Strange Bedfellows

March 22, 2007 at 9:35 am
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here is my latest, for Green Chip Review. I discuss Al Gore’s testimony to Congress on global warming, and the inextricable relationship between energy and politics.

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A New Day Dawns for Solar

March 16, 2007 at 5:57 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s my latest for Energy and Capital, about the recent awards of $168 million in R&D money from the Department of Energy to various solar companies.
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The Cavalry Stays Home

March 10, 2007 at 10:08 am
Contributed by:

Folks,

Here’s my latest for Energy and Capital, about the large oil and gas projects around the world that are being cancelled and delayed due to many factors, not the least of which is cost overruns.

–C

The Cavalry Stays Home

March 9, 2007

By Chris Nelder

“The worst thing that could happen is to confuse ourselves and the public with too much spin about unlimited energy supplies at cheap prices, alternative fuels on a global scale, or energy independence in a matter of years. That kind of thinking simply dilutes our focus, defers the tough solutions that are needed today, and sets us all up for more future shocks and economic disruptions.”

— Sadad al Husseini, former head of exploration and production for Saudi Aramco, in a January, 2007 interview with the Journal of Petroleum Technology

When confronted with the indisputable reality of the peaking and decline of the world’s top-producing oil fields, the cornucopian camp points to new projects as the cavalry that will ride in and save the day. High crude prices, they argue, will make formerly marginal oil projects profitable and encourage the development of new oil fields.

But given recent events, it seems their faith in the Invisible Hand is ill-placed.

Let’s take a look at some of them.

First, the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan. Situated on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, it’s the largest new oil field discovery in over 30 years, with a potential production of 1.5 million b/d. That would make it one of the top four most productive oil fields in the world. (Only three of the world’s 4,000 oil fields produce more than 1.5 mbpd, and all of them are either in decline or suspected of being in decline.)

Consequently, production from Kashagan has been eagerly anticipated by cornucopians, who expected it to make up for the depletion of the world’s mature fields.

But two weeks ago, the Italian oil group operating the field, Eni, announced that the startup cost of the project is going to be almost double the initial estimate, at $19 billion vs. $10.3 billion. And that’s just to get the initial phase of the project going through 2011, when it will produce 300,000 bpd.

It’s also going to take about three years longer than previously anticipated, beginning production around 2010, and won’t hit its 1.5 mbpd peak production until 2019!

Since it appears that we’re already at the peak of global production, that means the Kashagan cavalry will show up just in time to clear the bodies off the battlefield.

Just two days earlier, ExxonMobil announced that the costs of its much-anticipated, $15 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Qatar were running out of control, and so it decided to scrap the project altogether.

“Right now, everyone around us is postponing and delaying projects,” Qatari Oil Minister al-Attiyah said.

Oops, there goes another company of horsemen.

This is a severe blow to the cornucopians, who have predicted a massive expansion of the liquefied natural gas industry. One week ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report saying that LNG will deliver 31% of global gas by 2010, a doubling of the production level in 2005. About two thirds of that production was to come from Qatar.

Exxon’s announcement that they were scrapping the Qatar project was on February 21, a week before the PricewaterhouseCoopers report was released. Presumably the report was nearly done by that time. I wonder if anybody considered revising it, or if they just decided to let the optimistic story stand and hope that nobody would notice.

Across the Caspian Sea from Kashagan, on the northeastern edge, is another highly anticipated oil project on Russia’s Sakhalin Island. Royal Dutch Shell’s Sakhalin II field is the world’s largest combined oil and natural gas project and Russia’s first LNG plant–a very, very big deal.

But, in what has become a well-worn ruse in the ongoing play of Russia renationalizing her resources, the project was accused of environmental negligence and threatened with lawsuits until Shell was forced into minority role, with Russia back in control.

Among the shady shenanigans and nasty allegations surrounding the project is the revelation that Shell executives had known for some time about the ballooning projected costs of the project, but kept the information secret. When the project was taken over by the Russian government, they dropped that poison pill, revealing that the costs were actually going to double: not $10 billion but $20 billion. Putin was reportedly furious.

The cost overrun is definitely going to slow things down in Sahkalin.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, our number-five top source of oil imports, the militant group MEND issued a press release saying that Italians and Nigerian officials had paid a $1 million bribe in order to secure the release of captured oil workers. One of the hostages escaped and MEND broke off negotiations with the Italians, saying they would keep the remaining hostages until May.

Violence and killings have ratcheted up ever since, and the Italians are now telling their 600+ nationals in Nigeria to get out of dangerous areas.

On the whole, at least 50 foreigners have been kidnapped in Nigeria over the last two months, thousands of foreign oil workers have left the country, and oil production in the swamps is down 20%.

Attacks on the pipelines, and attempts to siphon fuel from punctured pipelines, have also led to the deaths of thousands of locals when the pipelines exploded.

Due to the danger and uncertainty, major oil companies have announced that they will postpone planned projects in the Nigerian swamps, including LNG plants worth about $20 billion. Those plants have been highly anticipated as critical sources of future imports for the U.S. and the U.K.

And in Ghana, a natural gas supply line currently under construction to bring Nigerian gas to African energy generation plants is delayed because the Niger Delta militants keep vandalizing the pipeline.

Chalk up another company of horsemen that won’t be riding to the rescue.

In addition to its losses in Kashagan and Nigeria, Eni lost production last year in Venezuela as Chavez seized their Dacion field. They have now asked the World Bank to arbitrate the dispute with Venezuela. (I wonder how far they’ll get, with Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war and a bitter antagonist of Chavez, heading up the Bank?)

