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Monday, December 04, 2006

Crusade, Collapse, 'n' Stuff...

Our feerlez leedor had the unsurprising lack of intellect to brush the American response to the struggles in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Crusade. This puts an artificial superstructural excuse on a much more fundamental and dire grab for resources - much like painting lipstick on a pig.

Crusade is irrelevant.

What matters are resources and the control and production of them.

The vagaries of culture are simply accidents of history. If Mohammed had convinced millions of people of atheism, or if the Xians hadn't completely mangled the golden rule from a double negative that encourages passivity to a double positive that recommends interference, I am sure the events would have played out differently, but the fundamentals would still have been the same.

What we are facing is something quite different.

If one insists on using the lens of Crusade, then one can see that the west seeks hegemony over the oil that the Islamic locals now enjoy.

As I said, I don't think it's relevant. Also, I am uncertain as to whether it is actual or reasonable to think of a Western Roman "collapse", as much as it was a strategic withdrawal by the elite to more profitable places. Constantine could see, from his heinously expensive wars in Gaul, that Western Europe was a dud - a money pit, a black hole where wealth gets poured and little else comes back. In energistic terms, it had a negative ER/EI - Energy Return divided by Energy Invested. He went broke chasing the barbarian army around France, and converted to Christianity to loosen up the funds in a dominantly Christian run Treasury. This insight ran a hundred years earlier than Constantine - to Emperor Diocletian who initiated the divided between eastern and western Roman Empires.

And every rich family in Rome with any sense at all invested in the east. West of Roman Power? Celts. Illiterate pagan "savages". To the north? Picts. Nutty people from Scotland who painted themselves blue, which gets them all hopped up and crazy. And the Northeast was populated by Huns and Goths and other unsavoury groups. To the South? The Sea, and beyond the sea? Excellent farms hard up against the largest desert on the planet. To the East? All The Money In The World. Big Rivers, and the ancient civilisations of what is now Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Iran, India, China, and the Silk Road through Afghanistan... Let's see, Celts vs. Greeks. Picts vs. India. Goths vs. Persians. Hmmmm. Not a hard choice to make there!

Within 200 years, Rome was done, but the Empire lived on: a few hundred years later it was still enough of a potent social notion that Charlemagne crowned himself the Holy Roman Emperor....

From a post in a Bay Area Energy group, by Dave Fridley, primary author of the SF City Council Depletion Protocol Study Proclamation (who deserves a medal, IMHO):

"In Roman times, 85-90% of the population were the energy producers--that is, the farmers--whose surplus energy supported the 10-15% of the population (including the emperor, army, musicians, artists, vagabonds, merchants and so forth) who were not directly involved in energy production. In the US today, 3% of the population (and vast amounts of fossil fuels) provides the surplus to support the 97% of the population not directly involved in energy production. In that regard, only the "elite" of the empire would have even noticed a material change with "collapse"."

Today, North Americans and Europeans are the elites. Again: Fridley writes:

"Although some Roman historians lamented the passing of the Republic (which lasted for about 400 years--longer than ours--til about 40 BC), I've never read anything of a self-aware group that looked at the material conditions of the empire and predicted collapse over some centuries in the future. That, I think,would be pretty much unlikely at the time, since in Western civilizations, at least, it wasn't until the publication of Thomas More's Utopia in 1516 that we ever viewed the future as a better place than the past, and thus see decline as something odd. Before then, the "Golden Age" of man--what civilizations aspired to, were always those of the past, and history was considered a process of degeneration. With this kind of world view, what exactly would "collapse" mean to one of the elite Romans and how exactly would it have mattered to the 90% of the population who lived in stasis?"

It's also important to remember why the Romans would even bother invading England and Wales... Why? Tin. the Phoenicians were in Wales 1500bce. At the time, there was so much tin in Wales, it came up out of the ground in extremely rich ores of black, almost purely metallic, material. It was harvested and sent back to Phoenicia to make bronze. The Romans were Iron Age people, but bronze was still a vital metal, and tin had many other purposes. The production of tin peaked during Roman times and went into depletion. England became worth less to the Romans, and yet another reason to abandon Western Europe.

So, to talk of a "collapse" of the Roman empire, as Fridley notes, is an act of 20/20 hindsight. After Constantine gave up on it, it took centuries for Rome to be sacked and leveled by the people it had violently oppressed. The Romans had no sense of a "utopian future", so calamity was always the word of the day.

