Peak Oil News: 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007

Monday, December 18, 2006

100 Things You Can Do to Get Ready for Peak Oil

EnergyBulletin.net

By Sharon Astyk

SPRING

1. Rethink your seed starting regimen. How will you do it without potting soil, grow lights and warming mats. Consider creating manure heated hotbeds, using your own compost, building a greenhouse, or coldframe, direct seeding early versions of transplanted crops, etc...
2. Your local feed store has chicks right now - even suburbanites might consider ordering a few bantam hens and keeping them as exotic birds. Worth a shot, no? You can grow some feed in your garden for them, as well as enjoying the eggs.
3. Order enough seeds for three years of gardening. If by next spring, we are all unable to get replacement seed, will you have produced everything you need? What if you can't grow for a year because of some crisis? Order extras from places with cheap seed like www.fedcoseeds.com, www.superseeds.com, www.rareseed.com.
4. Yard sale season will begin soon in the warmer parts of the country, and auctions are picking up now in the North. Stocking up on things like shoes, extra coats, kids clothing in larger sizes, hand tools, garden equipment is simply prudent - and can save a lot of money.
5. The real estate "season" will begin shortly, with families wanting to get settled in new homes during the summer, before the school year starts. If you are planning on buying or selling this year, now is the time to research the market, new locations, find that country property or the urban duplex with a big yard.
6. Once pastures are flush, last year's hay is usually a bargain, and many farmers clean out their barns. manure and old hay are great soil builders for anyone.
7. Check out your local animal shelter and adopt a dog or cat for rodent control, protection and friendship during peak oil.
8. As things green up, begin to identify and use local wild edibles. Eat your lawn's dandelions, your daylily shoots, new nettles. Hunt for morels (learn what you are doing first!!) and wild onions. Get in the habit of seeing what food there is to be had everywhere you go.
9. Set up rainbarrel or cistern systems and start harvesting your precipitation.
10. Planning to only grow vegetables? Truly sustainable gardens include a lot of pretty flowers, which have value as medicinals, dye and fiber plants, seasoning herbs, and natural cleaners and pest repellants. Instead of giving up ornamentals altogether, grow a garden full of daylilies, lady's mantle, dye hollyhocks and coreopsis, foxgloves, soapwart, bayberry, hip roses, bee balm and other useful beauties.
11. Get a garden in somewhere around you - campaign to turn open space into a community garden, ask if you can use a friend's backyard, get your company or church, synagogue, mosque or school to grow a garden for the poor. Every garden and experienced gardener we have is a potential hedge against the disaster.
12. Join a CSA if you don't garden, and get practice cooking and eating a local diet in season.
13. Eggs and greens are at their best in spring - dehydrated greens and cooked eggshells, ground up together add calcium and a host of other nutrients to flour, and you won't taste them. We're not going to be able to afford to waste food in the future, so get out of the habit now.
14. Make rhubarb, parsnip or dandelion wine for later consumption.
15. Now that warmer weather is here, start walking for more of your daily Needs. Even a four or five mile walk is quite reasonable for most healthy people.
16. Start a compost pile, or begin worm composting. Everyone can and should compost. Even apartment dwellers can keep worms or a compost bin and use the product as potting soil.
17. Use spring holidays and feasts as a chance to bring up peak oil with friends and family. Freedom and rebirth are an excellent subjects To lead into the Long Emergency.
18. Store the components of some traditional spring holiday foods, so that in hard times your family can maintain its traditions and celebrations.
19. With the renewal of the building season, now is the time to scavenge free building materials, like cinder blocks, old windows and scrap wood - with permission, of course.
20. Try and adapt to the spring weather early - get outside, turn down your heat or bank your fires, cut down on your fuel consumption as though you had no choice. Put on those sweaters one more time.
21. Shepherds are flush with wool - now is the time to buy some fleece and start spinning! Drop spindles are easy to make and cheap to use. Check out www.learntospin.com
22. Take a hard look back over the last winter - if you had had to survive on what you grew and stored last year, would you have made it? Early spring was famously the "starving time" when stores ran out and everyone was hungry. Remember, when you plan your food needs that not much produces early in spring, and in northern climates, A winter’s worth of food must last until May or June.
23. Trade cuttings and divisions, seeds and seedlings with your neighbors. Learn what's out there in your community, and sneak some useful plants into your neighbors' garden.
24. If you’ve got a nearby college, consider scavenging the dorm dumpsters. College students often leave astounding amounts of Stuff behind including excellent books, clothes, furniture, etc…
25. Say a schecheyanu, a blessing, or a prayer. Or simply be grateful for a series of coincidences that permit us to be here, in this place, as the world and the seasons come to life again. Try to make sure that this year, this time, you will take more joy in what you have, and prepare a bit better to soften the blow that is about to fall.