It’s tough to be an oil company out on the frontier of development. Very tough.

A few days ago, Venezuela made another unpleasant announcement to the six foreign oil companies that are being forced out of their investments there under Chavez’s renationalization program. Instead of being compensated in dollars, they will be paid in vouchers that will give them reduced equity stakes in future oil projects. Ouch.

Back in December, Occidental Petroleum announced it was going home after a long legal battle with the native people of northern Peru. For 30 years, Oxy failed to clean up their chemical waste from drilling operations there, leading to numerous health problems for the locals. Oxy has also been forced out of a $60 million investment in Colombia, where residents have struggled to stop the oil developments for over a decade, engaging in demonstrations, threatening mass suicide, and even being gunned down by paramilitary forces allegedly hired by Oxy.

In short: The people down south want a safe and clean environment as much as anybody else, and they don’t see the need to sacrifice that in order to satisfy our need for oil imports.

Turning to Iraq, a senior oil ministry official recently said that the country is losing up to 400,000 b/d of production due to attacks on the oil infrastructure, most of them targeting pipelines. In 2006, there was an attack about once every other day.

Pipelines are notoriously difficult to protect, and with the country verging on civil war and U.S. forces unable to secure even Baghdad, hopes for restoring the oil infrastructure in Iraq are fading fast.

So much for their being able to finance their own reconstruction, too.

As we have noted before , in some cases the price of oil itself is stifling oil projects. For example, at Shell’s Alberta oil sands project, the cost of producing a barrel of oil, after a planned 100,000 b/d expansion, will be six times higher than the cost when the project first started! That announcement last year had investors fleeing for the exits, and mercilessly took down the stocks of the companies involved . . . no doubt slowing those projects down as well.

The overriding theme should be clear:

  • Cost overruns are the norm, not the exception, and projects are running over budget by two times or more.
  • Foreign oil companies are taking some serious hits in their far-flung projects, and are adopting defensive postures. They will not be rushing out to the frontiers of Africa and the Caspian to develop the world’s last major sources of untapped oil and natural gas any time soon.
  • The fossil fuel cavalry, if it ever leaves home at all, won’t be arriving in time to delay the peak or avert shortfalls.

Last week, legendary Texas oil man and oil market prophet T. Boone Pickens confirmed that we’re at the global peak of oil production: “If I’m right, we’re already at the peak,” he said. “The price will have to go up.”

Need another reason to believe him? Pickens’s bets on the oil market have netted him 800% returns since 2001.

A technical analysis last week by Stuart Staniford of The Oil Drum supports the notion that we’re at the peak, concluding that Saudi oil production went into decline at the rate of 8% a year in 2006. If Saudi Arabia is in decline, then by definition the world is in decline. An 8% decline rate there cannot be made up elsewhere.

So where does all this bad news for fossil fuels leave us?

You already know the answer: renewables.

They don’t need to be deployed in remote and dangerous parts of the world. They require no blood to protect, and do not bring disease and death to local populations. They emit no greenhouse gasses. And when the cost of oil projects spirals out of control like this, they start to look downright cheap, especially if you can think beyond next quarter’s balance sheet and see these trends extending a decade or two into the future.

I don’t believe the Street has priced in just how expensive the future of oil production is going to be, or how cheap renewables will be by comparison in a very short while.

But that’s what we’re here for: to give you the heads-up so you can get in on the ground floor and make a killing.

Until next time,

–Chris

RE Coup at TXU

February 28, 2007 at 4:30 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s my latest article for Green Chip Stocks, about the recently announced buyout of the largest electric utility in Texas by a group of private equity investors…a very significant event for the renewable energy world!
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A Fighting Chance

February 25, 2007 at 9:16 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s a piece I wrote for Energy and Capital, about the various governmental initiatives that are being developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase renewable energy generation.
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Oblivion – A Photo Essay of Los Angeles

February 15, 2007 at 1:59 pm
Contributed by:

Folks,

Here’s a photo essay in Orion magazine, which features aerial photos of Los Angeles as art, exploring the nature of the built environment. I think it’s a fascinating way to look at things, and an interesting counterpoint to the back-to-the-land movement. Check it out…and make sure to read the essay, it’s worthwhile.

Oblivion by David Maisel

–C

Relearning How to Live as Voluntary Peasants

February 15, 2007 at 11:51 am
Contributed by:

Folks,

I thought this was a fascinating read. Taken from Jan Lundberg’s excellent Culture Change newsletter, it’s an essay about one man’s journey around the country, in search of solutions to a post-peak oil society. Over the last six months, he has visited numerous intentional communities, particularly The Farm in Tennessee, and interviewed the like-minded from coast to coast, looking for people and communities who are trying to find ways toward self-sufficiency. It’s an eye-opener.

–CJOHN’S PEAK OIL ODYSSEY – SIX MONTHS INTO IT

“Part of The Farm’s original vision was to build a village for a thousand people using alternative energy systems that were economically and ecologically responsible. We believed that we could design a graceful standard of living which would be attractive to large numbers of First World people, while also being within reach of all Third World people.”
– Gary Rhine on living as voluntary peasants, “So Close Yet So Far”, from Voices from the Farm (1998)

Just before the Fourth of July, I left my life as a tennis-playing, wine-drinking, spoiled rich white guy to begin this radical eco-odyssey. And in the six months which have ensued, I have watched the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific, joined Peak Oil groups in three time zones, and visited ecovillages as far apart as North Carolina and Oregon. Plus I spent a couple of months training with the Permaculture Army in Berkeley. But it is to The Farm, the thirty-six-year-old intentional community in Tennessee, that I keep returning.

