Thursday, April 28, 2005

Unplanning Journal

I've been reading the occasional posts on Unplanning Journal, a blog authored by a county planner in central California. The planner rightly points out that planners everywhere assume that energy supplies will grow without end. In fact, so deep is the faith in ever-growing energy supplies that planning documents either never mention or give just perfunctory mention to energy issues. The planner garnered considerable attention recently with his post of a summary of his conversation with an energy company executive espousing a bleak outlook for natural gas (READ: electricity) supplies in North America. (The planner's inquiry was part of his regular work of planning for countywide energy needs over the next couple of decades.)

Most revealing for me are his suggestions for relocating population away from major urban centers post peak oil, something he regards as an inevitability given how unsustainable cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas are. There is also his outline for an emergency response plan to energy shortages since he has come to believe that municipalities will not plan ahead given their deeply held belief that energy supplies will continue to grow indefinitely.

It is the tone of these suggestions that is most compelling. They are expressed in the neutral, rational manner you'd expect from a planner providing information on a plan for, say, a new highway. But, that very tone rattles the nerves since what is being contemplated is so enormous and disruptive. We need to recognize that the Unplanner is merely engaging in the kind of thinking every community will be forced to engage in if we all simply wait for the inevitable decline of energy supplies. Do we really want to temporize when oil prices are three and four times what they are today? And yet, it seems, given the inertia of planning departments everywhere, his suggestions might well become a template for how to react to the coming energy crisis--after its arrival.

Let's hope his message reaches his fellow planners before then.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Fafblog explains Bush energy plan

Fafblog takes a poke at the Bush energy plan. Thanks to reader J. A. for pointing out this bit of energy humor.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hydrogen from bacteria?

Of course, we can get hydrogen from bacteria rather than more energy-intensive electrolysis or extraction from methane. But, these "breakthroughs" often turn out not to be what they are assumed. Note the comments at the bottom of this WorldChanging post explaining why the information provided is incomplete and why the process described may end up being quite costly indeed. Hydrogen as a fuel has a lot of advantages (and some very serious disadvantages), but getting it out of the environment at a reasonable energy cost remains a difficult hurdle.

(Via Peak Energy.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Cheap gas for cheap housing

This piece and its companion part two on Truthout provide a complex mapping of how our energy deficit (i.e., oil imports) have led to every other deficit and how those deficits have tilted the country rightward for 25 years. The basic pattern is as follows:
1. Energy deficit creates trade deficit.
2. Trade deficit creates investment deficit.
3. Investment deficit creates budget deficit.
4. Investment deficit and budget deficit creates wages and wealth deficit.
5. Wages and wealth deficits create pressure to use energy to generate housing wealth, which starts the cycle over again.
The vicious cycle keeps real wages flat and oil prices cheap, thus encouraging people to look for cheaper housing farther from the city using cheap gasoline to finance their trips to work and back and to everywhere else. It also tends to keep them focused on husbanding the remaining scraps of prosperity that they have, something which they do increasingly by taking on debt.

The grim forecast from the author is that oil depletion will make America move even further to the right. This seems to me not to be a firm bet. At some point the whole edifice comes tumbling down. Whoever is in office at the time gets blamed. Who will replace the fallen officeholders is the question. Will it be those with a progressive agenda seeking to rectify the ravaging of the middle class, the poor and the environment or will it be those who promise to restore the recent past when there is no hope of doing so?

(Via Mobjectivist.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Crop yields will crash with global warming

For a long time scientists believed that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere responsible for global warming would likely offset the damage done to crops by rising temperatures. As everyone knows, photosynthesis in plants converts carbon dioxide from the air into carbon compounds for the plants and oxygen which is released to the atmosphere. Extra carbon dioxide ought to do plants some good, scientist surmised.

Now, actual open field experiments which added carbon dioxide and the expected ozone levels from increased smog show dramatic reductions in yields. This is extremely bad news, especially for countries such as India and China.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

'Vote for me; I promise you less'

I recently did question and answer sessions after two local showings of the movie, "The End of Suburbia." Each time the question arose, "Why aren't our politicians talking about the issue of oil depletion?" My response has been that nobody in America gets elected by saying, "Vote for me; I promise you less." (A couple of brave congressmen from Maryland recently broached the subject of peak oil. Perhaps they don't care about whether they get re-elected.) The last person to make a serious go of this message was Jimmy Carter, and we all know what happened to him.

For some reason, the same political rules don't apply in Europe where the European parliament voted to require a 10 percent cut in energy use by 2015. No doubt much of this will be achieved through new efficiencies forced on industry and residences by the law. But, I believe some of it will have to be achieved through curtailment or, at least, the rearranging of how things are now done. That means less of something.

How can we import the magic elixir that allows Europeans to begin preparing for an energy transition before a crisis has hit? We need that elixir badly!

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Speak now (but don't forever hold your peace)

Kjell Aleklett, president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, provides a compact summary of how oil depletion is turning more and more countries into net importers. Here's the key paragraph:
By 2010 the following countries have the potential to produce more oil than they have ever produced before; Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and Bolivia. These countries will have to cover the decline in 59 countries and the increased demand from the rest of the world. Anyone that can provide information showing that this is possible must do it now.
Do we have any takers?

(Via PowerSwitch.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Stop the presses

"Vietnam, strategically situated on the south China Rim, will emerge as a key US trading partner and ally over the next ten years." That's one of several startling conclusions from "Crisis on the China Rim," (PDF-85 pages), a recently released report now available from Research Connect.

