Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making sure your home is not an energy sink - III

Science Alert | This time, we’ll look at space heating. In Melbourne you need it, if you don’t want to be the bad guy who goes around telling everybody to put on jumpers instead of heating the house. Our house is heated by gas, and occasionally by a wood fire. Space heating, as you can imagine, is one of the big energy users and also a big CO2 producer.

In the pre-green ‘business as usual’ scenario, the central heating accounted for about one-quarter of our home’s CO2 production. We were using around 55 000 MJ (megajoules) per year.

Gas is sold in MJ, electricity in kWh (kilowatthours). Both MJ and kWh are units of energy. You can convert MJ to tonnes of CO2 produced by dividing MJ by 16 000. Our central heating unit was producing (55 000/16 000) 3.4 tonnes of CO2 a year. It was an older type with a pilot light which, I discovered, was using more gas than the cooktop! We replaced the unit with a 5-star model with electronic ignition. At the same time we added insulation to the ceiling. The combined effect is that we are now using about 39 000 MJ per year – a saving of 1 tonne of CO2 per year.

After the various energy modifications we made (Figure 1), we are producing about one-quarter of the CO2 that we produced under the ‘business as usual’ scenario. Overall, the result is quite satisfying.

Our journey
In the first part of this series, I talked about how much energy various domestic appliances use and how we could reduce it. Some surprises included:

* A normal hot shower uses the energy equivalent of 240 light bulbs.
* Leaving a light on every night for a year uses as much energy as driving from Melbourne to Sydney.
* Electrically boosted solar water heating can be worse than gas.
* Fluorescent lights are not necessarily low energy.
* Leaving fluorescent lights on does not save energy.
* Low-voltage downlights use a lot of energy.

After giving you the bad news on the energy consumed by domestic fittings and appliances, we saw how we could do a lot better, by making the right choices and spending a bit of money. By using a combination of tactics, our household managed to get its CO2 emissions down to one-quarter of its ‘business as usual’ scenario.

Making sure your home is not an energy sink - II

Science Alert | In the first part, I mentioned how some appliances use a considerable amount of energy when not in use. For example, my son recently installed a 5-star split-system air-conditioner. It draws 10 watts on standby.

If we do the calculations, 10 W (watts) for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year comes to 88 kWh (kilowatt hours) per year.

Now let’s work out its likely usage when operating. Say we have 20 hot days a year when the system is running flat out for 8 hours. Let’s conservatively assume that running flat out, it draws 550 watts. The sum of 550 watts for 8 hours for 20 days comes to 88 kWh per year.

This 5-star-rated appliance uses as much energy on standby as doing its job. Systems like this should be installed with a switch so they can be turned off completely for most of the year.

One last point. I have only considered domestic hot water, lighting, cooking and domestic appliances. I have not mentioned space heating, transport, holidays, the workplace and the energy in all the goods and services we buy.

That comes in the next exciting episode!

Making sure your home is not an energy sink - I

Science Alert | It makes no sense to turn off a light when you leave a room in which an electric heater has been left on. The power used by the light is 100 watts (W), while a heater typically draws 2000 W.

How big a yardstick is 100 W? Let’s assume that we leave a 100 W light globe on every night for six hours, which adds up to 2200 hours a year.

To calculate the energy used – measured in watthours – over the year, we simply multiply the hours by watts, which in this case is 220 000 watt-hours (Wh). As we know, ‘kilo’ means ‘thousand’, so a more manageable way of expressing this figure is 220 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

To most people, including me, a number like 220 kWh doesn’t mean much, so let’s convert it into something familiar – say litres of petrol – as an energy equivalent.

The best efficiency that can be achieved by burning brown coal to generate electricity is 25 per cent. This means four times the energy that comes through your electricity meter or power point is required to produce the energy you use in your home.

Taking the above example: 4 x 220 kWh, or 880 kWh, is required to produce that amount of electricity. If we go a step further, a litre of petrol contains about 10 kWh of energy. Thus, the 880 kWh equates to 88 litres – enough for the average car to drive 880 km, or from Melbourne to Sydney. That’s just to run one light globe each night for a year!

new mortgage crisis looms

Associated Press | Black Friday's retail shoppers hunting for holiday bargains won't be enough to stave off what's likely to become the next economic crisis. Malls from Michigan to Georgia are entering foreclosure, commercial victims of the same events poisoning the housing market.

Hotels in Tucson, Ariz., and Hilton Head, S.C., also are about to default on their mortgages.

That pace is expected to quicken. The number of late payments and defaults will double, if not triple, by the end of next year, according to analysts from Fitch Ratings Ltd., which evaluates companies' credit.

"We're probably in the first inning of the commercial mortgage problem," said Scott Tross, a real estate lawyer with Herrick Feinstein in New Jersey.

That's bad news for more than just property owners. When businesses go dark, employees lose jobs. Towns lose tax revenue. School budgets and social services feel the pinch.

Companies have survived plenty of downturns, but economists see this one playing out like never before. In the past, when businesses hit rough patches, owners negotiated with banks or refinanced their loans.

But many banks no longer hold the loans they made. Over the past decade, banks have increasingly bundled mortgages and sold them to investors. Pension funds, insurance companies, and hedge funds bought the seemingly safe securities and are now bracing for losses that could ripple through the financial system.

"It's a toxic drug and nobody knows how bad it's going to be," said Paul Miller, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, who was among the first to sound alarm bells in the residential market.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Peak Oil Crisis: Electrical Efficiency

FCNP | Last week the Virginia Commission on Energy and the Environment held a day long meeting to hear testimony on the future role of electricity in the commonwealth.

Representatives of the various power companies serving the state testified as to their plans and their commitment to reaching the state's goal of reducing electricity consumption by 10 percent by 2022. As it turns out, this goal turns out to be murky as nobody ever said what the 10 percent should be based on - 10 percent of current consumption so that the state is actually using 10 percent less 14 years from now, or 10 percent less than what 2022 consumption would be if no efforts to conserve electricity were undertaken. In the latter case the state could actually be burning considerably more electricity in 2022 as the state's population is expected to grow and it is likely that a lot of electric or plug-in hybrid cars will be refueling off the electric grid by then.

