Energy Bulletin co-editor Bart Anderson discussed recent events in energy and sustainability with Jason Bradford November 6 at 9 – 10 am Pacific Time on radio station KZYX (streaming audio at http://www.kzyx.org/ ). Broadcasts are later placed online at Global Public Media.
News stories mentioned on the broadcast
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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
Food and Water
Grain Drain: Get Ready for Peak Grain
Wayne Roberts, Energy Bulletin
Now’s the time to brace yourself for major price hikes in food, as peak grains join the lineup of lifestyle-changing events along with peak oil and peak water.
Unless this year’s harvest is unexpectedly different from six out of the last seven years, the world’s ever-decreasing number of farmers do not produce enough staple grains to feed the world’s ever-increasing number of people. That’s been a crisis of quiet desperation over the past decade for the 15,000 people who die each day from hunger-related causes. It’s about to cause a problem for people who assumed that the sheer unavailability of food basics, usually seen as a problem of dire poverty, would never cause a problem for them.
Whenever there’s a shortfall in the amount of food produced in any given year, it’s possible to dip into an international cupboard or “reserve” of grains (wheat, rice and corn, for example) left over from previous years of good harvests. Tabs have been kept on the size of that reserve by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the end of World War 11. Few people looked at these tables until Lester Brown cried the alarm a few months ago, a short while after Darin Qualman, brilliant researcher with Canada’s National Farmers Union, one of the few farm organizations which thinks agriculture policy should be about feeding people, not finding new ways to raise commodity prices by getting rid of farm surplus.
The world’s grain reserve has been dipped into for six of the last seven years, and is now at its lowest point since the early 1970s. There’s enough in the cupboard to keep people alive on basic grains for 57 days.
(31 Oct 2006)
The Last Drop: Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe
Michael Specter, New Yorker
…Water is often seen as the most basic and accessible element of life, and seemingly the most plentiful. For every gallon in rivers or lakes, fifty more lie buried in vast aquifers beneath the surface of the earth. Yet at least since the cities of ancient Sumeria went to war over control of their rivers-long before tales of Moses parting the Red Sea or the Flood described in the Bible-water has been a principal source of conflict. (The word “rivals” even has it roots in fights over water, coming from the Latin rivalis, for “one taking from the same stream as another.”)
By 2050, there will be at least nine billion people on the planet, the great majority of them in developing countries. If water were spread evenly across the globe, there might be enough for everyone. But rain often falls in the least desirable places at the most disadvantageous times. Delhi gets fewer than forty days of rain each year-all in less than four months. In other Indian cities, the situation is worse. Somehow, though, the country has to sustain nearly twenty per cent of the earth’s population with four per cent of its water. China has less water than Canada-and forty times as many people. With wells draining aquifers far faster than they can be replenished by rain, the water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the past twenty years.
Most of the world’s great civilizations grew up around rivers, and few forces have so clearly shaped the destiny of human populations. When full and flowing, rivers have brought prosperity to the cities and nations they feed.
(13 Oct 2006 issue)
Long, superbly written piece.
Interview with the author. -BA
Biofuels: A Disaster in the Making
Global Forest Coalition et al., Energy Bulletin
…The undersigned NGOs, Indigenous Peoples Organizations, farmer’s movements and individuals call upon the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change to immediately suspend all subsidies and other forms of inequitable support for the import and export of biofuels.
We recognize that the local production and consumption of biomass plays an important role in sustainable livelihood strategies of, in particular, rural women in developing countries. Certain small-scale and strictly regulated sustainable forms of biofuel production can be beneficial at the national level. However, the modalities of biomass consumption and production must be carefully analyzed in conjunction with communities, to introduce adaptive measures that will maintain and enhance the patterns of sustainability, while avoiding negative impacts on health and the adverse effects inherent to increases in demand or changes in socioeconomic settings. Solar energy often offers a sustainable alternative to traditional biomass.
Meanwhile, international trade in biofuels is already causing a negative impact on food sovereignty, rural livelihoods, forests and other ecosystems, and these negative impacts are expected to accumulate rapidly.
(31 Oct 2006)
UPDATE (Nov 5) – Andrew Leonard has published a follow up piece on Salon entitled The battle for biofuels, based on this long critique of the letter by Biopact. We’ll feature both in the upcoming headlines.
Peak Oil Aware NY Governor?
peakguy, The Oil Drum: NYC
Eliott Spitzer’s campaign is now pretty much running victory laps around the state with polls showing he will be sweeping into New York’s powerful governor’s chair with a huge mandate for change. I’ve written before about Spitzer’s views on energy, transportation and the environment as well as his favoring closure of the Indian Point Nuclear plant. What hasn’t been talked about in the press much is that Spitzer’s running mate, David Patterson has talked openly about peak oil in a speech delivered in May that mentions a certain Shell geologist…
…[Paterson’s remarks represent] some of the most knowledgeable talk about oil production (including talking about our own peak production in the US) and EROEI of oil extraction that I have heard from any politician. So Patterson and therefore Spitzer know that there will be a peak to oil production eventually. It’s not a matter of it, but when…
(1 Nov 2006)
Energy speech by David A. Paterson, candidate for New York Lt. Governor.
NZ energy minister: ‘the end of cheap oil’
David Parker, New Zealand Government
…In my role as Minister of Energy I am tasked with seeing that the country has reliable energy, at an affordable price. In my role as Minister Responsible for Climate Issues, I have to consider how to minimise the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our energy production, transport, industry and agriculture. Both of these roles are relevant to our discussion today.
