On Energy and Geometric Progression

The following video has been labeled “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See.” Hyperbole? It’s just a lecture on math, given by a Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. It explains how just a 7% annual growth in energy use equals a 100% growth in 10 years. After a few decades, you’ve got a really big number. And a tremendously enormous problem. Watch and learn, please.

[H/T Peter Hufnagel]

Double Dippin’ with MERLE HAZARD

Merle Hazard is the one and only country-music singer writing songs about the Financial Crisis. He’s been on PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer; he’s been the subject of articles by The Economist, London’s Financial Times, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel. And by gum, the man can carry a tune! Here’s Merle Hazard performing “Double Dippin'”!

You Will Be Eaten By a Bear

If yer one of them huntin’ folks up there in Wyoming or Montana – y’know, Republican, an’ thinkin’ climate change is a myth – best listen up.

You will be eaten by a bear.
A grizzly bear.
A six-foot-tall, 600-pound grizzly bear.

The bears are hungry.

See, grizzlies up in Yellowstone eat the nuts of whitebark pine cones. Trouble is, there aren’t as many whitebark pines. That’s because of the beetles. There’s been a huge beetle infestation of the Yellowstone whitebark pine – 70% of the trees have been decimated. And that’s because the ground’s not freezing as much to keep the beetles at bay. And that’s because of global warming.

“Every year is now a bad year for whitebark pine,” said Louisa Wilcox with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can expect more conflicts and we are getting it.”

The bears are comin’ down the mountain an’ eatin’ livestock.

“Right now every god-dang dead cow down in this country’s got grizzlies on them,” said Mark Bruscino, a bear specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cody. “We’ve already had a couple of reports of bears on the gut piles of hunter-killed elk. Road-killed deer have bears on them.” (Quotes via the Associated Press.)

An’ when they ain’t got no roadkill to eat, they’ll go with human carpaccio. Two people done gone an’ been killed by grizzlies so far this year, the most in a century. But those ain’t related to no whitebark pines. Ain’t the time of year yet. But it will be soon, as autumn arrives. So watch out, folks. Global warming could kill you sooner than you think.

Read more at the AP [H/T John Emerson]

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill IS NOT OVER

According to this exclusive report on CNN, the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles west of Panama City, FL is a toxic sludge composed of speckled droplets of dispersed oil… moving east.


[H/T Ryan Bartek]

While the right-wing media machine diverts our attention to the “Ground Zero Mosque” and “anchor babies,” our magpie brains are forgetting about the Deep Horizon disaster. More importantly, we’re forgetting about the genesis of this disaster – the rampant deregulatory culture, the lax safety procedures – which, we might say, are features of the contemporary media culture as well, which chases sham political controversies instead of concentrating on matters of true importance.

Hacks and Flacks on Capitol Hill: You Have Been Warned

Meet Congressman Crowley, Democrat for the 7th District of New York

According to The New York Times today ––

On Dec. 10, one of the lawmakers under investigation, Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, left the Capitol during the House debate to attend a fund-raising event for him hosted by a lobbyist at her nearby Capitol Hill town house that featured financial firms, along with other donors. After collecting thousands of dollars in checks, Mr. Crowley returned to the floor of the House just in time to vote against a series of amendments that would have imposed tougher restrictions on Wall Street.

He’s just one of our national legislators under investigation by Congress to determine exactly how money flows in Washington, and how it directly influences inhibits reform. Here’s another:

Meet Rep. Tom Price, Republican from the 6th District of Georgia, member of the Financial Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives

The right honorable Tom Price just happened to schedule a “Financial Services Luncheon” on December 10, the same day as Rep. Crowley’s fundraising event and the exact same day that the first full House vote on the financial reform bill was held. During a two-month period around the vote, he scored $23,000.

Now, old hands around D.C. like Tom DeLay might call this “business as usual in Washington.” Any sane person, however, would rather be inclined to call this bribery. No, I’m not suggesting that you members of the governmental elite will ever actually be convicted of such a crime. Just know that we know exactly what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. You are colluding with business interests to keep yourselves employed, to the detriment of the future of the United States of America. You are the epitome of the fault Tocqueville foresaw in the American system –– to wit, that people would be more inclined to vote their immediate self-interest than have the education and wisdom to consider long-term ramifications. Crowley and Price, and all others –– we’ll be seeing you.

