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Bottom Up, Top Down

June 22, 2014 in Climate Change, EV News, Oil

Richard Heinberg Photo courtesy of Post Carbon Institute

Richard Heinberg
Photo courtesy of Post Carbon Institute

By Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute

Those of us who have some grasp of the urgent dilemmas posed by climate change and peak oil face a terrible conundrum. The whole system of industrial civilization is moving toward collapse. How can we reverse course to avert an unprecedented series of crises that might entail massive human mortality and the more or less permanent crippling of planetary ecosystems? I can think of two broad strategies:

Top down. Convince the folks in charge that it’s in their interest to change directionthat is, to reorganize financial, food, transport, and manufacturing systems on a no-growth, low-carbon model. Advantage: this audience at least theoretically has the power to organize a comprehensive and rapid energy descent. Recall the rapidity with which the US re-organized its economy at the start of World War II. Disadvantages: the elites’ incentives are all in the current direction of growth-at-any-cost, many of the key players remain in denial about the nature and severity of the fundamental problems facing society, and social systems are structured to eject leaders who rock the boat.

Bottom up. Convince the general public to organize a change in direction from the grassroots. Communities could self-organize to lower energy consumption, create green jobs, and localize their economies. Advantage: this avoids the authoritarianism implicit in the first strategy. Disadvantages: it’s almost impossible to reach all or most of the general public unless you have a huge megaphone (which leads us back to the Top-Down strategy), the general public does not have the capability to quickly restructure large complex systems (finance, manufacturing, transport, etc.), and most people identify their personal interests with those of the collapsing system.

Transition Initiatives are making a valiant effort at a bottom-up strategy. Various prominent environmentalists have pursued a top-down strategy (most recently, PCI Fellow Bill Rees has published an important paper titled “Avoiding Collapse,” a last-ditch effort to awaken global policy makers).

It’s not at all clear that either strategy will succeed. If anyone can think of a third broad strategic approach, there are lots of us who would be keen to know of it.

Meanwhile, the least helpful thing I can think of to do right now is to identify with either the Top Down or the Bottom Up approach and then attack people pursuing the complementary strategy. Of course, tactics within these broad categories are always up for discussion and it’s fair to point out instances of incompetence in the application of tactics. But if we do have a chance at averting the worst forms of societal and ecosystem collapse, that chance probably lies in cooperation among actors pursuing different but complementary strategies.

This article is a repost (6-20-14), credit: Post Carbon Institute.

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Ocean Acidification, By US State Department

June 18, 2014 in Climate Change, Environment, EV News, Pollution

Oceans regulate our climate and our weather. They are essential for cycling water, carbon, and nutrients. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have absorbed nearly 30 percent of human generated carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As carbon dioxide mixes with ocean water, the water becomes more acidic — today, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution. Even more troubling is that the chemistry of the oceans is changing 10 times faster than at any other time in the past 50 million years, making it challenging for organisms to adapt to these new conditions at the same rate.

More acidic oceans will have broad and significant impacts on marine ecosystems, the services they provide, and the coastal economies which depend on them. In addition to decreasing our carbon emissions, it is critical that we understand the process of ocean acidification and its impacts. A necessary first step toward developing a better understanding is to monitor and measure the ocean to learn what changes are occurring and when. This requires a network of scientists around the world collecting, organizing, and analyzing data on ocean acidification — a global ocean “vital signs” monitoring network focused specifically on ocean acidification and its effects on ocean health. A new and growing Global Monitoring Network for Ocean Acidification is starting to be developed and will require strategically placed monitoring equipment and trained personnel to be effective and help us to understand and respond to this growing problem.

Ocean acidification is one of the three topics — along with sustainable fisheries and marine pollution – discussed at the U.S. Department of State’s Our Ocean Conference. Learn more about these issues and the conference at

President Barack Obama, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, center, talks with EPA staff members who worked on the power-plant emissions standards, in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 2, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) Courtesy of White House

President Barack Obama, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, center, talks with EPA staff members who worked on the power-plant emissions standards, in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 2, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Courtesy of White House

For more information:

  • Read the “Our Ocean” Conference Agenda for June 17, and watch the live webcast of events on
  • Join Secretary of State John Kerry and Bill Nye “The Science Guy” for a Twitter Q&A at 10:00 a.m. EDT on June 17.
  • Follow the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental, and Scientific Affairs (OES) on Twitter, and like OES on Facebook.

This article is a repost (6-17-14), credit: State Department. Video courtesy of State Department.

