Category Archives: Peak oil

5 Alternative Fuel Companies Spearheading the Green Energy Agenda

By Zeke A. Iddon

The inconvenient truth about global warming has thankfully spurred a large number of environmentally-conscious companies to research, develop and commercialise alternative fuels that enable and empower us all to make a difference by playing an important part in aiding the planet.

1Alternative fuels can be created from all manner of materials, ranging from waste cooking oil to waste plastic. A vital part of the combined worldwide effort to lower Co2 emissions and reduce the global carbon footprint by finding alternatives to the non-renewable fossils fuels oil, gas and coal, the innovations within the alternative fuel sector drive the green energy agenda forward.

LS9, Inc.

Based in San Francisco, LS9, Inc is committed to producing renewable and cost effective fuels and chemicals to the world markets. Their innovative biotechnology converts a diverse range of feedstocks into biofuels and green, sustainable chemicals for industry through a cost and time effective single-step fermentation process.2

LS9, Inc also carries out commendable work to promote a worldwide culture of eco-friendly commerce.

Poly2Petro

Fresh to the alternative fuel sector is the innovative technology created by US company Poly2Petro. Founded in 2013, Poly2Petro has developed a technological process that converts waste plastic materials into clean, renewable biofuels. Given the large volume of waste plastics that amass in our garbage landfills, this is a crucial development that will reduce the demand of valuable virgin oil supplies used for other biofuel products.

3

Poly2Petro is focused on providing an extremely useful alternative to sending waste plastics to landfills that will save money and be very beneficial to the environment, reducing global garbage pollution and alleviating oil scarcity through cost efficient recycling and biofuel production.

Alternative Fuels Americas, Inc (AFAI)

 Alternative Fuels Americas, Inc (AFAI) is a green energy company that has developed and widely implemented an advanced stage multi-feedstock ‘seed-to-pump’ process, establishing grain fields to produce biofuels throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

4AFAI uses the grain from the fields to produce clean, renewable biofuels in their own specially designed oil refineries. Not only is their biofuel less environmentally harmful than fossil fuels, it can be produced at 32% less cost.

Abengoa

Based in Seville, Spanish sustainable fuel company Abengoa has a diverse portfolio of innovative green energy projects that span the globe.

5

Their commercial eco-friendly projects include large-scale biofuel plants, solar-thermal plants, solar-gas hybrid plants and desalination plants that can produce clean drinking water from sea water, a vital initiative for third world countries. Abengoa has extended its vision for greener commerce to more than 80 countries around the world.

Green Fuels

6Green Fuels is a British biodiesel company and the world’s leaders in the manufacture of biodiesel production equipment. It has 25 large-scale bio-refineries dotted around the world and an impressive global map of thousands of independent biodiesel processing plants. Every day the eco-friendly commercial technology created by Green Fuels produces more than 350 million litres of clean, renewable biodiesel, which saves approximately 2,500 tonnes of Co2 emissions.

For their next project, Green Fuels is developing technology to create biofuel for the aviation industry.

The Importance of Alternative Fuels

The alternative fuel sector is plays a vital role in the global green agenda. The companies above are working steadfastly to drive technological progress and commercialise alternative fuel production around the world, striving to promote a vast culture change within industry towards more eco-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. This is important work as climate change caused by Co2 emissions is one of the most pressing threats to our planet.
Take the time to visit the websites of these five companies whose excellent work is spearheading the green agenda in industry and providing effective and efficient alternative solutions to the use of harmful fossil fuels.


“Zeke A. Iddon is a British entertainer and advocate of improving global thinking on climate change and sustainability issues. In his capacity as a writer for Poly2Petro, he hopes to help educate the public’s understanding of plastic recycling (and its current failures), if only in a small way.”

To learn more about what Poly2Petro aims to do in pursuit of this – as well as to solve other environmental and consumption problems at the same time – see this page on ‘Our Solution’.

Tom Schueneman: Redefining prosperity and the fallacy of growth

By Tom Schueneman. Reposted from tcktcktck. As Tom is a Rio Blogger Prize Finalist for this post, if you like it, would like to comment or share it, please do so at the source rather than here. Enjoy!

“In an empty world, it was a safe bet that growth was making us richer, but we no longer live in an empty world. We live in a full world” – Ecological Economist Herman Daly.

Victims of our own success

We owe the comfort and abundance of our lives to fossil fuel. Most people, at least in the developed world, enjoy “prosperity” through access to material goods and resources not possible without access to this vast store of “cheap” energy.

Our carbon-based energy economy has been so successful that we are now held in its grip, mesmerized into thinking it will go on forever. It has distorted our definition of prosperity by placing “growth” central on the altar of human intent and interaction with the natural world. To challenge the efficacy of infinite economic growth is suspect, even heretical.  But we arrive at the 21st century at a crossroads and challenge it we must if we are to choose a path toward sustainability.

Exponential growth – the Achilles heel of a finite world

As Physicist Professor Al Bartlet warns, failing to understand the exponential function is humanity’s Achilles Heal. The exponential growth in our numbers combined with our ability to extract energy and resources with ever greater effectiveness is at once unsustainable and the accepted foundation of economic theory.

More people mean more consumers equals growing markets and jobs to pay for consumption to support growing markets – plenty for all, and then even more, in an accelerating, unending cycle.