The subtitle, "An Economic, Crude Oil, and Military Analysis," gives you some idea of the reasons for the turn of events. It's all about energy, in particular, oil. The author of the report, Laguna Research Partners, also makes another startling prediction. Instead of merely coalescing around trading blocs, the world's nations will also coalesce around what Laguna calls "Energy Security Blocs."
Just as the Cold War of the 20th century had its opposing communist Eastern and democratic Western Blocs, we expect the intensifying race for energy security will prompt the formation of opposing "Energy Security Blocs. These Blocs will take time to emerge, but they are coalescing now. We anticipate that, eventually, one energy security bloc will be US-centric, while the other is likely to be China-centric.
The Laguna analyst also sheds light on the current posturing between China and Taiwan, showing the blinders that Western thinking can put on any attempt at analysis. He quotes from Sun Tzu's The Art of War: "The skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting." Then, he explains what it means in the context of China and Taiwan.
Viewed from a Western perspective, China's threats regarding Taiwan represent counter-productive saber rattling. From an Asian perspective, China is pursuing a Taiwan re-unification strategy of "breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
The report also makes note of how the recent pipeline deal between Iran, Pakistan and India "provides an excellent example of how the crisis on the China Rim is trumping deep historical distrusts and forging radical changes in world view among China Rim governments."

With respect to the Chinese economy, the report states, "As long as China keeps the value of the Yuan Renminbi pegged to the value of the US Dollar, we expect that China's economy will continue to surprise observers to the upside."

Any other surprises on the upside? You probably guessed it: oil. "[P]rice targets calling for $100 per barrel within the next three years will prove to be conservative," the report concludes.

The Laguna report is filled with statistics on military expenditures, GDP, border lengths, oil reserves--a myriad of fascinating detail that provides a solid statistical basis for some of the seemingly outlandish conclusions. There are more conclusions just like the ones I've cited for those with the patience to read through the entire report.

(Thanks to reader T. O. at Research Connect for putting me onto this report.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

New Yorker climate article now online

The "The Climate of Man - 1", the first part of a three-part series on global warming, is now available online. I discussed it in my previous post, but it was not available online at that point. I strongly recommend the article.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fissures of (climate) history

Ridicule often comes to those who think that we are living at the beginning of a bold, new era of progress, pregnant with possibilities and opportunity or conversely, to those with a more pessimistic (or eschatological) turn of mind who believe we are living at the close of an age whose life and culture are about to be wiped out in a great cataclysm (the result of our own doing, of course). After all, it is argued, by definition almost everyone lives in the middle of any definable era. It's a boring and disappointing thought that undermines our self-importance and robs us of our personal sense of drama.

To restore that sense of drama, the latest New Yorker magazine (April 25) has the first of a series of three articles on climate change. In "The Climate of Man-1," we learn from a leading permafrost expert that Alaska's permafrost is warming up to near the freezing point, some of it only one degree away from melting. If it melts, it would be the first time in 120,000 years that it has done so.

It sounds like nothing more egregious than the freezer defrosting and leaving you with some liquid ice cream all over the bottom. But, according to our expert it would definitely mark a turning point in geological history. Huge amounts of organic material frozen in the permafrost would begin to decompose sending out the first installment of hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which would then make things warmer, which then melt more of the permafrost and so on. It's the feared runaway global warming scenario.

For those not convinced that we are on the edge of a new era (climatically speaking) there's this:
Antarctic ice cores show that carbon dioxide levels today are significantly higher than they have been at any other point in the last four hundred and twenty thousand years.
And, far from thinking about climate change as a slow process, we will likely not have to wait thousands of more years to see the result of our handiwork as this analogy that compares the climate system to a rowboat suggests:
You can tip and then you'll just go back. You can tip it and just go back. And, then you tip it and you get to the other stable state, which is upside down.
In the article you get a short history of global warming studies--they began more than 140 years ago--a tour of the main venues of research including Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland and a lot of very well-explained climate science.

When you get done, you will no longer think that we are living through the middle of anything except an era of extreme change.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Insider

It is today sometimes as difficult to get an energy company insider to talk about oil and gas supplies as it was to get tobacco company executives to talk about the shenanigans that went on behind their doors. So unique and astonishing was the event when a lone tobacco executive went to the press anonymously that it was made into the movie known as The Insider (which I highly recommend).

As for oil and gas production company insiders, they are not so much involved in shenanigans as they are reluctant to admit that theirs is an industry with a highly uncertain and probably waning future. Now, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Unplanning Journal, a blog by an anonymous natural resource planner for a county in central California, we have one willing to talk.

For weeks, as part of the planner's job, he had been seeking an energy executive who would give him the straight dope on natural gas supplies in North America. Projections for those supplies are crucial to knowing how much electricity his county can count on in the future since almost all new power plants are now gas-fired. The picture painted by the anonymous executive is not promising. He predicts that the situation will continue to be touch-and-go in the next few years in North America. He believes that imported Liquid Natural Gas will help alleviate shortages, but at a great cost, and he is worried because new LNG terminals are moving ahead at a snail's pace. He believes the U. S. Energy Information Administration projections for natural gas supplies in North America are wildly optimistic, manipulated for political reasons, and not consistent with what he's seeing on the ground. Click on the link above. It's a must read all the way through.

(Via Peak Energy.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Would you like MTBE with your water?

Unless you follow gasoline formulations closely, you probably haven't heard of methyl tertiary butyl ether or MTBE. First used as an octane enhancer when lead was banned from gasoline, it was later used in large amounts to make gasoline burn cleaner. Cleaner burning gasoline was mandated in cities with air pollution problems, and MTBE helped.

Since the law of unintended consequences is active always and everywhere, leaking underground gasoline storage tanks at service stations all over America leaked MTBE as well. Gasoline leaking into the soil is bad enough, but gasoline is volatile and tends not to get very far from the leaking tank. MTBE, on the other hand, slides through soil and then into the water table with ease. It has polluted water throughout America, municipal and private wells alike, making the water supplies unpalatable and possibly carcinogenic.

Municipalities are suing the manufacturers of MTBE--oil giants and refiners--to force them to pay for the costly cleanup. So, in comes the cavalry, that is, the Republican Congress which this week passed an exemption from lawsuits for the MTBE makers. Tom Delay, the most ardent supporter of the measure, has not explained exactly who is going to pay for the cleanup of America's water supplies. I doubt he ever will.

The lawsuit exemption previously kept the White House's energy bill tied up in the Senate, but it's not clear that opponents have enough votes to stop it this time.

