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Energy Headlines - June 3, 2005

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Peak Oil

Would that peaking were so transient or distant

"Heading out", The Oil Drum
We are failing or, perhaps, since this is a developing situation, we are not yet beginning to succeed.

...It is important that ProfG & Ianqui, J and others begin the grass roots movement that will help change public behavior and help lower overall demand for fuel. But the press and the public in general are still treating this as a transient topic of interest rather than an absolute event that will, very shortly, change the way we have to live.

...The problem is (and I regret having to take issue with Kevin Drum on this, since he has both recognized the issue and taken kind notice of this site) that it is more important to recognize the coming peak, than the convergence of supply and demand.

The reason is that slight changes in demand brought about by the demand destruction initiated by price can bring supply and demand into convergence. But an imminent peaking and then decline of supply makes that almost impossible without a much more drastic change.

...Until the day that these concerns appear in national newspapers and web sites on a much more frequent basis, and politicians begin to be asked about them on a regular basis, we have not succeeded.
(3 June 2005)


Peak Oil...Part 5

Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly ("Political Animal" blog)
The coming peak in oil production, which is likely to lead to permanently expensive oil and increasingly frequent oil shocks, isn't the end of civilization as we know it. Honest. But it is likely to be fairly painful. What can we do about it?

To begin with, we need to be careful not to conflate "oil policy" with "energy policy." They're two different things. Nuclear energy, for example, has good points (no global warming) and bad points (Three Mile Island), but in the near term it's not a replacement for oil. It's a way of generating electricity, and as such it's mostly a replacement for coal and natural gas, the two things that currently produce most of our electrical power.

Oil, on the other hand, is mostly used in two other sectors: transportation (cars, trucks, and planes) and industry (for example, as lubricants and chemical feedstock).
(3 June 2005)
Ed: Great series (and thanks to to Kevin for mentioning Energy Bulletin). The summaries are short and to the point. See Peak Oil Wrapup for a list of links to the entire series.

From my viewpoint, Kevin has not completely come to terms with the implications of Peak Oil -- it's probably Peak Energy too! Kevin writes:

We're just not going to become a nation of bicycle riders and small farmers either now or in the future.

Au contraire, my dear Monsieur Drum! That is our future! The implications of Peak Energy are staggering, so maybe it is better to take it in small doses (the Die-off outlook is too strong medicine for most of us). A good place to start is the interview with David Holmgren, co-founder of permaculture.
-BA


Were The Bilderbergers Discussing Peak Oil?

Searching for the Truth (blog)
The Bilderberg Group has long fascinated conspiracy theorists, some of whom speculate that the secretive camarilla of global elites fixes the affairs of the world in its annual meetings. The truth is probably more mundane than that. The group, however, indisputably exists, and its members are a virtual who's who of leading thinkers and policymakers from the United States and Western Europe.

This article in Counterpunch is a report of someone who claims to have infiltrated the 2005 Bilderberg meeting. The account actually sounds quite plausible to me, particularly in terms of the energy issues that were reportedly discussed. It is an interesting read.

...If Estulin [the author of the article] made this all up, he did a lot of research beforehand. Whether it is true or not, it focuses public attention on an important issue.
(2 June 2005)


Let's Make Prosperity History (by blowing our oil inheritance)

New Era Investor
...the second item that crossed my path this week. It was an article on the detrimental, long-term effects of foreign aid. The author didn't mention Peak Oil, but it most certainly undergirded the rationale behind it. Basically, we (the rich nations), send lots of money to poor nations. We artificially increase their populations through food and medical programs. That's okay, I think, maybe. Well, what is not okay is that the aid becomes a drug because it produces a population overshoot. If these nations go off the drug, they go into a terrible withdrawal symptom called "population reduction". In other words, if the oil flow drops, the aid drops, and the population enters famine, war and pestilence.

...So it is wrong to envisage immediate energy chaos in the West with the onset of Peak Oil. It will hit the poorer countries first as Western nations bid up the crude oil price and divert the barrels to their shores. While the West will firstly suffer privations in the realm of disposable income and savings, we will witness a preview of our second stage of Peak Oil when we see the poorer nations fall into energy rationing and the resulting social unrest.

So, watch countries such as Nicaragua, note how the leadership responds, observe how the citizens react and then prepare accordingly. You may yet postpone making prosperity history, at least for yourself.
(2 June 2005)
Ed: This post on the Third World is a welcome change from our usual obsession with PO-induced changes in industrialized countries. (As if living without a car were the most tragic consequence of PO!) The criticism of foreign aid cited here, though, is perhaps obsolete. Currently the best aid programs do not encourage overshoot, as claimed, but emphasize small-scale sustainable practices. Education and empowerment of women, for example, tends to decrease population growth. -BA


Energy-related News

Kissinger warns of energy conflict

Caroline Daniel, Financial Times
Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, yesterday warned that the global battle for control of energy resources could become the modern equivalent of the 19th century "great game" - the conflict between the UK and Tsarist Russia for supremacy in central Asia.

