Saturday, July 25, 2009

it's the end of the world as we know it (...and I feel fine) (1)

Probably few saw this meltdown coming. We have come to view human progress as a given, and an ever growing economy and living standard as an entitlement.

Certainly, the US and world economy has proven to be less robust than the most ardent skeptics would have thought, outside perhaps the peak oil group. Current talk is of green shoots and the V-shaped recovery. However, the next wave of trouble is likely to be the commercial sector, with apartment and office leasing under pressure from the highest jobless rate in 26 years.(2) Who will be around to buy up these assets?

Congress is initiating a commission to determine the causes of the crisis, which already seem to stem from the regulatory lapses of a freewheeling era as well as risk build-up from perpetual and unstemmed exuberance.

The economic costs so far are $1.4 trillion in financial industry losses, $700 billion in U.S. taxpayer cash infusions and loans to businesses, and $37 trillion in destroyed world stock market value since October 2007.(3)

One factor that seems to be overlooked is the run up of oil prices in the face of worldwide demand. Our nation was built on a model of cheap oil, having been the Saudi Arabia of the world until the 1950s, when the OPEC nation took over the world leading oil exporter. The US crisis precipitated the world economic crisis. The world economy runs on oil, and high prices seem to take the wind out of the proverbial sails.

That run up culminated on July 11, 2008, when the price of a barrel of oil hit a record $147.27 in daily trading. That same month, world crude oil production achieved a record 74.8 million barrels per day.

Prior to that record, during the period from 2005 to 2008, though oil’s price steadily rose, production remained essentially flat. Though new sources of oil were coming on line, they barely made up for production declines in the older fields due to depletion.

In the wake of the following crisis, both prices and production fell as demand for oil collapsed. Since then, up to $150 billion of investments in oil production capacity have evaporated. Apparently, oil companies and oil producing nations can afford to expand or at least maintain production around 75 million barrels per day, collectively, but the world economy cannot afford oil at $150 a barrel.(4)
What's all this? I thought we didn't have to worry about oil until 2050. Its a problem for the grandkids to figure out, right?

In November, 2008, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a turnabout in its World Energy Outlook. This, from a generally conservative agency.

The opening paragraph:

The world’s energy system is at a crossroads. Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable - environmentally, economically, socially. But that can - and must - be altered; there’s still time to change the road we’re on. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us today: securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation to a low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply. What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution.

In preparing this report, the IEA performed a comprehensive study of 800 of the world's largest oil fields. It concluded that without massive investment in discovery and drilling, the current world oil production will decline by over 9% per year.

To use another source, on May 4 of this year, Raymond James Associates, a brokerage specializing in energy investments, issued a report stating, “With OPEC oil production apparently having peaked in 1Q08, and non-OPEC even earlier in 2007, peak oil on a worldwide basis seems to have taken place in early 2008.” This conclusion is being echoed by numerous other analysts.

There seems to be a widespread tendency to discount oil's value to humanity. We treat it like a commodity, right next to pork bellies, which are, in fact, renewable. Oh, we say, we'll just go back to horses. We'll just to go to electric cars. Or, someone will think of something.

Let's address these three points, as they are ubiquitous.

Firstly, we could not grow enough hay to feed that many horses, at least not without clearing the remainder of the nation's or world's forests. Already, one third of the planet's forests have been cleared, resulting in about half of anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide emissions, which by the way is a green-house gas.

Secondly, in a collapsed world economy, we would not all be able to afford electric vehicles, and if we could, the dilapidated electrical grid could not support the new load without browning out or collapsing.

Thirdly, this is capitalism, unless as Newsweek has stated on a cover, that we are all socialists now. So if someone could think of something so brilliant that it could usurp the laws of physics and thermodynamics, they would patent it and make trillions overnight. Besides, I think socialism requires its practitioners to possess at least some feeling of wellbeing towards the other members of a society, so right off, we would suck at it, rather badly; whereas in capitalism, its all been chalked up to “just business.”

Oil under girds the world economy, and was primarily responsible for our population growth and prosperity.

In essence, we have been too successful for our own good. Like a lottery winner, we don't know when to stop.

