Showing posts with label Venezuela. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Venezuela. Show all posts

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Colombian Renaissance

"In Colombia, the ecovillage movement is ceasing to be seen as the alternative, hippy, or maladjusted parts of society, but rather are coming to be known as 'the people.' The are the 99-percent, the cultural center and point of reference."

After a 2 week permaculture course in southern Belize — the part that Guatemala is making noises about annexing — we returned to Colombia, a place we last visited at the height of La Violencia 15 years ago.

In the late-90s our hemisphere-wide ecovillage network had decided to host a series of meetings around Colombia and we were fortunate to have among us some skilled negiotiators able to obtain safe passage between the various factions, traversing areas where kidnappings and atrocities were commonplace. In one town where the mayor invited us to speak, he was killed shortly after we left. It was near there, in February, 2005, that a joint army/paramilitary “anti-terrorist” battalion funded by the United States moved in and massacred members of the peace movement, most of them displaced refugees, killing eight people, including 3 children.

Biogas from sewage
Less than a month later, then-President Uribe justified the killings, saying, “The peace communities have the right to establish themselves in Colombia thanks to our regime of liberties. But they cannot, as is practiced in San José de Apartadó, obstruct justice, reject the Public Force… In this community of San José de Apartadó there are good people, but some of their leaders, sponsors and defenders ... want to use the community to protect this terrorist organization.”

On February 13, 2013, Colombia’s constitutional court ruled in favor of the claims of the survivors of that massacre, who now urge supporters to send a letter to President Santos, urging him to use this historic court ruling to recover the relationship between Colombia and the peace community.

Since we visited and gave our first village design courses more than a decade ago, the ecovillage movement has been wedding Colombian grassroots organizations – the Campesinos, Indigenous and Afro-decendant people — into action-oriented environmental networks. The ecovillagers, Red de Ecoaldeas Colombia when we last visited, reformed 7 years ago into Renace Colombia. RC is developing a multilayered strategy for greater communication with other networks, sectors and movements in the country, as well as developing capacity to incubate new ecovillages and other varieties of experimental human settlements.

There are 16 ecovillages throughout Colombia, five or six of which are still in the formative stages. The longest existing ecovillage is 28 years old.

Some recent achievements of Colombian ecovillages:
  • Pachamama Ecovillage in Quindio is exporting full containers of their organically treated bamboo as building material in Spain and the Caribbean.

  • Aldea Feliz in Cundinamarca won the Fulbright Commission grant to build an ‘ecoshop’ with high green architectural standards. 

  • By the end of 2012, all the major ecovillages in Colombia will have their own Maloka — an ancestral house of gathering in the Amazonic tradition. 

  • Atlántida ecovillage in Cauca is the main training center for Latinamerica for leaders of Dances of Universal Peace. One of Colombia’s indigenous traditions is the “mambeo,” artistic decontamination of the world, merging the mind with the heart.

The movement is ceasing to be seen as the alternative, hippy, or maladjusted parts of society, but rather are coming to be known as “the people.” The are the 99-percent, the cultural center and point of reference. Another Colombian tradition is the “minga,” the whole community working together for a purpose, whether to build a house or make a garden — what those of us who live in Amish country call “barnraising.”

Renace brought the “Vision Council” (Consejo de Visiones) methodology to Colombia from Mexico in 2012, and changed its traditional annual ecovillage gatherings into an open space with clear facilitation for dialogue between alternative movements, of which the ecovillages are just one part. For the 2013 Vision Council, they decided to deliver 4 different parallel and simultaneous gatherings in 4 different bioregions of the country, as a contraction/expansion dynamic, to be introduced as a new national initiative in 2014.

We are also directly involved in the production of the first Ecovillage Design Education programme (EDE) in Colombia with the full 160 hours curriculum from Gaia Education, as a pioneer course offered sequentially in 3 different ecovillages. We were invited to instruct the ecological module and for that week we lived in the Pachamama village, just down the lane from the bamboo drying sheds. We also got to visit La Pequeña Granja de Mama Lulu, a one-hectare permaculture agroforestry project that rivals the best examples of futuristic eco-agriculture we have seen anywhere in the world.

Two of those attending the EDE were the founders of the EcoBarrios (eco-neighborhood) Project in Bogotá, Carlos Rojas and Anamaria Aristizabal. That program produced remarkable transformations in the lives of urban dwellers, with a period of government funding in 2000-2003 enabling 180 city-neighborhoods to plant gardens, create public art and develop seed exchanges, among other improvements.