SUMMER

1. If you don't can or dehydrate, now is the time to learn. In most climates, you can waterbath can or dehydrate with a minimum of purchased materials, and produce is abundant and cheap. If you don't garden, check out your local farmstand for day-old produce or your farmer's market at the end of the day - they are likely to have large quantities they are anxious to get rid of. Wild fruits are also in abundance, or will be.
2. Consider dehydrating outer leaves of broccoli, cabbage, etc..., and grinding the dried mixture. It can be added to flours to increase the nutritional value of your bread.
3. Buy hay in the summer, rather than gradually over the winter. Now is an excellent time to put up simple shelters for hay storage, to avoid high early spring and winter prices.
4. Firewood, woodstoves and heating materials are at their cheapest right now. Invest now for winter. The same is true of insulating materials.
5. Back to school planning is a great time to reconsider transportation in light of peak oil. Can your children walk? Bike? If they cannot do either for reasons of safety (rather than distance) could an adult do so with them? Could you hire a local teenager to take them to school on foot or by wheel? Can you find ways to carpool, if you must drive? Grownups can do this too.
6. Also when getting ready to go back to school, consider the environmental impact of your scheduling and activities - are there ways to minimize driving/eating out/equipment costs/fuel consumption? Could your family do less in formal "activities" and more in family work?
7. Consider either home schooling or engaging in supplemental home Education. Your kids may need a large number of skills not provided by local public schools, and a critical perspective that they certainly won‘t learn in an institutional setting. Teach them.
8. Try and minimize air conditioning and electrical use during high Summer. Take cool showers or baths, use ice packs, reserve activity when possible for early am or evening. Rise at 4 am and get much of your work done then.
9. Consider adding a solar powered attic fan, available from Real Goods www.realgoods.com.
10. Don’t go on vacation. Spend your energy and money making your home a paradise instead. Throw a barbecue, a party or an open house, and invite the neighbors in. Get to know them.
11. Be prepared for summer blackouts, some quite extensive. Have emergency supplies and lighting at hand.
12. Practice living, cooking and camping outside, so that you will be comfortable doing so if necessary. Everyone in the family can Learn basic outdoors person skills.
13. Make your own summer camp. Instead of sending kids to soccer camp, create an at-home skills camp that helps prepare people for Peak oil. Invite the neighbor kids to join you. Have a blast!
14. Begin adapting herbs and other potted plants to indoor culture. Consider adding small tropicals - figs, lemons, oranges, even bananas can often be grown in cold climate homes. Obviously, if you live in a warm climate well, be prepared for some jealousy from the rest of us come February ;-).
15. Plant a fall garden in high summer - peas, broccoli, kale, lettuces, beets, carrots, turnips, etc… All of the above will last well into early winter in even the harshest climates, and with proper techniques or in milder areas, will provide you with fresh food all year long
16. Put up a new clothesline! Consider hand washing clothes outside, since everyone will probably enjoy getting wet (and cool) anyhow.
17. If you have access to safe waters, go fishing. Get some practice, and learn a new skill.
18. Encourage pick-up games at your house. Post-peak, children will need to know how to entertain themselves.
19. For teens, encourage them to develop their own home businesses over the summers. Whether doing labor or creating a product, you may rely on them eventually to help support the family. Or have them clean out your closets and attic and help you reorganize. Let them sell the stuff.
20. Buy a hand pushed lawn mower if you have less than 1 acre of grass. New ones are easy to push and pleasant, and will save you energy and that unpleasant gas smell.
21. Keep an eye out for unharvested fruits and nuts - many suburban and rural areas have berry and fruit bushes that no one harvests. Take advantage and put up the fruit.
22. Practice extreme water conservation during the summer. Mulch to reduce the need for irrigation. Bathe less often and with less water. Reduce clothes washing when possible.
23. This is an excellent time to toilet train children - they can run around naked if necessary and accidents will do no harm. Try and get them out of diapers now, before winter.
24. Consider replacing lawns with something that doesn’t have to be mown - ground covers like vetch, moss, even edibles like wintergreen or lingonberry, chamomile or mint.
25. If it is summer time, then the living is probably easy. Take some time to enjoy it - to picnic, to celebrate democracy (and try and bring one about ;-), To explore your own area, walk in the nearby woods.

