The Corn Ethanol Effect
Source: Mother Jones
Source: Mother Jones
Source: New York Times
A Quest for Energy in the Globe’s Remote Places
Photo by Geir Jenssen: A natural gas cargo ship passing Melkoya Island, across the bay from Hammerfest, Norway. Gas from this region is to start crossing the ocean, feeding into pipelines for America’s East Coast.
HAMMERFEST, Norway — For a quarter-century, energy executives were tantalized by vast quantities of natural gas in one of the world’s least hospitable places — 90 miles off Norway’s northern coast, beneath the Arctic Ocean.
Bitter winds and frequent snowstorms lash the region. The sun disappears for two months a year. No oil company knew how to operate in such a harsh environment.
But Norway has finally solved the problem. The other day, on an island just offshore, a giant yellow flame illuminated the sky here. It was just a temporary flare for excess gas, but it signaled a new era in energy production.
Across the bay from this small fishing town, where reindeer wander the streets, one of the world’s most advanced natural gas plants is coming to life.
Within weeks, gas will start crossing the ocean in specially designed ships, feeding into the pipeline network for the American East Coast. Before Christmas, furnaces in Brooklyn and stoves in Washington will be burning the gas. It will be the first commercial energy production from waters north of the Arctic Circle.
As global demand soars and prices rise, energy companies are going to the ends of the earth to find new supplies.
In Kazakhstan, petroleum engineers are braving wild temperature swings in the shallow waters of the Caspian Sea to tap the biggest oil discovery of the last 30 years. They are drilling wells six miles deep in the Gulf of Mexico. And on the island of Sakhalin, off far eastern Russia, they have drilled horizontal wells through miles of rock to produce oil from a stretch of ocean notable for giant icebergs.
But as the industry extends its reach, the quest is becoming more arduous. The cost of producing new oil and gas is rising fast, and companies are troubled by worsening delays. Drilling rigs are scarce. Engineers, geologists and petroleum specialists are in critically short supply.
And the politics of oil and gas are getting trickier, with producing countries demanding a bigger share of the revenue and growing angry about project delays that postpone their payments.
Industry executives say their ability to keep up with global demand is badly strained.
“We’re facing bigger risks and bigger difficulties when we go into new frontier regions,” said Odd A. Mosbergvik, a senior manager at the dominant Norwegian energy company, StatoilHydro. “But this is why the oil industry is for big boys. It’s a big gamble.”
The industry’s new reach is shifting the economics of energy extraction. According to a recent study, discovery and development costs, a key indicator for the industry, tripled from 1999 to 2006, to nearly $15 a barrel.
Last year alone, companies spent $200 billion developing new energy projects worldwide, according to the study by the consulting firms John S. Herold Inc. and Harrison Lovegrove — an amount larger than the economies of 147 countries.
These higher costs mean that the industry needs higher energy prices to finance new projects. They are also constraining its ability to expand quickly.
“There are no easy barrels left,” said J. Robinson West, chairman of PFC Energy, an industry consulting firm in Washington. “The only barrels are going to be the tough barrels.”
There is plenty of oil and gas still in the ground, energy executives say. But global consumption is rising so fast that they must keep looking for new sources. Despite worldwide concern over global warming and the role of fossil fuels in causing it, United States government specialists project that global oil and gas demand will increase by some 50 percent in the next 25 years.
At the same time, the big discoveries of the last three decades, like those in the North Sea and on the North Slope of Alaska, are drying up. This is leading oil companies to remote places like Hammerfest.
The United States will need to import about a fifth of the natural gas it uses by 2030, mostly in a liquefied form shipped across the seas in tankers. Such imports are expected to swell more than sixfold from 2005 to 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration. And consumption is rising fast in the economically booming Asian countries.
Producing oil and gas in polar regions is not entirely new, of course. Russian engineers have been doing it in Siberia for decades, with mixed results, and Alaska’s North Slope was long the most important United States oil field.
But those fields are on land. The Norwegian field is the first Arctic project to tap oil and gas reserves far offshore, in water more than 1,000 feet deep, where traditional exploration methods would be too costly.
The gas field, 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle beneath a stretch of ocean more commonly known as the Barents Sea, is called Snow White — Snohvit in Norwegian, where energy projects are named after mythical characters. Though the field was discovered in 1981, oil executives long considered Snohvit out of reach, because of the Barents Sea’s shifting ice packs, brutal waves and extreme cold.
“This is considered an unfriendly place, even by Norwegian standards,” Mr. Mosbergvik said.
Another big problem the engineers faced here was that Snohvit is situated hundreds of miles from Norway’s traditional pipeline network.
Over the years, Statoil considered many ways to get at the gas, including huge offshore platforms armored against the waves, but discarded them as too costly. Building a vast undersea pipeline that would take the gas south along the country’s stretched coastline was also out of the question.
Statoil engineers eventually came up with an ingenious solution. They installed production equipment directly on the seafloor, with no rigs breaking the surface. The wellheads are linked by 90 miles of pipe to a small island just off Hammerfest. Anti-freeze is injected into the pipes to prevent the natural gas from clogging on its way to shore.
On the island, Melkoya, Statoil built a processing facility to separate the brew of natural gas, oil, water and carbon dioxide that flows out of the field. The natural gas is cooled to a temperature of 260 degrees below zero, shrinking its volume to one-six hundredth and turning it into a liquid that can be shipped in tankers.
Construction of the liquefaction plant over the last several years involved 22,000 workers, one of the largest industrial projects in Europe, and cost nearly $10 billion, up from $6 billion when the project was begun in 2002.
“We did not have the experience to operate in an environment like this,” Mr. Mosbergvik acknowledged.
The field is so large that it could eventually supply nearly 10 percent of the demand for natural gas demand in eastern states of the United States. Dominion, an energy company, has expanded a gas import terminal at Cove Point, Md., to accommodate the Arctic gas, according to Donald R. Raikes, its vice president for marketing and customer services.
By the end of October, Statoil’s gas will begin flowing through a network of pipes to a stretch of the country from Maryland to Massachusetts, the largest consumer market in the United States, with some 16 million residential customers and 5 million industrial clients.
With the plant nearly ready, Statoil maintains that the Barents Sea could turn into a major oil and gas region in coming decades. Indeed, the world’s fast-rising use of fossil fuels, by contributing to global warming, could eventually make the Arctic more accessible for oil and gas production.
In Hammerfest,residents have welcomed Statoil’s project, hoping it will offset declines in fishing. Modern buildings are rising to house the influx of gas workers. New taxes from the gas plant are helping finance a cultural center.
Statoil hopes to double its capacity on Melkoya by 2015. That will require finding new gas fields in the Barents Sea.
Hans M. Gjennestad, strategy manager at Statoil for the Barents region, said, “We believe this resource potential may contribute significantly to the long-term security of supplies of Europe and the United States.”
Source: Associated Press via Yahoo
By DAN JOLING, Associated Press Writer
Sun Oct 7, 2:18 AM ET
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Thousands of walrus have appeared on Alaska's northwest coast in what conservationists are calling a dramatic consequence of global warming melting the Arctic sea ice.
Alaska's walrus, especially breeding females, in summer and fall are usually found on the Arctic ice pack. But the lowest summer ice cap on record put sea ice far north of the outer continental shelf, the shallow, life-rich shelf of ocean bottom in the Bering and Chukchi seas.
Walrus feed on clams, snails and other bottom dwellers. Given the choice between an ice platform over water beyond their 630-foot diving range or gathering spots on shore, thousands of walrus picked Alaska's rocky beaches.
"It looks to me like animals are shifting their distribution to find prey," said Tim Ragen, executive director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission. "The big question is whether they will be able to find sufficient prey in areas where they are looking."
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, September sea ice was 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. Sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return, with a possible ice-free Arctic Ocean by summer 2030, senior scientist Mark Serreze said.
Starting in July, several thousand walrus abandoned the ice pack for gathering spots known as haulouts between Barrow and Cape Lisburne, a remote, 300-mile stretch of Alaska coastline.
The immediate concern of new, massive walrus groups for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is danger to the animals from stampedes. Panic caused by a low-flying airplane, a boat or an approaching polar bear can send a herd rushing to the sea. Young animals can be crushed by adults weighing 2,000 pounds or more.
Longer term, biologists fear walrus will suffer nutritional stress if they are concentrated on shoreline rather than spread over thousands of miles of sea ice.
Walrus need either ice or land to rest. Unlike seals, they cannot swim indefinitely and must pause after foraging.
Historically, Ragen said, walrus have used the edge of the ice pack like a conveyor belt. As the ice edge melts and moves north in spring and summer, sea ice gives calves a platform on which to rest while females dive to feed.
There's no conveyor belt for walrus on shore.
"If they've got to travel farther, it's going to cost more energy. That's less energy that's available for other functions," Ragen said.
Deborah Williams — who was an Interior Department special assistant for Alaska under former President Bill Clinton, and who is now president of the nonprofit Alaska Conservation Solutions — said melting of sea ice and its effects on wildlife were never even discussed during her federal service from 1995 to 2000.
"That's what so breathtaking about this," she said. "This has all happened faster than anyone could have predicted. That's why it's so urgent action must be taken."
Walrus observers on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea have also reported more walrus at haulouts and alerted Alaska wildlife officials to the problems with the animals being spooked and stampeded.
If lack of sea ice is at the heart of upcoming problems for walrus, Ragen said, there's no solution likely available other than prevention.
"The primary problem of maintaining ice habitat, that's something way, way, way beyond us," he said. "To reverse things will require an effort on virtually everyone's part."
On the Net:
U.S. Marine Mammal Commission: http://www.mmc.gov/
By Richard Heinberg for Museletter
September is an equinoctial mont, a time of momentary balance, instability, and change. Day and night are of equal length; however, the rate of change in the relative lengths of day and night is at its peak.
It’s been an unusually busy and stressful month for me personally. Leonardo Dicaprio’s enviro-doc “11th Hour” hit the theaters, featuring yours truly on screen for a few seconds (though the producer and director decided against including a mention of Peak Oil). Early in September I gave a presentation at the UN at the behest of two organic agriculture organizations (the Soil Association of Britain and the Shumei Foundation of Japan). On Thursday the 13th, a CNN Money reporter called wanting information about Peak Oil; his story appeared the next day. The very first copies of my new book, Peak Everything, shipped during the last week of the month. A few days ago a Korean TV crew stopped by and filmed me at home for a three-part documentary to air in November. And a family emergency (aging parent) sent me off to the Midwest for a week. As the saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked.
The month was no less eventful for the rest of the world—though of course the scale of significance of the following items is approximately 6.7 billion times greater than for the preceding ones.
Maybe the best place to start is with a general comment. It’s getting pretty damn obvious that the world is sliding head-first into the abyss at an accelerating rate, with most Americans as oblivious as ever. The latest indication of impending doom is a festering credit crunch brought on by the inevitable puncturing of a bubble puffed up over the past few years through the issuance of thousands of patently idiotic subprime, adjustable-rate, and interest-only mortgage loans.
The deeper story is that this is just the last of a series of bubbles that the US Federal Reserve has inflated in order to sustain for as long as was humanly possible a fundamentally unsound national financial condition.
As I explained in Chapter 2 of The Party’s Over, the US got rich exploiting its own resources and labor. Its most valuable resource—oil—went into decline forty years ago; since then, we Americans have tried to stay rich by exploiting other nations’ labor and resources, using leveraged trade rules, dollar hegemony, and military threats. All this time, we congratulated ourselves: we were living in a post-industrial information economy; they were doing the dreary, obsolete work of actually making things. They sweated and saved; it was up to us to spend and borrow. We served an indispensable function in the global economy as the consumer of last resort, as the engine of new debt creation (more debt equals more money in circulation—i.e., more GDP growth), and as the global cop keeping order in an unruly world (while also sneaking donuts and taking bribes). The Chinese burned their coal and poisoned their workers and environment to make our stuff, enabling us to enjoy a cleaner environment by keeping our coal in the ground, while they loaned us the money to buy cheap Chinese stuff with. Such a deal!
Life in bubble world was grand while it lasted. First there was the Third World debt bubble of the ’80s; then came the tech bubbles of the ’90s; and finally the real estate bubble of the ’00s. Along the way, Wall Street hoped for a little extra hot air from the privatization of Social Security, but even Americans weren’t stupid enough to sign onto that particular leveraged buyout. All during this time, suburbanites got used to having more gadgets and bigger cars and houses, even if they couldn’t actually afford them.
But now we’re at the end of the line. At last the rest of the world is coming to realize that it doesn’t really need Americans: the Chinese can consume, too, after all. And the Asians can’t really justify loaning us more money; we’re not going to pay it back—or if we do, it will be in devalued dollars. But those loans can also be looked at as investments: other nations have in effect bought US assets, which means that the wealth created from those assets will flow to the new overseas owners, not to Americans. What’s left to buy—other than a lot of soon-to-be-foreclosed real estate? And how much wealth will those assets produce once the bubble deflates?
It’s also clear now that there are alternatives to the dollar, including the euro, the yen, and the yuan. Not that the dollar won’t be missed; when it tanks, there will be as many financial casualties in Mumbai as Manhattan. But currency traders are clearly heading for the exits, and the last one out gets the booby prize—a bag of wooden nickels.
Yes, the rest of the world still must fear America’s awesome weapons of mass destruction: this mighty nation can certainly create an unholy mess when it means to, as it is demonstrating in Mesopotamia. But that doesn’t mean that other nations actually have to obey it any more. The US can bomb to smithereens any country it chooses, but it can’t always count on forcing that country to hand over its resources at gunpoint.
The dollar is hitting record lows. Gold and silver are hot commodities—always a bad sign for the reigning paper currency. There are rumors of possible bank failures (following a run on one British bank). If the Federal Reserve tries to solve the liquidity crisis by lowering interest rates, that just worsens inflation and exacerbates the dollar’s problems. If the Fed raises rates to prop up the dollar, that forces the banks and hedge funds to confront their mountains of worthless paper and leads ultimately to defaults, bank runs, and bank failures. Clearly the Fed fears the latter scenario more than the former, so by lowering interest rates this month it effectively pulled the plug on the dollar. The Saudis are now preparing to de-link their economy from the US currency, while China is quietly selling off dollar-denominated assets. One way or another, Americans are going to soon see a rapid decline in their real standard of living.
Of course, another big event this month was oil’s nose-bleed ascent to record-high prices, over $82US per barrel. Part of the price hike resulted from the dollar’s weakness, but—as Goldman Sachs has pointed out—the main reason was simply that demand is up while supply is down. The May 2005 peak for the rate of production of regular crude and the July 2006 peak for all liquids are still holding. It may be that the technical maximum global rate of flow for liquid fuels is still a couple of years away, but in effect the peak is here now.
As for Iran, “all options” are still on the table, and the pretext for a broad-scale air attack is apparently being patiently laid. Bush has vowed that he will not leave office with the Iran question unresolved, and France’s new neocon leaders are running defense for Bush/Cheney, calling for “the most severe sanctions possible” and for war if those “don’t work.” Meanwhile, when Tehran actually complies with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s requests, this is viewed as a provocation. This month, Newsweek revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney at one point considered asking Israel to launch air strikes on an Iranian nuclear site, so as to provoke Iran to lash out, thus giving Washington a pretext for more extensive attacks (a scenario I discussed in MuseLetter for April 2007, “Iran: We Will Know Soon”). Iranian President Ahmedinejad’s appearances in New York (at the UN and Columbia University) seemed only to give the US media an opportunity to whip up further anti-Iranian public sentiment, while the Senate’s passage of the Lieberman-Kyl amendment (which Hilary Clinton supported) provided a stamp of approval for any future military actions by the current administration.
