>by Clay Evans
Daily Camera of Boulder, Colorado (May 08 2005)
“Uh-oh”. That was my persistent response as I read James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century (Grove/Atlantic, 2005)
I’m an old science-fiction fan, and I take perverse pleasure in a good, old-fashioned doomsday novel, from Ward Moore’s funny Greener Than You Think (Ballantine, 1947) to George R Stewart’s moving Earth Abides (Fawcett, reissue edition, 1986).
But Kunstler says his tome is no mere story: He believes we are barreling toward the end of civilization as we know it, and it’s probably too late to do much about it.
As the world faces the imminent “global peak” in oil production – experts, including retired CU prof Albert Bartlett, believe that will occur sometime between now and about 2010, based on indisputable, backward-looking data on oil discoveries, which began to steadily decline in the 1960s – and demand continues to rise, we finally may be forced to accept that our American way of life, which Dick Cheney has gruffly declared is “not negotiable”, isn’t even in our hands.
Or so Kunstler argues, with persuasive pessimism.
Throughout the oil age, just a tiny fraction of human history, we have been able to delude ourselves that nothing is beyond reach, and that technology, aided by the marketplace and our vaunted “can do” attitude, will always magically find a solution to looming problems. We’ve banked our entire suburban, energy-hogging culture on such naive hopes.
The problem with optimism in the face of the coming oil crisis – which will catalyze wars, disease, starvation, and a collapse of governments, Kunstler argues – is that every aspect of our comfy American lives is umbilically tied to petroleum. And oil, eons’ worth of solar energy neatly stored in the pressure-baked detritus of past ages, is a finite resource.
Jimmy Carter, much derided by the ascendant Right, tried to get us to see all this coming, way back when the first “Star Wars” movie came out:
“The world has not prepared for the future”, he said, laying out an ambitious energy plan that would have staved off, but not solved, the problem posed by the looming peak. “During the 1950s, people used twice as much oil as during the 1940s. During the 1960s, we used twice as much as during the 1950s. And in each of those decades, more oil was consumed than in all of mankind’s previous history.”
Yes, we’ve got about half of all the earth’s oil left, but some of it will take more energy to extract than energy produced – a net loss – and we’re burning through it exponentially.
Won’t ingenuity ride in to save the day? “Nope”, Kunstler says. Every known alternative, from nuclear to hydrogen, solar to wind, natural gas (America passed peak gas production in 1973) to coal, is utterly dependent on … oil.
“No combination of alternative fuels will even permit us to operate a substantial fraction of the systems we currently run on”, he writes. And: “The belief that ‘market’ will automatically deliver a replacement for fossil fuels is a type of magical thinking like that of the cargo cults of the South Pacific”.
And this from a guy who supports the Iraq war and flatly declares, “it was about oil”.
Is Kunstler just our era’s Paul Ehrlich, whose dire 1968 prediction of a “population bomb” hasn’t gone off yet? Maybe. But Kunstler has that covered, too: Cheap oil has staved off the worst effects of overpopulation, he says, and without it … uh-oh.
So, what to do? Kunstler thinks we’re toast, and boldly predicts we’ll have to return to concentrated towns surrounded by intensive local agriculture (minus petro-fertilizers); no more sushi, or tomatoes in January. If we survive at all, that is.
Still, common sense dictates that even if it is too late, we must pursue energy policies – improved fuel efficiency, less blind consumption, et cetera – that will, perhaps, stretch those decomposed dinos just a tad further.
Then again, maybe this is exactly the “apocalypse” our “non-negotiable” political leadership expects, and longing for Rapture is the only, if irrational, response they can now muster.
Contact Clay Evans firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
>A response to Friedman’s Flat earth hypothesis
by Vandana Shiva
ZNet Commentary (May 28 2005)
The project of corporate globalisation is a project for polarising and dividing people – along the axis of class and economic inequality, the axis of religion and culture, the axis of gender and the axis of geographies and regions. Never before in human history has the gap between those who labour and those who accumulate wealth without labour been greater. Never before has hate between cultures been so global. Never before has there been a global convergence of three violent trends – the violence of primitive accumulation for wealth creation, the violence of “culture wars”, and the violence of militarized warfare.
Yet Thomas Friedman, [New York Times columnist], describes this deeply divided world created by globalisation and its multiple offsprings of insecurity and polarization as a “flat” world. In his book “The World is Flat” Friedman tries desperately to argue that globalisation is a leveller of inequalities in societies. But when you only look at the worldwide web of information technology, and refuse to look at the web of life, the food web, the web of community, the web of local economies and local cultures which globalisation is destroying, it is easy to make false and fallacious arguments that the world is flat.
When you look at the world perched on heights of arrogant, blind power, separated and disconnected from those who have lost their livelihoods, lifestyles, and lives – farmers and workers everywhere – it is easy to be blind both to the valleys of poverty and the mountains of affluence. Flat vision is a disease. But Friedman would like us to see his diseased, perverse flat view of globalisation’s resulting polarisations as a revolution that aims to reverse the revolutions that allowed us to see that the world is round and the earth goes round the sun, not the other way around.
Friedman has reduced the world to the friends he visits, the CEOs he knows, and the golf courses where he plays. From this microcosm of privilege, exclusion and blindness, he shuts out both the beauty of diversity and the brutality of exploitation and inequality. He shuts out the social and ecological externalities of economic globalisation and free trade. He shuts out the walls that globalisation is building – walls of insecurity and hatred and fear – walls of “intellectual property”, walls of privatization..
He focuses only on laws, regulations and policies which were the protections of the weak and the vulnerable, on barriers necessary as boundary conditions for the exercise of freedom and democracy, rights and justice, peace and security, sustainability and sharing of the earth’s precious and vital resources. And he sees the dismantling of these ecological and social protections for deregulated commerce as a “flattening”.
But this flattening is like the flattening of cities with bombs, the flattening of Asia’s coasts by the tsunami, the flattening of forests and tribal homelands to build dams and mine minerals. Friedman’s conceptualization of the world as flat is accurate only as a description of the social and ecological destruction caused by deregulated commerce or “free trade”. On every other count it is inaccurate and false.