Human ingenuity and innovation notwithstanding, we live within a finite system. Be it climate change, energy, biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture, mineral depletion or collapsing fisheries, we cannot continually “grow” our way out from the challenges we now face.  At the core of any solution for creating a sustainable society is choosing a path based on a new definition of prosperity.

The growth fallacy – speaking the unspeakable

Limits to Growth” first brought the idea into public discussion in the early ’70’s, and it was squarely rebukedby the “experts” of the day. Forty years later those limits are only more manifest.

“Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with,” says Richard Heinberg in his book The End of Growth. Accepting the fallacy of growth is a disquieting notion because it threatens all we have ever known.

“The prevailing vision of prosperity as a continually expanding economic paradise has come unraveled,” writes Tim Jackson in his book Prosperity Without Growth. “Perhaps it worked better when economics were smaller and the world was less populated. But if it was ever fully fit for purpose, it certainly isn’t now.”

“Climate change, ecological degradation and the spectre of resource scarcity compound the problems of failing financial markets and economic recession. Short-term fixes to prop up a bankrupt system aren’t good enough,” Jackson continues. “Something more is needed. An essential starting point is to set out a coherent notion of prosperity that doesn’t rely on default assumptions about consumption growth.”

Heinberg and Jackson are among a host of thought leaders challenging our devotion to the fallacy of growth and pointing us toward a new path. Documentary filmmaker David Gardner is another such voice, as well as a self-described “growthbuster.”

Becoming a GrowthBuster

In the film GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth Gardner exposes the fallacy of growth for a general audience likely uncomfortable with the idea, but also with a growing sense that business as usual is a dead-end street for themselves, their families, and their communities. Increasingly ill-at-ease with a consumer society that demands of them to be just that – consumers; when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, or so it seems.

GrowthBusters examines the beliefs and behaviors that may have worked in an earlier age, but are now pernicious barriers to a sustainable civilization; cultural norms enshrined by the “Great Acceleration” of the last half of the 20th century.

Gardner combines his own experience as a citizen of a growth-obsessed American town with the observations and insight from an array of experts, scientists, and economists.

“We’re faced with a gigantic challenge that we haven’t been prepared for.” Says Stanford professor and biologist Paul Ehrlich in the film, “either in our genetic evolution, or more importantly, in our cultural evolution.”

Instead of focusing on what we must “give up” as we move away from an infinite growth-based society, it clarifies what we’ve given up in our tenacious embrace of it, and the choices we have going forward.

Life after growth

“Beyond the provision of nutrition and shelter, prosperity consists in our ability to participate in the life of society,” writes Jackson Prosperity Without Growth, “in our sense of shared meaning and purpose and in our capacity to dream. We’ve become accustomed to pursuing these goals through material means. Freeing ourselves from that constraint is the basis for change.”

Surely, for those with a full pantry, the latest iPhone, and a big-screen TV, it can be morally suspect to suggest to others to abandon the pursuit of material wealth. Positive change will not come through exhortation. Yet many feel trapped within their own material abundance. Beyond a certain point it no longer serves human prosperity and fulfillment.

“We are not purely greedy selfish individuals, that’s what free marketeers assume that we are,” says Institute for Food and Development Policy fellow Raj Patel in GrowthBusters. “That’s what we are encouraged to be in consumer society. But we are not, we are much, much more beautiful, we are much bigger, we are much … we are much more capable of sharing…

The tools with which we have been raised to help us understand looking at the way the world works and how our future might be delivered to us, well those tools are broken. But it’s OK, because there are loads of solutions around us in which we, we might manage the world differently and more sustainably…”

Among these tools are three principal ideas to help us get started:

  1. Adapt to a steady-state economic model:
    A global transition movement is growing and connecting individuals and communities in learning and adapting to a post-growth, post-carbon world. Networks like these help chart a path toward greater resilience and adaptation to a reworked economy aligned within material limits and focused on human flourishing beyond a consumer-based society.
  1. Stabilize human population:

Scientific estimates population the Earth can sustainably support range from under 1 billion to 5 billion, depending on how we much we curb our consumer lifestyles in the developed world. We must stabilize and then slowly reduce human population within Earth’s carrying capacity and provide women, especially in developing countries, education and access to health care and birth control.

  1. End our dependence on fossil fuel:

Climate change is unavoidable. Climate change is here and now. But to avert the worst consequences of climate disruption we must quickly reduce our dependence on fossil fuel. Accomplishing the task requiresredesign of our citiesagriculture, transportation, and energy generation.

It’s okay to be a Growthbuster

“It’s not an easy thing to change the inertia of a civilization, but it has to be done…”

What drives our endeavors and sustains our economies will not be tomorrow what they are today. But we have a choice. As Gardner says in his film, we can either turn away from the cliff or keep the pedal to the metal and “go down fighting.”

It is possible to live happy, healthy, prosperous lives within a bountiful – if limited – world. It will not be easy; in fact, it is likely that greatest challenge humanity has yet faced. And there is a price to pay for the damage we’ve already exacted on the Earth. But it can be done, if we accept the challenge for what it is.

“There’s a shift going on, and this is a shift from believing that we have a resources problem to really understanding that we have a cultural problem and that we need to evolve our culture.”