Now that Congress is open to narrowly crafted bills for individuals (think Terri Shiavo) and for big oil companies who pollute your drinking water (think ExxonMobil, et al.), perhaps they can exempt everybody from every responsibility. But, I exaggerate. They only do it for political gain or for those who can afford to pay.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Whatever happened to fuel cells?

The difficulties continue to abound for the promised hydrogen economy. Fuel cell stocks that once soared have been laid low--very low, in some cases. The auto companies that invested in the technology no longer think the hydrogen revolution is near. If they don't, who else would? There may be some promise in the companies developing fuel cells yet. But, a quick kill for investors is not in the cards according to this E Magazine piece.

(Via GreenMedia.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Over the top?

A French investment bank says that oil prices could reach $380 a barrel by 2015. Even the most pessimistic peak oil theorists have failed to reach for numbers so high. The bank's analysis is that supply will fail to keep up with demand by a wide margin. But the authors of the report do not predict an actual decline in oil production.

This straightline scenario, however, seems highly unlikely. I believe the world would be thrown into a deep recession long before that level is reached. A recession, of course, would dampen demand and bring prices down. But, I can see a scenario that is consistent with the bank's notion that supply lags demand in a big way during the next 10 years. That scenario is several recessions, each followed by weak growth and high inflation. Something like what we experienced in the 1970s only worse.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Trying to be optimistic about an imminent oil peak

It seems that it is the job of America's politicians to be optimistic about everything. For a congressman convinced that world peak oil production is here or very near, Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) seems remarkably upbeat considering what the likely consequences are if he's right. Bartlett says that we can do much to conserve and still have nearly everything we want and need. To bridge the gap we must then set out to build an alternative energy economy. But, if he truly understands the significance of an imminent peak, then what he's acutally trying to do is to keep our spirits up so that we will at least focus on possible constructive things to do in the wake of that peak.

Regardless of what Bartlett understands about peak oil and its effects, I must give him great credit for saying something on the floor of the U. S. House that is likely to win him few friends. To admit that we face an imminent peak is implicitly to admit that we all face hardship and will have to live on less, perhaps a lot less. No one in America gets elected on such a message. The last person to try it was Jimmy Carter.

But, perhaps Roscoe Bartlett cares more about the future of the country and the world than he does about his current job. In that way he reminds me of a fictional politician on TV who goes by the same last name.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Slip of the tongue?

It's doubtful that presidential spokesman Scott McClellan failed to choose his words carefully when he announced this week that Saudi Arabia was producing "near capacity." It was the same day that President Bush called for passage of his energy plan which includes continuing heavy subsidies for fossil fuels and new subsidies for nuclear power.

But an admission that the world's largest oil exporter and only remaining swing producer is out of capacity means either 1) the White House knows that oil supplies are stretched as far as they can go or 2) it will say whatever it needs to in order to get a bad energy bill passed.

Energy investment banker Matt Simmons has been insisting that if Saudi Arabia has peaked, then the world has peaked. This is within a context in which all major government energy planning agencies acknowledge that the bulk of future growth in oil supplies is going to have to come from Saudi Arabia and a few other Persian Gulf states. Do Scott McClellan and, by extension, the president understand what they are saying?

(Via lowem.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Peace through natural gas

Imagine Michael Moore and George W. Bush palling around on a fishing trip and mugging for the camera with full-toothed smiles. Now that you've imagined the impossible, you can understand how improbable it is that India and Pakistan have announced that they are on an "irreversible" course toward peace.

What would cause two longtime, sworn enemies to suddenly get sweet on each other? How about a natural gas pipeline that will run through Pakistan to India and supply both with badly needed energy for their growing economies. Not one to take this outbreak of peace lying down, Condolezza Rice scolded both countries because the pipeline is coming from Iran.

While the warming relations between Pakistan and India might well deteriorate for any number of reasons, the implacable opposition of the United States to anyone else getting a piece of the remaining energy pie seems to be one thing that is irreversible.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

ANWR bait-and-switch

When the Trans-Alaska pipeline was authorized in 1973, legislators wanted to make sure that an oil-starved America would receive all the pipeline's oil. And, it did until 1995, when Alaska's senior senator after years of effort got an export ban on Alaskan oil lifted. The net effect of the ban was to lower oil prices on the West Coast and deprive Alaska of the extra revenue it would have received from selling its oil on the world market at prevailing prices.

Roll forward 22 years and you find the same debate. The Alaskans have argued that the oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical to America's energy future. And, they convinced 51 senators to go along with drilling in a budget bill. (A final showdown looms ahead that will decide whether the drilling will survive.) But, if drilling is approved this year, where will that oil go? The legislation authorizing the drilling contains no ban on exports. So, instead of securing America's energy future, it might well be securing Japan's.

I think it's called bait-and-switch. Stores that do it break the law. Politicians that do it often get re-elected.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Oil depletion explained

Oil depletion is not a very sexy topic. But it is the basis for peak oil theory. It also shines a light on why major government energy forecasters such as the U. S. Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency have failed to forecast world demand for oil properly. Basically, it comes down to this, according Chris Skrebowski, editor of Britain's Petroleum Review: No oil company or oil producing country is eager to publicize that they are running low on oil. They focus on their successes and on new fields opening up. But, when a country can no longer supply its own oil needs, it must turn to the world market. The reason for the lack of internal supply is most often depletion.

Energy forecasters, however, often fail to take account of that depletion and the demands it places on the international oil markets. With time this type of depletion will become greater and greater. It's the kind that leads ultimately to a worldwide decline in oil production.

Skrebowski who compiles the Oilfield Megaprojects Report for Petroleum Review is not sanguine about future supplies of oil.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Pointless gesture

All evidence points to OPEC pumping flat out. It would be nice if the organization could control the price of oil, but under the circumstances, it can't. As long as India and China are sucking up every last drop of available oil to grow their economies, there will be little oil to spare. So the passage of a bill in the U. S. Senate which makes it possible to sue international oil and natural gas cartels in U. S. courts is a pointless gesture.