Read to your heart’s content at The New York Times.

Why the BP Oil Spill is Like the Mortgage Crisis

Okay, it’s like this. The main reason we’re in a Great Recession is that, back in 1999, the U.S. government compromised itself to death. Bill Clinton wanted to increase lending to minorities. The Republican-controlled Congress (swept into office by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”) said, “Only if you decrease regulation at the same time,” and so Phil Gramm (appointed senior economic adviser to McCain’s presidential campaign) drew up a bill that gutted Glass-Steagall, the 1933 act that prevented the Depression from happening again. President Clinton, weakened by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, didn’t have much wiggle-room in the Oval Office any more, and signed the legislation.

So, naturally, you get a huge housing boom totally based upon dodgy accounting and ludicrous credit standards which blows up in the world’s face.

You can’t make this stuff up, right?

Guess what. The BP oil spill is a result of exactly the same legislative deathmatch. The New York Times has a superb piece this morning by David S. Abraham declaring, this is a disaster that Congress voted for. In a highly balanced and nuanced argument, Abraham details how Congress really and truly has been addicted to providing the oil industry with economic incentives beyond all reason:

In a 1995 attempt to encourage more exploration, Congress agreed to reduce the cut of the proceeds the government could collect on oil and gas drilling in deep waters. Ten years later, despite higher oil prices and declarations from President George W. Bush that more incentives were not needed, a Republican-led Congress reduced royalties yet again.

It’s madness, of course – especially when

at the same time that Congress called for new drilling incentives, it also gutted oversight. From 2002 to 2008, legislators approved budgets reducing regulatory staffing levels by more than 15 percent… A 2004 Coast Guard study found that its “oil spill response personnel did not appear to have even a basic knowledge of the equipment required to support salvage or spill clean-up operations.”

When Bobby Jindal calls for more offshore drilling in order to help pay for coastal damage inflicted by offshore oil-and-gas operations (yeah, you read that right), then we have truly entered a land of the comedic insane, where the Mad Hatter starts writing Catch-22 contracts. The astounding thing is that, at base, it’s an exquisitely simple recipe for disaster: radically lower the barriers to enter the market, while radically de-regulating (by which we mean: knocking down the laws and rules that govern participation in this country’s economy) and what you get are toxic assets. That’s what we call a house, these days: a toxic asset, destroying the person who possesses it (for D&D fans, that’s kind of like a poisoned amulet, except with lots of bricks and mortar and wiring and plumbing).

But we should  be calling the oil spill a toxic asset too. The definition’s more apt; no metaphors needed here. It’s a natural resource that’s killing our economy and destroying the ecosystems of our oceans. It’s a substance that, for decades now, has powered our economy; now it’s bringing the Gulf to a standstill. It’s the toxic asset, our home mortgage that’s underwater. The rich will probably walk away from it, their dirty souls skimming the tops of the oily waves in that Gulf between them and us.

The Crises of Capitalism – the smartest video you’ll watch this year.

David Harvey, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York, gives the world’s most pithy and complete explanation of the cumulative financial crises over the last 80 years to show us what’s happened. It’s an 11-minute showstopper of a lecture, and it is the only coherent 360-degree view of the crisis I’ve ever seen. I can’t emphasize how brilliant this is. Harvey is having an open online course reading Book I of Marx’s Capital. Watch this, and it’ll all make sense. Plus, it’s cartoony!

[H/T 3QuarksDaily]

LET THIS BE A LESSON.

The Huffington Post is now claiming that BP – whose stock has fallen to a 14-year low – is now worth less than the total value of its assets. The article is completely skimpy on the details of the headline, of course, but it’s possible that “the company might be forced to suspend dividends, end up in bankruptcy and find itself overwhelmed by the cleanup costs, penalties, damage claims and lawsuits generated by the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.”

SO LET THIS BE A LESSON to be written in every textbook, and every case study, presented in the Business Schools of the world: if you adopt a cavalier attitude to the environment, if you narrowly and ruthlessly pursue profit with insouciant disregard for safety, IT COULD END YOU.

