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Political & economics - Nov 26

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0il security emerges as issue in US political debate
(Washington’s mixed signals on Iraq)

Paul Rogers, openDemocracy
...The third sign of possible policy change in the United States is, in its way, even more remarkable. One of the most interesting features of the Washington scene in 2004 was the reconstitution of the Committee on the Present Danger, a singular collection of cold-war-era combatants who had been politically prominent during the Reagan era. This time round, they saw Islamic extremism as the natural successor to the evil empire of the Soviet Union, and advocated the usual mix of increased defence budgets and a vigorous pursuit of the “war on terror” as essential to US security.

On that basis, it might be expected that a policy paper from the committee entitled "Oil and Security" would highlight the critical importance of maintaining the security of Persian Gulf oil resources. Not a bit of it. In fact the paper – written by George Shultz (secretary of state, 1982-89) and James Woolsey (head of the CIA, 1993-95) – argues strongly for the direct opposite: moving rapidly away from dependence on the Gulf.

The authors proclaim the case for hugely enhanced domestic production of bio-diesel and cellulosic ethanol for motor fuel, combined with the development of hybrid vehicle engines and, above all, an intensive programme to develop high-efficiency batteries. They do not go as far as advocating intensive use of renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics and wind power, but a result of much increased reliance on efficient battery technologies would be to make these technologies far more usable (see the advice to the British government in “The SWISH Report (3)”, 19 May 2005).

There is nothing particularly new about the Shultz-Woolsey analysis. Indeed, it is the kind of approach that has been argued repeatedly by environmentalists and others. What is significant is that it is coming from a source such as the Committee on the Present Danger. Similarly, many analysts have argued that much of the current conflict in the Gulf is really about control of oil – not least in openDemocracy, but also in works like Michael Klare's book Blood and Oil (Hamish Hamilton, 2004). Now, it is at last coming from within the political establishment.

What this means is that the issue of oil security may at last be coming out into the open in United States establishment political debate.
(24 November 2005)


Cuban electricity rates soar
Consumers may see bills rise by as much as 300 percent

Reuters via CNN
HAVANA -- Cuba raised heavily subsidized electricity rates by as much as 333 percent Wednesday to save power and deal with chronic energy shortages.

A decree signed by President Fidel Castro increased the cost of electricity for small consumers from 20 to 30 cents of a Cuban peso ($0.01) per kilowatt-hour (kwh).

Cubans who consume more than 300 kwh a month will see their rate rise from 30 cents to 1.30 pesos ($0.06) next month.

"The lack of concern about electrical consumption is evident in our country due to the very low rates," the decree published in the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma said.
(23 November 2005)
Stories from the BBC and Voice of America barely mentioned the energy price hikes in their stories. The Cuban media had multiple related stories, including:
Cuba rethinking energy (Prensa Latina)
Fidel Castro leads Cuba to energy conservation (AIN)
Nothing will halt this socialist revolution disposed to attain genuine equality (Granma)


Running on empty
Scientific American: Bush-style conservation is not enough

Editorial, Scientific American
It was a remarkable turnabout. In September, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pushed gasoline prices to more than $3 a gallon, President George W. Bush spoke out for energy conservation. The president, who had previously insisted that new oil wells and refineries were the solution to the nation's energy woes, called on Americans to save gas by driving less. Listeners with long memories recalled President Jimmy Carter's television appearances during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when he urged Americans to turn down their thermostats. The only thing missing was the cozy cardigan that Carter had worn when he made his plea.

Environmentalists, though, were less than thrilled by the Bush administration's new strategy, which focused on public-service advertisements encouraging conservation. When it comes to transportation, which consumes 70 percent of U.S. oil and generates a third of the nation's carbon emissions, voluntary measures may be ineffective. Decades of suburban sprawl and neglect of public transit have made it harder for Americans to cut back on driving...

...A more constructive approach would be to improve the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks. The rise in gas prices has prompted some movement in this direction: after the hurricanes disrupted the oil industry, car buyers shunned gas-guzzling SUVs and snapped up more efficient models. This trend, however, may prove short-lived if gas prices subside as oil companies rebuild their facilities. For this reason, some economists recommend raising the federal gas tax by 50 cents a gallon.

...Such feeble measures [as proposed by President Bush] will do little to ease America's addiction to foreign oil or slow the global warming caused by vehicle exhaust. Lawmakers should press for more stringent CAFE standards that would boost fuel economy for both cars and light trucks by at least 40 percent over the next decade.
(December 2005 issue)
Couldn't Scientific American envision energy proposals more daring than hiking CAFE standards? For an example of how a scientific journal once took the lead in thinking about energy issues, see the 19 April 1974 issue of Science magazine (articles are available online). Scientific American itself had a more forward-looking vision in its September issue on "Crossroads for Planet Earth" -BA


Winter, high oil costs cause global chills

George Jahn, Associated Press
VIENNA, Austria - Long underwear in South Korea, extra sweaters in U.S. classrooms, rising sales of wood-burning stoves in Denmark. Winter is here, and because of a spike in heating costs, people from Tokyo to Toledo are looking for alternatives to oil.

Heating oil and other energy prices are up to 40 percent higher than three years ago. That translates into bad news for Northern Hemisphere consumers whose budget is already stretched by a summer of high prices at the gasoline pumps — and into opportunities for those who cash in on the cold.
(25 November 2005)

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