In the case of world population, scientists estimate a sustainable number to be between one and two billion. Sustainability should be thought of as a mode in which resources are not being used up at a rate faster than they are renewed, resulting in a subsequent population crash.

Current population is now almost 7 billion, which is 3 and a half times the upper limit of a sustainable number. To use another analogy, the capacity of a Honda Odyssey is 8 people (with 3 point seat belts for all, actually). Would we pack 28 people into an Odyssey? Do we believe that would that be wise? Hey, all 27 of you...pack in!!! We're going bar hopping!!!

The results of our short-term thinking are becoming obvious, although we were warned repeatedly in the 70s (in a lot of ways, the hippies and vegetarians have been right all along).

We are running out of oil. Our oceans are over-fished and acidified from excess atmospheric carbon dioxide uptake. Our forests are being pulled down, reduced to scorched earth and cattle fields. Our little experiment of loading the atmosphere with 150 million year old carbon is resulting in a warming and changing climate. The plants and animals that we share this planet with are dying off at 1000 times the historical background extinction rate, caught between over-fishing, over-hunting, land use change and climate change. Monsanto is playing God with genetics, then suing farmers for stealing when the wind blows Monsanto's transgenic seed's pollen into that farmer's neighboring field, infecting the hapless farmer's organic canola plants. (Oh, Joy!) And the model of modern industrial agribusiness is playing a significant role in the destruction of planet Earth. It goes on and on and on....this is the tragedy of the commons, on a planetary scale. Everyone is responsible, and no one person is intractable problem.

Certainly corporations aren't responsible... they are only doing what we designed them to do. We should not act surprised or indignant. Would a scorpion change its character? That would not be logical.

As Americans and as a species, we need to develop some degree of awareness of these issues. There is oblivious and then there's oblivion.

We need a world free of Monsanto s.(5) Its either corporations or humanity.

Show me a garden, that's bursting into life.(6) It is likely that we will still need to eat in the imminent collapsed world economy.

We face an uncertain future, one we should at least be aware of and then approach with some degree of resolution. After all, Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

(1)R.E.M. – Document album
(2)U.S. Office Vacancies Near 4-Year High on Job Losses, Reis Says - Bloomberg
(3)U.S. House Approves Panel to Probe Causes of Financial Crisis - Bloomberg
(4)Richard Heinberg -
(5)Combat Monsanto -
(6)Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

Saturday, March 14, 2009

ExxonMobil Smokes Crack: exploring motives behind funding of the misinformation campaign regarding global warming

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, that the most profitable company in the world would smoke crack. Many of us fuel up there every day, obliviously. You know, you just never know.

Given an understanding of the actions of the corporation, and the consequences resulting from these actions, it is clear that some impairment of judgment has been demonstrated.

Although few are aware, ExxonMobil is behind a massive misinformation campaign intended to mislead the public about the most important issue in the history of mankind – global warming. (I believe this is the point where the reader is supposed to scoff “global warming!” - as if someone just said NASA faked the moon shot.)

Initially launched as an attempt to defeat the Kyoto Protocol, since 1998 ExxonMobil has spent somewhere between $17 and $23 million to fund front groups which attempt to discredit real scientists and obfuscate the issue. As was made public by the New York Times in 1998, an ExxonMobil memo laid out a plan to "identify, recruit and train" a small team of unknown scientists and declared that: "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom" for "average citizens" and "the media."

As science is a process in which people objectively search for answers, the people representing these front groups are not scientists, by definition. Real scientists do not get paid money by an oil or coal company and then literally just make some stuff up. So these front groups funded by ExxonMobil, such as The Heartland Institute, are not deniers, they are liars. Professional, paid liars. They are very good at what they do. And junk science is not science at all.

As this campaign has been modeled on the wildly successful campaign by the tobacco companies to mislead the public and Congress about the known dangers of tobacco use, the coal companies and ExxonMobil have waged an equally effective campaign to muddy the waters regarding this issue.

In the case of tobacco, those companies delayed by four decades a financial accounting for the additional health care costs incurred by states as a result of tobacco use. This delay was achieved by questioning the link between smoking and cancer.

