Posted by Big Gav
George Monbiot has a look at how well the UK would fare if it had to reduce its carbon emmissions enough to mitigate global warming. His back of the envelope calculations include some fairly large gains in efficiency and plenty of wind farm construction - but he still can't see a way past having to build some nuclear power capacity.
Obviously the UK is a relatively special case - it is crowded, has a cold climate and can't make much use of solar energy - other countries (Australia and the US in particular) don't have as many constraints so the case for nuclear in the UK doesn't generally apply elsewhere.
Are there enough renewables to keep the lights on? The answer will be comforting to no one.
In one respect, Simon Jenkins is right. “Nobody”, he complained in the Guardian last week, while laying out his case for nuclear power, “agrees about figures”. As a result, “energy policy is like Victorian medicine, at the mercy of quack remedies and snake-oil salesmen.”
There is a reason for this. As far as I can discover, reliable figures for the total volume of electricity that renewable power could supply do not yet exist. As a result, anyone can claim anything, and anyone does. The enthusiasts for renewables insist that the entire economy – lights, heating, cars and planes – can be powered from hydrogen produced by wind. The nuclear evangelists maintain, in Jenkins’s words, that “even if every beauty spot in Britain were coated in windmills their contribution to the Kyoto target would be minuscule.” All of us are groping around in the dark.
So though this is not a scientific journal, and though I am not qualified to do it, I am going to attempt a rough first draft, which I hope will be challenged and refined by people with better credentials. Some of my assumptions are generous, others are conservative. This will be far from definitive and, I am afraid, quite complex, but at least, on the day the government’s energy review is announced, we will have something to argue about.
This suggests that we could cut our demand for fossil fuel without building new nuclear power stations. But it is still too much: even 23GW will help to cook the planet. So the choice then comes down to this: we make up the shortfall either with nuclear power, as Simon Jenkins suggests, or with gas or coal accompanied by carbon burial (pumping the carbon dioxide into salt aquifers or old gas fields). The first option means uranium mining, nuclear waste and the threat of proliferation and terrorism. The second means insecurity (gas) or open-cast mining and air pollution (coal) and a risk (though probably quite small) of carbon seepage.
Neither option, in other words, looks pretty.
One more problem with the calculations is that they presumably assume that Britain's temperature (and therefore heating requirements) stay constant - however there is a spate of reports today about a slowdown in the Gulf stream and other north atlantic currents which will likely lead to a colling of Europe (New Scientist, BBC, Independent, Financial Times and National Geographic). RealClimate has some measured analysis of what is happening.
The Greens have prompted an Australian Senate enquiry into our future oil supply.
Tom Whipple's latest peak oil article looks at efforts in Washington to recognise peak oil.
Until recently, the phrase “peak oil” was among the last elected and appointed official in Washington wanted to hear or see in print. Should there be any doubt as to the correctness of their position, one only has to look at what happened when President Carter donned a cardigan sweater and told us how one day we were going to run short on oil and how we should start sacrificing now to prepare for it.
Relevant administration officials are well aware world oil production will peak someday, but for obvious reasons, they don’t want to acknowledge this until they absolutely have to. They hope beyond hope peaking won’t happen until after they retire so somebody else can deal with the unpleasant consequences.
We know President Bush understands peak oil, for we have the word of Congressman Bartlett, who last summer went down to the White House using his access as a staunch conservative Republican congressman to tell the President all about it.
Later, when asked of the President’s reaction, the congressman reported that it is a matter of the important and the urgent. We can interpret this to mean that yes, the President understands the serious consequences of peak oil, but, no, the evidence of imminent peaking is not yet persuasive enough that he should unleash unknown forces by an official acknowledgement that peak oil may be imminent.
Past Peak links to an interesting article on Craig Venter's latest plan - to engineer organisms to produce hydrogen or oil.
J. Craig Venter, who gained worldwide fame in 2000 when he mapped the human genetic code, is behind a new start-up called Synthetic Genomics, which plans to create new types of organisms that, ideally, would produce hydrogen, secrete nonpolluting heating oil or be able to break down greenhouse gases.
The initial focus will be on creating "biofactories" for hydrogen and ethanol, two fuels seen as playing an increasing role in powering cars in the future. Hydrogen also holds promise for heating homes and putting juice into electronic devices.
The raw genetic material for these synthetic micro-organisms will come from a diverse set of genes from a variety of species, according to the company. While many of the genes will come from some of the aquatic micro-organisms that Venter and his colleagues discovered during extensive ocean voyages in the last two years, the company will also experiment with genes from large mammals such as dogs.
"Rapid advances in high throughput DNA sequencing and synthesis, as well as high performance computing and bioinformatics, now enable us to synthesize novel photosynthetic and metabolic pathways," Venter said in a statement earlier this year. "We are in an era of rapid advances in science and are beginning the transition from being able to not only read genetic code, but are now moving to the early stages of being able to write code."