I didn’t hear good things about The Farm when I was on my way to visit. I had participated in the Earth First! Rendezvous in the Appalachian Mountains. There I saw former mountains apocalyptically sliced down to nothing to yield up coal which will be called “clean” to perhaps be liquefied for toxic methanol — marketed as something disingenuous to shut Americans up about Peak Oil and Global Climate Chaos. The Farm was beckoning as a bastion of back-to-the-land activism in one of the mountain-top removal states.

At the Rendezvous I had met a young farmer who lives at The Farm. Her old VW van had broken down somewhere east of The Farm and west of the Appalachians, and she needed a ride back to it. I had still not yet given away my car (I would do so soon enough — to firm up my eco-cred), so I was glad to help her out. “At The Farm,” she told me on the way, as the big-box-bound tractor-trailers and the super-sized SUVs whooshed past, “there is no farming.”

I would hear similar reports about The Farm as far away as the Left Coast. “It’s a gated community now,” a teacher of urban gardening in Oakland said. “It’s like the suburbs now” said a permaculturist in Oregon, “and nobody wants to get their hands dirty by farming.” “It’s a retirement community for old hippies,” said a rich young hippie in Berkeley, on his way to India.

And, well, there is no farming being done on The Farm. As I drove in, I saw thirty-year-old apple trees and thirty-year-old horses. Hundreds of acres of fields lay fallow. It turns out that a lot of Farmies drive the seventy-some miles up to Nashville to buy hyper-priced U.S.D.A.-certified organic goodies at Wild Oats (a Corporate Clone of Whole Foods, where the PR.-savvy system does not allow the cashiers to unionize, but does encourage them to wear tie-dye).

By the same token, however, there is no farming being done in the United States of America — not on a local, sustainable scale, that is, not to any degree worthy of official attention. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of the Census stopped counting farming as an occupation in 1986 — the number of actual, self-employed, traditional farmers had become statistically insignificant. To be sure, there are some non-corporatized farmers still around, but they exist only because they have either a reliable source of non-farm income (as I had), or because they are willing to live in real poverty (the Farmies of the 1970s lived on the equivalent of a dollar fifty per day per person).

But the bottom line is that our corporatized, industrialized, government-subsidized mega-scale methods of petro-food production have made small-scale farming virtually impossible.

And that is the heartbreaking story of American agriculture in the twentieth century, whether you’re talking about grandma and grandpa’s forgotten old farm or whether you’re talking about The Farm. And so if you come to The Farm today looking for a working model for a sustainable, post-petroleum, ecovillaging future, you are going to be disappointed. But then again, where are you going to find such a model in the U.S.?

Back in the 1970s, when there really was subsistence-level farming being done on The Farm, Stephen Gaskin, the founder, coined the terms “Technicolor Amish” and “voluntary peasants” to make it plain how these hippies proudly and idealistically toiled in poverty. But that original hippie energy – that original vision — was not sustainable, and after the big Changeover (as the Farmies still call it) took place in 1982-83, The Farm ceased to be a commune. Private property has been the rule here for a quarter of a century now. Subsistence-level farming is just a collective memory, though the spirit of voluntary peasantry still thrives in the souls of some of the more uncompromising old Farmies.

Albert Bates, for example, who first came to the Farm in 1972, runs what is called the Ecovillage Training Center here, and he has just published a book called The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. But for the time being Bates is something of a prophet without honor in his own country. Few of the Farmies share his sense of urgency about ecological crisis. And this is a real problem. For from what I’ve seen over these past six months, the Farmies represent the best of what’s being done by the very few Americans who are idealistic enough to want to live in intentional communities and ecovillages.

The fact that so much ecological work remains undone and even unattempted at The Farm is frightening, not because it reflects badly on the Farmies, but because it begins to bring into focus just how horrible a place the vast majority of Americans are in now, as we see daffodils blooming in January and our government’s endgame of other people’s depleted-uranium-infected-blood-for-our-oil enters its fourth year.

The Farmies have not yet built an ecovillage — this is unhappily true — but they do know how to live in peace and kindness with their neighbors – and they can remind us that it is possible to live as voluntary peasants. When they lived on the equivalent of a dollar fifty a day, they really did abide by the founding principle which they had taken verbatim from the book of Acts: “And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all as every man had need.”

Their experience of voluntary peasantry puts the Farmies on a totally different planet from the rest of America, where the mainstream still, every day, every minute, is made more addicted to their energy-scarfing hyper-consumerism. So when the time comes and the rest of America, having been denied its right to shop, convulses and sickens in the pangs of withdrawal, the planet of voluntary peasantry may well survive Peak Oil and Global Climate Chaos, because the people on it have had some real preparation for life as involuntary peasants.

And, like it or not, that’s what our future seems to hold, and that’s what will force culture change (no matter how much we pray for techno-fixes): the shock of sudden poverty.
So let us go back to Gary Rhine’s words quoted in the epigraph above, from his account of the founding vision of The Farm. It was about:

“… a village for a thousand people using alternative energy systems that were economically and ecologically responsible. We believed that we could design a graceful standard of living which would be attractive to large numbers of First World people, while also being within reach of all Third World people. We hoped to build the model village, live in it, and then get funding to help build similar towns in Third World countries. We also hoped to inspire other First World groups to build similar villages for themselves.”

“During those years we had people living on The Farm who were at the forefront in fields such as architectural design, solar heating, and photovoltaics. We had the know-how and the manpower to build the town we envisioned. But we didn’t build it.

“After a decade of struggling Third World-style in the woods of Tennessee, we were still living in a skeleton of our dream. Instead of building our town, we had been sending many of our most talented and energetic people to do relief work in Guatemala, Bangladesh, Haiti, the South Bronx, and on American Indian reservations….