But surely the single most important event of the month was the revelation that arctic sea ice is melting faster than even the most dire forecasts had predicted. This is significant because it shows the power of reinforcing feedback loops: as sunlight-reflecting ice melts, it leaves dark water in its place—which absorbs more heat, causing more ice to melt, and so on. This year’s minimum extent of ice was about one million square miles (as of September 16); the previous record low was 1.5 million in 2005. The rate of melting this year was 10 times the recent annual average. This month the Northwest Passage was ice-free for the first time in untold millennia. At this rate, the north polar region could be ice-free in summer by 2015.
Altogether, it was an extraordinary 30 days. Yet so far there’s been no instantaneous economic implosion, and there’s not much blood in the streets (except perhaps in Myanmar), and so the mainstream media can safely focus on the truly vital issues like O.J. Simpson’s current legal scrapes and Britney Spears’s performance at the MTV awards.
Many writers who discuss the sort of stuff that interests me (“reality” I think it’s called) wrap the unutterable sadness of it all in a crisp cellophane of cynicism. I’m guilty of that, too, from time to time—certainly in this little monthly summary. How else to make it somehow bearable?
Source: The Oil Drum
Posted by Prof. Goose on September 26, 2007 - 10:00am
I have intentionally paraphrased this wonderful Christmas song because it has much to say about the future after peak oil which I am now ready to say has already happened. As energy declines, we will indeed go to our grandmother's house--one without electricity and running water, sewer or septic and deep, mechanically pumped water wells. At least that was MY grandmother's house. She lived on the Kansas prairies of the 1890s. In the 1960s I asked my grandmother what the greatest invention of her life had been. She said electricity because before they had lights, everyone went to bed shortly after sun down because it was simply too dark to do to much. There was no air conditioning, so the summers were very hot. In the winter, trips to the outhouse were cold (and brutally awakening if during the middle of the night). While she had wood where she lived, about 100 miles west of her home, people had to burn dung as is done in Tibet today. See the picture below of the dung plastered against the house. When one wants to cook, one retrieves a patty.
Without cheap energy, we go back to my grandmother's house or one quite like it...
Yes, folks, peak oil is here, that thing that politicians don't speak of; that event which cornucopians (those who believe that we will not run out of energy) believe is a fraud or misunderstanding is here. The cornucopians believe we are wrong because many have predicted that we would run out of energy before and have been wrong. What they lacked was the 20-20 that hindsight gives one. Today, we can see the peak behind us.
First, how do we recognize when peak oil is about to happen or has happened? The first thing is that it always comes with a gradual decline in production. Steep changes in production curves are due to political or economic decisions. Let's look at Saudi production from 2001 to the present. (NB: Click all graphics throughout this post to expand them to full size.)
The first thing we notice is that it is declining from January 2001 to January 2002. That is the recession resulting from the collapse of the tech stock bubble, causing a worldwide reduction in oil demand. The world then began to recover. In January, 2003 political events in Venezuela shut in that country's oil. We find this
"January 12, 2003: OPEC held its 123rd meeting to review oil markets in Vienna, Austria. OPEC decided to raise its production quotas from 23 million barrels per day to 24.5 million barrels per day, effective February 1, 2003, in order to ensure adequate supplies of crude in response to the oil supply shortfall in Venezuela" http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/opec.html
This was a short-lived, very steep increase in production, followed a couple of months later by a nearly equivalent sharp drop in production. This is not a sign of peak oil; it is a sign of political manipulation of production. The next thing we notice is the sharp rise in production in April, 2004. This was due to the rise of price above $40/bbl, a level which OPEC had previously thought would cause a recession. They opened the taps to try to damp down the price. What they didn't count on was that China's and India's consumption had taken off like a rocket because of their economic growth. The price continued to rise, showing that scarcity of oil had come.
After a year and a half of all out production, we see the first signs of decline, normal natural decline in the Saudi production. The plateau of production is followed by a gradual decline in output. One might be tempted to say that the decline in production was due to declining prices, but this isn't true for the period from Oct. 2005 until July 2006. The price rose but the production declined. The gradualistic tail on Saudi production is what an oil field decline looks like.
Just as I was finishing writing this page, I saw this report.
Nicosia, Sept 8: Saudi Aramco in its Annual Review 2006 said that last year the company's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent, compared with the previous year.
Crude oil production in 2006 averaged 8.9 million barrels of oil a day (b/d) and exports 6.9 million b/d. (http://www.dailyindia.com/show/172345.php/Saudi-Aramco-reports-oil-outpu... ) To me, the interesting thing about this is that with a 3.1 decrease in exports, this means that there is a reduction of 266,000 barrels per day available to the rest of the world. Production doesn't really matter to the rest of the world. Only exports matter. If the Saudi's used all of their oil, there would be nothing left for us to use. This data confirms that their exports are decreasing faster than their production is decreasing.
Let's take another example, the United Kingdom.
From 1995 until 1999, the UK production was a plateau. But in mid-1999, the monthly production began to gradually decline. I moved to the UK in August 2001, looked at the curves and told a colleague and fine geologist, Steve Daines, that the UK had peaked production. He disagreed. We made a bet for a lunch that at the end of 2000, the UK would produce no more than 130,000 tonnes of oil. I took below that figure, he took above. Instead of a lunch, he and his wife had me and my wife over for a wonderful Malaysian dinner cooked by his beautiful Malay wife. We ate that meal with gusto along with a Turkish couple, that they knew. The sad thing was that the UK production decline has continued even into this year. When I left the UK, I told one young geologist that if she wanted to have a career in the oil business, she was going to have to leave the UK. While that day hasn't come for her yet, it will. No one will pay geologists to manage fields that aren't producing. The above curve is what peak oil looks like for a country--a plateau followed by a gradual decline that is inexorable.
Now that we know what peak oil looks like, lets look at the current global production of both black oil (crude) and Total Liquids (crude plus condensate--a liquid that comes out of natural gas wells which is usually clear).
What we see here is that following the post-911 recession, there is the ramp up of production to supply the increasing demand from China and India. By late 2004, the rate of increase in world crude production (blue curve) slowed, reaching a peak of 74.3 million barrels per day in May 2004, marked by an arrow. The trend from that time has been down, gradually I would admit, but down none the less.
So, why do I call this the peak of world crude production? Isn't it possible that new production will come on line and lift that number above the 74.3 million bbl/day? Possible, barely, probable, no. Why? All the world's biggest fields are in decline, and they produce a large percentage of the world's oil. We saw Saudi Arabia's production, and that represents 10% of world oil. So, we know that 10% of the world's oil in in decline. But the Saudi's are the second largest producer. Russia, the largest producer of oil, is, at best, flat in production now. The U.S. is the third largest producer of oil (something that surprises everyone) and we have been declining in oil production for 30 years. These three countries account for 28% of the world's production, all in decline.
Mexico has the 3rd largest oil field and that one field represents 2/3 of its crude production. It is in decline, plummeting 20% last year. The UK, Norway, Indonesia, Oman and China are all in production declines. The only places on earth that are undergoing significant increases in crude production are Angola, Kazakhstan and Brazil. Kazakhstan will always be limited to the size of the pipeline it has available. Pipelines have fixed capacity.
Given all this, it is hard to see how the future is going to bring forth vast new quantities of daily production.
Another objection: Above I said that peak oil was a plateau followed by a decline. Could we be in the plateau of world production? Yes, that is certainly possible but for the reasons I list above, the current levels of production simply can't be maintained. Annually, the world loses 5 million bbl/day of productive capacity. The curve above shows that we are not adding to world productivity rates even 5 million bbl/day per year of productive capacity since 2005, which would have keep us absolutely flat.
Now, one other thing makes me think that this is the peak of world crude production. The price response in relation to the supply. Usually if price is going to bring forth new supplies from OPEC (who supposedly has all these vast untapped oil fields just waiting to be turned on), it would happen in sharp steps. The Saudi's have not increased production since late 2004 or early 2005. Yet, because the price has gone up from that time, if they had the oil, they could have made lots and lots of money. But they don't seem to be able to take additional advantage of the oil price. In spite of high prices, indeed, increasing prices, no one on earth seems to have the excess capacity sell more oil into this rising price environment. Given the past history of cheating on the part of the OPEC members, the lack of new supplies coming to market must say something important about its availability
Another interesting feature is the total liquids curve (the red curve). This is both black oil plus the clear condensate from natural gas wells. This curve also seems to have peaked, but peaked a year later, in July 2006. Thus, we are 2 years out from peak crude oil, but only one year out from a probable peak liquids.
What are the implications?
The most important thing we need to know is the rate of decline, which of course, we don't know and won't know for a while. We can delimit it a bit. a 1 million bbl/day decline from May 2005 until May 2007 represents approximately a .75% decline per year. Hardly something to worry about right? The first year of UK decline was only about .5%. The second year of decline was 9%, but then, the UK is a much smaller place than the world, so it is unrealistic to expect the world to follow precisely the UK pattern of decline. We can expect the world crude production to decline much faster in the next few years than it is right now. How fast remains to be seen, but even a 5% decline will mean that in 10 years we will be producing only 60% of what we do today! Instead of having 85 million barrels per day of total liquids, we would only have access to 50 million barrels per day.
Clearly that kind of restriction in oil supply means that either mass transit must come to America as it is in China, or we must only go to work 3 days per week. In 10 years, having only 60% of the oil we have today means 40% less driving for everyone. Going to work only 3 days per week, would mean the destruction of the economy. Most jobs can't be handled across the internet. How does one do the job of grocery store stocker by telecommuting? Even today though, the relatively mild oil prices we have experienced have altered the driving habits of the American public. I sent this chart to a friend last summer. The chart shows the change in mileage driven on US highways from last year. If we drive more this year than last year, the number will be positive; if we drive less, then the number is negative. As you can see, the response to the rise in the price of oil (green curve) has been that for the first time in 27 years Americans are driving less than the previous year. The last time this happened was during the Iranian hostage crisis!
Expect more of this in the future.
Another implication is that automakers shouldn't make gas guzzlers. Those old enough to remember the Iranian hostage crisis, when everyone had to take turns getting gasoline on alternate days, knows a bit of what it will feel like. Back then, people stopped buying big cars. The V8 went out of style in the 1970s; it was too expensive. I expect the Hummer will meet a similar fate.
Suburban sprawl won't work
American cities will need to restructure to be more like European cities, where one can walk to the stores. In Aberdeen, Scotland, most Aberdonians shopped daily because they had tiny refrigerators. But that didn't matter, if they forgot something, they could walk to the store in about the same time it takes me to drive to the store here.
Flying will become like it was when I was a child--the province of the rich. I did not get on a commercial jet until I was 25 years old. My children grew up with flying and have seen far more of the world than I have at an equivalent age. But, as oil prices rise, fuel costs will bury many airlines. As far as I know, I own no airline stocks either directly or indirectly through mutual funds. They are not going to have a growing clientele as energy costs go up. We have already seen one of the impacts of the energy costs to this sector. Years ago, I was speaking with my wife's brother-in-law who used to work with Boeing. Boeing had made the choice to go energy efficient with their planes, while Airbus had decided to go BIG. I told my wife's brother-in-law that Boeing had made the correct choice. This is from a Business Week web site:
"Instead, the show could highlight a growing list of woes at the company, based in Toulouse, France. On June 1, Airbus acknowledged that the first deliveries of the A380 will be delayed up to six months, from mid-2006 until early 2007, due to unspecified production difficulties. Then Emirates airlines, which had been expected to announce a big order for the A350 at the air show, said it was not ready to make a decision. Airbus sales chief John J. Leahy, who said earlier that he might announce more than 100 orders for the A350 in Paris, now says big orders could come "a week or two after."
Has Airbus lost its mojo? The past few months have been rough. Boeing, after trailing Airbus on orders for the past three years, has racked up 255 orders as of the end of May, compared with only 196 for Airbus. Even more worrisome, Boeing's new 787, which boasts better fuel efficiency thanks to lightweight composite materials and next-generation engine design, is proving a hit with airlines. They have placed orders and commitments for 266 of the jets, while Airbus has yet to announce a major deal for the competing A350. Meanwhile, the A380's order book has been stuck at 154 since last year." Why Airbus is Losing Altitude," June 20, 2005, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_25/b3938069_mz054.htm
And a more recent news source notes that Boeing has won 706 orders for its Dreamliner while Airbuss has only 154 for the A350. Energy is king in the airline industry, even if a government run airplane manufacturer thinks they can change the laws, both of the land and of physics.
One percent of world energy use goes to fertilizers. High energy prices will affect fertilizer use. Indeed, we can see that now. This is a plot of inflation adjusted oil price divided by 100 (so it will fit on the same chart) with the barrels of oil equivalent energy of fertilizer applied per acre of wheat. One can see that when oil prices are high, fertilizer use is low; and vice versa.
Few city people know that an acre of wheat has 1.3 million wheat plants--a density hard to achieve if one is throwing seed by hand. Corn is sown at 30,000 plants per acre. Such densities require mechanical sowers. To sow corn at these densities by hand would require 42 hours (5 seconds per seed). This kind of puts into perspective the utility of energy for our tractors. If the price of oil goes up, there will be fewer bushels per acre because of the combined effects of less mechanization and less fertilizer. Now clearly for a while efficiencies will help. People will figure out how to apply fertilizer more effectively; but eventually not having fertilizer will come into play.
I am fond of citing a little known fact I got from a Walter Youngquist article. Mechanization allows a farmer to spend 4 hours per acre and produce 160 bushels of corn per acre. Back in the 19th century, it was 500 hours per acre an 30 bushels of corn per acre. This of course brings an interesting conundrum to those expecting corn-based ethanol to fuel the world. Without petroleum-based fertilizers, there won't be enough corn to feed us much less fuel the world. A five fold drop in corn yields would leave many in the world starving.
It is unlikely that we will be able to have air-shipped strawberries from Argentina in the winter, so food will once again become seasonal, like it was in my childhood before globalization.
Water and food are entirely linked. Without water, many crops won't grow, but we also need water to drink. A few weeks back the Wall Street Journal gave a couple of interesting facts about farming in India.
"Since the 1990s, India has been a major net exporter of rice, shipping nearly 4.5 million tons last year.
"But annual yield increases began to slow over the past decade. Farmers cranked up fertilizer and water use, draining the water table. Many began planting two crops a year, taxing the soil. Punjabi area officials discouraged farmers from planting two crops and in some places outlawed it, but many farmers ignored them."
"I'm doing mischief against the government,' concedes Kanwar Singh, a second rice crop recently on a stretch of flooded land near the northern India city of Karnal. He says he now has to pump water from 300 feet below the surface, compared with 70 feet 10 years ago." 'In a year or two, maybe it will be finished,' he says." Patrick Barta, "Feeding Billions, A Grain at a Time," Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday July 28-29, 2007, p. A10
"Lakhbir Singh, 35, this year planted aerobic rice for the first time. He says his costs have tripled over the past decade. His well was about 60 feet deep 10 years ago; now, it's down to 450 feet, and he has to use a special submersible engine to help haul the water to surface. The health of his soil has deteriorated, so he's using more fertilizer." Patrick Barta, "Feeding Billions, A Grain at a Time," Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday July 28-29, 2007, p.A10
One simply MUST have energy to pull that water up from depths of 300 to 450 feet. Without it, there will be no water. Which raises the question, what will these poor guys do when the electricity isn't there to run their pumps?