As with the tobacco campaign, this misinformation campaign has been remarkable effective. The effectiveness is in part due to the average citizen's apparent difficulty in discerning the impostor from the real scientist, and the media's myopic, erratic focus. By ExxonMobil's own criteria, they have achieved “victory.”

As it is a complex web of front groups and pseudo-scientists and politicians, the campaign is best understood displayed graphically, as documented by a Greenpeace project, At the hubs of this interconnected web are many well-known so-called “think tanks,” such as the George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute and Foundation, the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise and the CATO Institute- to name just a few of the 43 groups which are either puppet front groups or organizations funded by ExxonMobil.

Oh!, what an tangled web ExxonMobil weaves, when they first practice to deceive!

When included by the media in a discussion of this global warming “debate,” the media always fails to mention that the group is funded by ExxonMobil. Normal journalistic integrity should dictate that such a conflict of interest should be revealed.

Despite all the confusion, the current situation is plain and clear. Humanity does not have three more decades to “debate” what is apparent and obvious.

The polar ice cap is melting, and at the current rate of summer meltback will vanish in the next 5 to 7 years, at least during summer months. The polar ice cap serves to reflect much of the solar irradiance back into space, and as an integral function for the species which depend on it. This loss will devastate a thriving ecosystem, cause the extinction of arctic animals, and accelerate global warming. An arctic without ice has has been compared to a garden without soil.

Glaciers around the world, including Greenland and Antarctica, can be visually seen to be melting. Greenland, for example, lost an estimated 55 cubic miles of ice in 2006. For comparison purposes, this is 55 times the volume of oil that the world economy uses in one year.

All this melting is occurring in a epoch in which the planet would without man's interference be going into another ice age. Positive (warming) climate forcing due to accumulation of man-made greenhouses gases is now more significant than climate forcing from natural cycles, such as the Earth's tilt in space or orbit around the sun, or solar output, as has been shown by James Hansen and colleagues at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report forecasts a warming of as much as 6 degrees Celsius by century's end if current business as usual trends continue. This is a rate and amount of warming that could kill off many of the species that we share the planet with, now estimated to number 10 million species. Mass extinctions, more than half the Earth's species, have already occurred several times in the Earth's history as a result of a similar amount of rapid warming, so the concern is not just conjecture.

Already, extinctions are occurring, with a rate estimated to be between 100 and 1000 times the normal background rate. Is is impossible to say with certainty, but somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 species are vanishing every year, depending on the source. Land use change and habitat destruction have been the primary driver, but rapid warming and climate change will play a much larger role in these extinctions.

With consideration of the trends of climate change and energy depletion, scientists now estimate that by century's end human population will drop to between one and two billion people. James Lovelock, for instance, a prominent scientist and author of the idea of Gaia, has placed his estimate at one billion by century's end.

Assuming population rises to7 billion from the current 6.7 billion before the die off phase begins, and population stabilizes at 2 billion, this is 5 billion non-natural deaths by century's end. Two billion people is about the carrying capacity of the planet without the subsidy of carbon-based fuels, anyway.

To try to comprehend the scope of this challenge, the closest analogous situation may be the second world war. In WWII, an estimated 50 million people died. Climate change and energy depletion will kill off about 100 times the war related loss, or 5,000 million. So over the rest of the century, this will average out to about an entire WWII every year. Besides, human beings are just one species. The loss of many or even most of the species we share this planet with is no less lamentable.

The planet's energy balance and thus climate system has now been sharply tipped toward a much warmer planet. The rate of warming will be beyond what most species can survive. Our progeny will now inherit a planet bereft of much of its biodiversity. Humanity, or what will be left of it, will be left bereaved.

So to hear these groups which have effectively stopped national and international movement towards addressing this situation for their own financial gain, is a little frustrating. For want of a quarterly report, the planet was lost.

In light of the obvious signs of climate change and warming, and under pressure from stockholders of the corporation, the public, respected scientists in the U.S. and the U.K., groups like Exxpose Exxon and U.S. policy makers, ExxonMobil has begun to nuance its message. It has cut some funding to some groups, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The current CEO, Rex Tillerson, still emphasizes the “uncertainty” about climate science, while still funding most of the astroturf front groups which continue to muddy the waters.