The Independent reports that carbon trading could rainforests back to life as investors seek to capture the value of carbon credits. All the more reason to sign on to Kyoto and back a real treaty to follow it in 2012.
New forests could blossom in tropical zones from Brazil to India as one of the more creative ideas produced by the Kyoto protocol begins to bear fruit. Someone has finally hit on a way to make money out of conservation.
Behind the idea is the fact that all Kyoto signatories are required to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide, or face heavy fines - but if they cannot bring themselves to cut the emissions, they can buy "carbon credits" from countries or companies that are doing so.
The system works because greenhouse gases are a problem for the world, not merely for countries where the emissions take place. Likewise "carbon sinks", the forested areas that reduce the net quantity of global carbon emissions, can be anywhere.
The Motley Fool takes a "peek" at peak oil and makes some stock tips off the back of it (the author is a tar sands believer and sounds as if he's never heard of global warming, so don't take this one too seriously).
BP's alternative energy strategy has attracted some commentary at TreeHugger and WorldChanging.
Rigzone has articles on Woodside's plans to begin seismic surveys in the great australian bight next year, increased drilling from Santos in the Cooper Basin, an update on BP's delayed "Thunder Horse" platform in the gulf of mexico and a note on Indian efforts to increase exploration for oil and gas.
Taiwan is ramping up solar cell production, while Kyocera is planning to ship a new range of low cost solar panels next year.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has made some more comments on the Liberal party and Howard and Ruddock's abandonment of civil liberties and traditional western values. The Sydney Morning Herald also has a sedition-a-thon from a number of writers and comedians, while Peter Garrett has emerged from the Labor party borg and his vow of silence to criticise the new legislation as well. At least the moderate wing of the Liberal party managed to water down some of the more offensive parts last night.
Malcolm Fraser has considered quitting the Liberal Party after more than 50 years' membership, saying it has become "a party of fear and reaction". The former prime minister said last night he had decided to remain a member to support those who were seeking to "keep the Liberal flame alive" and to encourage others to pursue change from within.
Delivering the chancellor's human rights lecture at the University of Melbourne, Mr Fraser said he found his party "unrecognisable as liberal" and alien to the principles of its founder, Robert Menzies. On the night the Government's anti-terrorist laws passed the House of Representatives, Mr Fraser singled them out, saying the legislation was wrong because "it makes the fundamental assumption that liberty cannot defend itself".
"The reason I considered [resignation] seriously is because I believe this is not just another piece of policy with which one doesn't agree," he said. "Over several years there has been a fundamental departure from the basic idea of liberalism as I understood it. What I want to do is emphasise in the strongest possible way how serious this is, how people should not just let it fly over the shoulder and say 'She'll be right'."
Insisting it would be a long, hard task to achieve change, Mr Fraser said: "It might not be the next government. It might be the government after that. But there ought to be objectives to restore basic liberties and restore a true sense of the rule of law."
Iraq news seems to be focused on the "is it time to cut and run" question lately, with former National Security Agency chief William Odom noting that none of the (public) reasons for staying in Iraq make any sense, and on that basis its time to leave.
Of course, if the argument was made that we need to stay on account of the need to control the oil, at least we'd be having a discussion based on reality for once, even if it raises a lot of unpleasant questions about exactly just how far we're willing to go to maintain that control.
Everything that opponents of a pullout say would happen if the U.S. left Iraq is happening already, says retired Gen. William E. Odom, the head of the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration. So why stay?
If I were a journalist, I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren't they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better.
Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:
1) We would leave behind a civil war.
2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.
3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.
4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.
5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase.
6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors.
7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.
8) We haven't fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.
9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.
But consider this...
Our dim-witted puppet emperor meanwhile is still too cowardly to face an audience made up of normal citizens and is forced to make his bizarre speeches to captive audiences at military bases, where he won't get asked any unpleasant questions. George insists there'll be no cuttin and runnin - just a glorious march forward to complete victory (and a plan to increase the use of american air power while Iraqis do the ground fighting).
Of course, at least George is wise enough not to share the podium with some insubordinate General who still clings to old fashioned ideas like torture being bad and a soldier's duty being to stop anyone who tries to commit such acts, unlike the increasingly erratic Donald Rumsfeld, who, when not trying to defend his barbaric practices, is busy trying to redefine the word "insurgent".
The definition of "insurgency", according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
1. The quality or circumstance of being rebellious. 2. An instance of rebellion; an insurgence.
The American Jewish weekly "Forward" is calling for Bush's impeachment and the recognition of the inevitable (apparently the reference to Augustus' lost legions is a little inaccurate though).
There is a remarkable article in the latest issue of the American Jewish weekly, Forward. It calls for President Bush to be impeached and put on trial "for misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them".
"As the pullout proceeds," he warns, "Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge - if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not."