No doubt you have many questions for me, and I’m keen to hear from you too, but let me first give you some idea of where the government is coming from on this issue.
Your concerns are centred around peak oil, and how the world, and your community specifically will cope as oil becomes more expensive.
Peak oil describes the point in time when the world-wide production of conventional crude oil peaks. After it peaks, the world’s daily production of crude oil is expected to decline over time.
If this occurred soon, it would be momentous. For decades the world has used increasing quantities of oil and gas as a central component of our way of life. Recent increases in oil use have been spurred along by burgeoning demand in rapidly industrialising developing countries, most notably China.
Whether conventional oil production will peak in the next year, or the next decade or a decade or two later, is moot. But it will peak and, in policy terms, the timeframe is short.
(31 Oct 2006)
Climate change policy
Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
Sir Nicholas Stern et al,
Publication of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate change
The most comprehensive review ever carried out on the economics of climate change was published today.
The Review, which reports to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, was commissioned by the Chancellor in July last year. It has been carried out by Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist.
Sir Nicholas said today:
“The conclusion of the Review is essentially optimistic. There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change.
But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close.”
(30 Oct 2006)
The Key points
Other articles at EB on the Stern Report.
Rising Tide: UK Stern Report Sells Climate Short
The Rising Tide Coalition for Climate Justice
Today the international climate justice movement condemned a major new policy advisory from the United Kingdom on the economics of climate change. Named “The Stern Review” after its chief author Sir Nicholas Stern, climate activists warn that this 700-page analysis offers a dangerously inadequate and deceptive plan that will lead to inevitable global warming catastrophe if its recommendations are followed.
Commissioned by the UK government in conjunction with the G8 Gleneagles Dialogue on Climate Change, the Stern Review has been widely celebrated as a “landmark” and “authoritative” review that provides convincing evidence that global economic upheaval and depression will result from failure to urgently act in response to the climate change crisis. Yet grassroots climate activists are outraged and disturbed that The Stern Report’s underlying assumptions and its ultimate policy recommendations are not scientifically legitimate.
“Although climate scientists are in nearly unanimous agreement that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide must be limited to no more than 450 parts per million in order to avoid catastrophic climate chaos, the new UK report calls for CO2 emissions to be stabilized at the much higher rate of 500 to 550 ppm,” said Ethan Green, coordinator of the Counter-G8 Working Group of Rising Tide North America.
“This means the core assumptions of the Stern Report, plus its policy recommendations, are seriously flawed,” said Green. “Based on this Report, the UK today is declaring that it will advocate global cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of 30 per cent by 2020 and of 60 per cent by 2050. While realizing even those minimal cuts would represent great progress from the world’s current unsustainable business-as-usual path, clearly we need much more drastic reductions in order to prevent climate disaster.”
The government-funded Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in a ground-breaking environmental report issued in the UK this September, concluded that a 90% cut in greenhouse gas emissions is needed by 2050. “We are deluding ourselves if we wait for technology or emission trading to offer a smooth transition to a low carbon future,” the Tyndall Report said. “The real challenge is making a radical shift within four years and driving down carbon intensity at an unprecedented 9% a year for up to 20 years.”
Climate campaigners argue that the scientifically rigorous Tyndall Report, with its comparably radical yet more realistic plan of action, should be used as a framework for the global response against climate change, instead of the watered-down Stern Report, written by an economist without significant training in climate science.
(30 Oct 2006)
After thinking for awhile Rising Tide’s response to the Stern Review, I have become convinced that Rising Tide is correct. Politically, the Stern Review is a huge step forward in getting economists and the business community to take global warming seriously. However, they rely on an optimistic set of numbers and the strategy is too conservative. Thanks to Ethan Green and Rising Tide. -BA
Budgets falling in race to fight global warming (excerpts)
Andrew Revkin, NY Times
… For all the enthusiasm about alternatives to coal and oil, the challenge of limiting emissions of carbon dioxide, which traps heat, will be immense in a world likely to add 2.5 billion people by midcentury…
The challenge is all the more daunting because research into energy technologies by both government and industry has not been rising, but rather falling.
In the United States, annual federal spending for all energy research and development — not just the research aimed at climate-friendly technologies — is less than half what it was a quarter-century ago. It has sunk to $3 billion a year in the current budget from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979, according to several different studies.
…President Bush has sought an increase to $4.2 billion for 2007, but that would still be a small fraction of what most climate and energy experts say would be needed.
Federal spending on medical research, by contrast, has nearly quadrupled, to $28 billion annually, since 1979. Military research has increased 260 percent, and at more than $75 billion a year is 20 times the amount spent on energy research.
Internationally, government energy research trends are little different from those in the United States. Japan is the only economic power that increased research spending in recent decades, with growth focused on efficiency and solar technology, according to the International Energy Agency.
In the private sector, studies show that energy companies have a long tradition of eschewing long-term technology quests because of the lack of short-term payoffs.
(30 Oct 2006)
The original New York Times article is here.
A caller on Jason’s show mentioned that it was not a good idea to use sycamore leaves for mulch or compost. Another caller pointed out that the problem occurred when sycamores had anthracnose – only then do you need to be careful. Some references:
Anthracnose (Univ of California IPM)
Sycamore Anthracnose (Colorado State Co-operative Extension)