FALL

1. Simple, cheap insulating strategies (window quilts and blankets, draft stoppers, etc...) are easily made from cheap or free materials - goodwill, for example, often has jeans, tshirts and shrunken wool sweaters, of quality too poor to sell, that can be used for quilting material and batting. They are available where I am for a nominal price, and I've heard of getting them free.
2. Stock up for winter as though the hard times will begin this year. Besides dried and canned foods, don't forget root cellarable and storable local produce, and season extension (cold frames, greenhouses, etc...) techniques for fresh food when you make your food inventory.
3. Thanksgiving sales tend to be when supermarkets offer the cheapest deals on excellent supplements to food storage, like shortening, canned pumpkin, spices, etc... I've also heard of stores given turkeys away free with grocery purchases - turkeys can then be cooked, canned and stored. Don't forget to throw in storable ingredients for your family's holiday staples - in hard times, any kind of celebration or continuity is appreciated.
4. Go leaf rustling for your garden and compost pile. If you happen into places where people leave their leaves out for pickup, grab the bags and set them to composting or mulching Your own garden.
5. Plant a last crop of over wintering spinach, and enjoy in the fall and again in spring.
6. Or consider planting a bed of winter wheat. Chickens can even graze it lightly in the fall, and it will be ready to harvest in time to use the bed for your fall garden. Even a small bed will make quite a bit of fresh, delicious bread.
7. Hit those last yard sales, or back to school sales and buy a few extra clothes (or cloth to make them) for growing children and extra shoes for everyone. They will be welcome in storage, particularly if prices rise because of trade issues or inflation.
8. The best time to expand your garden is now - till or mulch and let sod rot over the winter. Add soil amendments, manure, compost and lime.
9. Now is an excellent time to start the 100 mile diet in most locales - Stores and farms and markets are bursting with delicious local produce And products. Eat local and learn new recipes.
10. Rose hip season is coming - most food storage items are low in accessible vitamin C. Harvest wild or tame unsprayed rose hips, and dry them for tea to ensure long-term good health. Rose hips are delicious mixed with raspberry leaves and lemon balm.
11. Discounts on alcohol are common between Halloween and Christmas - this is an excellent time to stock up on booze for personal, medicinal, trade or cooking. Pick up some vanilla beans as well, and make your own vanilla out of that cheap vodka.
12. Gardening equipment, and things like rainbarrels go on sale in the late summer/early fall. And nurseries often are trying to rid themselves of perennial plants - including edibles and medicinals. It isn't too late to plant them in most parts of the country, although some care is needed in purchasing for things that have become rootbound.
13. Local honey will be at its cheapest now - now is the time to stock up. Consider making friends with the beekeeper, and perhaps taking lessons yourself.
14. Fall is the cheapest time to buy livestock, either to keep or for butchering. Many 4Hers, and those who simply don't want to keep excess animals over the winter are anxious to find buyers now. In many cases, at auction, I see animals selling for much less than the meat you can expect to obtain from their carcass is worth.
15. Most cold climate housing has or could have a "cold room/area" - a space that is kept cool enough during the fall and winter to dispense with the necessity of a refrigerator, but that doesn't freeze. If you have separate fridge and freezer, consider disconnecting your fridge during the cooler weather to save utility costs and conserve energy. You can build a cool room by building in a closet with a window, and insulating it with styrofoam panels
16. Now is a great time to build community (and get stuff done) by instituting a local "work bee" - invite neighbors and friends to come help either with a project for your household, or to share in some good deed for another community member. Provide food, drink, tools and get to work on whatever it is (building, harvesting, quilting, knitting - the sky is the limit), and at the same time strengthen your community. Make sure that next time, the work benefits a different neighbor or community member.
17. Most local charities get the majority of their donations between now and December. Consider dividing your charitable donations so that they are made year round, but adding extra volunteer hours to help your group handle the demands on them in the fall.
18. Many medicinal and culinary herbs are at their peak now. Consider learning about them and drying some for winter use.
19. If there is a gleaning program near you (either for charity or personal use) consider joining. If not, start one. Considerable amounts of food are wasted in the harvesting process, and you can either add to your storage or benefit your local shelters and food pantries.
20. Dig out those down comforters, extra blankets, hats with the earflaps, flannel jammies, etc... You don't need heat in your sleeping areas - just warm clothes and blankets.
21. Learn a skill that can be done in the dark or by candlelight, while sitting with others in front of a heat source. Knitting, crocheting, whittling, rug braiding, etc... can all be done mostly by touch with little light, and are suitable for companionable evenings. In addition, learn to sing, play instruments, recite memorized speeches and poetry, etc... as something to do on dark winter evenings.
22. While I wouldn't expect deer or turkey hunting to be a major food source in coming times (I would expect large game to be driven back to near-extinction pretty quickly), it is worth having those skills, and also the skills necessary to catch the less commonly caught small game, like rabbits, squirrel, etc...
23. Use a solar cooker or parabolic solar cooker whenever possible To prepare food. Or eat cool salads and raw foods. Not only won’t you heat up the house, but you’ll save energy.
24. A majority of children are born in the summer early fall, which suggests that some of us are doing more than keeping warm ;-). Now is a good time to get one’s birth control updated ;-).
25. Celebrate the harvest - this is a time of luxury and plenty, and should be treated as such and enjoyed that way. Cook, drink, eat, talk, sing, pray, dance, laugh, invite guests. Winter is long and comes soon enough. Celebrate!

