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Where Elites Fail

Craig K. Comstock, Huffington Post
Elites in both corporations and government are often quite good at running systems they create, and bad at looking beyond these systems at larger social effects. This doubleness was on display at the Worcester Polytechnic commencement.

For its main speaker, the college invited Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon. A group of students and faculty, disturbed that fossil fuel purveyors are causing great harm, exercised the right of protest. One student said “we will not give the Exxon CEO the honor of imparting his well-wishes for our futures when he is largely responsible for undermining [our futures].”

This group invited their own speaker, Richard Heinberg of the Post-Carbon Institute and author of Powerdown, The End of Growth, and eight other books.

Tillerson gave an unexceptional address (Worcester “embraces the cutting edge of technology,” let colleges train more scientist and engineers, let graduates have personal integrity, take time off from your Blackberry every day). While he did allude to “creative financial schemes” that “destroy billions of value in pensions and other investments,” he had nothing to say about the peak of oil production or the environmental costs of burning fossil fuel.

Those who ducked out to hear Heinberg got an earful. In less than 3,000 words, Heinberg told about challenges that will require much more than personal integrity. He began by reminding his audience that U.S. oil production has been declining since 1970 (nearly a couple of generations ago) and according to the International Energy Agency in Paris, global crude oil production peaked in 2006, leaving oil, as Heinberg explained, that is lower in quality or located in places harder to access.

Saying that he had not flown across the country to “demonize” Exxon, Heinberg nonetheless accused the company of “adopting the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics and funding some of the same organizations that led campaigns against tobacco regulation in the 1980s,” organizations that are now busy denying scientific evidence of climate change.
(20 May 2011)

WikiLeaks cables show that it was all about the oil

Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers
In 2006, three years after the Russian government had charged Mikhail Khodorkovsky — then the country’s wealthiest businessman — with fraud and moved to break up his Yukos oil company, U.S. diplomats had had enough.

Gazprom, which grew out of the former Soviet Union’s state gas ministry, had been busy buying up Yukos’ far-flung empire, stoking American fears that soon Russia and its tough leader, Vladimir Putin, would control virtually all of the natural gas flowing to Europe.

The United States wanted to stop that from happening. So the American embassy in Slovakia hired a Texas-based oil consultant and began secretly advising the Slovakian government on how to buy the 49 percent stake Yukos had held in Transpetrol, the Slovakian oil pipeline company.

… The communication, part of the cache of State Department cables that WikiLeaks passed to McClatchy and other news organizations, is just one indication of how the U.S. government over the years has maneuvered to influence the world’s oil and natural gas markets.

With oil trading near $100 a barrel and gasoline near $4 a gallon at the pump, Americans can take solace in knowing that securing sources of oil has been a chief focus of U.S. embassies across the globe for years.

Of the 251,287 WikiLeaks documents McClatchy obtained, 23,927 of them — nearly one in 10 — reference oil. Gazprom alone is mentioned in 1,789.
(16 May 2011)
Video at original. -BA

NPR: Pumped Up: Are Americans Addicted To Oil?

Linton Weeks, National Public Radio
As many Americans struggle with higher gas prices, others look for ways to live using fewer fossil fuels. They pursue a personal form of energy independence — and they are finding that it’s no easy feat.

About a year ago, following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig catastrophe that released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Mary Richert decided that she wanted to live a life free of oil. “I quit,” she told American Public Media’s radio program Marketplace. “I just want to stop using oil completely. I just don’t want to ever see it or think about it again.”

So she set out on a journey to give up gasoline. Every day, Richert, 28, a project manager for a small tech firm, tried to eliminate one thing in her life that was made with, or dependent on the production of, petroleum. She quit buying plastic ware for her kitchen. She shopped for local produce. She chronicled her quest on her blog, Not an Activist.

But everywhere Richert turned, she realized how much she relied on fossil fuels. Petroleum so permeates her life, she decided that she might as well face it: She is addicted to oil.

Living Plastics-Free

“I don’t think oil is bad,” Richert says today from her home in Annapolis, Md. “Oil is simply a resource, and the way we use it has a powerful impact on our environment and our society.”

She says, “It’s easy to point fingers at the oil industry and say the companies are to blame for oil spills, lives lost, and environmental damage, but we’re still buying what they’re selling, so we have to share the blame. The way we use oil and other natural resources in this country is unsustainable and puts us in a terrible bind in so many ways.”

The first thing Richert learned when she tried to give up oil, she says, “was that it would be impossible unless I made some major changes in my way of life — changes I wasn’t ready to make at the drop of a hat.”
(20 May 2011)

Is Obama’s call for more drilling bad messaging or cynical policy?

Joseph Romm, Grist
One thing we know for certain — more domestic drilling starting now will have exactly the same impact on prices that the increased domestic drilling in the last two years had. Zilch.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has been making that precise point for years now.

Even the media has started to report on this: “Today, CNN Money tackles the bottom line: What would more domestic oil production do to the price of gas? In short, close to nothing.”
(16 May 2011)

California: Inland Empire can’t afford high cost of oil

Rebecca U. Cho, San Bernadino Sun
Escalating gas prices have become a real worry for both consumers and the analysts who track economic trends. But the Inland Empire should be particularly concerned with high oil prices, according to a new University of Redlands study.

Residents in the San Bernardino and Riverside counties are feeling the worst pain at the pump in Southern California, according to the research, which looked at the amount of money residents spend on gas as a share of their disposable income by U.S. ZIP code.

A combination of high gas prices, far commutes to work and low household income lead those who live inland to carry a higher gas burden than their coastal neighbors such as south Orange County and north San Diego, the study found. The newly created Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis at the university conducted the research.

There are signs that elevated retail gas prices are creating a divide between the rich and the rest of the U.S. population, according to The Associated Press. Retail earnings reports out last week show Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom customers are back in pre-recession style, opening their wallets for luxury items such as Jimmy Choo shoes. Meanwhile, Target and Walmart shoppers are keeping their hands off luxuries, choosing to focus instead on groceries.

Johannes Moenius, a professor at the University of Redlands School of Business and the study’s main researcher, spoke on the study’s key findings and what they mean for the region’s businesses and policymakers.
(21 May 2011)