But this isn't a problem for poor Indian farmers. When the electricity is off, the water pumps, which pump water out of deep wells will not be running. That means that agricultural irrigation will be interrupted. That means that city water supplies won't flow either. Both wells and surface water systems require electricity to move the water from source to your favorite drinking fountain.
Another implication is that coal will have to play a larger role in the US energy budget over the near term. We can use coal to make diesel, electricity and thus mitigate, for a while, the coming problems. Coal can be used to manufacture fertilizer and avoid the problems (for a while) cited immediately above. We will use coal or our economy will not function. We will simply have to lose our aversion to coal and the CO2 it produces. I have asked many greens this question: If it comes to a choice between your child freezing in the dark or burning coal, which would you choose. I have yet find one so pure to their principles that they tell me they would let their kid freeze in the dark of a winter night. They all will burn coal to keep warm. Having lived in a society (China) where coal is the major source of energy, the smog is almost unbearable. There were days I could taste the sulfur in my mouth as I walked to work in Beijing. But we are no different than they. Their choice is also one of burn oil or have no heat in the winter or cooked food. The only alternative would be to chop down all the trees (which has almost been done in wide areas of China).
Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about the coming electricity problems for Texas. Due to the success of the Greens at stopping TXU from building coal-fired power plants, in 3-4 years, Texas will probably start having similar problems to those California is having. California, and now Texas, stupidly decided that we would rather freeze in the dark rather than burn coal. We get 60% of our electricity from fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas! The decisions we make today will have immense impacts on your ability to go to work (how is your computer going to function without electricity? Do you really want to be able to drink water from the fountain on your 27th story office? Won't you just love walking those 27 stories each morning to get to work, which will put you in great shape if you don't have a heart attack during that first month of climbing). I suppose deodorant sales will increase in such a situation.
I will finish with personal story from my life overseas. When I lived in the UK, I saw what happens when the oil is shut off. In Sept 2000, the lorry drivers blockaded the refineries. My wife and I were brand new in the UK and driving back from a play in Aberdeen one night, we saw huge lines at the petrol stations. We wondered what was going on, but we drove on home not wanting to be in such long lines anyway. Unfortunately, those people in line, knew that the refineries had been blockaded, I didn't. By the time we realized it, the petrol was gone. That led to many interesting experiences. In one week, the food on the store shelves was gone. By two weeks, police and fire and ambulance were having trouble responding. Farmers were about to have to slaughter chickens because they couldn't get feed after only 2.5 weeks. Construction sites shut down. I learned through that experience that a society has about 3 weeks after the oil is shut off. Food ceases to moveinto the cities.
How can economic growth continue if each day into the future we have less energy than we had the day before??? This is a historic moment in human history. For the first time in 10,000 years, we have less energy than we had yesterday. And that will continue into the foreseeable future.
by Eckhart Beatty
San Francisco on 11.23.06
Roger Duncan serves as the Campaign Coordinator for Plug-in Partners, a national campaign for plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) striving to demonstrate clearly the viability of this market by doing the following: garnering support in the form of online petitions and endorsements by city governments across the country; procuring "soft" fleet orders; and developing rebates and incentives. TreeHugger's Eckhart Beatty recently had the chance to chat with Mr. Duncan about plug-ins and the future of automotive transportation.
TreeHugger: Why was Plug-in Partners founded in Austin, Texas?
Roger Duncan: As one of the more progressive utilities in the nation, Austin Energy has long led the nation in energy conservation. I was asked to see what else we could be doing in the area of clean energy, and I told the City Council we should start a new initiative in the transportation sector since I saw an eventual convergence between the electric and transportation industries. In my capacity as a manager we might be able to take advantage of the abundance of wind and solar potential to power cars. Soon we began seeing a convergence between the electric and transportation industries.
So in August of 2005, we founded Plug-In Austin. We realized from the beginning what we really had to do was to link similar ongoing efforts taking place across the country. We started by targeting the 50 largest cities in the U.S. Now we have members from utilities, environmental groups, businesses, as well as many other federal, state, and local organizations.
I had originally heard of the efforts of Felix Kramer and CalCars, Electric Power Research Institute EPRI, and Andy Frank, a UC Davis professor at who invented the plug-in technology some 30 years ago.
TH: What's the most important thing you want the average individual to know about plug-ins?
RD: They are very energy efficient, cleaner, and cheaper to operate.
TH: What’s the most efficient way of getting the most people to understand their importance in the shortest possible time?
RD: Invite folks to visit the website Plug-In Partners and recommend they sign up for the newsletter. Consider working with the media, as well getting promotions for us.
TH: If Proposition 87 had passed in CA, what would it have meant for the future of PHEVs?
RD: I really don’t know much about it. I’m not a big fan of initiatives. This one could only stand to help, though. It could well stand to buttress the campaigns of lots of alternative energy technologies—as well as ours.
TH: What would you recommend that everyone who doesn't live in California do in this regard? For instance, would similar initiatives be feasible in other states like Texas, as well?
RD: It (an initiative like California’s 87 ballot measure) probably wouldn’t occur in TX. I’m less interested in (proposing) legislation than in demonstrating a market for PHEVs.
TH: Are all hybrid designs the same—or are some different?
RD: There are different varieties. There’s the serial, the parallel—and then the hydraulic (a protoype still). Although, principal variations in designs relate to battery design such as Nickel-Metal Hydride versus Lithium Ion, there are other differences in the size of the battery compared to the engine (with some new ones proposing smaller gas engines and larger electric motors).
Andy Frank: "Just as in the case of any emerging product or technology, there are many ways to implement PHEV technology, optimize for various factors and conditions. We’re looking forward to sorting this out when car-makers begin building PHEVs." [Mr. Frank is the inventor of the PHEV.]*
TH: What is the longevity of battery systems compared to 100% electric cars?
RD: They may be more powerful per unit mass than the batteries in non-hybrids, but less powerful than pure electric cars. Also, plug-ins require a deep discharge of their batteries, whereas fully electric cars don’t need to discharge the batteries as much.
AF: "While the price/performance ratio of pure electric cars may match or exceed that of PHEVs, it’s not likely. I'll bet on the PHEV staying as the ultimate end game for the remainder of the century," he said. "Lithium is coming up fast and will definitely take over the Metal Hydride in power, weight, life, size, and costs," he concluded.*
TH: By their nature, cars are somewhat "disposable," to be replaced by a new model on average every seven years—or less! Is “planned obsolescence” addressed better by plug-ins, in addition to their superior efficiency?
RD: Not really. Cars stay on the road an average of 16 years. It’s unlikely this figure will decline sharply any time soon.*
TH: Could factory-built plug-ins be made to be "upgradable" with respect to engine designs (for a few years going forward so they won’t become outdated like the first generation Prius did)?
AF: "Not really. As cars become more computer-oriented and more telemetric, possibilities for upgraded systems increase. Most products get better over time—no surprise there."
According to Dr. Frank, although "upgrading is always possible," with upgraded parts becoming interchangeable, "you may be flogging a dead horse for a long time." He concludes by predicting, "The technology of these systems will change very fast and may not stabilize for many years—if ever!"
TH: Bush has backed plug-ins. How helpful has all the political rhetoric been so far?
RD: He "gets it," and his support has been helpful. The Department of Energy is now conducting serious discussions, and a new initiative has been launched within its R&D arm.
TH: What are some ways the Partnership could be strengthened?
RD: It’s actually moving faster than we can keep up with.
TH: Does the association have growth plans?
RD: Yes. We’re starting to approach more corporations. Some notable examples of these and other large organizations are P.G.&E., Edison Electric Institute, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Consumer Federation of America (with over 100 million members)..
TH: What’s the minimum number of cars in a fleet needed for a "soft order"?
RD: We consider four to five as the minimum, but may consider fewer. It’s called a "soft" order to signify simply an intent to built, since they haven’t been mass-produced yet; it is not an actual purchase order--yet. Also, they can’t be built on speculation, due to the matter of expense.
TH: With all the good news that came regarding PHEVs this year, what are the biggest hurdles in our way to getting them mass-produced?
RD: Only certain kinds of cars manufactures would seriously consider it for particular models.
TH: What’s the latest word on the largest car manufacturers warming up to the idea of producing PHEVs?
RD: Ford and GM have both begun focusing on PHEV initiatives. Initially, they had expressed resistance and uncertainty. The bottom line is they are still researching them. Nissan will develop one—perhaps by 2010.
TH: What does Google really intend to do when it says it "wants to build a plug-in"? Would it support CalCars, Edrive Systems, Energy, CS etc. to do this—or exactly what?
RD: It’s true we’re engaged in discussions with Google, but I’m not at liberty to offer any details today.
TH: What are the largest companies and associations involved with the organization?
RD: P.G.&E., Edison Electric Institute, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Consumer Federation of America (with over 100 million members).
TH: Who are some of the most noteworthy spokespersons of this idea?
RD: Hillary Clinton, Lester Brown, Orin Hatch, Jr., Barack Obama, George Pataki (Gov. NY), George Schulz, R. James Woolsey (former Director of CIA). Plug-in Partners maintains a list of partners.
TH: What can we do as consumers to get them to do so?
RD: They should visit the Plug-In Partners website: sign up, spread the word, and put in a fleet order if applicable to their business.
TH: What about the notion of the PHEV plugging into a grid concept? Where is that idea today?
RD: True, it’s an interesting idea, and I believe it will happen, but it will be years before it will have significant import, since millions of cars are needed to make an impact.
TH: If you lived in remote area, could you set up your PHEV to power your home during blackouts?
RD: Yes. Toyota recently built a prototype that would allow people to generate electricity at 13kW and 120 volts. This would be especially useful for those living off the grid.
TH: What is your impression of companies’ individual commitments to grappling with the issues of PHEVs?
RD: Yes, I think they will remain committed for the long haul.
TH: If everyone who reads this interview could do just one thing a week to help promote the future of plug-ins as a proven viable alternative to fossil fuels, what should it be?
RD: They should visit the website, sign up, and consider getting involved in our work.::
*Note: I am grateful to Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars and Dr. Andy Frank for help with some of these answers.::
Source: The New York Times
Published: September 19, 2007
Backed by the White House, corn-state governors and solid blocks on both sides of Congress’s partisan divide, the politics of biofuels could hardly look sunnier. The economics of the American drive to increase ethanol in the energy supply are more discouraging.
American corn-based ethanol is expensive. And while it can help cut oil imports and provide modest reductions in greenhouse gases compared to conventional gasoline, corn ethanol also carries considerable risks. Even now as Europe and China join the United States in ramping up production, world food prices are rising, threatening misery for the poorest countries.
The European Union has announced that it wants to replace 10 percent of its transport fuel with biofuels by 2020. China is aiming for a 15 percent share. The United States is already on track to exceed Congress’s 2005 goal of doubling the amount of ethanol used in motor fuels to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. In his State of the Union speech in January, President Bush set a new goal of 35 billion gallons of biofuels by 2017. In June, the Senate raised it to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Of that, Congress said that 15 billion gallons should come from corn and 21 billion from advanced biofuels that are nowhere near commercial production.
The distortions in agricultural production are startling. Corn prices are up about 50 percent from last year, while soybean prices are projected to rise up to 30 percent in the coming year, as farmers have replaced soy with corn in their fields. The increasing cost of animal feed is raising the prices of dairy and poultry products.
The news from the rest of the world is little better. Ethanol production in the United States and other countries, combined with bad weather and rising demand for animal feed in China, has helped push global grain prices to their highest levels in at least a decade. Earlier this year, rising prices of corn imports from the United States triggered mass protests in Mexico. The chief of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that rising food prices around the world have threatened social unrest in developing countries.
A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an economic forum of rich nations, called on the United States and other industrialized nations to eliminate subsidies for the production of ethanol which, the report said, is driving up food costs, threatening natural habitats and imposing other environmental costs. “The overall environmental impacts of ethanol and biodiesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel,” it said.
The economics of corn ethanol have never made much sense. Rather than importing cheap Brazilian ethanol made from sugar cane, the United States slaps a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on ethanol from Brazil. Then the government provides a tax break of 51 cents a gallon to American ethanol producers — on top of the generous subsidies that corn growers already receive under the farm program.
Corn-based ethanol also requires a lot of land. An O.E.C.D. report two years ago suggested that replacing 10 percent of America’s motor fuel with biofuels would require about a third of the total cropland devoted to cereals, oilseeds and sugar crops.
Meanwhile, the environmental benefits are modest. A study published last year by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated that after accounting for the energy used to grow the corn and turn it into ethanol, corn ethanol lowers emissions of greenhouse gases by only 13 percent.
The United States will not meet the dual challenges of reducing global warming and its dependence on foreign suppliers of energy until it manages to reduce energy consumption. That should be its main goal.
There is nothing wrong with developing alternative fuels, and there is high hope among environmentalists and even venture capitalists that more advanced biofuels — like cellulosic ethanol — can eventually play a constructive role in reducing oil dependency and greenhouse gases. What’s wrong is letting politics — the kind that leads to unnecessary subsidies, the invasion of natural landscapes best left alone and soaring food prices that hurt the poor — rather than sound science and sound economics drive America’s energy policy.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Millions of inventions pass quietly through the U.S. patent office each year. Patent No. 7,033,406 did, too, until energy insiders spotted six words in the filing that sounded like a death knell for the internal combustion engine.
An Austin-based startup called EEStor promised "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries," meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline.
By contrast, some plug-in hybrids on the horizon would require motorists to charge their cars in a wall outlet overnight and promise only 50 miles of gasoline-free commute. And the popular hybrids on the road today still depend heavily on fossil fuels.
"It's a paradigm shift," said Ian Clifford, chief executive of Toronto-based ZENN Motor Co., which has licensed EEStor's invention. "The Achilles' heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary."
Clifford's company bought rights to EEStor's technology in August 2005 and expects EEStor to start shipping the battery replacement later this year for use in ZENN Motor's short-range, low-speed vehicles.
The technology also could help invigorate the renewable-energy sector by providing efficient, lightning-fast storage for solar power, or, on a small scale, a flash-charge for cell phones and laptops.
Skeptics, though, fear the claims stretch the bounds of existing technology to the point of alchemy.
"We've been trying to make this type of thing for 20 years and no one has been able to do it," said Robert Hebner, director of the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics. "Depending on who you believe, they're at or beyond the limit of what is possible."
EEStor's secret ingredient is a material sandwiched between thousands of wafer-thin metal sheets, like a series of foil-and-paper gum wrappers stacked on top of each other. Charged particles stick to the metal sheets and move quickly across EEStor's proprietary material.
The result is an ultracapacitor, a battery-like device that stores and releases energy quickly.
Batteries rely on chemical reactions to store energy but can take hours to charge and release energy. The simplest capacitors found in computers and radios hold less energy but can charge or discharge instantly. Ultracapacitors take the best of both, stacking capacitors to increase capacity while maintaining the speed of simple capacitors.
Hebner said vehicles require bursts of energy to accelerate, a task better suited for capacitors than batteries.