Twenty years after the first global Earth Summit we stand squarely at a crossroads. We cannot be blamed for the road that got us here, but we are responsible for each future step we take.  Many, like Gardner and his film Growthbusters, are pointing the way down a path to a sustainable future, helping us see that it’s okay to be a growthbuster.

Removing Politics From Environmental Governance

A number of years ago, when I was still an undergrad, there was a group of students whom worked together to produce and distribute fresh produce. It was a great and novel idea that provided cheap fruit and vegetables to a cluster of people notorious for a lifestyle of packet noodles, just to make ends meet on a student income.

Through a network of producers and workers, this little group had something special. Of course, part of the deal was to be actively involved with the labour; financial input was instead substituted by physical input.

I nearly got involved.

What stopped me was perhaps trivial, but is more common than many of us would like to admit.

The group was, from even a passing assessment, far more left than myself. I could provide to you now my own judgement of this group and of course face ridicule for it, but equally, I’m certain my clean-cut personality would have in turn caused judgement from the group as well. We’re only human; it’s what we do.

In short, we simply did not reflect the same ideologies, apart from this one activity and so my involvement was made difficult, if not impossible.

We humans naturally form clans and this group just wasn’t my clan.

From my observations of the various discussions regarding improving in the sustainability of our actions, I’ve witnessed the same thing stopping more mainstream acceptance of what is clearly in the best interest of us all.

The “already engaged” people are passionate, well meaning people. However, we have formed our own clans – even societies – which clearly are, more often than not, progressive.

It might initially seem that this makes sense; it is, after all, the progressive people whom change the world for the better and the conservatives whom hold us back. Such a conclusion is one that we progressive thinkers may tells ourselves to explain what we are witnessing or to justify some notion of moral superiority. However this simply isn’t the truth.

More importantly, anyone who has spent time researching on even one issue facing our future would be aware that the solutions are not only already at our hands, they require every last one of us. We are not out to save the biota, ocean and atmosphere of the progressive world, but the entire Earth – the only world we have.

While I believe it is important that we do build cultural identities around a new revolution in planetary governance, these identities need to be both right and left.

The conservatives, for instance, should be asking themselves what they are wish to conserve; a runaway churning of resources to fuel a short-lived boom, before the inevitable bust or a resource base in which we can continue to reap benefits from indefinitely? It’s not too hard to argue that environmentalism really should have been a conservative initiative to begin with.

I avoided cheap and highly nutritious food at my own expense entirely because I couldn’t mesh with a group behind a great idea. That only affected me in return; either in my coughing up extra money for the same food from a supermarket (albeit, probably less nutritious due to the general practices of storage and distribution of many supermarkets) or (more likely) turning instead to the cheaper alternatives, such as pre-packaged fast food.

On the other hand, in turning environmental governance and sustainability entirely into a progressive ideology, we are already witnessing a world of paralysis which affects us all. The longer we leave it, the bigger the clean up, the greater the expense and the more we would have lost forever.

Each one of us needs to remove this stigma from the culture of good environmental governance. We can’t make it a progressive or a conservative movement. Instead we need to be approachable with language that reflects left, right and central. There are many more with a conservative outlook whom would support positive action on environmental governance than currently are because of the cultural divide that we have created. Appealing to the obvious conservative arguments, such as the one I made above, and working positively with everyone who shares a joy for nature (I’d argue it’s instinctive and thus universal) will help bridge this divide and provide a more meaningful grounds for constructive debate; where we are arguing over solutions and not simply the confidence we have in scientific methodology or the perpetuation of an argument over right and left.

It would be like the group of students noticing my interest in their activity approaching me, making it clear that our obvious differences are irrelevant because what’s important is only what we’re both interested in (ie. the clan is based around the positives outcomes of the activity at hand and not also about other related lifestyle choices that would tend to refine the clan into greater specific attributes). Who knows, we may have even rubbed off on one another over time with the constructive basis created and found greater grounds of similarity.

This is exactly what we need in the face of climate change, growing oil, food and water insecurity and biodiversity degradation; constructive holistic activity aimed at protecting and invigorating the dynamic life support system on which we all depend.

On such topics, there just isn’t room for ownership by just one hemisphere of political ideology.

De-industrialism is a plague on reasonable forward thinking

Yesterday afternoon, I saw my new baby for the first time.

From head to tail bone it was 41mm long and 11 weeks old. Slightly too young to check for defects, so we’ll have another scan in a week and a half. The image, albeit not the highest quality, showed a little person, nudging around in its little space. We could see its tiny heart beating.

Over the past few day, I have also attempted to engage in a conversation on the blogosphere, which I’ve since decided to leave alone. What irked me most about the exchange was that I was characterised as arrogant, bombastic egotist simply because I attempted to be critical of factually baseless claims. If you find yourself in a debate, do you not try to present your argument as completely as possible? How is it a failing if you’re not presented with compelling rebuttals?

Trying to present a strong case has never, in my professional life, been a failing. If I took my academic career further, it could have been far more brutal for me with many of the best minds tearing apart my work to test its validity. Scientists are not about listening to what amounts to little more than someone’s hopes and dreams, if they don’t have a strong case to back it up. It’s this ever improving system of critical analysis which has resulted in the many scientific laws and principles that make our modern life possible.

How are these two things related?

The igniting spark to the discussion was one word; egalitarianism.