Take Friedman’s description of three waves of globalisation. According to him, globalization 1.0 which lasted from 1492 when Columbus set sail to 1800 and shrank the world from a size large to a size medium, with countries and governments breaking down walls and knitting the world together. Globalisation 2.0, which lasted from 1800 to 2000, shrank the world from a size medium to a size small, the key agent of change being multinational companies. Globalisation 3.0 started in 2000, is now shrinking the size small to size tiny, and is being driven by individuals.
This is a totally false view of history. From one perspective in the south, the three waves of globalisation have been based on the use of force. They have been driven by greed, and they have resulted in dispossession and displacement. For native Americans, globalisation 1.0 started from 1492 and has still not ended.
For us in India the first wave of globalisation was driven by the first global corporation, the East India Company, working closely with the British [nation], and did not end till 1947 when we got Independence. We view the current phase as a recolonisation, with a similar partnership between multinational corporations and powerful governments. It is corporate led, not people led. And the current phase did not begin in 2000 as Friedman would have us believe. It began in the 1980s with the structural adjustment programmes of the World Bank and the IMF imposing trade liberalisation and privatization, and was accelerated since 1995 with the establishment of the World Trade Organisation at the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs.
Friedman’s false flat earth history then enables him to make two big leaps: results of coercive, undemocratic “free trade” treaties are reduced to achievements of information technology, and corporate globalisation and corporate control is presented as the collaborations and competition between individuals. In his view, the WTO, World Bank and IMF disappear and the multinational corporations disappear. Globalisation is then about technological inevitability and individual innovativeness, not a project of powerful corporations aided by powerful institutions and powerful governments.
In reality, neither e-commerce not WalMart-isation of the economy could take place without the dismantling of trade protections, workers’ protections and environmental protections. Technologies of communication do not make long distance supply of goods, including food products, cheaper than local supply. Low wages, subsidies, externalisation of costs are what make WalMart cheap, not its information technology based supply chain management.
In 1988, I was in Berlin before the Berlin wall fell. We were part of the biggest ever mobilisation against the World Bank. Addressing a rally of nearly 100,000 people at the Berlin wall I said then that the Berlin wall should be dismantled as should the wall between rich and poor, which the World Bank creates by locking the Third world into debt, by privatising our resources, and by transforming our economies into markets for multinational corporations. I spoke about how the alliance between the World Bank and global corporations was establishing a centrally controlled, authoritarian rule like communism in its control, but different in the objective of profits as the only end of power. As movements, what we sought and fought for are the bringing down of all walls of power and inequality.
Friedman’s flat vision makes him blind to the emergence of corporate rule through the rules of corporate globalisation as the establishment of authoritarian rule and centrally controlled economies. He presents the collapse of the Berlin wall as having “tipped the balance of power across the world toward those advocating democratic, consensual, free-market-oriented governance, and away from those advocating authoritarian rule with centrally planned economies”.
Citizens’ movements fighting globalisation advocate democratic, consensual governance and fight the WTO, the World Bank and global corporations precisely because they are undemocratic and dictatorial; they are authoritarian and centralized. The WTO agreement on Agriculture was drafted by Mr Amstutz, a Cargill official, who had led the US negotiations on agriculture during the Uruguay Round and who is now in charge of Food and Agriculture policies to be inserted into the Iraqi Constitution. This is a centrally planned authoritarian rule over food and farming.
That is why the democratic and consensual response of citizens’ movements and Third world governments in Cancun [in 2003] led to the collapse of the WTO Ministerial conference. Then it was the so called “flatteners” who were erecting walls – the barricades at which the Korean farmer Lee took his life, the walls that the US Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, tried to create between what he called “Can do” and “Can’t do” countries. What Zoellick and Friedman fail to see is that what they call “Can’t do” is actually the “Can do” for the defense of farmers in the face of dumping and unfair trade. Zoellick’s and Friedman’s world is shaped by and focussed in Cargill – our world is shaped by and focussed on 300 million species and six billion people.
The biggest wall created by the WTO is the wall of the trade-related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). This, too, is part of a centrally planned authoritarian rule. As Monsanto admitted, in drafting the agreement, the corporations which were organised as the Intellectual Property Committee were the “patients, diagnosticians and physicians all in one”. Instead of telling the story of TRIPS and how corporate and the WTO-led globalisation is forcing India to dismantle its democratically-designed patent laws, and how the WTO is creating monopolies on seeds and medicines, pushing farmers to suicide and denying victims of AIDS, Cancer, Tuberculosis, and Malaria access to life-saving drugs, Friedman engages in another dishonest step to create a flat world.
He presents the open source software movement, initiated by Richard Stallman, as a flattening trend of corporate globalisation when actually Stallman is a leading critic of intellectual property and corporate monopolies, and a fighter against the walls that corporations are creating to prevent farmers from saving seeds, to prevent researchers from doing research, and to prevent software developers from creating new software. By presenting the open source movement in the same category as outsourcing and offshore production, Friedman hides corporate greed, corporate monopolies and corporate power, and presents corporate globalisation as human creativity and freedom.
This is deliberate dishonesty, not just the result of flat vision. That is why in his stories from India he does not talk about Dr Hamid of CIPLA who provided AIDS medicine to Africa for $200 when US corporations wanted to sell them for $20,000, and who has called the WTO’s patent laws “genocidal”. And inspite of Friedman’s research team having fixed an appointment with me to fly down to Bangalore to talk about farmers’ suicides for the documentary Friedman refers to, Friedman cancelled the appointment at the last minute.
Telling a one-sided story for a one-sided interest seems to be Friedman’s fate. That is why he talks of 550 million Indian youth overtaking Americans in a flat world, when the entire Information Technology/outsourcing sector in India employs only a million out of a 1.2 billion people. Food and farming, textiles and clothing, health and education are nowhere in Friedman’s monoculture-of-mind locked into Information Technology.