But, hold on! It must be benefitting someone. Indeed, it is: politicians who want to look like they are doing something about energy when, in fact, they refuse to face up to the realities of oil depletion and the hard choices we face ahead. But then, in Washington these days, saying that you are doing something (even when you aren't) has been known to convince a good part of the country that you are.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Nightly resource wars

As tensions rise over dwindling energy resources, the resource wars will move to the nightly news. (Perhaps we can say they already have, if we count Iraq as a resource war.) Now, China and Japan join the world resource struggle in a dispute over natural gas drilling in the East China Sea. The dispute has also become an occasion for street protests in China over past war crimes committed by Japan during its occupation of China.

To get a sense of where we are headed, take a look at my previous post, Global Resource Wars: The Rosetta Stone.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Can we learn to love windmills?

The quaint windmills of Holland are appreciated as historic and aesthetically pleasing sites. So pleasing is the thought of these windmills that one company, at least, makes tasty cookies in their image. The modern electricity-producing windmills, however, garner only an abstract adoration for their clean energy while creating a hatred of their actual presence because it can lead to the occasional death of a bird and the filling of a verdant landscape with giant rotors.

David Suzuki lambastes those who insist on a future with clean, renewable energy and then fight wind power in their own backyards. All technologies have drawbacks. Would they prefer another coal-fired power plant instead?

Thoreau lamented the train whistle that pierced the quiet of Walden Pond. But, today we look upon the rhythmic rattling of train cars on their tracks and the distant, blaring of the train horn with a certain nostalgia and delight. It reminds many of us of a time when train travel had a certain romance attached to it. Even today, we still call passenger trains by name. (Airline flights only have numbers.)

Will we develop an attachment to our windmills that resembles our affinity for the antique ones of Holland? Maybe not. But we can certainly agree that our modern ones are quite a bit more lovely than the belching smokestacks that would be built in their place.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)


Anheuser-Busch Cos., America's largest brewer, has threatened that it will not buy rice from farmers in Missouri if the state approves planting of GMO rice designed to manufacture human proteins for drugs. The company is the largest buyer of rice in the United States.

The fear is that the rice will cross-pollinate with other varieties and that rice used for food (or, in this case, beer) will be contaminated with pharmaceuticals. The drug maker insists there will be no cross-pollination because the rice it uses is self-pollinating. Does that mean that no pollen can reach other plants and interact with them? I'm not sure about this. If anyone knows the answer, let me know.

But, the claim that GMO crops can be effectively segregated from non-GMO crops has already proven to be false as I've discussed in two previous posts here and here.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. has figured out that its famous beer brands will not withstand the label "Frankenbeer." Will other major food and beverage makers in the United States finally see the light?

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More James Howard Kunstler

For those who cannot get enough of James Howard Kunstler--I always look forward to his pithy and trenchant commentary--here's a recent interview, part of the run-up to the release of his forthcoming book, The Long Emergency.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

They check that stuff out, don't they?

"That stuff" refers to personal care products including cosmetics, and the answer is no. The Food and Drug Administration has little authority to regulate the personal care products industry. The industry is "self-policing," and guess what? They don't do a very good job of it according to this piece.

Personal care products are riddled with toxic, even known cancer-causing agents. The European Union is forcing personal care products companies to remove the worst known toxics. And, many "natural" products companies have agreed to do so in the United States through the efforts of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Major traditional manufacturers have so far refused to sign on. In the meantime, you can check your personal care products and cosmetics for harmful ingredients using the campaign's searchable product guide.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Things seen and unseen

Economists, like priests, are obliged by their profession to believe in things both seen and unseen, such as huge reservoirs of oil yet to be discovered--through the magic of the marketplace, of course. Chris Skrebowski, on the other hand, prefers evidence to belief, things seen to those unseen. Skrebowski is editor of Great Britain's respected Petroleum Review, and he handles the review's regular Oilfield Megaprojects Report. The most recent report will give little comfort to oil supply optimists. In short, the megaprojects that the world relies on to replace and grow oil supplies are declining rapidly. He thinks the peak in world oil production is nigh if not here.

For more on why we are experiencing a dearth of big oil finds, read my earlier post Faith-based economics II: The case of oil's sudden scarcity.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

We believe what we want to believe

It would be nice to believe that we can live the way we now live with no changes or sacrifices simply by becoming more efficient in our use of energy and materials. Even though efficiency is a laudable goal, this piece lays out in great detail that the numbers just don't add up for those who believe it's possible to have painless economic growth. The argument often made by the so-called natural capitalists is that our economies (that is, Western industrial economies) are less energy and resource intensive than they used to be. This is an argument only an economist could love. The biosphere doesn't care one bit whether we are more efficient in our production of world-ruining wares; it only cares about the absolute load, and that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. The Earth is still the same size it used to be.

The efficiency experts present us with a terrible choice. The rest of humanity would like to live at our standard, too. But, even if they were to do so "efficiently," the required economic growth would force us in the end to give up on efficiency as returns greatly diminish. In the alternative, we would be obliged to keep billions in poverty so that we could prosper without destroying every last corner of the biosphere that supports us.

In the long run, the numbers tells us this: simpler, more local living for everyone. If we want to keep some of the advantages of our modern technical society, we need to choose wisely which ones we want to keep. It's a message that won't get you elected or make you popular. But, it just might help make the lives of future generations more harmonious and comfortable. That sounds a lot better than the misery and the destruction of culture and science that would surely follow a population crash brought on by our wrong-headed pursuit of "efficient" economic growth.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Reverse globalization?

I had lunch with an economist last week and suggested to him that globalization was entirely dependent on cheap transport and that cheap transport was based on cheap fuel. This stopped him in his tracks. It had never occurred to him that this one leg in the global marketplace could become the broken link that might bring the entire system down. Of course, the reason it had never occurred to him is that he had bought into the economic notion of substitutability, that is, that there is or will be a substitute for any product or raw material including oil AND that the substitute would come along in a timely manner so as not to disrupt our tidy global trade arrangements.

