Once in a while, I forward an article in its entirety. Besides I am in France and their keyboards drive me nuts. Below are two book reviews by Jenny Goldie, reprinted with permission. Some of you may be familiar with her clear thinking and writing from other National Forum articles and activism on population issues. I am grateful to know her through the peak oil group in Canberra. The author mentioned in the second review is coming to Australia later this year, and he has a following. At the end I have added a link to another article about temperatues in the US, but some readers might not believe NOAA, your choice. Apologises for the length and formatting of this post, but internet is not so easy when travelling. The Race for What’s Left – the global scramble for the world’s last resources Michael T. Klare Metropolitan Books, New York 2012, 307 pp Reviewed by Jenny Goldie For those of us aware of the issue of peak oil, exploitation of new unconventional sources has thrown us into confusion. If conventional oil production peaked in 2006, will tar sands, deep off-shore oil and gas, Arctic oil, shale gas and other hydrocarbons stave off the imminent decline in oil? There are certainly a lot of these unconventional sources, as Michael Klare explains in yet another authoritative book. In one of his earlier ones, Resource Wars, he argued that future wars will be fought over access to dwindling supplies of natural commodities such as oil, natural gas, minerals, and water. This book is really a corollary of that. There might be a lot of unconventional oil reserves – 50 billion barrels in ultra-deep pre-salt deposits off Brazil for instance – but they come with problems. They are difficult to get at. The Brazilian reservoir Tupi, for instance, ‘lies beneath 1.5 miles of water and another 2.5 miles of rock, salt and sand’. (Can’t get your head around that? Think of the Grand Canyon and multiply its depth by four.) These wells in tropical seas are vulnerable to hurricanes such as Katrina in 2005 that destroyed 47 drilling platforms and then, a month later, Rita that damaged 32 more. The likelihood of major accidents is high. And it’s not just in the tropics that such accidents may occur. The rush is on for the vast reserves of oil and gas in deep water off Greenland’s west and east coasts but here the rigs are vulnerable to ice-bergs. Workers must also contend with extreme cold and frequent storms. Inuit activists are concerned that a Deepwater Horizon-type spill would severely damage Greenland’s fragile coastal zone, some of which is vital to Inuit culture. But even further north in the Arctic Sea, geo-political disputes over the oil and gas reserves between the five Arctic powers – USA, Russia, Norway Denmark (Greenland) and Canada – are already underway, especially after Russia planted a titanium replica of the Russian flag on the floor of the sea at the North Pole in 2007. Most worrying, however, is the exploitation of the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada, that carry such an immediate and huge environmental cost. Tar sands are basically bitumen that has to be melted and combined with natural gas to make it liquid and transportable. Pine and spruce forests are annihilated for the open cut mines. Pollutants contaminate the north-flowing rivers into the Arctic. With an estimated 170 billion barrels potentially recoverable, however, or nearly six years of total global consumption, there seems no way to stop the Canadians continuing on this rapacious path. Oil, of course, is not the only resource that is in demand. Modern industry depends on many exotic elements like rhodium, niobium, lanthanum and samarium. China holds 95 per cent of the total supply of ‘rare earths’ and, in 2010, blocked such exports to Japan causing panic because many are essential in the production of hybrid cars. The Toyota Prius, for instance, requires two pounds of neodymium and up to 33 pounds of lanthanum. The race is now on to find alternate sources. As well as rare earths, there are other ‘critical minerals’ that are not readily available because either their deposits are scarce or because they are located in problematic locations, such as tantalum in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The profits of mining this particular mineral flow to rebel militias or rogue elements in the DRC army. And now yet another race is on. This time it is to acquire land for food production since there is no guarantee there will always be food to buy on the world market. Wealthy Arab desert states with large and growing populations are searching in Africa, South America and Russia for land on which their companies can grow food and export it back home. Many locals, in Ethiopia for instance, protest that land is already being utilised – often for pastoralism if not cropping – but their objections are over-ruled by elites wanting to cash in on the deals. Even Australia is affected by foreign take-up of land. THE END OF GROWTH – Adapting to our new economic reality by Richard Heinberg 2011 New Society Publishers, Canada 320pages $26.95rrp