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Some thoughts on “Syriana”

Super G, The Oil Drum
I recently saw Syriana, which is going to be in theaters “everywhere” starting on Friday. This will not be a comprehensive movie review, just a few thoughts about the film.

…This is a great looking, well-acted, big budget Hollywood production with some of the biggest movie stars around. It was directed by Steven Gaghan (who wrote the screenplay for Traffic) and written by Gaghan and Robert Baer, a former CIA agent. … If you come to this movie expecting an engaging politicial thriller, you will enjoy yourself. If you are expecting this movie to change the way everyday people think about the impact of oil on our lives, you will be disappointed.
(7 December 2005)
The Oil Drum continues to provide thought-provoking articles and discussion on petroleum depletion. They are particularly good on technical discussions, but they also cover cultural subjects such as this one.

UPDATE (Dec 8):
David Roberts of Gristmill weighs in with his thoughts on Syriana.

All Roads Lead to Cities, Transforming India

Any Waldman, NY Times
…Surat’s growth spurt is being replicated across India. At least 28 percent of its population now lives in cities and many more of its citizens move in and out of them for temporary work. In some southern states, nearly half the population is in cities. In 1991, India had 23 cities with one million or more people. A decade later it had 35.

As the people shift, so does the very nature of India. This is a nation of 600,000 villages, each of them a unit that has ordered life for centuries, from the strata of caste to the cycles of harvest. In this century, cities’ pull and influence – not only financial but also psychic – are remaking society. Less visible than the heated consumerism or western sexual habits changing India, this slow churning may be more profound and, for a country weaned on the virtues of village life, more wrenching.

“From all over India, they are coming,” said Kailash Pandey, a milk seller, of the migrants pouring into Kanpur, one of the million-plus cities.
(7 December 2005)
The latest article in Amy Waldman’s series on changes in India. The massive shift from village to city will have a tremendous impact on India’s energy use. -BA

China: No carbon copy of the west?

Melanie Jarman, Red Pepper
As well as being the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China is now also the world’s second largest oil consumer. If demand carries on growing at its current rate, it will match the current oil consumption of the US in less than 20 years. Pollution control and security of energy supplies have become two of China’s key problems.

These problems have not gone unrecognised: the 11th Five Year Plan, covering 2006 to 2010, includes plans to reduce emissions and develop energy-saving practices on the domestic front. China is also aiming to construct a world-first – an entire eco-city, mostly powered by renewable energy and as close to carbon neutral as possible. Unfortunately, in a not so eco-friendly way, the city will be built in the mouth of the Yangtse river, on land that currently provides a home to thousands of rare birds, plants and other species.

…The unique opportunity that China does have, and that other countries need to support, is the chance to pursue its inevitable development in a way that actively seeks out the world’s most environmentally conscious options. This includes a stronger focus on energy efficiency and renewable power – not including nuclear power, which, as is the case around the world, is being promoted as an environmental measure. Rixin Kang of the China National Nuclear Corporation has said that: ‘To meet the need of energy supply and environmental protection, nuclear power will play a more active role in China.’
(December 2005)
And another article from the Guardian: China is well on its way to being the other superpower .

Warmth for poor consumers

Juan Gonzalez, NY Daily News
Low-cost heating oil is about to start flowing to the South Bronx under Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s fuel-for-the-poor program.

Three Bronx groups will announce today an agreement with Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company, to receive heating oil shipments this winter at 40% below wholesale price.

Mount Hope Housing Corp., which operates 1,250 units of low-income housing, is one of the groups that will get portions of 8 million gallons of discounted oil earmarked for the borough.

Shaun Belle, president of the nonprofit organization, has wondered for months what his group would do about the skyrocketing cost of oil.

“Most of our buildings have oil-powered systems,” Belle said.

As soon as he heard about the Chavez offer two months ago, Belle contacted his local congressman, Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx), who has spearheaded talks with the Venezuelan government over the program.

“We anticipate a savings of between $300,000 and $400,000 in our fuel costs for the winter,” Belle said. “From a practical standpoint, it’s a great program.”
(6 December 2005)

Hot air and handouts
(Grab bag of energy stories)

Big Gav, Peak Energy (Australia)
(6 December 2005)
If your hunger for energy stories is not yet sated, Big Gav has a collection from the past few days. Check out the last story he mentions — about a weird incident in Russia in which black squirrels bit to death a dog that was barking at them: “They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh. A pine cone shortage may have led the squirrels to seek other food sources, although scientists are sceptical.” -BA

Corporate social concerns:
Are they good citizenship, or a rip-off for investors?

