Dec 31, 2010

Year in Review... last depressing post of 2011

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Readers -  Thanks for a great year of contributions to environmental, health and safety concerns.
Believe it or not, I am a solid optimist that whole heartily believes "There is nothing wrong in America that can not be fixed by what is right in America" yet this post could be a little depressing for a few so be warned.
The rule has always been "Hope for the Best and Plan for the Worst". 
And the only way to plan is to know where the starting point begins.
Here it goes...Enjoy!

As ESPN puts it, "only bad news counts as news."
2010-2011 trends pointing to where we have been and where we are going.
No one wants to call it the Great Depression so I coined it "Peak prosperity" Yep I stated it here first. For two decades we were warned of problems with peak oil, social security, middle east oil wars, energy crisis and our jobs moving overseas.
How did we plan for it? By racking up debt for our great grandchildren like drunken college students with their parents credit card.
  The Gold Report, Year End Wrap-Up - 2010
As the world sinks deeper into what he calls the Greater Depression, Casey Research Chairman Doug Casey sees default on the U.S. national debt as inevitable—albeit probably in the guise of currency destruction. He anticipates further contraction in real estate, particularly on the commercial front. As long as stocks remain overpriced, he'll shy away from equities—except perhaps in favored sectors, such as gold. In fact, in this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, Doug posits that gold juniors might "go up by an order of magnitude or more, even while most other stocks are going down." HTML clipboardand The DOW Still Hasn't Made It Past Y2K  I recognize that an outright default is most unlikely, but...debt will be defaulted on one way or another. The trouble is they're almost certainly going to default on it through inflation, by destroying the currency, which is much worse than defaulting on it overtly. That's because inflation will wipe out the relatively few people who are prudent in this country, those who are actually saving money. Because they generally save in the form of dollars, they're going to wipe them out financially. It's just horrible. Runaway inflation will reward the profligates who are in debt—people who've been living above their means. And punish the producers who've been saving and trying to build capital. That's in addition to the fact it will destroy millions of productive enterprises. A runaway inflation is the worst thing that can happen to a society, short of a major war. They just should default on it honestly, as it were. Continue reading "Doug Casey"
2011: The Year Cities Go Bust?
As the Guardian noted last week:HTML clipboard
More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned. Meredith Whitney, the US research analyst who correctly predicted the global credit crunch, described local and state debt as the biggest problem facing the US economy, and one that could derail its recovery. "Next to housing this is the single most important issue in the US and certainly the biggest threat to the US economy," Whitney told the CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday night. "There's not a doubt on my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults. You can see fifty to a hundred sizeable defaults – more. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of defaults." ( read 60 minute the transcript) US states have spent nearly half a trillion dollars more than they have collected in taxes, and face a $1tn hole in their pension funds ...
Of course, if the cities and states had actually funded their pensions and other obligations during the good times, or at least made more realistic investment projections, they wouldn't be in such a big hole now. See this.  
Rise of the rich and poor in America Largest increase in food prices, homeless, food stamps and energy costs...
USA Today: So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment.
Citing what it calls "an unprecedented rise" in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.
A new survey of unemployed American workers documents dramatic erosion in the quality of life for millions of Americans. Their financial reserves are exhausted, their job prospects nil, their family relations stressed and their belief in government's ability to help them is negligible. They feel hopeless and powerless, unable to see their way out of the Great Recession that has claimed 8.5 million jobs.
The following chart from Calculated Risk shows that this is not a normal spike in unemployment:
Food Stamps Replace Soup Kitchens 1 out of every 7 Americans now rely on food stamps. While we don't see soup kitchens, it may only be because so many Americans are receiving food stamps. Indeed, despite the dramatic photographs we've all seen of the 1930s, the 43 million Americans relying on food stamps to get by may actually be much greater than the number who relied on soup kitchens during the Great Depression.  
Inequality Worse than During the Great Depression From washingtonsblog Inequality is worse than it's been since 1917:
Specifically, economics professors Saez (UC Berkeley) and Piketty (Paris School of Economics) show that the percentage of wealth held by the richest 1% of Americans peaked in 1928 and 2007 - right before each crash: Figure 1 As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote in June: 
Krugman says that he used to dismiss talk that inequality contributed to crises, but then we reached Great Depression-era levels of inequality in 2007 and promptly had a crisis, so now he takes it a bit more seriously...
Rise of the usurmountable and conflict
Given the above facts, it would seem that the government hasn't been doing much. But the scary thing is that the government has done more than during the Great Depression, but the economy is still stuck a pit. Specifically, many economists credit World War II with getting us out of the Depression. (I disagree, but that's another story). This time, we've been at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan far longer than we were in World War II. But our economy is still stuck in a rut. Moreover, the amount spent in emergency bailouts, loans and subsidies during this financial crisis arguably dwarfs the amount which the government spent during the New Deal. For example, Casey Research wrote in 2008:
Paulson and Bernanke have embarked on the largest bailout program ever conceived .... a program which so far will cost taxpayers $8.5 trillion.
So how does $8.5 trillion dollars compare with the cost of some of the major conflicts and programs initiated by the US government since its inception? To try and grasp the enormity of this figure, let's look at some other financial commitments undertaken by our government in the past: HTML clipboard As illustrated above, one can see that in today's dollar, we have already committed to spending levels that surpass the cumulative cost of all of the major wars and government initiatives since the American Revolution. HTML clipboard Balance Budget Recently, the Congressional Research Service estimated the cost of all of the major wars our country has fought in 2008 dollars.
The chart above shows that the entire cost of WWII over four to five years was less than half the current pledges made by Paulson and Bernanke in the last three months! In spite of years of conflict, the Vietnam and the Iraq wars have each cost less than the bailout package that was approved by Congress in two weeks. The Civil War that devastated our country had a total price tag (for both the Union and Confederacy) of $60.4 billion, while the Revolutionary War was fought for a mere $1.8 billion. In its fifty or so years of existence, NASA has only managed to spend $885 billion – a figure which got us to the moon and beyond. The New Deal had a price tag of only $500 billion. The Marshall Plan that enabled the reconstruction of Europe following WWII for $13 billion, comes out to approximately $125 billion in 2008 dollars. The cost of fixing the S&L crisis was $235 billion.
 CNBC confirms that the New Deal cost about $500 billion (and the S&L crisis cost around $256 billion) in inflation adjusted dollars. So even though the government's spending on the "war" on the economic crisis dwarfs the amount spent on the New Deal, our economy is still stuck in the mud. Given that the government has done so much, but we are still mired in a situation which in many ways is comparable to the Great Depression, it is not a very radical statement to say that the government is doing the wrong things to address the downturn. I hope that the economy recovers. But the above comparisons are worrisome, indeed.  