BP: “…And You? Shut Up.”

We were wondering why today’s New York Times has nothing about the oil spill – excepting this below-the-fold gem about how BP has already spent $1 billion in cleanup costs. Luckily, the Village Voice provides the reason: BP’s ever-so-wonderful CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT. Obtained by the incredible bloggers over at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Powering a Nation, this awesome document says that fishermen hired by the company that destroyed their livelihoods cannot talk to the press, or else forfeit their boats (you know, the only way they have to make a living). Charming, but heck — that’s business. Read the lowdown on this hoedown here.

BP Knew Long Before, and Did Nothing

Internal documents from BP show that in March, after several weeks of problems on the rig, BP was struggling with a loss of “well control.” And as far back as 11 months ago, the company was concerned about the well casing and the blowout preventer.

On June 22, 2009, for example, BP engineers expressed concerns that the metal well casing that the company wanted to use might collapse under high pressure.

“This would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Mark E. Hafle, a senior drilling engineer at BP, warned in an internal report. “However, I have seen it happen so know it can occur.”

The company went ahead with the casing, but only after getting special permission from BP colleagues because the casing violated the company’s own safety policies and design standards. The internal reports do not explain why the company allowed for an exception to its guidelines. BP documents released last week to The Times revealed that company officials knew the casing was the riskier of two options.

Read more at The New York Times.

The Evil That Men Do Lives Long After Them

…because we hath forsaken our government and our government hath forsaken the land. Sorry to get all biblical on y’all, but – are you ready for the latest revelation?

The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf. Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.

Those scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be harmed.

“M.M.S. has given up any pretense of regulating the offshore oil industry,” said Kierán Suckling, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group in Tucson, which filed notice of intent to sue the agency over its noncompliance with federal law concerning endangered species. “The agency seems to think its mission is to help the oil industry evade environmental laws.”

Responding to the accusations that agency scientists were being silenced, Ms. Barkoff added, “Under the previous administration, there was a pattern of suppressing science in decisions, and we are working very hard to change the culture and empower scientists in the Department of the Interior.”

Read the full article in The New York Times.

Some Call it Groundhog Day… We Call it WHEN HISTORY ATTACKS!

Lots of things get recycled. Like our historical amnesia.

From Timothy Egan in the May 5 New York Times‘ Opinionator:

On energy, amnesia is the American way. Things lumber along, 300-million-year-old fossil fuels are pulled from deep inside the kingdoms of desert despots and shipped to our shores. It’s slow-motion suicide, of sorts, to the planet — and I’m no worse or better than anyone else who uses oil for everyday comforts — but we don’t see the wounds until a spill brings it all home.

Totally. As you may remember from our About Us page,

Santayana said: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This may be truer for America than anywhere else, because we pride ourselves on dismissing the past, moving forward, progress. In America, the past just gets in the way, and has to be torn down like an old building.

We think this time is different. This time, the past has blocked our way, and is threatening to tear us down instead. We chronically bubble our economy, import our energy and use it inefficiently, and waste our water resources.

Egan is absolutely right when he says:

Suddenly, alarms are sounded. Brows are furrowed. Promises are made. This time, with fears that the Gulf spill will be even larger than the one in Alaska, lessons will be learned, yesiree. But soon enough, we’ll go back to planting trees on Earth Day, feeling good about recycling — Hooray for us! We’re green and cool — while resuming the old routine. That is: a nation with five percent of the earth’s population consuming about 23 percent of the world’s oil output, glug, glug, glug.

That’s what we said:

But crisis is nothing new to Mankind: every couple of generations, the same portents of Apocalypse gather – only to be swept under the carpet when the warnings of imminent destruction are perceived to be from the radical fringe, crying wolf.

Let’s face the music and dance.

But don’t fret! You and Timmy are the lucky ones – now there a lot more ways to make things go.

The problem with wind power is…it makes electricity too cheap!