WINTER

1. Your local adult education program almost certainly has something useful to teach you - woodworking, crocheting, music training, horseback riding, CPR, herbalism, vegetarian cookery... take advantage of people who want to teach their skills
2. Get serious about land use planning - even if you live in a suburban neighborhood, you can find ways to optimize your land to produce the most food, fuel and barterables. Sit down and think hard about what you can do to make your land and your life more sustainable in the coming year.
3. The Winter lull is an excellent time to get involved in public affairs. No matter how cynical you tend to be, nothing ever changed without engagement. So get out there. Stand for office. Join. Volunteer.
4. Now is the time to prepare for illness - keep a stock of remedies, including useful antibiotics (although know what you are doing, don't just buy them and take them), vitamin C supplements (I like elderberry syrup), painkillers, herbs, and tools for handling even serious illness by yourself. In the event of a truly severe epidemic of flu or other illness, avoiding illness and treating sick family members at home whenever possible may be safer than taking them to over-worked and over-crowded hospitals (or, it may not - but planning for the former won't prevent you from using the hospital if you need it).
5. Most schools would be delighted to have volunteers come in and talk about conservation, gardening, small livestock, home-scale mechanics, ham radio, etc..., and most homeschooling families would be similarly thrilled. Consider offering to teach something you know that will be helpful post-peak (although I wouldn't recommend discussing peak oil with any but the oldest teenagers, and not even that without their parents permission
6. Now is the time to convince your business, synagogue, church, school, community center to put a garden on that empty lawn. If you start the campaign now, you can be ready to plant in the spring. Produce can be shared among participants or offered to the needy.
7. The one-two punch of rising heating oil and gas prices may well be what is needed to make your family and friends more receptive to the peak oil message. Try again. At the very least, emphasize the options for mitigating increased economic strain with sustainable practices.
8. Get together with neighbors and check in on your area's elderly and disabled people. Make a plan that ensures they will be checked on during bad weather, power outages, etc... Offer help with stocking up for winter, or maintaining equipment. And watch for signs that they are struggling economically.
9. Work on raising money and getting help with local poverty-abatement Programs. After the holidays, people struggle. They get hungry and cold. Remember, besides the fact that it is the right thing to do, the life you save may be your own.
10. Get out and enjoy the cold weather. It is hard to adapt to colder temperatures if you spend all your time huddled in front of a heater. Ski, snowshoe, sled, shovel, have a snowball fight, build a hut, go winter camping, but get comfortable with the cold, snowy world around you.
11. Have your chimney(s) inspected, and learn to clean your own. Learn to care for your kerosene lamps, to use candles safely, and how to use and maintain your smoke and CO detectors and fire extinguishers. Winter is peak fire season, so keep safe.
12. Grow sprouts on your windowsill.
13. Now is an excellent time to reconsider how you use your house. Look around - could you make more space? House more people? Do projects more efficiently? Add greenhouse space? Put in a homemade composting toilet? Work with what you have to make it more useful.
14. If a holiday gift exchange is part of your life, make most of your gifts. Knit, whittle, build, sew, or otherwise create something beautiful for the people you love.
15. If someone wants to buy you something, request a useful tool or preparedness item, or a gift certificate to a place like Lehmans or Real Goods. Considering giving such gifts to friends and family - a solar crank radio, an LED flashlight, cast iron pans, These are useful and appreciated items whether or not you believe in peak oil.
16. Do a dry run in the dead of winter. Turn out all the power, turn off the water. Turn off all fossil-fuel sources of heat, and see how things go for a few days. Use what you learn to improve your preparedness, and have fun while doing it.
17. Learn to mend clothing, patch and make patchwork out of old clothes.
18. Write letters to people. The post is the most reliable way of communicating, And letters last forever.
19. Make a list of goals for the coming year, and the coming five years. Start Keeping records of your goals and your successes and failures.
20. Keep a journal. Your children and grandchildren (or someone else’s) may want To know what these days were like.
21. Wash your hands frequently, and avoid stress. Stay healthy so that you can be useful To those around you.
22. For those subject to depression or anxiety, winter can be hard. Find ways to relax, decompress and use work as an antidote to fear whenever possible. Get outside on sunny days, and try and exercise as much as possible to help maintain a positive attitude.
23. Memorize a poem or song every week. No matter what happens to you, no one can ever take away the music and words you hold in your mind. You can have them as comfort and pleasure wherever you go, and in whatever circumstances.
24. Take advantage of heating stoves by cooking on them. You can make soups or stews on top of any wood stove or even many radiators, and you can build or buy a metal oven That sits on top of woodstoves to bake in.
25. Winter is a time of quiet and contemplation. Go outside. Hear the silence. Take pleasure in what you have achieved over the past year. Focus on the abundance of this present, this day, rather than scarcity to come.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Risks of Too Much City

washingtonpost.com

By Jeremy Rifkin

The coming year marks a great milestone in the human saga, a development similar in magnitude to the agricultural era and the Industrial Revolution. For the first time in history, a majority of human beings will be living in vast urban areas, many in megacities and suburban extensions with populations of 10 million or more, according to the United Nations. We have become "Homo Urbanus."