"The idea of getting rid of the batteries and putting in capacitors is to get more power back and get it back faster," Hebner said.
But he said nothing close to EEStor's claim exists today.
For years, EEStor has tried to fly beneath the radar in the competitive industry for alternative energy, content with a phone-book listing and a handful of cryptic press releases.
Yet the speculation and skepticism have continued, fueled by the company's original assertion of making batteries obsolete -- a claim that still resonates loudly for a company that rarely speaks, including declining an interview with The Associated Press.
The deal with ZENN Motor and a $3 million investment by the venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which made big-payoff early bets on companies like Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., hint that EEStor may be on the edge of a breakthrough technology, a "game changer" as Clifford put it.
ZENN Motor's public reports show that it so far has invested $3.8 million in and has promised another $1.2 million if the ultracapacitor company meets a third-party testing standard and then delivers a product.
Clifford said his company consulted experts and did a "tremendous amount of due diligence" on EEStor's innovation.
EEStor's founders have a track record. Richard D. Weir and Carl Nelson worked on disk-storage technology at IBM Corp. in the 1990s before forming EEStor in 2001. The two have acquired dozens of patents over two decades.
Neil Dikeman of Jane Capital Partners, an investor in clean technologies, said the nearly $7 million investment in EEStor pales compared with other energy storage endeavors, where investment has averaged $50 million to $100 million.
Yet curiosity is unusually high, Dikeman said, thanks to the investment by a prominent venture capital group and EEStor's secretive nature.
"The EEStor claims are around a process that would be quite revolutionary if they can make it work," Dikeman said.
Previous attempts to improve ultracapacitors have focused on improving the metal sheets by increasing the surface area where charges can attach.
EEStor is instead creating better nonconductive material for use between the metal sheets, using a chemical compound called barium titanate. The question is whether the company can mass-produce it.
ZENN Motor pays EEStor for passing milestones in the production process, and chemical researchers say the strength and functionality of this material is the only thing standing between EEStor and the holy grail of energy-storage technology.
Joseph Perry and the other researchers he oversees at Georgia Tech have used the same material to double the amount of energy a capacitor can hold. Perry says EEstor seems to be claiming an improvement of more than 400-fold, yet increasing a capacitor's retention ability often results in decreased strength of the materials.
"They're not saying a lot about how they're making these things," Perry said. "With these materials (described in the patent), that is a challenging process to carry out in a defect-free fashion."
Perry is not alone in his doubts. An ultracapacitor industry leader, Maxwell Technologies Inc., has kept a wary eye on EEStor's claims and offers a laundry list of things that could go wrong.
Among other things, the ultracapacitors described in EEStor's patent operate at extremely high voltage, 10 times greater than those Maxwell manufactures, and won't work with regular wall outlets, said Maxwell spokesman Mike Sund. He said capacitors could crack while bouncing down the road, or slowly discharge after a dayslong stint in the airport parking lot, leaving the driver stranded.
Until EEStor produces a final product, Perry said he joins energy professionals and enthusiasts alike in waiting to see if the company can own up to its six-word promise and banish the battery to recycling bins around the world.
"I am skeptical but I'd be very happy to be proved wrong," Perry said.
Source: The New York Times
By JAMES E. McWILLIAMS
Published: August 6, 2007
THE term “food miles” — how far food has traveled before you buy it — has entered the enlightened lexicon. Environmental groups, especially in Europe, are pushing for labels that show how far food has traveled to get to the market, and books like Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” contemplate the damage wrought by trucking, shipping and flying food from distant parts of the globe.
There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.
On its face, the connection between lowering food miles and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a no-brainer. In Iowa, the typical carrot has traveled 1,600 miles from California, a potato 1,200 miles from Idaho and a chuck roast 600 miles from Colorado. Seventy-five percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas, the writer Bill McKibben says, even though the state produces far more apples than city residents consume. These examples just scratch the surface of the problem. In light of this market redundancy, the only reasonable reaction, it seems, is to count food miles the way a dieter counts calories.
But is reducing food miles necessarily good for the environment? Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer-reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more — or less — to food miles than meets the eye.
It all depends on how you wield the carbon calculator. Instead of measuring a product’s carbon footprint through food miles alone, the Lincoln University scientists expanded their equations to include other energy-consuming aspects of production — what economists call “factor inputs and externalities” — like water use, harvesting techniques, fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.
Incorporating these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit.
These life-cycle measurements are causing environmentalists worldwide to rethink the logic of food miles. New Zealand’s most prominent environmental research organization, Landcare Research-Manaaki Whenua, explains that localism “is not always the most environmentally sound solution if more emissions are generated at other stages of the product life cycle than during transport.” The British government’s 2006 Food Industry Sustainability Strategy similarly seeks to consider the environmental costs “across the life cycle of the produce,” not just in transportation.
“Eat local” advocates — a passionate cohort of which I am one — are bound to interpret these findings as a threat. We shouldn’t. Not only do life cycle analyses offer genuine opportunities for environmentally efficient food production, but they also address several problems inherent in the eat-local philosophy.
Consider the most conspicuous ones: it is impossible for most of the world to feed itself a diverse and healthy diet through exclusively local food production — food will always have to travel; asking people to move to more fertile regions is sensible but alienating and unrealistic; consumers living in developed nations will, for better or worse, always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer.
Given these problems, wouldn’t it make more sense to stop obsessing over food miles and work to strengthen comparative geographical advantages? And what if we did this while streamlining transportation services according to fuel-efficient standards? Shouldn’t we create development incentives for regional nodes of food production that can provide sustainable produce for the less sustainable parts of the nation and the world as a whole? Might it be more logical to conceptualize a hub-and-spoke system of food production and distribution, with the hubs in a food system’s naturally fertile hot spots and the spokes, which travel through the arid zones, connecting them while using hybrid engines and alternative sources of energy?
As concerned consumers and environmentalists, we must be prepared to seriously entertain these questions. We must also be prepared to accept that buying local is not necessarily beneficial for the environment. As much as this claim violates one of our most sacred assumptions, life cycle assessments offer far more valuable measurements to gauge the environmental impact of eating. While there will always be good reasons to encourage the growth of sustainable local food systems, we must also allow them to develop in tandem with what could be their equally sustainable global counterparts. We must accept the fact, in short, that distance is not the enemy of awareness.
James E. McWilliams is the author of “A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America” and a contributing writer for The Texas Observer.
by Jeremy Elton Jacquot
Los Angeles on 08. 1.07
Narrowly edging out the previous record set by Spectrolab late last year, two scientists at the University of Delaware have just created a new device that can convert 42.8% of the light striking it into electricity. The solar cell, built by Christina Honsberg and Allan Barnett, splits light into three components — high, medium and low energy light — and directs it to several different materials which can then extract electrons out of its photons.
One of the device's key elements is an optical concentrator — a lens-type component that increases the cell's efficiency by directing more sunlight to it than would happen naturally (a boost that contributed in great measure to its record-setting performance). It measures in at just below 1 cm thick, a major improvement over the Spectrolab model which featured a concentrating lens about 1 foot thick. Unlike most concentrators that use a two-axis tracking system to follow the sun, this optical concentrator is also stationary — a major feat.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — which has been funding this and similar efforts through its Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) program — hopes to eventually incorporate this technology into portable solar cell battery chargers for American troops. It will now fund a newly formed DuPont-University of Delaware VHESC Consortium to shift production from a lab-scale model to a full-on manufacturing prototype model.
UPDATE: A reader wanted us to clarify an important point — namely the fact that the concentrator itself doesn't increase the efficiency (it actually increases the power output by intensifying the beam of sunlight), the spectrum splitting optics and solar cells accomplish that.
by Will Wade
11.15.05 | 2:00 AM
The barren deserts of Southern California are known for relentless sunshine and miles of empty space -- the perfect combination for the world's most ambitious solar-energy projects.
Two Southern California utility companies are planning to develop a pair of sun-powered power plants that they claim will dwarf existing solar facilities and could rival fossil-fuel-driven power plants.
Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric are working with Stirling Energy Systems, a Phoenix startup that has paired a large and efficient solar dish with a 200-year-old Stirling engine design.
Stirling Energy Systems is planning to build two separate solar farms, one with the capacity to generate 500 megawatts of electricity in the Mojave Desert near Victorville, California, for SoCal Edison, and a 300-megawatt plant in the Imperial Valley, near Calexico, California, for SDG&E. The utilities have signed 20-year deals to buy all the juice the farms can turn out, and have options to expand the plants if they are successful.
"Without question, this will be the largest solar project in the world," said Gil Alexander, a spokesman for SoCal Edison. "It will be bigger than all U.S. solar-energy projects combined."
Alexander said traditional coal or gas plants typically generate 500 to 1,000 megawatts, and that current solar farms are much smaller -- generally in the 35- to 80-megawatt range. At the end of 2004, the United States had only 397 megawatts of solar-energy capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
"There is a possibility with this project that solar energy could go commercial in a big way for the first time," said Alexander. "It's playing in the big leagues."
Instead of using panels of photovoltaic cells -- solar power's mainstay technology for decades -- Stirling Energy Systems uses 40-foot-tall curved dishes that focus the sun's energy onto Stirling engines.
Also called an external heat engine, the Stirling engine is a completely sealed system filled with hydrogen. Its design dates to 1816, and it's named for its inventor, a Scottish minister named Robert Stirling. The focused solar energy, which can reach 1,350 degrees Fahrenheit, heats the hydrogen, making it expand and drive the engine's four pistons.
Though Stirling engines have been around for almost two centuries, there have been few efforts in the past to harness the sun to run them, said Stirling Energy Systems CEO Bruce Osborn.
Osborn said the Stirling dishes are 30 percent efficient -- 30 percent of the sun's energy is converted into electricity -- which is two to three times as efficient as conventional photovoltaic cells.
"Solar panels are more common, and they have gotten more efficient, but they still have a long way to go," he said.
Osborn said his company's dishes are easy to maintain because the engine is a closed system that never needs to be refilled -- an important factor for a large-scale facility in the middle of the desert. In fact, the only resource it consumes is "a little bit of water to wash the mirrors off every few weeks," he said.
The company is currently operating a six-dish test site at Sandia National Laboratories to showcase the concept, but the SoCal Edison and SDG&E plants are Stirling Energy Systems' first commercial contracts.
The first phase of the SoCal Edison project will be to build a 1-megawatt test site using 40 dishes, which should be complete by spring 2007. Construction on the full, 500-megawatt facility is expected to begin in mid-2008, and should take three to four years. Each dish can produce up to 25 kilowatts, and the site will eventually have 20,000 dishes stretching across 4,500 acres of desert.
Stirling plans to begin construction on SDG&E's 300-megawatt project in late 2008, and it should take about two years to install the 12,000 dishes covering about 2,000 acres.
None of the companies would give a price for building the solar sites or disclose the rates the utilities will pay for power, but both said the cost would be similar to traditional coal or gas.
But as oil prices go up, so could the cost of electricity from fossil fuels.
"Soon, solar may be less expensive," Osborn said.
Joel Makower, co-founder of market-research firm Clean Edge, said Stirling Energy Systems' solar-thermal power systems are impressive but unproven. One promising sign is the utility companies' level of commitment to the new technology.
"This is all on paper so far," he said. "They haven't delivered anything yet. And until they do, we can't say what it will cost."
Still, Makower said he was optimistic.
"Photovoltaic was the first-generation, utility-scale solar technology," he said. "The Stirling engine looks like it will be the second generation."
Source: Rolling Stone
From Issue 1032
Posted Jul 24, 2007 1:36 PM
The great danger of confronting peak oil and global warming isn't that we will sit on our collective asses and do nothing while civilization collapses, but that we will plunge after "solutions" that will make our problems even worse. Like believing we can replace gasoline with ethanol, the much-hyped biofuel that we make from corn.
Ethanol, of course, is nothing new. American refiners will produce nearly 6 billion gallons of corn ethanol this year, mostly for use as a gasoline additive to make engines burn cleaner. But in June, the Senate all but announced that America's future is going to be powered by biofuels, mandating the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022. According to ethanol boosters, this is the beginning of a much larger revolution that could entirely replace our 21-million-barrel-a-day oil addiction. Midwest farmers will get rich, the air will be cleaner, the planet will be cooler, and, best of all, we can tell those greedy sheiks to fuck off. As the king of ethanol hype, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, put it recently, "Everything about ethanol is good, good, good."
This is not just hype -- it's dangerous, delusional bullshit. Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption -- yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World. And the increasing acreage devoted to corn for ethanol means less land for other staple crops, giving farmers in South America an incentive to carve fields out of tropical forests that help to cool the planet and stave off global warming.
So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America's energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 -- twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a fifty-one-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners. And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon -- about half of ethanol's wholesale market price.
Three factors are driving the ethanol hype. The first is panic: Many energy experts believe that the world's oil supplies have already peaked or will peak within the next decade. The second is election-year politics. With the first vote to be held in Iowa, the largest corn-producing state in the nation, former skeptics like Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain now pay tribute to the wonders of ethanol. Earlier this year, Sen. Barack Obama pleased his agricultural backers in Illinois by co-authoring legislation to raise production of biofuels to 60 billion gallons by 2030. A few weeks later, rival Democrat John Edwards, who is staking his campaign on a victory in the Iowa caucus, upped the ante to 65 billion gallons by 2025.
The third factor stoking the ethanol frenzy is the war in Iraq, which has made energy independence a universal political slogan. Unlike coal, another heavily subsidized energy source, ethanol has the added political benefit of elevating the American farmer to national hero. As former CIA director James Woolsey, an outspoken ethanol evangelist, puts it, "American farmers, by making the commitment to grow more corn for ethanol, are at the top of the spear on the war against terrorism." If you love America, how can you not love ethanol?
Ethanol is nothing more than 180-proof grain alcohol. To avoid the prospect of drunks sucking on gas pumps, fuel ethanol is "denatured" with chemical additives (if you drink it, you'll end up dead or, at best, in the hospital). It can be distilled from a variety of plants, including sugar cane and switch- grass. Most vehicles can't run on pure ethanol, but E85, a mix of eighty-five percent ethanol and fifteen percent gasoline, requires only slight engine modifications.
But as a gasoline substitute, ethanol has big problems: Its energy density is one-third less than gasoline, which means you have to burn more of it to get the same amount of power. It also has a nasty tendency to absorb water, so it can't be transported in existing pipelines and must be distributed by truck or rail, which is tremendously inefficient.
Nor is all ethanol created equal. In Brazil, ethanol made from sugar cane has an energy balance of 8-to-1 -- that is, when you add up the fossil fuels used to irrigate, fertilize, grow, transport and refine sugar cane into ethanol, the energy output is eight times higher than the energy inputs. That's a better deal than gasoline, which has an energy balance of 5-to-1. In contrast, the energy balance of corn ethanol is only 1.3-to-1 - making it practically worthless as an energy source. "Corn ethanol is essentially a way of recycling natural gas," says Robert Rapier, an oil-industry engineer who runs the R-Squared Energy Blog.
The ethanol boondoggle is largely a tribute to the political muscle of a single company: agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland. In the 1970s, looking for new ways to profit from corn, ADM began pushing ethanol as a fuel additive. By the early 1980s, ADM was producing 175 million gallons of ethanol a year. The company's then-chairman, Dwayne Andreas, struck up a close relationship with Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, a.k.a. "Senator Ethanol." During the 1992 election, ADM gave $1 million to Dole and his friends in the GOP (compared with $455,000 to the Democrats). In return, Dole helped the company secure billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks. In 1995, the conservative Cato Institute, estimating that nearly half of ADM's profits came from products either subsidized or protected by the federal government, called the company "the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare in recent U.S. history."
