Homer-Dixon predicts 20 to 30% chance of Trump causing financial crisis, war, civil violence, and authoritarianism over next 5 years

[ Homer-Dixon wrote an article over a year ago for the Toronto Globe and Mail titled “Crisis analysis, how much damage can Trump do? (A lot). How’d his prediction turn out?

Within this article is a link showing 4 major risks during the Trump administration and the odds of their occurring within the next 5 years (here):  

  • Severe Financial crisis: 25%. Financial, demand, and unemployment shocks significantly exceeding those experienced in the Great Recession (i.e., global GDP declining at 2% per year for at least one year.
  • Severe civil violence: 25%. Active engagement of paramilitary groups supporting Trump; widespread organized violence between Trump supporters and opponents; significant violence between law enforcement and protesters; violent attacks by militant Trump supporters on loci of opposition to Trump policies, such as media outlets, judges, and prominent individuals; bombings; assassinations of elected officials.
  • Severe Authoritarianism: 30%. Declaration of state of emergency; federalization of the National Guard; suspension of key civil liberties; state-directed prosecution and imprisonment of journalists, academics, civil-society leaders, and political opponents; mass arrests; registration of members of identified enemy groups.
  • Severe intensity war: 20%. War between US and one or more great powers involving massed ground, air, and/or naval forces, and conventional or cruise missiles; large casualties; direct attacks on one or both homelands; any conflict with substantial risk of escalation to nuclear use.

The odds of moderate levels of these events are much higher:

  • Moderate Financial crisis: 40%. Financial, demand, and unemployment shocks not significantly exceeding in magnitude those accompanying the 2008-09 Great Recession (2009 global GDP growth rate: -1.7%)
  • Moderate civil violence: 60%. Sporadic but organized violent political demonstrations, protests, strikes and riots, with some direct violent confrontations between Trump supporters and opponents; some police shootings and attacks on police associated with these events
  • Moderate Authoritarianism: 60%. Use of federal resources to intimidate and constrain journalists, judges, and Trump opponents, limit voting rights, and limit electronic communication; substantially increased application of force to track, seize, and deport immigrants; criminalization of protest; purging from civil service of opposition elements; refusal of federal authorities to abide by court rulings
  • Moderate intensity war: 60%. Contained regional conflict between US and intermediate or great powers

And of course, there are many events out of Trump’s control listed in the category “Fast Crash” of energyskeptic that could also hasten these events.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Homer-Dixon, Thomas. 2017-3-19. Crisis analysis: How much damage can Trump do? (A lot). Toronto Globe and Mail.

“Okay, here’s what happened,” wrote an American friend after the U.S. election. “Someone threw a switch, and now we’re living in an alternative universe.”

The big problem with alternative universes is that we don’t know how they work. The assumptions, intuitions and rules of thumb we’ve previously used to anticipate events, and guide our navigation, suddenly don’t apply. So we face an exploding range of possible futures, including many that once seemed crazy.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s psychological characteristics make such uncertainty acute. It’s clear, for instance, that Mr. Trump’s lying is less a calculated political strategy than a reflection of his deep inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. He creates a make-believe world for himself and surrounds himself with people who, to advance their narrow ends, help him sustain that world. When Mr. Trump appears to be lying, he’s simply reporting what he sees in his own alternative world, where fantasy and reality mush together.

As Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted on March 6, 2017: “We must accept possibility that POTUS does not know fact from fiction, right from wrong. That wild claims are not strategic, but worse.”

The entirely predictable chaos of the new administration’s first weeks has many liberals fantasizing that Mr. Trump will be removed from office before his term finishes. But we’ve seen enough of him to know he’s unlikely to leave willingly through any legitimate and lawful political mechanism, like impeachment. Instead, if Mr. Trump feels cornered, he’ll declare that his enemies are conspiring against him and call his supporters – many of whom are heavily armed – to come to his aid.

It’s also possible that Mr. Trump will find his groove, allowing things to settle down. Yet his performance so far suggests his administration will instead lurch from crisis to crisis. To make some sense of these outcomes, I’ve charted the most likely crisis types. Drawing on analysis by a wide range of scholars, I’ve also estimated the probabilities of each type at one, two, and five years into a Trump administration (the latter timeline assumes that Trump is re-elected in 2020).

There are four principal types, I’d argue: financial crisis, civil violence, authoritarianism, and war. Each crisis type then has various possible levels of intensity. “Moderate” authoritarianism could involve, for instance, use of federal resources to intimidate or constrain journalists and judges; substantially increased application of force to track, detain and deport immigrants; and criminalization of protest. Mr. Trump, or in the case of criminalization of protest, his acolytes at the state level are already checking some of these boxes, so I estimate the probability of this degree of authoritarianism in the administration’s first year to be 70%. “Severe” authoritarianism would involve actions like a declaration of a state of emergency, federalization of the National Guard, or suspension of key civil liberties. This outcome is much less likely; even after five years, I don’t think it’s higher than 30%.

A “moderate” war crisis, by my definition, would include any regional conflict between the United States and an intermediate power like Iran, or a great power like China, say in the South China Sea. “Severe” war would involve use of massed military force against a great power like Russia. The category would also include any conflict, for instance, with North Korea, that carries a substantial risk of nuclear escalation. In part, because of Mr. Trump’s expressed hostility towards Iran and China, and his tendency to see all international relations in zero-sum terms, I estimate the five-year probability of a “moderate” war crisis to be high, at 60%.

The four crisis types are likely to be causally linked. In particular, civil violence or war could create conditions that Mr. Trump might use to justify an authoritarian crackdown. Financial crisis could also be a consequence of war. The administration’s decision-making incompetence increases the risk of financial crisis, civil violence, and war. For instance, Mr. Trump’s team of advisers contains little high-level economic expertise, so his administration could be out of its depth should serious trouble develop in financial systems overseas, say in China or Europe.

The specific probabilities that one plugs into this model are not entirely speculative. Experts can argue about the details, but they’re largely in agreement that, for instance, the risk of nuclear war has jumped, which is why The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved the minute-hand of its doomsday clock closer to midnight.

Yet the specific probabilities are less important than the overall analytical exercise of categorizing the types of crisis Mr. Trump might create and the causal pathways that might lead to them. It helps us see possible futures more clearly. In Mr. Trump’s alternative universe, we need all the help we can get.

Thomas Homer-Dixon is the CIGI chair of global systems in the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo. He is well-known within the fields of ecology, international risk, and biophysical economics.

Posted in Crash Coming Soon, Scientists, Social Disorder, War | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Energy from cow flatulence

[ Other “energy alternatives” in the Far Out category of menu item Energy include escaping to Mars, liposuction fat, whirlwinds, playground power, garbage, tornadoes, and turning seawater into fuel.   

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Alexander, K. September 29, 2016. Climate fight targeting cows may reshape California dairies. San Francisco Chronicle.

Legislation signed this month by Gov. Jerry Brown requires California’s dairy industry to answer for its contribution to global warming by making a 40% cut in methane emissions in coming years. The gas, which heats the atmosphere 20 times faster than carbon dioxide, comes from the butts and burps of bovines.

One U.N. report blames livestock for 14.5% of the planet’s heat-trapping gases, as much as planes, trains and automobiles combined. So far livestock have escaped climate regulations.

The challenge of cutting methane could reshape the 1,500 dairy farms that dot California — only about a dozen of which own methane digesters. Farmers say the new law, and the money and equipment needed to comply with it, could deal some in the industry a fatal blow as they already struggle with low milk prices, rising labor costs and drought.

Adding to the pressure, many environmentalists are pushing to tighten the crackdown on methane. The legislation, they say, didn’t demand deep enough cuts — and could lead to unforeseen problems like pollution from methane digesters, which work by isolating cow manure in airtight chambers where the waste breaks down and releases methane gas for power or fuel, cost several hundred thousand dollars and require considerable upkeep. Many of the digesters in California have stopped working.

A more proven way to limit emissions is to get dairy cows out of their crowded stalls and into the pasture. This allows the manure to decompose naturally and spew less methane into the atmosphere. The practice, though, is criticized as time-consuming and land-intensive.

The digester at Giacomini’s ranch, which is smaller than some that are used on larger dairy farms in the Central Valley, was recently retrofitted with a new engine so that it runs more cleanly and efficiently.  He paid about $100,000 for the upgrade on top of the $600,000 outlay for the system. Grants helped him cover nearly two-thirds of the initial cost, and Giacomini says he couldn’t have afforded the equipment without them.

The digester runs 24 hours a day. It collects runoff from cow stalls in a 2-acre drainage basin, where methane from manure is captured under a huge tarp and piped to a generator. About 70 kilowatts of electricity are produced, enough to power all the facilities on the ranch except the administrative building. In the evening there’s surplus power to sell back to the grid.

 

Posted in Far Out | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

U.S. farmers destroy future food production for centuries with modern farming methods

[ Below are excerpts from a devastating critique of current farming practices by the National research council. Here are some of the main points.

“Most food is produced by farmers who rely on agriculture for their livelihood. …surveys repeatedly show that profitability is an overriding concern. Farmers in the United States hold property rights that give broad latitude over how to manage their land so long as they do not cause harm in direct and measurable ways, but their actions may harm air and water in ways that are indirect and hard to measure. The profit-maximizing approach to nitrogen fertilizer application on … can lead to environmental degradation of the  aquifer under the farm, the streams nearby, and the atmosphere…and contributes to marine hypoxia; it may also convert into nitrous oxide and move into the atmosphere as a GHG. [Other ways farmers can damage the environment include] growing highly profitable crops in [areas that harm or destroy wildlife] and deplete groundwater faster than it can be recharged”.

“Agricultural activities in the U.S. contribute significantly to the release of numerous air quality and climate change-related emissions, especially those of ammonia (agriculture contributes to ~90% of total U.S. emissions), reduced sulfur (unquantified), PM2.55 (~16%), PM10 (~18%), methane (~29%), and nitrous oxide (72%).”

Farmers are also paid to not farm fragile or biodiverse land, but there’s so much profit to be made on high corn prices and subsidies for ethanol that farmers are increasingly taking their land out of the Conservation  Reserve Program (established in 1985) to make money. CRP land reduces soil erosion, improves water quality, reduces fertilizer use, and increases wildlife habitat. Enrollment in this plan has declined 31% (11.2 million acres) from 36.8 million acres in 2007 to 25.6 million acres in 2013.  Since 1986, CRP has reduced soil erosion by 325 million tons per year, 8 billon tons cumulatively.  Making matters worse, the 113th Congress reduced the amount of acreage that can be enrolled in CRP to save money.