Friedman presents a 0.1% picture and hides 99.9%. And within the 99.9% are Monsanto’s seed monopolies and the suicides of thousands. Within the eclipsed 99.9% are the 25 million women who disappeared in high-growth areas of India because a commodified world has rendered women a dispensable sex. Within the hidden 99.9% economy are thousands of tribal children in Orissa, Maharashtra and Rajasthan who died of hunger because the public distribution system for food has been dismantled to create markets for agribusiness. The world of the 99.9% has grown poorer because of economic globalisation.
And it is the rights [of the 99.9%] we fight for. We work to build alternatives for a just, sustainable, peaceful world – a shared and common world – in which our common humanity and universal responsibility links us in earth democracy. The walls of exclusion and discrimination that globalisation has strengthened are made by men in power. Like the Berlin wall, they too must dissolve, because authoritarian rule is inconsistent with free societies, and corporate globalisation is a form of authoritarianism and dictatorship which is robbing us of our fundamental freedoms and our full human potentials.
The world we are reclaiming and rejuvenating is not flat. It is diverse, democratic and decentralised. It is sustainable and secure for all, based on cooperation and sharing of the earth’s resources and on our skills and creativity. The freedom we seek is freedom for all, not freedom for a few. In contrast, “free trade” is about corporate freedom and citizen disenfranchisement.
What Friedman is presenting as a new “flatness” is in fact a new caste system, a new Brahminism, locked in hierarchies of exclusion. In Friedman’s caste system, the “Shudras” are all those whose livelihoods are being robbed to expand the markets and increase the profits of global corporations. They are shut out by invisible social and economic walls created by globalisation while it dismantles walls for protection of people’s livelihoods and jobs.
The Indians being drawn into the US economy through outsourcing are not the new Brahmins, as Friedman claims. They must be satisfied with one-fifth to one-eighth of the salaries of their US counterparts, and what is outsourced is “grunt work”, “number crunching”, standardized, mechanical operations. Outsourcing is Taylorism of the information age. The control is in the hands of the corporations in US. They are the Brahmins who monopolise knowledge through intellectual property. Outsourcing and off-shoring are like the “putting out” work that occurred in the industrial revolution. These are old tools for maintaining exploitative hierarchies – not new flat earth linkages between equals who are equal in creativity and equal in rights.
Friedman’s free trade freedom is flat-earth freedom. In contrast, earth democracy is full-earth freedom and round-earth freedom; that is, freedom for all beings to live their lives within the abundant, renewable but limited bounds of the earth. We do not inhabit a world without limits where unbounded corporate greed can be unleashed and allowed to destroy the earth and rob people of their security, their livelihoods, their resources. Full earth freedom is born in free societies, shaped by free people recognizing the freedom of all. Diversity is an expression of full earth freedom. “Flatness” is a symptom of the absence of real freedom. Facism seeks flatness.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
>by John Pilger
pilger.carlton.com (May 26 2005)
From the air, there appeared to be nobody, no movement, not even an animal, as if the great population of Asia had stopped at the Mekong river. Even the patchwork of rice paddies and fields was barely discernible; nothing seemed to have been planted or growing, except the forest and lines of tall wild grass. On the edge of deserted villages, often following a pattern of bomb craters, the grass would follow straight lines; fertilised by human compost, by the remains of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, it marked common graves in a nation in which as many as two million people, or between a third and a quarter of the population, were “missing”.
That was Cambodia as I found it 26 years ago, in the wake of the Khmer Rouge, whose murderous rule had followed an inferno of American bombs. Shortly afterwards, Jim Howard, senior engineer and fireman for the British charity Oxfam, joined me and sent his first cable: “Fifty to eighty per cent human material destruction is the terrible reality. 100 tons of milk per week needed by air and sea for the next two months starting now repeat now.”
Thus began one of the boldest aid operations of the 20th century, which surmounted an American and British-led embargo designed to punish Cambodia’s liberator, Vietnam. By the sheer ingenuity and political wisdom of its actions and domestic campaigns, Oxfam saved and restored countless people. Later, in demanding that the west stop supporting the Khmer Rouge in exile, Oxfam incurred the hostility of the Thatcher and Reagan governments and was threatened with the loss of its charitable tax-free status. This was clearly meant as a warning to the independent aid organisations, or “NGOs”, lest they became too “radical”. Many have since embraced a version of corporatism and a closeness to the British government, whose neoliberal trade policies remain a source of much of the world’s poverty.
On 27 May, the watchdog ActionAid will publish an extraordinary, damning report, Real Aid: an agenda for making aid work. With the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in Scotland in July, and the Blair government (and other European governments) propagating the nonsense that it is on the side of the world’s poor, the report reveals that the government is inflating the value of its already minimal aid to poor countries by a third, and that the majority of all western aid is actually “phantom aid”, which means that it has nothing to do with the reduction of poverty.
The ActionAid study describes a gravy train of overpriced “technical assistance” and “consultancies”, of careerism and scant accounting. Britain frequently exaggerates its aid figures (by including debt relief); and America binds its aid to trade and ideology and its “interests”. In fact, real aid accounts for just 0.1 per cent of rich countries’ combined national income. Set against the UN’s minimum “target” of 0.7 per cent, this is barely a crumb.
Cambodia is a prime example. One of the poorest countries in the world, Cambodia was never allowed to recover from the trauma inflicted by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Pol Pot. During the 1980s, with Pol Pot expelled by the Vietnamese, an American and British-led embargo made reconstruction almost impossible. Instead, a “resistance” was invented by the Americans with the British SAS contracted to train the Khmer Rouge in secret camps in Thailand and Malaysia. In 1990, when the United Nations finally arrived in Cambodia to organise “democracy”, it brought corruption on an unprecedented scale, along with Aids and “aid”. This was misrepresented as a “triumph” for the “international community”.
Cambodia today is a victim of this “aid”. As in Africa, the “donors” (the west and Japan) have perpetuated the myths of a “basket case”: that Cambodians cannot do anything for themselves and that genuine development aid and rapacious capitalism are compatible. No finer symbol is Cambodia’s fluorescent-lit sweatshops, making consumer goods for a fraction of their retail price in the west, overlooking hovels where children play in malarial cesspools.