Two hundred years ago, the average person on Earth might meet 200 to 300 people in a lifetime. Today a resident of New York City can live and work among 220,000 people within a 10-minute radius of his home or office in midtown Manhattan.

Only one city in all of history -- ancient Rome -- boasted a population of more than a million before the 19th century. London became the first modern city with a population over 1 million in 1820. Today 414 cities boast populations of a million or more, and there's no end in sight.

As long as the human race had to rely on solar flow, the winds and currents, and animal and human power to sustain life, the population remained relatively low to accommodate nature's carrying capacity: the biosphere's ability to recycle waste and replenish resources. The tipping point was the exhuming of large amounts of stored sun, first in the form of coal deposits, then oil and natural gas.

Harnessed by the steam engine and later the internal combustion engine and converted to electricity and distributed across power lines, fossil fuels allowed humanity to create new technologies that dramatically increased food production and manufactured goods and services. The unprecedented increase in productivity led to runaway population growth and the urbanization of the world.

No one is really sure whether this turning point in human living arrangements ought to be celebrated, lamented or merely acknowledged. That's because our burgeoning population and urban way of life have been purchased at the expense of vast ecosystems and habitats.

Cultural historian Elias Canetti once remarked that each of us is a king in a field of corpses. If we were to stop for a moment and reflect on the number of creatures and the amount of Earth's resources and materials we have expropriated and consumed in our lifetime, we would be appalled at the carnage and depletion used to secure our existence.

Large populations living in megacities consume massive amounts of the Earth's energy to maintain their infrastructures and daily flow of human activity. The Sears Tower in Chicago alone uses more electricity in a single day than the city of Rockford, Ill., with 152,000 people. Even more amazing, our species now consumes nearly 40 percent of the net primary production on Earth -- the amount of solar energy converted to plant organic matter through photosynthesis -- even though we make up only one-half of 1 percent of the animal biomass of the planet. This means less for other species to use.

The flip side of urbanization is what we are leaving behind on our way to a world of hundred-story office buildings, high-rise residences and landscapes of glass, cement, artificial light and electronic interconnectivity. It's no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world, we are quickly approaching another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild. Rising population; growing consumption of food, water and building materials; expanding road and rail transport; and urban sprawl continue to encroach on the remaining wild, pushing it to extinction.

Scientists tell us that within the lifetime of today's children, the wild will disappear from the face of the earth. The Trans-Amazon Highway, which cuts across the entire expanse of the Amazon rain forest, is hastening the obliteration of the last great wild habitat. Other remaining wild regions, from Borneo to the Congo Basin, are fast diminishing with each passing day, making way for growing human populations in search of living space and resources.

It's no wonder that (according to Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson) we are experiencing the greatest wave of mass extinction of animal species in 65 million years. We are losing 50 to 150 species to extinction per day, or between 18,000 and 55,000 species a year. By 2100 two-thirds of the Earth's remaining species are likely to be extinct.

Where does this leave us? Try to imagine 1,000 cities of a million or more just 35 years from now. It boggles the mind and is unsustainable for Earth. I don't want to spoil the party, but perhaps the commemoration of the urbanization of the human race in 2007 might be an opportunity to rethink the way we live.

Certainly there is much to applaud about urban life: its rich cultural diversity and social intercourse and its dense commercial activity. But the question is one of magnitude and scale. We need to ponder how best to lower our population and develop sustainable urban environments that use energy and resources more efficiently, are less polluting and better designed to foster living arrangements on a human scale.

In the great era of urbanization we have increasingly shut off the human race from the rest of the natural world in the belief that we could conquer, colonize and utilize the riches of the planet to ensure our autonomy without dire consequences to us and future generations. In the next phase of human history, we will need to find a way to reintegrate ourselves into the rest of the living Earth if we are to preserve our own species and conserve the planet for our fellow creatures.

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of "The Age of Access" and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Oil giant rejects peak oil view

Star-Telegram.com

By Dan Piller

Exxon Mobil on Tuesday lined up solidly against “peak oil” adherents, saying the estimated 4 trillion barrels of crude oil available for production will be more than enough to satisfy the estimated 60 percent increase in world demand for crude oil through 2030.

Such a view runs contrary to the peak oil argument, which warns that the world is near the peak production and any decline will weigh heavily in increased costs and geopolitical friction as demand continues to climb, particularly in China, India, Russia and the developing world.