[My comment: Which is not cost effective, because there are huge cost savings from improved water quality, better soil health, less soil erosion, and the creation of wildlife species habitats. But the way capitalism works, if a new $200 million water treatment plant needs to be built as a result, economists think this is a good thing, because it will create jobs, and the $200 million gets added to the GDP, not subtracted!  Similarly, if this land will only be able to produce 10% as much food as it does now due to soil erosion, who cares?  Future effects, no matter how certain the consequences are due to scientific understanding of soils and erosion, don’t affect the GDP today.]

This paper discusses the ways that modern agriculture pollutes cropland and erodes soil profoundly over the natural rate (as much as 87 times more). For example, Iowa has some of the best topsoil in the world, but is losing 3.42 inches on average per century.  This has been hidden by the increased production from natural gas based fertilizer (natural gas is both the feedstock and the energy to create it).   But natural gas, like oil and coal, is a finite fossil fuel.

If we hope to feed people in the future, “soil quality must be maintained or improved, especially soil’s capacity to supply increasing amounts of water and nutrients…[by improving] tillage and cropping practices to retard erosion…, greater use of cover crops and …perennial, sod-forming crops”.

Meanwhile, withdrawal from aquifers like the Ogallala are exceeding replenishment and threaten food supplies over this vast region in the future.

“Though irrigation is used on only 15 to 20% of total U.S. cropland, it is used on about 70% of land used for vegetable production, about 80% of land used for orchard crops, and essentially 100% of land used for rice production. [Yet] relatively inefficient irrigation systems are still used for much of the U.S. irrigated cropland.”

The ecology of surrounding land is profoundly affected by the chemicals, fertilizer, water consumption and other unnatural and destructive disruptions of growing food, because land use is huge – with over half of all land in the U.S. devoted to agriculture:

“Of the 3,536,700 square miles (9.16 million km2) of total land in the United States, 18% is used for cropland and 27% is used for pasture and rangeland; within the continental United States, agriculture occupies 54% of total land area. Food and agriculture, principally irrigation, account for about 80% of the nation’s total consumption of freshwater stocks”.

The outflows of nutrients, pesticides, and other materials from agroecosystems into nonagricultural ecosystems can be substantial. Consequences include:

  1. Nearly 1 million metric tons of nitrogen are delivered annually into the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural lands lying upstream in the Mississippi River Basin, leading to formation of a coastal hypoxic zone.
  2. Of the 34,000 metric tons of the herbicide atrazine that are applied each year to U.S. cropland, about 1% moves into associated streams, creating conditions that can exceed thresholds for safeguarding aquatic organisms and human health.
  3. Agricultural intensification over the past 50 years had led to accelerating increases in soil sediment deposition in the lakes due to erosion, despite soil conservation efforts.
  4. Agricultural practices, principally fertilizer use and manure management, are responsible for about 74% of U.S. emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and 84% of the nation’s emissions of ammonia and other NHx-nitrogen compounds.
  5. The effects of agricultural toxins can remain invisible and unrecognized for months or years, as DDT and dieldrin did. Administered in the 1940s and 1950s, it took decades to realize these were the causes of bird populations, because their effect was to reduce reproductive efficiency, not outright mortality. Also it took years for concentrations to reach critical levels, making cause-and-effect relationships hard to discern

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

NRC. 2015. Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. National Resource council.  Chapter 4. Environmental effects of the U.S. Food system. National Academies Press.

Extracts from this 44 page document (References removed) follow:

Agricultural activities in the United States contribute significantly to the release of numerous air quality and climate change-related emissions, especially those of ammonia (agriculture contributes to ~90% of total U.S. emissions), reduced sulfur (unquantified), PM2.55 (~16%), PM10 (~18%), methane (~29%), and nitrous oxide (72%).

Soil Resources

Disruption of the balance between soil erosion and soil formation illustrates how agriculture can have a profound effect on the environment through net resource depletion. Erosion is a natural process that occurs on nearly all soils, though rates depend on multiple site-specific factors that include climate conditions and topography. The process occurs in two stages: detachment of soil particles from the soil surface and their subsequent transport and deposition. Erosion by water can occur in sheets, rills, and gullies when rainfall rates exceed a soil’s infiltration capacity; erosion by wind can occur when soil is dry and loose, the surface is bare and smooth, and the landscape has few physical barriers to block the movement of air.

Erosion is perhaps the most important land degradation process associated with agriculture. Direct comparisons of soil erosion rates under different forms of land management have shown 1.3- to 1,000-fold differences, with mean erosion rates of 0.05 mm per year for sites under native vegetation and 3.94 mm per year (78 times higher) for agricultural sites managed conventionally.

The mean rate of sheet and rill erosion on U.S. cropland in 2010 was estimated by the USDA (NRCS, 2013) at 6.1 megagrams (Mg) per hectare/year; the mean rate of wind erosion that year was estimated at 4.6 Mg per hectare/year. Erosion due to water in ephemeral gullies can also be an important form of soil loss, but it is not assessed in widely used soil erosion assessment tools such as the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation and the Water Erosion Prediction Project model. Nonetheless, by combining values for sheet, rill, and wind erosion, the minimum mean value for erosion on U.S. cropland is 10.7 Mg per hectare/year. Assuming a soil bulk density of 1.3 Mg m–3, that rate is equivalent to the loss of 0.82 mm of soil per year.

Though erosion of soil from cropland at a rate of 0.82 mm year–1 may seem insignificant, it is at least an order of magnitude greater than the rates of soil formation cited earlier. Consequences of this imbalance can be seen in an evaluation of soil dynamics in Iowa, which contains some of the most productive rain-fed croplands in the United States. Based on the mean rate of soil formation reported by Cruse et al. (2013) for four Iowa soil series (0.11 mm year–1) and the mean rate of erosion due to sheet, rill, and wind losses on Iowa cropland (0.98 mm year–1) reported by the USDA (NRCS, 2013), net loss of soil would be 0.87 mm year–1. Viewed in a more historical context, net loss of soil would be 87 mm per century (3.42 inches)

Despite the loss of considerable amounts of topsoil from U.S. croplands due to erosion, crop yields have generally increased over the past century, largely because technological advances, including more intensive use of fertilizers, have been able to mask the potential effects of soil degradation.

However, as noted by Cruse et al. (2013), to make use of technological advances in the next century, especially those related to plant genetics, soil quality must be maintained or improved, especially soil’s capacity to supply increasing amounts of water and nutrients. In this regard, changes in tillage and cropping practices that retard erosion will be critical, especially increased adoption of minimum tillage and zero tillage techniques, greater use of cover crops, and more widespread use of perennial, sod-forming crops.

Though irrigation is used on only 15 to 20 percent of total U.S. cropland, it is used on about 70% of land used for vegetable production, about 80% of land used for orchard crops, and essentially 100% of land used for rice production. [Yet} relatively inefficient irrigation systems are still used for much of the U.S. irrigated cropland.

Rates of groundwater withdrawal are increasing throughout the United States relative to rates of replenishment (In some cases, such as for croplands drawing on the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer, the imbalance between water withdrawal and recharge may prove too costly or impractical to maintain current levels of crop production.

Interactions among food, agriculture, and the environment are of major importance in the United States for three reasons: the large land area the system occupies, the large quantities of resources it consumes, and the strong connections that can exist between agricultural and nonagricultural ecosystems. Of the 3,536,700 square miles (9.16 million km2) of total land in the United States, 18% is used for cropland and 27% is used for pasture and rangeland; within the continental United States, agriculture occupies 54% of total land area.

Water use exemplifies the disproportionate impact of the U.S. food and agriculture system on natural resources. Food and agriculture, principally irrigation, account for about 80% of the nation’s total consumption of freshwater stocks.

Exports (i.e., outflows) of nutrients, pesticides, and other materials from agroecosystems into nonagricultural ecosystems (i.e., inflows) can be substantial. For example, Alexander et al. (2008) estimated that nearly 1 million metric tons of nitrogen are delivered annually into the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural lands lying upstream in the Mississippi River Basin, leading to formation of a coastal hypoxic zone. Of the 34,000 metric tons of the herbicide atrazine that are applied each year to U.S. cropland, about 1% moves into associated streams, creating conditions that can exceed thresholds for safeguarding aquatic organisms and human health. Heathcote et al. (2013) studied trends in sedimentation for 32 lakes in Iowa and found that agricultural intensification over the past 50 years had led to accelerating increases in soil sediment deposition in the lakes due to erosion, despite soil conservation efforts. Fluxes between farms and the atmosphere also are important. Agricultural practices, principally fertilizer use and manure management, are responsible for about 74% of U.S. emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and 84% of the nation’s emissions of ammonia and other NHx-nitrogen compounds.

As these examples illustrate, environmental effects of the U.S. food and agriculture system reveal traits of a complex system. In particular, they can involve spatial displacement, with large distances possible between sites of pollutant discharge and sites of their ultimate impacts. The system’s environmental effects also may be characterized by temporal lags, with effects remaining largely invisible or unrecognized for months or years. For example, following the introduction of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides, such as DDT and dieldrin, in the 1940s and 1950s, declines in bird populations were not recognized as being related to use of these chemicals for a number of years. Because their toxic effects included reduced reproductive efficiency, rather than just direct mortality, and because concentrations did not reach critical levels until “biomagnifications” had occurred with movement of the pesticides through the food web, cause-and-effect relationships were initially difficult to discern. By the 1970s, when understanding of the large effects of this class of pesticides on non-target organisms increased, most of the chemicals were banned or severely restricted in many developed countries. Currently, there is concern over the ecological impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides, which were introduced in the 1990s due to their lower mammalian toxicity relative to organophosphate and carbamate compounds and are now widely used throughout U.S. agriculture. Emerging data indicate these compounds may be primary factors in the decline of honeybee populations through chronic effects on behavior, health, and immunity, and increased susceptibility to pathogens and parasites

Biofuel production from crop materials has been championed as a means of reducing fossil fuel use and limiting GHG emissions, but some analysts have concluded that it can be responsible for environmentally undesirable indirect land-use change effects, whereby shifts from food and feed production to biofuel production in one region may lead to the conversion of grasslands and forest lands to croplands in others, with concomitant increases in net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, soil erosion, and nutrient emissions to water

The evolution of pesticide resistance in target pests also exemplifies how agricultural management practices can elicit unwanted effects that might be avoided by analysis of alternative management systems. Since the mid-1990s introduction of transgenic crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, glyphosate use in the United States has increased 10-fold, making it the most heavily used pesticide in U.S. agriculture and a strong selection force acting on weed population genetics. Concomitantly, glyphosate-resistant weeds have become increasingly prevalent and problematic. In an analysis of ways to address this problem, Mortensen and colleagues (2012) concluded that simply stacking new genes for resistance to additional herbicides in crop genomes was unlikely to prevent further cases of herbicide resistance in weeds, and that a more efficacious approach would be to develop and implement integrated weed management systems that employ a diverse set of tactics, such as crop rotation, cover cropping, planting of competitive crop cultivars, and appropriate use of tillage and herbicides application.