The Ecobarrios Project convened hundreds of neighborhood leaders, provided training courses in each district, designed projects according to particular needs of a neighborhood, and employed transparent participatory processes and the labor of the community. A survey in 2003 showed an increase in social capital with new micro-enterprises employing some 15,000 people. While 70% of urban garden and similar projects gradually diminished without Colombian government financing and the continuity of a support organization, 30% were still operating ten years later and replicating EcoBarrio projects had spread to Venezuela, Mexico City and Chile.

Bamboo Drinking Cup
From 2003 until 2010, after the government suspended EcoBarrios’ support, Aristizabal and Rojas went to work in the creation of ecovillage Aldeafeliz near Bogota and Renace Colombia. Rojas is now one of South America’s delegates to the Global Ecovillage Network board.

Renace is in dialogue with several government branches and regional institutions about a project for the transformation of 100 indigenous villages that were victims of forced relocation. What is planned are 100 healthy and thriving ancestral ecovillages, combining the best practices of the native heritage with those of the modern sustainability movement.

Each member community of
Renace is building a
Maloca, the traditional meeting
hall in Amazonia.

After examining models of ecovillage networks in Brazil and Senegal, Renace sees their incubator program evolving into a non-profit, quasi-governmental agency, establishing quality standards and transferring technology and green enterprise models. In the fertile ground of post-civil-war social rebuilding, these young ecovillagers are capable of opening up historically closed circles of politics and economics, in a kind of reverse “disaster capitalism.” They have a plan, they are ready, and the opportunity is now.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Closing the Ambition Gap

“Let us draw a lesson from nature, which always works by short ways. When the fruit is ripe, it falls. When the fruit is dispatched, the leaf falls. The circuit of the waters is mere falling. The walking of man and all animals is a falling forward.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

Connie Hedegaard, EU Head of Delegation, by Rogan Ward/Reuters
By now no veteran delegate to the UN climate talks would be so foolish as to book a flight home before the first Monday afterwards, knowing that the reason these Conferences of the Parties (COPs) are always scheduled to end on Fridays is so that they can continue working through the weekend to salvage a last-minute deal and avert utter shame. Those veterans with the most experience — Christina Figueres (UNFCCC), Connie Hedegaard (EU) or Todd Stern (USA), for instance — begin, by the end of the second week, to physically resemble zombies, the walking dead. And well they should! They have only two raw cravings: to kick the can a little farther down the road, and for no-one to shoot them in the head.

Marcin Korolec had one of the toughest sleep deprivations. Only three weeks before COP-17 began, Poland ascended to the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU and he had gone from being named, in quick succession, Environmental Minister of Poland to being named EU Council Environmental Minister and a representative for the 27 member countries to the Durban climate talks. Some 90 per cent of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal. Being Environmental Minister of Poland was hard enough.

The EU Council is beset by a string of crises, to which Korolec will be flying back after Durban. While he was away an emergency EU meeting failed to summon more than a few weeks’ funding for failing banks, putting the Eurozone banking system at the edge of collapse. At the end of the 8-9 December EU summit in Brussels, only 17 of the 27 EU countries were ready to participate in a new fiscal compact. EU’s major lenders have themselves begun to run out of assets. Even bedrock German banks are now showing stark deterioration in their core capital ratios. Banks and sovereigns are having fire sales of assets, including gold, but even if they could raise €1 trillion of funding it would only meet the needs of averting Italian and Spanish defaults. After Italy and Spain, there are 25 more dominoes to fall. Is it any wonder that banks are using bailout money to buy credit default swaps against the sovereigns who are bailing them out?

Todd Stern, USA, with Chinese Head of Delegation,
Xie Zhenhua, vice director of China's National
Development and Reform Commission
The monster the Eurozone is dueling is the exponential function, which was driven up on cheap, abundant high-quality energy, and is now declining, just as those supplies are. Peak Money may have been hit in mid-2007. Total bank holdings worldwide are around 10 to 11 trillion, down from 31 trillion in that year. The lending power of banks is halving about every 3 years now.

The total face value of world money — including over-the-counter derivatives, like hedge funds and credit default swaps, is about $708 trillion. The U.S. has total debt and liabilities of over $116 trillion, although much is hidden, so these numbers are very sketchy. What we know of amounts to $1 million per taxpayer. Marked to market, guessing who will get haircuts and who will be paid, those claims are probably worth less than $20 trillion, or about $175,000 per taxpayer. Compared to the Eurozone, which will have to issue $16 trillion in bonds to bridge its current crisis, the US looks like a safe haven.