Presented to me was something akin to the late Victorian naturalistic romanticism coupled with a social ideology of equality. In this case, of course, it didn’t call itself socialism, however. More worrisome still, the theme included a de-industrialised world with all members of our species part-time peasants. In doing so, it was suggested to me, we would all be free of debt and would all enjoy copious free time around our, apparently minimal food production obligations.*

I use the word “worrisome” because, as I see it, that late Victorian utopian ideology has been tried and tested and proved just as corrupt and doomed to failure as the neo-liberal capitalism now accelerating us to resource and biodiversity depletion – perhaps even more so in that the jealous ego that accompanied that economic model, which ultimately starved it of its initial wealth.

The two are related because of work. Work seemed to be demonised in this ideology I encountered. It was considered parallel to slavery.

Well, that scientific “slavery” led to numerous Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine which all in turn led to me, sitting by my wife, looking at a fantastic flat plate, able to represent millions of colours in high definition, which at that precise time represented a reconstruction of “echolocation”, outlining our child.

If it wasn’t for the many thousands of hours “slavery” in tertiary education, the handful of doctors and midwives may not have been present to perform an emergency C-section when my first born was stuck, a problem that potentially could have killed them both.

More importantly, none of these professional people resent their roles as “slavery”. They have all worked hard, received accolades for their efforts and improved / saved lives.

I had to write it as, “many thousands of hours” for a simple reason; think if these same people had to do the same work and tend to a crop, a herd or had to fish as well. Sure, in some places, where the rain is good and reliable and the soil rich and fertile, one may keep an orchard without many thousands of hours of labour. The same cannot be said for Australia’s 20 million people on this old, depleted soil and highly variable rainfall.

Besides, would you want a surgeon, who just laid out compost this morning to head in to work on your heart in the afternoon (fatigue and potential infection) – noting also that he is probably much older than he otherwise would have been if left to focus on medicine alone?

I’ve been on dairy farms, vine yards and orchards. It’s not easy work to be done part time.

This morning news informed me that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has much of coastal Northern Territory on “cyclone watch”. Due to the weak winds, they are not yet sure where the forming cyclone will land, but they have a good idea when it will form.

Without countless hours of atmospheric research and mindboggling ingenuity in developing weather models, we would have no warning of any sort. People would be left to the elements, at best praying to some deity that they may be spared.

We could do as far as to include the reporter who articulated the message in a meaningful fashion to a wide audience or even further still and say without James Clerk Maxwell’s work with electromagnetism and Heinrich Hertz effectively producing the first radio, the reporter would be unable to report to such an audience at all.

I don’t care what field you wish to look at, when all else is said and done, you need full time research and development people. Einstein would have been wasted with the plough and Stephen Hawking is still enlightening the rest of us due to improvements in medical science and engineering.

To think otherwise is comparable to anti-vax advocates who have never seen small pox in their lives and so don’t understand the threat. Thinking that we have enough knowledge today, so we can now stop and focus on another ways of life is effectively the principle to the Amish.

We indeed have pressing problems facing our immediate future, never better demonstrated than in Rockström et al (2009), but turning our back on research to pursue Tolkien’s dream of returning to the shire, aware from the beastly machine, is foolish. To face tomorrow’s problems with today’s knowledge will not do. If we are to weather the storm of climate change, peak oil (and natural gas somewhere behind it – incredibly important for nitrogen fertilisers), biodiversity loss and rising food and water insecurity, we need ingenuity, not 7 billion farmers.

Therefore, we’ll need surplus (continuing on egalitarian fancy) to feed these R&D people. To be truly effective, they should come together. For that reason and for the sheer sake of having some variety in our diets and to have the materials required for efficient farmer / clothing / household goods, we will also require resource distributers. Surplus and distribution requires governance to be fair, equal and effective. To make sense of the various roles, credit (ie. cash) comes back into the system. How do you value physical produce and research output “equally”?

Already you’re returning to a similar structure to the Orwellian farmyard. It’s Cartmanland; designed to exclude all that one doesn’t like, but slowly over time becoming more and more like that which it replaced simply out of necessity.

Let’s instead look at an egalitarian world that provides many of the services and goods (albeit, materials that continue in the system rather than linear to waste, to stop, for a moment, concerns over consumerism) that we have today. We’ll compare a teenager, working an after-school job to a GP doctor. Both earn the same hourly rate.

The doctor of course has debt in the form of household bills, school fees (if they were “free” the support in providing educators, maintenance etc, would need to come from somewhere – in this case, the government, therefore tax or society sacrifice), a mortgage (to think the society around him would build him a beautiful house, decked out however he wished just as soon as he became a doctor is a pipedream – building material isn’t free and often is far away nowadays from where people live, therefore a home costs in some form; the doctor’s sacrifice, societies sacrifice or both via tax), food (he is a full time doctor and I’m certain not every patient could pay him in food enough to feed his family – especially if they’re so sick they cannot work) etc.

On the other hand, the teenager doesn’t even pay board to their parents.

Already the situation is unequal. Sure, the doctor works more hours, but in his reduced hourly rate (compared to the real world), he is only getting by, while the youth is living it up with copious disposable income. Their obligations, input and outputs are not equal, so it doesn’t make sense.

The teen’s father has an accident and cannot work and so now the youth has to contribute a significant part of their pay to the family.

On the other hand, the doctor’s oldest child gets a job and the doctor makes them pay board and the mother too goes back to work with the children now able to look after themselves.