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By the Numbers: The EPA’s Proposed New Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants

June 2, 2014 in Climate Change, Environment, EV News, Greentech, Politics, Pollution

Dan Utech Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Photo courtesy of White House

Dan Utech
Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
Photo courtesy of White House

By Dan Utech, White House

Today, as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the EPA proposed new carbon pollution standards for power plants. These standards represent a commonsense proposal that will have huge benefits for all Americans. In fact, for every dollar of investment spurred by this proposal, there is roughly seven dollars’ worth of health benefits in return.

Here are some numbers that help explain today’s announcement:

Nearly 40 is the number of percentage points of total carbon pollution that comes from power plants. The President’s Climate Action Plan has focused on modernizing our buildings, factories, cars, and trucks but altogether, they make up a little over half of all the carbon pollution. It makes sense, then, that our next logical step would be to modernize the power sector, putting in place the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants.

More than 300 is the number of groups EPA engaged with across the country including 11 public listening sessions that hosted more than 3,000 people in order to develop its proposal. And the outreach continues. After the proposed rule is published, there will be a 120-day public comment period to make sure the final standards reflect all the best ideas and input from everyone includes states, utilities, labor, health advocates, environmental groups and industry.

30 is the number of percentage points of total carbon pollution that will be cut from our power sector by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. That is like erasing the annual carbon pollution from two-thirds of all cars and trucks in America. And if you add up what we will avoid between 2020 and 2030 under the proposal, it’s more than the carbon pollution from every power plant in America in 2012 times two.

50 is the number of ways the EPA proposal can be implemented; this proposal puts tools in the hands of each state and its governor there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. And let’s remember that the idea of setting higher standards to cut carbon pollution isn’t new. 47 states have utilities that run demand-side energy efficiency programs, 38 have renewable portfolio standards or goals, and 10 have market-based greenhouse gas emissions programs.

48 to 84 billion is the number of dollars of net benefits that the proposal will generate in 2030. A big share of those net benefits come from lives saved and quality of life improved, asthma attacks avoided and fewer days of missed school or work. Specific 2030 benefits include up to:

  • 150,000 fewer asthma attacks
  • 3,700 less cases of bronchitis in children
  • 180,000 fewer days of school missed
  • 310,000 fewer lost work days
  • 6,600 less premature deaths
  • 3,300 fewer heart attacks
  • 1,700 avoided hospital emergency room visits

Tens of thousands are the number of jobs that EPA and others estimate will be created by the proposed standards including machinists to manufacture energy-efficient appliances, construction workers to build efficient homes and buildings or weatherize existing ones, service providers to do energy audits and install efficient technologies, and engineers and programmers to design and improve building energy management systems.

8 is the number of percentage points by which families and businesses will be able to cut their electricity bill under the EPA proposal in 2030. Taking advantage of energy efficiency, states can implement the EPA’s proposal in a way that drives billions of investment into retrofits like upgrades to windows and heating and cooling systems; deployment of better appliances through programs like accelerated buy-back; and improved energy management including through smart metering. Steps like this will cut energy waste and cut electricity bills.

More than 80 is the number of countries representing over 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions who pledged in 2009 to take climate actions through 2020 under the Copenhagen Accord. As countries prepare long-range carbon reduction goals for a global climate deal expected in 2015, they are looking to the United States for leadership and an example to follow. The President’s Climate Action Plan ensures that America will be a leader in those negotiations and in the global fight against climate change.

44 is the number of years that EPA’s legal authority to reduce air pollution has been around. The Clean Air Act, enacted by Congress in 1970, established mechanisms for controlling emissions of air pollutants from stationary sources including power plants. In the year 2010 alone, updates to the Act are estimated to have prevented more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 86,000 hospital admissions, 13 million lost workdays, and 3.2 million lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

Finally, zero that’s the number of times special interests have been right about having to choose between the health of our people and the health of our economy.

Learn more:

  • See how the standards will make our communities healthier
  • Find out more about the President’s plan to fight climate change

Dan Utech is the Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

This article is a repost, credit: White House Blog. Video courtesy of White House Blog (5-31-14).

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Global survey: Climate change now a mainstream part of city planning

May 30, 2014 in Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Pollution

Survey reveals cities are planning for climate change, but still searching for links to economic growth.