Private Producer Perspective

Most food is produced by farmers who rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Although evidence abounds that farmers care about environmental stewardship, surveys repeatedly show that profitability is an overriding concern. Farmers in the United States hold property rights that give broad latitude over how to manage their land so long as they do not cause harm in direct and measurable ways. However, their actions may cause economic externalities through air, water, or biotic changes that are indirect and often hard to measure. The profit-maximizing approach to nitrogen fertilizer application on corn illustrates a rational process where an economic externality can lead to environmental degradation. To begin, note that fertilizer, land, and corn are private goods that belong to the farmer. But the aquifer under the farm, the streams nearby, and the atmosphere have no owners—they are common property resources. Corn yield typically increases with increasing applications of nitrogen, but yield increases at a decreasing rate and ultimately reaches a plateau due to genetic yield potential or shortages of other inputs. For a corn producer who is deciding how much nitrogen fertilizer to apply to a corn crop, the standard rule for profit maximization is to apply more fertilizer up to the point where the pay-off from adding more fertilizer just equals the cost of acquiring and spreading that fertilizer. Up to that point, each added unit of fertilizer will fetch greater value of marketable corn. As fertilizer application rises and corn yield tails off, a rising share of fertilizer applied is not taken up by the corn plant. Instead, it converts to nitrate and is carried by water into streams that may contribute to marine hypoxia; it may also convert into nitrous oxide and move into the atmosphere as a GHG.

Because no one owns the waterways or the air, the costs to other people of using those environmental media as waste recipients are external to the farmer’s decision. Similar external costs can accrue from other privately rational decisions by farmers. Examples include specializing in highly profitable crops at the expense of biodiverse natural areas that provide habitat for beneficial species, such as songbirds, pollinators, and the natural enemies of certain agricultural pests.

The common property dynamic contributes importantly to depletion of shared resources like the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer. In the century since farmers learned that the semiarid High Plains region was underlain by this vast aquifer, irrigation has dramatically expanded crop production. However, due to low rainfall in the current era, the aquifer’s recharge rate is dwarfed by water withdrawals, resulting in a 30 percent depletion of the groundwater supply today in western Kansas, with continuing depletion expected despite rising private costs of withdrawing water from greater depths. Because no one owns the groundwater, there is no assurance that if one person conserves, that person will have more of the resource available later.

Because U.S. farmers have broad property rights to manage their land as they see fit, U.S. agricultural environmental protection policy focuses on paying farmers for environmental services. A variety of federal programs under the historic series of farm bills since 1985 (most recently the Agricultural Act of 2014) pay farmers for environmental services through sharing the cost of environmental stewardship practices (e.g., under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program), renting farmland that offers conservation benefits (e.g., Conservation Reserve Program), or paying for environmental services from working lands (e.g., Conservation Stewardship Program).

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Challenges & opportunities for alternative transportation fuels and vehicles. U.S. House hearing, 2011

Congress is aware that an energy crisis looms, though they seldom acknowledge or deal with it.  Here are a few excerpts from this hearing:

Michael F. Doyle, Pennsylvania.   It seems like we repeat this cycle in this country decade after decade. Gasoline prices get high and there is great interest in alternative fuels and vehicles. And there is this great effort to move forward and then all of a sudden the OPEC ministers get together, or the speculators stop speculating and gasoline prices come down, and we get lulled back in this complacency that everything is okay now and we can go back to our big SUV’s and just keep putting gasoline in cars.  You wonder how many times you let the board hit you in the face before you duck.  How do we incentivize consumers to start driving more fuel efficient vehicles?

Admiral Dennis Blair, U.S. Navy, former director of national intelligenceAt the crux of America’s oil dependence is the energy demand of the transportation sector. At roughly 14 million barrels per day, our transportation sector alone consumes more oil than any national economy in the world. Our cars and trucks are 94% reliant on oil-based fuel for their energy, with no substitutes immediately available in anything approaching sufficient quantities.  The lynch pin of any plan that is serious about confronting oil dependence must be the transformation of a transportation system that today is almost entirely dependent on petroleum. Make no mistake: the dangers posed by our oil dependence are not theoretical. Our safety and security are threatened by oil dependence, and every single day that we do not act is another day that we remain vulnerable.

JAMES T. BARTIS, SENIOR POLICY RESEARCHER, RAND CORPORATION.  Considering (1) the very limited production potential for fuels derived from animal fats and waste oils, (2) the highly uncertain prospects for affordable, low greenhouse-gas fuels derived from seed crops, and (3) the early development status of algae/microbe-based concepts, renewable oils do not constitute a credible, climate friendly option for meeting an appreciable fraction of civilian or military fuel needs over the next decade. Because of limited production potential, fuels derived from animal fats, waste oils, and seed oils will never have a significant role in the larger domestic commercial marketplace. For seed oils the main problem is the low oil yield per acre. 200,000 barrels per day of biodiesel is only one percent of current U.S. oil consumption. Producing this amount from seed oils would require about 10% of the total crop land under cultivation in the United States.

Animal fats and other waste oils may offer an affordable low-greenhouse-gas route to hydro-treated renewable oils. But these fats and waste oils are also traditionally used in other nonfuel applications, including animal feed additives and the manufacture of soaps, household cleaners, resins, and plastics. Because the supply of these feedstocks is limited, substitutes would need to be found for use in these other applications. These substitutes may cause additional greenhouse gas emissions. Production potential is also a clear issue with animal fats and waste oils: The available supply of these feedstocks will likely limit production to no more than 30,000 barrels per day.

Rich Kolodziej, President of NGVAmerica. While there are many options to displace gasoline in light duty vehicles, there are very few options to displace diesel in trucks and buses and other heavier vehicles. Of those options, natural gas can make the biggest impact the fastest. This is important since trucks are the economic lifeblood of America. Everything we buy moves by truck.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

House 112-45. May 5, 2011. The American energy initiative part 6: Challenges & opportunities for alternative transportation fuels and vehicles. House of Representatives. Subcommittee on energy and power of the committee on energy and commerce. 204 pages.

Excerpts:

Mr. WHITFIELD, Kentucky.  The topic today is focusing on the challenges and opportunities for alternative transportation, fuels, and vehicles. With gasoline prices exceeding $4.00 a gallon in many parts of the country, it is timely that we look at alternatives to petroleum derived fuels for the transportation sector. Efforts to diversify away from reliance on oil for cars and trucks have been underway for a number of years and we know that it has been a goal of the U.S. Government to be less dependent upon foreign oil for many, many, many years. And so the purpose of today’s hearing is to provide an overview of these alternative opportunities.

Biofuels are but one of the alternative fuels in vehicles in the works. Vehicles that run on natural gas continues to make inroads especially in the heavy duty sector, propane vehicles are also seeing increased use. Progress continues on electric vehicles and even coal to liquids is another possible non-petroleum source of transportation fuel. Each alternative fuel and vehicle has its unique mix of attributes and more than one will play a constructive role it the vehicles of the future. However, as I indicated earlier there are obstacles to overcome before new fuels and vehicles and technology can take significant market share away from petroleum. Not only must the alternative fuel in the vehicles be economically and technologically up to the task, but the fueling infrastructure must also be in place. As we are learning with ethanol, we can get there but it is not always an easy path.

HENRY A. WAXMAN, CALIFORNIA.  The fact is, more U.S. production is never going to be enough to appreciably reduce global oil prices or U.S. imports of foreign oil. We use 25% of the world’s oil, but we only have 2% of the world’s oil reserves. So we could double or even triple domestic production and it is simply not going to affect global oil prices all that much.

JOHN SULLIVAN, OKLAHOMA. The U.S. has enough natural gas reserves to last us more than 125 years. By diversifying our vehicle fleets, heavy duty trucks, by utilizing natural gas as a transportation fuel we can significantly reduce U.S. demand for foreign oil. In the near term, natural gas is the best present day alternative to imported oil, one that can be put in place virtually overnight.

For far too long, we have been seeing widely fluctuating gas prices here in this country due to a lack of comprehensive policies to move us away from imported oil and petroleum. And every American—and every year or two we are back in the same place exactly doing the same thing that we find ourselves doing at this moment, discussing extremely high gas prices at the pump but no closer to solving this issue, which has had such a devastating effect on the budgets of American families, both lower and middle-income families who must once again choose between putting food on the table or filling up their car in order to go to work.

Admiral Dennis Blair, U.S. Navy, former director of national intelligence.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you regarding the very real and pressing threats posed by our dependence on petroleum. It has been clear to me for decades that our addiction to oil poses a significant national security threat, and it is one that has taken us far too long to recognize and confront. Oil dependence distorts our foreign policy, strains our military and intelligence resources, and puts our young men and women in uniform in danger.

The heart of the problem lies in the Persian Gulf, which is home to the five countries with the greatest proven conventional petroleum reserves.

When I first joined the Navy in 1968, the entire U.S. military presence in that part of the world was a one-star Navy admiral and two destroyers that would deploy to hold simple exercises with Gulf countries. The Persian Gulf was a rare duty station for members of the armed forces. Today, we have three four-star generals, a dozen three star generals and admirals, aircraft carrier battle groups, and more than 100,000 troops in the region.

How did we get in this fix?

In the late 1970s, two serious threats to Persian Gulf oil were identified by the Carter administration, which became seized by the issue. The first was a potential Soviet invasion from the north into the oil regions around the Gulf, a concern heightened by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The second was an aggressive and fundamentalist Iran, which was led by a regime that had permitted and then exploited the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran.

In response, the Department of Defense created the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, a planning headquarters and contingency unit that could quickly deploy to the Gulf to defeat a major land invasion. In 1983, as part of its general military build-up against the Soviet Union, the Reagan administration upgraded this task force to a regional command—like the European Command and the Pacific Command I had the honor to lead for several years. It was called Central Command.  Central Command had full-time responsibility for U.S. interests in the region. So every commander of Central Command has had the mission of ensuring the security of oil from the Persian Gulf since that time.