Now the situation is unequal again.

Egalitarian communities were far smaller and most importantly, did not share the diversity of roles that make society as we know it possible. They couldn’t turn on the radio or surf the web to find out any weather notifications. If a baby had a head circumference too large, chances were mum would die (either in child bird or painfully due to gangrene in the following days and weeks – which were both common even as little as a century and a half ago), very likely the baby also. They had no way to stop highly infectious viruses (none of them even begun to understand virology). They had no way to overcome years when the weather didn’t permit their usual food production avenues or foraging techniques to work for them (again, we too easily forget in the west, with easy food distribution just how real famine is).

In short, egalitarianism is not a good social model for major civilizations. Even Adelaide’s relatively modest population of 1.2 million couldn’t coordinate such model – even if the soil was fertile, which much of it isn’t (and a lot of what was, is now contaminated) – especially without governance and other full time professionals outside of food production.

Yet, we do, as a global community produce enough food to feed everyone, the problem is instead distribution. This could be changed if we instead focused our energy on this problem and the problems outlined in Rockström et al (2009) (including population), rather than hold out for a near utopian dream in universal care, appreciation and support, which after all, was not the true state of the societies used as example of a ‘model egalitarian society’ or their ability to support the level of healthcare and education we can do today.

This type of thinking is, in all honesty, de-industrialisation. Nothing more.

Many generations have made a mistake and my generation and those who have followed were born when the fuel guzzling machine was already accelerating. Our lives have seen the bulk of the oil burned.

Realising, at this hour, that the machine has left a mess, we can’t simply jump off at speed – the effects of it barrelling along will continue and we’ll be roughed up in the jump (who knows how bad).

We need figure out how the hell it works and bring it to a stop instead (ie. steady state economy). We need to fix up our population explosion in a humane way. These two problems will take time because they have compounded themselves over time and rash decisions are simply dangerous (ie. think about applying a “one child policy” globally overnight; expect to be working yourself to the grave, because we simply could not support such an aging population).

It’s too late for a quick fix. It will take time and it will take a lot of effort to mend. Then and only then can we head down the path to fix up the mess the machine left in its wake.

*Some of my readers will be aware of my making fun of Poptech for his word mining, to insult me on his own space. I detest this behaviour and thus will not be pursuing the case presented to me further in this piece or resorting to referring to the individuals here personally, where they wouldn’t have the opportunity to defend themselves. I merely wished to take their case – one that is not exclusively their own – and explore it here instead. Hence why I am not linking or naming.

Goodbye Carbon Era!

Peter Sinclair is on a brilliant roll today!

From here.

From here.

Of course, all of this talk of new technology, not only smart grids – but smart road grids also collecting energy, job growth and clean industry scares the hell out of your everyday climate change sceptic…

Abbott Smells a Dud – Check Yourself, Mate.

It’s hard to write when all you hear seems to be heading from the silly to the outright absurd; hence my lack of enthusiasm of late. What truly makes me gape is the familiar loop of mock outrage and a certain majority willing to take such statements at face value.

When any form of regulation on environmental or health matters is on the cards, there is always a backlash of various groups with invested interests who try to appeal to the audience as being the “underdog” against some overarching governmental force committed to crushing progress.

The Hungry Beast demonstrated how this has previously been applied by mining companies who still manage to do very well regardless of changing regulations.

The Coalition have in the past vocalised their opposition to the ‘Alcopop tax’ which has since proven effective in curbing alcohol abuse in young adults.

The tactic used in the latter also included the same as that now being employed by the tobacco industry in promoting fears of a “nanny state”.

Honestly, get a grip!

Sure, we adults are allowed to do whatever we want to do, however, if we indulge in risky behaviour which is likely to put a burden on the wider community, well we should expect to pay more to do so – as we would expect the community to care for us if/when such risky behaviour turns sour.

The same can be said about the carbon tax.

To date, there remains no scientific debate regarding the greenhouse properties of carbon dioxide or that the industrial era has increased the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Of the scientific community, it remains only a small group of climate related scientists who question how important this is. Of them, Lindzen has repeated made mistakes, Roy Spencer has admitted that he sees his role more as a political propagandist and Willie Soon and Pat Michaels have not only undermined themselves through their various mistakes, but also how heavily they’re funded by the companies most likely to be hurt through actions to tackle anthropogenic climate change.

That is largely the basis for the so-called “AGW sceptics”. You could include Gina Reinhart’s lapdog – Chirs Monckton – but honestly, who still seriously takes this art major seriously? Even Thatcher – his beloved name drop – seems to find him forgettable.

More broadly than this, as David has recently summed up very well, Gillard’s carbon tax focuses directly on the big polluters whom, to remain competitive, will need to clean up their act to reduce costs to the consumer. In turn the consumer can avoid these extra costs by avoiding unnecessary consumption or selecting more efficient alternatives. It’s not a big tax on everyone, but a small tax on dirty activities.

On the other hand Abbott’s carbon tax, while lower per unit of carbon, is a tax placed directly on the taxpayer. It is unavoidable regardless how clean your activities are and does not encourage industry to clean up through the market driven incentives. So, unlike Gillard’s, neither industry nor the consumer are directly encouraged to change their behaviour.

The majority of surveyed Australian economists and ecologists also back Gillard’s carbon tax package.