Of course, fake, or “phantom” aid and rapacious capitalism are compatible. The ActionAid report quotes Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch:-
In the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt satirising US army recruitment commercials with the slogan, “Join the army. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them.” In the new millennium, it could be rephrased, “Join the aid community. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And make a killing.”
Roughly half of all aid to Cambodia is spent on “technical assistance”, or TA. Between 1999 and 2003, this amounted to 1.2 billion dollars. What is TA? It is an invasion of “international advisors” on whom up to 70 million dollars was spent in 2003 alone. Add to them “international consultants”, who each cost more than 159,000 dollars. By contrast, the cost of a genuine foreign aid worker in a truly independent NGO is less than 45,000 dollars, and the cost of recruiting a Cambodian expert is an eighth of this.
More than 740 foreigner advisers and experts earn nearly as much as 160,000 Cambodian civil servants, who get as little as 25 dollars a month. In many ministries, the pay of foreign advisers exceeds the entire annual budget. It is more than twice the budget of the agricultural ministry and four times that of the justice ministry.
Foreign aid workers constantly complain about local corruption, often justifiably. But they rarely identify and measure their own legitimised corruption. “There has been no systematic analysis of the effectiveness of TA in Cambodia”, says ActionAid. “Government of Cambodia officials [have] suggested that this is because donors don’t want to recognise the ineffectiveness of their aid”. The Council for the Development of Cambodia says that the foreigners “create parallel systems to the government. They don’t transfer capacity. The experts just provide reports which no one reads … donors always complain about the lack of human resources [but] Cambodians are human beings …”
The report cites a scheme to protect villagers from flood, in which Britain’s Department of International Development is involved. Even though it is promoted as “community-based”, three-quarters of the budget is being spent on foreign consultants, offices and administration. Cambodia has three separate national economic plans, each designed by a different foreign agency. One of the biggest donors is the American government agency USAID, notorious for its bloody political interventions throughout the world. USAID funds Cambodian opposition groups, “human rights advisers” and newspapers that are in line with Bush’s idea of “good governance”. Even the most basic humanitarian aid is tied to American business. For example, oral rehydration salts, which are essential in the tropics, must be bought in the United States at five times the price of the same product made in Cambodia.
There are good people in the foreign NGOs in Cambodia, and there are a number of effective schemes. But “partnership” with local people is a word both governments and aid agencies abuse. Cambodians get what they are given, such as World Bank and IMF “loans” with the kind of outrageous conditions that have damaged countries like Zambia.
More than 600,000 Cambodians were killed by American bombs in the 1970s. As the CIA later admitted, the devastation provided a catalyst for the Khmer Rouge horror. Thousands of child deaths were subsequently caused by an economic blockade which the British government backed.
I see that Tony Blair, like newsreaders and other celebrities, has been wearing the fashionable “Make Poverty History” wristband. How perverse. Like those nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America long plundered in the name of western “interests”, Cambodia has a right to unconditional reparations so that it can meet the urgent needs of its people, not the demands of those claiming to care.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
>Petroleum May Be Nearing a Peak
by Matt Crenson AP National Writer
Associated Press (May 28 2005)
Could the petroleum joyride – cheap, abundant oil that has sent the global economy whizzing along with the pedal to the metal and the AC blasting for decades – be coming to an end? Some observers of the oil industry think so. They predict that this year, maybe next – almost certainly by the end of the decade – the world’s oil production, having grown exuberantly for more than a century, will peak and begin to decline.
And then it really will be all downhill. The price of oil will increase drastically. Major oil-consuming countries will experience crippling inflation, unemployment and economic instability. Princeton University geologist Kenneth S Deffeyes predicts “a permanent state of oil shortage”.
According to these experts, it will take a decade or more before conservation measures and new technologies can bridge the gap between supply and demand, and even then the situation will be touch and go.
None of this will affect vacation plans this summer – Americans can expect another season of beach weekends and road trips to Graceland relatively unimpeded by the cost of getting there. Though gas prices are up, they are expected to remain below $2.50 a gallon. Accounting for inflation, that’s pretty comparable to what motorists paid for most of the 20th century; it only feels expensive because gasoline was unusually cheap between 1986 and 2003.
And there are many who doubt the doomsday scenario will ever come true. Most oil industry analysts think production will continue growing for at least another thirty years. By then, substitute energy sources will be available to ease the transition into a post-petroleum age.
“This is just silly”, said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts. “It’s not like industrial civilization is going to come crashing down”.
Where you stand on “peak oil”, as parties to the debate call it, depends on which forces you consider dominant in controlling the oil markets. People who consider economic forces most important believe that prices are high right now mostly because of increased demand from China and other rapidly growing economies. But eventually, high prices should encourage consumers to use less and producers to pump more.
But Deffeyes and many other geologists counter that when it comes to oil, Mother Nature trumps Adam Smith. The way they see it, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway and other major producers are already pumping as fast as they can. The only way to increase production capacity is to discover more oil. Yet with a few exceptions, there just isn’t much left out there to be discovered.
“The economists all think that if you show up at the cashier’s cage with enough currency, God will put more oil in ground”, Deffeyes said.
There will be warning signs before global oil production peaks, the bearers of bad news contend. Prices will rise dramatically and become increasingly volatile. With little or no excess production capacity, minor supply disruptions – political instability in Venezuela, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or labor unrest in Nigeria, for example – will send the oil markets into a tizzy. So will periodic admissions by oil companies and petroleum-rich nations that they have been overestimating their reserves.
Oil producers will grow flush with cash. And because the price of oil ultimately affects the cost of just about everything else in the economy, inflation will rear its ugly head.
Anybody who has been paying close attention to the news lately may feel a bit queasy at this stage. Could $5-a-gallon gas be right around the corner?
“The world has never seen anything like this before and so we just really don’t know”, said Robert L Hirsch, an energy analyst at Science Applications International Corporation, a Santa Monica, California, consulting firm.
Still, he added, “there’s a number of really competent professionals that are very pessimistic”.
The pessimism stems from a legendary episode in the history of petroleum geology. Back in 1956, a geologist named M King Hubbert predicted that US oil production would peak in 1970.
