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No hiding from the truth!

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Michael Klare courtesy of Tom Dispatch.

I’m conscious that there have been a number of republications recently. Partly that’s because there has been a run of great articles that have gone down well with you, but also because the ‘task list’ arising from the move into our home in Merlin, Oregon continues to dominate our lives.  Even before Mother Nature demonstrated that our bridge needed repairing!

So onto another republication of a TomDispatch special.  But what a special.  Here’s Tom’s introduction:

Let’s face it: climate change is getting scarier by the week.  In this all-American year, record wildfiresrecord temperatures in the continental U.S., an endless summer, a fierce drought that stillwon’t go away, and Frankenstorm Sandy all descended on us.  Globally, billion-dollar weather events are increasingly dime-a-dozen affairs, with a record 14 of them in 2012 so far.  So is a linked phenomenon, the continuing rise in the volume of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, especially from burning fossil fuels, that get pumped into the atmosphere.  The latest figures from 2011 indicate that those gases once again made an appearance in record amounts with no indication that abatement is anywhere on the horizon.

With new studies and more data, it seems, come ever more frightening projections of just how much the temperature of this planet is going to rise by 2100.  After all, as Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of the invaluable The Race for What’s Left, points out, the International Energy Agency’s latest study suggests a possible temperature rise by century’s end of 3.6 degrees Celsius.  That should startle the imagination, involving as it would the transformation of this planet into something unrecognizably different from the one we all grew up on.  And keep in mind that it’s by no means the top estimate for temperature disaster.  A new World Bank report indicates that a rise of 4 degrees Celsius is possible by century’s end, a prospect that bank president Jim Yong Kim termed a “doomsday scenario.”

In the meantime, the most comprehensive study to date of how humans have affected the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere predicts that the planet’s temperature could rise by an unimaginable 6 degrees Celsius by 2100.  These days, it increasingly looks like we’ve entered the lottery from hell when it comes to Earth’s ultimate temperature — especially now that a recent report from the United Nations Environment Program suggests carbon in the atmosphere has increased by 20% since 2000 and that “there are few signs of global emissions falling.”

With this in mind, consider the latest “good news” reported (and widely hailed) in the world of fossil fuels, courtesy of Michael Klare.  Tom

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World Energy Report 2012 
The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Truly Ugly 
By Michael T. Klare

Rarely does the release of a data-driven report on energy trends trigger front-page headlines around the world.  That, however, is exactly what happened on November 12th when the prestigious Paris-based International Energy Agency(IEA) released this year’s edition of its World Energy Outlook.  In the process, just about everyone missed its real news, which should have set off alarm bells across the planet.

Claiming that advances in drilling technology were producing an upsurge in North American energy output, World Energy Outlook predicted that the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the planet’s leading oil producer by 2020.  “North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world,”declared IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a widely quoted statement.

In the U.S., the prediction of imminent supremacy in the oil-output sweepstakes was generally greeted with unabashed jubilation.  “This is a remarkable change,”said John Larson of IHS, a corporate research firm.  “It’s truly transformative.  It’s fundamentally changing the energy outlook for this country.”  Not only will this result in a diminished reliance on imported oil, he indicated, but also generate vast numbers of new jobs.  “This is about jobs.  You know, it’s about blue-collar jobs.  These are good jobs.”

The editors of the Wall Street Journal were no less ecstatic.  In an editorial with the eye-catching headline “Saudi America,” they lauded U.S. energy companies for bringing about a technological revolution, largely based on the utilization of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract oil and gas from shale rock.  That, they claimed, was what made a new mega-energy boom possible.  “This is a real energy revolution,” the Journal noted, “even if it’s far from the renewable energy dreamland of so many government subsidies and mandates.”

Other commentaries were similarly focused on the U.S. outpacing Saudi Arabia and Russia, even if some questioned whether the benefits would be as great as advertised or obtainable at an acceptable cost to the environment.

While agreeing that the expected spurt in U.S. production is mostly “good news,”Michael A. Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations warned that gas prices will not drop significantly because oil is a global commodity and those prices are largely set by international market forces.  “[T]he U.S. may be slightly more protected, but it doesn’t give you the energy independence some people claim,” he told the New York Times.

Some observers focused on whether increased output and job creation could possibly outweigh the harm that the exploitation of extreme energy resources like fracked oil or Canadian tar sands was sure to do to the environment. Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress, for example, warned of a growing threat to America’s water supply from poorly regulated fracking operations.  “In addition, oil companies want to open up areas off the northern coast of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean, where they are not prepared to address a major oil blowout or spill like we had in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Such a focus certainly offered a timely reminder of how important oil remains to the American economy (and political culture), but it stole attention away from other aspects of the World Energy Report that were, in some cases, downright scary.  Its portrait of our global energy future should have dampened enthusiasm everywhere, focusing as it did on an uncertain future energy supply, excessive reliance on fossil fuels, inadequate investment in renewables, and an increasingly hot, erratic, and dangerous climate.  Here are some of the most worrisome takeaways from the report.

Shrinking World Oil Supply

Given the hullabaloo about rising energy production in the U.S., you would think that the IEA report was loaded with good news about the world’s future oil supply.  No such luck.  In fact, on a close reading anyone who has the slightest familiarity with world oil dynamics should shudder, as its overall emphasis is on decline and uncertainty.

Take U.S. oil production surpassing Saudi Arabia’s and Russia’s.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Here’s the catch: previous editions of the IEA report and theInternational Energy Outlook, its equivalent from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), rested their claims about a growing future global oil supply on the assumption that those two countries would far surpass U.S. output.  Yet the U.S. will pull ahead of them in the 2020s only because, the IEA now asserts, their output is going to fall, not rise as previously assumed.

This is one hidden surprise in the report that’s gone unnoticed.  According to the DoE’s 2011 projections, Saudi production was expected to rise to 13.9 million barrels per day in 2025, and Russian output to 12.2 million barrels, jointly providing much of the world’s added petroleum supply; the United States, in this calculation, would reach the 11.7 million barrel mark.

The IEA’s latest revision of those figures suggests that U.S. production will indeed rise, as expected, to about 11 million barrels per day in 2025, but that Saudi output will unexpectedly fall to about 10.6 million barrels and Russian to 9.7 million barrels.  The U.S., that is, will essentially become number one by default.  At best, then, the global oil supply is not going to grow appreciably — despite the IEA’s projection of a significant upswing in international demand.