Yet, the public seems to be buying into Abbott’s claim – that the average Aussie can smell a dud deal when they come by one – without actually wondering if the odour’s so strong because they’re swaying in his direction!

We’re not the first, nor are we making such changes alone, regardless of what you’ve heard. The European Union has had an emissions trading scheme for a number of years already and China is investing big in alternate sources of energy. Improved infrastructure now, while the going is comparatively good, means that as oil prices increase, those who acted sooner will feel less of the pinch. Abbott wants the taxpayer to fork out for this work and not the industries responsible.

With each passing day, I seem to recognise Australia less and less. The laidback, funny, but hardworking (when it’s needed) sheen seems to have faded and replaced by a self-righteous indignation unjustly resulting from serious reflections on our behaviour.

Of course, this isn’t the reality of the average Aussie (at least, I hope not), but the trumpet call from the appalling mass media machine that we’re saturated by.

They want you to be angry, but for their reasons and not your own. And you should be angry.

You should be angry that fluctuating oil prices are allowed to impact on economies so greatly that they played a major role in the global financial crisis of 2008. You should be angry that, if you’re willing to give up the personal vehicle in favour of more communal modes of transport in ever growing cities, that in many cases they are expensive, dirty, unsafe and inefficient. You should be angry that your food sees more of the globe than you do. You should be angry that your grand kids probably won’t enjoy tuna because it was too profitable for us to even contemplate reducing our harvest to give them a chance. You should be angry that in the past thirty years we burnt more than half of all the oil ever burnt; largely on  junk that has since found its way to landfill, idle congestion and climate control in appalling housing design. You should be furious that you will leave this wonderful world much less diverse of life than it had been given to you and while we may watch the few aging footages of the last Thylacine with an inkling of guilt, future generations will have copious amounts of high definition footage of creatures they will never witness in the wild.

You really should be angry that all of this happens and many of us feel powerless to stop it.

Human activity must change to work with the natural world, not degrade it.

It must start where the power is and that isn’t so much the public or the public sector, but industry – where the bulk of production and energy use occurs.

Abbott’s tax is the dud. It’s a joke and it will be remembered for pinching the tail of the beast rather than muzzling its gluttonous mouth. Worse than that, we the public will be mocked for listening to such absurd media outlets and falling for baseless indignation. It’s obvious that they are not working for our best interests and have fuelled the most ridiculous debates in promoting paralysis of progress and innovation.

The alcopop tax has worked (and I suspect the same will occur when reviewing new recruitment of younger smokers with plain packaging).

Industry can still prosper if forced, through regulation, to do the right thing.

Taxing the 500 biggest Aussie polluters is a small step in the right direction, which provides incentive for industry to clean up and it radically different than Abbott’s tax.

But none of this would be obvious if you only paid attention to the mass media.

Does Cheap Energy Make Us Dumb?

A title appalling enough to be the grab, before the advert break of some second-rate pop news program. Of course it doesn’t for we’ve never such astounding technology or upper high school students undertaking such advanced mathematics… but then again, the maths lesson tends to be more about how to use a Texas Instrument Calculator than understanding the maths itself.

In other words, it’s as complicated as is the foundations that keep us aloft in relative affluence.

Very recently, David Korten produced an excellent article; A Crumbling Cultural Story, in which he outlines how the neo-liberal market (in his case, specific to the US, but ultimately relevant to other similar nations) has engineered a new culture, through propaganda and advertisement, which is debilitating for genuine social health and prosperity. It is one made to fuel consumerism and thus this unsustainable growth economy – the product of cheap energy.

In a similar, perhaps more astute, article; Perennial Crops, Sustainable Agriculture: A 21st Century Green Revolution, Tom Schueneman outlines just how dependant the human race is on agricultural methods that are heavily energy dependant and detrimental to soil quality and therefore food security, not to mention the wider ecology.

Tom quotes Wes Jackson, the founder and president of the Land Institute;

“I think there’s a general law: High energy destroys information, of a cultural as well as a biological variety. There is a loss of cultural capacity. And from 1750, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the graphical curve for the use of high-energy fossil carbon is increasingly steep. A ten-year-old today has been alive for a quarter of all oil ever burned. The twenty-two-year-old has been through 54 percent of all the oil ever burned.”

The same reflection can be found in James Howard Kunstler’s; The tragedy of suburbia, in which James explains how modern urban design is ugly, inefficient and is of low social value. On the back of cheap fuels – especially in this case, the availability of vehicles – the human environment has lost its charming ‘human feel’ and practicality that was incredibly essential in pre-20th century societies.

Charles Marohn, in The American suburbs are a giant Ponzi scheme, goes on to explain that these places are simply an experience gone feral with no chance of remaining sustainable.

Housing design speaks for itself with the modern home built to impress, rather than exploit passive heat management, to be replaced in a single generation rather to stand the tests of time, to give us all an illusion of grandeur and wealth over functionality; simply to be worn like a fashion item.

What’s going on here?

The most logical approach, at least I would’ve thought, would have been to see all this wealth of understanding resulting from the hard-won lessons of yesteryear and to have improved on them with this new found wealth of energy. The result would surely have been societies wealthier, with improved work / life balance and improved health and education.

Instead it seems that we’ve scrapped the lot of this prior learning and gone with lifestyles that are as energy intensive as we can afford. Are we better for it?