Today, ADM is the leading producer of ethanol, supplying more than 1 billion gallons of the fuel additive last year. Ethanol is propped up by more than 200 tax breaks and subsidies worth at least $5.5 billion a year. And ADM continues to give back: Since 2000, the company has contributed $3.7 million to state and federal politicians.
The Iraq War has also been a boon for ADM and other ethanol producers. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was pushed by Corn Belt politicians, mandated the consumption of 7.5 billion gallons of biofuels by 2012. After Democrats took over Congress last year, they too vowed to "do something" about America's addiction to foreign oil. By the time Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, proposed new energy legislation this spring, the only real question was how big the ethanol mandate would be. According to one lobbyist, 36 billion gallons became "the Goldilocks number -- not too big to be impractical, not too small to satisfy corn growers."
Under the Senate bill, only 15 billion gallons of ethanol will come from corn, in part because even corn growers admit that turning more grain into fuel would disrupt global food supplies. The remaining 21 billion gallons will have to come from advanced biofuels, most of which are currently brewed only in small-scale lab experiments. "It's like trying to solve a traffic problem by mandating hovercraft," says Dave Juday, an independent commodities consultant. "Except we don't have hovercraft."
The most seductive myth about ethanol is that it will free us from our dependence on foreign oil. But even if ethanol producers manage to hit the mandate of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, that will replace a paltry 1.5 million barrels of oil per day -- only seven percent of current oil needs. Even if the entire U.S. corn crop were used to make ethanol, the fuel would replace only twelve percent of current gasoline use.
Another misconception is that ethanol is green. In fact, corn production depends on huge amounts of fossil fuel -- not just the diesel needed to plow fields and transport crops, but also the vast quantities of natural gas used to produce fertilizers. Runoff from industrial-scale cornfields also silts up the Mississippi River and creates a vast dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico every summer. What's more, when corn ethanol is burned in vehicles, it is as dirty as conventional gasoline and does little to solve global warming: E85 reduces carbon dioxide emissions by a modest fifteen percent at best, while fueling the destruction of tropical forests.
But the biggest problem with ethanol is that it steals vast swaths of land that might be better used for growing food. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs titled "How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor," University of Minnesota economists C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer point out that filling the gas tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires more than 450 pounds of corn -- roughly enough calories to feed one person for a year.
Thanks in large part to the ethanol craze, the price of beef, poultry and pork in the United States rose more than three percent during the first five months of this year. In some parts of the country, hog farmers now find it cheaper to fatten their animals on trail mix, french fries and chocolate bars. And since America provides two-thirds of all global corn exports, the impact is being felt around the world. In Mexico, tortilla prices have jumped sixty percent, leading to food riots. In Europe, butter prices have spiked forty percent, and pork prices in China are up twenty percent. By 2025, according to Runge and Senauer, rising food prices caused by the demand for ethanol and other biofuels could cause as many as 600 million more people to go hungry worldwide.
Despite the serious drawbacks of ethanol, some technological visionaries believe that the fuel can be done right. "Corn ethanol is just a platform, the first step in a much larger transition we are undergoing from a hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy," says Vinod Khosla, a pioneering venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. Next-generation corn- ethanol plants, he argues, will be much more efficient and environmentally friendly. He points to a company called E3 BioFuels that just opened an ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska. The facility runs largely on biogas made from cow manure, and feeds leftover grain back to the cows, making it a "closed-loop system" -- one that requires very few fossil fuels to create ethanol.
Khosla is even higher on the prospects for cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel that can be made from almost any plant matter, including wood waste and perennial grasses like miscanthus and switchgrass. Like other high-tech ethanol evangelists, Khosla imagines a future in which such so-called "energy crops" are fed into giant refineries that use genetically engineered enzymes to break down the cellulose in plants and create fuel for a fraction of the cost of today's gasoline. Among other virtues, cellulosic ethanol would not cut into the global food supply (nobody eats miscanthus or switchgrass), and it could significantly cut global-warming pollution. Even more important, it could provide a gateway to a much larger biotech revolution, including synthetic microbes that could one day be engineered to gobble up carbon dioxide or other pollutants.
Unfortunately, no commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants exist today. In one venture backed by Khosla, a $225 million plant in central Georgia is currently being built to make ethanol out of wood chips. Mitch Mandich, a former Apple Computer executive who is now the CEO of the operation, calls it "the beginning of a real transformation in the way we think about energy in America."
Maybe. But oil-industry engineer Robert Rapier, who has spent years studying cellulosic ethanol, says that the difference between ethanol from corn and ethanol from cellulose is "like the difference between traveling to the moon and traveling to Mars." And even if the engineering hurdles can be overcome, there's still the problem of land use: According to Rapier, replacing fifty percent of our current gasoline consumption with cellulosic ethanol would consume thirteen percent of the land in the United States - about seven times the land currently utilized for corn production.
Increasing the production of cellulosic ethanol will also require solving huge logistical problems, including delivering vast quantities of feedstock to production plants. According to one plant manager in the Midwest, fueling an ethanol plant with switchgrass would require delivering a semi-truckload of the grass every six minutes, twenty-four hours a day. Finally, there is the challenge of wrestling the future away from Big Corn. "It's pretty clear to me that the corn guys will use all their lobbying muscle and political power to stall, thwart and sidetrack this revolution," says economist C. Ford Runge.
In the end, the ethanol boom is another manifestation of America's blind faith that technology will solve all our problems. Thirty years ago, nuclear power was the answer. Then it was hydrogen. Biofuels may work out better, especially if mandates are coupled with tough caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. Still, biofuels are, at best, a huge gamble. They may help cushion the fall when cheap oil vanishes, but if we rely on ethanol to save the day, we could soon find ourselves forced to make a choice between feeding our SUVs and feeding children in the Third World. And we all know how that decision will go.
By James Howard Kunstler
Posted April 4, 2007
Two years ago in my book The Long Emergency I wrote that our nation was sleepwalking into an era of unprecedented hardship and disorder -- largely due to the end of reliably cheap and abundant oil. We're still blindly following that path into a dangerous future, lost in dark raptures of infotainment, diverted by inane preoccupations with sex and celebrity, made frantic by incessant motoring.
The coming age of energy scarcity will change everything about how we live in this country. It will ignite more desperate contests between nations for the remaining oil and natural gas around the world. It will alter the fundamental terms of industrial economies. It will ramify and amplify many of the problems presented by climate change. It will require us to behave differently. But we are not paying attention.
As the American public continues sleepwalking into a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil, we have also continued dreaming. Our collective dream is one of those super-vivid ones people have just before awakening, as the fantastic transports of the unconscious begin to merge with the demands of waking reality. The dream is a particularly American dream on an American theme: how to keep all the cars running by some other means than gasoline. We'll run them on ethanol! We'll run them on biodiesel, on synthesized coal liquids, on hydrogen, on methane gas, on electricity, on used French-fry oil... !
The dream goes around in fevered circles as each gasoline-replacement is examined and found to be inadequate. But the wish to keep the cars going is so powerful that round and round the dream goes. Ethanol! Biodiesel! Coal Liquids. ...
And a harsh reality indeed awaits us as the full scope of the permanent energy crisis unfolds. The global oil production peak is not a cult theory, it's a fact. The earth does not have a creamy nougat center of petroleum. The supply in finite, and we have ample evidence that all-time global production has peaked.
Of course, the issue is not about running out of oil, and never has been. There will always be some oil left underground -- it just might take more than a barrel-of-oil's worth of energy to pump each barrel out, so it won't be worth doing.
The issue is not about running out -- it's about what happens when you head over the all-time production peak down the slippery slope of depletion. And what happens is that the complex systems we depend on for everyday life in advanced societies begin to falter, wobble, and fail -- and the failures in each system will in turn weaken the others. By complex systems I mean the way we produce our food, the way we conduct manufacture and trade, the way we operate banking and finance, the way we move people and things from one place to another, and the way we inhabit the landscape.
I'll try not to dwell excessively on the statistics since I am more concerned here with the implications for everyday life in our nation. But it is probably helpful to understand a few of the numbers.
Oil production in the US peaked in 1970. We're now producing about half of what we did then, and our own production continues to run down steadily at the rate of a few percentage points of recoverable reserves each year. It adds up. In 1970, we were producing about 10 million barrels a day. Now we're down to less than five -- and we consume over 20 million barrels a day. We have compensated for that since 1970 by importing oil from other nations. Today we import about two-thirds of all the oil we use. Today, the world is consuming all the oil it can produce. As global production passes its own peak, the world will not be able to compensate for its shortfall by importing oil from other planets.
Nor is there any real likelihood that new discoveries will be adequate to compensate. Discovery precedes production, of course, because you can't pump oil that you haven't discovered. Discovery of oil in the US peaked in the 1930s -- and production started declining roughly 30 years later. Discovery of oil peaked worldwide in the 1960s, and now the signs suggest the world has peaked. Discovery of new oil worldwide in recent years has amounted to a tiny fraction of replacement levels. In fact, we may be burning more oil just in our exploration efforts than we will get from the oil we're discovering.
The oil industry has been dominated by what are called supergiant fields. The four reigning supergiant fields of oil our time were discovered decades ago and are now in decline. The Burgan field of Kuwait, the Daqing of China, Cantarell of Mexico, and Ghawar of Saudi Arabia. Together in recent decades they were responsible for 14 percent of the world's oil production, and they are now in decline. All except Ghawar of Saudi Arabia have been declared officially past peak by their own governments and Ghawar is showing clear signs of trouble -- though Aramco itself won't say so. Ghawar has provided 60 percent of Saudi Arabia's production. Saudi Arabia's total production is down 8 percent in the year past, despite a massive increase in drilling rigs, and the incentive of high prices.
Last year, the Mexican national oil company, Pemex, declared its supergiant field, Cantarell, to be officially past peak and in decline. As in the case with Ghawar and Saudi Arabia, Cantarell has been responsible for 60 percent of Mexico's oil production. Cantarell is now crashing at an official decline rate of at least 15 percent a year -- perhaps steeper. Mexico has been our No. 3 source of oil imports (after Canada and Saudi Arabia). The crash of Cantarell means in just a few years Mexico, our No. 3 source of imports, will have no surplus oil to sell to the US. It also means that the Mexican government will be strapped for operating revenue -- and you can draw your own conclusions about the political implications.
The North Sea and Alaska's North Slope were some of the last great discoveries of the oil era. Plentiful North Sea and Alaskan production took away OPEC's leverage over the oil markets. This led to the oil glut of the 1990s, driving oil prices down finally to $10 a barrel. It is also what induced the American public to fall asleep on energy issues. It seemed as if cheap oil was here to stay. Forever.
Both The North Sea and Alaska are now past peak and in depletion. Prudhoe Bay proved to be Alaska's only super giant oil field. Several other key fields were discovered. None were even 1/6th the size of Prudhoe Bay.
North Sea oil was produced using the latest-and-greatest new technology for drilling and guess what: it only allowed the region to be drained more rapidly and efficiently. Now 57 of Norway's 69 oil fields are past peak and the average post-peak decline rates average 17 percent a year. The UK's share of the North Sea has declined to the extent that England is now a net energy importer.
Russia, despite current high levels of post-Soviet-era production, peaked in the 1980s, and may now be past 70 percent of its ultimate recoverable reserves. Iran is past peak. Indonesia, an OPEC member, is so far past peak it became a net oil importer last year. Venezuela is past peak. Iraq and Nigeria are consumed by political insurrection. The companies developing Canada's tar sands have announced this past year that their costs will double original estimates -- in other words, whatever comes out of the ground there will be very expensive.
Meanwhile, in the background, completely ignored by the US media, an additional problem is developing on the oil scene. Net world production is going down by just under 3 percent a year, but total exports from the top ten exporters are going down at an even steeper rate. Geologist Jeffrey Brown, among the excellent technicians at TheOilDrum.com website, writes that the top ten exporters are showing a net export decline rate of 7 percent the past year, trending toward a 50 percent export decline over the coming ten years. Why? Because on top of production decline rates, nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela are using more of their own oil at home with rising populations and more automobiles.
A few additional background items. Most of the easy-to-get, light and sweet crude oil is gone. We got that out of the ground in the run-up to peak [oil]. We found that high quality oil in temperate places onshore, like Texas, where it was easy and pleasant to work, and the stuff was relatively close to the surface. The remaining oil is, each year, proportionally made up more of heavy and sour crudes that are hard to refine and yield less gasoline. Most of the refinery capacity in the world cannot process these heavy and sour crudes and there is no world-class industrial effort to build new ones -- and on top of that, existing world refinery infrastructure is old and rusty. Finally, most of the remaining oil in the world exists either in geographically forbidding places where it is extremely difficult and expensive to work, like deep water out in the ocean or in frozen regions, or else it belongs to people who are indisposed to be friendly to us.
The natural gas situation is at least equally ominous, with some differences in the technical details -- and by the way, I'm referring here not to gasoline but to methane gas (CH4), the stuff we run in kitchen stoves and home furnaces. Natural gas doesn't deplete slowly like oil, following a predictable bell curve pattern; it simply stops coming out of the ground very suddenly, and then that particular gas well is played out. You get your gas from the continent you're on. Natural gas is moved to customers in the US, Canada, and Mexico in an extensive pipeline network. To import natural gas from overseas, it has to be liquefied, loaded in a special kind of expensive-to-build-and-operate tanker ship, and then offloaded at specialized marine terminal, all adding layers of cost. The process also obviously affords us poor control over not-always-friendly foreign suppliers.
Half the homes in America are heated with gas furnaces and about 16 percent of our electricity is made with it. Industry uses natural gas as the main ingredient in fertilizer, plastics, ink, glue, paint, laundry detergent, insect repellents and many other common household necessities. Synthetic rubber and man-made fibers like nylon could not be made without the chemicals derived from natural gas. In North America, natural gas production peaked in 1973. We are drilling as fast as we can to keep the air conditioners and furnaces running.
That's the background on our energy predicament. Against this background is the whole question of how we live in the United States. I wrote three books previously about the fiasco of suburbia. There are many ways of describing it, but lately I refer to it as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Why? Because it is a living arrangement with no future. Why doesn't it have a future? Because it was designed to run on cheap oil and gas, and in just a few years we won't have those things anymore.
Having made these choices, we are now hobbled by a tragic psychology of previous investment -- that is, having poured so much of our late-20th century wealth into this living arrangement -- this Happy Motoring utopia -- we can't imagine letting go of it, or substantially reforming it.
We have compounded the problem lately by making the building of suburban sprawl the basis of our economy. Insidiously, we have replaced America's manufacturing capacity with an economy based on building evermore suburban houses and the accessories and furnishings that go with them -- the highway strips, the big box shopping pods, et cetera -- meaning that our economy is now largely based on building more and more stuff with no future -- on a continued misallocation of resources. Roughly 40 percent of the new jobs created between 2001 last year were in housing bubble related fields -- the builders, the real estate agents, the mortgage brokers, the installers of granite countertops. If you subtracted the housing bubble from the rest of the economy in recent years, there wouldn't be much left besides hair-styling, fried chicken, and open heart surgery. Much of this housing bubble itself was promulgated by an equally unprecedented lapse in standards and norms of finance -- a tragedy-in-the-making that has now begun to unwind. What are we going to do about our extreme oil dependence and the living arrangement that goes with it?