His superiors at Shell Oil were aghast. They even tried to persuade Hubbert not to speak publicly about his work. His peers, accustomed to decades of making impressive oil discoveries, were skeptical.
But Hubbert was right. US oil production did peak in 1970, and it has declined steadily ever since. Even impressive discoveries such as Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, with thirteen billion barrels in recoverable reserves, haven’t been able to reverse that trend.
Hubbert started his analysis by gathering statistics on how much oil had been discovered and produced in the Lower 48 states, both onshore and off, between 1901 and 1956 (Alaska was still terra incognita to petroleum geologists fifty years ago). His data showed that the country’s oil reserves had increased rapidly from 1901 until the 1930s, then more slowly after that.
When Hubbert graphed that pattern it looked very much like America’s oil supply was about to peak. Soon, it appeared, America’s petroleum reserves would reach an all-time maximum. And then they would begin to shrink as the oil companies extracted crude from the ground faster than geologists could find it.
That made sense. Hubbert knew some oil fields, especially the big ones, were easier to find than others. Those big finds would come first, and then the pace of discovery would decline as the remaining pool of oil resided in progressively smaller and more elusive deposits.
The production figures followed a similar pattern, but it looked like they would peak a few years later than reserves.
That made sense too. After all, oil can’t be pumped out of the ground the instant it is discovered. Lease agreements have to be negotiated, wells drilled, pipelines built; the development process can take years.
When Hubbert extended the production curve into the future it looked like it would peak around 1970. Every year after that, America would pump less oil than it had the year before.
If that prognostication wasn’t daring enough, Hubbert had yet another mathematical trick up his sleeve. Assuming that the reserves decline was going to be a mirror image of the rise, geologists would have found exactly half of the oil in the Lower 48 when the curve peaked. Doubling that number gave Hubbert the grand total of all recoverable oil under the continental United States: 170 billion barrels.
At first, critics objected to Hubbert’s analysis, arguing that technological improvements in exploration and recovery would increase the amount of available oil.
They did, but not enough to extend production beyond the limits Hubbert had projected. Even if you throw in the unexpected discovery of oil in Alaska, America’s petroleum production history has proceeded almost exactly as Hubbert predicted it would.
Critics claim that Hubbert simply got lucky.
“When it pretty much worked”, Lynch said, “he decided, aha, it has to be a bell curve”.
But many experts see no reason global oil production has to peak at all. It could plateau and then gradually fall as the economy converts to other forms of energy.
“Even in thirty to forty years there’s still going to be huge amounts of oil in the Middle East”, said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.
A few years ago, geologists began applying Hubbert’s methods to the entire world’s oil production. Their analyses indicated that global oil production would peak some time during the first decade of the 21st century.
Deffeyes thinks the peak will be in late 2005 or early 2006. Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons puts it at 2007 to 2009. California Institute of Technology physicist David Goodstein, whose book “The End of Oil” was published last year, predicts it will arrive before 2010.
The exact date doesn’t really matter, said Hirsch, because he believes it’s already too late. In an analysis he did for the US Department of Energy in February, Hirsch concluded that it will take more than a decade for the US economy to adapt to declining oil production.
“You’ve got to do really big things in order to dent the problem. And if you’re on the backside of the supply curve you’re chasing the train after it’s already left the station”, he said.
For example, the median lifetime of an American automobile is seventeen years. That means even if the government immediately mandated a drastic increase in fuel efficiency standards, the conservation benefits wouldn’t fully take effect for almost two decades.
And though conservation would certainly be necessary in a crisis, it wouldn’t be enough. Fully mitigating the sting of decreasing oil supplies would require developing alternate sources of energy – and not the kind that politicians and environmentalists wax rhapsodic about when they promise pollution-free hydrogen cars and too-cheap-to-meter solar power.
If oil supplies really do decline in the next few decades, America’s energy survival will hinge on the last century’s technology, not the next one’s. Hirsch’s report concludes that compensating for a long-term oil shortfall would require building a massive infrastructure to convert coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels into combustible liquids.
Proponents of coal liquefaction, which creates synthetic oil by heating coal in the presence of hydrogen gas, refer to the process as “clean coal” technology. It is clean, but only to the extent that the synthetic oil it produces burns cleaner than raw coal. Synthetic oil still produces carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse warming gas, during both production and combustion (though in some scenarios some of that pollution could be kept out of the atmosphere). And the coal that goes into the liquefaction process still has to be mined, which means tailing piles, acid runoff and other toxic ills.
And then there’s the fact that nobody wants a “clean coal” plant in the backyard. Shifting to new forms of energy will require building new refineries, pipelines, transportation terminals and other infrastructure at a time when virtually every new project faces intense local opposition.
Energy analysts say coal liquefaction can produce synthetic oil at a cost of $32 a barrel, well below the $50 range where oil has been trading for the past year or so. But before they invest billions of dollars in coal liquefaction, investors want to be sure that oil prices will remain high.
Investors are similarly wary about tar sands and heavy oil deposits in Canada and Venezuela. Though they are too gooey to be pumped from the ground like conventional oil, engineers have developed ways of liquefying the deposits with injections of hot water and other means. Already, about eight percent of Canada’s oil production comes from tar sands.
Unfortunately, it costs energy to recover energy from tar sands. Most Canadian operations use natural gas to heat water for oil recovery; and like oil, natural gas has gotten dramatically more expensive in the past few years.
“The reality is, this thing is extremely complicated”, Hirsch said. “My honest view is that anybody who tells you that they have a clear picture probably doesn’t understand the problem”.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
>by Cahal Milmo
The Independent online edition (May 16 2005)
Trade reforms backed and funded by the British Government have caused an agricultural crisis in India which has sparked an epidemic of suicide among impoverished farmers, a leading charity claims today.
More than 4,000 farmers have killed themselves in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since a programme of free-market measures was implemented by a “hardline liberalising regime” with the help of a GBP 1.65 million grant from the Department for International Development (DfID).
A study for Christian Aid claims that the dramatic increase in the suicide rate, which saw 2,115 farmers take their lives last year compared with 588 in 2003, is directly linked to British support for policies joining aid to economic liberalisation in developing economies.