The most interesting presentation of the day, however, was made by a non-profit group called the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). This group believes that making the most efficient use of the electricity we already generate is the best and cheapest way to gain more electricity. While converting over to more efficient electricity consuming devices (such as compact fluorescent bulbs) is not free, the Council cites studies that replacing end user equipment, adding insulation, etc. can cost anywhere from one half to one quarter the cost of installing and fueling new electricity generating capacity. This includes wind generated electricity which gets its energy for free.

The Problem with Powerdown Planning

Archdruid Report |There are two widely held beliefs these days about how we can deal with the end of the age of petroleum. The first claims that we simply need to find another energy source as cheap, abundant, and concentrated as petroleum, and run our society on that instead. The second claims that we simply need to replace those parts of our society that depend on cheap, abundant, concentrated energy with others that lack that dependence, and run our society with them instead. Most people in the peak oil scene, I think, have caught onto the problem with the first belief: there is no other energy source available to us that is as cheap, abundant, and concentrated as petroleum; the fact that we want one does not oblige the universe to provide us with one, and so we might as well plan to power our society by harnessing unicorns to treadmills.

The problem with the second belief is of the same order, but it’s much less widely recognized. Toss aside the parts of our society that depend on cheap, abundant, concentrated energy, and there’s nothing left. Nor are the components needed for a new low-energy society sitting on a shelf somewhere, waiting to be used; we’ve got some things that worked tolerably well in simpler agrarian societies, and some promising new developments that have been tested on a very small scale and seem to work so far, but we have nothing like a complete kit. Thus we can’t simply swap out a few parts and keep going; everything has to change, and we have no way of knowing in advance what changes will be required.

This last point is often missed. One of the people who commented on last week’s post, a software designer by trade, pointed out that he starts work on a project by envisioning what the new software is going to do, and then figures out a way to do it; he argued that it makes just as much sense to do the same thing with human society. A software designer, though, knows the capabilities of the computers, operating systems, and computer languages his programs will use; he also knows how similar tasks have been done by other designers in the past. We don’t have any of those advantages in trying to envision a sustainable future society.

Rather, we’re in the position of a hapless engineer tasked in 1947 with drafting a plan to develop word processing software. At that time, nobody knew whether digital or analog computers were the wave of the future; the handful of experimental computer prototypes that existed then used relays, mechanical linkages, vacuum tubes, and other soon-to-be-outmoded technologies, while the devices that would actually make it possible to build computers that could handle word processing had not yet been invented, or even imagined. Under those conditions, the only plan that would have yielded any results would consist of a single sentence: “Invest heavily in basic research, and see what you can do with the results.” Any other plan would have been wasted breath, and the more detailed the plan, the more useless it would have been.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Enough of 'Barbiturate' Left Cynicism

AlterNet | What the 60s freedom struggle took for granted, but which the cynical barbiturate left refuses to concede, is the basic goodness of the people of this nation, and the ability of the nation, for all of its faults (and they are legion) to change. Look at pictures of the freedom riders in 1961, or the volunteers during Freedom Summer of 1964 and notice the dramatic difference between them and some of the seething radicals of today -- whose radicalism is almost entirely about style and image more than actual analysis and movement building. In the case of the former, even as they stared down mobs intent on injuring or killing them, and even as they knew they might be murdered, they smiled, they laughed, they sang, they found joy. In the case of the latter, one most often notices an almost permanent scowl, a dour and depressing affect devoid of happiness, unable to appreciate life until the state is smashed altogether and everyone is subsisting on a diet of wheatgrass, bean curd and tempeh.

Hell, maybe I'm just missing the strategic value of calling people "useful idiots," or likening them to members of a cult, the way some leftists have done recently with regard to Obama supporters. Or maybe it's just that being a father, I have to temper my contempt for this system and its managers with hope. After all, as a dad (for me at least), it's hard to look at my children every day and think, "Gee, it sucks that the world is so screwed up, and will probably end in a few years from resource exploitation...Oh well, I sure hope my daughters have a great day at school!"

Fatherhood hasn't made me any less radical in my analysis or desire to see change. In fact, if anything, it has made me more so. I am as angry now as I've ever been about injustice, because I can see how it affects these children I helped to create, and for whom I am now responsible. But anger and cynicism do not make good dance partners. Anger without hope, without a certain faith in the capacity of we the people to change our world is a sickness unto death. It is consuming, like a flesh-eating disease, and whose first victim is human compassion. While I would never counsel too much confidence in far-right types to join the struggle for justice -- and there, I think skepticism is well-warranted -- if we can't conjure at least a little optimism for the ability of liberals and Democrats to come along for the ride and to do the work, then what is the point? Under such a weighty and pessimistic load as this, life simply becomes unbearable. And if there is one thing we cannot afford to do now -- especially now -- it is to give up the will to live and to fight, another day.

Seven self-sabotaging 'growth' scenarios

Market Watch | What is next? If the "Great Depression 2" scenario plays out, what's after 2011? Recovery? A new bull? How can you protect your money? Or are we all helpless victims of the raging winds of fate and Wall Street's self-serving brand of capitalism.

Let's review several scenarios in the bright lens of Akira Kurosawa's classic 1950 film, "Rashomon," at once an ancient Kabuki morality play, a tense modern courtroom drama, and a revealing documentary on human psychology. In "Rashomon" we witness the murder of a Samurai warrior and a rape through the eyes of several witnesses, each swearing they saw what "really happened."

We "see" these tragedies in a forest through the eyes of a Woodcutter, Priest, Samurai's Wife, the accused Bandit, and the Samurai, speaking through a Medium. But as "the facts" unfold, the lies and contractions of biased minds are exposed and the truth becomes increasingly blurred. In the end, we are still wondering: What really happened?

Similarly, today we're asking; "What really happened to America, so fast?" With Bush, Paulson, Bernanke and their Reaganomics ideology? To my 401(k), my CDs, my kid's college fund, my retirement nest egg. To the great American dream? What happened?

The Neo-Yeltsin Administration?