Okay, we are certainly better off than those who lived before the exploitation of fossil sourced energy, but because of the energy intensity of this pathway, we are far worse off than we could have otherwise been.

Had we continued the design of earlier cities with multi-use neighbourhoods and medium density housing, there is no question that we wouldn’t be as car dependant as we are today – freeing up that time spent in commute, the costs of car ownership and of course and improving urban air quality.

Had we continued to apply simple rules in building design and simply improved upon them, you can make a safe bet that you energy costs would be much lower – meaning less concern about the coming cold snap or heatwave and a reduction in power stations and thus air and water pollution. On top of that, as building wouldn’t play such a large role and there would be less need to ‘feed the economy’ though such means, house prices wouldn’t be so volatile.

If we had improved on the sturdy infrastructure of yesteryear rather than throw it aside for something as impractical as we now have, we would’ve been better off.

Would we have population levels as high as today? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever occurred, we wouldn’t have been so dispersed as to be left unaware of the immensity of our numbers.

“Think of the job losses!” I hear yelled back at me.

Sustainable agriculture is far more labour intensive than we know it today. Food, of course, would cost more – thus leading to the natural need to grow it closer to where it is consumed. Being better off in this other world where we improved on what we already knew, would mean lower requirements to work for money in general – meaning that the many hands available could make light work of local agriculture.

“If people have more free time, they just spend more!” is another jeer that comes my way.

Not necessarily. We only think that way because of the “growth economy culture”. Spending feeds the beast and so we do it. Before the modern economic models, if people had free time, they spent it with their friends and family, they cared for their young and their old. They played sports and helped a neighbour. They had a true community!

On top of this, we would have the luxuries of the modern world as well. Entertainment would be prevalent. Cars too would still be here as would other forms of travel – travel would be less congested and so we would be freer to explore at our leisure.

Where energy was spent, it would be spent wisely – not simply on a 5km run for milk or idle in congested traffic or for climate control of a paper-thin house.

Cheap energy doesn’t make us dumb, but it has allowed us to overlook the bleeding obvious in favour of a needlessly energetic, overworked lifestyle that simply doesn’t make us happy. Cheap energy has allowed us to forget that we had many of the answers already – long before we struck black gold.

When Transport Let Me Down

Last week was a long week for me.

I was sent to Perth for a meeting of the wider network across Australia and New Zealand of the project which I’m currently involved in, to discuss the science, maintenance, application and broader potential use for our micrometeorological and eddy covariance monitoring. Apart from the background politics that is inevitable within such groups with long working histories, it was enriching to see some of what interests me personally.

From a professional perspective, the technical discussions on calibration and data analysis were useful. From my educational background (ecology), the long term data results, showing how different sites react over time and environmental factors (for my site, fixing up a calibration error exposed in our year of data an incredibly conservative ecosystem beautifully adapted to severely water constrictive conditions) was very fascinating. And from the environmental blogger side of me, discussions regarding climate and climate modelling (something poorly understood among those whom debate most feverishly about them) were enlightening.

With all this in mind, on the morning of our last day of lectures, it became clear that the South American volcanic ash cloud meant that I and everyone else present at the gathering, would be grounded in Perth another night – possibly two.

Of course, in itself, this is no bad thing. Too often my job has taken me to places across Australia where I haven’t been previously, only to pull me back before I saw any of it. In this case, I got to see much of Perth and can safely conclude that it’s a great place – I’m particularly envious of their local surf beaches (something I need to travel fairly far from Adelaide to find in SA).

However, within me casual musing persisted.

With all the non-scientific debate regarding climate change / models, methods to limit carbon emissions, peaking oil and the related food security; here I was, with a head overloaded with relevant science, effectively trapped in a distant city grown fat on mining money. It wasn’t difficult to wonder what the effects would be of a world where flight is not grounded due to ash, but solely on cost.

When flights are impossible, you simply cannot help but feel suddenly isolated.

Many commentators have pointed out that even whilst the GFC was in full effect, CO2 emissions didn’t slow – in fact they spiked. It’s been suggested that this is proof that increasing expense will not help manage CO2 emissions, however, with the growing national purchasing power of China – where much of the worlds production actually occurs – and leaders, such as Rudd and Obama calling for people to ‘spend the country out of recession’, I can’t help but feel it difficult to make such claims.

The point to all of this, it seems to me, is that it’s all really a fight over a standard of living. Whatever particular debate over a relevant subject you decide to look at and whatever side you focus on, the deeper you look at it, the clearer it is that the vast majority of people involved are mostly concerned about either preserving their standard of living or increasing it (there are extremists on either side – the “hair shirts” and the “fat cats” – but please, let’s ignore them for a sensible discussion).

In this light, it becomes completely acceptable that they hold such strong views. None of these individuals should be demonised in any form. We all simply want a comfortable life in which we can follow the pursuits of our choosing. That truly is a life worth working towards (I’d argue that filling our lives up with quickly depreciating stuff is counter to such a goal, but is a subject for another article).

The sudden realisation I experienced last week was that our developed countries are incredibly vulnerable. So energy and transport dependent, it doesn’t take much to upset the system. Remove transport from a major port for a prolonged period and you’ve removed much of the resilience of that region. Many regions couldn’t feed their people were it not for the vast grain bowls elsewhere.