Opppss I almost for got... The China Syndrome

This will bring an unstoppable amount of energy & environmental needs as they prepare for War 'In Every Strategic Direction' and China's navy gets bigger, but why? The Guardian - China alone 'could bring world to brink of climate calamity' David Sandalow, assistant secretary of state for energy, said the continuation of business as usual in China would result in a 2.7C rise in global temperatures by 2050 even if every other country slashed greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
But even with the shift to renewables, clean car technology and ecologically friendly urban planning, China's overall emissions are not expected to drop for many years. The most optimistic scenario suggests 2020 may be a peak, but the majority of scholars and government officials do not think carbon consumption in China will fall until at least 2030.

Much love TOD charts of the year

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From TheOilDrum (TOD)  A picture says a thousand words. In this post you will find only charts and graphs conveying important points from the world of energy 2010.
Readers are invited to post their favorite charts from 2010 in the comments. Instructions are given at the end of this post. This is a charts only thread, no text at all (though posting links is OK),

Below are my favs see more at  TheOilDrum

About those global sea level predictions: Never mind

The American Thinker takes a closer look at predictions vs reality:

Gore, Schwarzenegger, and the IPCC made their mark through their dramatic predictions of catastrophic sea level rise due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing global warming. Gore once predicted that sea levels would rise by twenty feet over the century. Last year, Schwarzenegger unveiled a map showing world sea levels rising by 1.5 meters over the next century. In 2001, the IPCC predicted that sea level would rise by three feet over the next century. Their past predictions and the accurate satellite measurements are shown in the chart below:


The actual sea level rise over the last eighteen years is 1.85 inches, which works out to 10.4 inches per century. This is similar to the 20th century's rise of 8 inches, but much less than the average rise of 4 feet per century for the last 10,000 years as glaciers left by the last ice age continue to melt.

Think of the right hand side of the graph as a cliff in tony Montecito, California. Imagine a lovely estate sitting at the top of that cliff. It belongs to Al Gore.

According to Gore's predictions, sea levels would suddenly and apocalyptically rise (see the black line) until his hillside estate became ocean front property. Unfortunately for Al, he can still peer over the edge of the abyss and barely see the ocean waaaaaay down there at the bottom of the cliff (see the red line). Al Gore, real estate genius.

Source: American Thinker

Predictions for 2011 from Peak Oil Community

Everyone in the Peak Oil Community knows the danger of making predictions. As the poet Burns framed it, "The best-laid schemes o'Mice an' Men / Gang aft agley." What gang aft agley more often than our energy and environmental situation these days? Trying to call the future is a challenging project.

But ASPO-USA and Peak Oil Review have combined to pull together predictions about what we can expect in 2011 from a wide range of thinkers, writers, scholars and experts, who graciously agreed to risk being wrong so that you can have the inside scoop!

Read the predictions at

Can we compete in this market? Russia drops Windows...

Russia embraces free software, a huge blow to Microsoft while a  trade deal between China and Microsoft that allows students in the Asian giant to legally buy Windows+Office bundles for just $3.  International Business Times

Food Emergency: Millions of Americans Are Heading to Foodbanks for the First Time in Their Lives

Food Line for the Holidays - Alternet:  Joan tells me over and over that hers is a good story that people need to hear. Unfortunately, for her and her family she is right.

Before moving to Shamong, NJ, Joan, her husband andAl four children, lived a well above average middle class life in a suburban Toledo, OH. They owned a single family home. She ran a home day care to supplement her husband'sHTML clipboard $80,000 plus income. He worked as a pipeline technician, a career he built over 26 years, lost 14 months ago and has not been able to reclaim. Two years ago he found work in New Jersey through relatives and the family moved.

Moving meant Joan's day care income was gone. It also meant a cut in her husband's salary to $40,000, and an increase in rent from $875 monthly mortgage payment, which included principle, interest, taxes and insurance, to a trailer park rent of $1,125.