"The great game is developing again," he told a meeting of the US-India Business Council. "The amount of energy is finite, up to now in relation to demand, and competition for access to energy can become the life and death for many societies. It would be ironic if the direction of pipelines and locations become the modern equivalent of the colonial disputes of the 19th century."
(2 June 2005)
Ed: Also at MSN Money.


Carr forced to warm to nuclear option

Amanda Hodge, The Weekend Australian
HE'S arguably the greenest state premier in the commonwealth. But when Bob Carr starts talking about the previously unthinkable, it's a sign that the politics of the environment and the economy are a-changing.

Struggling to keep Sydney's trains running on time and watching helplessly as the city's dams run dry, the NSW Premier knows he has to move on another front just to keep the lights on at night.

Unless he does something now, NSW could experience its first shortfall in energy supply within four years. A 10-year outlook by the National Energy Market Management Company shows that peak power demand could outstrip supply if the summer of 2008-09 is a scorcher.
(4 June 2005)


Hot summer could bring power outages, price spikes

John W. Schoen, MSNBC
Stretched electric grid leaves some regions vulnerable
Though California has added generating capacity since its power meltdown in 2001, transmission bottlenecks remain.
---
With forecasts calling for hotter-than-normal temperatures, the nation’s power grid will be put to the test again this summer. While most parts of the country should have adequate supplies, ongoing transmission bottlenecks continue to leave some regions vulnerable to blackouts or sharp rate increases.

Demand for electricity is expected to rise by nearly 6 percent this summer, with generating capacity up 7.4 percent, according to the North American Reliability Council, an industry group. So for most parts of the country, generating capacity is expected to meet demand -– even on the hottest days of summer.

But the availability of electrical power –- and the price you pay for it -- depends heavily on where you live. Despite strong investment in new generating capacity in the past few years, the nation’s power grid is still a patchwork of smaller markets based on regional power lines that were never designed to move electricity coast-to-cast.
(2 June 2005)


Iraq's other resistance
Oil workers in Basra are ready to fight privatisation

Greg Muttitt, The Guardian
Faced with daily reports of car bombs and kidnappings, it's difficult to feel optimistic about Iraq. But last week in the south of the country I heard a very different story. A story of the movement that has formed to rebuild the country's economy and national pride, to create an Iraq with neither the tyranny of Saddam nor the pillage of military occupation.

Last week Basra saw its first conference on the threat of privatisation, bringing together oil workers, academics and international civil-society groups. The event debated an issue about which Iraqis are passionate: the ownership and control of Iraq's oil reserves.
(3 June 2005)
Also at Common Dreams.


Bolivia on brink as gas protests block capital

Jimmy Langman, The Guardian
Bolivia's embattled government was teetering yesterday as the capital ground to a halt after two weeks of protests about an issue that has already toppled one president - the ownership of energy resources.

Roadblocks shut down 60% of the country's main arteries, isolating several cities including La Paz and the main international airport. Fuel shortages were being reported in the capital, which has been rocked by sporadic violence for three days.

Tens of thousands of mainly indigenous protesters have descended on La Paz calling for the gas industry, the chief source of wealth, to be nationalised. They also want the constitution to be rewritten.
(3 June 2005)


Opposition to U.S. makes Chávez a hero to many

Juan Forero, NY Times
...The strategy is classic Castro, but Mr. Chávez has one great advantage the Cuban leader never had - the richest oil reserves outside the Middle East, a gusher of cash that he is using to weave ever closer diplomatic and commercial ties with Latin American nations.

"He's following his own path, his own destiny, and he's doing it against U.S. opposition, so the Latin Americans support it," said Wayne Smith, a former American diplomat in Cuba and now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, which tracks developments in Latin America. "That's sort of the reaction, and it plays toward his advantage in the region."

Mr. Chávez is also riding a wave of popular reaction in the region against the "Washington consensus" of democracy and open markets that the White House, for the moment, seems unable to dampen. While few leaders in Latin America are as provocatively anti-American as Mr. Chávez, three-quarters of South America is governed by left-of-center presidents, and next year Mexico may well elect a leftist populist of its own, Mexico City's mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

...Already in office longer than any other current Latin American leader save Mr. Castro, Mr. Chávez, who was first elected in 1998, has undeniably become a spokesman for the millions of poor in Latin America who reject globalization in their search for another way.