James Hansen, the climate scientist referenced earlier, in his testimony to Congress in June 23, 2008, has stated that the CEOs of these corporations, for their roles in misleading the public and delaying a response to the climate crisis, “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

In a complex world, attributing culpability to the involved parties is difficult. In the developed world, we have all used resources and created greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap infrared energy. We all have a carbon footprint. We all have played a role. So who should determine the role, if any, of these deceivers, like Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil, and the rest of the deniers? The answer is, The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The ICC is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although, the United States has not yet joined the ICC.

Given the magnitude of what is happening, and what is about to happen, it is clear that these liars are operating with impaired capacity, quite possibility from smoking crack or banana peels or something. Either that, or a conscious and deliberate decision has been made to place quarterly reports and compensation packages ahead of all humanity and the biosphere entire. Surely, ExxonMobil smokes crack.

There's wrong. And there's dead wrong.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Biosphere. Chapter 1: Squirrels

(Note:This is a submitted Crossroads Chronicle article, a Cashiers, NC paper. The column is entitled Living Green. We'll see if they publish it. Its just slightly ridiculous, by design.)

All around us, there are all kinds of critters. God only knows what some of them are, but most of us can at least identify the common ones by at least their common names.

In this first installment of this probably much unanticipated and also unsolicited series, The Complete Idiot's Guild to the Biosphere, we examine the critter known as squirrels (also called tree rats), their role on the planet, and their propensity to venture out of their habitat and onto the gasoline tax supported roads of this nation. Finally, we will conclude with a theory as to why squirrels is sooo dumb.

By way of disclosure, it should be noted that the author is not an ecologist, or even an evolutionary biologist. However, it seems that a lack of knowledge or appropriate background is not currently preventing anyone from opining on any subject with 100% absolute confidence. So it is in this absolutely-anything-goes environment that the scope of this column can be both justifiably and reasonably expanded into subject areas about which the author knows absolutely nothing.

Now, and with the foregoing, the author did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

According to Wikipedia, a squirrel is one of the many small or medium-sized rodents in the family Sciuridae, whereas rats are various medium sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. "True rats" are members of the genus Rattus. However, when a squirrel tail is Photo Shopped onto a rat picture, the resemblance is completely uncanny. Is it a squirrel, or a rat with a puffy tail? Impossible to tell.

The relationship among the members of an ecological web is complex and interdependent. While squirrels eat insects and other critters which are considered pests, there is one service which these jittery-friends provide which is of paramount importance. Squirrels, in all their endearing busyness,
in and of the eating and burying of nuts, often forget the location of some of these buried treasures. These nuts, so carefully and lovingly planted, go on to become fully grown trees, minimizing erosion and restarting forests on slopes clear-cut by man.

Partially offsetting this benefit to humanity is squirrels annoying propensity to venture outside of their designated habitat and fritter about in the road system. The boundary between our road system and wilderness is clearly identified with a solid white line. Only the dumbest of animals would not recognize this visual barrier and maintain the balance in the Force.

This petroleum based game of “chicken” is no doubt a very familiar occurrence with the reader. The squirrel goes left, we go right. The squirrel goes right, we go left. The squirrel screams. The animals in the forest look on in a kind of paralyzed trance. Spllattcrunchbumpbump. We reassure ourselves with that common refrain,'there's a million of them.' We feel better. They don't make X Box games like this. Besides, we pay road taxes when we fill up, darn it all. Squirrels don't. So.

The loss of any one individual in an interconnected ecosystem is not the end of the ecosystem. One animals loss may be another's gain, in a circle of life kind of way. Natural systems work best, and there is no waste in nature; as crows, 'possums, and the Lord knows what else flies, crawls or squiggles over to partake of the recently departed.

In defense of squirrels, there is no natural situation comparable to this modern game of chicken. No animal in the ecosystem weighing 7000 pounds bears down at 50 miles per hour on a squirrel. There is no natural situation to serve as preparation in the form of either instinct or adolescent training.

If bears weighed this much and ran that fast, they would not be eligible for the tax credit as SUVs are anyways, so what would be the point in expending so much energy on a little squirrel? Perhaps if bears started a lobbying group, they could receive credits or even a bailout.