Again Fridley:

"Compare this as well to the worldview of the Chinese, who developed a sophisticated view of rise and fall that came from thousands of years of dynasties rising then collapsing. To a Chinese, this was a natural phenomenon, and they created a whole phenomenology around it, including the concept of "mandate of heaven" (tianming) that gave the emperor his right to rule, and the withdrawal of the mandate that led to the collapse of the dynasty, usually indicated by natural disasters. It survived to the 20th century even...the massive Tangshan earthquake of July 1976 was commonly seen as the event that withdrew the mandate of heaven from Chairman Mao, and indeed, he died 2 months later and his regime overthrown."

And a few years later the post-punk music combo The Gang of Four would sing:

Out on the street: assassinate all of them
look so desperate declare blood war
on the bourgeois state too!
Watch new blood on the 18 inch screen
The corpse is a new personality
Ionic charge brings immortality
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!


Fridley continues:

"...Kunstler (I believe) had a good insight into this as well. He remarked on the phenomenon of "temporal amnesia"--the fact that we forget how things were after a period of change, such as living in the same place for a long time. This building is replaced. Those trees are planted. Social security benefits are reduced. Copays go up. Food prices creep up. After 10 years, things are materially different, but do you really remember how it used to be? Over several hundred years of collapse, who in Rome or Mesopotamia or any of the other major civilizations that collapsed have had the historical context to talk about "collapse"?"

What we have, and the romans didn't have, are the basic laws of physics that govern all energetic systems. One big rule is: you can't get more energy out of a system than what is already there. There is no energy fairy. When most work is done by hand, your farmers are the energy producers. When most work is done by hand, most work is in energy production.

Another big rule is: In a closed system, energy is never lost, it simply degrades in quality (thermodynamics - entropy).

These facts speak far beyond any localised temporal curiosities of "culture" or "religion" or any quibbling about that. It's all really very simple: look at yeast in a sugar/water solution. Do the math. The earth's carrying capacity for humans has been exceeded (youngquist: Geodestinies). the remaining conflicts of civilisation will be over the remaining energy stores and metal deposits (Klare: Resource Wars) The total energy content of society will retreat. Per capita energy and resource consumption peaked in the early 1980s (per Colin Campbell). The west has been innovating to do more with less. however, this cannot continue indefinitely (see first big rule). The non-west (the so-called South) has been bearing the brunt of it all and if resources reduce too quickly, many of those nations will go into a Malthusian die off. Some (east Africa) already have: declining rainfall and increased population have produced a “Malthusian” situation where pressures on a less-productive resource base have exploded into conflict per understandingsudan.org), and some are quickly descending (Nigeria - New Yorker Article by George Packer - Lagos as the model of the city of the 21st century).

Without natural gas, there will be no miracleGro and the productivity of the planet's farms will drop dramatically. Richer nations will have older populations and more resources to feed their people. The rest won't and will die off. Nations with especially abundant food resources (such as N. America) will be using substantial amounts of food for fuel to power their heavy transport systems (trucks, trains, aircraft, mining equipment). Eventually that will be abandoned, due to population pressures.

Nations of the middle east, predominantly Islamic, will face an even tougher time - similar to those presently faced in Africa.

Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (former Prime minister of UAE):
"My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel."

Crusade models don't really work: they presume the primacy of the superstructural cultural machine as guides for substructural resource exploitation. In fact, the superstructural issues (crusade, war against terror, jihad, "somebody's got a bad case of the Mondays", rock and roll, hip hop TV whatever...) is actually just the excuses proffered by the elites to motivate the workers to act against their own self interests and murder other members of the working/peasant class, in order that resources may be acquired in order to maintain the facade of civilisation that maintains socio-political hierarchies as linguistic amplifications of the social dominance patterns common to primates.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

87 and the election

So, for those who were opposed to 87, it seems you have won.

I voted for it, although I do agree that it was flawed. I felt that in this case, flawed is better than none, and that if it raised the price of gas, all for the better.

Well, it seems many other Californians did the same analysis, came to the same conclusion, and determined that it was a Bad Thing.

Oh well.

What this tells the rest of America is that even CA, the nominal leader in ecological legislation, is unwilling to bite the bullet.

And so it goes.

At this writing, (closing in on midnight) it seems that the Democrats have taken over the House of Representatives, and the Senate is very closely divided, with two races still too close to call.

What has happened is this: American democracy stopped bleeding profusely. It is still deeply and horribly wounded - the madness of the parasitic neocons thugs of the Bush junta has done an immense amount of damage. The parasites may yet kill the host - the junta has another two years to destroy the country before another election cycle.