Reviewed by Jenny Goldie In his book The Great Disruption, Paul Gilding describes how once he became so overwhelmed by the parlous state of the world that he burst into tears while addressing a room full of executives. Clive Hamilton, at the launch his book Requiem for a Species, said he had an ‘Oh shit’ moment in September 2008 when he realised the world could not avoid dangerous, runaway climate change. My reaction to The End of Growth was a mixture of these. It left me profoundly depressed and worried. Well versed in both climate change and peak oil, I thought I was prepared for what Heinberg might throw up this time. But I was not well versed enough in the vulnerabilities of our financial-monetary system. That, he argues, is not just vulnerable to periodic internal disruptions like credit crises, it is inherently unsustainable in the emerging context of energy and resource constraints. And if the financial-monetary system seizes up, this will imperil society’s ability to respond to any and all other crises. This means that, whatever our other priorities may be, we must immediately devote effort to reforming the financial-monetary system. That was my ‘Oh shit’ moment. I read this just as Treasurer Wayne Swan said another $20 billion had been added to the deficit, partly because of natural disasters (Queensland floods) and to the flow-on effects of the Eurozone crisis. ‘It’s already unravelling’, I thought. Heinberg argues that we are living through the ‘fifth great turning’ in human history. The first was the harnessing of fire which allowed us to stay warm in colder climates and to cook our food; the second was the development of language that enabled humans to coordinate their actions over time; the third was the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago that allowed division of labour and the subsequent emergence of towns and cities; and the fourth the industrial revolution from 200 years ago that replaced muscle power in transportation and production with the energies of fossil fuels. These four turnings involved expansion. This fifth turning, in which we are turning away from a fossil-fuelled, debt- and growth-based industrial civilisation towards a sustainable, renewable and steady state society, will be characterised by contraction, until we are living within the Earth’s ‘replenishable budget of renewable resources’. For millennia, local economies advanced and retreated while the global economy expanded only slowly. For the past century and a half, however, the fossil fuel revolution caused economic growth to speed up and to a scale that was unprecedented. We appeared to be a ‘perpetual growth machine’ thanks to the process of extracting and burning hundreds and millions of years of chemically stored sunlight. Critically, expectations of further, indeed unending, economic growth translated into enormous amounts of consumer and government debt. But the era of cheap, abundant fuels is coming to an end and ‘any efforts by policy makers to continue pursuing elusive growth really amount to a flight from reality,’ he says. There are three primary factors that stand in the way of further growth: The depletion of important resources including fossil fuels and minerals. The proliferation of negative environmental impacts arising from both the extraction and use of these (including the burning of fossil fuels) – leading to snow-balling costs from both these impacts themselves and from efforts to avert them, and financial disruptions due to the inability of our existing monetary, banking and investment systems to adjust to both resource scarcity and soaring environmental costs – and their inability (in the context of a shrinking economy) to service the enormous piles of government and private debt that have been generated over the past couple of decades. Heinberg notes that there are thousands of events in recent years that illustrate how all three factors are interacting and hitting home with ever more force. These include the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Not only were the environmental effects ruinous, the flow-on effects included economic damage to fisheries. Insurance companies raised premiums for all deepwater drilling operations and BP duly lowered its returns to investors, affecting British pension funds that were invested in the company. Heinberg says we can expect further events such as climate change-induced droughts, floods and famines; shortages of energy, water and minerals; and waves of bank failures, company bankruptcies, and house foreclosures. Each will be treated as a special case. But in the final analysis, they are all related, in that they are consequences of a growing population striving for higher per capita consumption of limited resources (Including non-renewable, climate-altering fossil fuels), all on a finite and fragile planet. When economic growth inevitably ends, the economy will contract and be radically simplified. At some point in the next few years, stock and real estate values will plunge, banks will close, and businesses will shutter their