But wait, suggests the IEA, there’s still one wild card hope out there: Iraq.  Yes, Iraq.  In the belief that the Iraqis will somehow overcome their sectarian differences, attain a high level of internal stability, establish a legal framework for oil production, and secure the necessary investment and technical support, the IEApredicts that its output will jump from 3.4 million barrels per day this year to 8 million barrels in 2035, adding an extra 4.6 million barrels to the global supply.  In fact, claims the IEA, this gain would represent half the total increase in world oil production over the next 25 years.  Certainly, stranger things have happened, but for the obvious reasons, it remains an implausible scenario.

Add all this together — declining output from Russia and Saudi Arabia, continuing strife in Iraq, uncertain results elsewhere — and you get insufficient oil in the 2020s and 2030s to meet anticipated world demand.  From a global warming perspective that may be good news, but economically, without a massive increase in investment in alternate energy sources, the outlook is grim.  You don’t know what bad times are until you don’t have enough energy to run the machinery of civilization.  Assuggested by the IEA, “Much is riding on Iraq’s success… Without this supply growth from Iraq, oil markets would be set for difficult times.”

Continuing Reliance on Fossil Fuels

For all the talk of the need to increase reliance on renewable sources of energy, fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — will continue to provide most of the additional energy supplies needed to satisfy soaring world demand.  “Taking all new developments and policies into account,” the IEA reported, “the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path.”  In fact, recent developments seem to favor greater fossil-fuel reliance.

In the United States, for instance, the increased extraction of oil and gas from shale formations has largely silenced calls for government investment in renewable technology.  In its editorial on the IEA report, for example, the Wall Street Journal ridiculed such investment.  It had, the Journal’s writers suggested, now become unnecessary due to the Saudi Arabian-style oil and gas boom to come.  “Historians will one day marvel that so much political and financial capital was invested in a [failed] green-energy revolution at the very moment a fossil fuel revolution was aborning,” they declared.

One aspect of this energy “revolution” deserves special attention. The growing availability of cheap natural gas, thanks to hydro-fracking, has already reduced the use of coal as a fuel for electrical power plants in the United States.  This would seem to be an obvious environmental plus, since gas produces less climate-altering carbon dioxide than does coal.  Unfortunately, coal output and its use haven’t diminished: American producers have simply increased their coal exports to Asia and Europe.  In fact, U.S. coal exports are expected to reach as high as 133 million tons in 2012, overtaking an export record set in 1981.

Despite its deleterious effects on the environment, coal remains popular in countries seeking to increase their electricity output and promote economic development.  Shockingly, according to the IEA, it supplied nearly half of the increase in global energy consumption over the last decade, growing faster than renewables.  And the agency predicts that coal will continue its rise in the decades ahead.  The world’s top coal consumer, China, will burn ever more of it until 2020, when demand is finally expected to level off.  India’s usage will rise without cessation, with that country overtaking the U.S. as the number two consumer around 2025.

In many regions, notes the IEA report, the continued dominance of fossil fuels is sustained by government policies.  In the developing world, countries commonly subsidize energy consumption, selling transportation, cooking, and heating fuels at below-market rates.  In this way, they hope to buffer their populations from rising commodity costs, and so protect their regimes from popular unrest.  Cutting back on such subsidies can prove dangerous, as in Jordan where a recent government decision to raise fuel prices led to widespread riots and calls for the monarchy’s abolition.  In 2011, such subsidies amounted to $523 billion globally, says the IEA, up almost 30% from 2010 and six times greater than subsidies for renewable energy.

No Hope for Averting Catastrophic Climate Change

Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least.  Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in “a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C.”

This should stop everyone in their tracks.  Most scientists believe that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is about all the planet can accommodate without unimaginably catastrophic consequences: sea-level increases that will wipe out many coastal cities, persistent droughts that will destroy farmland on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their survival, the collapse of vital ecosystems, and far more.  An increase of 3.6 degrees C essentially suggests the end of human civilization as we know it.

To put this in context, human activity has already warmed the planet by about 0.8 degrees C — enough to produce severe droughts around the world, trigger or intensify intense storms like Hurricane Sandy, and drastically reduce the Arctic ice cap.  “Given those impacts,” writes noted environmental author and activist Bill McKibben, “many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target.”  Among those cited by McKibben is Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes. “Any number much above one degree involves a gamble,” Emanuel writes, “and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.” Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it this way: “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.”

At this point, it’s hard even to imagine what a planet that’s 3.6 degrees C hotter would be like, though some climate-change scholars and prophets — like former Vice President Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth — have tried.  In all likelihood, the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets would melt entirely, raising sea levels by several dozen feet and completely inundating coastal cities like New York and Shanghai.  Large parts of Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the American Southwest would be rendered uninhabitable thanks to lack of water and desertification, while wildfires of a sort that we can’t imagine today would consume the parched forests of the temperate latitudes.

In a report that leads with the “good news” of impending U.S. oil supremacy, to calmly suggest that the world is headed for that 3.6 degree C mark is like placing a thermonuclear bomb in a gaudily-wrapped Christmas present.  In fact, the “good news” is really the bad news: the energy industry’s ability to boost production of oil, coal, and natural gas in North America is feeding a global surge in demand for these commodities, ensuring ever higher levels of carbon emissions.  As long as these trends persist — and the IEA report provides no evidence that they will be reversed in the coming years — we are all in a race to see who gets to the Apocalypse first.

Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, ofThe Race for What’s Left (Metropolitan Books).  A documentary movie based on his book Blood and Oil can be previewed and ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com. You can follow Klare on Facebook by clicking here.

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Why do I have this inner feeling that 2013 will be bringing some surprises!

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Reply to a skeptic

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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I came across this wonderful quotation on a blogsite called Wibble!  It was a comment to a post with the compelling title of It is vitally important not to make connections and explains that the quote was made by Dr. Seuss in the film The Lorax.

For me that quotation sums up how I would like to reply to not only my dear friend, Dan Gomez, who is a denialist of anthropogenic climate change, as last Monday’s Post illustrated, but also to skeptics everywhere else.

I should also add the important qualifier that I am neither a scientist nor have any expert skills in the relevant areas.  But, then again, neither does Dan.  He and I are both citizens of Planet Earth with a passion for the truth.

So where to go from here?  There is no question that the Earth’s climate is complex and endeavouring to understand ’cause and effect’ relies heavily on mathematical models.  But many complex aspects of our world are treated similarly, therefore so what!  Dan and I share with millions of others a lack of scientific competence, ergo we have to be rely on the scientific views expressed by those who do have the scientific competencies.