When I asked him what that substitute would be, he responded that we will run transport on electricity. I inquired whether he thought we could run aircraft and freighters on batteries. He agreed that it would be unlikely. I pressed him about whether tractor-trailers might run on batteries. He thought perhaps someday, but obviously not now. And, I asked where all this electricity might come from if not from coal-fired and natural gas powered generating plants. He said yes, indeed. Was he aware that in North America natural gas production is only keeping up with demand now and has probably entered a decline? Is that really true? he responded.

Here is an extremely bright, thoughtful, compassionate and well-informed person, deeply concerned about social and economic justice. But, as with so many people, it is almost unthinkable that globalization might falter and reverse, and with it economic growth. We have our work cut out for us.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Oil Famine: Preparing for a Post-Oil Future/Course Outline

I'll be teaching another three-session class on world peak oil production this fall. The dates are still being determined. Below I am posting information on the course.

Course Description

Cheap oil is coming to an end. Within the next decade or two world oil production is likely to reach a peak and then begin an irreversible decline. The end of cheap oil threatens to stall and even reverse economic growth worldwide. It could lead to profound disruptions in our way of life, especially in the areas of transportation and food production.

This course examines the inevitable collision between our growing thirst for oil and the certain decline in its availability in the years to come. What might the consequences for the world economy be? Can we find alternatives to oil before its production begins to decline? What can an individual do to help us make a successful transition to a post-oil economy? Alternative energy, lifestyle changes, conservation and efficiency measures will be discussed.

The course will emphasize discussion and interaction among all the participants.

Meeting Times:  Sept. 27, Oct. 4 & 11
                        6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Location:           L. Lee Stryker Center
                        Kalamazoo College
                        1327 Academy Street
                        Kalamazoo, Michigan 49006

Instructor:         Kurt Cobb

Cost:               $39

Registration:     Click here to register
                        or call (269) 337-7354.


The purpose of the course is to familiarize participants with the concept of world peak oil production, an event that almost all reputable geologists agree will happen within the next 30 years. Predictions range from 2005 (Deffeyes) to 2037 (U. S. Energy Information Administration). Because so much of our way of life is dependent on oil and oil-based products, this event has profound implications for how we will have to change our society.

The closer the peak is, the more urgent the need for action. A recent U. S. Department of Energy report evaluating the possible effects of world peak oil production recommended a 20-year head start on a crash program to develop other liquid fuels to replace oil.

Key Concepts

Fossil Fuels - Also known as mineral fuels, are hydrocarbon-containing natural resources such as coal, petroleum and natural gas.

World peak oil production, often "peak oil" for short - The time after which the rate of world oil production will begin an irreversible decline.

Net energy - The amount of energy yielded by a resource minus the amount of energy it takes to find, extract, refine, transport and utilize that resource, i.e., it takes energy to get energy. If the net energy is positive, the resource is an energy source. If the net energy is negative the resource is an energy sink. (Also referred to as Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) and Energy Profit Ratio.)

Renewable Energy Source - includes all sources of energy that are captured from on-going natural processes, such as solar power, wind power, water flow in streams (hydropower), biomass, biodiesel and geothermal heat flows. Most renewable forms of energy, other than geothermal and tidal power, come from the Sun.

Plan of Course

Session 1 - Peak Oil and the Oil Predicament

Please read the following article before coming to class:
Do high oil prices foreshadow a deeper crisis?
Kurt Cobb, October 25, 2004

In-class video: The End of Suburbia

Session 2 - Consequences & Responses

1. Oil: It's Everywhere, Attached

2. Energy Evaluation Criteria, Handout from The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg.

3. The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler, Remarks in Hudson, NY
listen to Kunstler's 2003 Interview with Julian Darley. Scroll down to where you can see the choices that include "Complete Interview", "mp3" and "Transcript." The mp3 is a large file but can be easily downloaded if you have high-speed Internet access.

4. A Letter From the Future, Richard Heinberg, Museletter, March 2001

5. Peak Oil 'To Do' List: Why We Should Do These Things Anyway, Kurt Cobb, April 9, 2005


Some perspective from the optimists. See if you can spot the flaws and strengths in their thinking:

6. The Art of Energy - The future will not be painted in oil. By Peter Huber and Mark Mills Slate, Feb. 1, 2005

7. Why We'll Never Run Out Of Oil, Discover Magazine, June 1999.

Session 3 - Consequences & Responses

1. Alternative Energy Sources, Walter Youngquist

2. Financial Sense Newshour's Ask The Expert - Richard Heinberg - 08/07/2004, audio interview and downloadable mp3 file. Start at 28 minutes into the interview for discussion of responses to oil depletion.

3. Winning the Oil Endgame, Executive Summary, Rocky Mountain Institute


The long-term forecast from an optimist. This lengthy and somewhat technical article suggests oil, natural gas and coal will remain dominant and affordable fuels to the end of the 21st century, with natural gas becoming the world's major fuel. Look for the underlying assumptions.

The Global Energy Market in the Long Term: The Continuing Dominance of Affordable Non-Renewable Resources, Lecture by Peter Odell, March 16, 2000.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Peak Oil 'To Do' List: Why We Should Do These Things Anyway

There are economists who "know" that the world will come up with a cheap, effective, and widely available substitute for oil before we run short of it. And so, it follows that "getting ready" for a permanent oil shortage through concerted civic and governmental action is a "waste of resources." But even if they are right about the miraculous and timely appearance of oil substitutes, are they right that the things we would do as a global society to prepare for world peak oil production are a "waste of resources?" To address that issue I've prepared a Peak Oil "To Do" List. (I don't claim it to be exhaustive.)