The craziness may start very soon - even though the Dems have won, they don't take office immediately. In the meantime, the Bush junta could easily do something completely retarded - like bomb Iran - and throw the entire Middle East into a complete maelstrom, which would only serve to dramatically scuttle any number of points of progressive legislation. Not from any lack of interest, but simply in terms of priority. Such an insane action would completely suck all the air out of the congressional chambers and they would have their hands full just trying to keep Western Civilisation (such as it is) from flying apart and preventing the rest of the planet from ganging up on the USA. Issues of health care, minimum wage, the environoment, energy independence, global warming, all of that would get punted to the back burner.

However, such a knuckleheaded action as bombing Iran could easily set the mainstream Republicans against the Bush Junta and set up not just an impeachment process, but a conviction in the Senate as well. Unfortunately, the delusional freaks who run the Junta are suffiently disconnected from reality that they may very well do something like bombing, or supporting a bombing, in Iran as they are answering not to the calculus of the realpolitik of international relations, but have their ears turned to the creepy voices in their heads that are urging them to kill, Kill, KILL, KILL!!!

If Bush is going to do something insane he will do it soon. Once the new Democratic Congress is sworn in, they will act quickly to stifle his abilities in that and other regards (such as restoring habeus corpus and posse comtatus). So, dramatic, poorly planned, rapid military action (a dunderheaded practice the junta excels at) if it is to happen, will happen soon.

American Democracy has stopped bleeding profusely. The maggots that were draining it have been partly defeated. But the patient is far from healed, and there is a very long way to go before America can say it is a leading republic. America dodged a bullet, but the assassin has cocked his pistol to take another shot. America should feel a little better for having gotten some sense in its head, but judging by the returns, it isn't much, and is certainly nowhere near where it needs to be if the USA has any hope of transitioning to a sustainable future without something resembling utter calamity and disaster as it tumbles willy nilly over the cliff of Hubberts Peak.

Tonight was a small step in a vaguely better direction. There is far to go and much to do.

Professor Dumbledore warns Harry Potter:

“Soon we must face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

Let us hope that we soon find the strength to do what is right.

-Stuart Studebaker

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Interesting mileage data

On an energy list I subscribe to (sf-bay-oil) an fellown named Earl Killian did a bunch of research on the actual mpg of various forms of transportation. The data follows. Basically, trains, as they are presently implemented, are not as efficient as one might think.

From his post:

The good news is that I dug up yet more efficiency data, which shows that some mass transit can be pretty efficient. I found a reference which claims they measured BART energy use and passenger miles for two weeks and computed 136 MPG, which is pretty good (a fair bit better than a Prius, and a lot better than the Amtrak commuter rail numbers). Better numbers were claimed for BART rush hour use, but for the same reason as above, I think you need to look at the global picture. BART is of course electric, like the RAV4-EV (176 MPG at 1.57 load factor). Even better is SBB, the Swiss Rail system: 279 MPG. (It is also electric, and their electricity is primarily hydro, so little greenhouse gas emissions there.)


Transportation MPG, single Load MPG at
passenger Factor Load Electric?

Automobiles (ICE) 22.2 1.57 35
Personal trucks 17.9 1.72 31
Motorcycles 45.1 1.22 55
Transit buses 9.1 30
Airlines 95.8 34
Intercity trains 14.0 26
Commuter trains 33.5 46
Prius HEV (2006) 55 1.57 86 Partial
TGV 128 Yes
BART 136 Yes
Hypercar 90 1.57 141 Yes
RAV4-EV 112 1.57 176 Yes
Tesla 135 1.22 165 Yes
Walking 235 1 235
SBB (Swiss Rail) 279 Yes
Bicycling 653 1 653


I am wondering where an ebike fits into all of this. when I find out I'll post that. What is startling is how lousy the trains fair. It could be that they do poorly because they are so underutilised and have a great deal of embedded energy, but I could be wrong... More soon.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

how we get around...

A gentleman on the ROE3 list wrote about the 30mph solution, where the speed limit would be limited to 30mph, and infractions would be dealt with severely. He is correct in one sense: faster vehicles eat more energy, so drastically reducing the limit would certainly reduce demand for gas.

What he failed to realise is that many cars are tuned for optimal mileage at a much higher speed - as one cruises the highway at a steady 2000rpm, it is easier for the electronic fuel distribution to optimise. At lower speeds, one speeds up, slows down, speeds up, slows down, etc. This results in suboptimal mileage, even though you are technically going slower.