“We are comfortable that the technology exists to produce sufficient oil through 2030,” Exxon Mobil planning manager Jaime Spellings said.

Fossil fuels will continue to make up 80 percent or more of fuels for transportation and utility use, Spellings said. Increased efficiency in automobiles, particularly the expected widespread use of hybrid automobiles and changed behaviors by consumers, will make the United States and other developed countries at least 40 percent more fuel efficient than at present.

“We think that economic output will grow faster than energy demand,” Spellings said. He added that although Exxon Mobil doesn’t predict crude-oil or gasoline prices, he said, “We feel that the current high prices for crude oil don’t reflect production costs,” and therefore, presumably, should ease.

Alternative fuels such as corn-based ethanol will account for no more than 2 percent of U.S. fuel usage by 2030, Spellings said. He said that at least 21 percent of the annual U.S. corn crop would be needed to produce that 3 percent of total gasoline use estimated for 2012.

Other estimates provided by Exxon Mobil

Global oil resources:

1984: 1.8 trillion barrels

1994: 2.2 trillion barrels

2005: 3.1 trillion barrels

Percentage of high-efficiency-technology car sales:

2005: 2 percent

2010: 3 percent

2020: 10 percent

2030: 30 percent

Daily fuel supply and demand in 2030:

Crude & condensate: 82 million barrels

Oil sands: 5 million barrels

Natural gas liquids: 8 million barrels

Biofuels: 1 million barrels

SOURCE: Exxon Mobil


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Elephants and Quagmires: Peak Oil and the Bush Denial

By Bill Henderson

While the Bush administration, the media and nearly all the Democrats still refuse to explain the war in Iraq in terms of oil, the ever-pragmatic members of the Iraq Study Group share no such reticence.

Page 1, Chapter 1 of the Iraq Study Group report lays out Iraq's importance to its region, the U.S. and the world with this reminder: "It has the world's second-largest known oil reserves."

An administration full of oilmen, cognizant of 'peak oil' and America's dependence upon a Middle East containing 60% of the world's remaining cheap oil, faced with a dictator in oh so central and tempting, incredibly oil-rich Iraq, who as a sworn enemy was threatening oil flow not only from Iraq but from the wider Gulf, chose a military solution: shock and awe and regime change.

The neocon faction within the Bush Admin manipulated 9/11 and fear of terrorism into a pretext for already planned aggression in Iraq. They broke American and international law but fantasized that a democratic, neoliberal Iraq of their creation would turn the course of Middle Eastern geopolitics to America's long term benefit (and Israel's long term benefit too, of course).

The war went incredibly well. But they mis-managed the immediate stabilization after victory and made a mess of building a client state in Iraq. And the blatant and cynically illegal aggression created an immense backlash throughout the Middle East, the wider Islamic world, and globally, inflaming potential terrorists and severely weakening America's leadership position.

A destabilized Iraq sliding into civil war now threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East. The growing Sunni-Shia conflict threatens to engulf Saudi Arabia and the other oil producing states. Military unilateralism has also heated up the quarter century old cold war between America and Iran with both sides planning potential military action around the crucial Persian Gulf. Disastrous blundering in Iraq now threatens not only the flow of oil.

America has no choice but to solve this now mission impossible. (And for all-important domestic political reasons American leadership must also at least pretend to be considering a timetable for removing troops from the quagmire.)

Given necessary lead times it is several decades too late to initiate Geogreen innovation to wean America from imported oil from the Middle East. It is in all probability too late to switch to a diplomatic strategy for pacifying a now inflamed hornet's nest even if, now in the worst of times, a Palestine-Israel settlement, an Israeli-Lebanon-Syrian settlement, an American-Iranian settlement and/or a Shia-Sunni settlement were possible.

The hawkish option is a major escalation of American military might in an effort to re-establish control. Such an escalation that would have to include Iran would in all probability risk shutting off the flow of oil from the Gulf at least temporarily, maybe for far longer, precipitating God knows what in the American and global economies. Such a major escalation of hostilities also risks a much wider geopolitical destabilization.

(It is still possible in some circles to fantasize a rebuilt Middle East put back together in an enlightened manner where all would benefit from democracy and prosperity.)

The Bush Admin choice of the resource war path in Iraq as an escalation of America's historic policy to secure Middle East oil was a serious provocation against China and Russia. Success meant American control of the Middle East and an America determined and capable of controlling needed resources globally. Failure has emboldened each and every enemy of America, but desperation could lead to far worse, presently unimagined, outcomes including a final, nuclear, world war.

The present shallow debate about American options in Iraq has mostly ignored both the central importance of American dependence upon the continuing flow of cheap oil from the Middle East and the fundamental Iraq illegality and unilateralist contempt for an international rule of law and co-operation shown by the Bush Admin. America's governing class is still in denial and so there are no solutions on the horizon, only a deepening quagmire.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

The road ends in post-petro future

IndyStar.com

By Kelly Jones Sharp

Like many Americans, I came of age in the era of cheap gas, cross-country vacations, the family station wagon and the Beach Boys croonin' while I spent my high school years cruisin'.