Flush with oil money, he is remaking his country and spending billions on social programs that have given him a 70 percent popularity rating. Like Mr. Castro, he is also selling a vision of a just political system, one that stands up to El Norte, even as he stands accused of curtailing press freedom and judicial independence.
(1 June 2005)


Solutions and Sustainability

Mayors urged to take lead on environment
Strategy switches to cities at global conference in S.F.

Suzanne Bohan, Sacramento Bee
SAN FRANCISCO - Hundreds of political and environmental leaders are thinking small as they gather here this week for the United Nations World Environment Day.

Grand visions were developed at environmental summits like those held in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but faded with few results. So environmentalists are taking a new approach: Work with mayors to turn cities into models of environmental sustainability, because most of the world's population lives in urban regions.

"Of the 6.3 billion people on the planet, more live in cities, and we haven't focused on that fact," said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city's Department of the Environment. "The goal is to get cities to realize that they have a lot more power, and responsibility, than they realize."
(3 June 2005)


Urban centers slow to turn green
Putting housing where people work, play is challenge

John King, SF Chronicle
In the life-shaping realms of urban planning and sustainable growth, the Bay Area is a storehouse filled with smart innovations. But the larger picture shows something else: a region that is sprawling with no end in sight.

Though new housing in older cities near the bay offers the sort of dense urban growth that planners say is vital for a region's long-term health, single-family homes in far greater numbers continue rising on former farmland on the region's edge -- and beyond, since at least 165,000 workers now commute into the Bay Area each day.

A major reason for the sprawl is that the Bay Area has no regional government with the power to steer growth to certain locations, or to make sure that new housing goes near existing jobs. Instead, the Bay Area's future is shaped by nine counties and 101 municipalities -- some that fight development, and some that welcome it.
(3 June 2005)


World Environment Day - Planning Sustainable Cities

James Cascio, WorldChanging
Mentioned by several of the speakers -- but never given a great deal of discussion -- was the notion that, in many ways, sustainable planning now is largely making up for a lack of past planning. Ricardo Sanchez, from UNEP, noted that the pace of urbanization in the developing world varies considerably, and that 76% of the Latin American and Caribbean population now lives in cities -- something that past planners had never considered. Moreover, added Jorge Gavidia of UN-Habitat, of the approximately 16,000 municipalities in Latin America, just 80 are home to 40% of the region's urban population. One big result from the lack of good planning is that these massive urban populations are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.

...Knowledge transfer is critical, both transfer from best practices used elsewhere, and transfer to cities just now starting to think about sustainable design.

...Increasingly, decentralization/devolution of control to local authorities is seen by planners as crucial.

...Taken as a whole, the speakers left me feeling some hope for the willingness of urban communities around the world to confront the need for sustainable design head-on, but also left me concerned about the scale of the effort required and the time available. As Register noted, we're rapidly approaching an intersecting set of crises: climate change; loss of biodiversity; and the "peak oil" scenario. Shifting to an urban pattern that allows for far greater energy efficiency, restoration of plant and animal life within the city layout, and a move away from automobile-centrism would definitely help stave off the worst of these crises, but doing so at the current pace of urban change would take decades, time we simply do not have.
(2 June 2005)
Ed: James Cascio has been penning some excellent posts at WorldChanging, such as The 2000 watt society and World Environment Day - Water Challenges.


Roosevelt neighborhood couple shares their community plot

Michelle Nolan, Bellingham Herald
John Shuravloff doesn't mind when people express curiosity at how he gardens with one leg and one hip.

In fact, he welcomes questions. The muscular, outgoing 33-year-old Bellingham resident hopes to create a closer neighborhood with a small community garden in the front yard of his home on Texas Street.
(3 June 2005)


All for want of a few veggies
[Portland] takes close second to San Francisco for sustainability practices

Jennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune
Who said it was easy being green?

Earlier this week, a Bay Area-based group called SustainLane was set to rank Portland the No. 1 city in the nation in sustainability practices. Commissioner Dan Saltzman was set to travel to San Francisco on Thursday to collect the award, which is billed as the first and most comprehensive U.S. city sustainability performance benchmark.

But on Wednesday, new information emerged, and the title was yanked away. After SustainLane heard that two new farmers markets had opened in San Francisco, that city now is officially No. 1 and Portland is No. 2 — by an eighth of a percentage point.

Warren Karlenzig, SustainLane’s chief strategy officer, downplayed the difference, saying it’s so small it could be within the margin of error. “The whole thing is to really celebrate cities’ successes,” he said. “Portland and San Francisco and other cities are really achieving things that are incredible in the light of things going on with the federal government and environmental protection and renewable energy. But these cities are really inspirational in what they’re doing.”