Would one challenge the competence of Scientific American magazine, that in an article on March 18, 2007, (five years ago!) opened thus,

Paris–The signs of global climate change are clear: melting glaciers, earlier blooms and rising temperatures. In fact, 11 of the past 12 years rank among the hottest ever recorded.

and continued later with this, [my emboldening]

For example, after objections by Saudi Arabia and China, the report dropped a sentence stating that the impact of human activity on the earth’s heat budget exceeds that of the sun by fivefold. “The difference is really a factor of 10,” says lead author Piers Forster of the University of Leeds in England: compared with its historical output, the sun currently contributes an extra 0.12 watt of energy for each square meter of the earth’s surface, whereas man-made sources trap an additional 1.6 watts per square meter.

Or what ‘influence’ might be at play when the British newspaper The Guardian reported earlier this year that,

Wall Street Journal rapped over climate change stance

, US environment correspondent

The Wall Street Journal has received a dressing down from a large group of leading scientists for promoting retrograde and out-of-date views on climate change.  In an opinion piece run by the Journal on Wednesday, nearly 40 scientists, including acknowledged climate change experts, took on the paper for publishing an article disputing the evidence on global warming.

The offending article, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, which appeared last week, argued that climate change was a cunning ploy deployed by governments to raise taxes and by non-profit organisations to solicit donations to save the planet.

It was signed by 16 scientists who don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that climate change is happening and is largely man-made – but as Wednesday’s letter points out, many of those who signed don’t actually work in climate science.

Later in that article Suzanne writes, referring to the 40 scientists, [again, my emboldening]

The letter goes on to note that some 97% of researchers who actively publish on climate science agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. It concludes: “It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.”

There’s much, much more evidence that shows that the science is clear – mankind is risking the future viability of this planet for the species homo sapiens and countless other species!

One of the important points made by Dan in that Post last Monday was about the book, written by Senator James Inhofe, The Greatest Hoax.  Dan wrote, “This is all about money and power, not weather.

There are a number of independent websites across the world where one can quickly research the credentials and background by name of any person.  Try Skeptical Science as an example.  A quick enquiry using Senator Inhofe’s name came up with this: Quotes by James Inhofe – Climate Myth/What the Science Says.  Read It!  And read this on the website Think Progress.  There are other websites where one can do that type of research.

In an email just a day ago, Dan wrote, “My message/warning remains the same: “Follow the Money”.  When the “End-of-the-World” is the message, what politician can resist?”  If only it was that easy.

OK, I’m going to start rounding this all off by first asking you to watch this 4-minute video that I came across thanks to Pedantry’s blogsite Wibble.

A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!

Next I’m going to repeat something that I have previously mentioned on Learning from Dogs.  There’s a saying in the aviation industry, “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”  That saying underpins the culture that has turned commercial air transport into one of the safest means of travel in history.

Let’s ponder that idea of doubt.

There is no question that there is a great deal of doubt.  Back in 2010 Gallup Poll reported that “42% of adults worldwide who see global warming as a threat to themselves and their families in 2010 hasn’t budged in the last few years“.

Would you get into a commercial airliner to fly from ‘a’ to ‘b’ if 42% of the passengers saw the flight as a threat to themselves?  No, of course not!

So one certainly wouldn’t fly then if 62% thought it was risky!  From here,

The newest study from the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which is a biannual survey taken since fall 2008 and organized by the Brookings Institute, shows that 62 percent of Americans now believe that man-made climate change is occurring, and 26 percent do not. The others are unsure.

So back to the theme that started this Post.  For the sake of all of us on this planet, for all our children and grandchildren and beyond, we need to start caring deeply about the future, changing our life-styles in as many ways as we can and demanding that our politicians and leaders are similarly committed to the future.

Not because the future is anything like certain – but to reduce the risks of a global catastrophy.  I have a grandson who will be one-year-old on March 21st.  I want to be certain that he has a viable life ahead of him for many, many years.  That means caring ‘a whole awful lot‘, letting hope motivate me to change, and recognising that change is already taking place, as the following trailer so superbly demonstrates.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Truths for January, 2012.

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Institutionalized insanity versus intelligent thinking – a reflection.

This appeared on Patrice’s Blogsite on January 11th and is republished with his very kind permission.   You may want to bookmark Patrice’s blogsite, which is here.  The sub-heading of his blog is ‘Intelligence at the core of humanism‘ and, trust me, that is not an overstatement of the wisdom that is contained within his blog, as the following nobly illustrates.

Thinking Man (portion of), by Rodin

Aphorism January 2012

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Species Shifting North, Intelligence Left Behind:

Nothing like raw numbers. In the last twenty years, Europe warmed up by one degree Celsius (about 2 degrees in the primitive, less meaningful Fahrenheit system). That’s equivalent to a thermal shift of 249 kilometers north.

Insects responded by an average shift north of 114 kilometers, and birds by only 33 kilometers. This is creating imbalances (fully obvious in Alaska, and high altitude North America, where the insects move faster than their predators, killing entire forests, which then burn).

This differential adaptation also illustrates an important point the stupid partisans of the “market” always neglect: being more intelligent can make you slower. Birds are more intelligent than insects, so they find harder to leave their families, friends, habits, and landscapes they are familiar with behind. (No, I will not say that insects are more like Americans, driven by the market, and birds more like Europeans, driven also by broader values. I shall resist, lest I move too fast, like an insect, and outrage part of my brainy readership…)

Thus, as the market dominates, so does the stupid.

Adaptation is not always a manifestation of intelligence, and inadaptation often a sign of intelligence. A well known experience is to put a fly, or a bee, inside an open bottle, with a light source opposed to the opening. The bee will search intelligently the bottom of the bottle, where the exit ought to be. The less intelligent fly will buzz around stupidly, and exit first.

It’s no wonder that the partisan of the markets, who are richer and thus more influential, are for something stupid, as they are faster, precisely because they are more stupid, with fewer values, besides the colossal greed which dominates their psyche. So there is a non linear vicious loop, the more the market dominates.

Thus, next year the candidate historically financed by Wall Street will confront the extremely wealthy businessman cum politician, son of his father, also a governor cum businessman. Market against market: the market should not lose. The birds will be left behind by the fast moving insects, once again. Change you can’t believe in.

***

Where is everybody?

Lord” (!) Martin Rees, “Astronomer Royal”, Nobel laureate, etc., complete with pretty pictures and beautifully spooky music, speculates it’s teeming with aliens out there.

But as Enrico Fermi quipped:”Where is everybody?