Infographic courtesy of NOAA

Infographic courtesy of NOAA

By Peter Dizikes, MIT 

An increasing number of cities around the world now include preparations for climate change in their basic urban planning — but only a small portion of them have been able to make such plans part of their economic development priorities, according to a unique global survey of cities released today (5-29-14).

The Urban Climate Change Governance Survey (UCGS), based on responses from 350 cities worldwide, underscores the extent to which city leaders recognize climate change as a major challenge — even as they are trying to figure out how their responses can create jobs, growth, and cost savings in areas ranging from cities’ transportation networks to their distribution of businesses.

“Climate change isn’t an isolated issue,” says Alexander Aylett, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), and the lead author of today’s report. “It has large implications for all other aspects of urban life. What we are seeing is cities starting to build it into the DNA of how they approach urban planning.”

According to the findings, 75 percent of cities worldwide now tackle climate-change issues as a mainstream part of their planning, and 73 percent of cities are attempting both climate mitigation and climate adaptation — that is, they are trying both to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to adapt to long-term changes that are already in motion. But only 21 percent of cities report tangible connections between the response to climate change and achieving other local development goals.

Aylett calls it a “cliché” that environmental and economic progress cannot coexist, citing a number of cities where jobs and growth have derived from climate-change efforts. Portland, Ore., he observes, developed incentives, training, and regulations to help sustainable construction firms grow, while a pilot program called Clean Energy Works Portland employed 400 workers to reduce home energy use, reducing carbon emissions by 1,400 metric tons annually.

Urban planners in Alberta, as Aylett notes, have studied the cost savings associated with limiting metropolitan sprawl and concluded that denser development could save $11 billion in capital costs over the next 60 years, and $130 million in annual maintenance. But most cities, he suggests, have simply not yet identified ways to link climate planning and economic development in the first place.

“It isn’t so much that it’s hard to reconcile economic and environmental priorities,” Aylett says. “It’s that we’re not trying.”

Regional differences remain

The new report is a companion to a survey conducted in 2012. This year’s results revealed continuing regional disparities in urban climate planning. Compared with the global average of 75 percent, U.S. cities lag in planning for both mitigation and adaptation, with just 58 percent of cities addressing both. This echoes the 2012 survey, which revealed that a smaller portion of U.S. cities were doing basic climate-change planning, compared with those in other regions — 59 percent in the U.S., for instance, compared with 95 percent in Latin America.

Globally, 63 percent of cities say they have between one and five employees dedicated to climate-change planning; North American cities are most likely to have just one staff member focused on the topic. As the report’s executive summary notes, “A lack of funding to hire sufficient staff to work on climate change is a significant challenge for 67 percent of cities.”

On a different note, about 85 percent of cities have conducted an inventory of local greenhouse-gas emissions, and 15 percent, as part of that effort, have tried to track the emissions that stem from goods and services consumed within that city. As Aylett points out, “Beginning to address these upstream emissions is crucial if cities are really going to help bring down global emissions.”

The results also reveal that local industries and businesses are relatively disengaged with urban responses to climate change: About 25 percent of cities say that local businesses have been crucial to creating and implementing their climate mitigation plans, whereas 48 percent of cities report that local civil-society groups, such as nonprofits or other organizations, have been involved in climate planning.

The survey is a collaboration between DUSP and ICLEI, the world’s largest association of cities. Today’s report is being released in conjunction with an ICLEI-backed conference on urban planning, being held in Bonn, Germany. To conduct the survey, questionnaires were sent to officials in more than 700 cities worldwide, with 48 percent of them responding to a set of 69 queries.

Other scholars believe the UCGS results are valuable. John Robinson, a professor of geography at the University of British Columbia, calls the survey “extremely important and extremely useful.” In particular, Robinson says, an “important issue raised by this work is what the connection is between framing these responses in terms of climate change and framing them in terms of broader conceptual frameworks, such as sustainability.” Promoting the general idea of sustainable development in urban areas, he adds, may be “most helpful in mainstreaming climate policy.”

This article is a repost (5-29-14), credit: MIT.

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The Energy Independence Illusion, By John Kaufmann, Post Carbon Institute

April 30, 2014 in Climate Change, EV News, Oil, Politics

Capitol Hill Photo courtesy of US Capitol Visitor Center

Capitol Hill
Photo courtesy of US Capitol Visitor Center

Adapted and expanded from a presentation on “Energy Independence and Foreign Policy” to the World Affairs Council of Oregon, 3/28/14.