Later, warming in the fumes of JP-4 on U.S. Air Force flight lines and relocating cross-country and around the world -- to Florida, South Korea, Washington state, Virginia, Michigan and finally Indiana -- mobility on the cheap was something I took for granted.
At a party during the 2004 election campaigns, I even said (aloud), "I don't give a damn about the environment." OK, what I meant was I didn't give a damn about it as a campaign issue among what I thought were weightier concerns like the war and civil liberties.

And when Hoosier Environmental Council activists tapped on my door a few years back with their petition to stop I-69, I told them I was not opposed to it. New construction is the quintessential "can't-please-everyone" issue. There will always be tree huggers prostrating themselves before bulldozers. If they had their way every time, nothing would ever be built.

Then I heard the phrase "peak oil production" at a presentation by self-confessed tree hugger Scott Russell Sanders at last year's Spirit & Place Festival. And it occurred to me that those words I'd heard many times before had fallen on deaf ears until that moment.

In 1971, the bubbling crude in the United States that was easiest and cheapest to get, peaked. Half of our petroleum, a non-renewable resource, had been burned up. Forever.

According to that same principle -- M. King Hubbert's 1956 "peak" -- the global supply of petroleum is likely also now half gone. Next is decline, and after that it's over.

James Howard Kunstler, in his book "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century," outlines a gloomy scenario for post-petroleum America, warning that our "reality check is in the mail." He states, "The American way of life -- which is now virtually synonymous with suburbia -- can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil and gas. Even mild to moderate deviations in either price or supply will crush our economy and make the logistics of daily life impossible."
Consider for a moment those logistics. Although I grew up in a car-worshipping culture, nearly every service our family needed was within walking distance of our house. Our schools, grocery, drug store, doctor, dentist, library and church were all within a two-mile radius. And we walked to all of them.

Today I walk to none of those places, the closest being a couple miles from my house and the farthest being about 10 miles away. Like most Americans, my daily existence is centered on my car, which is powered by a resource that will someday be unavailable.
Kunstler says, "No combination of so-called alternative fuels or energy procedures will allow us to maintain daily life in the United States the way we have been accustomed to running it under the regime of oil." Among the proposed schemes he refutes are ethanol, tar sands and shale oils, saying the energy economics due to costly extraction and pollution make these things impossible to produce on the same scale as oil.

Matthew R. Simmons, chairman of Simmons & Company International, told the World Oil Conference in Boston on Oct. 26, "It's time to wake up! Preparing for post-peak oil and gas takes careful planning and implementation."

Next to John Mellencamp's gung-ho ode to Chevy Silverados, a looming crisis seems positively surreal.

Now we hear from Gov. Mitch Daniels about his proposed Indiana Commerce Connector, a $1.5 billion outer beltway.

Perhaps the best reason to stop hemorrhaging cash into these new construction road projects is that someday we'll no longer need them. The next best reason is those dollars might be better invested in post-peak planning, mass transportation and new urbanist living arrangements such as Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard's handiwork that could help stall dependency on automobiles.

When the governor pre-accuses those who might oppose his new road project of "provincialism," he's really projecting his own myopic view. Building roads is not new thinking.

To the HEC: Bring on your petition. This time, I'm signing.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Unprecedented Efficiency In Producing Hydrogen From Water

ScienceDaily

Scientists are reporting a major advance in technology for water photooxidation --using sunlight to produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel from ordinary water.

Michael Gratzel and colleagues in Switzerland note that nature found this Holy Grail of modern energy independence 3 billion years ago, with the evolution of blue-green algae that use photosynthesis to split water into its components, hydrogen and oxygen.

Gratzel is namesake for the Gratzel Cell, a more-efficient solar cell that his group developed years ago. Solar cells produce electricity directly from sunlight. Their new research, scheduled for publication in the Dec. 13 issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society, reports development of a device that sets a new benchmark for efficiency in splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using visible light, which is ordinary sunlight.

Previously, the best water photooxidation technology had an external quantum efficiency of about 37 percent. The new technology's efficiency is 42 percent, which the researchers term "unprecedented." The efficiency is due to an improved positive electrode and other innovations in the water-splitting device, researchers said.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Southeast Asian oil output likely to peak by 2013

financialexpress.com

Oil production in Southeast Asia will reach a peak in 2013 as fewer new fields are found, forcing the region to evaluate its dependence on crude, said Michael Smith chief executive of UK-based consultant Energyfiles Ltd.