Familiarity with the exponential function served Korolec well in his COP-17 role. Consumption of fossil fuels and concentrations of greenhouse gases have tracked an exponential curve over the past 150 years. CO2 is responsible for 7 of the 33 degrees of the greenhouse effect that keeps Earth habitable for life. Burning half of all mined hydrocarbons caused a 40 percent increase in CO2 (from 280 ppm to 390 ppm). Burning the other half, drawn from inhospitable places like the tar sands, oil shales, deep water and Arctic basins would increase the temperature by well over 9°F, even without cascading tipping points like permafrost and methane clathrates. That’s well beyond a margin that could shelter most terrestrial life-forms, to say nothing of warm-blooded mammals such as ourselves.

While it is by no means certain that Korolec gets this yet, the connections between the collapse of the global financial system and the collapse of the global ecological system may dawn on him sooner than most. The tone in Durban was existential. The lack of ambition in the EU agenda was criticized by Bolivia, Venezuela and others in terms that resonated like a funeral dirge for humankind.

The bright spot in Durban was an array of fresh faces of youth, from all over the world, who, miraculously by the standards of most international governmental fora, were welcomed as full Civil Society participants with delegate badges and the opportunity to make a presentation at the meeting of ministers. It came as no surprise that in her address, Youth’s representative, Anjali Appadurai from Coquitlam, BC and The College of the Atlantic, brought the house down, not the least because when she finished a very moving and well-delivered speech to the assembled nations and was receiving a standing ovation, she called “Mic Check” and received a further standing reply from her colleagues and others so moved, in which she led chants of “We’re running out of time!” and “Get it done!”

Ironically, some things Ms. Appadurai said in her address showed in sharp relief the fault lines running through the talks and why no deal had yet been reached to steer the world away from its head-long lurch to oblivion. “Common but differentiated and historical responsibility are not up for debate,” she said.

Breaking that down from the UN-speak that infects such meetings, “common but differentiated” responsibility derives from the wording of the original Kyoto treaty, which effected a compromise between South and North, the developing versus industrially developed stakeholders.

Indian Delegate Jayanthi Natarajan
For the North, who had to own up to “historic responsibility” of purchasing century-long industrialization at the expense of the atmospheric commons (not to mention soil and mineral degradation, exhaustion of fossil fuels, ruinous destruction of habitat and biodiversity, and the socially devastating effects of capitalism and globalization), emissions reductions were a hair-shirt, worn to atone for their sins. 
Under the Kyoto regime, each “developed” nation was prescribed a target percentage reduction of its greenhouse gas pollution based on its 1995 emissions level and its capacity to effect reductions. “Developing” nations were essentially given a pass. Since they were not responsible for the problem to begin with, they pleaded with the growth junkies at the UN that they required the methamphetamine-like injections of pure stuff – coal, gas and oil – to “catch up” with Europe and the USA in consumer culture and its spendthrift, glamorous lifestyles as seen on TV. Their “common but differentiated” burden would be a free pass to pollute. Instead of having targets of reducing their actual emissions, they would have targets based on percentages of what their emissions might one day become, were they as wasteful as say, the United States, Australia or Canada.

This nukespeak has developed its own set of code-words, like the atmospheric parking lot analogy, used so fondly by India. In the parking lot analogy, there are a fixed set of spaces in the sky for us to park smoke. India reckons we have 75% of the spaces taken and 25% remain. This is of course, utter nonsense, because if the atmospheric garage were not already oversmoked by 150 to 200%, we would not be losing so much ice in the Arctic and experiencing such extreme weather everywhere else. But, under India’s rationale, the question is who gets to use the last 25% and can we not agree to apportion that added pollution more fairly, such as by population size or GDP, for instance? In UN-speak, this is called “equity.”

The crippled Kyoto treaty, which is what Ms. Appadurai was so passionate about saving, would only reduce emissions by developed countries by 12-17% in a best-case scenario. Even under the rosiest scientific scenarios the world needs immediate 25 to 30% reductions and 80% by mid-century to have a chance to stay below 2 degrees Celsius of warming this century. That’s crucial because beyond 2 degrees we very likely would pass tipping points to 3 degrees and at 3 degrees pass more tipping points leading us to 4 degrees, and so on, all irreversible, all totally catastrophic. Kyoto, as it was structured with common but differentiated and historical responsibilities, gives a free pass to developing countries, including rapidly industrializing Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the BASIC group), to continue enlarging emissions, which, as we have seen in the past few years, quickly wipes out all gains in the developed world and jams yet more smoke into the crammed atmospheric parking lot, every year.