There's a widespread wish across America these days that some combination of alternative fuels will rescue us; will allow us to continue enjoying by some other means what has been called "the non-negotiable American way of life." The wish is perhaps understandable given the psychology of previous investment.
But the truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or systems for using them will allow us to continue running America the way we have been, or even a substantial fraction of it. We are not going to run Wal Mart, Walt Disney World, Monsanto, and the interstate highway system on any combination of solar or wind energy, hydrogen, nuclear, ethanol, tar sands, oil shale, methane hydrates, thermal depolymerization, zero-point energy, used french-fry oil, or anything else you can name. We will desperately use many of these things in many ways, but we are likely to be disappointed by what they can actually do for us, particularly in terms of scale -- apart from the fact that most or all of them are probably net energy losers in economic terms.
For instance, we are much more likely to use wind power on a household or neighborhood basis rather than in deployments of Godzilla-sized turbines in so-called wind farms.
The key to understanding what we face is that we have to comprehensively make other arrangements for all the normal activities of everyday life. It is a long, detailed "to do" list that we can't afford to ignore. The public discussion of these issues is impressively incoherent. This failure of the collective imagination is reflected in the especially poor job being done by the mainstream media covering this story -- in particular, The New York Times, which does little besides publish feel-good press releases from Cambridge Energy Research Associates, the oil industry's chief public relations consultant.
These days, the only aspect of these issues that we are willing to talk about at all is how we might keep all our cars running by other means. We have to get beyond this obsession with running the cars by other means. The future is not just about motoring. We have to make other arrangements comprehensively for all the major activities of daily life in this nation.
We'll have to grow our food differently. The ADM/Monsanto/Cargill model of industrial-scale agribusiness will not survive the discontinuities of the Long Emergency -- the system of pouring oil-and-gas-based fertilizers and herbicides on the ground to grow all the cheez doodles and hamburgers. As oil and gas deplete, we will be left with sterile soils and farming organized at an unworkable scale. Many lives will depend on our ability to fix this.
We will find out the hard way that we can't afford to dedicate our crop lands to growing grains and soybeans for ethanol and biodiesel. A Pennsylvania farmer put it this way to me last month: "It looks like we're going to take the last six inches of Midwest topsoil and burn it in our gas tanks." The disruptions to world grain supplies by the ethanol mania are just beginning to thunder through the system. Last months there were riots in Mexico City because so much Mexican corn is now being already being diverted to American ethanol production that poor people living on the economic margins cannot afford to pay for their food staples.
You can see, by the way, how this is a tragic extension of our obsession with running all the cars.
In the years ahead, farming will come back much closer to the center of American economic life. It will necessarily have to be done more locally, at a smaller-and-finer scale, and will require more human attention. Many of the value-added activities associated with farming -- making products like cheese, wine, oils -- will also have to be done much more locally. This situation presents excellent business and vocational opportunities for America's young people. It also presents huge problems in land-use reform. Not to mention the fact that the knowledge and skill for doing these things has to be painstakingly retrieved from the dumpster of history.
We're going to have to move people and things from place to place differently. It is imperative that we restore the US passenger railroad system. No other project we could do right away would have such a positive impact on our oil consumption. We used to have a railroad system that was the envy of the world. Now we have a system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.
The infrastructure for this great task is lying out there rusting in the rain. This project would put scores of thousands of people to work at meaningful jobs, at every level, from labor to management. It would benefit all ranks of society. Fixing the US passenger rail system doesn't require any great technological leaps into the unknown. The technology is thoroughly understood. The fact that from end-to-end of the political spectrum there is no public discussion about fixing the US passenger rail system shows how un-serious we are.
There's another compelling reason we should undertake the great project of repairing the US passenger rail system: it is something that would restore our confidence, a way we could demonstrate to ourselves that we are competent and capable of meeting the difficult challenges of this energy-scarce future. ... And it might inspire us to get on with the other great tasks that we will have to face.
By the way, it is important that we electrify our railroad system. All the other advanced nations have electric rail systems which allow them to run on something other than fossil fuel or to control the source point of the carbon emissions and pollution in the case of coal-fired power generation. Electric motors are far simpler and way more efficient even than diesel engines. The US was well underway with the project of electrifying our railroad system, but we just gave up after the Second World War as we directed all our investment to the interstate highway system instead.
We're going to have to move things by boat. But we've just finished a 50-year effort in taking apart most of the infrastructure for maritime trade in America. Our harbors and riverfronts have been almost completely de-activated. The public now thinks that harbors and riverfronts should only be used for condo sites, parks, bikeways, band shells and festival marketplaces. Guess what: We're going to have to put back the piers and warehouses and even the crummy accommodations for sailors.
We're going to have to move a lot more stuff by water or our ability to do commerce will suffer. Meanwhile, if we use trucks, it will be for the very last local increment of the journey. Leaders in business and municipal politics will have to wrap their minds around this new reality.
We are probably in the twilight of Happy Motoring -- as we have known it. The automobile will be a diminished presence in our lives. I'm not saying that cars will disappear, but it will become self-evident that our extreme dependency will have to end. It is possible, but not likely, that affordable electric cars will come on the market before we get into serious trouble with oil. More likely, we'll be facing an entirely new political problem with cars as motoring becomes increasingly only something that the economic elite can enjoy.
For decades, motoring has been absolutely democratic. Everybody from the lowliest hamburger flipper to the richest Microsoft millionaire could participate in the American motoring program. Right now, let's say six percent of adults in this nation can't drive, for one reason or another: They're blind, too old, too poor, et cetera. What if that number rose to 13 percent, or 26 percent of Americans because either the price of fuel or the cost of a vehicle rose beyond their means. Do you suppose that a whole new mood of grievance and resentment might arise against those who were still driving cars? And how would the large new class of non-drivers feel about paying taxes to maintain the very expensive interstate highway systems?
Back to the task list:
We're going to have to make other arrangements for commerce and manufacturing. The national chain discount stores that took over American retail in recent decades will not survive the discontinuities of the Long Emergency. Their business equations and methods of operations will fail, in particular their remorseless cancer-like drive toward replication and expansion. They will lack the resilience to adapt due to their gigantic scale of operations -- a scale that will no longer be appropriate to the contracting available energy "nutrients."
The so-called "warehouse on wheels" composed of thousands of trucks circulating incessantly around the interstate highways will not work economically in a new era of scarcer and expensive oil. Not to mention the 12,000-mile supply line to the factories of Asia which we have tragically come to depend on for so many of our household goods.
We have to check all our assumptions at the door about how things will work in the years ahead. Lately, thanks to Tom Friedman and other cheerleaders for the global economy, we've adopted the notion that globalism is a permanent condition of life. I think we will be disappointed to learn the truth -- that globalism was a set of transient economic relations made possible at a particular time by very special conditions, namely half a century of cheap energy and half a century of relative peace between the great powers.
Those conditions are about to end, and with them, I predict, will go many of the far-flung economic relations that we've come to rely on. When the US and China are contesting for the world's remaining oil resources, do you think it's possible that our trade relations might be affected? These are things we had better be prepared to think about it. China has way outstripped its own dwindling oil supply. China has gone all over the world in recent years systematically making contracts for future delivery of oil with other nations, including Canada, as that nation ramps up production of the tar sands in Alberta.
I want to remind you that there is such a thing as the Monroe Doctrine, an American foreign policy position that essentially forbids nations outside the western hemisphere from intruding in or exploiting affairs in this part of the world. It may be an old and perhaps an arrogant policy -- but I predict the time will come when the United States will invoke it in order to preserve our access to Canadian oil supplies. And if-and-when that occurs, what do you suppose that will mean to our trade relations with China? How many plastic wading pools and salad shooters will Wal-Mart be ordering then?
These are the kinds of things we are not thinking about at all, and which leave us woefully unprepared to face a very uncertain future.
Getting back to retail trade in the US -- it is important to recognize the damage that the national discount chain stores have already done in systematically destroying local commercial economies. If you travel around the main street towns of this nation, as I do, you see places in Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and Alabama, and Oklahoma, and Connecticut, and in my region of the upper Hudson Valley in New York that look like former soviet backwaters. The destruction, the abandonment and desolation in the fabric of our towns is just out of this world.
This era of chain store supremacy will not continue far into the future, and as it wobbles and falls we will be faced with a tremendous task of rebuilding the fine-grained, multi-layered local networks of economic interdependency that the chain stores destroyed. As that rebuilding occurs we will restore social roles as well as economic roles that have long been absent in our home places.
In destroying local retail infrastructures, the chain stores wiped out a whole mercantile middle class. These were the people ran local businesses, who sat on the library and hospital boards, who sponsored the little league baseball, who employed their neighbors and had to behave decently toward them, as well as treating their neighbors decently in matters of trade. They were people who uniformly had to take care of at least two buildings in town -- the place where they did business and the place where they lived. These were the people who were the caretakers of our communities, and the extermination of this class of citizens has been devastating.
We don't know how we are going to make things again in America, for instance, ordinary household products. We're not going to re-live the 20th century, when the US was on a great upswing of energy resources and we made everything for ourselves from toasters to record players. Where I live, in the upper Hudson and Mohawk Valley region of New York, most of the factories have actually been knocked down in the past 20 years. The water power is still there in many of these places, but the buildings are gone. Among all our other wishes, there is a wish that we will innovate stunning new methods for making things, such as nanotechnology. I'd repeat that we'd better check all our assumptions at the door and that we are liable to be disappointed by what these wishes will eventually lead to.
I think the truth is, we are going to have fewer things to buy. The Blue-Light-Special retail orgy of recent decades will fade into history, and shopping will retreat into the background of daily life. Consuming things will not be our sole reason for living.
The role of finance as we know it today will be severely challenged by the Long Emergency. Declining energy supplies have one particular grave implication for industrial societies: that they can no longer take for granted the 3 to 7 percent annual growth in gross domestic product that has been assumed to be normal throughout recent history. In fact, the energy picture -- the dwindling of a particular, extraordinary, one-time, very special resource -- implies a general contraction of productive activity.
Our expectations for growth are vested in tradable paper certificates -- currencies, stocks, bonds, and other instruments that represent our confidence that society will produce more wealth, and that this increase can be enjoyed in the form of profits and dividends. What happens when that consensus about reliable increase falls apart? What happens to the entire edifice of finance when these abstract certificates are no longer backed by the faith of people who have been trading them?
We can see the beginning of this process right now in the unwinding of the home mortgage sector. This recent experiment in the abolition of moral hazard, in the suspension of norms-and-standards in lending, in the fobbing off of risk, is climaxing in one of the great debacles of modern economics. It was based on the idea that immense numbers of promises for future payment could be bundled into bonds, resold, and parlayed to leverage evermore abstract casino-like bets masquerading as investments. This is anything but investment in future productive activity.
It is now being discovered that at the foundation of all this jive-finance activity lie bundles of broken promises, "non-performing loans," as they're called. It remains to be seen how this mortgage-and-housing bubble fiasco will play out, but I think it will be one of the major events leading to an overall loss of presumed wealth for American society. And is likely, as well, to infect the jury-rigged structures of global finance to a disastrous degree.
The key to all our everyday activities in the future is scale. We will probably have to live more locally than has been the case in recent decades. I think we can state categorically that anything organized on the gigantic scale, whether it is an agricultural system, or a finance system, or a corporation, or a chain of stores, or a school, or a government, is going to run into trouble.
School is another item on our "to do" list of things that we have to make other arrangements for. The gigantic centralized public school systems all over America that depend on the massive fleets of yellow school buses for collecting the students every morning around the 50-mile-radius 'pupil sheds' -- this way of doing things will probably encounter failure. Not to mention that we used the same kind of sprawling, one-story, flat-roofed buildings in Florida as in Minnesota -- and given the situation with natural gas we'll have trouble heating these buildings in the colder states. Of course there are plenty of reasons to suspect that schools this large, designed like medium security prisons, are not optimum settings for learning even if oil and gas were plentiful.
Complicating the issue is the fact that our school systems are at the center of the psychology of previous investment. We have put so much of our collective wealth in these sprawling, oversized, vehicle-dependent institutions -- with all their fabulous amenities of swimming pools, video labs, and free parking -- that it will be very difficult for us to let go of them -- even after it is self-evident that they are no longer working. What will replace our giant centralized public schools? School districts will be starved for cash in the Long Emergency. I doubt that we will be able to replace the centralized schools with a whole new system of smaller buildings distributed more equitably around the places where people live. If anything, I suppose a replacement may arise out of home schooling, especially as home schools aggregate into larger neighborhood units so that every parent doesn't have to duplicate the vocational role of teacher (and of course not all parents would even be capable of acting in that role).
The destiny of higher education ought to be especially troubling. The giant universities are exactly the kinds of institutions that will prove unwieldy and unsupportable in the Long Emergency. College will cease to be the mass consumer activity it became in the cheap energy heyday. If it survives at all, it is likely to be -- as earlier in history -- an activity for a much smaller economic elite.
The question of class relations per se will be affected by our energy situation, since it is necessarily linked to our economy. The Long Emergency is going to produce a lot of economic losers -- a whole new group I call the formerly middle class. They will lose jobs, vocations, and incomes that they will never get back. They are going to be full of grievance, anger, resentment, and bewilderment at the loss of their entitlements to the "non-negotiable" American way of life, including home ownership and affordable happy motoring. They are likely to express these feelings politically. We will be lucky if they do not turn to demagogues who promise to mount one sort of campaign or another to restore the entitlements of suburbia.
Such a campaign would be an enormous exercise in futility and a gross waste of our scarce remaining resources. But it is the kind of thing that happens when a society comes under extreme stress, and we had better be prepared for it. Social friction may also be prompted as agriculture comes closer to the center of our economic life, and we're faced with conflict between those who retain wealth in productive land and those who must resort to working in agriculture to make a living. In history, this typically sets the stage for the radical redistribution of property, seizure of land, in short, for political revolution. It could happen here. We are certain to experience epochal demographic shifts in any case. The 200-year-long trend of people leaving the rural places and the small towns to go to the big cities will very likely go into reverse.
Our hyper-gigantic cities and so-called metroplexes are a pure product of the 200-year-long upward arc of cheap energy. Like other things of gigantic scale, our cities will get into trouble. They are going to contract substantially. The cities that are composed overwhelmingly of suburban fabric will be most susceptible to failure. Orlando, Houston, Atlanta. The cities that are overburdened with skyscrapers will face an additional layer of trouble -- the skyscraper, like the mega-city, was a product of cheap energy, and we are going to have trouble running them, especially heating them without cheap natural gas.
As our cities contract, I think they will re-densify at their centers and around their waterfronts, if they are located favorably on water, and depending on how (or if) rising ocean levels might affect them. The process of contraction in our cities is likely to be difficult, disorderly and unequal. Some cities will do better than others. In my opinion, Phoenix and Tucson will be substantially depopulated. They will face additional problems with their ability to produce food locally and with water.
In Las Vegas, the excitement will be over. That will be a good thing since it has become the holy shrine of America's new chief religion: the worship of unearned riches -- based on the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing -- a belief that underlies, by the way, a great deal of the delusional thinking abroad in this land about the ability of alternative fuels and energy schemes to rescue our current mode of living.