Doing some quick math for Joan's situation reveals how the Great Recession has decimated middle class America: after taxes $40,000 is about $30,000 take home in New Jersey. Less $5,000 for carfare to get to work. Less $13,500 for rent. Utilities and phone, let's say $2,400; way too low, right? That leaves $14,100 for food, insurance, diapers, laundry, clothes and every other vagary lHTML clipboardife throws at a family of six. Since a decent family health care insurance is at least $9,000 per year, I'll bet they aren't making what's left of the COBRA payments.

Think you can feed yourself for $5 a day? would you buy? What would you forego? Fast food will eat up that whole amount in a single meal. If Joan spends every cent of her family's $14,100 of "discretionary" money on food she would have a $6.53 per person per day food budget.

Joan wasn't embarrassed toHTML clipboard talk about her situation with me. For whatever reason, she wanted people to know her story. But she was the exception. There were many others seeking a week's worth of food who didn't want to be noticed. They were still well shod. One middle aged gentleman, escorting his wife, was twitching. He didn't care to share his story.- Read on at Alternet

Dec 30, 2010

CoalFires - Free energy or environmental nightmare?

How much energy could we harvest from this worldwide problem???
The fire burning deep below Centralia, Pa., is just one of numerous coal fires burning in at least 20 states today, with thousands more worldwide. They gobble up resources, spew dangerous emissions, and scar the land. Yet little is known about their impact on climate change or human health due to carbon dioxide and mercury emissions, say experts.

Approximately 200 underground coal fires burn in about 20 states, according to Glenn Stracher, a researcher at East Georgia College in Swainsboro, Ga., A separate tally shows 112 fire sites in 21 states, according to Office of Surface Mining data analyzed by Dr. Stracher and fellow researcher Ann Kim.

Causes of such coal fires range from spontaneous combustion to lightning to wildfires that ignite coal seams that then move underground to smolder and burn at temperatures that can reach 500 degrees F. or more.

Analysis of heat-fused rock "clinkers" shows that coal fires are an ancient phenomenon. "We've been dating clinkers, showing coal fires have occurred for at least couple of million years, so they're not new," says Mark Engle, a researcher at the US Geological Survey, "but undoubtedly human activity has exacerbated it."

In 2002, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that underground coal fires around the world emitted about 48 tons of mercury annually.

Worldwide, thousands of underground coal fires burn, with perhaps 1,300 in Indonesia alone, says Dr. Stracher, who is editing a four-volume scientific compilation of coal and peat fires around the world. He estimates that fires are burning in at least 20 nations, but notes that researchers have little understanding of their environmental damage and the scope of their impact on human health.

Read more at the Christian Science Monitor

Build a fusion reactor in your home

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Yup – It's a Farnsworth-Hisrch Fusor  and

At first we were pretty skeptical of this home made fusion reactor instructable. However, we've seen home made fusion reactors before, so it is technically possible, we guess. The construction alone is interesting enough to warrant a few moments of looking.

We're not experts, so pardon us if we can't tell you exactly what is going on, but we can appreciate the craftsmanship involved with the build. The vacuum chamber specifically is quite nice.

Read more and comment at HackAday Homemade fusion reactor 

My favorite comment:

Building a fusion reactor, especially from as poor-quality a writeup as Instructables provides, is like saying "Please irradiate me!" - Sad but true ;-)

China Slashes Rare Earth Exports AGAIN By 35%

"It's nice to see this concern over pollution, but cynically, I cannot help wondering if the real goal of this crackdown is to raise prices or secure favorable trade agreements."

Rare earth elements are used in iPhones, iPads, hybrid-electric cars, wind turbines, flat-panel monitors, tiny magnets in the fins of bombs, missiles, laser-guided smart bombs, and a myriad of other industrial applications.

China cut exports last summer, then totally blocked exports to Japan last September in a border dispute with Japan and now has reduced export quotas again by 35 percent.

There is growing concern about this problem at the Pentagon and by manufacturers for obvious reasons. Please consider China's rare earths export cut spurs trade concerns

China's move to slash export quotas on rare earth minerals -- vital in a slew of high-tech products -- has raised fresh international trade concerns, and Japan's Sony Corp vowed on Wednesday to reduce its reliance on the minerals.
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China, which produces about 97 percent of the global supply of rare earth minerals, cut its export quotas by 35 percent for the first half of 2011 versus a year ago, saying it wanted to preserve ample reserves. It also cautioned that it has not decided on the quotas for the second half of the year.

The little-known class of 17 related elements is used in numerous electronic devices and clean energy technology.

Sony, maker of Bravia brand flat TVs, Vaio PCs and the PlayStation 3 videogame console, will look for ways to cut its use of rare earth elements, including developing alternative materials, Iguchi said.

Prices have surged for these minerals since authorities in Beijing slashed their rare earth exports by 40 percent this summer, saying China needed them for its economic development.

Crackdown on Illegal Mines
It's not that rare earth elements are that rare, but supply of the metals is limited because of production concerns, especially pollution. Unauthorized mining operations account for as much as 50% of China's rare earth exports, leaving sulfuric-acid poisoned streams and land in the wake. Over such concerns Illegal Rare Earth Mines Face Crackdown

China's national and provincial governments [have started] to crack down on the illegal mines, to which local authorities have long turned a blind eye. The efforts coincide with a decision by Beijing to reduce legal exports as well, including an announcement by China's commerce ministry on Tuesday that export quotas for all rare earth metals will be 35 percent lower in the early months of next year than in the first half of this year.