In response to the 1987 attacks on tankers by Iran and Iraq as part of their war, the United States gave Kuwaiti tankers U.S. registry and provided naval escorts for them as well as for tankers of allied nations. By 1990, America had a functioning military command structure, had deployed major forces to the Gulf both for exercises and for combat operations, and—most importantly—had firmly established a military commitment to oil security.

U.S. security policy in the Gulf since then has been in the headlines, familiar to everyone, and dominated by the use of major military force:

  • Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991 to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait
  • The maintenance of Air Force and Navy air wings in the Gulf on a full time basis to enforce no-fly zones in the north and the south of Iraq
  • The stationing of a full time Army brigade in Kuwait
  • Operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom
  • U.S. and allied intervention in Libya

Military engagement on this scale halfway around the world is expensive in dollar terms, and even more importantly, in the lives of the casualties of our interventions there. And the extensive military deployments to the region have other negative effects. Because we need bases and other forms of support, we sometimes must support regimes whose actions and values are not consistent with ours, or that are working against us in other ways and on other issues.

Even worse, the heavy military involvement in the region has made us the target for fundamentalist violence, which we have seen in the form of attacks against our armed forces themselves and against other Americans and their property in the region, and, finally, devastating attacks against the United States itself.

It was watching this spiral of more and more military involvement with unstable and non-representative regimes in a violent and hostile region of the world that led me, after I retired from the Navy, to join the Energy Security Leadership Council. This group of business leaders and retired admirals and generals all believe that ending our dependence on imported petroleum represents the best—the only—long-term solution to the threats we face.

I was proud to serve on that council with men like Frederick W. Smith, the Chairman, President and CEO of FedEx and General P.X. Kelley, the former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. During my time on the Energy Security Leadership Council, I learned more about the threats oil dependence pose to our economy and our national security.

And then I was called back into service to my country as the Director of National Intelligence, [where I] saw raw intelligence and analysis, both classified and unclassified, that convinced me that the challenge of energy security was even more pressing and more difficult than I had known previously.

I’ve already talked about the Middle East. Let me briefly review some of the other areas in which oil is located in the world. Central Asia, around the Caspian Sea, is another area of large oil and natural gas deposits that is critical to the world’s oil supply.

Access to the region is difficult, involving long pipelines that run through politically volatile areas like Georgia and Azerbaijan. The countries in the region often have at best immature governments, often authoritarian and unstable, and there is intense competition by Russia, Iran, and China, who mistrust the United States and have little interest or stake in working with us on assured access.

Military operations in these countries are as difficult and dangerous as those in the Middle East. One exercise I recall several years ago involved the longest range parachute drop that had been conducted in history, from the Eastern United States to Kazakhstan. This is not a region that will be a reliable and friendly oil production source for the United States and its friends.

You can see why my time as Director of National Intelligence confirmed even more strongly my belief that we must change our energy security path. Our enemies know that we need oil, and they are determined to exploit this strategic vulnerability.

The United States is the world’s largest oil consumer, accounting for more than 20 percent of global demand. Americans consume approximately 19 million barrels of oil each day.

At the crux of America’s oil dependence is the energy demand of the transportation sector. At roughly 14 million barrels per day, our transportation sector alone consumes more oil than any national economy in the world. Our cars and trucks are 94% reliant on oil-based fuel for their energy, with no substitutes immediately available in anything approaching sufficient quantities.  The lynchpin of any plan that is serious about confronting oil dependence must be the transformation of a transportation system that today is almost entirely dependent on petroleum.

Make no mistake: the dangers posed by our oil dependence are not theoretical. Our safety and security are threatened by oil dependence, and every single day that we do not act is another day that we remain vulnerable.

Second is the economic cost of inaction. Department of Energy researchers have estimated that the economic costs of U.S. oil dependence were $500 billion in 2008 alone—and more than $5 trillion since 1970. In 2008, when oil prices peaked, the U.S. sent $388 billion—56 percent of the total trade deficit—overseas to pay to import crude oil and petroleum products. In 2010, with oil prices averaging close to $80 per barrel, the U.S. trade deficit in crude oil and refined products returned to its pre-crisis level of more than $260 billion.

And perhaps most telling: every American recession for almost four decades has been preceded by—or occurred concurrently with—an oil price spike.

JAMES T. BARTIS, SENIOR POLICY RESEARCHER, RAND CORPORATION.

Sources of diesel and jet fuel are renewable oils. These oils can be prepared from animal fats or vegetable oils obtained from seed-bearing plants. Biodiesel from soybean oil is the most well-known of this class of fuels. When treated with hydrogen, these renewable oils can be converted to hydrocarbon fuels that are suitable for both military and civilian applications.

Unfortunately the prospects for these renewable oils are dim. For seed oils the main problem is the low oil yield per acre. Consider producing 200,000 barrels per day which is only one percent of current U.S. oil consumption. Producing this amount from seed oils would require about 10 percent of the total crop land under cultivation in the United States. There are also serious issues regarding greenhouse gas emissions, production costs, and adverse effects on food prices. Taking together waste oils, animal fats, and seed oils, it is highly unlikely that domestic production can exceed 100,000 barrels per day. From a national energy policy perspective, this class of fuels will not contribute much. [My comment: yet biodiesel is the only renewable fuel that could replace diesel fuel for trucks. And when trucks run out of fuel, civilization ends.]

It is highly uncertain whether appreciable amounts of hydro-treated renewable oils can be affordably and cleanly produced within the United States or abroad. Hydro-treated renewable oils are produced by processing animal fats or vegetable oils (from seed-bearing plants such as soybeans, jatropha, or camelina) with hydrogen. Various types of algae have high oil content and are another possible source of oil for hydro-treatment [my comment: NOT TRUE. See algae and kelp/seaweed posts]. The problem lies in uncertainties regarding production potential and commercial viability, especially affordability and lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

Animal fats and other waste oils may offer an affordable low-greenhouse-gas route to hydro-treated renewable oils. But these fats and waste oils are also traditionally used in other nonfuel applications, including animal feed additives and the manufacture of soaps, household cleaners, resins, and plastics. Because the supply of these feedstocks is limited, substitutes would need to be found for use in these other applications. These substitutes may cause additional greenhouse gas emissions. Production potential is also a clear issue with animal fats and waste oils: The available supply of these feedstocks will likely limit production to no more than 30,000 barrels per day.

With regard to feedstock vegetable oils, to keep lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions at levels lower than those of petroleum-derived fuels, these oils must be derived from crops that do not compete with food production and that minimize non-beneficial direct and indirect changes in land use. Jatropha and camelina are often mentioned as ideal plants to meet these requirements, but there exists little evidence to back these claims. Even if low-greenhouse-gas approaches can be established and verified, total fuel production is likely to be limited. Producing just 200,000 barrels per day (about 1 percent of daily U.S. petroleum consumption) would require an area equal to about 10 percent of the croplands currently under cultivation in the United States.

Considering (1) the very limited production potential for fuels derived from animal fats and waste oils, (2) the highly uncertain prospects for affordable, low greenhouse-gas fuels derived from seed crops, and (3) the early development status of algae/microbe-based concepts, renewable oils do not constitute a credible, climate friendly option for meeting an appreciable fraction of civilian or military fuel needs over the next decade. Because of limited production potential, fuels derived from animal fats, waste oils, and seed oils will never have a significant role in the larger domestic commercial marketplace

The largest deposits of oil shale in the world are located in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. The potential yield is about triple the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia [NOT TRUE, see posts here ].

Our coal resource base is also the world’s largest. Dedicating only 15% of recoverable coal reserves to coal to liquid production would yield roughly 100 billion barrels of liquid transportation fuels, enough to sustain 3 million barrels per day for more than 90 years. Our biomass resource base is also appreciable offering to yield over 2 million barrels per day of liquid fuels. And over the longer term, advanced research and photosynthetic approaches for alternative fuels production offers the prospect of even greater levels of sustainable production.

The various options that we examined we found that the Fisher-Tropsch Method to be the most promising near term option for producing diesel, jet, and marine fuels in a clean and affordable manner. The Fisher-Tropsch Method also produces gasoline. The method can accept a variety of feedstocks including natural gas, coal, and biomass. Modern commercial plants are in operation but none are located in the United States.

The United States’ consumption of liquid fuels is about 19 million barrels per day (bpd). Meeting this demand requires importing about 10 million bpd of petroleum, mostly in the form of crude oil. In a world that consumes about 85 million bpd of petroleum products, the United States holds first place in total consumption and the magnitude of its imports.

The need is for an alternative fuel portfolio that can competitively produce millions of barrels per day in the United States. Alternative fuel advocates often use gallons per year when describing production potential. For perspective, one million barrels per day is 15.3 billion gallons per year.

In our study directed at military applications, we focused our attention on alternative fuels that could substitute for jet fuel, diesel fuel, and marine distillate fuel, since these are the major liquid fuels consumed by military aircraft, ships, ground vehicles, and associated combat support systems. These fuels are often referred to as distillate fuels to distinguish them from the more volatile and more easily ignited gasoline used in spark-ignition automobiles. As a group, distillate fuels account for over 95% of military fuel purchases, which are currently averaging about 340,000 barrels per day. Distillate fuels are also important in the civilian sector, fueling commercial transport and serving as an important home heating fuel in some parts of the United States. Current consumption of distillate fuels in the United States is about 5 million bpd. For comparison, recent gasoline demand is running at slightly below 9 million bpd.

Michael F. Doyle, Pennsylvania.   It seems like we repeat this cycle in this country and here in Washington decade after decade. Gasoline prices get high and there is great interest in all these alternative fuels and vehicles. And there is this great effort to move forward and then all of a sudden the OPEC ministers get together, or the speculators stop speculating and gasoline prices come down, and we get lulled back in this complacency that everything is okay now and we can go back to our big SUV’s and just keep putting gasoline in cars.  You wonder how many times you let the board hit you in the face before you duck.  How do we incentivize consumers to start driving more fuel efficient vehicles?

Lucian Pugliaresi. President, Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc (EPRINC).  One of the major obstacles to rapid increases of corn ethanol into the gasoline pool is the rising cost of ethanol’s  principal feedstock, corn.  The Congressional debate over the deficit has highlighted concerns over the cost of ethanol subsidies, now estimated at nearly $6 billion per year. The true cost is much higher.  Absent volumetric mandates and blending tax credits, the U.S. would consume approximately 400,000 barrels/day of ethanol, half the amount of ethanol consumed today.