The Toyota Prius purports to fix this a bit by shutting the gas engine off when stopped or otherwise not needed. This helps.

The biggest obstacle to such an idea is not technical, but social, and it has to do with the fact that most people are stupid and lazy, and are not going to give up the Ford Excursion until the keys are pried out of their fat dead cold fingers, because, well, they're lazy and stupid.

I replied to the gentleman, and this is my reply:

The 30MPH Solution (30ms) is right but incorrect.

Earlier someone posted that they get better mileage at higher speeds. This was also true of my recently deceased Audi A4. But - that's really not the point, oddly enough.

We have to look to what we use transportation devices for, and that's a variable. I have to go visit a friend for breakfast. I have to go to work. I have to collect gorceries. I have to take my daughter to school. I have to move some furniture.

Visit a friend? I can ride a bike. Because I live almost 180 m above sea level, and only a few km from the beach, getting home is a climb, so I find an electric assist bike is extremely efficient.

According to Heinberg, an electric bike uses less energy than actually pedalling, due to the embodied energy in the food - but that is also a digression, albeit an interesting one...

So, I roll down to the Haight, stumble into All You Knead, and chat up the lovely blonde bespectacled waitress, Sarah, until my friend Jerry shows up with a copy of the Guardian. After a big breakfast that's damn hard to beat for the dollar, I can climb back on the ebike and make my way up the hill. All told? just a fraction of the 24v 500w battery was used - VASTLY more efficient than the A4, which had to not only haul my giant frame up the hill, but also the 1500 kg of its own glass, steel, and plastic.

The ebike is extremely efficient and does the job.

I also have to go to work. that is also handlily accomplished with the ebike, as it is only a few miles away.

But: on the way - I have to take Avanti to School. So, the eBike isn't going to cut it. I *could* do it, but she finds riding on the back of it too scary... So, Mrs S. drives us both in the Fambly Car, once, an Audi A4, now a Toyota Prius, and I take the subway home to face a long nasty uphill trudge, which is what passes for exercise around here.

And moving furniture? If it doesn't fit in the Prius, we rent a truck.

Now, most of America doesn't have the dubious blessing of the San Francisco Municipal Railway System or the Bay Area Rapid Transit. And a large portion of America has a double digit IQ. And so, when they work their pointless job they want the comforts of "home", they want "comfort", they want to suckle on the breast of the motherland and rather than think about an appropriate vehicle, they will think "Fuck that shit - I'll just drive an SUV and be done with it."

And they will have barbecues and tailgate parties, and all the other princes and princesses will come and feed from the mad largesse of a planet depoiled and with fatty stained tongues say, "oh my, how delicious, how delicious, oh how boring..." and their children will move to the city, just like they did, where they meet their mates, and dance the dance, and collect a career and a mortgage, and a car payment and a divorce, and an endless monotonous slogging excuse of a life where they will wonder where the time went, and why it's all coming apart, and they will blame the faceless empty OTHER for their problems and deficiencies, not seeing how it all made sense; because to them, the notion of a "level of abstraction" is something they forgot about in junior high school math, and they don't, can't, and won't understand.

So, they will feel threatened and destroy anyone who will remove their conveniences, and they will leave their pointless little lives behind, thinking they will go to heaven, never understanding that heaven's just a metaphor by which one can measure one's suffering in the here and now.

We will use it all up.

Sometimes I think it's all downhill from here.

"Hey dad - Look! No hands!"

Sunday, October 08, 2006

War With Iran

Well, it seems that the psychopathic retards in the White House are at it again, and are setting up a war with Iran.

The USA is alrady conducting ground operations in Iran:

Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner (Ret.) said, “We are conducting military operations inside Iran right now."

And several Carrier groups are going to the Persian gulf and Eastern Mediterannean - and several other countries are involved (including the UK, Israel, Canada, and Greece).

Click HERE for a A VERY detailed report on the Armada

The article also mentions that the 1st Armor has been informed that it is not being rotated out back to bases in Germany, but to Central Asia.

America is living in a dark cloud of its own making - a poisonous fog of paranoia, superstition, greed, and wilful ignorance of such staggering stupidity that America has literally become "the single greatest betrayal of the human spirit in recorded history".