Read more at BusinessInsider

Nuclear Energy Suffers Another Big Blow

Will the Dying Industry Continue to Beg for More Government Subsidies?
AlterNet 2010 again left the "nuclear renaissance" in the Dark Age that defines the technology. But an Armageddon-style battle looms when Congress returns next year.

The atomic energy industry has suffered another astonishing defeat. Because of it, 2010 again left the "nuclear renaissance" in the Dark Age that defines the technology.  But an Armageddon-style battle looms when Congress returns next year.  

The push to build new nuclear plants depends now, as always, on federal subsidies. Fifty-three years after the first commercial reactor opened at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, no private funders will step forward to pay for a "new generation" of nukes.   

So the industry remains mired in unsolved waste problems, disturbing vulnerability to terror and error, uninsured liability in case of a major catastrophe, and unapproved new design proposals.   

Two new reactor construction projects in Europe -- one in Finland and the other at Flamanville, France -- are sinking in gargantuan cost overruns and multi-year delays. To financiers and energy experts worldwide, it's a clear indicator the "rebirth" of this failed technology is a hopeless quagmire.   

Meanwhile the 104 reactors currently licensed in the US are leaking radiation and are under escalating grassroots attack. Vermont's new governor, Peter Shumlin, is committed to shutting the Yankee plant there, and public demands to close New York's Indian Point and Oyster Creek, New Jersey, among others, have reached fever pitch. 

Most importantly, advances in green technologies are leaving atomic power in the dust. Numerous new studies now show it is significantly cheaper to build new generating capacity with photovoltaics, wind and other renewable Solartopian sources than to go nuclear ( ). That gap will only grow in the coming years.   

But Barack Obama proposed some $36 billion in new nuke loan guarantees to add to $18.5 billion set aside by the Bush Administration. Earlier this year he handed $8.33 billion of that to a Georgia utility that broke ground on two new nukes at the Vogtle site, where two old, trouble-plagued reactors still operate.  

The nukes are being built in Georgia -- along with two more in South Carolina -- because ratepayers are being forced to foot the bill as construction proceeds. The company's returns are guaranteed even if the reactors never operate. Georgia has already suffered crippling rate hikes of $1 billion and more to pay for a construction project likely to wind up as little more than a moribund mausoleum.  

Nonetheless, amidst a major economic crisis, the White House and its pro-nuke allies have been pushing hard to fund still more of these radioactive boondoggles.  As Congress wound down this fall, the Administration inserted $7 billion in new loan guarantees into the first Continuing Resolution meant to fund the government on an interim basis.

That CR was abandoned for a larger Ominbus Budget proposal, into which $8 billion for new nukes was stuck.  But grassroots activists from around the nation flooded Congress and White House with at least 15,000 calls and letters.  Amidst the chaos of the lame duck session, the Omnibus bill fell by the wayside. Yet another CR emerged, this one stripped of earmarks -- including all money for new nuke guarantees.  

Thus the industry was once again shut out. In the past decade it has spent more than $640 million lobbying for federal handouts.  

But a vastly underfunded grassroots movement has held its own. In 2007 the industry tried to gouge out $50 billion in new guarantees, but was beaten back by a national campaign ( that continues to rage.   

The industry will surely return with its money guns blazing. A far more conservative Congress will convene in January, and the industry will pour its usual unlimited steam of lucre into legislative coffers. The "renaissance" is nothing if not a cash cow for Congressional candidates and the White House.  

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Ashton Kutcher Preparing For Armageddon...

Ashton Kutcher is in hard training for the apocalypse, but this no big screen role: he's afraid that armageddon is coming.

Speaking to Men's Fitness, Kutcher predicts that the "end of days" is on its way, and he wants to be prepared for the inevitable madness. He told the magazine (quotes via JustJared):

"It won't take very much, I'm telling you. It will not take much for people to hit the panic button. The aHTML clipboard of convenience that people rely on based on electricity alone. You start taking out electricity and satellites, and people are going to lose their noodle. People don't have maps anymore. People use their iPhones or GPS systems, so if there's no electricity, nobody has maps.

And then what? The way Kutcher sees it, all chaos breaks.

"And people are going to go, 'That land's not yours, prove that it's yours,' and the only thing you have to prove it's yours is on an electric file. Then it's like, 'What's the value of currency, and whose food is whose?' People's alarm systems at their homes will no longer work. Neither will our heating, our garbage disposals, hot-water heaters that run on gas but depend on electricity - what happens when all our modern conveniences fail? I'm going to be ready to take myself and my family to a safe place where they don't have to worry."

So what's a soothsaying star supposed to do when he sees the end of the world? Kutcher is stocking up on guns and spending hours and hours running the canyons near his home, pushed on by visions of being chased by wild boar. He's also taking daily bikram yoga sessions, and learning Krav Maga, a deadly Israeli combat technique taught to high-powered special ops.

"All of my physical fitness regimen is completely tailored around the end of day. I stay fit for no other reason than to save the people I care about."

Sounds like his toughest role yet.

Read full from HuffingtonPost

Dec 29, 2010

Peak oil has arrived... long live oil dependency!

While Krugman's exact words are that peak oil has arrived... not only are we no better off now than in the first peak oil warnings of the 70's, we are in a far worse situation. Our worlds energy use forecast is built and projected based on in increased use of fossil fuels and the EIA thinks oil will not hit $100 a barrel until 2017.
Do they also think the world is flat?