doors. Monetary, financial and social systems built upon the expectation of growth will simply fail in growth’s absence. In the worst, instance, that failure could take the form of a nearly complete cessation of trade…Some sort of new economy would inevitably emerge from the wreckage…Measured in GDP, it might correspond to the world economy of fifty, a hundred, or even a hundred and fifty years ago. Contraction of the economy may be controlled, or it may be chaotic, even catastrophic. Energy shortages or environmental disasters could play prominent roles, in which case collapse comes sooner and is more complete. And the risk of the latter is considerable with even the Bundswehr (German military) 2010 report on peak oil warning: ‘A shrinking economy over an indeterminate period presents a highly unstable situation which inevitably leads to system collapse…The risks to security posed by such a development cannot even be estimated.’ Assuming we survive this radical contraction, what will post-growth economics look like? It must involve four fundamental principles: Growth in population and consumption rates cannot be sustained Renewable resources must be consumed at rates below those of natural replenishment. Non-renewable resources must be consumed at declining rates (with rates of decline at least equaling rates of depletion) and recycled wherever possible, and Wastes must be minimised, rendered non-toxic to humans and the environment, and made into ‘food’ for natural systems or human production processes. The ‘steady state economy’, espoused by Geoff Mosley of CASSE (Centre for the Advancement of Steady State Economics) at our November NSF meeting, incorporates these principles. A pioneer of the movement, Herman Daly, is much quoted by Heinberg (whose breadth of reading on economic matters is nothing short of heroic). Interestingly, Daly differentiates between economic growth and uneconomic growth. The latter consists of GDP gains that are accompanied by static or declining social benefits as, for example, when short-term growth is achieved by undermining ecosystems whose services have a long-term value. There have been various movements in response to the works of Daly and others such as the degrowth movement in the US and the voluntary simplicity movement in the US, many of whom advocate the Buy Nothing Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other authors have made systematic critiques of standard economic theory including Henry George, E F Schumacher (Small is Beautiful) and more recently the Canadian Peter Victor. In his 2007 book Managing Without Growth, Victor presents a model for the Canadian economy that shows ‘…it is possible to develop scenarios over a thirty year time frame for Canada in which full employment prevails, poverty is essentially eliminated, people enjoy more leisure, greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced, and government indebtedness declines, all in the context of low and ultimately no economic growth.’ Some nations are already moving in the direction of a steady state economy such Sweden, Denmark, Japan and Germany. Sweden even has some ‘eco-municipalities’ that try and dematerialise their economies and foster social equity. An essential component of a steady state economy is reform of corporate law. Currently, by limiting liability for employees and investors, the law gives corporations financial resources to influence public policy and to exploit people and nature without moral or legal responsibility. Many argue that corporations should be replaced with cooperatives (such as credit unions) which could potentially avert the overuse of resources by placing other values, including the interests of future generations, ahead of profit. Heinberg insists we must talk now about adapting to the end of growth since the circumstances that will make the economy fail are already unfolding around us (resource depletion and catastrophic environmental decline). He stresses that, in preparing for an end to growth in a post-fossil fuel environment, we must at the same time preserve and build social cohesion. But how far down the trail of complexity and technological sophistication might we have to retreat? Can we surrender cars and supermarkets but still keep cultural exchange and tolerance along with our hard-won scientific knowledge, advanced healthcare and instant access to information? Those indeed are the questions. This book is worrying in its content but a fount of information. Highly recommended. finally: U.S. EXPERIENCED SECOND WARMEST MAY, WARMEST SPRING ON RECORD, NOAA REPORTS According to NOAA scientists, the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during May was 64.3°F, 3.3°F above the long-term average, making it the second warmest May on record. The month's high temperatures also contributed to the warmest spring, warmest year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895. -- full story > http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607185751.htm
June 11, 2012 | Ronda Jambe
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