It is hard to be optimistic about the destiny of our suburbs. My referring to them as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world pretty much says it all. There will be a wish to rescue them, of course, but it is unlikely to go beyond the wishing stage. We will be a less affluent society in the years ahead than we were when we built the suburbs in the first place, and we will have fewer resources to fix them or retrofit them. The Jolly Green Giant is not going to come and move the houses closer to the shopping -- to undo the vast absurdities of single-use-zoning.
We could reform our codes and regulations which have virtually mandated a suburban sprawl outcome in every American locality -- but it's a little late for that. The horse is out of the barn on that one. And anyway, I believe the mortgage-and-housing bubble fiasco will mark the end of the whole project of suburbanization per se. I don't believe the production home builders will ever recover from it in our lifetimes; we certainly don't need a single additional WalMart or fried food joint; and the energy problems we face will eventually overcome all our wishes to keep that system going, whether we like it or not.
Realistically, I think we will have to return to a set of traditional ways of inhabiting the terrain -- towns, smaller-scaled cities composed of walkable neighborhoods, and a productive rural landscape with more of a human presence than we see in today's countryside. We have thousands of smaller towns and cities waiting to be re-inhabited and re-activated. Most of them occupy geographically important or valuable sites, especially the ones near fresh running water.
For the past two decades I have been associated with the New Urbanist movement. The New Urbanists were architects, planners, and developers who recognized the tremendous weaknesses and liabilities of the suburban pattern and have been campaigning to reform the way we build things in this country. Their methods are consistent with what we are going to need in the decades ahead to refashion human habitats that have a future and which are worth caring about.
The great achievement of the New Urbanists was not in the projects and new towns that they designed and caused to get built in recent years, but in their heroic act of retrieving lost knowledge from the dumpster of history -- a whole body of principles, methods, and skills necessary to design places worth living in. This was knowledge and principle that we had thrown away in our mad rush to become a drive-in utopia. We threw it away thinking that we could replace urban design and artistry with mere traffic engineering and statistical analysis. The result of that is now visible for all to see in the tragic landscape of the highway strips and the single-income housing pods. What we managed to do was build a land full of scary places that turned us into a nation of scary people. But this was the final tragedy of suburbia: we put up thousands of places that aren't worth caring about, not understanding that when we had enough of them, we might be left with a nation not worth defending.
So there you have a comprehensive "to do" list of efforts we can make to meet the challenges of the permanent global energy crisis, things we can do to mount an intelligent response to these circumstances that reality is sending our way. Growing more of our food locally; restoring our railroads and other forms of public transit; rebuilding local networks of commerce and economic interdependency; reorganizing education at an appropriate scale for the future.
We cannot assume a seamless transition between where we are today and where we're going. It maybe turbulent and disorderly.
We cannot assume that technology alone will rescue us. In fact, one of the major obstacles to clear thinking these days is the mistaken belief that technology and energy are the same thing; that they are interchangeable; that if you run out of one, you can just plug in the other.
Energy and technology are related to each other but they are not the same. Technology may help us get energy resources, or use energy resources, but it is not an energy resource itself. We assume magical properties for technology largely because, in our lifetimes, the energy has always been there behind it, steady, dependable, and cheap.
What's more energy and technology both entail very insidious side effects. Energy throws off entropy, a protean force of disorder and loss that manifests in everything from the wasted heat coming out of an engine tailpipe to the immersive ugliness of the American commercial highway strip -- which is entropy-made-visible.
Technology throws off diminishing returns, in the sense that the more complex you make things, often the worse the effect on society as a whole. My favorite example is the telephone system. For more than two decades we have invested billions in computerizing every phone system in the land. The net result, after all that investment and effort, is that it is practically impossible to reach a live human being on a telephone -- not to mention the monumental ten-times-a-day aggravation of getting booted into a computerized phone menu leading to the purgatory of terminal "hold."
I hope we can overcome our tendencies to try to get something for nothing and to engage in wishful thinking. The subject of hope itself is an interesting one. College kids on the lecture circuit always ask me if I can give them some hope. Apparently, they find this view of the future to be discouraging. It may mean fewer hours playing Grand Theft Auto with a side order of Domino's pepperoni pizza, but there are many positive implications for our lives in the future. We may once again live in places worth caring about, where beauty and grace are considered everybody's birthright. We may work side-by-side with our neighbors, on things that are meaningful. Instead of canned entertainments, we may hear the sounds of our own voices making music, see the works of our own dramatists and dancers.
Hope is something we really have to supply for ourselves. We are our own generators of hope, and we do it by demonstrating to ourselves that we are capable of facing the circumstances of our time, of working competently to meet these challenges, and of learning the difference between wishing and doing. In fact, what we need is not so much hope, but confidence in our inherent abilities and the will to act.
We've got a lot to do. We've got to put down the iPods and get busy. There's no time for hand-wringing and whining. As Yogi Berra said, our whole future's ahead of us.
Source: The Independent Online
Published: 24 December 2006
Disappearing world: Global warming claims tropical island
For the first time, an inhabited island has disappeared beneath rising seas. Environment Editor Geoffrey Lean reports.
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.
As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.
Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.
It has been officially recorded in a six-year study of the Sunderbans by researchers at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. So remote is the island that the researchers first learned of its submergence, and that of an uninhabited neighbouring island, Suparibhanga, when they saw they had vanished from satellite pictures.
Two-thirds of nearby populated island Ghoramara has also been permanently inundated. Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the university's School of Oceanographic Studies, says "it is only a matter of some years" before it is swallowed up too. Dr Hazra says there are now a dozen "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta. The area's 400 tigers are also in danger.
Until now the Carteret Islands off Papua New Guinea were expected to be the first populated ones to disappear, in about eight years' time, but Lohachara has beaten them to the dubious distinction.
Human cost of global warming: Rising seas will soon make 70,000 people homeless
Refugees from the vanished Lohachara island and the disappearing Ghoramara island have fled to Sagar, but this island has already lost 7,500 acres of land to the sea. In all, a dozen islands, home to 70,000 people, are in danger of being submerged by the rising seas.
Source: AP Special Correspondent
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
Sat Dec 9, 1:12 PM ET
JINJA, Uganda - At Jinja pier the rusty red hull of a Lake Victoria freighter sat barely afloat in water just six feet deep — and dropping. "The scientists have to explain this," said ship's engineer Gabriel Maziku.
Across the bay, at a fish packing plant, fishermen had to wade ashore with their Nile perch in flat-bottomed boats, and heave the silvery catch up to a jetty that soon may be on dry land and out of reach entirely. Looking on, plant manager Ravee Ramanujam wondered about what's to come.
"Such a large body of water, dropping so fast," he said.
At 27,000 square miles, the size of Ireland, Victoria is the greatest of Africa's Great Lakes — the biggest freshwater body after Lake Superior. And it has dropped fast, at least six feet in the past three years, and by as much as a half-inch a day this year before November rains stabilized things.
The outflow through two hydroelectric dams at Jinja is part of the problem — a tiny part, says the Uganda government, or half the problem, say environmentalists. But much of what is happening to Victoria and other lakes across the heart of Africa is attributable to years of drought and rising temperatures, conditions that starve the lakes of inflowing water and evaporate more of the water they have.
An extreme example lies 1,500 miles northwest of here, deeper in the drought zone, where Lake Chad, once the world's sixth-largest, has shrunk to 2 percent of its 1960s size. And the African map abounds with other, less startling examples, from Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, getting half the inflow it once did, to the great Lake Tanganyika south of here, whose level dropped over five feet in five years.
"All these lakes are extremely sensitive to climate change," the U.N. Environment Program warned in a global water assessment two years ago.
Now, in a yet unpublished report obtained by The Associated Press, an international consulting firm advises the Ugandan government that supercomputer models of global-warming scenarios for Lake Victoria "raise alarming concerns" about its future and that of the Nile River, which begins its 4,100-mile northward journey here at Jinja.
The report, by U.S.-based Water Resources and Energy Management International, says rising temperatures may evaporate up to half the lake's normal inflow from rainfall and rivers, with "severe consequences for the lake and its ability to meet the region's water resources needs."
A further dramatic drop in Victoria's water levels might even turn off this spigot for the Nile, a lifeline for more than 100 million Egyptians, Sudanese and others.
"People talk about the snows of Kilimanjaro," said Aris P. Georgakakos, the study's chief author, speaking of that African mountain's melting glaciers. "We have something much bigger to worry about, and that's Lake Victoria."
Each troubled lake is a complex story.
Lake Chad's near-disappearance, for example, stems in part from overuse of its source waters for irrigation. Deforestation around Lake Victoria, shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, makes the area a less efficient rain "catchment" for the lake, and overfishing and pollution are damaging its $400-million-a-year fishing industry. Kenya's Rift Valley lakes, some just a few feet deep, have always fluctuated in size, even drying up with drought.
But African leaders say things are different this time, because long-term climate change may eclipse other factors.
"These cycles, when they've happened, they haven't happened under the circumstances pertaining now — the global warming, overpopulation, degradation," said Maria Mutagamba, Uganda's water and environment minister.
African temperatures rose an average 1 degree Fahrenheit in the 20th century — matching the global average — and even more in the past few decades in such places as Lake Tanganyika, climatologists say. If greenhouse gases continue to build in the atmosphere, temperatures may be several degrees warmer by this century's end.
At Lake Victoria's receding shoreline, a place of scavenging storks, weedy expanses of water hyacinth, fishing boats derelict on dried lake bed, people see what's happening but don't understand why.
"In just a few years, the lake pulled back from there, maybe 60 meters (200 feet)," said fisherman Patrick Sewagude, 24, pointing to old high-water marks at Ssese Beach, near Kampala, Uganda's capital.
Someone had planted a few rows of corn on the exposed lake bed. Grass was taking over elsewhere. "It's tough. The fish have gone way out. You pull up stones in your nets," Sewagude said.
Back in Jinja, 40 miles east of Kampala, researchers at the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization said falling water levels are the latest blow to the dying biology of Lake Victoria, where pollution has helped kill off scores of unique species of tropical fish in recent decades. Now tilapia, once a prime food fish, are declining because their inshore breeding grounds are vanishing.
"People for many years haven't seen such a sudden change in the lake level," said the fisheries office's Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, a biologist on the lake for 35 years. "Right now it's very difficult to say what will happen. It's a grim scenario, of worldwide climate change."
Around the lake shore, everyone has his own theories.
"The water's too hot, and the fish are going deeper, beneath the nets," said Modi Kafeel Ahmed, a Jinja fish processor. But the lake has been overfished, too, he said. "If it goes like this another five years, the lake will be empty of fish."
For 30 million people living in its basin, Lake Victoria is a vital source — of livelihoods and food, of water, of transportation, of electric power.
Almost 200 miles across the lake from here, Tanzanian authorities have reduced water supplies to the city of Mwanza because an intake pipe was left high and dry. The same is happening in Uganda, where German engineer Erhard Schulte is pushing work crews to finish refitting Entebbe's city water plant, extending its intake pipe 1,000 feet farther out into the lake.
"The old Britisher who designed the original plant never expected the lake would drop this way," Schulte told a visitor.
Perhaps the worst impact is on power supplies. Tanzanian factories have shut down because the rivers powering hydroelectric dams, and replenishing Lake Victoria, are running dry. Kampala, a city of more than 1 million, has endured hours-long blackouts daily.
Uganda's two big hydro dams, side by side on the Victoria Nile, the lake's only outlet, are victims and — some say — prime suspects in the crisis.
In 2003, facing growing Ugandan demand for electricity, the Nalubaale and Kiira dams produced a peak 265 megawatts of power. In the process, their operators began overshooting long-standing formulas regulating flow of water out of the lake, an independent hydrologist later concluded.
That outside study, cited by environmentalists, contends 55 percent of the lake-level drop since 2003 is traceable to excessive outflow. But the dams' private operators and Ugandan officials strongly dispute that.
Paul Mubiru, Ugandan energy commissioner, says the dams have had a "negligible" impact on Lake Victoria, and points to Lake Tanganyika's similar fall in levels — with no dams involved.
Earlier this year, the operators announced they were reducing the dam outflows, "but our observations show that even with the reduced outflow, the water loss is still on the increase," Mutagamba, the water minister, told the AP.
Falling lake levels, meantime, mean lower "head" pressure at the dams. Their output has dropped to 120 megawatts, pushing Uganda deeper into economic crisis.
It is such unanticipated ripple effects — from abrupt environmental change — that underlie the warnings worldwide about global warming. Scientists find another unexpected example in Lake Tanganyika, where they say warmer surface waters may be depleting fish stocks.
Many African lakes go unvisited by scientists, but what is known is troubling enough, says veteran researcher Robert E. Hecky, of Canada's University of Waterloo. "It is some of the most imperative data we have, that global climate change can be affecting these African water bodies," he said.
A "very comprehensive, very realistic" study of Lake Victoria is needed, preferably conducted by U.N. specialists, said Frank Muramuzi, the head of Uganda's leading environmental organization.
"Businesses are standing still, not working. Fishermen can't get enough fish. We do not have enough water supplies," Muramuzi said. "Rains alone won't bring back the lake levels, because there would still be climate change, a lot of heat, evaporation. It's reached a point where people don't know what to do."
Source: Popular Mechanics
BY Jeff Wise
Published in the November, 2006 issue
WHEN ASSESSING THE State of the Union in 2003, President Bush declared it was time to take a crucial step toward protecting our environment. He announced a $1.2 billion initiative to begin developing a national hydrogen infrastructure: a coast-to-coast network of facilities that would produce and distribute the hydrogen for powering hundreds of millions of fuel cell vehicles. Backed by a national commitment, he said, "our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free." With two years to go on the first, $720 million phase of the plan, PM asks that perennial question of every automotive journey: Are we almost there?
And the inevitable answer from the front seat: No. Promises of a thriving hydrogen economy — one that supports not only cars and trucks, but cellphones, computers, homes and whole neighborhoods — date back long before this presidency, and the road to fulfilling them stretches far beyond its horizon.
The Department of Energy projects the nation's consumption of fossil fuels will continue to rise — increasing 34 percent by 2030. When burned, these carbon-based fuels release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat and is believed to contribute to global warming.
At first glance, hydrogen would seem an ideal substitute for these problematic fuels. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as natural gas, and when consumed its only emission is pure, plain water. But unlike oil and gas, hydrogen is not a fuel. It is a way of storing or transporting energy. You have to make it before you can use it — generally by extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels, or by using electricity to split it from water.
And while oil and gas are easy to transport in pipelines and fuel tanks — they pack a lot of energy into a dense, stable form — hydrogen presents a host of technical and economic challenges. The lightest gas in the universe isn't easy to corral. Skeptics say that hydrogen promises to be a needlessly expensive solution for applications for which simpler, cheaper and cleaner alternatives already exist. "You have to step back and ask, 'What is the point?'" says Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions.
Though advocates promote hydrogen as a panacea for energy needs ranging from consumer electronics to home power, its real impact will likely occur on the nation's highways. After all, transportation represents two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption. "We're working on biofuels, ethanol, biodiesel and other technologies," says David Garmin, assistant secretary of energy, "but it's only hydrogen, ultimately, over the long term, that can delink light-duty transportation from petroleum entirely."