From TOD - We no longer have to worry about energy supply or prices.
That is the message from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2011. Cheap energy will characterize the world for most of the next decade, according to the report.
Oil will not reach $100 per barrel until 2017 and natural gas will remain below $5 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) until 2022 (Figure 1).

From NY times: peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada's tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental...So what are the implications of the recent rise in commodity prices?
It is, as I said, a sign that we're living in a finite world, one in which resource constraints are becoming increasingly binding. This won't bring an end to economic growth, let alone a descent into Mad Max-style collapse. It will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.HTML clipboard

The timeline of transition:
Why peak hit before 2030 - As new sources dwindle between 2011-15 India and china will require twice the capacity of current supplies by 2020.

Update (Gas2.0)

Former Shell President John Hofmiester told Platts Energy Weekly television that by 2012, Americans could be paying, on average, $5 a gallon for gas, even without a gas tax hike.

Why so high, so soon? 

OPEC has stated that there is no supply shortage and that wells will run at current capacity. The data seems to support their claim. There is no scarcity of oil, and demand has only fallen over the past three years. So, what is causing crude values to rocket towards $100 a barrel?

80% of all antibiotics were for livestock & poultry

Center for a Livable Future Antibiotics, one of th HTML clipboard world's greatest medical discoveries, are slowly losing their effectiveness in fighting bacterial infections and the massive use of the drugs in food animals may be the biggest culprit. The growing threat of antibiotic resistance is largely due to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in both people and animals, which leads to an increase in "super-bacteria". However, people use a much smaller portion of antibiotics sold in this country compared to the amount set aside for food animals. In fact, according to new data just released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), of the antibiotics sold in 2009 for both people and food animals almost 80% were reserved for livestock and poultry. A huge portion of those antibiotics were never intended to fight bacterial infections, rather producers most likely administered them in continuous low-dosages through feed or water to increase the speed at which their animals grew. And that has many public health experts and scientists troubled.

The Man Who Stopped The Desert

Wangaari Maathai's Billion Tree campaign to lush permaculture landscapes in Jordan, we've seen how individuals and communities can reverse desertification and bring life back to arid soils. Now a new dramatized documentary brings us the story of Yacouba Sawadogo, an illiterate African farmer whose pioneering techniques have, according to HTML clipboard expert, done more for soil conservation in the Sahel region of Africa than all of the national and international soil experts combined. It's amazing stuff.

Using, and then enhancing, traditional "zai" techniques for restoring degraded land, which involve planting seeds directly into pits that have been enhanced with small handfuls of composted dung, Yacouba Sawadogo has spent over a quarter century experimenting with his soils, and then teaching his fellow farmers, resulting in the successful rehabilitation of farmland, the regrowth of forests, and attention from international media and non-profit organizations who wanted to learn more about Sawadogo's techniques.

Now a new documentary, that includes a dramatization of Sawadogo's life, and the struggles he has faced in gaining acceptance for his approach, is set to bring his story to a broader audience. The movie traces Sawadogo's story from his early education, through his days researching and developing his farming techniques, to his recent journey to the USA to participate in an Oxfam panel on greening the Sahel.

More on the Magic of Soil Life from a Hugger

African Villages Glow With Renewable Energy

"The NY Times reports that as small-scalHTML clipboard renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries playing an epic, transformative role. With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford. 'You're seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts,' says energy adviser Dana Younger. In addition to small solar projects, renewable energy technologies designed for the poor include simple subterranean biogas chambers that make fuel and electricity from the manure of a few cows, and 'mini' hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village. 'It's a phenomenon that's sweeping the world; a huge number of these systems are being installed,' says Younger." Via Slahdot

Dec 27, 2010

Solar starts 2011 in deep decline

NBF - Berkeley Lab Report Shows that the Installed Cost of Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the U.S. Began a Steep Decline in 2010
The decline in solar photovoltaic (PV) installed costs seen by customer-owners of such systems in 2010 follows a significant drop in the wholesale cost for PV modules in 2009.

As report co-author Galen Barbose explains, "Based on our data, average installed costs held steady at $7.50/W from 2008 to 2009, even though wholesale module prices dropped substantially over this period.

However, that drop in module prices appears to have made its way to customers in 2010." Modules typically represent about half the installed cost of a PV system.

The full report is here

China Syndrome for the world ... inflation

1. Currency tension between China and the United States.HTML clipboard
2. How China uses its regional influence and the maritime territorial disputes with several countries
3. China's inflation looks like it will significantly exceed the 4% target, policymakers may raise interest rates sharply.
4. Will there be war with North Korea or will North Korea implode or will things muddle along
5. India's corruption issue may continue to paralyze parliament with an emboldened opposition blocking proceedings, or that the scandals result in a less business-friendly policy environment.
6. The current leadership in Japan and Australia may not be strong enough to enact needed reforms
7. Southeast Asia's financial markets may run out of steam in 2011

1. US Inflation will pick up, effectively exported back to the US through higher costs of imports (and in this regard the Chinese import price is arguably as important as raw commodities, if not more. So, be careful what you wish for)

2. Unless/until an Euro crisis materializes, or at least grabs headlines again, interest rates will be rising worldwide, but BEFORE the developed economies are in solid recovery ground AND as emerging economies are still trying to cool down. This is a pre-emptive strike that will most likely kill any prospect of sustained recovery in the developed world, but may play right into the hands of emerging economies

3. Even if I'm wrong about the timing and method in China's effort of fighting inflation, the inevitable fact is they will have to cool it down one way or the other, be it a soft landing, hard landing, or revolution. And sooner rather than later. When that happens, expect a pull-back in commodities and equities worldwide

Battery salvation in 2011?