Thanks almighty to The Oil Drum for a brilliant parsing of the news. They quote a Bloomberg News article stating,

After years of getting government incentives to install windmills, operators in Europe may have become their own worst enemy, reducing the total price paid for electricity in Germany, Europe’s biggest power market, by as much as 5 billion euros some years, according to a study this week by Poeyry, a Helsinki-based industry consultant…

…which The Oil Drum then recognizes as meaning WIND POWER REDUCES THE COST OF ELECTRICITY TO CONSUMERS. Bloomberg News, to its credit, afterwards recognized the pro-industry bias in its article. AFTER TWO REWRITES, the article now says:

“We’re seeing that wind energy lowers prices, which is great for the consumers,” Kjaer said at his group’s conference in Warsaw this week. “We as producers have to acknowledge that this means operating the existing plant fewer hours a year, and this has an effect on investors” and profit.

So from now on, whenever you see ANY objections to wind power voiced by ANYONE, it’s reflecting the impact on THEIR bottom line – not yours.

The Deep Well of Failure

How long will we continue to insist that industry can regulate itself? How much longer will we agree that “industry knows best”? The great environmental catastrophe now under way in the Gulf of Mexico and along Louisiana’s bayou coast is a definitive example of WHEN HISTORY ATTACKS. Way back in 2000, the federal government recommended remote failsafes for offshore oil rigs in this document (PDF download), obtained by ABC News. Implementing the systems specified would have shut off the spill. As late as 2009, BP was continuing to reject the recommendations, and the Bush Administration, after lengthy debate, “decided not to require any additional mandatory safeguards, believing the industry would be motivated to do it themselves,” Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club told ABC News.

Recent “news” reports have suggested that “America is re-evaluating the Bush presidency,” but I think this environmental disaster can seal that legacy – with the lack of seals on oil rigs. Halliburton. Lax regulation. “Industry can be expected to regulate itself.” How long must we continue with this charade? How long, o lord?

We think the answer is clear. Until now. Twenty-four years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. The O-Ring seals on the reusable solid-rocket boosters were responsible for the failure. In documents obtained at the time, those O-Ring seals were expected to have a lifespan of 25 uses. Challenger blew up on the 26th mission. The Challenger explosion was a foregone conclusion, just as much as this disaster was a foregone conclusion and just as fully preventable.

Sad, America. Really sad. You can find more information at ABC News.

Is Halliburton Responsible for the Oil Spill?

Cheney: categorically denies all involvement.

The quick answer: quite probably. The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post are both reporting that initial investigations on the explosion are focusing on flaws in the “cementing” process on the oil rig, by which gaps in the pipeline are filled with concrete. The Halliburton Corp. was engaged in this task, and completed it shortly before the oil rig exploded, sending 5,000 barrels per day hurtling toward the Louisiana coastline – which, we hasten to remind you, is likely to surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster as the worst environmental catastrophe in American history.

You might be familiar with the Halliburton Corp. Dick Cheney headed the oil-services multinational right up until he became Vice President in 2000. In the Iraq War, Halliburton and its subsidiary, KBR, received massive no-bid contracts to reconstruct much of Iraq (as well as build detention facilities like Camp X-Ray). They received this contract despite having previously opened an office in Tehran, potentially violating Federal “Trading with the Enemy” laws for which they were never prosecuted. Indeed, Halliburton/KBR acquired such extensive contracts in Iraq based upon estimates that their $2.5 billion contract would pay for itself. However the oil fields they worked on are barely usable. In particular, the company went against its own advisers in attempting to construct a pipeline underneath the Tigris River through a fault zone. “”No driller in his right mind would have gone ahead,” said Army geologist Robert Sanders when the military finally sent people to inspect the work. Nonetheless, Halliburton/KBR massively overcharged the federal government for their work.

This is all background, folks, and there’s lots more of it – the stuff that disappears down the memory hole when we pay too much attention to Heidi Montag’s plastic surgery. It all begs the question: is Halliburton the worst company in the world? And further: is Dick Cheney still messing up this country?

Again, the quick answer: probably yes.

Reap the Wind, or Reap the Whirlwind

Way back in 2003, I visited The Netherlands, and was amazed at how incredibly modern everything seemed – at least in comparison to Middle America. The cab I took from Schiphol International was a black, late-model Mercedes E-Type with an awesome flat-screen t.v. on which I could watch Dutch MTV – just like every other cab in the Dutch fleet. The contemporary architecture was cutting-edge and electric trams skirted down the cobblestone streets.  Not to mention the rather avant-garde attitude the Dutch held with regard to cannabis and prostitution.