CounterPunch | Reality had to raise its ugly head. Barack Obama was elected with overwhelming approval to inaugurate an era of change. And at his November 25 press conference, he said that his decisive victory gave him a mandate to change the direction in which America is moving. But his recent economic and foreign policy appointments make it clear that when he chose “change” as his campaign slogan, he was NOT referring to the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors, nor to foreign policy. These are where the vested interests concentrate their wealth and power. And change already has been accelerating here. Unfortunately, its direction has been for the top 1% of America’s population to raise their share of in the returns to wealth from 37% ten years ago to 57% five years ago and an estimated nearly 70% today.

The change that Mr. Obama is talking about is largely marginal to this wealth, not touching its economic substance – or its direction. No doubt he will bring about a welcome change in race relations, environmental regulations, and a more civil rule of law. And he probably will give wage earners an income-tax break (thereby enabling them to keep on paying their bank debts, incidentally). As for the rich, they prefer not to earn income in the first place. Taxes need to be paid on income, so they take their returns in the form of capital gains. And simply avoiding losses is the order of the day in the present meltdown.

Where losses cannot be avoided, the government will bail out the rich on their financial investments, but not wage earners on their debts. On that Friday night last October when Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain held their final debate, Mr. Obama was fully on board with the bailouts. And this week’s appointment of the “Yeltsin” team who sponsored Russia’s privatization giveaways in the mid-1990s – Larry Summers and his protégés from the Clinton’s notorious Robert Rubin regime – shows that he knows his place when it comes to the proper relationship between a political candidate and his major backers. It is to protect the vested interests first of all, while focusing voters’ attention on policies whose main appeal is their ability to distract attention from the fact that no real change is being made at the economic core and its power relationships.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

a frenzy over free food

Denver Post | Want one more palpable sign of a desperate economy?

An estimated 40,000 people came to a Weld County farm Saturday to collect free potatoes, carrots and leeks.

Cars snaked around cornfields and parallel parked along Colorado 66 and 119 early in the morning to get free food from the Miller family, who farm 600 acres outside of Platteville, about 37 miles north of Denver.

As this prolonged Indian summer continued, the Millers had decided to give away produce because so much was left over at the end of their annual fall festival. Any day now, a few deep freezes would kill it off.

They expected between 5,000 and 10,000 people spread out over a couple of days. Instead, they found themselves on Saturday morning inundated with cars and people with sacks and wagons and barrels ready to harvest whatever was available.

The Millers canceled the second day of the giveaway originally planned for today because, as Chris Miller put it, "the pickins' are very slim now."

At one point, 30 acres of family farmland had become a parking lot. Their crowd estimate of 40,000 plus was based on the number of cars. Sheriff's officials said they "wouldn't be surprised" if that count was accurate.

Traffic was backed up almost to Interstate 25, and police ticketed people who had illegally abandoned their cars in the frenzy.

"Overwhelmed is putting it mildly," Miller said. "People obviously need food."

China and the Congo Wars

Global Research | The Democratic Republic of the Congo contains more than half the world’s cobalt. It holds one-third of its diamonds, and, extremely significantly, fully three-quarters of the world resources of columbite-tantalite or "coltan" -- a primary component of computer microchips and printed circuit boards, essential for mobile telephones, laptops and other modern electronic devices.

America Minerals Fields, Inc., a company heavily involved in promoting the 1996 accession to power of Laurent Kabila, was, at the time of its involvement in the Congo’s civil war, headquartered in Hope, Arkansas. Major stockholders included long-time associates of former President Clinton going back to his days as Governor of Arkansas. Several months before the downfall of Zaire’s French-backed dictator, Mobutu, Laurent Desire Kabila based in Goma, Eastern Zaire had renegotiated the mining contracts with several US and British mining companies including American Mineral Fields. Mobutu’s corrupt rule was brought to a bloody end with the help of the US-directed International Monetary Fund.

Just weeks after President George W. Bush signed the Order creating a new US military command dedicated to Africa, AFRICOM, events on the mineral-rich continent have erupted which suggest a major agenda of the incoming Obama Presidency will be for the son of a black Kenyan to focus US resources, military and other, on dealing with the Republic of Congo, the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, the oil-rich Darfur region of southern Sudan and increasingly the Somali ‘pirate threat’ to sea lanes in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The legitimate question is whether it is mere coincidence that Africa appears just at this time to become a new geopolitical ‘hot spot’ or whether it has a direct link to the formal creation of AFRICOM.

What is striking is the timing. No sooner had AFRICOM become operational than major new crises broke out in both the Indian Ocean-Gulf of Aden regarding spectacular incidents of alleged Somali piracy, as well as eruption of bloody new wars in Kivu Province in the Republic of Congo. The common thread connecting both is their importance, as with Darfur in southern Sudan, for China’s future strategic raw materials flow.

Africa: A war on terror's hidden front

Chicago Tribune | U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Cynthia Ramirez roared through it in an unmarked Land Cruiser, projecting the awesome might of the U.S. military into a wasteland little seen, much less penetrated, by outsiders. The landscape was like a slap—an eye-stinging waste of salt pans and glass-blue mountains that was still inhabited by Muslim warrior-nomads, the Afar, tough customers who long ago had swapped their traditional spears for Kalashnikovs.

Behind Ramirez, in an expanding cone of dust, bucked three more Toyotas, an Army truck loaded with corrugated metal sheeting, and 14 armed, sweating American soldiers and sailors. Their improbable objective: reroof a school at a fly-speck nomad camp called Lahossa.

The bad guys were potential Islamic extremists. But anywhere, at this jaded stage in the global war on terror, was literally and metaphorically off the map: a remote African laboratory for the long anti-terror struggles of the future.

As the Bush administration draws to a close and prepares to hand the job of ending the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to President-elect Barack Obama, few Americans may realize that another major U.S. military campaign is taking shape elsewhere on the globe—this time in the most obscure, lawless reaches of Africa.