Planar Energy claims its solid-state lithium-ion battery design can deliver three times the energy density of today's lithium-ion batteries at less than half the cost per kilowatt-hour. The solid-state inorganic nature of the battery is the key to its high performance, says M. Scott Faris, the firm's chief executiHTML clipboard ve officer. Performance targets for the BEEST program are to exceed 500 Wh/kg and 500 cycles at commercially viable recharge rates. By 2016, the goal is to produce a cell with 600 Wh/kg and 1,000 cycles.

IEEE Spectrum reports that Planar Energy batteries store 400 watt-hours of energy per kilogram One problem with current battery performance, Faris says, is the need to package the active material of the cathode with binders, separators, and liquid electrolytes. "You only get a fraction of the theoretical energy density," he explains. With Planar's design, he asserts, "you can get around 95% of the theoretical energy density of the active materials.

Planar Energy's new generation of inorganic solid state electrolyte and electrode materials combined with a proprietary manufacturing process (Streaming Protocol for Electroless Electrochemical Deposition, or SPEED) comprises a materials performance and fabrication breakthrough that overcomes the production and cost barriers to low-cost, solid state, large format batteries. Planar's electrolyte chemistries have more than 1,000 times the conductivity of vacuum-deposited electrolytes and ionic conductivity equal to that of high-performance liquid electrolytes, but without their drawbacks.

ReVolt Zinc Air batteries
ReVolt Technology, aims to go to market with an even smaller battery. ReVolt is working on a zinc-air flow "button cell" battery to power hearing aids. The first model will be a primary, or nonrechargeable, battery, but CEO James P. McDougall says it will be followed by a rechargeable version. They are also trying to get 400 Watt hours per kilogram.

Sion Power Lithium Sulfur BatteriesHTML clipboard

Sion Power's Li-S technology provides rechargeable cells with a specific energy of over 350 Wh/kg, which is 50% greater than the currently commercially available rechargeable battery technologies. Over 600 Wh/kg in specific energy and 600 Wh/l in energy density are achievable in the near future. Sion Power believes that by utilizing Li-S technology, a battery pack weighing less than 700 lbs can power a 3,500 lb five-passenger vehicle more than 300 miles.
Read full from NBF

GE to pay 500 mln dollars for New York river cleanup

General Electric said Thursday it will soon complete a 500-million-dollar toxic waste cleanup project in New York's Hudson river to settle a decades-old battle with US environmental authorities.

The giant industrial conglomerate said it had informed the US (EPA) that it will complete the second and final phase of the Hudson riverbed dredging project in late Spring 2011.

The battle goes back to the late 1970s, GE and the EPA argued over the extent of the cleanup and GE's responsibility. Read full at  Physorg

Crude Is Rising, But Not Because Of Demand

On Wednesday, Dec. 22, U.S. gasoline prices hit an average $3 a gallon for the first time in more than two years, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Meanwhile, U.S. stocks and oil also climbed to the highest levels since 2008. HTML clipboard chart

Crude = 71% of Gasoline Price

Crude oil is the biggest component, and accounts for about 71% of the price of gasoline as of Nov. 2010, based on EIA estimate (Fig. 1).  Roughly, for every one dollar increase in the per barrel (42 gallons) price of oil, gasoline prices rise 2.5 cents per gallon. So, a ten-dollar rise in crude price per barrel would add about 25 cents at the pump. 

Crude Prices Defy Ample Supplies

This new gasoline high came just as crude oil also reached a two-year high as traders bid it up after U.S. Energy Dept. reported a week-on-week inventory draw, while unusually cold weather in the United States and Europe has also helped.

Oil futures for February delivery rose to $90.48 a barrel, the highest since Oct. 3, 2008. Prices have climbed 14% this year, and up about 26% since late August. And by the way crude oil prices are climbing; you'd think there's a supply shortage.

Totally not so...

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Blinded by SantaMeanwhile, many analysts, including the EIA, attributed the run-up in crude prices and the reversal of historical pattern in gasoline prices to strengthening global product demand and firming economic growth in the U.S.

However, people seem to have been blinded by Santa as to the obvious:

  • An above $3 a gallon gasoline price during the third week of December was last seen in 2007-- one year prior to the financial crisis.
  • The last time, any time during the year, the national average for regular unleaded was above $3 was in 2008, when crude reached an all-time high of $147 a barrel!

Bear in mind, the unemployment rate was 4.6% and 5.8% in 2007 and 2008 respectively when gasoline was above $3 a gallon, and there was actually a global supply crunch due to robust (pre-crisis) global growth.

What's Wrong with This Picture?

In contrast, here we are in 2010, barely out of the Great Recession, the jobless rate is hovering around 10%--twice the levels in 2007/08--while the housing sector remains under intensive care with existing home sales down 27.9% year-over-year in Nov.

So, it begs the question-- what's wrong with this picture? How could crude oil and gasoline be at this price level given ample supplies, and a lack luster macroeconomic condition?