I was born in the United States of America. I was raised to believe that America, while flawed, was basically good. But all I see America doing now is of such pure and hateful evil, my heart is heavy and sad. The USA is guzzling the worlds resources at an insane rate - this endless shopping spree is not gong to last. The USA is making war all over the planet - this murderous rampage cannot continue. The USA once meant something better than the ancient monarcies of Europe, the depostisms of the East, and the irrationalities of traditionalist systems from the neolithic to medieval to the modern primitive that has so beset humanity for so long. The USA once pointed the way to democracy, and while saddled with a capitalist system, it still had enough fundamental truth in it that its promise of equality and opportunity was a beacon to the world.

But sadly, the operative term is "was", for now the USA is a beaten Empire, exulting in the flames of its own destruction as it seeks ever greater glory in battle so it might control more resources for its own wasteful ends. It's a very sad thing to watch.

I walk down the street and I wonder - do these people even KNOW what is going on? I get the impression they don't. It's sad... deeply and horribly sad.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Klare on Gas Prices

I have read Prof. Michael Klare's book, Resource Wars, and found it to be a brilliant examination of exactly why we see the kinds of wars and conflicts today. If you haven't read it, you can order it at abebooks.com here:

Resource Wars at abebooks.com.

The following article was written by Klare - it was emailed to me on a list to which I subscribe, so I am uncertain of its original sourcing. This article describes why we are seeing the low gasoline prices and the landscape of the immediate future of petroleum production. I agree with most of what is in the article. I disagree with his final point, "it will never get truly better until we develop an entirely new energy system based on petroleum alternatives and renewable fuels." I don't know what he means by "better", so I am uncertain as to whether I can agree with that statement. but otherwise this is a smart and incisive article. enjoy.




What Do Falling Oil Prices Tell Us about War with Iran, the Elections, and Peak-Oil Theory

By Michael T. Klare

What the hell is going on here? Just six weeks ago, gasoline prices at the pump were hovering at the $3 per gallon mark; today, they're inching down toward $2 -- and some analysts predict even lower numbers before the November elections. The sharp drop in gas prices has been good news for consumers, who now have more money in their pockets to spend on food and other necessities -- and for President Bush, who has witnessed a sudden lift in his approval ratings.

Is this the result of some hidden conspiracy between the White House and Big Oil to help the Republican cause in the elections, as some are already suggesting? How does a possible war with Iran fit into the gas-price equation? And what do falling gasoline prices tell us about "peak-oil" theory, which predicts that we have reached our energy limits on the planet?

Since gasoline prices began their sharp decline in mid-August, many pundits have attempted to account for the drop, but none have offered a completely convincing explanation, lending some plausibility to claims that the Bush administration and its long-term allies in the oil industry are manipulating prices behind the scenes. In my view, however, the most significant factor in the downturn in prices has simply been a sharp easing of the "fear factor" -- the worry that crude oil prices would rise to $100 or more a barrel due to spreading war in the Middle East, a Bush administration strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, and possible Katrina-scale hurricanes blowing through the Gulf of Mexico, severely damaging offshore oil rigs.

As the summer commenced and oil prices began a steep upward climb, many industry analysts were predicting a late summer or early fall clash between the United States and Iran (roughly coinciding with a predicted intense hurricane season). This led oil merchants and refiners to fill their storage facilities to capacity with $70-80 per barrel oil. They expected to have a considerable backlog to sell at a substantial profit if supplies from the Middle East were cut off and/or storms wracked the Gulf of Mexico.

Then came the war in Lebanon. At first, the fighting seemed to confirm such predictions, only increasing fears of a region-wide conflict, possibly involving Iran. The price of crude oil approached record heights. In the early days of the war, the Bush administration tacitly seconded Israeli actions in Lebanon, which, it was widely assumed, would lay the groundwork for a similar campaign against military targets in Iran. But Hezbollah's success in holding off the Israeli military combined with horrific television images of civilian casualties forced leaders in the United States and Europe to intercede and bring the fighting to a halt.

We may never know exactly what led the White House to shift course on Lebanon, but high oil prices -- and expectations of worse to come -- were surely a factor in administration calculations. When it became clear that the Israelis were facing far stiffer resistance than expected, and that the Iranians were capable of fomenting all manner of mischief (including, potentially, total havoc in the global oil market), wiser heads in the corporate wing of the Republican Party undoubtedly concluded that any further escalation or regionalization of the war would immediately push crude prices over $100 per barrel. Prices at the gas pump would then have been driven into the $4-5 per gallon range, virtually ensuring a Republican defeat in the mid-term elections. This was still early in the summer, of course, well before peak hurricane season; mix just one Katrina-strength storm in the Gulf of Mexico into this already unfolding nightmare scenario and the fate of the Republicans would have been sealed.

