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Sustainability and Environment Headlines - 15 July, 2005


SUSTAINABILITY

The Peak Oil Crisis: Rationing and tradable carbon entitlements

Tom Whipple, Falls Church News

It has to come sooner or later. As oil becomes scarcer and scarcer and price rises higher and higher, pressures will grow for a formal allocation system. Rationing will come, if only to calm the havoc at the gas lines and the social upheavals that are bound to occur as long as rationing is only by price. ...

If one ponders for a few minutes on how a modern rationing system might be structured, it is soon apparent nearly any scheme is full of inequities and would be subject to massive and, no doubt, ingenious fraud— especially when an American’s ability to drive his beloved car is at stake. ...

A couple of weeks ago, the British press reported that Her Majesty’s cabinet is considering a plan to ration energy consumption. The immediate reason for implementing such a system is to reduce the UK ’s emission of greenhouse gases as required by the Kyoto Treaty. The plans authors, however, claim that if the proposal works, it will deal equally well with equitably allocating dwindling energy supplies caused by peak oil.
The major feature of the allocation system is that it covers all fossil fuels, not just gasoline; and it makes a real effort to be fair to all, by giving consideration to the needs of the poorer folks. ...

Under the plan, every adult in the country would be given (for free) an annual “Personal Carbon Allowance” (PCA). This allowance would be measured in “carbon units.” One carbon unit would be equal to one kilogram of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned. Carbon units can be equated easily to gallons of gasoline, heating oil, diesel, or jet fuel, or to pounds of coal, BTUs of natural gas, or KWh of electricity. For example, one gallon of gas would be the equivalent of about nine carbon units. Thus, for every gallon of gas purchased, nine carbon units would be subtracted from your account. ...

The next most interesting feature of the plan is the government would also establish an electronic free market to buy and sell carbon units. ...

The plan’s developers claim that declining amounts of energy will be allocated equitably and with minimum government interference. For, aside from setting up the system and determining the annual carbon ration, the free market would be left to work out the details of oil depletion.
(14-20 July 2005)
Useful discussion of (US) history of rationing and the tradable carbon entitlements, reportedly under consideration in the UK.
Those interested in the latter might want to also check out David Fleming's new info page on Domestic Tradable Quotas (DTQs)

Peak oil in Portland

Strangechord (blog)

President Bush has been briefed on the end of cheap oil... have you? We will soon start seeing ads put out by Chevron for its new campaign: Will You Join Us. Rather than advertising some new "high-performing" gasoline, this campaign is a public admission of the end of cheap oil and a PR move designed to get YOU, Mr. and Ms. Public, to consider the oil companies your allies as the shit hits the fan over the next few years. Get ready for a probable economic downturn this winter.

For those of you still in the dark (I blogged about peak oil a few months ago), here it is in a nutshell: there's strong evidence indicating that the globe may have reached peak oil, which means we've pumped out half of the world's known supplies. ...

As far as other fuels, coal is the last thing we want to be burning more of what with global warming, nuclear is a really pricey and scary option, natural gas has peaked, and hydrogen is a joke (it's a fuel carrier, not a fuel source). Still think that the market will save us? Read this and think about energy return on investment (EROI). My point is that we're undoubtedly going to experience a scaling back and the only question is one of severity. Will there be a massive crash or more of a "long emergency"?

The more I read and talk with others, the more my entire perspective on the future shifts. I am firmly convinced that life, culture, society, and the world as we know them will not look like this five/ten years from now. Peak oil is what I refer to as a "mother issue", meaning that other issues fall into line behind it; it makes a lot of usual concerns secondary in comparison. ...

In light of all of this, the recommendation is a focus on localization and community-building; what Heinberg refers to as "building lifeboats". The past few months, I've been involved with a local group we call Portland Peak Oil to discuss and prepare for the consequences of the coming end of cheap oil. ...