As the final days’ showdown approached, most observers said that Durban would be a bust. We were already labeling it the COP-out of COPs. The EU insisted on a legally binding treaty to follow a brief renewal of Kyoto — one that would bind both North and South to reductions. India and its allies insisted on including the “equity” issue; more passes to pollute. China was ready to concede it had become an industrial country, but it rightly pointed to all the other developed countries and asked, poignantly, which of them had done as much to go green in its development planning? Which of them had found as many new ways to reduce their own carbon footprints as China had?

Venezuela's Claudia Solerno stands on a table to be heard
Friday’s closing sessions gave way to an all-night session, which gave way to meetings throughout the day on Saturday. The South African airline announced it would add more flights on Sunday afternoon to accommodate rebookings, taking away the excuses of those who said they had to leave. As evening approached on Saturday, statements by delegates became more passionate. Claudia Salerno of Venezuela, one of the most eloquent speakers at the conference, stood on a table and waved at the chair to be heard. She spoke in defense of extending Kyoto.

For readers who did not follow our blow-by-blow posts from Copenhagen and Cancún, the background of this is that the United States under George W. Bush had wanted to get rid of Al Gore’s Kyoto climate treaty entirely and did whatever it could to subvert UN efforts to strengthen or extend it. In Copenhagen, President Obama succeeded where Bush had failed, getting COP-15 to sign off on a one-page voluntary pledge system in lieu of legally binding caps. Hillary Clinton had sweetened the deal a week earlier by going to Copenhagen with a promise of $100 billion in public and private money to promote “green” development in the two-thirds world. This bought off a lot of the opposition.

This is actually standard diplomatic procedure for the United States going back to at least the Second World War. Pay any price to get what you want. Money is not the problem.

Norway pointed out that Ethopia would develop without CO2
In Cancún the extortion was formalized into the Green Climate Fund, to be initially managed by the Global Environmental Facility, an arm of the World Bank, which is very experienced at extorting whole countries, just ask Argentina. One of the tasks for Durban, which was never resolved but was kicked down the road, was how to fund the Green Climate Fund and who would succeed GEF as manager. In principle, the Fund is a great idea, because it takes away the rationale for “common but differentiated” passes to pollute. Ethiopia, for example, has said it will effect its development entirely without benefit of fossil fuels. Such a fund could pay for that to happen everywhere. The problem is that GEF is not perceived as a neutral manager, and what Ms. Solerno said seemed to confirm that.

Speaking with stern resolve, tinged with angry indignation, Ms. Solerno said that outside the plenary chamber, during a break, she had been threatened by someone who had told her she needed to abandon support of Kyoto or Venezuela would lose any access to the Green Climate Fund. She did not say who had made this threat, but she said, “Mr. Chairman, I will be heard. I am not less party than parties that are not parties to some issues.” The United States is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, never having ratified the treaty.

“Mr .Chairman, we are a peaceful country but we do not like threats. We do not like threats from countries that have shown to the world that they are not ready to do anything or to anything else but give money. In the corridor I have received two threats. One, that if Venezuela does not adopt the text, they will not give us the second commitment period. Mr. Chairman, the second commitment period is not for Venezuela, it is for the world. It is to preserve and sustain the rule system. If they threaten me with this fake trade — that we need to actually adopt a weaker regime for the world — they are actually not threatening me, but the world.

“Secondly, and the most pathetic, and the most lowest threat, if we don’t give them their comfort zone, with no rules, flexible, in which they’re going to do whatever they want, when they want — to take us to four degrees — we are not going to have the Green Climate Fund….

“Mr. Chairman, the issue on your text is how do we see the future. My country has made all these efforts to resist this merchantilist vision that pretends to save us, putting a price on the most sacred, which is our future, and the future of our children, and the future of our world. And I believe that future as many think, some believe it costs $100 billion dollars. Here we are not selling Kyoto for $100 billion dollars. The fate of this world is not worth it. $100 billion dollars…. The ethical position and the integrity of the completely flooded Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is not going to be sold for $100 billion dollars. We need to stop this farce, this lack of shame by some delegates.”

In the evening, hoping to salvage some deal from the year-long negotiations, President of COP-17 Maite Nkoana-Mashabane convened an informal “listening session.” “It is your choice what history you want to make,” she said.