1. Convert to organic agriculture and grow as much of our food locally as possible.

Why we should do it anyway: Besides the obvious energy benefits (no use of oil-based pesticides and herbicides or natural gas-derived fertilizers), organic agriculture would return fertility to soil destroyed by decades of industrial chemical agriculture. It would move us toward a truly sustainable system of agriculture. Beyond this, local agriculture would improve local economies everywhere and give all of us the much better food security that comes from locally produced food. In addition, relationships between farmer and consumer would restore the link in people's minds between the land and their well-being. Consumers would get farm produce that is by definition fresher and more healthful than anything trucked in from far away. For those who say we can't feed the world with organic agriculture, recent studies suggest just the opposite.

2. Relocalize daily living, work and commerce.

Why we should do it anyway: Do people still believe that the destruction brought to our communities courtesy of globalization is a plus? Does the devastation of main streets across America by Wal-Mart and the hollowing out of American manufacturing and loss of jobs make us stronger? People have lived in local economies until very recently in human history. This is not a new or radical concept. Shouldn't patronizing those in our community, in our state and in our country be a priority? Living in communities that reestablish the bonds of neighborhood, living near where we work, shopping near where we live--these actions not only reduce our consumption of resources, they improve our communities by bringing us closer together and involving us in the social, cultural and democratic life of those communities.

3. Vastly expand public transportation.

Why we should do it anyway: Beyond the obvious benefits of reducing our total energy consumption, public transportation reduces traffic congestion and the costs of maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Properly done, it can make travel more convenient than the current system. (Imagine high-speed trains between all major cities and compare that to a trip on an airplane.) Public transportation democratizes the benefits of our society by making them more easily available to all citizens regardless of their means. That's good for everyone. Public transportation also offers another venue for us to get to know one another and come to trust one another as fellow citizens.

4. Convert to non-polluting, renewable energy sources.

Why we should do it anyway: Even if we weren't facing hydrocarbon energy shortages, the dangers of global warming are so great that moving to renewable energy sources is crucial. Now, do I need to convince anyone that we need non-polluting energy sources? Besides this, the use of local distributed energy sources such a wind and solar would give communities and individuals more control over their lives.

5. Seek to stabilize and then gradually reduce world population.

Why we should do it anyway: Some economists fear that we aren't having enough children in Western industrialized countries. This is because they believe that older people will simply not contribute enough to our economy as they age. That has proven to be a groundless belief. Many older people go on to second careers when they retire or work part time. The main reason to reduce population over time is, of course, to reduce pressure on resources. A humane, gradual reduction flies in the face of our perpetual growth ideology, but such a reduction will head off the inevitable and perhaps not so humane reductions that nature would impose upon us.

6. Vastly increase the efficiency of industry.

Why we should do it anyway: Industrial societies have practically made a fetish of waste. Our economies won't function without it, it seems. But, it doesn't have to be this way. We can have many (but probably not all) of the benefits of a modern technical society with literally a fraction of the resources we now use. We just have to decide that efficiency is important and build in the incentives for it. The resulting smaller ecological footprint will be better for us and for every other living thing on the planet.

7. Lead fully engaged lives every day.

Why we should do it anyway: This is a very general and trite suggestion. But for those who believe peak world oil production may arrive soon, the future may seem incredibly bleak. This uncertainty about the future, however, should make us more appreciative of and engaged in the moment. We should attempt to enjoy what we have now as much as possible while working in the present for a better future. On a philosophical plane, none of us know what we as individuals will encounter tomorrow or the next day. Wouldn't it be a good idea to enjoy today as much as possible no matter what we believe the future holds?

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Is water vapor the main villain in global warming?

The short answer to this question is yes. Which is why paid industry hacks use this fact to denigrate what genuine climate scientists say about global warming. But, it is an entirely misleading assertion as this somewhat technical post on RealClimate explains. In a nutshell: Increased water vapor in the atmosphere is largely the result of man-made releases of carbon dioxide and methane, two well-understood greenhouse gasses. As the atmosphere warms due to our releases of greenhouse gasses, it absorbs more water vapor. In the language of climate scientists, this is feedback not a forcing. It wouldn't occur but for our actions.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Our incredible shrinking lakes

If you divert the water going into a lake, it gets smaller. Besides their beauty, lakes provide flood protection, habitat for wildlife, food for many people in the world, and recharge groundwater from which so much of the world draws its water supplies. But, as this piece from the Earth Policy Institute shows, water diversion for irrigation and municipal water supplies has turned many lakes into toxic deserts and many others into salty dead zones.

(Via The Future is Green.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

IMF warns of 'permanent oil shock'

I almost feel as if the International Monetary Fund, by embracing a forecast of permanently high oil prices, is signalling in a contrarian way a temporary top to the oil market. But, alas, the IMF was roundly criticized since "no other international energy body shares its view." As long as that's true, it'll be a sign that oil has further to run. When the IMF is joined by everyone else (at what price though, $80, $90, $100), then oil's march upward will probably abate and even reverse.

The cause of the "shock": Increasing demand in the face of supply that cannot keep up. It doesn't mean we've reached a peak in world oil production, but we're certainly moving faster than ever toward one.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Declining harvests

This piece points out that world harvests declined in four of the last five years. Is it just an aberration or the beginning of a trend that reflects the damage done to the world's arable land?

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Fish farms bad for wild fish

A recent study showed that the practices of fish farms, which are often nothing more than cages on coastal waters, can cause significant damage to wild fish. Clouds of lice flow from these cages as much 30 kilometers downstream and infect other fish. Two pieces that discuss the issue are here and here.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Good news, bad news

The good news is that Americans overwhelmingly support spending money on cleaning up and preserving America's water. The bad news is that the Bush administration is moving in the opposite direction by starving loan funds for upgrading local water systems and by allowing coal mining operations that literally wreck rivers and streams.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Canadians get greenhouse emission cuts from auto companies

Since the United States federal government won't do it, several states and Canada are forcing American automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The practical effect may be to compel automakers to meet the reduction targets for all their vehicles since it would be impractical and costly to make one set of vehicles for Canada and several American states and another set for all other states.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Fish wars

Industrial fishing vessels have led to overfishing in 70 percent of the world's fishing grounds. Violence is flaring over declining fishing stocks. Protests and lawsuits abound. Part of the problem as this piece points out is that poor countries are leasing out their fishing rights to industrial fishing companies who then deplete their fishing grounds. All this is done to help them pay back their debts. While oil and water get the most attention when it comes to resource wars, the world's fisheries are quietly being decimated amidst the occasional shot across the bow.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Malthus was wrong; but we still face a population problem

The famous British economist Thomas Malthus predicted that human population would outstrip food supplies and cause a terrible crash. So far, he's been wrong. Humans keep coming up with ways to increase food supplies. But, does our ability to match food supplies with population growth create other problems that threaten us? This long and complex piece answers yes. It proposes that there is no "technical" solution to overpopulation. That is, we cannot just keep growing even if we can produce the necessary food supply and expect everything to turn out all right. We will destabilize the environment is myriad ways that eventually will lead to die-off. If the solution is not technical, then it must be cultural. But, that's a different essay.

