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Peak Sugar!

Jerome a Paris, European Tribune
Haha. The fun never stops…

Sugar: Prices soar as Brazil’s flexfuel cars set the pace [Financial Times]

A mixture of free-trade politics, speculative flows of “hot” money and environmental concerns have also helped make sugar the best performing commodity this year.

(…) for once China does not appear to be the central driver of a dramatic reversal in the fortunes of a commodity market.

Instead it has been Brazil’s thirst for ethanol, derived from sugar cane, to power “flexfuel” cars that also run on petrol that has pushed sugar to a 25-year high.

One more commodity used to fuel our cars’ limitless needs is running out…

About half of Brazil’s sugar cane crop is used for domestic ethanol production, with flexfuel cars accounting for almost 50 per cent of domestic new car sales. They also represent a budding export industry, with the US, Sweden and Britain already selling the environment-friendly cars.

In the past 12 months sugar has come to be seen as an energy crop because of the growth in demand for ethanol, says Sergey Gudoshnikov, senior economist at the International Sugar Organisation, which represents most of the world’s producers.

So demand is skyrocketing, because of our need for energy, and oil-substitutes. An indirect sign of peak oil, if that was ever needed. And it’s happening really, really quickly…

…So, production is already lagging behind demand, and the market is getting very tight, making it vulnerable to external shocks like hurricanes (heh, in Australia this time). Isn’t it strange that this is happening at the very moment these external shocks seem to become more frequent?

It is really starting to look like we are getting to the end of a lot of things at the same time, as we switch from the most depleted to others, making the depletion of these catch up extra quickly. Of course, sugar itself cannot be “depleted”, but the land used to grow it can, or can reach very real limits. The article suggests that Brazil’s production is stagnating despite increased land use, due to unfavorable weather impact (in that case, droughts, but these seem to happen all too frequently, and what will it be the other years?)

And, very similarly to the distorted energy markets, the sugar market is not really a market:

… When will we learn?
(30 March 2006)
Jerome has a follow-up post at Daily Kos: Peak Sugar – Entropy Will Not Be Mocked.

Peabody Energy, largest coal company, thinks ‘coal is the future’

American Energy Security Study newsletter, Southern States Energy Board
Peabody Energy President Gregory H. Boyce announced today that the world’s largest coal company has committed $50,000 and staff support to the Southern States Energy Board’s American Energy Security Study. The St. Louis based energy giant strongly supports the conversion of coal, oil shale and biomass to liquid transportation fuels, lessening the dependence of the U.S. on foreign oil and the unstable governments that control oil prices.

Along with a growing number of experts, Peabody‘s leadership sees coal playing a major role. “Some people call coal the bridge to the future. I believe coal is the future. The United States has the world’s largest coal reserves. Coal fuels more than 50 percent of U.S. electricity. Coal used for electricity generation has tripled since 1970, while emissions have been reduced by more than one-third. And coal is the fastest growing fuel in the world,” said Gregory H. Boyce, Peabody’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Coal stands ready to be converted into natural gas, diesel fuel, jet fuel, even hydrogen. Coal should also be used in the production of ethanol. We call it ‘Btu Conversion,’ and it has the ability to transform abundant American coal into a range of useful, high-value, clean energy forms – even as we reduce our reliance on foreign oil and liquefied natural gas.”

… One of the main postulates of a white paper released by SSEB in July 2005 is that the United States is not facing an “Energy Crisis” but a shortage of liquid transportation fuels. This paper also states that:

  • “The U.S. faces three serious oil-related risks: The first is that world oil production may soon peak and begin a steady decline, creating major world oil shortages; the second is excessive dependence on OPEC and on other unstable foreign oil suppliers; the third is rapidly increasing global competition for oil from China, India, and other nations.” Supply disruptions from natural forces (like Hurricane Katrina) and terrorist acts are a fourth concern.
  • “To mitigate these unprecedented risks and to provide for future economic prosperity and national security, the U.S. must reduce its growing dependence on foreign oil suppliers by producing its own transportation liquid fuels.”

(8 February 2006)
Peabody Energy is the world’s largest private-sector coal company.

For a discussion of coal as a replacement for oil, see Carbon: too much, not too little (especially the links listed at the end of the article). The major problems with coal are environmental, in particular, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect. Others point out that replacing one energy system with another is a long and expensive undertaking. -BA

Peak oil pundit visits Alaska

Ned Rozell, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks
“Thirty years from now, oil will be little used as a source of energy,” Kenneth Deffeyes told a crowd at the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently. “Our grandchildren will say, ‘you burned it? All those beautiful molecules? You burned it?'”

According to Deffeyes, a hard-rock geologist and professor emeritus at Princeton University, the world’s oil supply peaked on December 16, 2005, which means we’ve now removed and produced half of the oil that’s there to be sucked out. And what does that mean?

Increasing levels of chaos, he said. When the demands put on a system approach the system’s maximum output, things go a little crazy.

“We are close to the capacity of the system right now, so little things like hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico can cause wild fluctuations,” he said. “Price volatility is on us in a big way.”

…”There’s a lot of people who don’t think we’ve reached (the world oil production peak),” said Rich Seifert, the energy and housing specialist at the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Alaska Fairbanks who helped bring Deffeyes to Alaska. “But the peak of U.S. production in the 1970s wasn’t really clear until a year or two later. It’s only clear when it’s in the rear-view mirror.
(31 March 2006)

Peak opportunity! Earth liberation and the oil endgame

Acornista, EarthFirst! Journal via Peak Oil Anarchy
By now, all radical environmentalists-if not all humans-should be aware of the fatal ecological effects of civilization’s unsustainable energy binge. Yet many of us have been slow to grasp the true gravity of what our rapid depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels portends.

We must recognize three essential points about civilization’s imminent energy future: First, the unfolding “energy crisis” is real and will soon manifest as chronic oil scarcity. Second, industry is seeking to quickly and quietly implement a nightmarish swarm of ultra-dirty oil “substitutes,” ranging from coal-to-oil “liquefaction” in Appalachia to nuclear-powered “heavy oil” mining in northern Canada and biofuel plantations in South America. Rather than presenting feasible solutions, these “alternatives” are unsustainable and ecologically destructive. Third, we cannot cling to the hope that scientists will unveil a magical cocktail of clean, oil-free “alternative” technologies that will power a benign “new civilization.”

Unless societies learn to sharply reduce their ecological footprints, any large-scale energy alternatives will ultimately prove ineffective because they would prolong and intensify destructive practices. It is time to seriously consider that our best hope for a biodiverse Earth and a biocentric future for humanity would be civilization’s collapse. Let’s dream our post-petroleum utopias unapologetically wild.
To liberate the Earth and ourselves from the carnage that oil elicits, we need to clarify where civilization is going, as well as where our movements are coming from. Attempts at environmental legislative reform through emissions standards, “smart growth” regulations and the Kyoto Protocol have failed to deter oil’s speeding devastation. Grassroots struggles to restrain the petroleum economy’s spread and to spur lifestyle shifts toward renewable energies have been far too weak, late and limited to halt overarching ecocidal trends. Despite countless small-scale victories won by indigenous and eco-activist resistance, hydrocarbon hunger has metastasized globally, placing civilization on a collision course with its own decimation of the Earth.

Acornista edits and . This critter can be found dropping nuts and bolts of (purely poetic) resistance all over squirrel country this Spring and Summer. Despite favoring a “no civ” over a “new civ” outcome, Acornista believes that both sides should collaborate strategically together to take down oil civilization.
(31 March 2006)
Originally appeared in EarthFirst! Eostar (March-April) 2006. Also posted at Indybay.