Since mid-June, we in the core circle have begun forming working groups like 'Preparedness' and 'Public Outreach' and discussed the formulation of a steering committee to manage group decisions and business. ...
(10 July 2005)

Get ready for future oil shock, lobby group warns

Marta Steeman, Stuff.co.nz

Energy lobbyists are calling on the Government to stop wasting money on new roads and plough it into public transport in preparation for a drop in cheap worldwide oil supplies. The Sustainable Energy Forum says New Zealand is poorly prepared to meet the coming peak in the production of conventional light crude oil – forecast to be 2007 by one energy group. SEF is a group of individuals from the energy industry or with an interest in energy. Tim Jones, coordinator of SEF's transport and peak oil group, says the peak oil date is closer and more urgent than most politicians think. ...

Treasury and the Economic Development Ministry needed to change how they forecast oil prices in the future because they were getting it wrong, Mr Jones said. The Government should impose vehicle fuel efficiency standards and stop imports of gas-guzzling vehicles.

Petroleum Exploration Association of New Zealand executive director Mike Patrick called SEF's explanation oversimplified and alarmist. "The critical thing is it's going to be the end of cheaper oil," he said. ...
(14 July 2005)

Towards Carfree Cities V - Conference in Budapest July 17-23

World Carfree Network (Car Busters)

Detailed Programme for 05 Conference (some slides and transcripts available) Archive of 04 Conference (see presentations) Archive of 03 Conference

About Us: World Carfree Network grew out of the activities of Car Busters, an international organisation within the carfree movement founded in 1997. (The name Car Busters continues to be used for Car Busters magazine.) Our goal is to build a more decentralised, structured network in which local, regional, national and international organisations take an active part.
(July 2005)

Satellite Sunshine Mapping Benefits Solar Energy

Staff, Renewable Energy Access

Today accurate and continent-wide scale measurements of ground radiances are provided every 15 minutes by the European Space Agency's Meteosat Second Generation satellite. Integrating this information with the business practices of solar energy managers is the objective of the ENVISOLAR project (Environmental Information Services for Solar Energy Industries), funded by ESA within the framework of the Earth Observation Market Development Programme (EOMD). ... In both photovoltaic and solar thermal applications, precise, long-term irradiance data is needed for choosing plant locations and estimates of likely energy yield for prospective investors. Then once a plant is built, managers need data updated in near real-time to check the facility is working optimally, and energy output tallies with available sunshine. ...
(13 July 2005)


ENVIRONMENT

Faced with this crisis

George Monbiot, The Guardian

Instead of denying climate change is happening, the US now denies that we need proper regulation to stop it. ... climate change denial, like Lysenkoism, cannot last forever. Now, as the G8 communique shows, the White House is beginning to move on. Instead of denying that climate change is happening, it is denying that anything difficult needs to be done to prevent it. The other G8 leaders have gone along with this.

Faced with the greatest crisis humanity has ever encountered, the most powerful men in the world have meekly resolved to "promote" better practice and to "encourage" companies to do better. The R-word is half-mentioned twice: they will "improve regulatory ... frameworks". This could mean anything: most of the G8 governments define better regulation as less regulation. Nowhere is there a clear statement that they will force anyone to do anything to stop destroying the conditions which sustain human life.

Instead they have agreed to "raise awareness", "accelerate deployment of cleaner technologies" and "diversify our energy supply mix". There is nothing wrong with these objectives. But unless there is regulation to reduce the amount of fossil fuel we use, alternative technologies are a waste of time and money, for they will supplement rather than replace coal and oil and gas burning. What counts is not what we do but what we don't. Our success or failure in tackling climate change depends on just one thing: how much fossil fuel we leave in the ground. And leaving it in the ground won't happen without regulation. ...
(12 July 2005)

Australia hung out to dry on climate change

Martin Callinan, Online Opinion (Aus)

“If this looks like Kyoto, the answer is 'No',” President Bush said in an interview recently in response to a question on a potential climate change agreement at the recent G8 summit. That’s the same old line. The new line was the president’s support for efforts to “diversify away from fossil fuels”.