(Via Flying Talking Donkey.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

A problem of scale

It would take 100,000 wind turbines to produce the hydrogen necessary to power all the vehicles in the U. K. alone. Here's what that might look like:
...about 100,000 wind turbines would be required to provide all the hydrogen necessary to run the UK's road vehicles. If these were sited offshore, there would be a 10km-deep strip of turbines encircling the entire coastline of the British Isles.
The Independent explains why the utopian dreams of a hydrogen economy run on renewable energy will not be scalable anytime soon. The alternative would be to use coal or natural gas to make hydrogen. But, this would cause more pollution that it is supposed to abate. In addition, we'd get less energy out of the hydrogen than we use to make it. It would be better just to use the natural gas and coal to produce energy directly.

Maybe nuclear power could be used to make hydrogen, you say. Setting aside the waste and cost problems, it would take 100 new nuclear reactors to fuel Great Britain's vehicles alone. (For comparison, there are only about 100 reactors now operating in all of the United States, and those were built over several decades.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Mercury and your car trunk

When you open your car trunk, a light turns on to allow you to see inside. How does that happen? A switch containing liquid mercury signals that the trunk is up and turns the light on. (The mercury flows into a position where it completes the circuit so that the light comes on.) Now what happens to that mercury when the car is finally junked? Some of it can escape as the car is crushed. Then, what remains is melted down with the rest of the car body to make new steel and some of it goes up the smokestack and into the air.

But, now New Jersey has adopted a law that mandates removal of the switches from cars before they are crushed and melted down. Several other states have already done so or are thinking about doing so.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, however, since mercury switches are also found in irons, washing machines, deep freezers, space heaters, and other consumer items.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I feel safer now

We didn't really need another argument that questions the safety of nuclear technology, but scientists working at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the proposed national repository for nuclear waste, have given us one. The pressure to make the controversial site work led some scientists there to fudge the data for their safety studies in order to satisfy superiors.

On the other hand, nuclear wastes now mostly sit next to power plants in so-called cooling pools, pools that are vulnerable to attack and overloaded in some cases. What a mess! And, they call this clean energy!

UPDATE: The New York Times reports on yet another study that finds current methods for storing nuclear waste at power plants make it vulnerable to attack.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Solar president?

My jaw dropped when I heard this claim the other day: George W. Bush's custom-built ranch home in Crawford, Texas has passive solar features, rainwater collection, wastewater recycling, and geothermal heating and cooling. I wanted to make sure this was a credible claim, so I looked for multiple independent references. I give you three to evaluate here, here and here.

Does anybody really need me to point out the irony?

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Defrosting your gas mileage

It turns out that if you turn your defroster on in a hybrid vehicle, you're gas mileage drops like a stone. That's the conclusion of this writer who tried three hybrids and got similar results. Air conditioning is also bad for gas mileage, but that's true with conventional gas engines as well.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Is it time to put a floor under oil prices?

It may sound ludicrous to suggest putting a floor under oil prices, but there are three good reasons to consider it. First, oil companies are reluctant to spend money on exploration and development because they have been burned again and again by slumps in price in the previous 20-year bear market in oil. If the resulting increased production can delay a peak in world oil production even a few years, this extra time could help facilitate a non-catastrophic energy transition by increasing the amount of time we have to build an alternative energy infrastructure. Second, a floor under prices would ensure a robust market for alternative and renewable energy. Third, higher prices would encourage energy conservation. If people know that oil prices will NOT go down regardless of future supply, they will act accordingly. (The poor could be given rebates or tax credits to soften the blow of higher energy prices.)

Many mechanisms can be used to achieve this, but perhaps the most elegant is the variable import fee. If the minimum price of oil was set at say $50 a barrel, then when oil falls to $42 a barrel, an $8 a barrel fee kicks in. The money generated from such a fee could go toward financing the energy tax credits for the poor and tax incentives for the installation of wind and solar power, for example.

The political prospects for such a fee are better than you might think. Domestic oil and gas producers will support it because it puts a floor price under their production. Environmentalists will support it because it means large investments in alternative energy, but especially if that alternative energy is renewable and clean. Defense hawks will support it as a way to reduce our vulnerability to oil imports. Doves will embrace it as a way to avoid war over oil. Advocates for the poor will go along with it if the burden on the poor is eased by credits.

No doubt a bunch of ideologues will oppose it as "unjustified intervention" in the free markets. I'm not sure they would prevail if the proper coalition could be brought together. There are too many enticing goodies in an oil import fee. And, the fact that it would be good for the country might help, too.

No doubt other countries could do something similar. If the strategy were applied worldwide or at least by say, the United States, the European Union, and Japan, it might just work as advertised.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

It's worse than I thought...

The story on ethanol just keeps getting getting worse. Some recent calculations show that ethanol yields one unit of energy for every six units used to make it. This is far worse than previous studies have shown, studies which also found ethanol production to be a net energy loser. Beware of biofuels! They look green, but they come out the other end with a lot of oil and natural gas added indirectly.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Coal peak?

