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Energy Headlines - May 20, 2005

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Peak Oil

Future Five
[Steps of the Energy System]
Stirling Newberry, The Blogging of the President (blog)
There is a major misunderstanding when talking about energy, and it is about the need for a systematic change in our energy system. Right now our energy system relies on four steps: extract energy, package energy, transport energy, apply energy. We extract high energy density materials, such as coal, oil and uranium, primarily by mining. We then package them as either electricity, using a generator, or as combustibles using a refinery. They are then transported to consumers and used by running electrical motors, transforming back to heat, or use in a combustion engine.

The energy future is often spoken of as if the technologies we are creating now, such as fuel cells, biofuels and solar power, are replacements for mining and packaging. Instead it is better to think about the problem facing the developed economies as being how to move to a five stage energy system. Intead of packaging and sending energy directly out, there will be a new step: amplifying. The point of amplification is two fold: first to reduce the amount of green house gasses and other forms of pollution, and second to “boost” supplies of energy dense materials, which cannot expand with population, since they are based on where we find them, rather than on the ability to apply labor and capital.
(16 May 2005)


Energy-related News

Congress touts ’green energy,’ but bill is black and blue

Laura Paskus, High Country News
Lawmakers are even more industry-friendly than the administration...
In mid-April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its energy bill, which included $8 billion in subsidies for the energy industry. Although the Senate isn’t expected to vote on its version until the end of May, it has passed its 2006 budget, which includes $11 billion in energy subsidies.

The House has passed some version of the energy bill five times in the last four years, but the Senate has repeatedly rejected it. With some of the tax breaks already out of the way, however, the bill may have a shot at passing this year. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chair of the energy and natural resources committee, has praised the spending bill, and vowed to use the money to craft an energy package that would maximize both energy conservation and energy production.
(16 May 2005)


Greenspan: Oil supplies to grow
Federal chairman says easing demand due to high prices will continue to boost inventories.

Reuters via CNN Money
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A modest easing in oil demand in response to higher prices should continue to boost inventories in the U.S. and elsewhere for some months, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday.

Speaking to the Economic Club of New York, Greenspan pointed out that he had predicted in April when prices were spiking that he expected to see "an inventory buffer to damp the price frenzy."

Since then, inventories have grown to the point where U.S. crude oil stockpiles were near a six-year high, according to a government report issued this week.
(20 May 2005)

U.N. report says biodiversity on decline
Phil Couvrette, AP via Seattle Post-Intelligencer
MONTREAL -- Biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate and human activity is to blame, according to an international report.

The report released Thursday is the second of seven reports billed as the world's largest study of changes to Earth's ecosystems and the impact on humans. It is the result of five years of collaboration between 1,360 experts from 95 countries around the world.

Human activity is responsible for a reduction of biodiversity which degrades ecosystems and penalizes other groups of people, especially the poorest who depend most on them, according to the report presented at McGill University in Montreal to mark the International Day for Biological Diversity.

Entitled "Ecosystems and Human Well-being: the Biodiversity Synthesis Report," it was prepared by the U.N. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment with the cooperation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
(20 May 2005)


Special on Biofuels

Like Easter Island, only with cars

Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights (blog)
When European sailors first reached the shores of Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific, all they saw were a huge expanse of grass and some curious stone statues. The people who had once lived there were long gone. The sailors wondered how such massive pieces of stone could have been moved and placed upright without the use of timbers as levers. They correctly deduced that the island had once had trees. Much later, archeologists discovered that all of the trees had been felled for fuel and buildings and to clear land for agriculture, and that after the last tree was gone, the people who lived there eventually perished in a final frenzy of cannibalism.

Now a modern wise man, a university scientist, seems to have recaptured the spirit of Easter Island. He has given us the latest way to use trees: to make ethanol. It's touted as a renewable fuel; but presumably, if we had to fuel America's fleet of SUVs and minivans with trees, our landscape would start to resemble that of the ill-fated Pacific island.
(11 Feb 2005)


The rape of the rainforest... and the man behind it

Michael McCarthy and Andrew Buncombe, The Independent
It is stark. It is scarcely believable. But the ruthless obliteration of the Amazon rainforest continues at a headlong rate new figures reveal - and today we reveal the man who more than any other represents the forces making it happen.

He is Blairo Maggi, the millionaire farmer and uncompromising politician presiding over the Brazilian boom in soya bean production. He is known in Brazil as O Rei da Soja - the King of Soy.

Brazilian environmentalists are calling him something else - the King of Deforestation. For the soya boom, feeding a seemingly insatiable world market for soya beans as cattle feed, is now the main driver of rainforest destruction.
(20 May 2005)


Brazil's Backing Biodiesel

James Thompson, The Corn and Soybean Digest
Forget the traditional meat- or cheese-filled pasteles sold by street vendors here. These days, walking the streets of Rio de Janeiro could make you hungry for fries.