Huddle in final Indaba
She reminded delegates of the ways that the Zulu people came together in a spirit of Ubuntu, compromise for the betterment of the whole, in sessions called indaba, gatherings with the purpose of debating a matter of grave importance in an attempt to find common mind or a common story that all the participants can take home with them. After hours of statements from delegates, ranging from impassioned pleas from island countries to outrage over equity issues by India’s Jayanthi Natarajan, at 2:40 AM on Sunday, she asked for a 10-minute “huddle” to permit delegates who seemed the farthest apart to meet and attempt to resolve their differences. That huddle continued for close to an hour, but then, remarkably, it did produce results. India, which had vowed to block consensus, was persuaded to rejoin by a change of wording from “a legal outcome” to “an agreed outcome with legal force.” Venezuela was given both a renewal of the Kyoto Protocol and the Green Climate Fund. The US, hoping desperately to kick the can past the current election year, was saddled with a new framework that would eventually, by no later than 2020, bind both it and China to a common reduction regimen.

As she gaveled the COP to a close, Nkoana-Mashabane said “Climate change is the common problem which affects all of us and the Durban Platform is the story we will take home with us. Our intention with indaba was to restore trust in the multilateral system and to enshrine transparency and facility within our party-driven process. The decisions we have taken here are truly historical and include the following: amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, decisions on the LCA, the Green Climate Fund and the future of the climate change regime…. At the outset we asked you to show leadership in action and to think beyond your national position. You have clearly demonstrated your commitment and resolve to achieve the broad and balanced result that we can all be proud of…. We have once again saved tomorrow today.”

Whether tomorrow was really saved today or whether that was mere rhetorical flourish is a judgment we can leave to historians. Among the accomplishments however, was creation of a process to address the “ambition gap.” This is UN-speak for the willingness of the major polluters to take halfway measures — the United States is sticking to the 3% reduction goal by 2020 over 1990 levels Mr. Obama proposed in Copenhagen — while lacking the spine to raise ambitions higher. Lots of side events, meetings and studies have outlined abundant economic and social benefits waiting for those who devote the final hours of their dwindling fossil sunlight to making the transition to 100% renewables, but few outside China, Iceland and Denmark are really displaying any such ambition. The critique most heard of the Kyoto renewal was that it locked in this “ambition gap” for at least another 5 years.

So it was that the most remarkable document emerging from Durban was FCCC/CP/2011/l.10-GE.11-71657, Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

The Conference of the Parties,

Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties, and acknowledging that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,

Noting with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels,

Recognizing that fulfilling the ultimate objective of the Convention will require strengthening the multilateral, rules-based regime under the Convention,


Further decides that the process shall raise the level of ambition and shall be informed, inter alia, by the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the outcomes of the 2013–2015 review and the work of the subsidiary bodies;

Decides to launch a workplan on enhancing mitigation ambition to identify and to explore options for a range of actions that can close the ambition gap with a view to ensuring the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties;

Requests Parties and observer organizations to submit by 28 February 2012 their views on options and ways for further increasing the level of ambition and decides to hold an in-session workshop at the first negotiating session in 2012 to consider options and ways for increasing ambition and possible further actions.

The heavy rainstorms that blocked view of the full moon over Durban gave way to sunrise as the delegates wended their weary way back from the final plenary this morning. A mere 24-hours earlier it had seemed most probable that COP-17 would be a total bust. Whether the can could be kicked down the road for even another year was in considerable doubt, because with an impending failure of resolve, even the multilateral process itself was threatened. Now, with the rays of the sun, came fresh rays of hope. There is no legally binding regime in place yet, but the resolve has been taken to create that, and to raise the global level of ambition.

“The good news is we avoided a train wreck,” said Alden Meyer for Union of Concerned Scientists, who only a day earlier had been forecasting a likely failure. “The bad news is that we did very little here to affect the emissions curve.”

That is something for Marcin Korolec to think about on his flight back to Poland this afternoon. So far, the EU has been plagued with half-measures that lack the ambition of a debt jubilee, cap and share, local currencies backed by carbon credits, or even serious regulation of multinational vulture banksters that exploit vulnerabilities in the system to feather their own nests. Might it be possible to get all the stakeholders into an indaba, huddle up, and with the spirit of Ubuntu, raise the EU Council’s level of ambition?

Nelson Mandela once explained Ubuntu this way: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

------ Remarks of Anjali Appadura, Youth Delegate ------ 

“I speak for more than half the world’s population. We are the silent majority. You’ve giving us a seat in this hall but our interests are not on the table. What is it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbies, corporate influence, money?

You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time you failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets and you’ve broken promises. But you’ve heard this all before.

We’re in Africa, home to communities on the front line of climate change. The world’s poor’s countries need funding for adaptation NOW. The horn of Africa and those nearby in India needed it YESTERDAY. But as 2012 comes the green climate fund remains empty.