The Big Three U.S. automakers, as well as Toyota, Honda, BMW and Nissan, have all been preparing for that day. Fuel cell vehicles can now travel 300 miles on 17.6 pounds of hydrogen and achieve speeds of up to 132 mph. But without critical infrastructure, there will be no hydrogen economy. And the practical employment of hydrogen power involves major hurdles at every step — production, storage, distribution and use. Here's how those challenges stack up.
HURDLE 1: Production
The United States already uses some 10 million tons of hydrogen each year for industrial purposes, such as making fertilizer and refining petroleum. If hydrogen-powered vehicles are to become the norm, we'll need at least 10 times more. The challenge will be to produce it in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.
FOSSIL FUELS: At present, 95 percent of America's hydrogen is produced from natural gas. Through a process called steam methane reformation, high temperature and pressure break the hydrocarbon into hydrogen and carbon oxides — including carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Over the next 10 or 20 years, fossil fuels most likely will continue to be the main feedstock for the hydrogen economy. And there's the rub: Using dirty energy to make clean energy doesn't solve the pollution problem-it just moves it around. "As a CO2 reducer, hydrogen stinks," Romm says.
Capturing that carbon dioxide and trapping it underground would make the process more environmentally friendly. In July, General Electric and BP Amoco PLC announced plans to develop as many as 15 power plants over the next 10 years that will strip hydrogen from natural gas to generate electricity; the waste carbon dioxide will be pumped into depleted oil and gas fields. And the Department of Energy is largely funding a 10-year, $950 million project to build a coal-fed plant that will produce hydrogen to make electricity, and likewise lock away carbon dioxide to achieve what it bills as "the world's first zero-emissions fossil fuel plant."
Whether carbon dioxide will remain underground in large-scale operations remains to be seen. In addition, natural gas is a limited resource; the cost of hydrogen would be subject to its price fluctuations.
ELECTROLYSIS: Most of the remainder of today's hydrogen is made by electrically splitting water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen. This year, a PM Breakthrough Award went to GE's Richard Bourgeois for designing an electrolyzer that could drastically reduce the cost of that process. But because fossil fuels generate more than 70 percent of the nation's electrical power, hydrogen produced from the grid would still be a significant source of greenhouse gas. If solar, wind or other renewable resources generate the electricity, hydrogen could be produced without any carbon emissions at all.
NUCLEAR POWER: Next-generation nuclear power plants will reach temperatures high enough to produce hydrogen as well as electricity, either by adding steam and heat to the electrolysis process, or by adding heat to a series of chemical reactions that split the hydrogen from water. Though promising in the lab, this technology won't be proved until the first Generation IV plants come on line — around 2020.
HURDLE 2: Storage
At room temperature and pressure, hydrogen's density is so low that it contains less than one-three-hundredth the energy in an equivalent volume of gasoline. In order to fit into a reasonably sized storage tank, hydrogen has to be somehow squeezed into a denser form.
LIQUEFACTION: Chilled to near absolute zero, hydrogen gas turns into a liquid containing one-quarter the energy in an equivalent volume of gasoline. The technology is well-proven: For decades, NASA has used liquid hydrogen to power vehicles such as the space shuttle. The cooling process requires a lot of energy, though-roughly a third of the amount held in the hydrogen. Storage tanks are bulky, heavy and expensive.
COMPRESSION: Some hydrogen-powered vehicles use tanks of room-temperature hydrogen compressed to an astounding 10,000 psi. The Sequel, which GM unveiled in January 2005, carries 8 kilograms of compressed hydrogen this way-enough to power the vehicle for 300 miles. Refueling with compressed hydrogen is relatively fast and simple. But even compressed, hydrogen requires large- volume tanks. They take up four to five times as much space as a gas tank with an equivalent mileage range. Then again, fuel cell cars can accommodate bigger tanks because they contain fewer mechanical parts.
SOLID-STATE: Certain compounds can trap hydrogen molecules at room temperature and pressure, then release them upon demand. So far, the most promising research has been conducted with a class of materials called metal hydrides. These materials are stable, but heavy: A 700-pound tank might hold a few hours' fuel. However, exotic compounds now being studied could provide a breakthrough to make hydrogen storage truly practical. "High-pressure tanks are a stopgap until we can develop materials that will allow us to do solid-state storage efficiently," says Dan O'Connell, a director of GM's hydrogen vehicle program.
HURDLE 3: Distribution
Even in portable form, hydrogen is a tough substance to move from place to place. It can embrittle steel and other metals, weakening them to the point of fracture.
CLEAN FUEL: This fueling station in Burlington, Vt., uses electricity to convert water into hydrogen for powering fuel cell cars. It is part of a Department of Energy program for testing alternative fuels in colder climates.
TRUCKING AND RAIL: Currently, most hydrogen is transported either in liquid form by tankers or as compressed gas in cylinders by trailers. Both methods are inefficient. Trucking compressed hydrogen 150 miles, for instance, burns diesel equivalent to 11 percent of the energy the hydrogen stores. It also requires a lot of round trips: A 44-ton vehicle that can carry enough gasoline to refuel 800 cars could only carry enough hydrogen to fuel 80 vehicles.
PIPELINES: One way to avoid this endless back-and-forth would be to send the hydrogen through a pipeline. About 700 miles of hydrogen pipelines now operate in the States, generally near large users such as oil refineries. The longest in the world is a 250-mile line between Belgium and France. Treating pipelines to protect them from embrittlement and high pressure makes them expensive up front-about $1 million per mile. But once built, they are the cheapest way to deliver high volumes of hydrogen.
LOCAL PRODUCTION: Given the difficulty of transporting hydrogen, why not just make it where you need it? That's what's done at roughly half the 36 hydrogen fueling stations currently operating in the U.S. Four rely on natural gas; the rest use electrolysis. In 2003, Honda introduced a Home Energy Station that performs steam reformation right in the owner's garage-but because natural gas is the feedstock, it still releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
A greenhouse gas-free approach would use on-site wind or solar power to produce hydrogen through electrolysis. Honda also designed a solar-powered hydrogen refueling station, which has been operating at the company's California lab since 2001. If the national power supply becomes more eco-friendly, clean electrolysis could run off the grid.
ON-BOARD PRODUCTION: Several prototype vehicles make their own hydrogen from stored hydrocarbons, eliminating the question of distribution altogether. The DaimlerChrysler NECAR 3, for example, produces hydrogen from methanol. Researchers are also experimenting with more futuristic on-board production technologies, which combine ordinary water with reagents like boron or aluminum to produce hydrogen, oxygen and a metal oxide residue. These, however, are still a long way off.
HURDLE 4: Use
Once hydrogen reaches consumers, is there anything they can do with it except drive vehicles? Home energy generation is one other option. The question is whether hydrogen would be more practical than current methods. Hydrogen produced by steam reformation or by electrolysis loses energy when it is converted into electricity. The resulting efficiency is roughly equal to that of today's power plants — which pay a lot less for raw materials. Direct generation of electricity through wind and solar power will also be more efficient for most stationary applications. That leaves transportation as the most promising use for hydrogen.
INTERNAL COMBUSTION: The most straight-forward approach is to burn hydrogen in an adapted model of your garden-variety internal-combustion engine (ICE). Since little modification is required, these engines are relatively cheap, and 25 percent more efficient than gasoline-powered engines. BMW built its first hydrogen ICE back in the 1970s, and the concept still has legs: Ford began production of a hydrogen ICE shuttle bus last July.
FUEL CELL: First invented in 1839, a fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity without any moving parts. Several different varieties exist, but only the proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell is lightweight and responsive enough to be practical for vehicle use. Though twice as efficient as ICEs, PEM fuel cells are hindered by high prices — even in mass production, they would currently cost about $36,000 each.
Once the technical hurdles are crossed, hydrogen's huge price tag may still make the technology prohibitive. A recent analysis by the Department of Energy projected that a supply network adequate for even 40 percent of the light-duty fleet could cost more than $500 billion. And that leads to a classic chicken-and-egg problem: How do you get millions of Americans to buy hydrogen-powered vehicles before there's an infrastructure in place to refuel them? And how do you get energy companies to build that infrastructure before there's a potential customer base?
"Companies are not willing to invest if they don't think there's going to be a market," says Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. "The government has to be behind it. There has to be leadership."
There's reason to hope the technology will advance even without much government involvement. Hydrogen fuel cells already replace batteries in niche equipment, such as TV cameras and forklifts, and provide power at remote locations, such as at cellphone towers. They even power the police station in New York's Central Park. As these applications continue to develop, they will force advances in technology that will make hydrogen vehicles more feasible. Even then, hydrogen might make the most sense for fleet vehicles that don't require widespread infrastructure for service and refueling.
Ultimately, hydrogen may be just one part of a whole suite of energy alternatives. Any one of them will involve investing heavily in new infrastructure. Though the price tag will be steep, we can't afford oil's environmental, economic and political drawbacks any longer.
Hydrogen: How To Make it or Break It
By Alex Hutchinson
Diagram by Transluszent.de
HYDROGEN IS THE universe's simplest atom: a single electron orbiting a single proton. In a fuel cell, incoming hydrogen gas is separated by a catalyst at the anode into protons and electrons. The protons pass directly through a proton exchange membrane (PEM), while electrons are forced through an external circuit, causing electric current to flow. When the protons and electrons meet at the cathode, they join with oxygen to form water and heat, which are released as exhaust.
A single fuel cell produces just over 1 volt, so hundreds are stacked together for typical applications. PEM fuel cells, used in NASA's Gemini flights in the 1960s, are the design of choice for fuel cell cars, but other configurations are suited for applications ranging from laptops to power plants.
Electrolysis is the exact opposite process. Electricity from a power supply splits incoming water into protons, electrons and oxygen, which is released as a gas. Electrons reunite with protons at the cathode to produce hydrogen gas.
Other electrolysis designs being developed use solid-oxide membranes instead of PEMs, which improve efficiency but require operating temperatures of 900 to 1500 F — heat that could be supplied by nuclear reactors.
Source: Yahoo News, AFP
by Emmanuel Angleys
Fri Sep 22, 4:05 PM ET
MEGEVE, France (AFP) - Mountain water resources are under threat from global warming and increased usage of the precious resource by ski resorts, scientists warned at a conference in the French Alps.
"Mountains concentrate an important chunk of precipitation. All the great rivers of the world take their source from them. They are the planet's water castles," said Jean-Francois Donzier, director general of the International Office for Water.
The United Nations forecast an increase in global temperatures of 1.4-5.8 degrees Celsius (34.5-42.4 degrees Fahrenheit), and implications for mountain water resources could be massive, the experts warned at the four-day conference in the French ski resort of Megeve.
The effects are already evident in the reduction in size of glaciers, with close to half of those in France forecast to disappear by the end of the century, according to Pierre Etchevers from the French weather office.
"We add eight to 10 meters (26 to 33 feet) of ladder every year to get to the Mer de Glace (glacier) in Chamonix," said Martial Saddier from the French Association of Mountain Water.
And a reduction in the volume of snow has been noted over the past 20 years, as well as a shortening of the period when snow falls, threatening the future of ski resorts below 1,800 metres and prompting the increased usage of snow cannons, machines turning water in snow which is then sprayed onto the pistes.
For ski resorts, the recourse to man-made snow has obvious economic advantages, attracting more and more visitors and extending the season -- despite complaints from purists.
Resorts now want to "guarantee that everyone who comes to the mountains has the possibility to ski from December to March/April," said Jean-Claude Domenego, head of the French Alpine Club.
But both the increase in the number of winter sports tourists and the greater recourse to snow machines have also added to pressure on mountain water resources, depleting resources and leaving less for other human uses such as agricultural irrigation downstream and hydro-electric power stations.
As a result around 20 artificial water reservoirs are being constructed in the Alps, said Alain Marnezy, professor at University of Savoie, including one for 400,000 cubic metres (14 million cubic feet) at Grand Bornand.
With mountains covering around a third of Europe's surface, there were also calls for greater support from
European Union authorities.
The scientists also discussed the European directive aiming for a "good ecological state" of Europe's water by 2015, although there were differences over the definition of such a term.
"No one is in agreement on the definition of a good ecological state of water," said Jean-Marie Wauthier, international director at the water ministry in the Walloon region of Belgium.
There has to be a distinction between the biological state, characterised by a minimum presence of animal and plant life, and a good chemical state, meaning a lack of pollutants in the water, Wauthier said.
Further difficulties are created by the fact that many of Europe's rivers flow through more than one country, making cooperation between states imperative. The Danube, for example, flows through 18 countries.
Source: Yahoo News, AP Science
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
September 13, 2006
Arctic sea ice in winter is melting far faster than before, two new NASA studies reported Wednesday, a new and alarming trend that researchers say threatens the ocean's delicate ecosystem.
Scientists point to the sudden and rapid melting as a sure sign of man-made global warming.
"It has never occurred before in the past," said NASA senior research scientist Josefino Comiso in a phone interview. "It is alarming... This winter ice provides the kind of evidence that it is indeed associated with the greenhouse effect."
Scientists have long worried about melting Arcticsea ice in the summer, but they had not seen a big winter drop in sea ice, even though they expected it.
For more than 25 years Arctic sea ice has slowly diminished in winter by about 1.5 percent per decade. But in the past two years the melting has occurred at rates 10 to 15 times faster. From 2004 to 2005, the amount of ice dropped 2.3 percent; and over the past year, it's declined by another 1.9 percent, according to Comiso.
A second NASA study by other researchers found the winter sea ice melt in one region of the eastern Arctic has shrunk about 40 percent in just the past two years. This is partly because of local weather but also partly because of global warming, Comiso said.
The loss of winter ice is bad news for the ocean because this type of ice, when it melts in summer, provides a crucial breeding ground for plankton, Comiso said. Plankton are the bottom rung of the ocean's food chain.
"If the winter ice melt continues, the effect would be very profound especially for marine mammals," Comiso said in a NASA telephone press conference.
The ice is melting even in subfreezing winter temperatures because the water is warmer and summer ice covers less area and is shorter-lived, Comiso said. Thus, the winter ice season shortens every year and warmer water melts at the edges of the winter ice more every year.
Scientists and climate models have long predicted a drop in winter sea ice, but it has been slow to happen. Global warming skeptics have pointed to the lack of ice melt as a flaw in global warming theory.
The latest findings are "coming more in line with what we expected to find," said Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. "We're starting to see a much more coherent and firm picture occurring."
"I hate to say we told you so, but we told you so," he added.
Serreze said only five years ago he was "a fence-sitter" on the issue of whether man-made global warming was happening and a threat, but he said recent evidence in the Arctic has him convinced.
Summer sea ice also has dramatically melted and shrunk over the years, setting a record low last year. This year's measurements are not as bad, but will be close to the record, Serreze said.
Equally disturbing is a large mass of water — melted sea ice — in the interior of a giant patch of ice north of Alaska, Serreze said. It's called a polynya, and while those show up from time to time, this one is large — about the size of the state of Maryland — and in an unexpected place.
"I for one, after having studied this for 20 years, have never seen anything like this before," Serreze said.
The loss of summer sea ice is pushing polar bears more onto land in northern Canada and Alaska, making it seem like there are more polar bears when there are not, said NASA scientist Claire Parkinson, who studies the bears.
The polar bear population in the Hudson Bay area has dropped from 1,200 in 1989 to 950 in 2004 and the bears that are around are 22 percent smaller than they used to be, she said.
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