Jeffrey Miller, National association of convenience storesThe convenience and fuel retailing industry sells 80 percent of the fuel in the Nation to 117,000 outlets.  Because OSHA will not recertify any existing equipment even if it is technically compatible with a new fuel, my only legal option is to replace my dispensers. This could cost me about $20,000 per unit or roughly $80,000 to $100,000 per store depending on the number of dispensers. Further, if my underground equipment is not listed for E–15 I would have to replace that as well. Once we start breaking open concrete, my costs could easily exceed $100,000 per site. So offering E–15 could become very expensive.

Rich Kolodziej, President of NGVAmerica. We are the National Trade Association for vehicles that are powered by natural gas and biomethane.  NGVs are the fastest-growing alternative fuel, alternative to petroleum in the world. In 2003, we had only about 2.8 million NGVs globally. Today we have over 13.2 million, and according to the forecast by the International NGV Association, but 2020, we are going to have 65 million vehicles on the world’s roads.

Now some of this will displace gasoline, but the majority would displace diesel. Diesel represents about a quarter of on-road petroleum use. While there are many options to displace gasoline in light duty vehicles, there are very few options to displace diesel in trucks and busses and other heavier vehicles. Of those options, natural gas can make the biggest impact the fastest. This is important since trucks are the economic lifeblood of America. Everything we buy moves by truck.

But to expand the use of NGVs and maximize NGVs oil displacement potential, we need to bring down the cost of NGVs. We have to make them more economic for more fleets. And that is going to happen through economies of scale and through a more large scale production.

That is why the industry is so excited about the bill recently introduced by Mr. Sullivan, H.R. 1380, the NAT Gas Act of 2011. That bill would provide federal incentives for the production, purchase, and use of natural gas vehicles and the expansion of NGV fueling infrastructure. That bill which was introduced on April 6 as Mr. Sullivan had mentioned already has 180 bipartisan cosponsors. It would only be in place for 5 years. It is only a 5 year program, but during that time and long thereafter this would make a big impact on the number of NGVs for which the fleets would be found and economically attractive. This is going to accelerate the NGV use in this country which in turn would bring more NGV manufacturers into the market, increase competition, and drive down that first course premium. NGVs are here and now technology. We don’t need any major technological breakthroughs. What we do need is to grow faster and the NAT Gas Act would help jumpstart that growth.

Lee Terry, Nebraska.   As a supporter of biofuels and cellulosic fuels, it is frustrating because it doesn’t seem like in the five years since that bill has passed that we have made a lot of progress. I don’t see the cellulosic plants. There may be pilots out there, small pilots, but I would have expected mass production today. Why aren’t we there? What is the holdup? What is the problem here? It seems like we are spending money on research, but we are not getting there. Is it the feedstock? What is our holdup?

Ms. OGE. Based on the discussions, you know when we set the 2011 standard for the 6.6 million gallons, our team was actually was in touch with over 100 companies that had some form or another of investments on advanced biofuels. This year we talked to about 20 companies that continue to have significant investments  And there are different ways to get there as far as a commercialized volume that is cost effective and can compete with fossil fuels. And it has to do with the type of feedstock.  A lot of the information is company by company, plus it is confidential. We see there are two things going on. One is that companies don’t have sufficient capital investment to proceed based on the original plans that they had. And second is technology challenges that companies are finding as they are doing these pilot projects, make corrections, and then coming back to invest more and do more. So my personal view and this is completely my personal opinion is that we will be able to catch up on these volumes but it is too early to say the timeframe.  And we also have to recognize when you are talking about building a plant that could cost tens or even $100 million, it takes time to build that plant. Once you have the capital to do it, you are still looking at a 24-month build schedule. So I would agree. We, like you, would like to see this grow faster. And certainly the economic downturn has hurt us, but I think we are going to start picking up pretty quickly now.

Mr. TERRY. I would hope so because I think we are losing credibility frankly the longer it takes.

David B. McKinley, West Virginia. [This reminds me of] groundhog day. We keep working in cycles [of yet] another gas increase, worry about it, and do nothing. And then we are going to do it again in a couple of years.  Excuse me,  [but] I thought the goal was to use less energy. I am skeptical.  I don’t think there is a real hunger here for us to solve anything.   We have the technology right now to deal with coal liquefaction, gas liquefaction, using natural gas vehicles, battery powered. Why don’t we just stay on the ones that we are close to achieving and finish the job instead of taking on new things and diverting, dispersing our energies so that we don’t accomplish anything?

Mr. DAVIS. I appreciate your question and I also appreciate your frustration. This is a very difficult problem to solve. We have 240 million vehicles on the road today. We only sell about 12 million per year. It takes 20 years to turn [them over].

Mr. POMPEO.  Is it possible that if we had not made a political decision about where to direct money that we might be further along in finding out the next great technology?

Mr. DAVIS. I don’t believe so. The President has said there is no silver bullet. I have been working transportation area for a couple decades. If anyone knew the absolute one answer, you can believe that we would be concentrating on it.

Margo T. Oge, Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, Environmental Protection Agency.

Biofuels can play a very important role in reducing our dependence on foreign oil, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving the world economies. When fully implemented, biofuels required by the RFS would displace about 13.6 billion gallons of petroleum-based gasoline in diesel fuel. That is approximately 7 percent of the expected annual gasoline and diesel consumption in 2022. This will decrease all imports by $14.5 billion and provide additional energy security of $2.6 billion annually.

Unfortunately, the cellulosic industry is not developing as quickly as Congress anticipated and we have had to lower the cellulosic mandate for the 2011 timeframe in 2010.

Mr. WHITFIELD. So how many manufacturing facilities are there out there now with an advanced battery production?

Mr. DAVIS. The Recovery Act is supporting a total of 20. And that is an entire supply chain from the component level, anodes, cathodes, electrolytes, to cell production, the battery manufacturing and assembly, and even to recycling. In addition to the Recovery Act projects, there is the tax incentive of $7,500. We are bringing the cost of batteries down very quickly. We are highly confident that we are going to meet our goal in 2015—the middle of this decade—to get to $300 per kilowatt hour. There is the ATVM, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program, supporting manufacturers of advanced vehicles. In addition to that, the manufacturers have announced production capacities that when you look at the total production and the ramp-up rates, total over one million vehicles through 2015. Now, that is announced production capacity. It doesn’t indicate consumer acceptance or that consumers will buy those vehicles. But we are very confident that the production capacity will be there to meet that goal.

Mr. WHITFIELD. Not too long ago we heard people talking all the time about hydrogen fuel cell technology and I don’t really hear a lot about that today. What is happening on the hydrogen fuel cell technology?

Mr. DAVIS. Tthe fuel cell technology office is making great progress. They reduced the cost of fuel cell systems from about $275 per kilowatt in 2002 to $51 per kilowatt today. That is a high-volume production cost, and their ultimate goal is $30 per kilowatt. So we are getting very close to where we need to be on cost. Infrastructure and hydrogen production is—remains the most serious challenge, along with storage of hydrogen.

Mr. SULLIVAN. Mr. Davis, in your testimony you don’t make any mention of the role of natural gas vehicles—that natural gas vehicles contain our nation’s transportation portfolio. I hear Secretary Chu talk about electric vehicles all the time but he hardly every mentions natural gas vehicles. This is perplexing given the massive amounts of natural gas resources that we have in this country and the fact that natural gas vehicles help reduce all types of pollution. What is DOE’s position of the role of natural gas vehicles or what is their position on the role natural gas vehicles will play especially in the heavy duty market? Why don’t natural gas vehicles have a primary place in DOE’s strategy?

Mr. DAVIS. Actually natural gas does play an important role in our strategy. We supported natural gas vehicles and the implementation of natural gas fueling infrastructure for 17 years through our Clean Cities Program, most recently, through the Recovery Act, placing thousands of natural gas vehicles on the road along with the infrastructure that supports them. I would say that the Vehicle Technologies Program, being primarily a research organization, does struggle sometimes with the fact that natural gas is a pretty mature technology. It is really more about deployment than it is about R&D. We know how to build natural gas engines. We know how to build natural gas vehicles, and that is why we have concentrated our efforts on natural gas through the Clean Cities Program, the deployment arm of the Vehicle Technologies Program.

Mr. SULLIVAN. Well, again this year the administration’s budget request had no R&D funding for natural gas vehicles. Why does DOE always seem to be promoting alternative fuels of a distant future, stuff that is 15, 20, 50 years or more—years away from possibly being commercial to the exclusion of proven, cleaner, domestically available fuels and technologies like natural gas vehicles which could make a real difference tomorrow? Natural gas vehicle technology is readily available and widely used throughout Europe, South America, and Asia. There are over 12.5 million natural gas vehicles worldwide, and we only have 150,000 here in the United States. Can you elaborate on that?

Mr. DAVIS. In 2010 we put in place some natural gas engine development projects, and those projects are underway this year, in which we leveraged $5 million in funding for a total of over $15 million in engine development funds supporting new natural gas engines that could be used in a variety of vehicles, mainly medium-duty to heavy-duty-type vehicles. That said, once again our effort has been focused on deployment, and although you might note that in FY ’12, we don’t request any direct funds for R&D in natural gas, we continually support natural gas vehicles through the Clean Cities Program, our deployment arm, and we will continue to do so, both vehicles and infrastructure.

 

Mr. WHITFIELD.   Mr. Davis, you mentioned in your testimony that by 2015, the goal was to have one million electric vehicles on the roads. How many electric vehicles are out there right now, or do you know?

Mr. DAVIS. A few hundred.

Mr. WHITFIELD. A few hundred. Well, you know this renewable fuel standard obviously is very important and I think it is also important that we not look through rose-colored glasses as we try to anticipate the future. I was reading an article—two articles recently. One was in the New York Times. This was the 1917 issue of the New York Times, front page and it said electric vehicles are the cars of the future. And then I read an article about a company in California called DC Green that was formed a few years ago to go out and remodel service stations to provide electrical outlets and so forth, and they are now in bankruptcy. And the Volt electric car costs $42,000. So would you elaborate a little bit on why you are as optimistic as having a million cars by 2015?