The Pentagon recently unveiled AFRICOM, its historic new military command devoted exclusively to Africa—a sprawling continent of 1 billion people, roughly half of whom are Muslim, that has long been overlooked by Washington's strategic planners.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Disposable Youth in a Suspect Society

Truthout | President-elect Obama raised the issue of what kind of country young people would inherit if they lived to see the next century. The question provides an opening for taking the Obama administration seriously with regard to its commitment to young people. Young people need access to decent schools with more teachers; they need universal health care; they need food, decent housing, job training programs, and guaranteed employment. In other words, we need social movements that take seriously the challenge of dismantling the punishing state and reviving the social state so as to be able to provide young people not with incarceration and contempt, but with dignity and those economic, political, and social conditions that ensure they have a decent future. Surely, this is an issue that the Obama administration should be pushed to recognize and address. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Protestant theologian, believed that the ultimate test of morality resided in what a society did for its children. If we take this standard seriously, American society has deeply failed its children and its commitment to democracy. The politics and culture of neoliberalism rest on the denial both of youth as a marker of the future and of the social responsibility entailed by an acceptance of this principle. In other words, the current crisis of American democracy can be measured in part by the fact that too many young people are poor, lack decent housing and health care, and attend decrepit schools filled with overworked and underpaid teachers. These youth, by all standards, deserve more in a country that historically prided itself on its level of democracy, liberty, and alleged equality for all citizens. We live in a historic moment of both crisis and possibility, one that presents educators, parents, artists, and others with the opportunity to take up the challenge of re-imagining civic engagement and social transformation, but these activities only have a chance of succeeding if we also defend and create those social, economic, and cultural conditions that enable the current generation of young people to nurture thoughtfulness, critical agency, compassion, and democracy itself.

Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit of the clean-energy revolution

McKinsey | The first step in the clean-energy revolution is to dramatically improve energy efficiency. Through a variety of measures ranging from better building efficiency and low-energy lighting to more fuel-efficient vehicles, we have the potential to cut world energy-demand growth by more than 64 million barrels of oil a day—equivalent to one and a half times current annual U.S. energy consumption.

Best of all, improvements in energy efficiency more than pay for themselves. We estimate that dramatically increasing energy efficiency would require annual investments of $170 billion over the next 13 years. But these investments would generate a return of well over $900 billion annually by 2020 through lower energy costs.

Just as one can measure labor productivity—the amount of output created per hour worked—one can measure the “carbon productivity” of an economy as the amount of output produced per metric ton of carbon dioxide and other equivalent greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. If we are to meet the twin goals of reviving the economy and tackling climate change, then we need to dramatically boost the world's carbon productivity.

Today, carbon productivity is at $740 of gross domestic product (GDP) per metric ton of emissions. But if we are to continue to reduce poverty in the developing world, maintain growth in the developed world, and accommodate three billion more people on the planet by 2050, then world GDP will need to grow by at least 3 percent per year. Likewise, to avoid the potential nightmares of global warming, such as mass migrations from flooded cities and starvation due to drought, the scientific consensus is we need to cut carbon emissions by at least 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Combining these targets means carbon productivity must reach $7,300 by 2050—a tenfold increase over today.

To make this more personal, the average citizen of a developed country emits 27 to 63 kilograms of carbon equivalents per day depending on where he or she lives. In order to minimize climate damage, that number needs to come down to less than 6 kilograms per day. To live on such a budget at today's levels of carbon productivity, one would be forced to choose between a taking 40-kilometer car ride, using air conditioning for the day, purchasing two new T-shirts (without driving to the shop), or eating two meals that included meat. In short, without a major boost in carbon productivity, stabilizing the climate would require a painful change in lifestyles in the developed world and the loss of hope for greater prosperity in the developing world.

A tenfold increase in carbon productivity sounds daunting, but it is a type of challenge that humankind has met before. U.S. labor productivity increased tenfold over a 125-year period from 1830 to 1955. We now need a clean-energy revolution on the same scale as the Industrial Revolution. But we probably have less than 40 years before emissions lead to irreversible damage. The clean-energy revolution has to happen three times faster than the Industrial Revolution did.

Decline and Breakup of U.S.

RIA Novosti | - A leading Russian political analyst has said the economic turmoil in the United States has confirmed his long-held view that the country is heading for collapse, and will divide into separate parts.

Professor Igor Panarin said in an interview with the respected daily Izvestia published on Monday: "The dollar is not secured by anything. The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche, even though in the early 1980s there was no debt. By 1998, when I first made my prediction, it had exceeded $2 trillion. Now it is more than 11 trillion. This is a pyramid that can only collapse."

The paper said Panarin's dire predictions for the U.S. economy, initially made at an international conference in Australia 10 years ago at a time when the economy appeared strong, have been given more credence by this year's events.

When asked when the U.S. economy would collapse, Panarin said: "It is already collapsing. Due to the financial crisis, three of the largest and oldest five banks on Wall Street have already ceased to exist, and two are barely surviving. Their losses are the biggest in history. Now what we will see is a change in the regulatory system on a global financial scale: America will no longer be the world's financial regulator."

When asked who would replace the U.S. in regulating world markets, he said: "Two countries could assume this role: China, with its vast reserves, and Russia, which could play the role of a regulator in Eurasia."

Asked why he expected the U.S. to break up into separate parts, he said: "A whole range of reasons. Firstly, the financial problems in the U.S. will get worse. Millions of citizens there have lost their savings. Prices and unemployment are on the rise. General Motors and Ford are on the verge of collapse, and this means that whole cities will be left without work. Governors are already insistently demanding money from the federal center. Dissatisfaction is growing, and at the moment it is only being held back by the elections and the hope that Obama can work miracles. But by spring, it will be clear that there are no miracles."

He also cited the "vulnerable political setup", "lack of unified national laws", and "divisions among the elite, which have become clear in these crisis conditions."

He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.

He even suggested that "we could claim Alaska - it was only granted on lease, after all."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is Obama's Energy Plan Enough?

Time | With the possible exception of Barack Obama's puppy-anticipating daughters, no one is more eagerly awaiting the incoming Administration than the leaders of the renewable-energy industries. President-elect Obama campaigned on the promise to spend $150 billion over the next 10 years to support alternative energy, like wind and solar, as well as the green jobs that the sector has the potential to create. At California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's climate summit on Nov. 18, Obama, in taped remarks, reaffirmed that he would hold fast to those campaign promises, starting with mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. "This is a crucial step forward," says Linda Church Ciocci, the executive director of the National Hydropower Association.