“By the early 1980s, many of the people who had been in on the original vision were tired of living in a crisis-management state of mind, with systems constantly breaking down because they weren’t built right in the first place. It was frustrating because we knew how to do it right; we just didn’t have the resources. So a large number of people left. I think that if at that time we had been able to build the town and been able to live within the graceful standard of living that we had envisioned as ‘voluntary peasants,’ a lot of us would not have left. We were so close yet so far” (from Rupert Fike, ed., Voices from the Farm).

Rhine, a documentary filmmaker whose special interest was American Indians, disappeared in a plane crash about a year ago – he wasn’t all that old – and so we are led to consider the fact that just as much of the original vision for The Farm has been lost, so have many of the men and women who lived here during the 1970s already died. Yet it is out of the sadness of unrealized and never-to-be-realized dreams that we can learn from The Farm.

And so I am at The Farm as I write this. I am at The Farm to learn, and I am here to share with you what I have learned so far. My girlfriend Betsy is sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder. Betsy’s a close friend of that young woman farmer whose VW van broke down on the way to the Earth First! Rendezvous last July — whom I helped get home to The Farm — one good turn leads to another! Betsy’s been at The Farm, in one way or the other, since 1975. She was born in a teepee in Colorado in 1972– her mother Marilyn had made it during the pregnancy — and when Betsy was two-and-a-half, Marilyn moved to The Farm and began living the life of a voluntary peasant. For the first ten years of Betsy’s life Marilyn did not even own a wallet. Right now Betsy and I are house-sitting for her — she’s gone to Washington, D.C. in a Greyhound Bus with about forty other Farmies to protest our so-called war in Iraq. (Like Betsy and me, Albert’s also stayed behind; he’s entertaining a reporter from Vanity Fair who’s writing a story about the history of The Farm — how odd a topic for Vanity Fair!)

And so, as Betsy looks over my shoulder, she makes sure that what I write here is both full of truth and free from personal or pointless criticism. For this is what I have to learn here. This is where our proper response to our scary future begins: in seeing things just as they are, and then reacting to them with equanimity — by rising above our petty likes and dislikes, our self-protecting projections and false expectations, in order to be able to act with true mindfulness and compassion under any circumstances. For any circumstances are already here.

John Siman is going back and forth between the Georgia coast, where he is working on the refit of the schooner Wanderer (soon to be the Emancipator), and The Farm in Tennessee, where he is writing, among other things, a book titled Disconnectivities: Watching America Heat Up and Hubbert Down; or, Always Astonished. He can be contacted at john “at” thefarm “dot” org

* * * * *

References:

Voices From The Farm, edited by Rupert Fike.
copyright 1998.

Book of Acts: the New Testament, Acts, 2:44, 45.

Ecovillage Training Center:

thefarm.org

Albert Bates’ book: The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, reviewed in Raise the Hammer, January 10, 2007:

www.raisethehammer.org

Earth First! Journal:


earthfirstjournal.org

Something’s Gotta Give

February 14, 2007 at 7:27 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

This is republished from Wealth Daily. It’s my critique of the latest oil data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), and concludes that we will be seeing higher oil prices soon.

–C
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The OSP Unmasked

February 9, 2007 at 6:55 pm
Contributed by:

Folks,

I have been greatly relieved to see some of the truth about the Office of Special Plans coming out into the open…finally. I first blogged it in June 2003, quoting an article from Newsweek, so we’ve known about it for nearly four years. I have blogged it seven times since then.

OK, so this investigation is about four years too late to save us from getting into the Iraq debacle, but at least the truth is coming to light. Now that the White House’s deceptions about the war are becoming public knowledge–no longer something that can be cast aside as “conspiracy theory”–perhaps we can also have a real debate about Iraq. Again, yes, a debate we should have had before the war–and would have had, had the Republicans dominating all three branches of government not stonewalled it, but better late than never, I guess.

I am reminded again of one of my favorite quotes by the Dr. Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–C

Feith Takes the Fall


By Mark Thompson/Washington

Friday, Feb. 09, 2007


For a person most Americans have never heard of, Doug Feith has been called terrible names by very important people. In Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward quotes General Tommy Franks — appalled at the quality of intelligence about Iraq — railing that Feith, then the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, was “the f—king stupidest guy on the face of the earth.” Today, there was another bad review. Feith got publicly slapped by the Defense Department’s inspector general for developing pro-war intelligence on Iraq — outside of official channels — that now seems plainly wrong. The IG concludes that Feith’s office, on a free-lance basis, made claims “that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community.” The report said that Feith’s shop exaggerated the purported links between Saddam Hussein’s government and al Qaeda. “That was the argument that was used to make the sale to the American people about the need to go to war,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the armed services committee. He said the Feith’s work, “which was wrong, which was distorted, which was inappropriate … is something which is highly disturbing.”


Feith may have been one of the Bush Administration’s most fervent supporters of war with Iraq but, in truth, he was only a bit player. Indeed, he is the third bit player in the Iraq fiasco to be paying for the sins of his superiors recently. For a couple of weeks now, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been in the dock in federal court in Washington, trying desperately to keep his one-time boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, from being stained by the responsibility for Libby’s chats with reporters and government officials about Valerie Plame’s CIA job. Then, just yesterday, Army General George Casey was raked over the coals by Senators who didn’t think his past 30 months in command of U.S. ground forces in Iraq warrants his elevation to Army chief of staff. While he did get the promotion, the Senate vote of 83-to-14 was the poorest showing for an Army chief since Vietnam. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Casey should be held accountable for giving Congress too-rosy assessments of the war as the situation there spiraled downward into chaos. “I have questioned in the past and question today a number of decisions and judgments that Gen. Casey has made in the past two and a half years,” McCain said. “During that time, conditions in Iraq have gotten remarkably and progressively worse.”