This is not just rhetoric. Two weeks ago the US Senate passed an energy Bill to diversify away from fossil fuels and offered formal recognition that mandatory action on climate change was necessary. Where does this leave Australia?

As the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitter in the world, a champion of voluntary management of greenhouse gas emissions and a steadfast opponent of market-based limitations and incentives - Australia now stands alone. Now no developed country stands either beside or behind Australia on energy or climate matters. ...

Such legislative development in the US also raises questions about how the Howard Government balances frank policy advice with the impulse to follow its political instinct. Australia, unlike the US, has no mechanism for the creation of law that is not the explicit political will of the leader of the administrative branch of government. How Australia’s energy and climate policy have become disconnected from the rest of the world’s actions deserves some scrutiny, particularly in light of the government’s new-found control of the senate.

Such political progress in the US is courtesy of its normal checks and balances but it has unsheltered and consequently isolated Australia’s energy and climate policy. Time inevitably founders all policy based upon reality-aside ideology. Is this the case for the Howard Government or is it just an unusual irony that it is the US showing Australia the way forward on climate change? (14 July 2005)

Europe's greenhouse gas trade hots up

Stuart Penson, Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Trade in greenhouse gas emissions is hotting up in Europe as carbon dioxide prices surge and companies buy and sell credits worth hundreds of millions of euros. Energy firms and banks are leading the charge in a market which has ballooned beyond expectation since the European Union launched its pioneering emissions trading scheme in January amid political wrangling and a string of technical glitches.
"We are surprised how fast trade is growing," said Albert de Haan, commercial director of the Amsterdam-based European Climate Exchange, which launched a CO2 futures market in April. "We are seeing many new participants coming forward," he told Reuters.
De Haan said three U.S. hedge funds had recently inquired about trading ECX futures contracts, which are listed on London's International Petroleum Exchange.
The EU's scheme caps CO2 emissions from about 12,000 factories and power plants, and allows firms to trade credits. The EU wants the mechanism to be the mainstay of its bid to cut pollution in line with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Prices for CO2 credits for the first phase of the scheme (2005-2007) have surged off a low of just over six euros a tonne in mid January to nearly 30 euros. ...
(13 July 2005)

Tax cuts push on climate change

Staff, BBC (UK)

Council tax should be cut by between £50 and £90 for people who make their homes more energy efficient, says a report from an influential watchdog.

The Energy Saving Trust also argues there should be stamp duty rebates for new homes which do not waste fuel. The agency warns ministers they will miss their targets on tackling global warming unless they encourage home insulation and low carbon houses.

Households are responsible for about 30% of total UK energy use, it says. The report suggests 1.64m homes would be likely to take up energy efficiency incentives based on council tax rebates.

Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: "Reducing household energy is a key factor in the UK meeting its climate change commitments but current policies are simply not providing consumers with the incentives to change their behaviour. "This report reveals for the first time the tax incentives that would be most likely to inspire action and the level they would need to set at to be convincing."

Environment Minister Elliot Morley welcomed the report. "The government is prepared to consider a wide range of options that may help us meet the challenge of cutting carbon emissions from people's homes, including the potential positive effect of tax incentives on consumer awareness of and demand for better energy efficiency," he said.
(13 July 2005)

Ontario breaks power consumption record, heat wave likely to last for weeks

Staff, CBC (Canada)

Ontario broke its record for single-day electricity consumption on Wednesday when it peaked at 26,160 megawatts, topping its previous high of 26,157 megawatts set on June 27. ...

It was the 17th heat alert of the summer for the city, which was also labouring under a smog advisory. ...

The heat is creating other problems too: causing transformers to overheat, which in turn knocks out power to local neighbourhoods, usually for only 30-45 minutes at a time. ...