The situation is not helped by us understanding very little about what the universe is made of. In the latest numbers I saw the universe was made 4% conventional matter, and the rest was… Dark. Mostly Dark Energy, with some Dark Matter. Who said the Dark Side was not important?

There are no dominant theories of what the Darkness is made of.

CERN should be able to find stuff below its energy reach. So far, nothing.

We have detected more than 150 planets. It seems one star out of ten, at least, has planets. Some have been detected in the habitable zone, where liquid water is found. But the water has to be continuously present for billions of years. Continuously (which did not happen on Mars and Venus).

400 billion stars in our galaxy. The big question is how many planets can harbor advanced (=oxygen breathing) life. No inkling of that. There are plenty of planets out there, indeed, but most hostile to life. So far. How Much Intelligent Life Out There? On Earth, it took 1.5 billion years to go from advanced life to intelligent, civilized life. A lot of things can go wrong in 1.5 billion years.

That advanced life did not develop on Mars or Venus is not an accident: although on the outskirts of the habitable zone, either planet did not have what it took. Mars was too small, and, just like Venus was not protected by a powerful plate tectonic, with accompanying magnetic field, among other problems (so the solar wind blowing the top of the atmosphere stole the hydrogen, hence water, etc.)

My hunch is that most planets in the hospitable zone, when found, will be bereft of advanced life, although primitive life may be quite frequent. Reason? Too many miracles at work for billions of years in the solar system. Especially in light of what we find out there (We see plenty of Jupiter size planets in close orbits around their suns, presumably after sweeping their entire system clean; OK, that’s partly a result of the method used to find planets presently, but the fact is, we find such situations aplenty! The presence of Jupiter out there, as our guardian protecting Earth from comets looks quite miraculous…)

***

If You Want To Save the Biosphere, Push Tech:

Some people in the Netherlands have suggested building an artificial mountain. It’s feasible, and would be smart to do, not just there, but say in a place such as Saudi Arabia (technical variations on the theme could collect water, as in cloud, or fog forests found in California or Peru).

Another point is that artificial mountains could help protect biological diversity from the greenhouse heating. Cynics would point out that it would take an enormous amount of energy to build them. True, with present tech, and the energy would be dirty too, presently. But that would be another motivation to go green. Green and big.

***

Wind Fall-Out:

Most wind-driven energy system in Europe? Denmark. Most CO2 polluting country in Europe? Denmark. Coal power plants pick up the slack when the wind falters. Another case where nuclear offers its smiling face. Future nuclear that is. Not your great grandfather’s nuclear. Past nuclear tech should be terminated, just like coal. However, there are 100 unexploited, un-researched nuclear energies out there, and only those with insignificant waste will be acceptable. (Nobody would accept a fossil fuel system where only 2% of the fuel would be burned, and the rest allowed to pollute all over!)

Reminder: as the greenhouse heating proceeds, winds will falter because the heat differential between poles and equator will sink, thus shutting down that thermal engine known as the atmosphere (yes, hurricanes will be rarer, but fiercer).

***

Institutionalized insanity Versus Thinking Right:

In Switzerland a nuclear plant was built one kilometerdownstream from a dam, along the same river. None of those two could resist the sort of very strong quake happening occasionally in the Alps. A flood cum nuclear explosion is entirely imaginable. This sort of insanity has nothing to do with nuclear power, it has everything to do with lack of intelligence.

This is all the more strange since some Swiss cantons such as Valais get 20% of their GDP from research. By the way themedical drug sector part of GDP is twice the banking sector in Switzerland. For those who wonder why Switzerland is so rich (the same holds for Sweden and other Nordic company). It’s not (just) about the banks.

***

(More) Direct Democratic Keeps Bankers At Bay:

The weight of direct democracy has forced Swiss banks into reserve requirements twice those of the future Basel III regulations. (In other words, banks are many times tamer in Switzerland than in the USA, if one uses reserve requirements enforced as a measuring device; Basel III does not cover most of the enormous derivative trading, though.)

The scandal of the central banker heading the Swiss Central Bank buying dollars days before taking the decision of making the dollar explode up against the Swiss franc keeps unfolding. Yes, he knew about the trades, and yes, he had days to stop them afterwards.

It is dawning over Swiss society that those with privileged information should not be legally allowed to exploit them. The whole planet has to follow down that line. But, although it has been obvious for years that American and European politicians and central bankers are rich from insider trading, nothing has been done. Yet.

***

The Plutocrats Cash Out And Shame Does Not Count:

What looked to me as the immensely stupid and arrogant wife of the Swiss Bank President, explained herself from Singapore, where she owns an art gallery. If she really wanted to make real money out of her husband’s job, she knew how to do it, she asserted confidently. And there she was going through a list (a), b), c), d), etc… of things she would have done if she wanted to make more than the measly $75,000 she made. And how to make them secretly, she insisted.

Her name is “Kashya”, appropriately pronounced “Cashia”. In this case, Cashia said, in her native American English, they were in a rush, because they just had some cash from selling a chalet to store, so that is why she hid nothing.  That brings a few questions, such as whether she is used to exploit the mechanisms of further cheating she explicated so adroitly on TV. The central banker, the plutocrat Hildebrand, having resigned, will get a million dollar salary in the next year, from the People, while his fellow plutocrats will rush to propose him a much more protitable conspiracy to join. I propose to put him in jail, instead.

***

Another Claim Of Mental Decline. And The Agenda Behind It: There Is No Good Wisdom, Except Dead Wisdom, Say Plutocrats:

Supposedly some new test showed a decline in “cognitive capabilities” starting at age 45. Apparently people were asked to remember lists of words starting with some particular letters. It does not seem to have come to the mind of the experimenters that maybe older brains do not like to remember such stupid stuff.

Thinking means motivating. Without the right motivation, there is not the right thinking.

In the case of “IQ”, a decline is observed at 24, some say… Military officers would concur that it is better to send 18 year olds to die, because they are bright enough to execute orders well, but not so bright that they would know that they might die for no good reason.

A related point: no doubt a two-year old training to go potty remembers very well each time she goes. Whereas an adult tends to lose this facility of neurological retention for this sort of event. One generally observes. But it is not because adults have suffered mental decline that they do not remember every poop. Simply, they have seen lots of poop passing by.

Actually the argument can be made that consciousness and conscious memorization are needed to deploy automatisms, but once those are in place, they are not needed anymore, and so consciousness, and conscious recall should not be present.

When I was a young driver, I remembered everything I did when driving a car, but now I do it automatically, remembering very few of my gestures. When driving, my consciousness is mostly watching for the unforeseen.