This trio of woes seems to have a common thread: Underlings snared while trying to please their bosses. It’s almost like blaming the hammer instead of the carpenter for a bent nail. Speaking to the Associated Press, Feith took umbrage at descriptions that his work was “inappropriate.” Said he: “The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow ‘unlawful’ or ‘unauthorized.'” He has a point: it was the Bush administration that chose Feith’s reports over those generated by its $1 billion-a-week intelligence operation. Feith’s work was most certainly authorized — from the very top.


Source: Time: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1587982,00.html

The Desperation of George W. Bush

February 8, 2007 at 4:29 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s my latest piece, originally published at Energy and Capital. It explores some of the salient reasons why the Bush administration must be panicking over its failed policies on energy, climate change, and the Iraq war.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

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Missing Molly

February 1, 2007 at 9:57 pm
Contributed by:

Folks,

The progressive cause lost one of its very best and brightest yesterday, as Molly Ivins succumbed to cancer.

She was really my kinda gal: her heart was always with the common man and the progressive cause, but her trenchant critiques and her rapier wit cut the Left as easily as the Right.

She was nobody’s fool. She could boil endless layers of Beltway gobbledegookdown to straight and simple talk without even trying, and she could depants a Texas politician in a New York minute with a single well-turned phrase. I lost count of the times I breathed an explosive sigh of relief after reading some of those phrases, as if she had taken a huge burden off of me by speaking the straight and simple truth when all around was confusion and noise.

But maybe more importantly, her aim was true. I haven’t done a count, but having read her over the years, I think the record would show that she was right on the money most of the time.

She had so many brilliant quotes, it’s impossible to choose one carefully, so here’s one more or less selected at random:

Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair’s-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?

Oh, it’s just that your life is at stake.

She is also the one who coined the President’s nicknames of “Dubya” and “Shrub.”

I won’t try to tell her story here–there are hundreds to choose from. But if you aren’t familiar with her work, I encourage you to take a look at her thousands of articles and her many books. Or maybe you’d like to check out the half-dozen blogs in which I featured her work.

She was an American treasure. The only other person I can think of who can hold a candle to her unabashed progressiveness, and her plainspoken, incisive wit, is Jim Hightower…and I pray for his good health.

I’ll be missing you, Molly. Missing ya huge. Nobody did it better.

Letting her have the last word, then, here’s her last column.

–C

Molly Ivins: Stand Up Against the ‘Surge’

Original Source

Posted on Jan 11, 2007

By Molly Ivins

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever. People have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with this misbegotten adventure is that we simply cannot let it continue.

It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have lost. Gen. John P. Abizaid, until recently the senior commander in the Middle East, insists that the answer to our problems there is not military. “You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically,” he said.

His assessment is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only recommend releasing forces with a clear definition of the goals for the additional troops.

Bush’s call for a “surge” or “escalation” also goes against the Iraq Study Group. Talk is that the White House has planned to do anything but what the group suggested after months of investigation and proposals based on much broader strategic implications.

About the only politician out there besides Bush actively calling for a surge is Sen. John McCain. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote: “The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own—impose its rule throughout the country. … By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis the best possible chance to succeed.” But with all due respect to the senator from Arizona, that ship has long since sailed.

A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country—we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80 percent of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38 percent of active military want more troops sent) and at the polls. We know this is wrong. The people understand, the people have the right to make this decision, and the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented.

Congress must work for the people in the resolution of this fiasco. Ted Kennedy’s proposal to control the money and tighten oversight is a welcome first step. And if Republicans want to continue to rubber-stamp this administration’s idiotic “plans” and go against the will of the people, they should be thrown out as soon as possible, to join their recent colleagues.

Anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” It’s like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

As The Washington Post’s review notes, Chandrasekaran’s book “methodically documents the baffling ineptitude that dominated U.S. attempts to influence Iraq’s fiendish politics, rebuild the electrical grid, privatize the economy, run the oil industry, recruit expert staff or instill a modicum of normalcy to the lives of Iraqis.”

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush’s proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, “Stop it, now!”

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

Hot Fun in the Wintertime

January 31, 2007 at 3:38 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,
Here’s my latest, about my trip last weekend to some Plan B property up north, including musings on the news that Mexico’s Cantarell field has gone into sharp decline.

It was originally published at Wealth Daily.
(more…)

Best Solar Power Commercial Ever

January 31, 2007 at 9:20 am
Contributed by:

I found a powerful commercial about the potential of solar power.

Download the high-res original here, or watch it below.

–C


Twenty Billion – a Drop in the Barrel for Renewable Energy

January 25, 2007 at 7:52 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s my latest, originally published at Energy and Capital and Green Chip Review.

As always, I invite your feedback. What do you think? Is asking Big Oil for $20 bil too much?

–C
(more…)

Guest Appearance on TheStreet.com

January 22, 2007 at 8:47 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Today I had the privilege of appearing as a guest on The Real Story with Aaron Task, a daily podcast from TheStreet.com. We talked about alternative energy stocks.

You can listen to it here: Bulls Feel the Pinch.

He also covered my stock picks in his article today, Gurus: Top Alternative Energy Stocks.

For those who are interested in alternative energy investing, you might also want to check out the recommendations in Aaron’s article yesterday, Coming Week: Alternative Ideas. .