In addition, petroleum powered vehicles have only been around for a hundred years or so. And critters like our protagonist have been around for millions, so the modern marvels are relatively new. Already, squirrels seem to be getting better at it.

If squirrels can hold out for just a few more decades, their greatest road borne threat will be reduced to bicycles, light electric cars, horse drawn buggies or the shoes of the bipeds. If squirrels can adapt to climate change, they may very well outlast the bipeds entirely in just a century or two. However, one or two hundred years is far outside the scope of a 30 second attention span. What were we talking about?

Some groups are very fond of pointing out that everything works in cycles. In the case of modes of transportation, they are probably absolutely right. You know, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in a while.

It all makes you wonder... who is it that is really so dumb?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Strawberry Fields Forever, or The Promise of Organic Farming

(Published October 15, 2007 Crossroads Chronicle, Cashiers, NC)

I would probably be remiss if in a discussion of organic farming, I did not provide some perspective or context from the origins of farming.

Prior to the start of systematic agriculture, populations were hunter-gatherers. Gatherers could rely only on what edible plants that could be found, and hunting is, well, hit or miss. All available time was spent seeking food for survival. A better system was clearly needed.

In my little pet theory about how this transition came about, when a hunter would return to camp without success, Mama wasn’t happy. Then, as now, when Mama wasn’t happy, wasn’t nobody happy. Except back then, Mama had herself a wooden club. Necessity being the mother of invention, so to speak, it was in fact Man who around 9500 BC first sought to cultivate emmer and einkorn wheat, then later hulled barley, peas and lentils. I might lose some arguments, but at least on this point I’ll stick to my guns; you know, when your right, your right.

Agriculture was humanity’s first technology, and allowed for surplus food supply. Populations thus began to grow, and some individuals were able to focus on other advances.

In the past 50 or so years, agriculture has become intensive and industrial in scale. Extensive use of pesticides, fertilizer, herbicides, and oil- based mechanization has brought about significant advances in crop yield and efficiency. Use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock has resulted in similar economic gains.

These advances have fed a growing population, and starvation is no longer a common death as in the previous century. The positives have not been entirely without any unforeseen consequences or negatives, however.

In the case of pesticide, the extensive environmental impact caused by DDT
was first brought to public attention in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. 10 years after the books release in 1962, DDT was banned in the US. While subsequent replacements for DDT may be considered less persistent or toxic, it seems a pesticide which can kill insects which have been around hundreds of millions of years can probably harm humans. More than 80% of the most commonly-used pesticides today have been classified by National Academy of Sciences researchers as potentially carcinogenic -- and are routinely found in mothers' milk.

In addition, many pesticides are non-selective, and kill many helpful insects along with the pests. This collateral damage, along with habitat destruction, is impacting wild pollinators, whose presence is obviously important in the ecosystem.
In the past many different animals pollinated plants, including butterflies, bats, and more than 40,000 native species of bees. As humanity has increasingly disrupted native habitats, many species of pollinators have gone to that great bee hive in the sky. The honey bee has filled in for a time, pollinating a wide range of plant species, but now even the wild honey bee is at risk. Commercial bee keeper operations have been experiencing a problem which has been termed colony collapse disorder, resulting in loss of up to 85% of their bees. Causes of the loss include mites, viruses and possibly inadvertent exposure to pesticide.

Certified organic methods avoid synthetic pesticides altogether. Some organic farming certification standards do allow the use of natural methods of protection from pests such as those derived from plants. Organic advocates state that natural pesticides are a last resort, while growing healthier, disease-resistant plants, using cover crops and crop rotation, and encouraging beneficial insects and birds are the primary methods of pest control.

In the case of fertilizer, as far as possible, organic farmers rely on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and soil tilling to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects and other pests. Commercial farming typically relies on synthetic fertilizer, in which studies have shown result in nitrogen leaching 4.4-5.6 times higher than organic plots. Current farming practice tends to result in nitrates and phosphates running off into lakes, rivers, and groundwater. This leaching can cause algae blooms, eutrophication (nutrient pollution), and subsequent dead zones.