The International Energy Agency tells us we have five years until the window to avoid irreversible climate change closes. The science tells us that we have 5 years maximum. You’re saying: ‘give us ten’. We must stop betrayal of your generation’s responsibility to ours. It’s that you call this: ambition. Where is the courage in these rooms?

Now is not the time for incremental action. In the long run these will be seen as the defining moments of an era in which narrow self-interest prevailed over science, reason and common compassion.

There is real ambition in this room. But it’s being dismissed as radical, deemed not ‘politically possible’. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet climate to betray the future of my generation and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What’s radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach.

2011 was the year in which the silent majority found their voice. The year when the bottom shook the top. 2011 was the year when the radical became reality. Common but differentiated and historical responsibility are not up for debate.

Respect the foundational principles of this convention. Respect the integral values of humanity. Respect the future of your descendants.

Mandela said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. So, distinguished delegates, and governments around the world, governments of the developed world: Deep cuts now!!



Sunday, February 28, 2010

Barry and the Dinosaurs

One day little Barry was out walking in the woods and he came across a yellow baby dinosaur. The dinosaur had a gold chain around its neck with the name “Nuke.”

Barry took the baby dinosaur home but his mother objected to bringing it into the house. “That’s dirty,” she said. “Keep it away.”

“But mom,” Barry said, “nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions.”

“Who fed you that line of b.s., boy? You think you can make a pile of uranium after you have dug some big pit mine in South Dakota and not have carbon emissions? You think you can truck that heavy stuff all over the country and not have carbon emissions? Don’t you know about all the coal they burn in Kentucky and Tennessee just to make that stuff so they can burn it in ‘clean’ reactors?

“But mom,” Barry said, “it’s just a cute little dinosaur.

“Cute little dinosaur gonna get you more just like it. Has it been fixed? You want one of them in Iran? Pakistan? Venezuela? You’re not gonna like cleaning up after all those, especially if they bite.”

So Barry took the dinosaur back to the woods. And there he came across a black baby dinosaur. The dinosaur had a chain around its neck with the name “Clean Coal.”

Barry took the baby dinosaur home but his mother objected to bringing it into the house. “That’s dirty,” she said. “Keep it away.”

“But mom,” Barry said,  “it has been said the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal.

“You gotta be dumb as a post to believe that, boy. Been said a lot of nonsense. We’re already running out of coal in this country, just ask any miner. You seen those places in West Virginia where there used to be mountains?”

“But mom, this little guy is putting the country on track to lead the world in technology that we can export — including to China, which is building coal-powered plants at a rate of one per month now.”

“You think China is stupid enough to buy that? Why don’t you sell them the Sears Tower while you’re at it?”

“Momma, we have to get off our foreign oil addiction. Otherwise we’ll have more disappearing jobs, instability and terror bred in the Middle East, rising oceans, and all the rest.”

“Don’t you remember what you said last week , you know, about one million hybrid cars, two million wind-powered homes, and all that?”

“But mom,” Barry said, “let’s be practical.”

“You be practical and take that thing back to wherever you found it.”

So Barry took the dinosaur back to the woods, and sat down on a stump and felt miserable. Until he looked up to the top of the trees, which formed a cathedral ceiling with shards of light piercing their crowns. “Isn’t that magnificent?” Barry thought. 

“I’ve got it, Momma,” Barry said when he got home. “I have seen the solution.”

“What is that, son?”

“We’ll cut down all the trees!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tea Leaves

At the last US presidential election in 2004 I researched the subject of gasoline prices and discovered that every election year a Bush was in the White House the price of gasoline peaked in early July and then declined sharply to Election Day, rebounding gradually after that. Every year a Bush was outside but wanting to get into the White House, the opposite happened. There is one exception to this, which came in 2004, when Bush-II was trying to defeat John Kerry and prices should have come down but did not.

Until now I have attributed the pattern to the relationship between the House of Bush and the House of Saud. It is a little more nuanced than that, because who really sets prices is the refineries, and although it helps to have more crude in the pipeline when you are taking prices down, that has not always been the case in election years. If you are into conspiracy theories, you might say Pappy Bush and his close advisor, James A. Baker III, strongly influence the management of the refineries and hence are in a position to set prices, regardless of supply and demand. See, for instance, the client list of Baker's Houston law firm. Of course, you would never be able to prove that.