–C

Drunk on Ethanol

January 21, 2007 at 8:18 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s a recent article I wrote for Wealth Daily about the explosive growth I expect this year in ethanol production, and why it’s a good sector to invest in.

(more…)

2007: Renewable Energy Gets Real

January 10, 2007 at 1:01 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

Here’s my take on what 2007 will hold, especially for the energy investor. This was originally published at Energy and Capital in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.
(more…)

A (Minor) Christmas Miracle at the Salton Sea

January 6, 2007 at 1:31 pm
Contributed by: Chris

Folks,

This one is considerably off the beaten path for GRL, but I wanted to share the story. My ambivalence about publishing it was resolved today when I came across, quite accidentally, two other stories about the Salton Sea. So here is my little story, replete with information freely plagiarized from Wikipedia and elsewhere.
(more…)

2006: A Time of Transition

January 4, 2007 at 6:09 pm
Contributed by:

Reposted from Wealth Daily:

2006: A Time of Transition

by Chris Nelder

At the beginning of a new year, the urge to look back and review the one gone by, and consider what the new one will bring, is irresistible. In my review of 2006, one theme emerged, and that is transition.

Politically, it was a year where the Bush administration’s rhetoric about terrorism, and its unwavering commitment to staying the course in Iraq, began to sound tired and out of touch. We started the year with few voices of opposition being heard, but we ended it with a mid-term election rout, and the Democrats back in control of Congress. It was a year when the excesses and corruption of some of the most powerful and wealthy people in America finally came to judgment. Being one of those Californians who got bent over by Enron in 2001, I still feel cheated that “Kenny Boy” Lay died before doing a day of time for his crimes, but at least he and his cronies were brought to justice. From Abramoff to Delay to Foley to all the rest of the rotten bunch, we swept at least some of the corruption from Congress.

It was a year when we began to explore the complex relationships between global warming, major weather events, and fossil fuels. There was the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s superb movie about global warming. We started the year where a substantial portion of Americans still thought there was a real scientific debate about whether global warming was a real problem at all, and where journalists still persisted in trying to portray “balance” when all of the data are really on one side. But we ended the year with millions of people having seen the data for themselves, and having seen the unmistakable trends now under way across the entire earth. We still have deniers, but we have a whole lot fewer of the deliberately confused.

The quality and quantity of data about climate change also improved radically in 2006. We had a sharp increase in the number of studies, and many more results were reported by the press. NASA reported in September that the earth’s temperature is the highest it’s been for a million years. We saw whole populations of whales moving north due to the warming oceans. We watched 750,000 square kilometers of formerly permanent Arctic sea ice melt. We watched huge portions of the Antarctic ice shelves calve into the water. And we learned that the reason we didn’t get a big hurricane season may have been that we had so many dust storms (due to drought) in Africa.

On the energy front, the peak of global oil production started coming into view. All the data aren’t in yet, so it’s too early to say. But the data we do have indicates that the global supply of oil rose less than 0.2% (after consecutive years of 2% gains), while the global demand for oil increased unabated by another 1%. All of the supply increase came from non-OPEC suppliers, mainly in Russia and Africa. But on the whole, the areas that have been expected to make up the shortfall—the Caspian, West Africa, Brazil, and the Canadian oil sands—are not growing quickly enough to make up the shortfall.

It’s possible that 2006 was the global production peak, but it may have been more due to changing consumption patterns than to supply changes. We won’t know for another year or more if that was the case, due to the notoriously bad problems of getting data about oil production from most parts of the world. Kenneth Deffeyes, geology Professor Emeritus at Princeton, a devotee of M. King Hubbert’s who has applied his modeling techniques to global production, famously quipped that the global peak was Thanksgiving Day, 2005. Now it appears that 2005 was, in fact, the global peak of conventional oil, and the increases from unconventional oil (polar and ultra-deepwater, oil sands, natural gas liquids and condensates, etc.) haven’t materialized at the speed, or in the quantities, that had been expected.

Geopolitically, 2006 was very much a year of transition for oil suppliers, seeing Russia, Venezuela and Bolivia all make bold moves to gain greater control over their oil and gas production, and renationalize their assets. The majors like Exxon, Shell and BP were forced out of their investments, and the national governments began increasingly to use their supply as a geopolitical weapon. Just as it did in 2005, Russia’s gas brinksmanship nearly left much of eastern and central Europe in the cold, driving a hard bargain at Christmas, and forcing them to pay nearly doubled prices for natural gas.

Europe, in particular, developed a whole new level of sensitivity about their dependence on foreign supplies, causing the EU’s Energy Commissioner to begin work on a new common energy policy for the EU, and to warn publicly that they face a major energy crisis in the next 20 years unless they do something about it, fast.

This looks, for all the world, like the beginning of a new kind of cold war, where the mere threat of withholding supply is enough to affect the balances of power. As of 2006, national oil companies (NOCs) now control over 90% of the world’s remaining oil. The majors, including Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, and all the rest, are in control of a mere 10%.

On the demand side, OECD nations declined by at least 1.3%, due in part to slowing economies, a warmer winter, and gains in efficiency. But non-OECD nations, including the overheated economies of China and India, consumed an aggregate 3.5% more oil—1.3 million barrels per day—in 2006 than they did in 2005. China’s crude imports alone surged 10% higher in 2006, and their economic growth is still red-hot.