In the case of livestock husbandry, current practices routinely include the use of antibiotics and growth hormones to facilitate growth and production. As in the situation with widespread use of pesticides and herbicides, the long term results of such practices cannot be predicted. However, it is likely that extensive use of antibiotics in animals could lead to further antibiotic resistance in microbes - a growing concern. It is also likely that introducing growth hormones into the food we eat could have some deleterious effect.

In any case, organic farming practices are more sustainable than its industrial cousin. The former requires fewer synthetic (man-made, often oil based) inputs, and results in less environmental impact than the latter. Note the phrase ‘more sustainable,’ instead of actually sustainability. Very little of life in the modern developed world could be considered sustainable, from the perspective of either the continuing availability of natural resources after the next several generations or the continuing viability of this planet to support ecosystems sometime into the 22nd century.

If we were all inside a spacecraft instead of on a planet, how sustainable would it be with a malfunctioning climate system and scarce food supply? But, you are probably thinking that this is a ridiculous analogy, without any similarity to form a proper kind of comparison whatsoever. However, in my defense, it is likely that I was dropped on my head as a kid, although my parents continue to deny that. (But they do get a deer-in-the-headlights look in their eyes when I bring it up, and that is rather suspicious.)

In recent years, the word sustainability has been used in reference to how long human ecological systems can be expected to be usefully productive. It has been noted that in the past, there have been complex human societies that have died out as a result of their own growth and associated impacts on ecological support systems. The implication is that modern industrial society, which continues to grow in scale and complexity, seemingly without much regard to either diminishing resources or the resulting ecological consequences of our actions, might also collapse.

The Beatles (the Fab Four, not the pest) evoked ideas and images of a better world in many aspects; however idealism does not always effectively make the transition from a construct in the mind to a concrete reality. Hope is not a method, as the Army is fond of saying; to attain the possibility of strawberry fields forever, we are going to have to make it happen.


Of a President, a Veep and “The King”

(Published January 30, 2008 Crossroads Chronicle, Cashiers, NC)

The other day I had something of an epiphany. As I was watching the Disney Pixar film “Cars” for about the ninth time, and seeing North Carolina’s own Richard “The King” Petty, personified as the 1970 Pontiac Superbird, and the host of other cars including Dale Earnhardt Jr., drafting on a super speedway for the “Piston Cup” championship, it occurred to me that there might be something analogous between this energy saving technique and our present need to prepare for the looming energy crisis.

“Cars” is actually a phenomenal movie, and should be seen by any kids aged from two to one hundred and two. Featuring the voice talent of the likes of Mario Andretti, Paul Newman, Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas to name a few, it contains all the drama, trauma and love interest of any world class classic.

Drafting, or slipstreaming, is best known perhaps in auto racing, but is employed in other sports such as cycling and speed skating as well. In the animal kingdom, geese and some other birds fly in a V formation, the wing tips of the leading bird providing upward vortices, and thus lift, for the tailing bird. No dummies of the deep, lobsters also use cooperative drafting, migrating in single file over hundreds of miles in a “lobster train.” Although they are not as fast as Mario’s Ferrari, they are red once they are cooked.

Back in ’01, Vice President Cheney made comments regarding US energy policy that drew much review. (Sorry, a little slow on the uptake.) Mr. Cheney commented that conservation may be a personal virtue, but not the basis for a sound energy policy.

Conservation has probably not been a virtue since the days of Thoreau and the 10 foot by 12 foot cabin in the woods at Walden Pond. Today, it is exactly the opposite. Only a lunatic would reside in such a domicile.

Conservation, however, is the most cost effective method to utilize and stretch resources. Even a 10 MPG AWD SUV can be driven on planned out errands, with ride sharing to double or quadruple people-mpg (the number of people times mpg). At some point in the future, in order to maintain some degree of equality and economic parity, scarcity will require that rationing distribute the dwindling resource, similar to the case of WWII. At that point, drafting behind tractor trailers will be de rigueur, though not in the fashion sense, but more in the protocol sense.

In the case of NASCAR, teams track their efficiency and a number of other parameters. They average around 5 mpg, about what a fully loaded tractor trailer gets on the Eisenhower Interstate. But they are moving around 180 – 200 mph. And they only have so much fuel capacity per regulations. So drafting provides the best fuel economy at a given speed.