Research found that farmers in Andhra Pradesh who had traditionally grown their own food were persuaded between 1999 and 2004 to swap to cash crops and incurred large debts which they were unable to pay due to wildly fluctuating global prices.
The result has been a catalogue of family tragedies among thousands of peasant farmers who were forced to approach unscrupulous money lenders to fund fertilisers, pesticides and water boreholes that produce little or no financial return.
Among the methods of suicide chosen by victims has been to drink the pesticide they hoped would transform their economic prospects.
Daleep Mukarji, director of Christian Aid, said: “It is a scandal that the British Government has backed policies and pumped British taxpayers’ money into schemes which have contributed to poor Indian farmers killing themselves.
“The report shows in stark detail the damage that is done to poor people when the dogma of so-called ‘free’ trade is pursued in the name of poverty relief”.
The study commended DfID, which has spent GBP 248 millio on aid to Andhra Pradesh since 2000, for its work on improving health and education in the region.
But it found that the ministry was also bankrolling the closure, restructuring and privatisation of 43 state-run enterprises, including agencies supporting farmers.
The programme, run by the ultra-liberal state government of Andhar Pradesh until it was voted out of office last year, was advised by consultants from the London-based Adam Smith International – a commercial enterprise affiliated to the right-wing free-market think tank, the Adam Smith Institute.
The consultants were working for the Implementation Secretariat – a body set up by the state government with the help of a GBP 1.65 million grant from DfID.
Professor Jayati Ghosh, an academic in Delhi who chaired a commission on farmers’ welfare charged with investigating the results of free market reforms, said it was clear that there was direct link between the suicides and the liberalisation measures.
He said: “The crisis of suicides is very clearly a result of public policy. And this has been guided by and substantially determined by agencies like DfID.”
The Christian Aid study found that the reform programme, which was also backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, aimed to turn much of farming in India into “agribusiness”.
Among the measures taken by the Implementation Secretariat in Andhra Pradesh between 1998 and last year was the closure of four state agencies, including one which sold farmers machinery and tools at subsidised rates. Another body which provided a reliable source of seed to poor farmers was reduced to a “dormant” state.
In the decade from 1991, the area of farmland in India used to grow traditional grains such as rice declined by 18 per cent. In the same period, land dedicated to the production of cotton and sugar cane increased by 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. At the same time, subsidies for fertilisers were slashed and cheaper loans from banks were reduced, resulting in farmers going to private lenders charging interest rates of at least 36 per cent to fund new crops that rapidly became worthless on the global market because of over-production and cheap imports.
A survey of forty farmers who committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh found that each on average owed 106,000 rupees (GBP 1,300) – roughly five to ten times their normal income.
The Christian Aid report said: “These are not deaths from just one area or from just one type of farming. This is suicide on a scale that is surely unique in modern times. The immediate cause of these deaths is debt. This debt was brought on by a number of factors, all of which, except for the weather, can be ascribed to liberalisation.”
Both Adam Smith International, which said it had had no role in drawing up the liberalisation policy, and DfID denied that there was a direct link between the high levels of suicide and the market reforms.
The Government announced earlier this year that there should no longer be a formal link between aid and economic liberalisation.
A DfID spokesman said: “Our support for economic reform in Andhra Pradesh, including the privatisation of state-owned enterprises, has helped safeguard the livelihoods of around two million people. Without reform, the state government would have continued to spend hundreds of millions of pounds subsidising loss-making enterprises.”
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
>Making Poverty History and the History Of Poverty
by Vandana Shiva
ZNet (May 11 2005)
The cover story of the Time Magazine of March 14 2005 was dedicated to the theme, “How to End Poverty”. It was based on an essay by Jeffrey Sacks “The End of Poverty”, from his book with the same title (Penguin, 2005). The photos accompanying the essay are homeless children, scavengers in garbage dumps, heroin addicts. These are images of disposable people, people whose lives, resources, livelihoods have been snatched from them by a brutal, unjust, excluding process which generates poverty for the majority and prosperity for a few.
Garbage is the waste of a throwaway society – ecological societies have never had garbage. Homeless children are the consequences of impoverishment of communities and families who have lost their resources and livelihoods. These are images of the perversion and externalities of a non-sustainable, unjust, inequitable economic growth model.
In Staying Alive (St Martin’s Press, 1989) I had referred to the book entitled Poverty: The Wealth of the People (Verso, 1984) in which an African writer draws a distinction between poverty as subsistence, and misery as deprivation. It is useful to separate a cultural conception of simple, sustainable living as poverty from the material experience of poverty that is a result of dispossession and deprivation.
Culturally perceived poverty need not be real material poverty: sustenance economies, which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning, are not poor in the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so because they do not participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do not consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even though they might be satisfying those needs through self-provisioning mechanisms.
People are perceived as poor if they eat millets (grown by women) rather than commercially produced and distributed processed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made form ecologically adapted natural material like bamboo and mud rather than in cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear handmade garments of natural fibre rather than synthetics.
Sustenance, as culturally perceived poverty, does not necessarily imply a low physical quality of life. On the contrary, because sustenance economies contribute to the growth of nature’s economy and the social economy, they ensure a high quality of life measured in terms of rights to food and water, sustainability of livelihoods, and robust social and cultural identity and meaning.
On the other hand, the poverty of the one billion hungry and the one billion malnutritioned people who are victims of obesity suffer from both cultural and material poverty. A system that creates denial and disease, while accumulating trillions of dollars of super profits for agribusiness, is a system for creating poverty for people. Poverty is a final state, not an initial state of an economic paradigm, which destroys ecological and social systems for maintaining life, health and sustenance of the planet and people.
And economic poverty is only one form of poverty. Cultural poverty, social poverty, ethical poverty, ecological poverty, and spiritual poverty are other forms of poverty more prevalent in the so called rich North than in the so called poor South. And those other poverties cannot be overcome by dollars. They need compassion and justice, caring and sharing.
Ending poverty requires knowing how poverty is created. However, Jeffrey Sachs views poverty as the original sin. As he declares:
A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor. The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.