From January through June of 2002, up to 25% of the city's military police and electric utility vehicles are scheduled to run on a mixture of used cooking oil, alcohol and diesel fuel.
(1 Feb 2002)

From Rainforest To Biodiesel
Big Gav, Peak Energy (Australian blog)
The Herald has an article today about the accelerating destruction of the Brazilian rainforest, which is apparently being turned into soy bean farms. This soy is then being used to create biodiesel. So that means we're chopping down one of the last remaining buffers against runaway global warming to create biofuels. While I like biofuels in theory, in this case I have to ask if biofuels are really renewable if the end result of clearing all the forests is drought and desertification ?
(20 May 2005)
Ed: Sorry about the typo (Big Gar -> Big Gav)!


Alternative Fuels - Promise and Perils

David Blume, Community Solutions
Ed: slide presentation and talk by a long-time enthusiast of biofuels. To access the talk, go to the right hand side of the page and click on the title of the talk. A new window will open.
(13 Nov 2004)


Solutions and Sustainability

Wind farms 'must take root in UK'

BBC
Wind power must be made to work in the UK in order to combat climate change, a report by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has said. The report maintains it is possible to meet the government's target to have renewables provide 10% of the UK's electricity by 2010.

If wind farms take off, it claims, that figure may rise to 20% by 2020. The report says wind farms would take up 0.0001% of British land to produce that amount of electricity.
(19 May 2005)
Ed: See a report on the same subject in the UK Independent: Wind power 'must be made to work'.


In Goodwin Company
Neva Goodwin, ecological economist, answers readers' questions

Grist
...
Q: Is the economic change of decreasing our reliance on oil going to be catastrophic, or will it be something that the world can endure? -- Hugo Lentze, Denver, Colo.

A: Let me add another question: How suicidal -- or not -- is the human species? If we are genuinely interested in maintaining our civilizations, and the possibility of good lives for our descendants, we will shift away from hydrocarbons soon; if we ignore the realities, the shift may not come until we have used up a lot of the remaining hydrocarbon sources and altered the climate of the planet to a destructive degree. Whether it is sooner or later, the shift is inevitable. Will that shift be economically catastrophic? I don't believe it needs to be. Indeed, it could create jobs that can take the place of jobs now dedicated to producing destructive goods for a destructive lifestyle. The Apollo Project is dedicated to this last proposition -- that we can replace the wrong kind of growth with the right kind.
(20 May 2005)


Green(er) IT
A Newly Electric Green – Sustainable Energy, Resources and Design

Jamais Cascio, WorldChanging
If you've ever worked in a data center or server room, you know that those places get hot. Many current microprocessors consume enormous amounts of power, and put out correspondingly enormous amounts of heat; as a result, most computer rooms require constant air conditioning. Furthermore, the back-up power supplies required to keep the servers from crashing during a brown-out or black-out are often power hogs themselves, sometimes consuming a third again as much power as they supplied to the computers. System administrators, focused appropriately on making certain that the computers functioned as needed, often only paid attention to power and heat issues when the infrastructure failed.

One of the results of the green building trend has been a re-examination of the heat output and power demands of information technology offices. For desktop systems, this means simple recommendations to turn computers off at night or shutting off monitors, as well as increased reliance on "green computers." But server functions generally don't allow for the machines to be unavailable, and servers are often operated "headless" (without a monitor) anyway. Solutions need to be a bit more sophisticated than that -- but such solutions are, increasingly, available.
(20 May 2005)


Two new publications from Feasta

Feasta Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (Ireland)
Two recently published documents are now available for download in PDF format

To Catch the Wind: The Potential for Community Ownership of Wind Farms in Ireland (4.9 MB)

Subsidies and Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from Fossil Fuels (508 K)

(12 May 2005)

Reader Ian C. asks about today's EB Headlines: "What do "U.N. report says biodiversity on decline" and "The rape of the rainforest... and the man behind it" have to do with energy?"

Sorry if the connection between PO and biodiversity/rainforest is not clear.

Big Gav's entry in today's EB page starts to draw the connection

The Herald has an article today about the accelerating destruction of the Brazilian rainforest, which is apparently being turned into soy bean farms. This soy is then being used to create biodiesel. So that means we're chopping down one of the last remaining buffers against runaway global warming to create biofuels. While I like biofuels in theory, in this case I have to ask if biofuels are really renewable if the end result of clearing all the forests is drought and desertification ?"

I was made aware of the connection between peak oil and the natural world through the work of the ecologists H.T. Odum and E.P. Odum. (H.T. Odum is one of the grandfathers of PO analysis.) They pointed out that ecosystems provide critical services to civilization that are usually taken for granted. For example, forests filter water and supply raw materials. As energy becomes more expensive, we will increasingly be forced to turn to ecosystems to meet our needs. Unfortunately many of our ecosystems have become degraded (loss of biodiversity is one aspect of this). As Big Gav and others have pointed out, the production of biofuels can further degrade natural ecosystems -- in this case, the Brazilian rainforest.

Thanks for raising the question.
-BA

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