The crude oil price spike of 2006 was probably the most noticeable phenomenon, starting and ending the year at $61, but going as high as $78 in July. As the price climbed through the spring, public outcry led some Senators to call hearings and question the heads of Big Oil on their pricing and maintenance practices. But, observing what some have called a “mutual suicide pact” between Congress and Detroit, nobody dared invoke the sacred cow of CAFÉ standards. As the price of crude plunged to $55 and gasoline dropped back into the low $2 range, the pressure let up, and we were back to business as usual before election time. Some analysts took the opportunity to declare (on the basis of absolutely nothing other than a lower oil price) that peak oil theory was dead and discredited.

Explanations for the spike, and the drop, varied widely: an increase in the “terror premium” to which the markets eventually became inured; an expectation of damaging hurricanes that never materialized; the loss of infrastructure from Katrina and Rita plus the temporary shutdown of the leaky pipes in the Alaska, most of which was recovered by the end of the year; and a huge tide of hedge fund money that surged in and surged right back out of the energy complex. Theories were legion.

But almost none of them focused on the fundamentals of supply and demand. I maintain that the Street has still not priced in the reality of peak oil, and continues to be swayed primarily by short term factors like weekly inventory reports. Energy traders still behave like a mass of seagulls, chasing each other’s momentum around on the beach. We strive to be more like Jonathan Livingston, and keep a long view of the situation as much as possible.

Here’s what I see, from a loftier vantage point. The fundamental problems of oil supply and demand got worse in 2006. Population growth is still unchecked and undiscussed. The geopolitical balances of the world are even more unstable now than they were a year ago, and major oil exporters enjoy more control than ever. We’re definitively past the peak in conventional production, and entering the uncertain three-to-five year period just before the absolute global peak. Most of the world now recognizes that climate change and fossil fuel use are inextricably connected, and many have begun serious efforts to switch to renewable fuels and increase the efficiency of our fossil fuel uses. And hardly anybody is still pretending that oil isn’t the reason that our armed forces are in the Middle East.

Awareness of the peak oil problem is still dawning, albeit much more slowly than I would like. We started 2006 with President Bush’s admission that we were addicted to oil, but his comment was about dependency on unstable producers, not about global depletion. And by the end of the year, Congress and the White House had talked much, but accomplished little. For its part, most of the press (with a very few notable exceptions, like the Chicago Tribune and the U.K.’s Guardian) continue to seem muddled about the whole issue, easily led astray by the wild promises of economists and oil industry propaganda.
But on the whole, I think 2006 showed some promise that we can get our heads around these problems and start making tracks toward solutions. We have a very long way to go, but it’s a start.

Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the developments that we can look forward to for the coming year.

Until next time…

The Compactors – Buying Nothing for Christmas

December 21, 2006 at 9:58 pm
Contributed by:

Folks,

Here is another positive example of everyday people making a difference.

A group of ten friends in San Francisco made a compact between them not to buy anything new in 2006, except for food and the bare necessities for health and safety. They have mostly succeeded, and were featured in several newspaper stories, like the one below.

For Christmas, they’re either eschewing gifts, or making gifts, or finding good used stuff, and wrapping it up in newspaper and other paper that would otherwise have been put in the bin. I love this example, because it shows that, especially at Christmas, one can step out of the intense consumerism and still have a perfectly enjoyable holiday, with or without the gift-giving.

For my part, I haven’t gone quite that far, but I have succeeded in finally convincing my family (after years of trying) to limit the gift-giving to the kids (under 15 yrs) and spouses. I can’t tell you what an immense relief it has been not to have to do all that shopping, and spend money I can’t afford to spend, not to mention staying off the roads and out of the stores. It has turned a holiday that I had started to regard with anxiety and dread, back into what it should have been all along: a positive and relaxed time to enjoy the company of family, full stop!

So if you’ve been running around like a madman, singing under your breath “It’s the most stressful time of the year…,” maybe you want to stop a minute and consider those examples. You might be surprised at how willing your family and friends are to follow suit. You do have the right to be a person, and not just a “consumer.”

May your holiday season be filled with joy, companionship, and relaxation!

–C

From http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/17/AR2006121701122_pf.html


Nothing New Here — And That’s the Point
In California, 10 Friends Eschew Consumer Culture to Live Secondhand

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006; A01

SAN FRANCISCO — In the living room, the group gathers to share inspirational stories about the joy of finding just the right previously owned shower curtain. To the uninitiated, these people appear almost normal, at least in a San Francisco kind of way. But upon closer inspection, you see it: Nothing in this house, nothing on their bodies, none of their products — nothing is new. Everything is used.

For these people, recycling wasn’t enough. Composting wasn’t a challenge anymore. No, they wanted much more of much less.

Attention holiday shoppers! These people haven’t bought anything new in 352 days — and counting. These 10 friends vowed last year not to purchase a single new thing in 2006 — except food, the bare necessities for health and safety (toilet paper, brake fluid) and, thankfully, underwear, and maybe socks (they’re still debating whether new socks are okay).

Everything else they bought secondhand. They bartered or borrowed. Recycled. Re-gifted. Reused. Where? Thrift stores and swap meets, friends and Dumpsters, and the Internet, from Craigslist to the Freecycle Network, which includes 3,843 communities and 2.8 million members giving away stuff to one another.

These people purchased old sheets this year. Tonight’s vegetarian feast was cooked in a hand-me-down Crock-Pot. Christmas presents? They’re making them, or — shudders — they don’t give them.

They call their little initiative “the Compact,” which they say has something to do with the Mayflower and the Pilgrim pledge to live for the greater good, save the planet, renew their souls, etc. And although these modern “Compactors” say they never intended to spark a mini-movement or appear on the “Today” show, that is exactly what has happened.

Since the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about them in February, their story of not buying has appeared on media outlets around the world — everything from Yoga Journal to Martha Stewart’s Body + Soul to the London Times. Even Oprah’s producers called.