Is there a political interpretation explaining such mental declines claims? Indeed, there is. As people get older, they elaborate higher wisdom. Thus, although the soldiers of revolution are typically very young people, because they have their aggression hormones less tempered by wisdom, the leaders of revolution are typically much older.

Let me explain this carefully: fascist and plutocratic leaders typically claim that they are “conservatives“. It means that they justify their mean rule by a refusal to adapt to changed circumstances.

As the French revolution stirred, the most esteemed leaders were senior citizens such as Voltaire or Benjamin Franklin, and everybody looked up to them, from Louis XVI to Turgot; on the Dark Side, many of the leaders, such as the Comte d’ Artois, were barely teenagers.

Closer to us, in WWII, the SS seduced many a 16 year old. In the last few weeks of the war, many of the most enraged Nazis fighting to the bitter end with the allies in the mountainous heart of Germany were school children with heavy weapons. In more than one case, disgusted American GIs, reluctant to blow up some more enraged children to bits, sent their school mistresses to negotiate with them!

If the (plutocratic) establishment can claim that revolutionary wisdom is actually the fruit of mental decline, presto, no revolution. It will be “conservatism” all the way.

***

Why Do We Want To Always Support Winners?

Supporting the home team is easy to understand: this is the tribal instinct. Human beings are social, they have to love the group, thus dislike what hinders the group, namely, other groups.

One has to love the leader(s) of the group, the alpha(s). In general, to abate social tensions, an instinct has got to exist, which makes the oppressed love the oppressor, or let’s say, the inferior love the superior. or even love the winning group, to be motivated to join it. Something more plausible to females. Hence Beatlemania.

***

If One Wants Happiness, One Should Prepare For The Worst:

Pe Romaneste: So happiness must be an accident.

Alexi Helligar: There seems to be greater power in the accidental than we imagine.

Patrice Ayme: Indeed, to a great extent, everything is accidental. Realizing this means that those who complain that something happened accidentally, and, thus, was not expected, have not understood the first thing about causality. Accidents is how the world happens. Wisdom consists in anticipating their occurrence, and having a plan B, should they occur.

***

Brutality Is Friendly To Plutocracy, Long Life Friendly To Wisdom:

Only wisdom can allow long life. Really very long life, lasting centuries, for individuals or civilization. Short lives are brutish, and this has the consequence in many a perpetrator, to spurn whatever life is offered. Indeed a good way to spurn something is by devaluing it. The brutality of the human condition is self reinforcing…

This why human life extension is a necessity, a preliminary, for the extension of wisdom. Because as long as lives are short and brutish, the short and brutish way of life is all too optimal, for all too many people (although those with children, or grandchildren they love will disagree, but they are not necessarily a majority).

This is something that life spurning plutocrats such as Mr. Jobs have been busy not understanding, as brutality is their friend.

***

Plutocrats Love Death Indeed:

Steve Jobs, despite leaving Reed College after six months, was asked to give the 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. Why? Did Jobs invent anything important? (Disclosure: My Mom offered me an ultra light Mac Air, and I love it.) No, he was just an artistic technology integrator, but not necessarily as mechanically oriented as a car mechanic (his partner Wozniak was the programmer, but even this one finished his college studies in computer science, 20 years later, at Berkeley, and found them hard!)

In his Stanford address, delivered after Mr. Jobs was told he had cancer, but before it was clear that it would ultimately claim his life, Mr. Jobs told his mesmerized audience of naive sheep that “death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent.”

In this light, the invasion of Iraq by Bush and his fanatical followers made sense: by visiting more than one million deaths upon Iraq, the USA brought the single best invention of life. Everybody, or more exactly 83%, including a majority of Stanford students, agreed, at the time.

Is this love of death why Jobs refused conventional medical treatment initially, until it was too late? Jobs insisted that the benefit of death, is you know not to waste life living someone else’s choices. I guess that extended to the medical.

Verily, death came first, and was denied by life. Life is the denial of death. Life did not have to invent death.

***

Hormuz Crisis Versus Suez Crisis: Spot The Difference!

Why did the USA not get upset when Nasser seized the Suez canal, in 1956? And actually why did the USA instead use the occasion to threaten Israel, Britain and France? Not just that, butpresident Eisenhower aligned himself with the Egyptian, and Soviet dictators. The Soviets, while invading Hungary, killing at least 40,000 Hungarians, threatened to atom bomb London and Paris. With the loud acquiescence of the USA… Which got France and Britain, not the mass murderous USSR, condemned at the United Nations’ general Assembly. What a crazy week it was.

And now, 55 years later, lo and behold, the USA is getting all upset as Iran wants to stop what’s going on below its nose in the strait of Hormuz? Just asking. Inquiring minds want to know.

Is it that in 1956, France and Britain were viewed as preys of the USA? And now that the USA has grabbed everything from France and Britain, they want to be friends again? Because the rich need servants, maybe? In any case, the Suez Crisis was an incongruous reminder that, in 1939, the USA was allied with the USSR and Nazi Germany, against France and Britain (oopss, something one should never say!)

And my advice would be to be very careful with Hormuz. If one wants long life, one does not want long wars. And one does not want fossil fuels. The sooner we get rid of fossil fuels, the better, and if Hormuz helps that way, so be it. The messy Iranian theocracy will not win a waiting game.

***

No Change, No Life!

What the USA needs to do is to do what all serious countries do, and have always done: change its constitution, since the changed circumstances require it.

***

Cool Is Not Cool:

“Cool”. Why is “cool” such a popular word? Is it supposed to correspond to an attitude? Is it a mark of, and a tool for, our subjugation?

So Obama is confronted to the greatest financial thievery in the history of civilization, and that leaves him “cool“? Having rebooted the perpetrators with public money he goes to them to ask for a billion to campaign for re-election? Cool? I mean: we are not supposed to blow our tops when we contemplate such injustice in the name of change we can’t believe?

In Europe, pretty amazingly intricate financial and semantic engineering is presently deployed to save the banks and the sovereign states entangled with them. There again the bottom line is that the resources of the countries are deployed for the exclusive enjoyment of the few, who happen to be the greatest swindlers ever. Although they are presented as too big to flay.

Actually the same technique as in the USA, Quantitative Easing, is being deployed, and on a similar scale. But, as the head of the European Central Bank, an ex Goldman Sachs partner, pointed out sardonically, a scornful smile on the corner of his mouth, Europeans use a different semantic: they don’t call it Quantitative Easing.Therein the difference. Is not that cool too?