In any case, President Bush did allow Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work with the Europeans to stop the Lebanon fighting and has since refrained from any overt talk about a possible assault on Iran. Careful never explicitly to rule out the military option when it comes to Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, since June he has nonetheless steadfastly insisted that diplomacy must be given a chance to work. Meanwhile, we have made it most of the way through this year's hurricane season without a single catastrophic storm hitting the U.S.

For all these reasons, immediate fears about a clash with Iran, a possible spreading of war to other oil regions in the Middle East, and Gulf of Mexico hurricanes have dissipated, and the price of crude has plummeted. On top of this, there appears to be a perceptible slowing of the world economy -- precipitated, in part, by the rising prices of raw materials -- leading to a drop in oil demand. The result? Retailers have abundant supplies of gasoline on hand and the laws of supply and demand dictate a decline in prices.

Finding Energy in Difficult Places

How long will this combination of factors prevail?

Best guess: The slowdown in global economic growth will continue for a time, further lowering prices at the pump. This is likely to help retailers in time for the Christmas shopping season, projected to be marginally better this year than last precisely because of those lower gas prices.

Once the election season is past, however, President Bush will have less incentive to muzzle his rhetoric on Iran and we may experience a sharp increase in Ahmadinejad- bashing. If no progress has been made by year's end on the diplomatic front, expect an acceleration of the preparations for war already underway in the Persian Gulf area (similar to the military buildup witnessed in late 2002 and early 2003 prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq). This will naturally lead to an intensification of fears and a reversal of the downward spiral of gas prices, though from a level that, by then, may be well below $2 per gallon.

Now that we've come this far, does the recent drop in gasoline prices and the seemingly sudden abundance of petroleum reveal a flaw in the argument for this as a peak-oil moment? Peak-oil theory, which had been getting ever more attention until the price at the pump began to fall, contends that the amount of oil in the world is finite; that once we've used up about half of the original global supply, production will attain a maximum or "peak" level, after which daily output will fall, no matter how much more is spent on exploration and enhanced extraction technology.

Most industry analysts now agree that global oil output will eventually reach a peak level, but there is considerable debate as to exactly when that moment will arise. Recently, a growing number of specialists -- many joined under the banner of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil -- are claiming that we have already consumed approximately half the world's original inheritance of 2 trillion barrels of conventional (i.e., liquid) petroleum, and so are at, or very near, the peak-oil moment and can expect an imminent contraction in supplies.

In the fall of 2005, as if in confirmation of this assessment, the CEO of Chevron, David O'Reilly, blanketed U.S. newspapers and magazines with an advertisement stating, "One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over... Demand is soaring like never before... At the same time, many of the world's oil and gas fields are maturing. And new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically. When growing demand meets tighter supplies, the result is more competition for the same resources."

But this is not, of course, what we are now seeing. Petroleum supplies are more abundant than they were six months ago. There have even been some promising discoveries of new oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico, while -- modestly adding to global stockpiles -- several foreign fields and pipelines have come on line in the last few months, including the $4 billion Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Turkey's Mediterranean coast, which will bring new supplies to world markets. Does this indicate that peak-oil theory is headed for the dustbin of history or, at least, that the peak moment is still safely in our future?

As it happens, nothing in the current situation should lead us to conclude that peak-oil theory is wrong. Far from it. As suggested by Chevron's O'Reilly, remaining energy supplies on the planet are mainly to be found "in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically." This is exactly what we are seeing today.

For example, the much-heralded new discovery in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron's Jack No. 2 Well, lies beneath five miles of water and rock some 175 miles south of New Orleans in an area where, in recent years, hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita have attained their maximum strength and inflicted their greatest damage on offshore oil facilities. It is naive to assume that, however promising Jack No. 2 may seem in oil-industry publicity releases, it will not be exposed to Category 5 hurricanes in the years ahead, especially as global warming heats the Gulf and generates ever more potent storms. Obviously, Chevron would not be investing billions of dollars in costly technology to develop such a precarious energy resource if there were better opportunities on land or closer to shore -- but so many of those easy-to-get- at places have now been exhausted, leaving the company little choice in the matter.