The lone exception year that broke the pattern can be explained by peak oil. By 2004 the world was lurching into a shortfall in crude inventories, demand was soaring in China, Venezuela was rumbling, and the Saudis were miffed over the worsening Palestinian situation (similar to the position OPEC found itself in, after the US peaked and they could turn the screws on Richard Nixon in 1973 in response to the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War, precipitating a global crisis at the gas pumps, which abated only when Henry Kissinger got the Israelis to promise to give up the Golan Heights).

However, if the explanation is credible, that same exception should apply this year. One glance at refinery crude inventories (This Week In Petroleum from the EIA) — down 25.8 percent from this time last year — and you can see the tension between supply and demand has never been greater. At the peak of Hurricane Gustav preparations, shut-in Gulf of Mexico crude production totaled approximately 100 percent of the U.S. Gulf crude production (1.3 million barrels per day). Last week 14 Gulf refineries were shut down by the evacuations. As of the end of this week, shut-in Gulf of Mexico crude production still totals 1.25 million barrels per day and 13 of those 14 refineries remain closed. Hurricane Ike is a Category 4 on a westerly track into the Gulf, skirting the north coast of Cuba on this coming Monday.

Saudi production is little changed and Mexico is in steep decline (down some 30% year-over-year at their Cantarell field, as I reported here 2 weeks ago).

Based on all these tea leaves, back in July I went out and re-filled my 550-gallon storage tank with regular unleaded. Dumbest purchase I ever made. If I had waited just one week I would have seen the change in price direction and waited. I could just not imagine the election year pattern re-establishing. So far that lack of imagination has cost me $637.68.

So how is it that gasoline peaked in early July and is now declining sharply in the march towards Election Day, and crude on the world markets just closed the week at $104.58? The U.S. average retail price for regular gasoline fell for the eighth week in a row. The West Coast price fell for the tenth week in a row. I don't think either the Beijing Olympics or demand destruction in the US can explain that sudden, unpredicted fall.

On my transoceanic flight today they were screening Recount, the HBO movie about the 2000 election. The answer was right there in front of me: Bush Senior’s go-to-guy, Jim Baker.

I think the only reasonable explanation is that the House of Bush decided to anoint John McCain as Bush-III and now has put the nation's wholesale gas prices on a Labor Day special, against the financial interests of refinery owners (who, after all, are making record profits and can afford to light their cigars with million-dollar bills). But see Tom Whipple's caution about refinery stocks. If you push prices down, you push demand back up in the USA. If you are teetering on your front-end inventories to begin with, what you get from that is shortages. That won't be good for McCain if it comes in the next 65 days. But perhaps the refineries have their fourth quarter calendar already scoped out, and 65 days is _exactly_ their inventory limit.

That is, unless Ike, or another major hurricane, decides to pay a call at the Gulf oil patch. Eisenhower had a staff meteorologist. Maybe John McCain should too.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Change or Die

If George W. Bush seems to have a haggard look and often be heard speaking with a bit of a slur lately, it is just the sound of a legacy crumbling. With that goes the hope of Republicans to install their surrogate for a Bush third term. You’ll forgive the crocodile tears.

Bush’s signature piece in his final year was to have been peace in Palestine, but the emissaries he sent to get it done were as inept at making peace as they were at making war. Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice had promised the Saudi royal family, lifelong friends of the House of Bush, that they would have a roadmap, a road, a full tank of gas, and a cooler of Powershot by now.

They haven’t even found the map.

And the Saudis know it. They have been stalled and jerked around long enough, and its time now to trim the Powershot supply for the American Empire. According to today’s Gulf Daily News ("The Voice of Bahrain") Saudi Arabia has sliced oil production to about nine million barrels per day (bpd).

For those who have been following this, that is another 200,000 bpd cut. Actual Saudi production capacity, which is what the Empire needs to continue, is said by the Saudis to be somewhere north of 11 mbpd, rising to 12.5 mbpd by next year. This latest production cut is not a small overture. It is a slap-down.

The Gulf Daily News cannot be a joy to read at the White House. Global oil consumption will rise by 1.27 mbpd in 2008, the International Energy Agency tells us in its latest monthly report, putting further price pressure on oil products, from gasoline and plastics to fertilizer and jet fuel. Worse, if you look at the USA’s other principal trading partners for crude oil, they are all on the same down escalator, headed for the nearest exit.