Is the greenhouse effect already that bad that cool is the ultimate state one ought to strive for with all of one’s being? Or are we supposed to reject our mammalian inheritance? Mammals, by being warmer, could do more. So, when climate change happened 65 million years ago, they survived (so did the very warm birds, who evolved from bird-like dinosaurs). Are we supposed to do less now, and not survive? Or then survive like crocs, deep in the mud, super cool, eating carrion?

Is “cool” imposed on us so that people know no higher emotional state than iguanas? Become cool like barnacles, as we cling to the existence the plutocrats condescend to leave us to enjoy? Being so cool we would not be like the American and French hot heads who came forth with new constitutions in 1789?

So is the celebration of “cool” what forces us to not be outraged, as plutocrats steal and burn the entire planet to forget about their megalomaniac angst? To forget they are just crazy critters in need of some restraint? Is “cool” the state slaves are supposed to be in to optimize the enjoyment of their masters? Is it only cool to be cool like corpses?

***

France anti-genocide law denounced by Turkey:

Now this is hilarious. France passed a law punishing convicted holocaust deniers by up to one year in jail and 45,000 euros fine.

Fine, indeed. Who would turn into a partisan, a defender of holocausts? Is not holocaust denial a form of hate speech? Holocausts remain a problem, because when one has killed most of a human group, there is nearly nobody to complain on their behalf: other people move on, as herbivores do, once one of them has been seized and devoured.

France’s national Assembly passed the anti-genocidal law, with bipartisan support. And what do you think happened?

Erdogan, the three time elected Prime Minister of Turkey, had a fit: how does France dare make holocaust denial a crime? He forbade French fighter jets to land in Turkey (so I guess the no fly zone over Syria will be delayed), recalled the Turkish ambassador to France, and stopped all talks with France.

And the questions are: why does the present government in Turkey love holocausts so much? Are holocaust such an endangered species that Turkey has to protect them with all its might?

Why does Turkey consider that a general attack against holocausts is an attack against Turkey? Is it because holocausts are intrinsic to the Turkish character? Or is it because holocausts are mentioned positively in the Bible and the Qur’an, and the present Turkish government is obsessed with the religion of the child molester Abraham? Is this why Erdogan is angry?

***

We Are Truth Machines.

That monkeys now build cities has not changed that truth. No hallucination added in the last 6,000 years has changed that truth either. Science is what we do, and what stands in the way of that fundamental truth, faces extermination.

***

Patrice Ayme

Voices from a Professor of Peace.

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Our Planet is a living entity, which means…. well, allow Professor Klare to spell it out.

A few months back, specifically on the 3rd May, I reflected on views that the Planet Earth was a living entity responding to how it was treated.  One of those views was the now-famous Gaia hypothesis from Prof. James Lovelock; the other idea, of an avenging planet, was from Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College.

Then in June, Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch fame, published a further article from Professor Michael Klare.  Tom’s generosity allows me the permission to re-publish the article, which is riveting reading.

The Global Energy Crisis Deepens

Three Energy Developments That Are Changing Your Life 
By Michael T. Klare

Here’s the good news about energy: thanks to rising oil prices and deteriorating economic conditions worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global oil demand will not grow this year as much as once assumed, which may provide some temporary price relief at the gas pump.  In its May Oil Market Report, the IEA reduced its 2011 estimate for global oil consumption by 190,000 barrels per day, pegging it at 89.2 million barrels daily.  As a result, retail prices may not reach the stratospheric levels predicted earlier this year, though they will undoubtedly remain higher than at any time since the peak months of 2008, just before the global economic meltdown.  Keep in mind that this is the good news.

As for the bad news: the world faces an array of intractable energy problems that, if anything, have only worsened in recent weeks.  These problems are multiplying on either side of energy’s key geological divide: below ground, once-abundant reserves of easy-to-get “conventional” oil, natural gas, and coal are drying up;above ground, human miscalculation and geopolitics are limiting the production and availability of specific energy supplies.  With troubles mounting in both arenas, our energy prospects are only growing dimmer.

Here’s one simple fact without which our deepening energy crisis makes no sense: the world economy is structured in such a way that standing still in energy production is not an option.  In order to satisfy the staggering needs of older industrial powers like the United States along with the voracious thirst of rising powers like China, global energy must grow substantially every year.  According to the projections of the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), world energy output, based on 2007 levels, must rise 29% to 640 quadrillion British thermal units by 2025 to meet anticipated demand.  Even if usage grows somewhat more slowly than projected, any failure to satisfy the world’s requirements produces a perception of scarcity, which also means rising fuel prices.  These are precisely the conditions we see today and should expect for the indefinite future.

It is against this backdrop that three crucial developments of 2011 are changing the way we are likely to live on this planet for the foreseeable future.

Tough-Oil Rebels

The first and still most momentous of the year’s energy shocks was the series of events precipitated by the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions and the ensuing “Arab Spring” in the greater Middle East.  Neither Tunisia nor Egypt was, in fact, a major oil producer, but the political shockwaves these insurrections unleashed has spread to other countries in the region that are, including Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.  At this point, the Saudi and Omani leaderships appear to be keeping a tight lid on protests, but Libyan production, normally averaging approximately 1.7 million barrels per day, has fallen to near zero.

When it comes to the future availability of oil, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this spring’s events in the Middle East, which continue to thoroughly rattle the energy markets. According to all projections of global petroleum output, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states are slated to supply an ever-increasing share of the world’s total oil supply as production in key regions elsewhere declines.  Achieving this production increase is essential, but it will not happen unless the rulers of those countries invest colossal sums in the development of new petroleum reserves — especially the heavy, “tough oil” variety that requires far more costly infrastructure than existing “easy oil” deposits.

In a front-page story entitled “Facing Up to the End of ‘Easy Oil,’” the Wall Street Journal noted that any hope of meeting future world oil requirements rests on a Saudi willingness to sink hundreds of billions of dollars into their remaining heavy-oil deposits.  But right now, faced with a ballooning population and the prospects of an Egyptian-style youth revolt, the Saudi leadership seems intent on using its staggering wealth on employment-generating public-works programs and vast arrays of weaponry, not new tough-oil facilities; the same is largely true of the other monarchical oil states of the Persian Gulf.

Whether such efforts will prove effective is unknown.  If a youthful Saudi population faced with promises of jobs and money, as well as the fierce repression of dissidence, has seemed less confrontational than their Tunisian, Egyptian, and Syrian counterparts, that doesn’t mean that the status quo will remain forever.  “Saudi Arabia is a time bomb,” commented Jaafar Al Taie, managing director of Manaar Energy Consulting (which advises foreign oil firms operating in the region). “I don’t think that what the King is doing now is sufficient to prevent an uprising,” he added, even though the Saudi royals had just announced a $36-billion plan to raise the minimum wage, increase unemployment benefits, and build affordable housing.

