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Energy and China

gmoke, Daily Kos
On the morning of Thursday, January 11, I went to Harvard’s Kennedy School for a panel discussion on China. …I asked the question that I intend to keep asking in a variety of forms for the next few months:

According to the figures I’ve seen, we reached the peak of world oil production in December 2005. If that is so, what does it mean for China?

(For the big name journos who will come to Harvard over the next few months, I intend to frame the question in three parts: is this the first time you’ve heard this; if not, where did you hear or read it; and, most importantly, how will the punditocracy use this information to embarrass Al Gore?)

The panel was in honor of John Pomfret of the Washington Post and included Suzanne Ogden of Northeastern, Anthony Saich of Harvard, and Daniel Sneider of Stanford.

When I asked my question, either Ms Ogden didn’t hear me or was not familiar with the term “Peak Oil” as another panelist had to repeat/explain the term. Pomfret accepted the premise of my question and gave a conventional answer – China is locking up energy supplies around the world, blah blah blah – but he did say something extremely interesting. Pomfret mentioned that China’s next five year plan actually shows the contribution from renewables will go down due to Three Gorges’ generating capacity performing below estimates. Thus, China will be burning more coal (cough, cough, glub, glub).

Nobody mentioned climate change but then, nobody at these events ever mentions climate change….Peak oil, climate change, ecological destruction and displacement are not even on the radar of the political class. When confronted with the possibility, they shrug and turn away. At least, that’s my reading. To quote Bill Cosby’s classic Noah routine, how long can you dog paddle?

PS: My contention that Peak Oil happened in December 2005 is based upon statements and figures from James Howard Kunstler, John Petersen, and T. Boone Pickens.
(12 Jan 2007)
Not a bad way to raise awareness — go to conferences with big names and ask questions politely and persistently. -BA

UPDATE. Author gmoke writes:

I’ve been going to events at Harvard and MIT and asking questions to “experts” for a couple of decades now. It is a good way to raise issues but I almost never get a substantive response. I’ve found that journalists and academics can be as slippery as politicians.

My own work has been concerned with small scale solar and you can see videos of some of my prototypes and experiments at or I’ve been involved with citizen solar for about thirty years and believe I know a little about what works and what doesn’t.

Climate Change and the Coming Energy Crisis

Metta Spencer, Peace Journalism
Imagine this situation: Two of your dearest friends, a retired couple, have just returned from vacationing on a remote, sparsely populated island on another continent. They invite you to dinner and announce their surprising plans. They intend to move to that country with their grown children, reduce their consumption, grow their own food, and help their grandchildren survive the terrible years ahead.

Within ten or twenty years, they believe, Canada will be a miserable place to live because of fuel shortages. The price of oil will skyrocket. Houses will be unheated, and hardly any cars, planes, tractors, or trucks will be moving. The economy will be paralyzed. Millions will starve or freeze in poverty, especially in northern cities. Violence will prevail as marauders try to seize the necessities of survival. That’s why your friends have decided to leave.

At first you feel shocked, then angry. You try to argue with them, but you don’t have enough evidence. They know ten times as much about environmental matters as you. They are smart, rational people — prominent citizens, warm and generous friends — the best people anywhere. If they believe all this stuff, you’d better study up on it yourself.

So you begin reading about “peak oil” — the coming decline of oil production, which is almost certain to occur, if indeed it has not already begun. How will it affect our lives? Will there be wars over fuel? Or will starving raiders from the cities loot the granaries of farmers around the world? This is a peace issue too!

Your reading does not confirm the worst fears of your friends. According to most experts, there are numerous alternative fuels, if we are collectively smart enough to develop them in time.

Yet you become convinced that grave difficulties are inevitable, caused not so much by “peak oil” as by climate change. Though oil depletion may not be an insurmountable problem, greenhouse gases (GHG) will be. Climate change, more than oil shortage, will jeopardize human survival, though the two issues are clearly linked. Our reckless use of petroleum has increased carbon dioxide levels, which with other greenhouse gases in the air are changing weather around the world. We’d still have to quit burning oil, even if there were no shortage of it — the sooner, indeed, the better.

You learn that the “peak oil” analysts are a different group from the scientists who study climate change, nor do they have much to do with each other, though climate and fossil fuels are aspects of the same problem. But the two groups do agree on this policy: We must develop alternative, renewable sources of fuel as soon as possible and radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it’s too late to prevent disaster, though we can still limit its impact by acting wisely and quickly.

Now you wonder how to priorize the possible policies. Needing to hear a dialogue between members of those two environmental communities, you reason that many other people must also need to hear it. So you go to your peace NGO, and offer to organize a public forum on the subject within a month. They agree to sponsor it.

This is not just fiction; it’s my own experience. The forum took place at the University of Toronto on December 1, 2006, under the auspices of Science for Peace, with an audience of hundreds. Later I’ll review the highlights of the day, but first let me share some facts about climate change that I learned while preparing for it. Here I’ll draw on data from the David Suzuki Foundation, which reflects a scientific consensus.
(12 Jan 2007)