Or take the equally ballyhooed BTC pipeline, which shipped its first oil in July, with top U.S. officials in attendance. This conduit stretches 1,040 miles from Baku in Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, passing no less than six active or potential war zones along the way: the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan; Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia; the Muslim separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia; and the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Is this where anyone in their right mind would build a pipeline? Not unless you were desperate for oil, and safer locations had already been used up.

In fact, virtually all of the other new fields being developed or considered by U.S. and foreign energy firms -- ANWR in Alaska, the jungles of Colombia, northern Siberia, Uganda, Chad, Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East -- are located in areas that are hard to reach, environmentally sensitive, or just plain dangerous. Most of these fields will be developed, and they will yield additional supplies of oil, but the fact that we are being forced to rely on them suggests that the peak-oil moment has indeed arrived and that the general direction of the price of oil, despite period drops, will tend to be upwards as the cost of production in these out-of-the-way and dangerous places continues to climb.

Living on the Peak-Oil Plateau

Some peak-oil theorists have, however, done us all a disservice by suggesting, for rhetorical purposes, that the peak-oil moment is… well, a sharp peak. They paint a picture of a simple, steep, upward production slope leading to a pinnacle, followed by a similarly neat and steep decline. Perhaps looking back from 500 years hence, this moment will have that appearance on global oil production charts. But for those of us living now, the "peak" is more likely to feel like a plateau -- lasting for perhaps a decade or more -- in which global oil production will experience occasional ups and downs without rising substantially (as predicted by those who dismiss peak-oil theory), nor falling precipitously (as predicted by its most ardent proponents).

During this interim period, particular events -- a hurricane, an outbreak of conflict in an oil region -- will temporarily tighten supplies, raising gasoline prices, while the opening of a new field or pipeline, or simply (as now) the alleviation of immediate fears and a temporary boost in supplies will lower prices. Eventually, of course, we will reach the plateau's end and the decline predicted by the theory will commence in earnest.

In the meantime, for better or worse, we live on that plateau today. If this year's hurricane season ends with no major storms, and we get through the next few months without a major blowup in the Middle East, we are likely to start 2007 with lower gasoline prices than we've seen in a while. This is not, however, evidence of a major trend. Because global oil supplies are never likely to be truly abundant again, it would only take one major storm or one major crisis in the Middle East to push crude prices back up near or over $80 a barrel. This is the world we now inhabit, and it will never get truly better until we develop an entirely new energy system based on petroleum alternatives and renewable fuels.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and the author of "Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum", and "Resource Wars, The New Landscape of Global Conflict".

Copyright 2006 Michael T. Klare

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Peak Oil at SF LAFCo

Such excitement!

A few days ago, the fine folks in the SF Energy Community

(Offnote: I am disabusing myself of the notion of Peak Oil. From what I can gather, it's either upon us or will happen soon enough that the notion is absurd. It's like "Modernism" or its stumpy halfwit encore, "PostModernism". They are not the answers to the problem of contemporary history, and Peak Oil is not the correct understanding of the problem of contemporary civilisation. The problem is energy production and resource consumption combined with massive overpopulation and a rapacious political economy and attendant false consciousness. But - I digress. Suffice to say, Stuart Studebaker has had it up to his eyeballs with Peak Oil which now has become more of a gloomy subculture with pseudo-religious overtones - and that creeps me out. So, from here on, you may consider me an Energy Activist. Attach my name to peak oil, and expect to arrive home to a house with your garbage missing and the pets all pregnant. Or something really bad like that. I digress...)

were able to set up a meeting in front of the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission. This was held beforecity Supervisors Mirkarimi, McGoldrick, and government employees Schmeltzer and Sullivan. Mr Mirkarimi was Chair. First, there was a Media Advisory on the steps of City Hall.

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I was starved, and went down the block to get a small sandwich, and arrived as the speeches were already in swing. first up at the podium was Mr Richard Heinberg. (Picture #1)

He gave a very nice verbal outline of the Obvious Situation, and was well recieved. I would estimate that there were at least 40 people standing and listening.

After Mr H, was was David Room (picture #2) who shared a few words as well. He was followed by Supervisor Mirkarimi, (picture #3) who was forceful in his views which seemed quite sympathetic with the audience at hand. He was followed by someone in a beige suit whose names escapes me (picture #4)

(off note: if anyone can fill in the names I forget - and I forget often - please leave a comment and I'll fix the post itself. I make no pretense to journalism - this is a blog of my bad attitudes and observations.)

Then we all filed into the meeting room. It quickly filled up to standing room only.