This planet also only has so much fuel capacity. Oil reserves are now in depletion mode. Spurred on by high oil prices, more rigs are drilling around the world than anytime in the last 20 years, however production has remained flat since 2005. New fields, much heralded in the news media, are but a drop in the oil drum.

Back in our time machine again, in 1992, President George Bush Sr. stated that the American way of life was non negotiable at the Earth Summit. Our current President and VP have echoed the same statement.

We should probably respect our elders. Mr. Bush Sr. was absolutely positively right, in a way he probably did not imagine.

The first oil crisis, in 1973, and the second one, in 1979, emanated from political tensions and resulted in temporarily reduced world oil supply and increased oil prices.

It is possible to negotiate with OPEC, the cause of the first episode. The political slash economic organization, at least Saudi Arabia, is tight with recent and particularly current US administrations.

It may even be possible to negotiate with those that govern Iran, the cause of the second episode.

However, it is impossible to negotiate with geology. It does not concern itself with the triumphs and tribulations of the human condition.

We are discovering new fields, yes. From 2000 to 2006, about 20 Gb (Billion barrels) of recoverable reserves in giant fields (over 500 million barrels) were discovered. This amounts to about 8 months of world oil consumption at the current rate of about 30 Gb per year. From 1960 to 1969, the peak years of discovery, over 400 Gb of recoverable reserves were located. This difference should put things in perspective.

So a new field, if it is less than say 500 million barrels, is not news worthy. This would last less than a week at the current global burn rate of around 80 million barrels a day, and provide false hope and misinformation as to the current peccadillo the planet is in.

To use another example, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the subject of much controversy, contains at least 4.3 Gb, according to the US Geological Survey. If we ever do drill there, it will amount to only 6 months of US oil consumption at the current rate. We might want to leave some for future generations, if only to use as a raw material to make life critical products, such as pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and plastics, to name a few.

All this stuff about Richard Petty and NASCAR and fuel has got me all revved up. I am feeling an irresistible compulsion to drive out and get some STP gas treatment. And I drive a diesel.

The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change? WTF?

(Published March 5, 2008 Crossroads Chronicle, Cashiers, NC)

By the time of this publication, hopefully it will all be over. Sponsored by the euphemistically named Heartland Institute, the stated intent of this first supposedly annual conference is “to call attention to widespread dissent in the scientific community to the alleged “consensus” that the modern warming is primarily man-made and is a crisis,” to borrow directly from their website.

Scheduled from March 2 – 4 in Manhattan, the conference sounds like something the United Nations would put on. Don’t be mislead. The Heartland Institute is another “Astroturf” organization, which attempts to mimic the kind of spontaneous grassroots movement in which the populace gets behind an organization, such as Greenpeace. However, the Heartland Institute is merely a front for a number of corporate interests, with Exxon Mobil and Phillip Morris among its largest contributors. The organization does not currently reveal its sponsors.

The Institute is already threatening to descend upon the hapless city of London in 2009. Forewarned is forearmed.

Corporate America, bless its little heart, has figured out that to muddy the waters of an issue can be to corporate advantage. Witness the decades long effort by the tobacco companies to minimize the perceived negative health impact from smoking. The orchestrated campaign of lies continued up until the 1990s, insuring continued fat profit margins at the expense of public health. In fact, representatives from major tobacco companies lied directly to Congress regarding their knowledge of the ill effects of tobacco use, and got away with it. At the corporate level, crime absolutely does pay.

In 2000, the coal industry could well see the benefits of sugar coating serious problems, and started the Americans for Balanced Energy Choices campaign, another Astroturf organization that obviously claims to represent Americans. As a result of these efforts, and under the Bush administration, coal fired power plants have experienced a grand resurgence. If coal is clean, then so is crack cocaine.

It is apparent that these public relations and misinformation campaigns are an effective method for corporate special interests to advance their goals. Dozens and dozens of legitimate sounding non-profit front organizations have cropped up like so many dragon’s teeth, much to the chagrin of some people who happen to like something called the truth. With names like the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to name two really big and influential ones, they espouse sound science and claim to be non-biased, which are two big fat lies right before they even get started good.

