

The Nation
By Greg Palast
George Bush has someone new to hate. Only twenty-four hours after Ecuador’s new president took his oath of office, he was hit by a diplomatic cruise missile fired all the way from Lithuania by Condoleezza Rice, then wandering about Eastern Europe spreading “democracy.” Condi called for “a constitutional process to get to elections,” which came as a bit of a shock to the man who’d already been constitutionally elected, Alfredo Palacio.

What had Palacio done to get our Secretary of State’s political knickers in a twist? It’s the oil–and the bonds. This nation of only 13 million souls at the world’s belly button is rich, sitting on 4.4 billion barrels of known oil reserves, and probably much more. Yet 60 percent of its citizens live in brutal poverty; a lucky minority earn the “minimum” wage of $153 a month.
(11 May 2005)

Oil fuels programs for poor

AP (via Sun-Sentinel)
SABANETA, Venezuela· Workers are cutting sugar cane on fields that once lay fallow, stitching together T-shirts at state-funded cooperatives and building thousands of homes to replace shantytowns.

Venezuela’s booming oil wealth is bankrolling its most ambitious effort in decades to help the poor, an integral part of President Hugo Chávez’s “social revolution” that is drawing both praise and skepticism while he strengthens ties with Cuba and increasingly clashes with the United States.

Critics say Chávez is ruining Venezuela’s oil industry and squandering the proceeds of high oil prices on programs that won’t do away with poverty in the long run. But his supporters are cheering him on, arguing that no president in Venezuela’s modern history has given so much to the poor.
(15 May 2005)

Venezuela Today – Report from the third “Encuentro Mundial”

…3) The presence of oil at such a price has resulted in the immediate rise in living standards. The size of the nationalized industries inherited by the revolution means that they have the economic base to fund social programs and build broader support for the revolution. This power allowed them to withstand a massive capitalist strike in 2002 (similar to the strike that sank Allende in Chile). The government can also set up parallel economic institutions that undercut the capitalists such as the state owned food stores.

4) This economic base means that there is the potential to buy time desperately needed to develop a new revolutionary layer of society capable of administration of the state. There is less of a need to prematurely nationalize industries or collectivize land that outpaces the ability of the new society to effectively build a new administration of the economy.
(15 May 2005)
Ed: Leftist analysis suggesting that oil revenues are financing a new type of socialism in Venezuela, one that will influence other countries in Latin America.

Problems Aplenty in a World of Plenty – Report

Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON – Humans are devouring more food, material goods, and natural resources than ever before and the worldwide pursuit of prosperity and material luxury is stoking environmental and security problems, according to a new report on trends shaping the planet’s future.

Increased production and consumption of everything from grain and meat to oil and cars reflects strong economic growth in 2004, says ”Vital Signs 2005”, released this week by the Washington-based research group Worldwatch Institute.

But the social and environmental costs of economic growth go largely unnoticed, the report says. Pollution is rising, ecosystems are being degraded, and many of the world’s poor people, shut out from the gains of economic growth, are being left further behind.
(15 May 2005)
Ed: Article is also posted at Common Dreams.

Australia ‘throwing away too much food’

National Nine News (Australia)
Australians are throwing away 3.3 million tonnes of food annually, almost half that distributed to the world’s hungry last year, new figures show.

The statistics, issued by environmental group Planet Ark, show Australians throw away up to a quarter of the country’s food supplies, mainly because people purchase too much.
(9 May 2005)
Ed: A similar article described food waste in the UK.

Increase in ‘Dead Zones’ Starving the World’s Seas

Independent (UK)
‘Dead zones’, where pollution has starved the sea of life-giving oxygen, are increasing at a devastating rate

It has arrived early; it’s bigger than ever and it promises a summer of death and destruction. The annual “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico – starved of oxygen, and thus killing fish and underwater vegetation – has appeared earlier than usual this year.

This is just one sign of a rapidly growing crisis. The number of similar dead zones in the world’s seas has doubled every decade since 1960, as a result of increasing pollution. The United Nations Environment Program says that there are now 146 of them worldwide, mainly around the coasts of rich countries. Its executive director, Klaus Töpfer, calls their growth “a gigantic, global experiment … triggering alarming, and sometimes irreversible, effects”.

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone – which can cover more than 7,000 square miles – is mainly caused by fertilizers, flowing down rivers to the sea. Every year the Mississippi river – which drains 41 per cent of the United States – dumps 1.6 million tons of nitrogen in the gulf, three times as much as 40 years ago. Most comes from the highly productive corn belt, which helps to feed the world. The nutrients feed blooms of algae and phytoplankton. The algae drain oxygen from the water, as do the decomposing bodies of the plankton, when they fall to the seabed and die.
(15 May 2005)
Ed: The nitrogen that creates the problem of dead zones is produced with massive amounts of energy. This article is also posted at Common Dreams

Solutions and Sustainability

Report Backs Large-Scale Wind Integration

Renewable Energy Access
Brussels, Belgium [] Germany already has the second highest amount of installed wind power capacity in the world, and now they’re planning on tripling the level. With that effort in mind, The Dena Report, German study on grid integration of wind energy, was presented in detail at the international “Conference on the integration of wind energy into the German Electricity Supply,” taking place in Berlin this week. Industry trade groups EWEA, BWE and the VDMA Power Systems company analyzed the study’s findings and shared their reactions.

“What is valuable from the European perspective is that in Germany the planned tripling of wind energy to deliver 14 percent of the country’s electricity consumption by 2015 is technically feasible and economically very effective”, said Corin Millais, CEO of EWEA. “The reports’ findings are significant for policy makers – can wind power practically deliver an important part of a country’s electricity supply? The answer is yes. It costs little and there are no technical constraints. The opinion that wind energy can’t deliver on a big scale has been blown away”
(12 May 2005)