Saltzman, who created the city’s Office of Sustainable Development in 2000 and has been the City Council’s lead advocate for green building standards, community gardens and renewable energy sources, expressed mock outrage at the upset.

“If I have to go down there and pry the No. 1 title out of (San Francisco Mayor) Gavin Newsom’s cold, dead hands, I’ll do it,”
(3 June 2005)


Marra Farm plants seeds for South Park community

Athima Chansanchai, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
..."We've got teens, community gardeners, immigrants and kids, but we're all Marra Farm," Harper said. "We're all helping to create a stronger community. This mission is evolving bigger than any one organization."

Bordered by freeways and industrial complexes, South Park lacks the retail and culinary venues that help build cohesion in other Seattle communities. While some neighborhoods such as Queen Anne have as many as three grocery stores within a few blocks, South Park residents have to walk more than a mile -- crossing state Route 99 -- for basic supplies.

Lettuce Link gives most of the harvests from its 3/4-acre plot to the local Providence Regina House food bank. Volunteers harvest the vegetables every Friday and deliver them to the food bank, which serves about 140 families every Saturday morning. The farm harvests about 10 tons of organic produce, and more than 75 percent of that goes back to the community annually.
(3 June 2005)


Bay transit headed wrong way

Michael Cabanatuan, SF Chronicle
For all the well-intentioned, politically and environmentally correct rhetoric about luring more people aboard the Bay Area's network of trains, light rail, buses and ferries, the availability of public transportation around the region has dipped over the past five years.

After nearly 20 years of expansion, the amount of service offered by the region's mass transit system has been shrinking since the start of the 21st century, driven down by state and federal budget problems, the sluggish economy and volatile funding sources. Virtually every Bay Area transit operator has been forced to cut routes, reduce operating hours, raise fares, lay off employees or otherwise curtail either the quantity or the quality of service.
(3 June 2005))


From Jail Cells to Solar Cells

Van Jones, AlterNet
A visionary new project highlights the powerful environmental solutions that are blossoming from the urban grassroots.
---
Breast cancer rates are skyrocketing in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunter's Point neighborhood. Asthma inhalers are more common than schoolbooks in West Oakland’s schools. Toxic factories are poisoning the skies of Oakland’s Chinatown.

In the Bay Area alone, communities of color have paid the price for polluters' excesses. Around the globe, it’s the same story.

But this month in San Francisco, people of color are launching a new vision for our cities and our communities -- a vision that highlights the powerful environmental solutions that are blossoming from the urban grassroots. North America's first-ever United Nations World Environment Day is taking place in the Bay Area June 1-5, 2005.
(2 June 2005)


Arnold goes green

Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon (requires registration or viewing an ad)
With his popularity in California sinking like a stone, the Republican governor vows to battle global warming.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
The governator wants to terminate global warming. And he’s not afraid to go against his party to do it. Politically, it may be the best move the celebrity lawmaker has made in months.

"I say the debate is over. We have the science. We see the threat. And we know the time for action is now!" California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a rapt audience of hundreds of mayors, politicos, environmentalists and fuel-cell geeks gathered at San Francisco's City Hall on Wednesday afternoon for the first official day of the five-day green fiesta known as U.N. World Environment Day 2005.

If California were a nation, it would be among the 10 largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution worldwide, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. So the Republican governor signed an executive order setting ambitious new greenhouse-gas emission reduction targets for the state. They would reduce California's greenhouse-gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010, to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
(2 June 2005)


Green good for business
U.N. encourages companies to sign Global Compact

Victoria Colliver, SF Chronicle
The United Nations wants to convince Bay Area companies that being good global corporate citizens also means good business.

As part of the U.N. World Environment Day in San Francisco, more than 100 local companies are expected to attend a symposium today on corporate responsibility and to be asked to sign the Global Compact, a voluntary initiative that promotes social and environmental principles.

Since the agreement started with 50 companies in 2000, more than 2,000 have signed on from 80 countries
(3 June 2005


Toyota: Household Robots by 2010

Nate Mook, BetaNews
A report in Tokyo's Asahi daily newspaper says Toyota is endeavoring to start selling robots that can work in the home by 2010. The robots would primarily be designed to help the elderly, but could even serve tea to guests or take care of household chores.

Toyota joins a number of companies, including rival Honda, looking at a future in robotics. The automaker says a slowing birthrate and an aging population has led to a demand for robots that can handle child and nursing care, as well as other more basic tasks. Toyota plans to establish a committee that would develop technology for the robots. (31 May 2005)
Ed: Peak Oil pessimism hasn't permeated every aspect of society yet, that's for sure, although I'm not convinced that even many hardline techno-optimists are actually going to go for robot child care! -AF

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