Following a decade of hype over “terror” and serious discussion regarding the likelihood of eminent peaking oil (if not, as some in-the-know have stated, that we are already past that point), it’s disturbing that little to no conversations are occurring about improving local resource security. That is to ask; if transport/energy were to be cut off, for whatever reason, how would the local population maintain a desired standard of living?

My home city of Adelaide couldn’t feed itself and being the most sprawled Australian city, access even to supermarkets is difficult for most without a car. That is a twofold dependence on transport that will feel the pinch with increasing fuel costs. Power outages in our summers too have been a cause of increased mortality. Clearly it’s not a smart city.

Localisation also improves job availability and retains local wealth, why move them away?

The need to increasing local resource security is far greater than any of the various debates give it credit. Increased local resource security leads to a more resilient city which in turn ensures a comfortable standard of living for more citizens that is more reliable. Most of us want this but spend our time arguing over the detail, while missing the point completely. This seems to be the nature of the various debates, which leads to what many of us have been observing; a lot of hot air and the same old problems persisting. It has to stop – leading us back to conversations over what is more important; we all desire a comfortable, productive life, how can we not only achieve it, but also make it as robust as possible.

It was only a minor disruption that I experienced in Perth and whilst checking out the surf, I was well aware of the multitude of cargo ships along the horizon – this city had no reason to worry about incoming supplies… at least for the immediate future. But what about in a decade from now? Oil prices are sure to be higher than they are today. Will there be as many ships waiting to dock? Will there be as many planes heading in and out? Maybe, but will as many people still have access to those goods and services with the additional costs embedded?

Tools, such as pricing carbon (something that Tony Abbott has previously agreed is a useful tool – before back flipping to appeal to more voters), force us to do what we should have started doing long ago, asking ourselves how to make cities more invulnerable to energy and transport dependence. It’s not about taking away, but about owning up to poor design (Adelaide being my example above) and demanding better communities that work for their population. If we really desire a high standard of living, we should want nothing less.

No silver lining in peak oil: is the realisation we’re running out distorting the global response to climate change?

The recent Canadian elections saw the return the Conservative government of Stephen Harper with an increased majority. For many concerned with climate change, this was dispiriting news. For years Harper’s government has been waging a war on climate science.

DeSmogBlog has been tracking the activities of the Harper government. It makes for depressing reading, as it means Canada has turned its back on global initiatives to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, the Conservatives have accelerated the dirty and environmentally destructive extraction of oil from “tar sands”.

However, it was comment by Michael Tobis on Canada (Only in it for the gold) that got me thinking:

“…There’s enough “peak oil” phenomenology in the mix to clinch this. I suspect few countries, unless they are oil-rich, will sustain GDP growth in the near future. (Canada’s horrifying defection from climate governance shows that at least one government sees the writing on the wall, albeit cynically and maliciously.)”

The basic concept of peak oil is that oil is “running” out, and as demand outstrips supply it will have serious economic and social consequences for a civilisation so reliant on cheap, abundant oil.

An argument could be made that Harper’s government may understand both the reality of climate change and peak oil, and reads it as an opportunity to promote their country’s standing as an “energy super power”.

Many of us assumed that “peak oil” might have a silver lining and act as a kind of dues ex machina, forcing our hand in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. But this may not be the case. As it has already been noted, we’re pushing record volumes of GHGs into the atmosphere.

But here is a scary thought. Peak oil was bad enough as a concept, but perhaps there is no silver lining: governments are reacting cynically across the board.

Recently the International Energy Agency admitted we may have passed peak oil in 2008 (see Guardian interview here).

We’ve been making up for the decline in “conventional oil” (i.e. from the already existing reserves) and from alternative sources such as tar sands.

We may be witnessing is a global game of “beggar thy neighbour”, with fossil fuel dependent countries and exporters willing to put naked self-interest over the common good. Global warming be damned, national sovereignty first. That large multinationals gain is the by-product of the geo-politics of peak oil.

Rather than forcing us to abandon a costly and polluting source of energy, our dependency is so great that countries are now racing to secure supplies.

One would have hoped our dependence on a dwindling source of energy would prompt the exploration and deployment of “cleaner” alternatives.

I fear this is not the case.

What we see is desperate dash to secure supplies across the globe.

Even in Australia the Federal government is prepared to open up the exploration in such pristine and iconic wilderness areas as the Great Ocean Road (Victoria) and Margaret River (West Australia) to oil exploration.

While talks on “controlling” climate change drag on, individual nations are showing resolve and decisiveness in either securing their oil supplies or enhancing their position as producers.

Might not binding treaty on climate change may have the potential prohibit individual nations from exploiting tar sands, opening up new oild fields and exploring other “unconvential” sources of oil? For some governments ignoring the science would be in their self interest.

The realisation that oil really is running out may have induced panic amongst decision makers. The oil is just sitting “there”, and is a proven source of energy. Why not grab the last “few drops” before its gone?

So governments have a choice.

Explore energy alternatives and agree to sign up for binding agreemetns or drill for more.

It would seem the global community has spoken as one: drill, baby drill!

And drill they will.

They’ll drill until a massive pulse of GHGs pushes the climate over dangerous tipping points.

Beggar thy neighbour?

Beggar thyself.

One thing we can confidently predict: they will be plenty of blame to throw around.