QE Liquidity Euphoria HTML clipboard

As discussed before, one thing the U.S. Fed's QE has accomplished is building up concerns about the possible inflation. Expectation of inflation, improving global growth, and increasing risk appetite because of the U.S. Federal Reserve's QE pumping up the economy, have driven investors to plow money into the commodities and stocks at a record pace.

This massive QE liquidity is also a major factor in the current strong correlation between WTI crude and S&P 500--another reversal of historical pattern. So, it is no coincidence that the S&P 500 index also hit its highest level since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

The broader equity and commodity markets, including crude oil, are artificially supported by the U.S. Federal Reserve, and largely detached from the market demand and supply factors, where traders/speculators will run the show at least through 2011.

More Downside Possibilities

Most agencies forecast the world oil demand to outstrip supply in the long run; however, during next year, there could be a lot more downside possibilities than upside surprises.

And don't count on a U.S. recovery to be the upside surprise factor either. The EIA Short-term Energy Outlook published on Dec. 7 projects gasoline consumption in the U.S. to increase by 0.4% and 0.8% in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

$110-$115/bbl by April? chart

Technically speaking, crude could see some profit taking in January with major support at around $89 le vels.  Look out below if it breaks resistance of $87.  On the upside, the next two key resistance levels should be at $95/b, and $100/b respectively (See Chart)

Nevertheless, if the stars are aligned, that is, global economy really picking up stream with two consecutive months of good U.S. jobs numbers, inflation concerns and QE could form a perfect storm for crude to hit $110 to $115 a barrel late March or April next year, after a few retracements, and if it breaks above $100.  At that level, gasoline at the pump could hit $3.70-$3.80 a gallon range.

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Escalator Up, Elevator Down

... expect volatility to be the major theme in the New Year with crude oil taking the escalator up, but the elevator down, and a couple of $12- to- $15 moves in both directions along the way. 

"Remember, the market is designed to fool most of the people most of the time."  ~ Jesse Livermoore

Read more from author's blog

Ethanol Losing Friends In High Places

"It's now conceivable, says BusinessWeek's Ed Wallace, that the myth of ethanol as the salvation for America's energy problem is coming to an end. Curiously, the alternative fuel may be done in by an unlikely collection of foes. Fervidly pro-ethanol in the last decade of his political career, former VP Al Gore reversed course in late November and apologized for supporting ethanol, which apparently was more about ingratiating himself to farmers.

A week later, Energy Secretary Steven Chu piled on, saying: 'The future of transportation fuels shouldn't involve ethanol.' And in December, a group of small-engine manufacturers, automakers, and boat manufacturers filed suit in the US Court of Appeals to vacate the EPA's October ruling that using a 15% blend of ethanol in fuel supplies would not harm 2007 and newer vehicles.

Despite all of this, the newly-elected Congress has extended the 45 cent-per-gallon ethanol blending tax credit that was due to expire, a move that is expected to reduce revenue by $6.25 billion in 2011.

'The ethanol insanity,' longtime-critic Wallace laments, 'will continue until so many cars and motors are damaged by this fuel additive that the public outcry can no longer be ignored.'"
Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Dec 26, 2010

The Great Lakes are a commons?

On the Commons and Council of Canadians hosted a landmark gathering of activists from around the Great lakes in mid-November at Council of Canadians in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Maude Barlow, President of the Council of Canadians, built momentum for the meeting with her rousing keynote address at the Environmental Grantmakers Association in October calling on environmental, global justice and other social movements to unite around protecting the water commons.

"The Great Lakes crisis is part of the global crisis, in whicHTML clipboardh we are quickly running out of fresh water.," Barlow told the group at Blue Mountain. "It's not a closed hydrological cycle like we were taught-- we are losing clean water through irrigation, bottled water, virtual water trade and more.

"Scientists say that the Great Lakes could be bone dry in 80 years," Barlow added, citing the case of the Aral Sea, once one of the fourth largest lake in the world, but now just 10 percent of its former size. "The World Bank says that water demand is outstripping supply by 40%, producing great suffering."

A sense of urgency about the future of the Great Lakes infused the meeting, which was attended by people from Ontario, New York State, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other places. These five lakes, which hold 21 percent of the world's fresh water, are also losing water due to excessive water diversions for industry and fracking (fracturing rock formations and flushing them with water to produce extract oil and natural gas).

Pollution fears are now heightened as cities ringing the lakes struggle with federal budget cuts and reduced tax revenue, which mean less funds for improvements to make sure sewage doesn't overflow into the waters.

Social justice issues about water are also paramount. Charity Hicks, secretary of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and board member of the Detroit People's Water Board, said that "two years ago in Detroit, 42,000 people didn't have water. Now there are 72,000. It's like Port-au-Prince but different in that we're sitting on huge water resources."

And the rising threat of privatization, in which corporations take ownership of something belonging to all us, looms large. Sue Chiblow, Environment Coordinator to the Chiefs of Ontario (a coordinating body of the province's First Nations organizations) said, "With gifts come responsibilities.

Just as you wouldn't walk into someone's house and take things, likewise you can't just take from the earth."

Read more at the EnergyBulletin original at

Green War... greenwashing... a little scary and weird

Saw this one to share from the EnergyBulletin ... Greenwar aims at using design as a discourse in order to point a critical finger at what is commonly known as "greenwashing" i.e a tendency to literally ab/use ecology, turning it into a mere selling point. It also ponders over the designer's responsibility. How did we end up developing "eco-friendly military products" in a workshop dedicated to eco-design? Here are some elements which will make things clearer about our aims and how we proceeded.