At present, the world can accommodate a prolonged loss of Libyan oil.  Saudi Arabia and a few other producers possess sufficient excess capacity to make up the difference.  Should Saudi Arabia ever explode, however, all bets are off.  “If something happens in Saudi Arabia, [oil] will go to $200 to $300 [per barrel],”said Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the kingdom’s former oil minister, on April 5th.  “I don’t expect this for the time being, but who would have expected Tunisia?”

Nuclear Power on the Downward Slope

In terms of the energy markets, the second major development of 2011 occurred on March 11th when an unexpectedly powerful earthquake and tsunami struck Japan.  As a start, nature’s two-fisted attack damaged or destroyed a significant proportion of northern Japan’s energy infrastructure, including refineries, port facilities, pipelines, power plants, and transmission lines.  In addition, of course, it devastated four nuclear plants at Fukushima, resulting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the permanent loss of 6,800 megawatts of electric generating capacity.

This, in turn, has forced Japan to increase its imports of oil, coal, and natural gas, adding to the pressure on global supplies.  With Fukushima and other nuclear plants off line, industry analysts calculate that Japanese oil imports could rise by as much as 238,000 barrels per day, and imports of natural gas by 1.2 billion cubic feet per day (mostly in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG).

This is one major short-term effect of the tsunami.  What about the longer-term effects?  The Japanese government now claims it is scrapping plans to build as many as 14 new nuclear reactors over the next two decades.  On May 10th, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the government would have to “start from scratch” in devising a new energy policy for the country.  Though he speaks of replacing the cancelled reactors with renewable energy systems like wind and solar, the sad reality is that a significant part of any future energy expansion will inevitably come from more imported oil, coal, and LNG.

Read this book.

The disaster at Fukushima — and ensuing revelations of design flaws and maintenance failures at the plant — has had a domino effect, causing energy officials in other countries to cancel plans to build new nuclear plants or extend the life of existing ones.  The first to do so was Germany: on March 14th, Chancellor Angela Merkelclosed two older plants and suspended plans to extend the life of 15 others.  On May 30th, her government made the suspension permanent.  In the wake of mass antinuclear rallies and an election setback, she promised to shut all existing nuclear plants by 2022, which, experts believe, will result in an increase in fossil-fuel use.

China also acted swiftly, announcing on March 16th that it would stop awarding permits for the construction of new reactors pending a review of safety procedures, though it did not rule out such investments altogether.  Other countries, including India and the United States, similarly undertook reviews of reactor safety procedures, putting ambitious nuclear plans at risk.  Then, on May 25th, the Swiss government announced that it would abandon plans to build three new nuclear power plants, phase out nuclear power, and close the last of its plants by 2034, joining the list of countries that appear to have abandoned nuclear power for good.

How Drought Strangles Energy

The third major energy development of 2011, less obviously energy-connected than the other two, has been a series of persistent, often record, droughts gripping many areas of the planet.  Typically, the most immediate and dramatic effect of prolonged drought is a reduction in grain production, leading to ever-higher food prices and ever more social turmoil.

Intense drought over the past year in Australia, ChinaRussia, and parts of theMiddle East, South America, the United States, and most recently northern Europehas contributed to the current record-breaking price of food — and this, in turn, has been a key factor in the political unrest now sweeping North Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East.  But drought has an energy effect as well.  It can reduce the flow of major river systems, leading to a decline in the output of hydroelectric power plants, as is now happening in several drought-stricken regions.

By far the greatest threat to electricity generation exists in China, which is suffering from one of its worst droughts ever.  Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China’s longest and most economically important river, have been 40% lower than the average of the past 50 years, according toChina Daily.  This has resulted in a significant decline in hydropower and severe electricity shortages throughout much of central China.

The Chinese are burning more coal to generate electricity, but domestic mines no longer satisfy the country’s needs and so China has become a major coal importer.  Rising demand combined with inadequate supply has led to a spike in coal prices, and with no comparable spurt in electricity rates (set by the government), many Chinese utilities are rationing power rather than buy more expensive coal and operate at a loss.  In response, industries are upping their reliance on diesel-powered backup generators, which in turn increases China’s demand for imported oil, putting yet more pressure on global fuel prices.

Wrecking the Planet

So now we enter June with continuing unrest in the Middle East, a grim outlook for nuclear power, and a severe electricity shortage in China (and possibly elsewhere).  What else do we see on the global energy horizon?

Despite the IEA’s forecast of diminished future oil consumption, global energy demand continues to outpace increases in supply.  From all indications, this imbalance will persist.

Take oil.  A growing number of energy analysts now agree that the era of “easy oil” has ended and that the world must increasingly rely on hard-to-get “tough oil.”  It is widely assumed, moreover, that the planet harbors a lot of this stuff — deep underground, far offshore, in problematic geological formations like Canada’s tar sands, and in the melting Arctic.  However, extracting and processing tough oil will prove ever more costly and involve great human, and even greater environmental, risk.  Think: BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Such is the world’s thirst for oil that a growing amount of this stuff will nonetheless be extracted, even if not, in all likelihood, at a pace and on a scale necessary to replace the disappearance of yesterday’s and today’s easy oil.  Along with continued instability in the Middle East, this tough-oil landscape seems to underlie expectations that the price of oil will only rise in the coming years.  In a poll of global energy company executives conducted this April by the KPMG Global Energy Institute, 64% of those surveyed predicted that crude oil prices will cross the $120 per barrel barrier before the end of 2011.  Approximately one-third of them predicted that the price would go even higher, with 17% believing it would reach $131-$140 per barrel; 9%, $141-$150 per barrel; and 6%, above the $150 mark.

The price of coal, too, has soared in recent months, thanks to mounting worldwide demand as supplies of energy from nuclear power and hydroelectricity have contracted.  Many countries have launched significant efforts to spur the development of renewable energy, but these are not advancing fast enough or on a large enough scale to replace older technologies quickly.  The only bright spot, experts say, is the growing extraction of natural gas from shale rock in the United States through the use of hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking”).