The problem is, it won't be enough. As ambitious as Obama's campaign promises were — at least compared to his predecessor's — the future state of global energy will demand government policies with a much longer reach, according to alternative-energy leaders. The International Energy Agency's (IEA) annual World Energy Outlook, released Nov. 12, projects that global energy demand will increase by 45% between 2006 and 2030 — and that $26 trillion in power-supply investments will be necessary simply to meet those needs. Barring radical changes in our energy policy — beyond what Obama has pledged — greenhouse gas emissions will rise 45% by 2030, and extreme global warming would be virtually unavoidable.
uh, quoting the IEA as authoritative in any manner, form, or fashion qualifies this entire article as a puff piece. Overall, it smacks of a special interest in search of a pre-emptive bailout, er, ah, I mean subsidy. This is NOT where the U.S. should invest its scant remaining capital to yield maximum return on energy investment.

Climate Change and British Politics

The Economist | Britain decides that climate change is too important to leave to the politicians. “GIVE me chastity and continence, but not yet,” Saint Augustine besought God more than a millennium ago. Those worried by global warming but unwilling to change their behaviour take a similar approach. Evidence of the damage that economic activity does to the planet is mounting, but given the cheapness and convenience of fossil fuels, the temptation to avoid tackling climate change for just another year (and another and another) is hard to resist. This is even truer as economic woes mount.

Britain’s government thinks it has a solution, and it is one that so far no other country has adopted. The approach is rather like that of a desperate dieter padlocking his pantry. If all goes according to plan, a climate-change bill will be passed next week that takes the power to set carbon-reduction goals away from politicians and enshrines them in law. A climate-change committee will recommend five-year carbon budgets for different parts of the economy, such as power generation, transport and manufacturing, with the ultimate goal of cutting emissions by 80% from their 1990 levels by the time 2050 rolls around.

Modelled partly on the Bank of England’s Monetary-Policy Committee, which was set up in 1997 to take interest-rate decisions out of the hands of ministers, the new Committee on Climate Change (now headed by Lord Turner, the head of Britain’s financial regulator and before that the author of important pension reforms) will publish on December 1st the first three carbon budgets, covering the period until 2022. Other countries may have more eye-catching ambitions than Britain (Sweden, for instance, aspires to phase out fossil-fuel use entirely), but nowhere else will the pledges have the force of law. Foreign governments and green groups are watching the British experiment with interest.

Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering US Water Supplies?

Propublica | In July, a hydrologist dropped a plastic sampling pipe 300 feet down a water well in rural Sublette County, Wyo., and pulled up a load of brown oily water with a foul smell. Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people.

The results sent shockwaves through the energy industry and state and federal regulatory agencies.

Sublette County is the home of one of the nation's largest natural gas fields, and many of its 6,000 wells have undergone a process pioneered by Halliburton called hydraulic fracturing, which shoots vast amounts of water, sand and chemicals several miles underground to break apart rock and release the gas. The process has been considered safe since a 2004 study (PDF) by the Environmental Protection Agency found that it posed no risk to drinking water. After that study, Congress even exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Today fracturing is used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States.

Over the last few years, however, a series of contamination incidents have raised questions about that EPA study and ignited a debate over whether the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing may threaten the nation's increasingly precious drinking water supply.

Monday, November 24, 2008

If Only Life Would Imitate Art.....,

What would happen if companies stopped hiding problems from customers and government stopped hiding problems from citizens? What if customers and citizens were tapped to become resources for problem solving?
"EVE Online tries the World of Democracycraft experiment

"A recent insider-meddling scandal inside the space-merchant game EVE Online prompted the creation of a democratically elected player council called the Council of Stellar Management (CSM). This newly constituted democratic institution is charged with helping the game developers balance out fun with fairness. I've often wondered whether democratic player-groups can vote for more fun, even when "fun" includes making the game harder and more frustrating at times. .. "
Sadly, open source design is still regarded by power-holders with fear and contempt, but these goings-on in virtual nerd world compel one to wonder How much decision making can be democratized? The comment thread spawned by this post on American illiteracy got me thinking about this topic.

U.S. car companies lobbied the government to give large vehicles tax advantages for business use. The car companies "engineered" (or would that be gerrymandered?) the demand for SUVs that has proven to be their undoing. Would car buying consumers have voted for such lobbying?

Competitive advantage would depend on transparency, accountability, and accurate information rather than propaganda. If these virtual world methods were adopted by one successful business, how long before the public would move to have them applied to functions of government?

Decision Neuroscience

This will not be the first time you've heard this from me, I've variously addressed it hereabouts under the rubrics neuroeconomics or dopamine hegemony - but this morning my very good friend Arnach hit me up back channel with a morsel supportive of the theory that global human governance boils down to the science of stimulating and controlling dopaminergy in the individual brain.

From the Stanford Storybank we have This is Your Brain on Bargains.

Scientific inspiration can derive from the most mundane experience. Archimedes was said to have figured out how to compute volume in his bathtub. When Uzma Khan had her eureka moment, she was sprawled on her couch, just back from a shopping mall where she had gone to avoid working on her dissertation.

Khan—then at Yale, now an assistant professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Business—knew all about the supposed levers of consumer behavior: supply, demand, advertising, discounting. Traditionally, business theorists described consumer behavior as being based on rational decisions about value and price. But as Khan looked at the shopping bags strewn around her apartment she realized that the conventional wisdom was, well, bankrupt. She was sure that her buying decisions had much less to do with price than they did her frayed nerves. She had gone shopping to feel better. Once home, the thrill was gone. “I looked at all that stuff, all those bags, and I thought, 'I don't need this stuff. I'm going to take most of it back. What was I thinking?'”