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Another room was opened and a video feed was sent in and projected so people could at least see the proceedings. I sat up front so I could take pictures. The Supervisors McGoldrick, Mirkarimi and gov't apparatchiks Schmeltzer and Sullivan filed in and took their seats.

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After some pro forma agenda stuff regarding the minutes of the previous meeting and such like - all performed under Robot's Rule's of Order and other similar parliamentary hocus pocus - the first to present was Richard Heinberg.

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It was a classic Heinberg tour de force of facts and figures that paint a very ugly picture for the 21st Century. If you've read Powerdown or The Party's Over, you're pretty much up on what he has to say. The benefit was that he had several pieces of recent data to support his ideas. Excellent presentation, in his classic low key demeanor.

The Next speaker was David Room.



David's presentation was interesting but was about twice as long as it needed to be. I thought he had a number of good ideas, but didn't seem to have any concrete proposals. The supervisors had to ask him to cut it short, so perhaps he would have gotten to more concrete policy suggestions and strategic proposals, but we didn't get to find out.

The third person was a clear and articulate woman from the San Francisco Department of the Environment. (her name escapes me - anyone?)




Being the natural born clumsy doofball that I am, I accidentally stabbed myself in the hand with a ball point pen at that moment, and was in some pain and didn't really get to concentrate on what she had to say. I do remember it was interesting when I wasn't wincing in pain.

After she spoke, the citizens were allowed to come up and talk to the Supervisors. Most of the speeches were passionate and articulate. A few were off the point, but not absurdly so. One gentleman started railing on about how we don't have a democracy, and seemed completely oblivious to the irony of his statement... But even he had good points about energy and politics. I even spoke - I said who I was and what I do, and that I knew politicians liked specific and useful ideas, so I chimed in with three.

1. Disallow the Registration of SUVs as private passenger vehicles in San Francisco.

2. Subsidise electric bikes.

3. The city should invest in a kind of polysilicate bank, and use these cheap rates of PV to develop its own electrical generation for City Government buildings and public housing. This would do two things - it would permit the City to get into the business of renewable electricity generation, and act as a first step int opublic ownership of city based wind and tide power generation. The localisation angle on this is obvious, as is the direct connection to Public Power, but leapfrogging the gooey disaster that is PG&E - rather than "get control" of PG&E, the city could get into renewable power generation directly, and bypass the whole mess - let PG&E die on the vine as the oil runs out...

Supervisor Mirkarimi was impressed and asked me to email him with my ideas - he's a well known advocate of public power, so I am not surprised that he'd find my idea #3 to be interesting...

More people spoke, and with some more Parliamentary hocus pocus, the meeting was over. At that point I got to take a nice picture of Mr Heinberg.




At that point a bunch of us all wandered down to a vegetarian restaurant run by devotees of Sri Chimnoy. The food was very very good, and the conversation was great.

Mr Heinberg liked me bringing up electric bikes. He said that he thinks electric bikes were likely more efficient than regular bikes. Each calorie you burn pedaling represents 10x as many calories that you don't get to expend, because it takes so much energy just to make food. From a total energy view, the electric bike is much more efficient. Personally, I'm not sure that's all true, but I do find the idea rather exciting. I'd have to do some crazy Odum-like analysis to figure it out, but I wouldn't be surprised if Heinberg is correct.

I made some points to the assembled dinner crowd that we need to get culture workers hip to and working to promote energy awareness - even if they are celebrities and make their living on the commodity culture, they are in positions of great value in our society, as people trust their culture heroes more than politicians. Celebrities sell soap and life insurance, cars and medication - why not energy awareness?

I pointed out Al Gore's movie went ahead because of the entertainment industry, and that culture, as a lens AND mirror of society, will always be out ahead of the politicians. Whether its writers, filmmakers, musicians, actors, DJs - whatever - we need all hands on deck, and the biggest gains to be realised in the slackening of the depletion curve will come culturally.

After dinner, myself and two companions, Dennis and Chuck, wandered over to the Noc Noc club and hoisted a few foaming frosties to our health and did a post-mortem of the meeting. After much convivial and interesting conversation, I found my way to a bus and after a long walk up a hill, I went to bed.

Today, I sent some dead computer gear to be properly recycled, and then Beth, Elizabeth and I had lunch at Kan Zaman middle eastern restaurant. Then it was off to Amoeba, where I purchased some used CDs and then home to a yummy salad dinner.

Monday is my birthday. Yay.

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