"In order to have any significant recovery, we would need two to three inches of rain in the next week," said soya bean farmer Lloyd Weber. "If we don't get it, I would say we would be lucky to get a 50 per cent yield, in fact, less than that."
(14 July 2005)

Scientists Raise Alarm About Ocean Health

Yahoo/Associated Press

SEATTLE - With a record number of dead seabirds washing up on West Coast beaches from Central California to British Columbia, marine biologists are raising the alarm about rising ocean temperatures and dwindling plankton populations. "Something big is going on out there," said Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal because they feed high up on the food chain."

Coastal ocean temperatures are 2 to 5 degrees above normal, which may be related to a lack of updwelling, in which cold, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface. Updwelling is fueled by northerly winds that sweep out near-shore waters and bring cold water to the surface. The process starts the marine food chain, fueling algae and shrimplike krill populations that feed small fish, which then provide a source of food for a variety of sea life from salmon to sea birds and marine mammals.

On Washington beaches, bird surveyors in May typically find an average of one dead Brandt's cormorant every 34 miles of beach. This year, cormorant deaths averaged one every eight-tenths of a mile, according to data gathered by volunteers with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, which Parrish has directed since 2000. "This is somewhere between five and 10 times the highest number of bird deaths we've seen before," she said, adding that she expected June figures to show a similar trend. ...
(13 July 2005)

Record Hurricane Year has Oil Industry Worried

Planet Ark, Reuters

NEW YORK - A parade of major storms in the Gulf of Mexico could disrupt US crude and natural gas production, leaving the world's largest energy consumer with less supply to meet robust demand, oil industry experts and weather forecasters said on Tuesday.
Warmer Atlantic waters have already touched off the most active start to hurricane season on record, with five named storms that in just six weeks have cut several million barrels of crude oil output from offshore platforms. ...

"The waters have really warmed in the right places (for storm formation) this year early," said Dale Mohler of private forecaster AccuWeather. "It will probably stay this favorable (for high-intensity storms) for the next few weeks, until later in August," he said.
He said the high pressure system known as the Bermuda High will shift east in August and September, favoring development of storms that will have a higher chance of hitting the Carolinas northward instead of entering the Gulf of Mexico. The offshore gulf is home to about a quarter of US oil and gas production, and the coastline is dotted with the nation's largest refineries. ...
(13 July 2005)

France Rations Water as Drought Takes Hold

David Evans, Reuters

France extended water rationing to more than half the country on Monday as the severe drought that has wreaked havoc in Spain and Portugal expanded its reach from Morocco to the French capital.

The French government expanded measures ranging from bans on car washing and filling swimming pools to curbs on crop irrigation to 50 of the country's 96 mainland departments.

Anyone breaking the law faces a 1,500 euro ($1,801) fine. "The drought that France has witnessed since September has been reinforced by a heatwave at the end of June," said the environment ministry's drought bulletin, published on Monday. "The drought is affecting a large part of the country."

In the tourist resorts of southern Spain and Portugal, where drought is the worst since records began in the 1940s, emergency wells are being drilled to cope with the summer demand surge.

In Portugal, 39 towns with about 22,000 inhabitants were getting water from tanker trucks at the end of June as reservoirs dried up, the Water Institute said. Another 15 towns with 25,000 people were on reduced supplies. The environmental damage is huge -- fish are dying in dried up rivers and in one Spanish region, 80 million trees could die. ...

Farmers are also warning of big losses. Crops in Spain and Portugal have more than halved, prompting the EU to agree to an unprecedented transfer of surplus grain from central Europe. ...

But Olin ruled out a repeat of France's unpopular drought tax, imposed in 1976 to compensate farmers for losses, although she said she recognised the difficulties they faced.

"I understand their concerns. But I say to them that there is no solution other than partly turning off the irrigation taps," she said.
(12 July 2005)

Tasmania facing power crisis

Cathy Alexander, The Advocate (Aus)

TASMANIA will run short of electricity within six months unless heavy rains arrive to replenish Hydro Tasmania dams, Premier Paul Lennon said yesterday. He outlined Government plans to avert the looming crisis by fast-tracking energy schemes like wind farms and a wood-fired power station.