Mexico’s giant Cantarell field is in terminal decline and any thought of offshore replacement wells has fallen into a political Marianas Trench. The puppet government installed by Diebold, headed by Felipe Calderon, is being prevented from nationalizing Petroleos Mexicanos by the pot-banging opposition, who knew the election was rigged and now want to protect Mexico’s state-owned company from being looted. Without foreign investments in oil exploration, the Calderon government is forced to choose between skimming PEMEX profits to pay for its economic plan (more tourism) or investing in high-tech offshore drilling technology run by Mexicans. So far, they have preferred to keep skimming. It’s an addiction.

All of that is great news for the fragile coastal environment of Yucatan, but bad news for Houston, where EIA beancounters will soon be seeing much less Mexican crude arriving at refineries. Moreover, in another year or so, Houston shipwatchers will be counting far fewer Venezuelan tankers sailing up the harbor channel.

Part of Venezuela’s mutual defense treaty with China (if China is attacked by, say, Tibet, Venezuela has promised to send troops) allows China to build the special refineries needed to process Orinoco Heavy. Those special refineries never existed outside the USA before, and it means that in a year or so, Venezuelan tankers will be skirting the Penisula de la Guajira and dropping Southwest toward the Panama Canal instead of sailing Northwest past Jamaica and into the Gulf.

Of the four countries that export more than a million barrels of oil to the USA every day, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela have now begun twisting off their respective spigots, although the pinch and squeeking sound is still a little ways into our future. The fourth dealer is Canada. Can Canada make up the difference? Can any of the smaller suppliers — Nigeria, for instance? No. Of course not.

Peace in Palestine was the precondition that the Saudis placed on giving the USA a chance to transition more smoothly out of the petroleum era, or procrastinate longer, take your choice. With more deaths every day in Gaza —from lack of water, lack of food, lack of hospital access, and lack of hope — the American Empire is now looking more like Napoleon’s legions, right after they took Moscow. It is spread out thinly, with no supply line, in retreat, and the winter is blowing cold.

Just to balance this piece with a prescription for a way out, let me add an epilogue. The day after the US election next November, Mr. Obama needs to find the means to accomplish what Lamar Alexander did when he was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1979. He didn’t wait for the scheduled inauguration, but was directly sworn to the oath of office by the Tennessee Supreme Court in order to bring an abrupt halt to his predecessor’s crime spree.

After that nifty trick, Mr. Obama needs to appoint several emergency commissions. One will have to be for Truth and Reconciliation, or perhaps a Nuremberg trial, assigning responsibility for eight years of murder, torture and mayhem.

Another will focus on the hemorrhaging economy and provide a Rooseveltian program for jobs, housing, rail and agricultural revitalization. Still another will revamp US foreign and military policy, phasing the withdrawals from unsustainable bases all over the world and employing those assets at home, where they can begin the urgent work of greening our deserts, net sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, cleaning up after hurricanes or floods, and making and storing more food.

If too much Fox News has conditioned you to think of Roosevelt as an evil socialist, brace yourself for rapid reconditioning. Capitalism is based on endless growth. We are entering an era of sustained contraction. When Enterprise Capitalism fails, Progressive Social Democracy is a viable alternative to Feudal Theocracy or Militarized Autocracy. Fox News would give you the last of those choices as the best. I’m prodding President Obama towards PSD. We'll need socialized medicine, housing, food security and jobs. We'll need it to be delivered in a local, compassionate, egalitarian and non-bureaucratic fashion.

There will indeed be a need for grand scale public projects. But, instead of building another carrier fleet, the Pentagon can help Mr. Obama build desalination plants on the coasts, powered by wind and tidal energy, to pump water inland to stop the deserts’ spread. Mr. Obama can also shut down NASA’s Mission to Mars and redirect that effort towards renewable energy applications for transportation, communications and vital infrastructure.

I’m only getting warmed up. In his first hundred days, Mr. Obama should announce a program to reverse population growth through family planning and economic incentives. Foreign aid, both monetary and technical, must henceforth be conditioned on good-faith efforts by recipient countries to curb population. At home, we should set a goal of one half in one century (a modest population decline, really — just 0.7 %/yr).

Our atmospheric carbon reduction goal should be 110% by 2010. (Thank you George Monbiot.)

While the private automobile becomes increasingly expensive to fuel and service, public transportation can be publicly subsidized, even free to use in many markets, to speed conversion. Rail nodes will once more extend to every small town and neighborhood, making bike-and-jitney-to-rail possible for many routine needs and permitting freight and commerce to stay in motion. Powering this system can be an giant grid of natural energy systems — rain, sun, wind, tide, wave and geothermal.

This is not a science fiction fantasy. This is inevitable. Or else.
“[S]aid Scrooge, 'answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?'
“Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.”
— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Our choice is to change or die.




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