Khan's professional focus today is answering that question—what are we thinking when we go shopping? She is one of a growing number of researchers at Stanford and elsewhere working on consumer mysteries: Why are our needs and wants so disconnected? Why do people dig themselves into debt from foolish spending? Why do our brains perceive expensive products as superior? And what are the biological bases for the pleasures that shopping or even the anticipation of shopping can unleash?
So simple, elegant, and obvious. Selective governance via the natural tendency of the brain's neuronal circuits to Do What They Do..., what could be easier, more powerful, and more durable than that? The basic fact is that humans are routinely exploited by those with the wherewithal to "engineer" values in the outside world and a little knowledge of the workings of the "inside" world.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pakistanis Fear the U.S., Too

NYTimes | A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”

That notion may strike Americans as strange coming from an ally of 50 years. But as the incoming Obama administration tries to coax greater cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against militancy, it can hardly be ignored.

This is a country where years of weak governance have left ample room for conspiracy theories of every kind. But like much such thinking anywhere, what is said frequently reveals the tender spots of a nation’s psyche. Educated Pakistanis sometimes say that they are paranoid, but add that they believe they have good reason.

Pakistan, a 61-year-old country marbled by ethnic fault lines, is a collection of just four provinces, which often seem to have little in common. Virtually every one of its borders, drawn almost arbitrarily in the last gasps of the British Empire, is disputed with its neighbors, not least Pakistan’s bitter and much larger rival, India.

These facts and the insecurities that flow from them inform many of Pakistan’s disagreements with the United States, including differences over the need to rein in militancy in the form of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Flux in the BRIC

NYTimes | “Russia’s elites, including President Medvedev, look on China’s rising diplomatic and economic successes in Latin America and in Africa with envy,” said Stephen Kotkin, the director of Russia studies at Princeton University. “They also perceive an opportunity, much exaggerated, to send the U.S. a message in its supposed backyard.”

But Mr. Medvedev faces a hard sell in the region. In Cuba there are lingering suspicions over Russian intentions, as the Cuban economy collapsed when the Soviets withdrew in the 1990s, as well as a reluctance to alienate an incoming Obama administration that might push to end the trade embargo.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, which also places a high priority on relations with an Obama administration, wants to engage Russia not as a source of weapons or military assistance, but as an equal partner.

“We are not interested in buying defense products off the shelf,” said Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil’s minister of strategic affairs and the architect of a new military strategy set to be officially unveiled in December.

“Unlike other South American countries we don’t go around buying things, and we are not interested in some kind of balance-of-power politics to contain the United States,” said Mr. Mangabeira Unger, a former Harvard law professor who taught Mr. Obama when he was at Harvard Law School. “We have friendly relations with the United States, and with the incoming administration intend to make them even more friendly.”

By contrast in Venezuela, itself battered by falling oil prices, Mr. Medvedev can expect a warm welcome. President Hugo Chávez has long sought closer ties, traveling to Russia seven times and forging deals to buy more than $4 billion in arms. Until recently, however, Russia showed little interest in expanding ties with Venezuela beyond weapons sales and a handful of energy deals.

The Pakistan Test

NYTimes | While there are no easy solutions for the interlinked catastrophes unfolding in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are several useful steps that we in the West can take to reduce the risk of the region turning into the next Somalia.

First, we should slow the financial flow to Pakistan’s government and military. If the government wants to stop the Talibanization of Pakistan, its greatest need isn’t money but the political will to stop sheltering Taliban leaders in the city of Quetta.

Second, we should cut tariffs on Pakistani agricultural and manufactured products to boost the economy and provide jobs. We should also support China on its planned export-processing zone to create manufacturing jobs in Pakistan.

Third, we should push much harder for a peace deal in Kashmir — including far more pressure on India — because Kashmir grievances empower Pakistani militants.

Fourth, let’s focus on education. One reason the country is such a mess today is that half of all Pakistanis are illiterate.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pennyland - Echoes of the Great Depression

Up from the comments, a poignant movie by Frank Thomas inspired by "Pennyland" a song written by his brother, Eddie Thomas featuring Depression Era photographs from the Library of Congress and audio excerpts from Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural address. Thanks for stopping by Frank.

World's Biggest Loser.....,

Shape of Things to Come?

John Maynard Keynes had the answer to the crisis we’re now facing; but it was blocked and then forgotten. Poor old Lord Keynes. The world’s press has spent the past week blackening his name. Not intentionally: most of the dunderheads reporting the G20 summit which took place over the weekend really do believe that he proposed and founded the International Monetary Fund. It’s one of those stories that passes unchecked from one journalist to another.

The truth is more interesting. At the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, John Maynard Keynes put forward a much better idea. After it was thrown out, Geoffrey Crowther - then the editor of the Economist magazine - warned that “Lord Keynes was right … the world will bitterly regret the fact that his arguments were rejected.”(1) But the world does not regret it, for almost everyone - the Economist included - has forgotten what he proposed.

He proposed a global bank, which he called the International Clearing Union. The bank would issue its own currency - the bancor - which was exchangeable with national currencies at fixed rates of exchange. The bancor would become the unit of account between nations, which means it would be used to measure a country’s trade deficit or trade surplus.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 18th November 2008

The Real Great Depression

Comes now my man RC spitting lost historical knowledge from the Chronicle of Higher Education. You should read the article in full. The depression of 1929 is the wrong model for the current economic crisis;
the current economic woes look a lot like what my 96-year-old grandmother still calls "the real Great Depression." She pinched pennies in the 1930s, but she says that times were not nearly so bad as the depression her grandparents went through. That crash came in 1873 and lasted more than four years. It looks much more like our current crisis.

The problems had emerged around 1870, starting in Europe. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867, in the states unified by Prussia into the German empire, and in France, the emperors supported a flowering of new lending institutions that issued mortgages for municipal and residential construction, especially in the capitals of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Mortgages were easier to obtain than before, and a building boom commenced. Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the three cities today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period.

If there are lessons from 1873, they are different from those of 1929. Most important, when banks fall on Wall Street, they stop all the traffic on Main Street — for a very long time. The protracted reconstruction of banks in the United States and Europe created widespread unemployment. Unions (previously illegal in much of the world) flourished but were then destroyed by corporate institutions that learned to operate on the edge of the law. In Europe, politicians found their scapegoats in Jews, on the fringes of the economy. (Americans, on the other hand, mostly blamed themselves; many began to embrace what would later be called fundamentalist religion.)