Wall Street Journal
…Joining the debate are Fred Smith, Jr., president and founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr., senior vice president for law and public affairs at General Electric, and Ilyse Hogue, director of the global finance campaign for Rainforest Action Network

…MS. HOGUE writes: The world will have to grapple with energy efficiency and energy consumption in a real way if we are to achieve goals of poverty alleviation and ecologically sound energy sources. We appreciate the bank policies that create incentives for energy efficient mortgages allowing customers to take advantage of the cost savings associated with efficiency. Yet we have to be honest that the U.S. consuming 25% of the world’s energy while housing only 5% of the world’s population is not valid model for replication. These resources are finite.

Even Exxon Mobil recognizes that peak oil is a reality; oil will run out. It is not “if,” but “how” we will transition to a renewable energy economy. This economy will necessarily embrace efficiency models as well as a level playing field that enables real competition for all energy sources, rather than favoring the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions a year.

What is exciting are the opportunities offered by this transition. Leading thinkers, like writer Ross Gelbspan and economist Eban Goodstein, have identified that with anticipation and planning; the coming energy transition will create new jobs and stimulate the economy. Perhaps more importantly, renewable energy sources can put control of energy sources back in the hands of national and local populations.

It is time to smash the myth that fossil-fuel extraction benefits local populations. MNCs, like Shell, Chevron, Exxon have been operating in resource rich (oil, timber, minerals) countries for decades, yet large scale extraction projects are strongly linked to higher poverty rates and increasing national debt that robs key resources better used for education, health care, and building local economies. Even the World Bank’s Extractive Industry Review recommended no more funding for fossil-fuel projects because it runs directly counter to the goals of poverty alleviation. Look at Ecuador, look at Nigeria, look at the Congo.

MR. SMITH writes: As always in these discussions, the issue of transition is important but whether we should rely on politicians to make these u-turns or consumers and suppliers is the better issue. Government has already wasted vast sums in seeking energy alternatives, in seeking “energy independence.” I was at EPA when the Synfuels programs began to absorb its billions of taxpayer dollars — years later it produced a few barrels of oil.

GE and Exxon Mobil, for that matter, invest large sums to ensure that they’ll be prepared regardless of which outcome emerges. That is intelligent but they need not disparage the existing technologies that are producing great good for mankind now.

I once joked that the thoughtful “responsible citizens” of California had elected to cease their reliance on the horrible energy sources of hydropower, fossil fuel and nuclear — all of which were terribly environmentally destructive. California, they decided, would rely on electricity instead. If American firms are forced into economic production and distribution and marketing programs that will please RAN, NOW, the AFL-CIO or Amnesty International, there won’t be much economy left.

MR. HEINEMAN writes: GE, of all companies, is not disparaging existing technologies, which we make or use. We are simply saying that we should seek better technologies for efficient use of resources (of whatever type) with less adverse environmental impact.

Even in wind power, for example, we are trying to harness our gas turbine and aircraft engine technologies (blades that go around to produce power) and flow them down into our wind turbines.

This is all about innovation that will have market acceptance while cost-effectively addressing — indeed because of addressing — efficiency and pollution issues.
(6 December 2005)

Pennsylvania governor proposes an America energy harvest plan:
jobs, prosperity, independence

Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, Speech to the National Press Club
…No longer is investing in alternative fuels a fringe idea. In fact, our biggest competitor nation, China, is quickly building synfuel plants to generate fuels from coal and coal waste for transportation as well as industry. The E.U. is already five percent dependent on bio-fuels for their cars and expect to get to 20 percent by 2020. Ireland’s economic renaissance has literally been fueled by wind power. And, Brazil is perhaps the world’s greatest success story. Due to 30 years of hard work, research and investment, Brazil will not need one drop of imported oil this time next year. If anyone suggests to you that these ideas aren’t ready for prime time and cost too much, they are living in the past.

…This plan for an American Energy Harvest calls on the federal government to take four common sense steps to change the course that our economy and our nation will take in the next decade.

First, the federal government can use its regulatory and legislative power to require greater reliance on alternative fuels by our utilities and energy companies. Second, it can use its purchasing power to stimulate private investment in alternative fuel production and fuel-saving technologies. Third, it can redirect subsidies enacted before the energy companies began making extraordinary profits and allocate those funds instead to alternative fuels production. Lastly, it can launch a modern day Manhattan Project by unifying the disparate alternative fuels deployment strategies going on in the states, the private sector and across the vast federal bureaucracy to accelerate the rollout of alternative energy production.
(1 December 2005)
Comments by From The Wilderness: Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) pleads with Bush to develop alternative fuels.

Iraqi oil industry in crisis

Heiko Flottau, ISN Security Watch (Zurich, Switzerland)
Iraqi oil exports fell to their lowest level in two years in November 2005. Bad management of the reconstruction effort, widespread corruption among government figures, and sabotage by insurgents are the reasons for the decline. Experts say that the US strategy of military intervention in oil-rich regions can only diminish, rather than increase, the supply to world markets.
(12 December 2005)
From the ISN website: “The ISN’s mission is to promote global security and cooperation by collecting, managing, and sharing specialized information for the international relations and security community.”