This is totally false history of poverty, and cannot be the basis of making poverty history. Jeffrey Sachs has got it wrong. The poor are not those who were left behind, they are the ones who were pushed out and excluded from access to their own wealth and resources.
The “poor are not poor because they are lazy or their governments are corrupt”. They are poor because their wealth has been appropriated and wealth creating capacity destroyed. The riches accumulated by Europe were based on riches appropriated from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the take over of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without the Africa’s slavery, the industrial revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the US. It was the violent take over of Third World resources and Third World markets that created wealth in the North – but it simultaneously created poverty in the South.
Two economic myths facilitate a separation between two intimately linked processes: the growth of affluence and the growth of poverty. Firstly, growth is viewed only as growth of capital. What goes unperceived is the destruction in nature and in people’s sustenance economy that this growth creates. The two simultaneously created ‘externalities’ of growth – environmental destruction and poverty creation – are then casually linked, not to the processes of growth, but to each other. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: growth will solve the problems of poverty and environmental crisis it has given rise to in the first place. This is the message of Jeffrey Sachs analysis.
The second myth that separates affluence from poverty is the assumption that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. This is the basis on which the production boundary is drawn for national accounting that measures economic growth. Both myths contribute to the mystification of growth and consumerism, but they also hide the real processes that create poverty.
First, the market economy dominated by capital is not the only economy; development has, however, been based on the growth of the market economy. The invisible costs of development have been the destruction of two other economies: nature’s processes and people’s survival. The ignorance or neglect of these two vital economies is the reason why development has posed a threat of ecological destruction and a threat to human survival, both of which, however, have remained ‘hidden negative externalities’ of the development process.
Instead of being seen as results of exclusion, they are presented as “those left behind”. Instead of being viewed as those who suffer the worst burden of unjust growth in the form of poverty, they are falsely presented as those not touched by growth. This false separation of processes that create affluence from those that create poverty is at the core of Jeffrey Sachs analysis. His recipes will therefore aggravated and deepen poverty instead of ending it.
Trade and exchange of goods and services have always existed in human societies, but these were subjected to nature’s and people’s economies. The elevation of the domain of the market and man-made capital to the position of the highest organizing principle for societies has led to the neglect and destruction of the other two organizing principles – ecology and survival – which maintain and sustain life in nature and society.
Modern economies and concepts of development cover only a negligible part of the history of human interaction with nature. For centuries, principles of sustenance have given human societies the material basis of survival by deriving livelihoods directly from nature through self-provisioning mechanisms. Limits in nature have been respected and have guided the limits of human consumption. In most countries of the South large numbers of people continue to derive their sustenance in the survival economy which remains invisible to market-oriented development.
All people in all societies depend on nature’s economy for survival. When the organizing principle for society’s relationship with nature is sustenance, nature exists as a commons. It becomes a resource when profits and accumulation become the organizing principles and create an imperative for the exploitation of resources for the market.
Without clean water, fertile soils and crop and plant genetic diversity, human survival is not possible. These commons have been destroyed by economic development, resulting in the creation of a new contradiction between the economy of natural processes and the survival economy, because those people deprived of their traditional land and means of survival by development are forced to survive on an increasingly eroded nature.
People do not die for lack of incomes. They die for lack of access to resources. Here too Jeffrey Sacks is wrong when he says, “In a world of plenty, one billion people are so poor, their lives are in danger”. The indigenous people in the Amazon, the mountain communities in the Himalaya, peasants whose land has not been appropriated and whose water and biodiversity has not been destroyed by debt-creating industrial agriculture are ecologically rich, even though they do not earn a dollar a day.
On the other hand, even at five dollars a day, people are poor if they have to buy their basic needs at high prices. Indian peasants who have been made poor and pushed into debt over the past decade to create markets for costly seeds and agrichemicals through economic globalisation are ending their lives in thousands.
When seeds are patented and peasants will pay $1 trillion in royalties, they will be $1 trillion poorer. Patents on medicines increase costs of AIDS drugs from $200 to $20,000, and cancer drugs from $2,400 to $36,000 for a year’s treatment. When water is privatized, and global corporations make $1 trillion from commodification of water, the poor are poorer by $1 trillion.
The movements against economic globalisation and maldevelopment are movements to end poverty by ending the exclusions, injustices and ecological non-sustainability that are the root causes of poverty.
The $50 billion of “aid” North to South is a tenth of $500 billion flow South to North as interest payments and other unjust mechanisms in the global economy imposed by the World Bank and IMF. With privatization of essential services and an unfair globalisation imposed through the WTO, the poor are being made poorer.
Indian peasants are losing $26 billion annually just in falling farm prices because of dumping and trade liberalization. As a result of unfair, unjust globalisation, which is leading to corporate, takeover of food and water, more than $5 trillion will be transferred from poor people to rich countries just for food and water. The poor are financing the rich. If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the unjust and violent systems for wealth creation which create poverty by robbing the poor of their resources, livelihoods and incomes.
Jeffrey Sachs deliberately ignores this “taking”, and only addresses “giving”, which is a mere 0.1% of the “taking” by the North. Ending poverty is more a matter of taking less than giving an insignificant amount more. Making poverty history needs getting the history of poverty right. And Sachs has got it completely wrong.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
>by Alfred J Cavallo
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 2005 (May 01 2005)
Without any press conferences, grand announcements, or hyperbolic advertising campaigns, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world’s largest publicly owned petroleum companies, has quietly joined the ranks of those who are predicting an impending plateau in non-OPEC oil production. Their report, The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, forecasts a peak in just five years.
In the past, many who expressed such concerns were dismissed as eager catastrophists, peddling the latest Malthusian prophecy of the impending collapse of fossil-fueled civilization. Their reliance on private oil-reserve data that is unverifiable by other analysts, and their use of models that ignore political and economic factors, have led to frequent erroneous pronouncements. They were countered by the extreme optimists, who believed that we would never need to think about such problems and that the markets would take care of everything. Up to now, those who worried about limited petroleum supplies have been at best ignored, and at worst openly ridiculed.