Crude oil output will hit an apex of 3.3 million barrels a day by 2013, compared to 95 million barrels a day of global production, said Smith, during a presentation at the OSEA 2006 conference in Singapore. Southeast Asia’s gas production will hit a total of 4.7 million barrels of oil equivalent a day at the same time before reaching a top level in 2020.

Smith’s research follows the theory of peak oil that believes oil production will reach a zenith some time either now or some time in the near future. The result of the predicted supply decline will be an increase in the level and volatility of prices.

‘‘This is due to a shortage of opportunities to find new oil,’’ said Smith in an interview at the venue of the conference. ‘‘The region won’t be able to sustain the aircraft and automobile growth that has happened in the past.’’ New deepwater production from Malaysia and Vietnam and supplies from Thailand will stave off the peak, said Smith.

From 2013 onward, the region will become more of a natural gas supplier, exporting 1.6 million barrels of oil equivalent a day.

The decline in production will mean exploration funding will move to higher value areas in West Africa, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian Sea, he said.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Scientists' warnings unheeded

The Courier-Mail

By James McCausland

In 1973, the Arab oil-producing nations convulsed most of the world by tightening the spigots on their wells and sharply reducing production. Corporations, and nations including Japan, went into crisis mode and many started to think of ways to lessen their reliance on petroleum products. As the after-shock waves began to subside and black gold started to flow again, most enterprises kicked petroleum replacement well down the agenda. Yet there were further signs of the desperate measures individuals would take to ensure mobility. A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol – and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence.

A couple of years later, George Miller conceived the scenario for Mad Max. Max (a very young Mel Gibson) was the antihero out on roads that had become battlefields where the prize was fuel. Society had corroded as a result of the reduction of supply and the rule of law deteriorated into chaos.Res Publica, put out by the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.Mad Max may have been a fantasy with apocalyptic overtones, keep an eye out on the road for people in leather jackets and souped-up cars chasing bike gangs – with the price being a few hundred litres of petrol.

George and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late. Sure, it contained a large element of geeks' own adventures; but at its core was a sizeable kernel of truth. That kernel has taken root, and it's called peak oil.

When an oil well is discovered, it is at peak production until it reaches about 50 per cent of its total output. After this, the remaining half becomes more difficult to extract – and much more expensive – as the ratio of water to oil expands. Ultimately the well is abandoned and the search for a new well begins.

Easier said than done.

According to many experts, the discovery of oil fields worthy of the name reached it zenith in the middle of the 1960s. As a consequence, consumption of oil is already outpacing reserves.

Peter Newman, professor in city policy and director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, points out that the US now imports half of its oil needs. The price tag for the first 10 months of 2005 was $US144 billion ($A185 billion), up 32 per cent on the previous year.

Much of this can be attributed to the rapidly rising price of oil; but he posits the possibility that the underlying reason may be that the world oil production peak is occurring right now. At any rate, with reserves growing much more slowly than consumption, a peak in global oil production is inevitable.

Professor Newman published his paper in (sic). He quotes C.J. Campbell, an oil geophysicist and founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, as claiming that conventional oil peaked in 2004 and all oil liquids will peak in 2010: "The real point is not so much the exact date of peak but . . . that the first half of the oil age, which was characterised by growing production, is about to be followed by the second half when oil production is set to decline with all that depends upon it. On that at least we can stand firm."

Professor Newman argues that global oil seems to be at full capacity, and that that level may hold for a few years before the inevitable downward spiral.

To make gloomy matters grimmer. this is happening at a time when the previously dormant economies of the global economy's behemoths, China and India, are growing exponentially. China is now the world's second-biggest consumer of oil.

Of course, there are sceptics: those who believe something will turn up to mitigate the problem.

Professor Newman is hearing none of this. He quotes BP Exploration manager Richard Miller. "This is the classical economist's view; something will turn up, when the price of oil is high enough, because something always does. But there isn't anything conceivable that could replace conventional oil in the same quantities or energy densities at any meaningful price. We can't mine the oil sands in sufficient quantity because there isn't enough water to process them. We can't grow bio-fuels because there would be no land left to grow food. Solar, hydro, wind and geothermal don't yield enough energy, hydrogen (from water) takes more energy to make than it can yield, and nuclear fission and fusion are presently off most political agendas. When oil gets too expensive, surviving Americans will still obtain energy from alternative sources, but in much smaller amounts and at much higher prices."

One of the pernicious problems about peaking is that we will only be able to identify the problem after it has occurred. So preparing for alternatives has to be well under way years before the peak is reached.

So if we don't recognise the problem well in advance, a disaster of unforeseen magnitude could befall us.

Last year a report prepared for the US Department of Energy spelled it out in terms that could be plucked from Armageddon. "The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions were gradual and evolutionary. Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary."

The sombre fact is that no matter how dramatic the consequences, it is difficult to get anyone excited to the point of taking action.