Proponents of shale gas claim it can provide a large share of America’s energy needs in the years ahead, while actually reducing harm to the environment when compared to coal and oil (as gas emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released); however, an expanding chorus of opponents are warning of the threat to municipal water supplies posed by the use of toxic chemicals in the fracking process.  These warnings have proven convincing enough to lead lawmakers in a growing number of states to begin placing restrictions on the practice, throwing into doubt the future contribution of shale gas to the nation’s energy supply.  Also, on May 12th, the French National Assembly (the powerful lower house of parliament)voted 287 to 146 to ban hydro-fracking in France, becoming the first nation to do so.

The environmental problems of shale gas are hardly unique.  The fact is that all of the strategies now being considered to extend the life-spans of oil, coal, and natural gas involve severe economic and environmental risks and costs — as, of course, does the very use of fossil fuels of any sort at a moment when the first IEA numbers for 2010 indicate that it was an unexpectedly record-breaking year for humanity when it came to dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

With the easily accessible mammoth oil fields of Texas, Venezuela, and the Middle East either used up or soon to be significantly depleted, the future of oil rests on third-rate stuff like tar sands, shale oil, and extra-heavy crude that require a lot of energy to extract, processes that emit added greenhouse gases, and as with those tar sands, tend to play havoc with the environment.

Shale gas is typical.  Though plentiful, it can only be pried loose from underground shale formations through the use of explosives and highly pressurized water mixed with toxic chemicals.  In addition, to obtain the necessary quantities of shale oil, many tens of thousands of wells will have to be sunk across the American landscape, any of one of which could prove to be an environmental disaster.

Likewise, the future of coal will rest on increasingly invasive and hazardous techniques, such as the explosive removal of mountaintops and the dispersal of excess rock and toxic wastes in the valleys below.  Any increase in the use of coal will also enhance climate change, since coal emits more carbon dioxide than do oil and natural gas.

Here’s the bottom line: Any expectations that ever-increasing supplies of energy will meet demand in the coming years are destined to be disappointed.  Instead, recurring shortages, rising prices, and mounting discontent are likely to be the thematic drumbeat of the globe’s energy future.

If we don’t abandon a belief that unrestricted growth is our inalienable birthright and embrace the genuine promise of renewable energy (with the necessary effort and investment that would make such a commitment meaningful), the future is likely to prove grim indeed.  Then, the history of energy, as taught in some late twenty-first-century university, will be labeled: How to Wreck the Planet 101.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, ofRising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and resource conflicts, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Michael T. Klare

Total, utter madness, Pt 2.

with 2 comments

More on the way we are most likely treating Planet Earth.

At the start of the week the first of a shortish series of articles was published, reflecting my support of the book, World on the Edge.  Here’s what I wrote then:

I have mentioned before the Earth Policy Institute and Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge.  Details of the book are here.

At the time of writing this Post (10am US Mountain Time on the 4th Feb.) I have read through to the end of Chapter 5 of the book and will have it completed soon.  It’s opening my eyes hugely!

I have decided over the next week or so to summarise each chapter, hoping that this encourages many readers of Learning from Dogs to reflect, go to the EPI website, buy the book or think about making a difference in any way that you can.

So today, I move on to the next chapter.

Chapter two, Falling Water Tables and Shrinking Harvests.

  • The term ‘fossil aquifer’ demonstrated that not all aquifers are the same.  Let me quote, “There are two sources of irrigation water: underground water and surface water.  Most underground water comes from aquifers that are regularly replenished with rainfall; these can be pumped indefinitely as long as water extraction does not exceed recharge.  But a distinct minority of aquifers are fossil aquifers – containing water put down eons ago.  Since these do not recharge, irrigation ends whenever they are pumped dry.
  • The big fossil aquifers are the Ogallala underlying the US Great Plains, the major aquifer in Saudi Arabia , and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain.
  • Saudi Arabia started drilling for water from their underground fossil aquifer when after the Arab oil-export in the 1970s, the Saudis realised that they were dependent on imported grain and set out to create self-sufficiency in grain by way of irrigation.
  • In January 2008 the Saudis announced that this huge aquifer was largely depleted!
  • From 2007 to 2010 the Saudi wheat harvest dropped from nearly 3 million tons to around 1 million tons.
  • The likelihood is that the last Saudi harvest will be around 2012.

One can’t imagine how the management of a fine and proud country such as Saudi Arabia could be so foolish!  But slightly closer to home …..

  • In most of the leading U.S. irrigation states, the amount of irrigated area has peaked and begun to decline.
  • California, historically the irrigation leader, has seen irrigated areas fall from nearly 9 million acres in 1997 to an estimated 7.5 million acres in 2010, that’s a 16% drop!  Why?
  • Aquifer depletion and diversion of water to fast-growing cities!
  • Then there’s Texas.  Their irrigated area peaked in 1978 at 7 million acres, now down to 5 million acres, a loss of 29%, as the Ogallala fossil aquifer under the Texas panhandle becomes depleted.
  • Colorado has seen its irrigated are shrink by 15%
  • Arizona’s irrigated area is shrinking.
  • Florida’s irrigated area is shrinking.

Then there’s India.  Then there’s Mexico.  And on and on.  I could quote so much more from this single chapter but – you get the message!

Here’s how the chapter ends.

Today more than half the world’s peoples live in countries with food bubbles.  The question for each of these countries is not whether the bubble will burst, but when – and how the government will cope with it. [Read that last sentence again, folks. Ed]

Will governments be able to import grain to offset production losses?  For some countries, the bursting of the bubble may well be catastrophic.  For the world as a whole, the near-simultaneous bursting of several national food bubbles, as aquifers are depleted could create unmanageable food shortages.

This situation poses an imminent threat to food security and political stability.  We have a choice to make.  We can continue with over-pumping as usual and suffer the consequences.  Or we can launch a worldwide effort to stabilise aquifers by raising water productivity – patterning the campaign on the highly successful effort to raise grainland productivity that was launched a half-century ago.

H’mmm.  Tough reading.

Amazon Drought in 2005.

The above photograph was taken from this website; here’s an extract from the accompanying article.

Food inflation is here and it’s here to stay.  We can see it getting worse every time we buy groceries. Basic food commodities like wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice have been skyrocketing since July, 2010 to record highs.  These sustained price increases are only expected to continue as food production shortfalls really begin to take their toll this year and beyond.

This summer Russia banned exports of wheat to ensure their nation’s supply, which sparked complaints of protectionism.  The U.S. agriculture community is already talking about rationing corn over ethanol mandates versus supply concerns. We’ve seen nothing yet in terms of food protectionism.

But as I wrote in the previous article, “Be worried, be concerned but don’t panic – you and I, all of us, have the collective power to sort this all out.”  Lester Brown’s book sets out some strong advice on the way forward.

To be continued, as they say.

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