The following is an example of the sound science and sound logic promulgated by the Heartland Institute:

"Some environmentalists call for a "save-the-day" strategy to 'stop global warming,' saying it is better to be safe than sorry. Such a position seems logical until we stop to think: Immediate action wouldn't make us any safer, but it would surely make us poorer. And being poorer would make us less safe."

One cannot argue with such bullet- proof logic as that. It must have been spoken by one of their so called “scientists,” the word being used very loosely in this sense.

Someone from the Blue Ridge School or Summit Charter School could probably help here, but it seems like the process of science involves something along the lines of making a hypotheses, testing it, and drawing conclusions. I don’t seem to remember anything about getting paid money by Exxon Mobil or a tobacco or coal company and then making stuff up, but I may already be starting to slip.

The “scientists” from these so called think tanks may be under the influence of big corporate dollars, or they may just be really, really out there. Like Star Wars out there.
What was it that Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) said to Luke before entering the cantina?…Oh yes,….”You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” Sir Guinness could have almost been talking about this recent conference as well.

Still, it must have a spectacle to behold, the cast of characters similar to that as seen on Tatooine. I wonder if the hammer head guy made it to this conference? That guy was awesome!

Global Warming - Its What’s for Dinner!

(Published May 7, 2008 Crossroads Chronicle, Cashiers, NC)

The other day, I was thinking; because, you know, that’s just something I do. Nothing short-circuited, but it did make some smoke bellow from my ears.

The subject of all this effort, believe it or not, was cows. Not the cute, talking ones affiliated with Chick-fil-a, mind you, but more regarding their 1.3 billion non-talking, non-standing grain fed brethren.

The issue goes to the environmental impact of mankind’s agricultural activities, but also the sustainability of those same activities in a modern system of agribusiness, which is entirely dependant on oil to make food.

In a culture which is accustomed to a stream of incessant entertainment and infotainment, but lacking a solid understanding of physics and science which a high school graduate would possess, it is regrettably not an issue high on the radar screen.

In other words, the environment is not as interesting as say, Brittney Spears.

As we are all stakeholders in about the only decent planet around, maintaining the biosphere should be interesting, or at least important.

Globally, cattle emit an estimated 100 million tons of methane annually, the result of anaerobic digestion of grass and grain in their 7 tummies. Methane is the second major green house gas resulting from human activities, behind carbon dioxide.

Granted, there are other sources of methane, such as rice cultivation, coal mines, land fills, and other ruminants, such as sheep, goats and buffalo.

In the case of mines and landfills, the methane can be captured and used as an energy source, while preventing the gas from reaching the atmosphere to act as a warming agent. An example of this strategy is the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Sylva.

Dr. James Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has suggested that a methane reduction strategy could effectively slow global warming in the short term in his paper “Global Warming in the 21st Century: An Alternative Scenario.”

Methane has a 10 to 12 years life cycle in the atmosphere, compared to the 120 years cycle for carbon dioxide. Thus, reductions in methane emission have a relatively quick reduction on warming.

Currently, on a global scale, food prices have risen dramatically over the last several weeks, an indication of the amount of fossil fuel energy used to produce food. On average, about 10 calories of fuel energy are expended to create 1 calorie of food energy. As a result, an increase in energy prices is magnified in the price of food to consumers.

In the case of beef production, the ratio is closer to 60 to 1. Let’s examine the steps. Natural gas is used to create fertilizer. Oil is used to create pesticides. John Deere powered mechanization is used to plant, maintain, and harvest grain. Tractor trailers haul the grain to the cattle. Tractor trailers haul the cattle to processing, which incidentally is a rather cruel process for the Moo-moos. Finally, they haul beef to supermarkets and burger joints. Viola! Dinner is served!

In the coming few decades, as oil prices continue to climb and supplies start to drop off, one strategy may be to produce our own locally grown food to minimize the dependence on the dwindling resource. In fact, the issue extends into the realm of food security, two words which have not been typically used together to describe the situation in the US.

Well, all this ruminating has left me a bit peckish. Probably mosey over to The Library for a Filet Mignon and a martini. You know, hand mashed potatoes and olives are considered veggies. Then I’ll probably download some Brittney Spears.