The workshop theme that was given to us contained already a choice, a particular orientation and definition of eco-design: we were to create an ecological 'brand', a marketing strategy. But ecology and the marketHTML clipboard  are incompatible, just like the "sustainable development" oxymoron, because it is the marketing that drives and maintains this consumer society. We cannot have a real ecological action using the very same tools that harm the environment, and we cannot live in equilibrium with the environment unless we get out of this constant destructive logic.

That is why we have decided to focus on this eco-marketing 'dangerous liaison'.

But how could we avoid the dullness of a "politically correct" social responsibility campaign which would merely spread the good word without tackling and reaching the heart of the matter? ...

Pickens Wind-Power Plan Comes To a Whimpering End

"In 2008, billionaire T. Boone Pickens unveiled his 'Pickens Plan' on national TV, which calls for America to end its dependence on foreign oil by increasing use of wind power and natural gas. Over the next two years, he spent $80 million on TV commercials and $2 billion on General Electric wind turbines. Unfortunately market forces were not favorable to Mr. Pickens, and in December 2010 he announced that he is getting out of the wind power business. What does he plan to do with his $2 billion worth of idle wind turbines? He is trying to sell them to Canada, because of Canadian law that mandates consumers to buy more renewable electricity regardless of cost." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Dec 25, 2010

Internet Explorer zero day attack, just in time for Christmas

SlashDot - "Microsoft has released a notice about a neHTML clipboard zero day attack against Internet Explorer. Guess it's going to be less of a 'White Christmas.' 'Ok, fess up — who asked for an IE 0 day for Christmas? I'm guessing Santa got his lumps of coal mixed up with a bag of exploits. This exploit has been discussed over the last day or so on full disclosure and a number of other sites. Metasploit already has a module available for it (just search for CSS & IE). Microsoft has put out an advisory 2488013 regarding the issue which manifests itself when a specially crafted web page is used and could result in remote code execution on the client.'"

Merry Christmas!

Happy holidays to my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, native ... and all other readers.

Device uses sunlight to make liquid fuel

Scientists from the US and Switzerland have created a prototype machine that harnesses the sun's energy to make liquid fuels from water.

"We have a big energy problem and we have to think big," Prof Sossina Haile, who led the study, told The Guardian.

The solar device uses sunlight and cerium oxide to break down water or carbon dioxide into hydrogen or carbon monoxide.

Cerium oxide, an oxide of the rare earth metal cerium, is almost as abundant as copper and when heated the chemical strips oxygen molecules from water and carbon dioxide.

Using a parabolic mirror to focus sunlight, the device heats up cerium oxide to 1,600 degrees celsius in the presence of water or carbon dioxide, creating either hydrogen or carbon monoxide, which can be converted to liquid fuels.

The cerium oxide is a catalyst and is not itself used up in the reaction, meaning the same cerium oxide can be used multiple times.

Haile, who has been studying fuel cells at the California Institute of Technology, said future versions of the device could be used to create fuels for cars or be utilized in electric plants.

"There has been much national and international attention on hydrogen as the savior to address our energy and climate woes," Prof Sossina Haile said. "  However, those who are honest recognize that hydrogen is merely an energy carrier, not an energy source."

The current prototype of the machine, which can harness less than one percent of the solar energy taken into the device, is not commercially viable, but Haile and her colleagues believe that efficiency rates of up to 19% could be achieved in future models.

"If we had a perfect reactor, we should easily get 10 percent efficient," Haile told NPR. "We went through the big numbers and said, 'Would this make any dent on U.S. energy production?' And the answer is yes." RawStory

Dec 23, 2010

CellPhone radiation correlation and causation should never be mistaken

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Engineer Quote of the week:
And, of course, there is the problem of confusing correlation with causation. Families with espresso makers have a lower incident of child mortality than families that do not. - Nice Matt ;- )

In the United Kingdom, the more mobile phone towers a county has, the more babies are born there every year. In fact, for every extra cell phone tower beyond the average number, a county will see 17.6 more babies. Is this evidence that cell phone signals have some nefarious baby-making effect on the human body? 

Nope. Instead, it's a simple example of why correlation and causation should never be mistaken for the same thing. Matt Parker in the Gaurdian:

This was discovered by taking the publicly available data on the number of mobile phone masts in each county across the United Kingdom and then matching it against the live birth data for the same counties. When a regression line is calculated it has a "correlation coefficient" (a measure of how good the match is) of 98.1 out of 100. To be "statistically significant" a pattern in a dataset needs to be less than 5% likely to be found in random data (known as a "p-value"), and the masts-births correlation only has a 0.00003% probability of occurring by chance.

The match between mobile phone towers and birth rates is an extremely strong correlation and it is highly statistically significant. ... Mobile phone masts, however, have absolutely no bearing on the number of births. There is no causal link between the masts and the births despite the strong correlation. Both the number of mobile phone transmitters and the number of live births are linked to a third, independent factor: the local population size. As the population of an area goes up, so do both the number of mobile phone users and the number people giving birth.

But wait, there's more! To test the media's science savvy, Parker sent out a press release detailing the correlation he found—but without any information on the real cause of both factors. Interesting object lesson or in-real-life trolling? Can't it be both? The press release went out late last week. If you've spotted any stories about the fertility powers of cell phone towers, leave a link in the comments at the Boing