Mr. DAVIS. First let me say a million vehicles by 2015 is not the end point. It is a milestone. We want to go beyond a million vehicles to get to five million, 10 million, and even tens of millions and we are really pretty confident that that milestone is obtainable. And I would suggest that the situation today is much different than in the ’70s or any other previous time. We believe that the pieces are in place to achieve this goal. First of all, the Recovery Act, battery manufacturing facilities are in place to support the widespread production of electric drive vehicles. Two billion in batteries and electric drive component funding that was matched by industry for a total of 4 billion in manufacturing facilities that are supporting——

Pat Davis, Program Manager of the Vehicle Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The President recently outlined a portfolio of actions which taken together could cut U.S. oil imports by a third by 2025 and these include programs that would put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, increase the fuel economy of our cars and trucks, and expand biofuels market and commercialized new biofuels technologies.  Making our cars and trucks more efficient is one of the easiest and most direct ways to limit our petroleum consumption and save consumers money.

In 2009, the U.S. had only two relatively small battery manufacturing facilities manufacturing advanced batteries for vehicles. Over the next few years, thanks to Recovery Act investments, the U.S. will be able to produce enough batteries and components to support 500,000 plug-in and electric vehicles per year and simultaneously create over 6,200 jobs. At the same time, DOE projects a drop in battery costs of 50 percent by 2013 compared to a 2009 baseline.

HOWARD K. GRUENSPECHT, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Light-duty vehicles, including both passenger cars and light trucks, accounted for 63% of total transportation energy use in 2009. In that year, gasoline vehicles had an 85% market share out of 9.8 million new light-duty vehicles sold. Flex fuel vehicles that could use gasoline up to E– 85, hybrid electric, and diesel vehicles held 11%, 3%, and 2% shares, respectively.

Posted in Alternative Energy, Energy Dependence, Energy Policy, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

5 Russian Satan missiles could destroy 4 million people – there are 55 of them

[ I don’t think it’s likely Russia or the U.S. will unleash a nuclear war, though given the out-of-control gangster Trump administration, and the end of growth due to declining per capita resources creating great anger in the U.S. and the world, I’m less certain than I was before.  The main reason I published this is to remind people nuclear war is still a threat.  Do get the documentary “The Fog of War” if you need even more of a reminder.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Hernandez, V. October 24, 2016. World War III Update: Experts say 5 of Russia’s Satan missiles could destroy US east coast & kill 4 million people. International Business Times.

Experts warn that if Russia would unleash just five of its SS-18 missile, also known as the Satan, it could destroy the east coast of the US and kill more than 4 million people. Russia is believed to have 55 Satans, its most powerful missile, part of the largest nuclear stockpile in the world which could make the nuclear bombs dropped during World War II in Japan pale in comparison.

Just one SS-18 missile, in an apocalyptic nuclear strike, could wipe out 75 percent of New York for thousands of years, Dr Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy warns. He said that the SS-18 missiles could carry nuclear warheads with payloads of up to 20,000 kilotons.

It is more than 1,000 times powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Roberts says at maximum payload, a direct hit on New York is capable of killing 4.5 million people, injuring another 3.6 million and send radioactive fallout covering over 600 miles. It could also be armed with 10 smaller nukes of 550 kilotons each that can spread across a wide area and almost impossible to intercept.

Roberts, in an article for the Centre for Research on Gloablization, warned Russia could easily annihilate NATO and lead to the total collapse of the western alliance. Based on FEMA predictions from the Cold War, the targets of a Russian nuclear attack would include cities with huge populations such as New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Boston, Jacksonville and Washington DC.

Posted in Nuclear | Tagged | 2 Comments

Richard Heinberg: Systemic change driven by moral awakening is our only hope

[ Although this was written over a year ago on August 14, 2017 by Richard Heinberg on Ecowatch, it’s as true today as it was then, and worth republishing since people forget what they’ve read in the past

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity.

The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefited from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion. Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it’s simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers. It’s true: If climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, “We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast,” they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, “We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions.” Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we’ll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures. Technology—in this case, solar, wind and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production. Discussion participants don’t have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it. All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can’t do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes. The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors. After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined. Why shouldn’t it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”). Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection. Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren’t sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn’t the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves “bright greens” or “eco-modernists” have abandoned the moral fight altogether. Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that’s cheery and that doesn’t require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope. The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won’t work either. A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it’s no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn’t that it appealed to humanity’s moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement’s great strength. The effort fell short because it wasn’t able to alter industrial society’s central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost. Now we’re at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society. We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities. We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There’s more good news: Once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage. Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines can’t make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it’s not just our last hope; it’s the only real hope we’ve ever had.

Posted in Climate Change, Critical Thinking, Overpopulation, Overshoot, Population, Richard Heinberg | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Mass migration: Africa

Sengupta, S. 2016-12-15. Heat, Hunger and War Force Africans Onto a ‘Road on Fire’. New York Times.

AGADEZ, Niger — The world dismisses them as economic migrants. The law treats them as criminals who show up at a nation’s borders uninvited. Prayers alone protect them on the journey across the merciless Sahara.

But peel back the layers of their stories and you find a complex bundle of trouble and want that prompts the men and boys of West Africa to leave home, endure beatings and bribes, board a smuggler’s pickup truck and try to make a living far, far away.

They do it because the rains have become so fickle, the days measurably hotter, the droughts more frequent and more fierce, making it impossible to grow enough food on their land. Some go to the cities first, only to find jobs are scarce. Some come from countries ruled by dictators, like Gambia, whose longtime ruler recently refused to accept the results of an election he lost. Others come from countries crawling with jihadists, like Mali.

In Agadez, a fabled gateway town of sand and hustle through which hundreds of thousands exit the Sahel on their way abroad, I met dozens of them. One was Bori Bokoum, 21, from a village in the Mopti region of Mali. Fighters for Al Qaeda clash with government forces in the area, one of many reasons making a living had become much harder than in his father’s time.

One bad harvest followed another, he said. Not enough rice and millet could be eked out of the soil. So, as a teenager, he ventured out to sell watches in the nearest market town for a while, then worked on a farm in neighboring Ivory Coast, saving up for this journey. Libya was his destination, then maybe across the Mediterranean Sea, to Italy.

“To try my luck,” was how Mr. Bokoum put it. “I know it’s difficult. But everyone goes. I also have to try.”

This journey has become a rite of passage for West Africans of his generation. The slow burn of climate change makes subsistence farming, already risky business in a hot, arid region, even more of a gamble. Pressures on land and water fuel clashes, big and small. Insurgencies simmer across the region, prompting United States counterterrorism forces to keep watch from a base on the outskirts of Agadez.

This year, more than 311,000 people have passed through Agadez on their way to either Algeria or Libya, and some onward to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration. The largest numbers are from Niger and its West African neighbors, including Mr. Bokoum’s home, Mali.

Scholars of migration count people like Mr. Bokoum among the millions who could be displaced around the world in coming decades as rising seas, widening deserts and erratic weather threaten traditional livelihoods. For the men who pour through Agadez, these hardships are tangled up with intense economic, political and demographic pressures.

“Climate change on its own doesn’t force people to move but it amplifies pre-existing vulnerabilities,” said Jane McAdam, an Australian law professor who studies the trend. They move when they can no longer imagine a future living off their land — or as she said, “when life becomes increasingly intolerable.

But many of these people fall through the cracks of international law. The United Nations 1951 refugee convention applies only to those fleeing war and persecution, and even that treaty’s obligation to offer protection is increasingly flouted by many countries wary of foreigners.

In such a political climate, policy makers point out, the chances of expanding the law to include those displaced by environmental degradation are slim to none. It explains why the more than 100 countries that have ratified the Paris climate agreement this year acknowledged that environmental changes would spur the movement of people, but kicked the can down the road on what to do about them.

A Barren Outlook

Many migrants pass through Agadez from the villages around Zinder, a city roughly situated between the mouth of the Sahara and Niger’s border with Nigeria. Until 1926, Zinder was Niger’s capital. Then it ran low on water.

Early one gray-yellow morning, I set off from Zinder for a village called Chana, the home of one of the migrants I had met, Habibou Idi. Rows upon rows of millet grew on both sides of the two-lane national highway, punctuated occasionally by a spindly acacia. About an hour outside the city, some boys were raking the soil, yanking out weeds.

An older man sitting to the side said that back when he was a boy, the millet stood so high that you could hardly see workers in the fields. Midway through the growing season, it now barely reaches their knees.

An hour farther out of the city, we veered off the paved road and across a barren, rutted field.

In Chana, there was a steady thud of women pounding beans with wooden pestles. The beans grew along the ground, in the shade of the millet. They were the only crop ready for harvest. And so the people of Chana ate beans, morning and night: beans pounded, boiled, flavored with salt.

As Mr. Idi, 33, led me through his fields, he recalled hearing stories of what Chana looked like before a great drought swept across the Sahel in the 1970s and 1980s. The village was encircled by trees, he was told.

Back then, like most villagers, his father had a cow and plenty of sheep. Their droppings fertilized the land. Today, Mr. Idi said, not a single cow is left in Chana. They were sold to buy food.

Mr. Idi complained that the rains are now hard to predict. Sometimes they come in May, and he rushes out to plant his millet and beans, only to find the clouds closing up and his crops withering. Even when a good rain comes, it just floods. Most of the trees are gone, they were cut for firewood.

Living off the land is no longer an option, so unlike his father or grandfather before him, Mr. Idi has spent the last several years working across the border in Nigeria — hauling goods, watering gardens, whatever he could find.

This summer, for the first time, he boarded a bus to Agadez, and then a truck across the dunes to Algeria. There, he mostly begged.

He lasted only a few months.

The Algerian authorities rounded up hundreds of Nigeriens and deposited them back in Agadez.

That is where I met him, in a line for the bus back to Chana. Sand filled the breast pocket of his tunic. He was bringing home a blanket, a collection of secondhand clothes and 50,000 CFAs (the local currency, pronounced SAY-fas), worth about $100.

That did not last long, either. Mr. Idi arrived home to find that his family had taken out a loan of nearly the same amount in his absence. They had sold four of their five goats, too. There were many mouths to feed: his wife, their four children, plus his late brother’s seven.

Hotter Hots and Unpredictable Rains

Sub-Saharan Africa is in the throes of a population boom, which means that people have to grow more food precisely at a time when climate change is making it all the more difficult. Fertility rates remain higher than in other parts of the world, and Niger has the highest in the entire world: Women bear more than seven children on average.