If oil and gas production peak within the next decade or two, the obvious fallback will be to coal. Coal reserves worldwide are vast, but there are two reasons to believe they won't last very long if coal again becomes the biggest fossil fuel energy source. First, coal will be used not only to produce electricity, but also as a base for making liquid fuels. That means we will use it up faster, a LOT FASTER, than we are today. Second, like any resource, the best quality coal has been mined first, that is, the coal with the highest energy content. As we mine more and more of it, we can expect the energy yield per unit to steadily decline and then plummet. This piece on From the Wilderness explains the problem in more detail.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Catastrophic riches

The oceans may hold more energy in the form of methane hydrates--essentially, natural gas locked in ice--than all the energy in all other types of fossil fuel including conventional natural gas. As several countries race to figure out how to safely mine the stuff--it tends to explode--the worry is twofold: 1) Finding a fabulous new cache of hydrocarbon energy will only encourage faster global economic growth and result in huge additional releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and 2) accidentally venting vast amounts of unburned methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas with 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide, will surely lead us down the road to catastrophic global warming. (For more on the methane/global warming link, click here.)

Even this so-called "clean-burning" fuel has carbon in it, enough to make things much worse. On the other hand, intelligent planning could make it the promised "bridge fuel" to a future of renewable energy.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

'Eating Oil'

Norman Church outlines the deep dependence of our worldwide food system on fossil fuels in this exhaustive piece on PowerSwitch. Besides the usual litany of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers all being made from fossil fuels, he zeroes in on things urban folks tend to overlook: water and transport. Water has to be pumped to irrigate many of our crops and that requires considerable energy. Then, of course, produce must go from farm to processor to wholesaler to retailer. And, there are added energy inputs at each level of food processing and handling. On the issue of transport, he points out that organically raised farm produce is much more energy efficient until it enters the global marketplace which transports it long distances in packaging made from petrol.

What would it take to wean ourselves from a food system so totally committed to fossil fuel use? Church thinks we will soon find out.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Can it be?

Investment advisors are supposed to follow the markets closely because their living and the well-being of their clients depend on it. Instead, what they do is to follow other investment advisors so as not to sound out of step with the conventional wisdom. After all, most don't want clients calling them up and saying, "But, you're the only one who's recommending this."

Donald Coxe, chairman of Harris Investment Management in Chicago and author of an investment newsletter called Basic Points, is one of those rare advisors who actually follows the markets. He's been saying for four years that commodities and industrial materials companies were the place to be, a view that was treated with great skepticism by all but the most perceptive readers. (He claims his readership reached its lowest point when he suggested that the NASDAQ was a sell at 5,000.)

Coxe has turned out to be spectacularly on the money, and so it's worth paying attention to somebody who actually pays careful attention to the markets instead of the noise coming out of other investment analysts' mouths. In his latest newsletter he conveys shocking, but not entirely unexpected news:
...the combination of the news that there's no new Saudi Light coming on stream for the next seven years plus the 27% projected decline from existing fields means Hubbert's Peak has arrived in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom's decline rate will be among the world's fastest as this decade wanes. Most importantly, Hubbert's Peak must have arrived for Ghawar, the world's biggest oilfield, and Wall Street's most-cited reason for assuring us month after month that oil prices would plunge because there were so many billions of barrels of readily-available crude overhanging the market.

The Street's perception was a tad outdated: OPEC had 15 million b/d of excess capacity in 1986 when the Saudis decided to rein in OPEC cheaters and head off further development of major projects abroad, including the North Sea and the Alberta oil sands. By 2002, OPEC's unused capacity was down to the one million b/d range, which is, effectively, too tiny to give the cartel the power to set prices.

The grim news from Ghawar has been replicated in the world's #2 field, Mexico's Canterell. Its production entered decline last year, and the Pemex people say there's nothing much they can do to halt its decline. The North Sea had a bad year, with significant production declines for both Norway and the UK. Declines from existing fields will be temporarily offset as a few new fields, such as Buzzard, come on stream later in this decade, but the pattern is clear: North Sea wells age faster than the hardy Scots whose prosperity is so dependent on them.
Houston energy investment banker Matt Simmons has been pounding the table saying that if Saudi Arabia has peaked, then the world has peaked. Coxe doesn't claim that the world has peaked, but then he doesn't predict smooth sailing either.

(Via lowem.)

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Why ethanol futures have no future

If trading a futures contract in a commodity that has no future sounds like a contradiction, it is. Proponents of ethanol as motor vehicle fuel love to tell you that it will get us off imported oil. What they fail to tell you is that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than the ethanol yields. Therefore, what ethanol's supporters are saying is a logical impossibility. In fact, we're subsidizing the production of ethanol with energy from oil and natural gas!

For that reason it seems to me that the newly created futures contract for ethanol will have a relatively short shelf-life.

(Via Triple Pundit.)

Bonus joke:

Do you know how to make a small fortune in the commodities markets? Answer: Start out with a big fortune.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

How's your herring?

Herring are little silvery fish which are a major food source for fish and marine mammals. (Humans like me sometimes eat them, too.) Their precipitous decline in the Puget Sound area in Washington state has scientists worried. The decline was from an estimated 10,000 tons in 1994 to just 808 tons in 2000. What could be causing the decline? The scientists want to know.

A sudden drop in the population of any species is a serious warning sign of stress in an ecosystem. These kinds of drops are being recorded regularly for all types of species, plant and animal, around the world. Will we listen to the message those declines are trying to tell us?

UPDATE: Today must be sardonic mood day. All my posts include actual parodies or self-parodies. Peak Energy picked on this news and does a nice job of skewering the Bush administration in his parody of the story.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

News Flash: Author casts doubt on Earth's seasons

If you've been following the flap over Michael Crichton's anti-global warming screed disguised as a novel--it's called State of Fear--you'll get some laughs from this piece of parody on RealClimate. RealClimate is a blog run by real climate scientists who attempt to correct bad information in the media about climate issues. Normally, they stick to science. But, I guess there's only so much a climate scientist can take before he or she breaks down and writes a piece of humor designed to explode the puffed up notions of grandeur and certainty emanating from a bad novelist who knows little about climatology.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)