What impressed me more than anything else, though, was the sight I beheld as the cab rode up to the top of those famous berms and dikes which keep the North Sea at bay. There, glinting in the sunlight, white and pinwheeling above the deep blue sea, was a forest of wind turbines, ineluctably carving the air in graceful circles like the world’s most profound modern art installation. That’s the future, I thought, smiling, and it is beautiful.

A little later, I talked to some Dutch townspeople. “We hate those wind turbines,” they said. “We think they’re ugly.” I had to stifle a guffaw. This was Holland, Great Land of Windmills! I mean, okay, 400 years ago Don Quixote mistook one for a monster, but aren’t those wind turbines just magnificent technological updates of the very same quaint rickety sorts that are Dutch national symbols? Aren’t they even prettier than the originals, now that they’re not merely obsolete fodder for postcards – but symbols of the clean energy future?

Well, change is tough on everybody, I suppose, and it just goes to show you that if the Dutch, of all people, can go NIMBY on wind turbines, then it’s going to be quite a sell for Americans. And indeed it is, as The New York Times reported today. This week is post-time for Obama’s decision on the big wind farm off the Massachusetts coast – in the works now for more than a decade – and our objections are looking even stupider than the Dutch.

Opponents have argued that the venture is too expensive and would interfere with local fishermen, intrude on the sacred rituals and submerged burial grounds of two local Indian tribes and destroy the view.

Too expensive? True, it’s twice as expensive to develop offshore; but we’ve already seen T. Boone Pickens’ plans for a giant Texas windfarm deep-sixed when it became apparent that hooking up the grid to the farm made the whole plan go wildly over-budget. Offshore wind farms positioned near major population centers means no such problem.

Interfere with local fishermen? Okay, so wind turbines that are placed, on average, a half-mile apart interfere with large-scale trawling; but isn’t large-scale trawling the primary cause of extinction-level overfishing? The Masshole anglers might have issues, but over in Rhode Island, the Fishermen’s Energy Company is collaborating with local fishermen. After all, they know the ocean bottom better than anyone, and bringing them in not only reduces the costs and fishery impact of offshore wind farms, but gives the fishing companies a tidy consultancy fee, and investment in the project – not to mention the energy savings in their coastal towns.

Indian tribes? The Wampanoag tribe of Nantucket has important sunrise rituals that, apparently, depend upon an unbroken view of the horizon. Now, normally I’m all for Native American rights and think the idea of the ceremony is beautiful. But I also remember this PSA from the ’70s:

Finally, finally we’re getting off our asses and preventing pollution – and – and –– Hell. Give ’em stock. Give ’em casinos and tobacco-trading posts on the service gantries. Sorry for the callousness, folks, but this is a pretty classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees. Or rather, not seeing the protection of the environment from some pinwheels on the horizon. Eminent Domain has been used to such nefarious ends in our recent history, and we can’t use it to facilitate a clean-energy future? I am appalled by this nation’s past, but there should be limits to its limitations on our future.

I just wish people could see those wind turbines with my eyes, spinning gracefully in the brash winds, glinting the sunlight with melodious reflections, counterpointing the sunlight glinting off the bluerough steel waves – and in each turn, speaking: clean, clean energy; clean, clean energy; now, later, onward.


Oceans’ Chemistry Changing Rapidly

The fish might need these one day.

Not too long ago we reported that the oceans are farting out a lot of methane. Today’s special Earth Day report confirms that the chemical makeup of the world’s oceans is changing – fast – because of  increased CO2 absorption from the atmosphere.

The pH of the oceans is declining, i.e. our seas are growing more acidic. In fact, since the Industrial Revolution to today, the rate of increasing acidity is greater than at any time in the last 800,000 years. And that’s really bad news for coral, and for photosynthesis.

The full story in the AP is located below the fold, since the story comes to me over Yahoo!’s network, and it destroys links after a certain time.

Continue reading “Oceans’ Chemistry Changing Rapidly”