Once every three years, according to scientists from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS Net, Niger faces food insecurity, or a lack of adequate food to eat. Hunger here is among the worst in the world: About 45 percent of Niger’s children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Meanwhile, in what is already one of the hottest places on Earth, it has gotten steadily hotter: by 0.7 degrees Celsius since 1975, Fews Net has found. Other places in the world are warming faster, for sure. But this is the Sahel, where daytime highs often soar well above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) and growing food in sandy, inhospitable soil is already difficult.

Niger’s neighbors share many of those woes. In Mali, temperatures have gone up by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1975. Summer rains have increased, but are not at the levels they were before the drought.

In Chad, temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius in the same period, according to FEWS Net. The group, which is financed with United States assistance, has warned that cereal production could drop by 30 percent per capita by 2025.

Chad is where FEWS Net’s chief representative for the Sahel, a meteorologist named Alkhalil Adoum, was born in 1957. As a boy, he loved running through the blinding rains of summer, when you couldn’t even see what was ahead of you. He knew a good rain would fill the savanna with wild fruit, and the first green shoots of sorghum would taste as sweet as sugar cane. His family’s cows, once they ate new grass, would give more milk.

“You love the first rains,” Mr. Adoum said. “You know, as a kid, there’s better times ahead.

Those rains don’t come anymore, he said.

There are conflicting scientific models about the effects of climate change on precipitation: some say much of sub-Saharan Africa will be wetter; others drier. The main points of agreement is that the rainy season will be more unpredictable and more intense. On top of that, the hottest parts of the continent will get hotter.

Extreme heat can have grievous consequences on food and disease, the World Food Program found in a survey of scientific studies. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes thrive in it. Pests are more likely to attack crops. Corn and wheat yields decline.

A study, published in December by the International Monitoring Displacement Center, found that in 2015 alone, sudden-onset disaster displaced 1.1 million people in Africa from one part of their country to another.

And then there is the competition over water. Already, it sets off clashes between farmers and herders, often hardened by ethnic divisions. A growing body of research suggests that local droughts, especially in poor, vulnerable countries, heighten the risk of civil conflict.

Risk analysts, including at the London-based firm Verisk Maplecroft, conclude that climate change amplifies the risks of civil unrest across the entire midsection of sub-Saharan Africa, from Mali in the west to Ethiopia in the East.

A grisly example lies in full display just a few hours by road from Mr. Idi’s village. In the southeastern corner of the country, where Niger meets Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, more than 270,000 people huddle for safety from the Boko Haram insurgency. Altogether, across the Lake Chad Basin, 2.4 million people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations.

A City of Dreams

Agadez is a city of mud-brick compounds with high walls and blazing bright metal doors. For centuries, it was filled with traders and nomads. In recent decades, it was a tourist magnet, until ethnic rebellions and then jihadist violence drove people away.

Today, migration is the main industry. Drivers, smugglers, money changers, sex workers, police officers — everyone lives off the men on the move. It is a city of dreams, both budding and broken. It is where the journey across the desert begins for so many young West African men, and it is where the journey ends, when they fail.

The smugglers’ den where I found Mr. Bokoum, the 21-year-old from Mali, was a set of two adjoining courtyards, with two concrete-floored rooms. Upside-down jerrycans served as stools, plastic mats as sofas.

He had been in Agadez for three months, waiting for his mother to send him money. It can cost 350,000 CFAs — about $600 — to get from Agadez to the Libyan border, on the back of a pickup truck.

The smugglers had also started out as migrants, and most of them worked for a while in Libya. Now, they make money off other men’s journeys. None would hint at how much.

Mohamed Diallo, a Senegalese manager of the compound, blamed Western countries for spewing carbon into the atmosphere, and he was skeptical of their leaders’ promises to curb emissions.

“The big powers are polluting and creating problems for us,” he said. He was appalled that Africans trying to go to Europe were treated like criminals, when Europeans in Africa were treated like kings.

Mr. Diallo’s compound, like others in Agadez, has a weekly rhythm.

He instructs those seeking to make the journey to Libya to be inside by Sunday night. Monday morning, he treats them to a feast before the long haul. He roasts a sheep, plays some music, turns on the ceiling fans for a couple of hours.

Just after sundown, a white Toyota pickup pulls up. Monday night is when Nigerien soldiers change shifts, heading out of Agadez and into a desert outpost. The Toyotas follow, stopping briefly at the police checkpoint at the edge of the city before speeding into the dunes. Those who fall off the trucks are left behind.

The journey to the Libyan border, 250 miles in all, takes three days. No one knows how many die along the way.

Those who venture a journey across the Mediterranean take a deadly gamble, too. Among the more than 4,700 people who have died trying to cross the Central Mediterranean so far in 2016, the vast majority cannot be identified. Of those who can, Africans make up the largest share.

“The migrant road,” Mr. Diallo said, “is a road on fire.”

‘I Will Be a Burden to Them’ Those who make it to Libya do not necessarily make it inside Libya. It is a lawless country where some migrants get thrown behind bars — and some, according to human rights groups, are raped and tortured by militias demanding money. Some run out of money, or heart, to continue the journey to Europe.

On the way back, they usually knock on the gates of the International Organization for Migration’s transit center at the edge of Agadez.

There were about 400 boys and men there the week I visited. They lounged on thin rose-print mattresses. They played cards and scrolled through their phones, calling home if they had any credit left. A few attended a class on how to start a business; others rested in the medical ward.

The mix of shame and boredom hung so heavy you could practically smell it. One young man walked around with an open wound on his elbow; he vaguely said he was injured in a brawl in Libya.

When the heat of the day broke, they roused themselves and played soccer.

The migrants from the countryside all had similar stories. Their fathers had never left the land — they all felt they had to. The harvest was not enough; their families had no tractors, just lazy donkeys. Work in nearby towns brought in a fraction of what they figured they could make abroad.

The lure of abroad, Algeria or Libya or beyond, was strong. Facebook posts from friends and neighbors made it seem like a cakewalk.

Ibrahim Diarra said that fickle rains made it too hard to grow peanuts and corn on the family farm in the Tambacounda region of Senegal. He watched the young men of his village leave, each pulled by the stories of those who went before. Then he followed.

Mr. Diarra made his way through Qaeda-riddled northern Mali, then worked construction for six months in Mauritania, before pushing on to Tamanrasset, in Algeria. If he could just get to Morocco, he had heard, he could climb over a fence and be in Spain.

“They told me it’s very easy,” he said.

It wasn’t. He lasted two months in Algeria. Then, he went back to Agadez and asked the migration organization for a bus ticket home. So far this year, 100,000 people have made the same reverse journey.

On a Thursday — departure night for those whose emigration dreams are dashed — bittersweet chaos erupted in the courtyard as two large buses pulled up.

The manager of the transit center, Azaoua Mahamen, sat on the porch with his laptop open, scrolling through the names of those who had been cleared to go home. Migrants need identity papers, and government permission. If they are children, Mr. Mahamen has to make sure they have a family to go back to; a few don’t.

Dozens of young men crowded around him, their eyes like headlights in the dark.

They shouted their names. They waved their identity cards, wrapped in plastic. One group complained that only Guineans were getting out that night. The Ivory Coast contingent started cheering when one of their compatriots was called.

Mr. Diarra listened for his name, though he wasn’t looking forward to facing his parents empty-handed.

“I’m supposed to support my family,” he explained. “Now I have no clothes, nothing. I will be a burden to them.

His father, especially, would be upset. “He’ll ask me how my friends got to Europe and I came back,” he said, shaking his head.

He said he would try the journey again. It would take him a few months to cobble together the money.

Posted in Drought, Extreme Weather, Mass migrations | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Royal Society on peak oil and how much oil is left

[ This is a great introduction to the whole topic of oil, reserves, resources, and so on. It’s very long so I’ve only excerpted bits of it and reworded some of it.  I can’t say there’s anything new in here that’s not already in energyskeptic posts, but this article pulls it all together at one of the top scientific institutions in the world.  Yes, it’s from 2013, but I like publishing older articles long after to see how good their vision of the future was.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Miller, R.G., Sorrell, S. R. 2 December 2013. The future of oil supply. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences.

 

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Classification of hydrocarbon liquids.

The core issue for future supply is the extent and the rate of depletion of conventional oil, since this currently provides around 95% of global all-liquids supply. Options for mitigating this depletion include:

  • substituting conventional oil with non-conventional oil;
  • substituting all-oil with other non-conventional liquids (gas-to-liquids, coal-to-liquids and biofuels); and
  • reducing demand for all-liquids (e.g. through improving end-use efficiency, substituting non-liquid energy carriers such as gas or electricity or reducing demand for the relevant energy services).

Both the extent and rate of depletion and the feasibility and cost of different mitigation options are the subject of intense debate.

Oil production: Global production of all-liquids averaged 85.7 million barrels per day (mb per day) in 2011, or 31.2 billion barrels per year (Gb per year). Global cumulative production amounted to approximately 1248 Gb, with half of this occurring since 1988.  Crude oil production is heavily concentrated in a small number of countries and a small number of giant fields, with approximately 100 fields producing one half of global supply, 25 producing one quarter and a single field (Ghawar in Saudi Arabia) producing approximately 7%. Most of these giant fields are relatively old, many are well past their peak of production, most of the rest seem likely to enter decline within the next decade or so and few new giant fields are expected to be found. Future global production is therefore heavily dependent on the future prospects of the giant fields.

PEAK OIL: Crude oil production grew at approximately 1.5% per year between 1995 and 2005, but then plateaued with more recent increases in liquids supply largely deriving from NGLs, oil sands and tight oil (my comment: but most of our oil is conventional and significantly cheaper and energy efficient than NGLs, oil sands, and tight oil).  On a per capita basis, annual all-oil production peaked at 5.5 barrels in 1979 and has remained around 4.5 barrels since the mid-1980s. Annual consumption averages approximately 2.5 barrels per person in non-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (82% of the global population) and approximately 14 barrels per person in the OECD, with the USA an outlier at 25 barrels per person.

It’s the size of the tap, not the tank that matters

it is essential to recognize that large quantities of resources within the Earth’s crust provide no guarantee that these can be produced at particular rates and/or at reasonable cost. There are huge variations both within and between resource types in terms of size of accumulation, depth, accessibility, chemical composition, energy content, extraction cost, net energy yield (i.e. the energy obtained from the resource minus the energy required to find, extract and process it), local and global environmental impacts and, most importantly, the feasible rate of extraction—to say nothing of the geopolitics of access. Higher quality resources tend to be found and developed first, and as production shifts down the ‘resource pyramid’, increasing reliance must be placed upon less accessible, poorer quality and more expensive resources that have a progressively lower net energy yield and are increasingly difficult to produce at high rates. Compare, for example, the monetary and energy investment required to produce 100 kb per day from the giant oil fields of the Middle East to that required to achieve comparable rates of production from deep-water oil fields, subarctic resources or the Canadian oil sands. To quote a widely used phrase in this context, it is not so much the size of the tank that matters but the size of the tap.