It appears they’ve pinched a nerve. Perhaps, the Compactors suggest, many people have the same feeling that the mall just isn’t working for them anymore.

“We’re just rarefied middle-class San Francisco greenies having a conversation about consumption and sustainability,” says John Perry, a marketing executive with a high-tech firm, and one of the founding Compactors. “But suddenly, we decide we’re not going to buy a bunch of new stuff for a year? And that’s international news? Doesn’t that say something?”

Their user group on Yahoo has grown to 1,800 registered members, representing SubCompact cells operating across the country (including Washington), and around the planet. So they apparently live among us, biding their time, quietly not buying, like some kind of Fifth Column of . . . Shakers.

The online Compact community ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thecompact) spends enormous amounts of typing-time discussing things most Americans probably do not. Such as how to make soap. Or whether a mousetrap counts as a safety necessity. Or how to explain to your children that Santa Claus traffics in used toys.

“And people hate us for it? Like it drives them nuts?” This is Shawn Rosenmoss, an environmental engineer in the original San Francisco group. Some have called the Compactors un-American, anti-capitalist, eco-freak poseurs whose defiant act of not-consuming, if it caught on, would destroy the economy and our way of life.

Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters magazine, who advocates taking a 24-hour timeout of the consumer merry-go-round, has promoted Buy Nothing Day since 1992, urging citizens to resist the urge to splurge on the day after Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the holiday shopping spree.

Lasn claims that millions of people have stopped shopping on Buy Nothing Day, although he admits there is no way to know for sure. But Lasn does know that Internet discussion about the movement has grown, and so, too, the backlash — against the backlash.

“I go on talk radio shows, and I’m amazed by the anger of some people, the Chamber of Commerce president who calls up and says, ‘You’re trying to ruin the economy,’ ” Lasn says. “I sympathize. I know you have to pay your rent, but try to take the larger view. We consume three times more than we did right after World War II. These things are connected.”

“I think it upsets people because it seems like we’re making a value judgment about them,” says Rosenmoss, who has two children. “When we’re simply trying to bring less . . . into our house.”

What are the rules to this particular game? “People are really into the rules,” Perry says, “as if it were a game, which it kind of is. I like that part of it. Figuring out how to do what I need to do without running out and buying something.”

The rules are simple — and flexible. The original Compactors decided they would get to vote on anything in the gray areas.

One member recalls asking permission to purchase a new toilet brush, contending that it was a health issue. Overruled. How about a new house key? Allowed. New tubes of shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen are okay, but skin bronzer would be frowned upon.

At the potluck supper, the family dog is playing with a toy, which looks like a ball of yarn. Technically, it is new, and thus a Compact breaker. “But if she eats it,” points out Rachel Kesel, a professional dog walker, “then it’s food.”

“We all have our little weaknesses,” says Kate Boyd, a schoolteacher and set designer. Her challenge was getting used bicycle shoes, plus a used helmet and pump. Three buys through Craigslist through three sellers. “It was more of a hassle than going to the bike store,” she says, but more interesting, too. “You get to meet new people.”

The greatest challenge of the Compact? “The strangest things,” Perry explains. For example, he cannot find used shoe polish.

Then there are modern dilemmas. Is it better to buy a battery (allowed, if recycled and rechargeable) for a cellular phone for $70 or just have the company give you a new free phone if you switch providers?

Clothes? Easy, they say. Vintage stores. Consignment shops. Or more down-market, your Goodwill, your Salvation Army. Or your own closet, likely filled with outfits.

Toys? The easiest. Perry and his partner, Rob Picciotto, a high school language teacher, have two adopted children. “I take Ben to Target sometimes and we’ll play with the toys and then leave,” Picciotto says. The kid seems happy.

“I broke down and bought a drill bit,” Rosenmoss says. The Compactors nod their heads. “I just wanted it and I needed and I did it.” The group members understand. They’ve had their drill-bit moments.

But not a lot of them. Asked what they bought that broke the Compact, the list was not long: some sneakers, the drill bit, a map, and for Sarah Pelmas and her newlywed husband, Matt Eddy (fellow Compactors), some energy-efficient windows for the house renovation. The 1920s house, they remind us, was purchased used. Indeed, they painted it with recycled paint.

“By being so strict with yourself, you learn to take a deep breath,” Kesel says.

“You learn to do away with the impatience.” Boyd says, “You see that the craving will pass.”

One Compactor points out that the group’s members are not really denying themselves much. Boyd says that, for example, by buying less new, “I drink way better wine now.” Also allowed: services. So they could buy a massage if they wanted to. They can go to movies, theater, concerts, museums, bars, music clubs and restaurants. They can fly, drive (and buy gas), stay in hotels.

Judith Levine, author of “Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping,” went really cold turkey in 2004 with her husband. The couple split their time between Brooklyn and Vermont. She applauds the Compactors, but says that not buying stuff for a year is only taking it halfway. Not going to the movies and restaurants for a year — now that’s cutting back.

Amazingly, the Compactors have all decided to renew their pledge for another year. There are, naturally, things they miss, and so they’ve decided to give themselves one day next month when they can buy a few things they really need new.

Like? “I need a drain snake,” Perry says. Is that not pitiful?

Pelmas is dying for new pillowcases. Used pillowcases, even this group agrees, are rather disgusting.

Lessons learned?

“We didn’t do this to save the world. We did this to improve the quality of our own lives,” Perry says. “And what we learned is that we all have a lot of more stuff than you think, and that you can get along on a lot less stuff than you can imagine.”

Staff writer Sonya Geis in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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