The post-panic winners, even after the bailout, might be those firms — financial and otherwise — that have substantial cash reserves. A widespread consolidation of industries may be on the horizon, along with a nationalistic response of high tariff barriers, a decline in international trade, and scapegoating of immigrant competitors for scarce jobs. The failure in July of the World Trade Organization talks begun in Doha seven years ago suggests a new wave of protectionism may be on the way.
Every day you learn something new is a good day indeed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tom Terrific

Culture Change | Tom Friedman has convinced a vast swath of otherwise intelligent and well-educated Americans that he's a visionary. I propose this is so because he channels the thought patterns and emotional currents at the core of American conventional wisdom: economic growth and unrestrained technological progress are the natural state of the world -- with the stipulation that America must, naturally, lead the way. Friedman's greatest skill is catchy -- and often oddly phrased -- simplifications promoting our collective identity as the Exceptional Nation. Recently he, as we say in another context about petroleum, reached peak Friedman.

Before getting to that I note that Friedman's modus operandi is to tirelessly see “opportunity” in crisis. He ridicules those who see threats as lacking insight, entrepreneurial spirit, and innovative thinking. To do this, Friedman operates much like the fifties cartoon character Tom Terrific, who possesses a magical thinking cap that transports him out of any jam in which he finds himself. For example, Friedman is waiting for an entrepreneur in a garage to invent the next energy platform -- who cares about finite fossil fuels when the next Steve Jobs is all we really need? In fact, he recently suggested that Jobs -- because he’s invented the iPod -- could rescue the Big-Three automakers. It's that simple; take it from Tom Terrific.

Much to Friedman's displeasure, however, financial, economic, and ecological realities (the latter of which he appears to be totally unaware) are undermining his belief that nature can be dominated by human ingenuity. These intertwined crises will, I suspect, elicit all manner of Tom Terrific articles from Friedman in the coming months; this will indicate, for an undetermined time, the undulating plateau of peak Friedman.

America the Illiterate

TruthDig | In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that “Hamlet” can be as entertaining as “The Lion King” and perhaps as educational. “Culture,” she wrote, “is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.”

“There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect,” Arendt wrote, “but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers—our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues—who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Question of the Week - No. 1

Who do you know and what do you know (institutions, systems, companies, things) that will thrive during the pending period of national and global Greatest Economic Depression?

everything after that is really just conversation, but in the interest of engaging repartee,

please state who or what you know of that you believe will not only survive, but thrive during the pending Greatest Economic Depression?

Hat tip to Mahndisa for making me think about water efficiency, free markets, fremen warriors , and alternative currency systems.

Hat tip to Ed Dunn for writing at length about what's around that signpost up ahead, what you need to be thinking about and doing to get ready for it, and keeping it all extra trill, practical, and very humorous.

Moore’s Curse and the Great Energy Delusion

The American | Our transition away from fossil fuels will take decades—if it happens at all. During the early 1970s we were told by the promoters of nuclear energy that by the year 2000 America’s coal-based electricity generation plants would be relics of the past and that all electricity would come from nuclear fission. What’s more, we were told that the first generation fission reactors would by then be on their way out, replaced by super-efficient breeder reactors that would produce more fuel than they were initially charged with.

During the early 1980s some aficionados of small-scale, distributed, “soft” (today’s “green”) energies saw America of the first decade of the 21st century drawing 30 percent to 50 percent of its energy use from renewables (solar,wind, biofuels). For the past three decades we have been told how natural gas will become the most important source of modern energy: widely cited forecasts of the early 1980s had the world deriving half of its energy from natural gas by 2000. And a decade ago the promoters of fuel cell cars were telling us that such vehicles would by now be on the road in large numbers, well on their way to displacing ancient and inefficient internal combustion engines.

These are the realities of 2008: coal-fired power plants produce half of all U.S. electricity, nuclear stations 20 percent, and there is not a single commercial breeder reactor operating anywhere in the world; in 2007 the United States derives about 1.7 percent of its energy from new renewable conversions (corn-based ethanol, wind, photovoltaic solar, geothermal); natural gas supplies about 24 percent of the world’s commercial energy—less than half the share predicted in the early 1980s and still less than coal with nearly 29 percent; and there are no fuel-cell cars.

This list of contrasts could be greatly extended, but the point is made: all of these forecasts and anticipations failed miserably because their authors and promoters ignored one of the most important realities ruling the behavior of complex energy systems—the inherently slow pace of energy transitions.

Chinese Automakers May Buy GM and Chrysler

Truth About Cars | Chinese carmakers SAIC and Dongfeng have plans to acquire GM and Chrysler, China’s 21st Century Business Herald reports today. [A National Enquirer the paper is not. It is one of China's leading business newspapers, with a daily readership over three million.] The paper cites a senior official of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology– the state regulator of China’s auto industry– who dropped the hint that “the auto manufacturing giants in China, such as Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Dongfeng Motor Corporation, have the capability and intention to buy some assets of the two crisis-plagued American automakers.” These hints are very often followed with quick action in the Middle Kingdom. The hints were dropped just a few days after the same Chinese government gave its auto makers the go-ahead to invest abroad. And why would they do that?

A take-over of a large overseas auto maker would fit perfectly into China’s plans. As reported before, China has realized that its export chances are slim without unfettered access to foreign technology. The brand cachet of Chinese cars abroad is, shall we say, challenged. The Chinese could easily export Made-in-China VWs, Toyotas, Buicks. If their joint venture partner would let them. The solution: Buy the joint venture partner. Especially, when he’s in deep trouble.

At current market valuations (GM is worth less than Mattel) the Chinese government can afford to buy GM with petty cash. Even a hundred billion $ would barely dent China’s more than $2t in currency reserves. For nobody in the world would buying GM and (while they are at it) Chrysler make more sense than for the Chinese. Overlap? What overlap? They would gain instant access to the world’s markets with accepted brands, and proven technology.