This is not simply an issue of the steeply rising production costs of poorer quality resources because technical and net energy constraints may make some resources inaccessible and some production rates unachievable regardless of cost. Kerogen oil is especially constrained in rate and net energy terms and may never become economic to produce, yet it accounts for 19% of the IEA estimate of remaining recoverable resources. Hence, a critical evaluation of future supply prospects must go beyond appraisals of aggregate resource size and examine the technical, economic and political feasibility of accessing different resources at different rates over different periods of time.

The production of conventional oil must eventually decline to almost zero, because it is a finite resource.

Decline rates

From a sample of 77 post-peak UK fields, we estimate an average decline rate of approximately 12.5% per year, so the average rate of decline from post-peak fields is a critical determinant of  future oil supply. Recent studies of globally representative samples of post-peak crude oil fields find a production-weighted average decline rate of at least 6.5% per year. This is lower than the average decline rate, since larger fields tend to decline more slowly.

Offshore fields decline faster than onshore fields and that newer fields decline faster than older fields. If smaller, younger and offshore fields account for an increasing share of future global production, the average decline rate for conventional oil fields will increase prior to the peak. Greater reliance upon tight oil resources produced using hydraulic fracturing will exacerbate any rising trend in global average decline rates, since these wells have no plateau and decline extremely fast—for example, by 90% or more in the first 5 years.

The production cycle for tight oil resources is driven by a different set of mechanisms since this resource is located in continuous formations rather than discrete fields. Nevertheless, the outcome is similar to that for conventional oil. With exceptionally high decline rates for individual wells, regional tight oil production can only be maintained through the continuous drilling of closely spaced wells. But tight oil plays are heterogeneous, with much higher well productivity in the ‘sweet spots’ than elsewhere. So when the sweet spots become exhausted, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain regional production. Based upon these considerations, Hughes suggests that aggregate US tight oil production is likely to peak around 2.5 mb per day (compared to total US oil production of 6.9 mb per day in 2008) and is likely to decline very rapidly after 2017.

Based upon these considerations, the IEA anticipates crude oil production from existing fields falling from 68.5 mb per day in 2011 to only 26 mb per day in 2035, but hopes for 65.4 due to undiscovered oil fields and additional production from unconventional oil, with no peak before 2035.

This IEA estimate has received much criticism from scientists.  For example, Höök et al. argue that production from existing fields could decline more quickly than the IEA assumes, while Aleklett et al.argue that the projections rely upon implausible assumptions about the rate at which fallow and undiscovered fields can be developed and produced. Both studies imply more rapid decline of global crude oil production and hence more difficulty in maintaining aggregate global liquids supply. Furthermore, the IEA projection assumes adequate investment, no geopolitical interruptions and prices that do not significantly constrain global economic growth.

Far more important than predicting the exact date of global peak is how will we cope after it happens.  But although mitigation can be achieved through fuel substitution and demand reduction but both will prove challenging owing to the scale of investment required and the associated lead times. For example, a 2008 report for the US Department of Energy argued that large-scale mitigation programmes need to be initiated at least 20 years before a global peak if serious shortfalls in liquid fuels supply are to be avoided. While this report overlooked key options such as electric vehicles and tight oil, it also assumed a relatively modest rate of post-peak crude oil decline (2% per year) and ignored the environmental consequences of expanding the supply of non-conventional resources. Avoiding these would necessarily restrict the range of available options.

NGLS can’t fill in for crude oil: 33% less energy and only 33% can be made into transportation fuel

Many sources anticipate large-scale substitution of NGLs for crude production over the next two decades, owing to expanding gas supply (including shale gas) and/or increases in the average NGL content of that gas. While the IEA states that the latter is expected to remain constant, its projections imply a doubling. But even assuming production grows as anticipated, NGLs cannot fully substitute for crude oil since they contain about a third less energy per unit volume and only about one-third of that volume can be blended into transport fuels. NGLs can substitute for crude oil as a petrochemical feedstock and may partially compensate for increased heavy oil within the refinery input mix, but at some point a rising volume of NGLs will be unable to adequately make up for reduced crude supply.

Oil sands already make an important contribution to global liquids supply and most forecasts anticipate a significant expansion over the next 20 years. But according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers [68], the Canadian oil sands will deliver only 5 mb per day by 2030, which represents less than 6% of the IEA projection of all-liquids production by that date. Similarly, Söderbergh et al. [69] conclude that a ‘crash programme’ to develop the oil sands could only deliver a comparable amount. Also, this resource is significantly more energy- and carbon-intensive than conventional oil, and surface mining has massive impacts on local and regional environments.

Murphy examines the importance of the energy return on investment(EROI) for liquid fuels production and the implications of declining EROI for the global economy. From a review of the rather limited literature on this topic, Murphy concludes that: the EROI for global oil and gas production is roughly 15 and declining while that for the USA is 11 and declining; the EROI for unconventional oil and biofuels is generally less than 10; there is a negative exponential relationship between oil prices and aggregate EROI which may become nonlinear as the latter falls below 10; and the minimum oil price needed to increase oil supply is consistent with that which has historically triggered economic recessions. Murphy concludes that the declining EROI of liquid fuels will make it increasingly difficult to sustain global economic growth.

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Nobel prize economist Robert Shiller: market risk keeps him awake worrying

[ According to this article: “Shiller’s latest analysis shouldn’t be taken lightly. His forecasting skills were recognized in 2013 when he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. He’s known for predicting both the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble in his book “Irrational Exuberance.”  Though like 99% of economists, he doesn’t have a clue of the role energy plays in the system.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Landsman, S. July 27, 2017.  The market risk that makes Nobel laureate Robert Shiller ‘lie awake worrying’. CNBC.

Yale University economics professor Robert Shiller has a warning for investors.  The Nobel laureate says low volatility paired with a questionable price-earnings ratio could wipe out a chunk of the stock market’s value.  “The price increase just went step-by-step with the earnings increase. I think it’s an overreaction to good earnings,” said Shiller on Wednesday’s “Trading Nation.”

His comments came as the S&P 500Dow and Nasdaq were hitting fresh all-time highs and the CBOE Volatility Index dropped to a record low.

In a special note to CNBC, Shiller writes that low volatility could be “the quiet before the storm.” It’s a phenomenon which Shiller says is making him “lie awake worrying.” And that’s not the only issue he’s raising.

His Shiller PE Ratio, also known as CAPE, shows the price-earnings ratio based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the last 10 years is over 30. The number carries significance because the only times it’s been higher was just before the Great Depression in 1929 and mid-1997 to mid-2001.

“I worry that historically earnings have been trend-reverting,” said Shiller. “Admittedly, we do have a president who’s going to ‘make America great again.’ So if he’s right, maybe then we’re launching out in a whole new path. But it would be the first time in American history.”

 

If Shiller is right and the stock market ultimately goes back to trend, it could create havoc.

“It would definitely be a negative for equities. It would be pretty big. We are at a high valuation. The only time we’ve had a higher valuation than where we are now was around 1929 and around 2000,” Shiller said.

“We could see a major correction,” he said. “This is not a forecast. It’s a worry.”

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BBC: Fusion energy pushed back beyond 2050

Cartlidge, E. July 11, 2017. Fusion energy pushed back beyond 2050. BBC.

We will have to wait until the second half of the century for fusion reactors to start generating electricity, experts have announced.

A new version of a European “road map” lays out the technological hurdles to be overcome if the processes powering the Sun are to be harnessed on Earth.  The original 2012 version of the road map forecast that a demonstration fusion power plant could be operating in the early 2040s, in order to supply electricity to the grid by 2050. But now the demonstration will be delayed until 2054 caused largely by delays to ITER, a 20 billion Euro reactor being built in the south of France to prove that fusion energy is scientifically and technically feasible.

In fact, according to EUROfusion’s programme manager, nuclear physicist Tony Donné, DEMO’s schedule could slip further, depending on progress both with ITER and a facility to test materials for fusion power plants that has yet to be built.

“2054 is optimistic,” he says.

Fusion involves heating nuclei of light atoms – usually isotopes of hydrogen – to temperatures many times higher than that at the center of the Sun so that they can overcome their mutual repulsion and join together to form a heavier nucleus, giving off huge amounts of energy in the process.  In principle, this energy could provide low-carbon “baseload” electricity to the grid using very plentiful raw materials and generating relatively short-lived nuclear waste. But achieving fusion in the laboratory is a daunting task.

Doughnut-shaped reactors known as tokamaks use enormous magnetic fields to hold a hot plasma of nuclei and their dissociated electrons in place for long enough and at a high enough density to permit fusion.

ITER represents the culmination of 60 years of research. The world’s largest ever tokamak, it will weigh 23,000 tonnes and is designed to generate 10 times the power that it consumes.  But the project has been beset by delays and cost overruns. Originally foreseen to switch on in 2016 and cost around 5 billion Euros, its price has since roughly quadrupled and its start-up pushed back to 2025. Full-scale experiments are now not foreseen until at least 2035.

ITER is also complex politically, an international project with 7 partners: China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States. As host, Europe is paying the biggest share of the costs – about 45%.

The roadmap sees ITER as the single most important project in realizing fusion but not one that is designed to generate electricity.

DEMO, a tokamak adapted from the ITER design

This will also cost billions of euros, and is intended to produce several hundred megawatts of electricity for the grid. To do so, it must run continuously for hours, days or ideally years at a time, as opposed to ITER, which will operate in bursts lasting just a few minutes.  DEMO will also have to generate its own supply of tritium (the radioactive isotope of hydrogen which can help drive fusion) by using neutrons it produces to transform lithium (its other hydrogen isotope, deuterium, can instead be extracted from sea water).

Researchers are already starting to develop conceptual designs for DEMO. But because they need results from ITER to draw up a detailed engineering design, their progress is vulnerable to any further delays in France.

Federici argues it is vital to demonstrate electricity generation from fusion “not too far after the middle of the century”. Otherwise, he says, there may no longer be a nuclear industry able to build the commercial fusion plants that would follow, and the public may lose patience.  The subsequent loss of political support, he wrote in the DEMO design report, “would run the risk of delaying fusion electricity well into the 22nd century.”

 

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