Meanwhile, average consumers have taken their cue from the market, where rising prices have always been followed by falling prices, leading to the assumption that this pattern will continue forever. In truth, the market price of crude oil is completely decoupled from and independent of production costs, which average about $6 per barrel for non-OPEC producers and $1.50 per barrel for OPEC producers. This situation has nothing to do with a free market, and everything to do with what OPEC believes will be accepted or tolerated by the United States. The completely affordable market price – what consumers pay at the gasoline pump – provides magisterial profits to the owners of the resource and gives no warning of impending shortages.
All the more reason that the public should heed the silent alarm sounded by the ExxonMobil report, which is more credible than other predictions for several reasons. First and foremost is that the source is ExxonMobil. No oil company, much less one with so much managerial, scientific, and engineering talent, has ever discussed peak oil production before. Given the profound implications of this forecast, it must have been published only after a thorough review.
Second, the majority of non-OPEC producers such as the United States, Britain, Norway, and Mexico, who satisfy sixty percent of world oil demand, are already in a production plateau or decline. (All of ExxonMobil’s crude oil production comes from non-OPEC fields.) Third, the production peak cited by the report is quite close at hand. If it were twenty-five years instead of five years in the future, one might be more skeptical, since new technologies or new discoveries could change the outlook during that longer period. But five years is too short a time frame for any new developments to have an impact on this result.
Also noteworthy is the manner in which the Outlook addresses so-called frontier resources, such as extra-heavy oil, “oil sands”, and “oil shale”. The report cites the existence of more than four trillion barrels of extra heavy oil and “oil sands” – producing potentially 800 billion barrels of oil, assuming a 20-25 per-cent extraction efficiency. The Outlook also cites an estimate of three trillion barrels of “oil shale”. These numbers have figured prominently in advertisements that ExxonMobil and other petroleum companies have placed in newspapers and magazines, clearly in an attempt to reassure consumers (and perhaps stockholders) that there is no need to worry about resource constraints for many decades.
However, as with all advertisements, it’s best to read the fine print. ExxonMobil’s world oil production forecast shows no contribution from “oil shale” even by 2030. Only about four million barrels of oil per day from Canadian “oil sands” are projected by 2030, accounting for a mere 3.3 percent of the predicted total world demand of 120 million barrels per day. What explains this striking disconnection between the magnitude of the frontier resources and the minimal amount of projected oil production from them? Canadian “oil sands” are actually deposits of bitumen (tar), which are the result of conventional oil degradation by water and air. Tar sands are of a completely different character than conventional oil deposits; making tar sands usable is a capital-intensive venture that requires special procedures such as heating to separate the tar from the sand, mixing the tar with a diluting agent for pipeline transport, and constructing specially equipped refineries for processing.
The most serious constraint, though, is natural gas supplies. Production of oil from tar sands requires between 400 and 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas per barrel of oil produced, depending on the extraction method used. Natural gas production, despite a near doubling of drilling activity, is flat or decreasing both in Canada and in the United States – which has prompted prices to triple over the past few years. Given these high gas prices, it almost makes more sense just to sell the natural gas directly rather than use it to produce oil from tar sands.
Extracting oil from the three trillion barrels of oil shale cited in the Outlook presents its own challenges. The term “oil shale” is also quite misleading, since there is no oil in this mineral, but rather an organic material called kerogen, which is a precursor of petroleum. To extract oil, the shale (typically between 5 and 25 percent kerogen) must first be mined, then transported to a plant where it is crushed, then heated to 500 degrees Celsius, which pyrolyzes, or decomposes, the kerogen to form oil. After processing, most of the shale remains on the surface in the form of coarse sand, so large-scale mining operations will produce immense amounts of waste material. An estimated one to four barrels of water are required for each barrel of oil produced, both for cooling the products and stabilizing the sand waste. To satisfy these water requirements, petroleum companies once contemplated diverting the Columbia River – a feat that can be excluded today on political and environmental grounds.
With non-OPEC oil production reaching a plateau and frontier resources not viable, ExxonMobil proposes that increased demand be met in two ways. The first is greater fuel efficiency. (That alone should convey the seriousness of this report: When have you ever heard a petroleum company make a plea for vehicles that use less gas?) New cars in the United States are expected to go 38 miles on a gallon of gas in 2030, instead of the current value of 21 miles per gallon. This goal is actually quite modest, as new cars sold in Europe since 2003 already achieve 35 miles per gallon.
The other way ExxonMobil believes demand will be satisfied is from vastly and rapidly increased OPEC production: “After 2010, the call on OPEC increases quickly, requiring OPEC to add more than one million barrels per day of capacity every year”, notes the Outlook. “OPEC’s resources are large enough to achieve this rate of expansion, and we expect that investments will be made in a timely manner”.
This assessment is somewhat ominous. OPEC has not expanded production capacity much at all recently. Moreover, such production increases are only possible from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. For these countries, and indeed for most OPEC members, petroleum and petroleum products are their only significant export. As such, they have a vested interest in obtaining the best possible price for their non-renewable resources. OPEC nations would be quite unlikely to increase production as rapidly as needed unless compelled to do so.
To put this shortfall in perspective, in 2003 Algeria produced 1.1 million barrels per day; a new Algeria would need to be brought on line in the Persian Gulf each and every year beyond 2010 just to keep up with the projected increase in demand. Consequently, once non-OPEC production reaches a peak, conventional world oil production could peak shortly thereafter, and prices (never explicitly mentioned in the Outlook) would rise in accordance with the laws of supply and demand.
What all this means is that the petroleum industry is approaching a turning point. Conventional petroleum production will soon – perhaps in five years, ten at best – no longer be able to satisfy demand. For their part, American consumers would do well to take a cue from their Western European counterparts, who enjoy a comfortable lifestyle despite a per capita use of petroleum that is half of that in the United States. The sooner the United States begins this transition away from oil, the easier it will be. That’s a far more attractive option than trying to squeeze oil from stone.
Alfred J Cavallo is an energy consultant based in Princeton, New Jersey. His article “Oil: Illusion of Plenty”, appeared in the January/February 2004 Bulletin.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/