21st Century Business Herald, obviously with input from higher-up, writes that Chinese industry must change and upgrade. China wants their factories to change from low-value-added manufacturing to technically innovative and financially-sound high-value-add industries. Says the paper: “It would be much easier now for strong Chinese automakers to go global by acquiring some assets of their U.S. counterparts in times of crisis.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt

NYTimes | IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.

The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.

A Sea of Unwanted Imports

NYTimes | LONG BEACH, Calif. — Gleaming new Mercedes cars roll one by one out of a huge container ship here and onto a pier. Ordinarily the cars would be loaded on trucks within hours, destined for dealerships around the country. But these are not ordinary times.

For now, the port itself is the destination. Unwelcome by dealers and buyers, thousands of cars worth tens of millions of dollars are being warehoused on increasingly crowded port property.

And for the first time, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Nissan have each asked to lease space from the port for these orphan vehicles. They are turning dozens of acres of the nation’s second-largest container port into a parking lot, creating a vivid picture of a paralyzed auto business and an economy in peril.

“This is one way to look at the economy,” Art Wong, a spokesman for the port, said of the cars. “And it scares you to death.”

Indian Warship Shells Pirates

MOGADISHU (AFP) - An Indian warship opened fire at a Somali pirate "mother ship", the navy said Wednesday, as bandits demanded a ransom for a Saudi super-tanker seized in the most daring sea raid yet.

The Indian frigate INS Tabar, one of dozens of warships from several countries protecting shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden, attacked the pirate ship late Tuesday after coming under fire, navy spokesman Nirad Sinha said.

The incident came as shipping groups reported a new surge in hijackings off Somalia and the International Maritime Bureau said pirates based in the lawless African nation were now "out of control".

"The INS Tabar closed in on the mother vessel and asked her to stop for investigation," the New Delhi navy spokesman said.

"But on repeated calls, the vessel's threatening response was that she would blow up the naval warship" if it approached," he added.

"The vessel... subsequently fired on the INS Tabar, and the warship retaliated in self defence," he said. "Explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition that was stored on the vessel."

Pirates had been on the upper deck of the vessel with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, he said.

The piracy crisis has grown since the capture of Saudi super-tanker the Sirius Star on Saturday. The huge vessel was carrying a full load of two million barrels of oil worth an estimated 100 million dollars.

Prophesy of economic collapse 'coming true'

NewScientist | In 1972, the seminal book Limits to Growth by a group called the Club of Rome claimed that exponential growth would eventually lead to economic and environmental collapse.

The group used computer models that assessed the interaction of rising populations, pollution, industrial production, resource consumption and food production.

Most economists rubbished the book and its recommendations have been ignored by governments, although a growing band of experts today continues to argue that we need to reshape our economy to become more sustainable.

Now Graham Turner at theCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia has compared the book's predictions with data from the intervening years.

Changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book's predictions of collapse in the 21st century, says Turner. According to the book, the path we have taken will cause decreasing resource availability and an escalating cost of extraction that triggers a slowdown of industry, which eventually results in economic collapse some time after 2020.

"For the first 30 years of the model, the world has been tracking along an unsustainable trajectory," he says.

According to Herman Daly of the University of Maryland, Turner's results show that we "must get off the growth path of business as usual, and move to a steady state economy," stopping population growth, resource depletion, and pollution.

Yet Turner reckons his report [pdf format] shows that a sustainable economy is attainable. "We wouldn't have to go back to the caves," he says.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Failed G-20 Summit

CounterPunch | As expected, the G-20 Economic Summit in Washington turned out to be a total bust. None of the problems which have pushed the global economy to the brink of disaster were resolved and none of the main players who gamed the system with their toxic securities was held accountable. Instead, the visiting dignitaries settled on a toothless "Statement on Financial Markets" which accomplished absolutely nothing. The one noteworthy clause in the entire document is a two paragraph indictment of the United States as the perpetrator of the financial crisis. At least they got that right.

The world doesn't need a new Breton Woods or a new world order; it needs a competing vision of global finance. One that will put an end to dollar tyranny, superpower politics and "beggar thy neighbor" economic policies. A system that strengthens national sovereignty, cooperation, and international law. That's what the G 20 should have been talking about, instead of wasting their time trying to prop up a system that's rotten to the core.

Bankers Shake Down Congress and the G-20

CounterPunch | Here’s the problem that faced global finance ministers this weekend: The U.S. payments deficit has been pumping excess dollars into foreign economies, whose recipients have turned them over to their central banks. These central banks have saved their currencies from rising (and thus losing foreign markets by making their exports more expensive) by buying Treasury bonds so as to support the dollar’s exchange rate by recycling their dollar inflows back to the United States – enough to finance most of our federal budget deficit, and indeed much of Fannie Mae’s mortgage lending as well.

Mr. Bush for his part would like to shape the global financial system so that foreign economies continue giving the United States a free lunch. U.S. officials control the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and use these institutions to impose neoliberal privatization policies on foreign countries, thereby destroying the post-Soviet economies, Australia and New Zealand since the 1990s, just as they destroyed Third World economies from the 1960s through the ’80s. That’s why, until last month, the IMF had lost its clients and was almost universally shunned. French President Nicolas Sarkozy led foreign calls for a “new Bretton Woods,” by which he meant not just an upgrading of U.S. dollar hegemony but a different world order – more regulated with a fairer quid pro quo. And as the Financial Times reported: “Spain’s governing Socialist party summed up the heady mood in some parts of Europe in an internal document, seen by El Mundo, that identified the summit as a moment of historic change. ‘The origins of this crisis lie in neoliberal and neoconservative ideology,’ it said.”

Mr. Paulson and other U.S. officials have long been promising foreign finance ministers that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities are as good as U.S. Treasury bonds while yielding higher interest. The resulting investment in these two mortgage-packaging agencies was a major factor in their $200 billion bailout. Letting their securities go under would have ended Dollar Hegemony for good. So getting foreign acquiescence in financing future U.S. balance-of-payments deficit is inextricably bound up with how to resolve the U.S. financial and real estate bubble.