At least one major company has agreed to cut back power use, and domestic electricity rationing has not been ruled out. Mr Lennon said if these schemes failed to prevent an energy crisis, Tasmania would have to resort to burning diesel for power.

"This is the lowest level of rainfall since the Hydro began keeping records in 1924. Our options are somewhat limited," Mr Lennon said.

Mr Lennon's plan of attack was to speed up plans for wind farms on the West Coast and in the North-East, and progress the development of a wood-fired power station near Huonville. A gas-fired "peaking station" was another possibility.

"All these options are more environmentally sound than diesel generation," Mr Lennon said. ...
(12 July 2005)

Shanghai suffers as car culture takes hold

Howard W. French The New York Times

SHANGHAI When officials drew up the blueprints for the redesign of this city in the early 1980s, nary a skyscraper punctuated the low-slung horizon, whose buildings mostly dated from the decades of Western control of Shanghai early in the last century. ...

Toward this end, huge sums were spent on spectacular bridges, elevated highways and a new subway system. But today, glance out the window of one of this city's 3,000 high-rises around 6 p.m., when snarling masses of horn-honking cars tend to congeal in gridlock, and it is hard to escape the impression that Shanghai, at least for now, is losing its bet. ...

By all accounts this is not for lack of trying. In one attempt to slow the growth of automobile traffic that has produced much grumbling, the city has raised the fees for issuing Shanghai car registrations every year since 2000, doubling them over that time to about $4,600 per vehicle - more than twice the city's average per capita income. Many Shanghai drivers try to get around expensive measures like these by illegally registering their cars in other cities, where the fees are much lower, and the result is a never-ending cat and mouse game with Shanghai's traffic police.

Measures like this have been coupled with a major expansion of the public transportation system, which comprises gleaming new subways and the world's fastest train, a magnetic levitation vehicle that zips people to the airport in under 10 minutes. The continuing steep growth in automobile traffic here, however, seems to mock the city's efforts.

The original blueprints for a major expansion of Shanghai's road network, which was drawn up two decades ago, predicted Shanghai would pass the threshold of two million cars in 2020. In fact, that figure was reached last November, and the city's parking facilities are growing nowadays at a 15 percent annual clip. ...
(12 July 2005)

Guns, Germs and Steel on PBS in July

Jared Diamond, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS - US)

WHYY says:

Guns, Germs & Steel, an epic new National Geographic presentation for PBS answers the question, "Why do some cultures succeed, while others fail?"

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Jared Diamond, the series will be broadcast ...[in three parts at different times and dates in July on different stations.] The series takes viewers on a compelling journey through five continents for a revealing look at the rise and fall of societies through the lenses of geography, technology, biology and economics -- forces symbolized by the power of guns, germs and steel. Diamond recently sat down to discuss the series. [short interview follows]

(July 2005)

Blue Gold

Tom Sturm, Hartford Advocate (US)
Remember Chinatown? It was a Roman Polanski-directed gangsteresque portrayal of southern California in the 1940s starring Hollywood badass Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, a private investigator who gets involved in some pretty dirty stuff. What the players in the story are playing for, however, isn't guns or drugs or even really money per se. It's water, or, more specifically, water rights.

That's still a big deal in so-Cal; almost all of Los Angeles' water comes from the Colorado River, and to this day it remains a source of great contention. It may just be peanuts, however, compared to the global conflicts to come in the world of "blue gold." Pure, safe drinking water is not to be taken for granted in the 21st century, and indeed may prove to be far more precious than oil ever could be in not so long a time, in a galaxy not at all that far away. Within this century, many scientists, civil and military planners and financial speculators predict, water wars will be upon us. ...
(14 July 2005)

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