The roots of energy independence lie in the energy crises of the 1970s. US oil production peaked in 1970, and we became increasingly dependent on oil imported from the Middle East. In response to US support for Israel, OPEC cut production and doubled prices in 1973 and again in 1979. The economy stagnated for most of the decade, and Americans recoiled at the thought of the economy and foreign policy being held hostage by Arab sheiks.

Independence from these threats then became a key national objective. An effort was made to increase domestic exploration, develop alternative fuels, and conserve energy. Automobile gas mileage standards were increased, natural gas displaced oil in industry and home heating, and the generation of electricity from oil was phased out. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was put in place as a buffer against supply disruptions, and the Carter Doctrine in the wake of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 declared that any threat in the Persian Gulf would be treated as an assault on the vital interests of the United States.

New discoveries in the North Slope of Alaska, the North Sea, and elsewhere in the late ‘70s took the steam out of OPEC. Within a few years oil prices returned to previous levels and our economy prospered. The pursuit of renewable energy was abandoned, a victim of declining energy prices.

In the 2000s conventional world crude oil supply stopped growing, and oil prices climbed steadily from $20 a barrel to more than $100. In response, horizontal drilling and fracking opened up hard-to-produce reserves from tight oil formations in North Dakota and elsewhere, reversing the 40-year decline in domestic production. Domestic oil production has increased from 5 mbd in 2008 to about 7.5 mbd in 2013. Similarly, natural gas production has increased by 20-30 percent over the same time.

Projecting this trend forward, some say the US will soon become the largest energy producer in the world, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, and that we will soon be a net exporter. In addition there are proposals to build the Keystone XL pipeline to move oil from the Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries, build coal export facilities, and lift the oil export ban after 40 years. Looking further ahead, the International Energy Agency and BP project the US energy independence by 2035.

As in the 1970s, the purported benefits of energy independence are simple: an improved economy due to the reduced outflow of dollars, improved national security, and more flexibility on foreign policy, particularly with regards to the Middle East and now Russia. Those objectives are substantial, if they can be achieved.

However, drilling and mining our way to energy independence is a mirage. First, it may provide temporary economic gain, but will not cure our fundamental economic problems. Second, it will have very limited benefits for foreign policy and national security; the problem is not US dependence, but rather the dependence of our allies and trading partners. Third, it is simply unachievable. And last, it ignores carbon emissions; the real goal should be independence from carbon-based energy sources.


Let’s look at the economy first. We currently import about 8 million barrels of oil per day, more than 40% of the oil we use. We pay about $1 billion a day for that oil, or $350-$400 billion per year. That represents more than half of our current accounts deficit. Increased domestic production reduces our current accounts deficit and should help strengthen the dollar. This is a real and substantial benefit, though not enough to turn around our economy by itself.

The RAND Corporation estimates that about 15% of our military budget$83 billion of a total $518 billiongoes to protect access to oil in the Middle East. Would energy independence free us of that responsibility? Because of the quantity of oil in question and the dependence of our major allies, it’s likely that would maintain a strong presence there even if we were “energy independent.” There likely will be savings here, but probably not as much as one would hope.

Some sources believe that energy independence will mean lower prices for consumers. However, any increased domestic production will come from unconventional sources, such as shale oil or tar sands, which are more expensive than conventional oil. It only became economic to produce because of high world oil prices over the last several years. In addition, oil prices are tied to the world price of oil. Energy independence will not reduce consumer prices.

Most importantly, conventional world crude oil production has peaked, affecting the ability to grow the economy. This paradigm shift contributed to the fiscal crisis of 2008 and has dampened attempts to pull out of it. Unconventional oil is too expensive and its flow rates are too low to replace conventional oil or rejuvenate economic growth. No monetary or fiscal policies will reverse or overcome this fundamental choke on the global economy. The age of rapid growth is over. We are entering an era of slow or no growth.

Increased domestic oil production may help to stabilize the economy, or perhaps even to continue to grow it, albeit at a slower rate than in the past. But drilling or fracking our way to energy independence, while it may provide a temporary shot-in-the-arm, is not sustainable for long. Oil is a limited resource, and costs will only increase either of which will prevent it from being our economic salvation.

While energy certainly affects the economy (energy costs above about 6 percent of GDP have been associated with economic recessions), it is not the only factor. Thomas Friedman’s book That Used To Be Us lists five pillars of prosperity going forward: education, infrastructure, immigration policy, government-funded R&D (which includes renewable energy), and financial regulation. Others have suggested additional or different factors. We have more to gain by investing in these issues rather than throwing more money into growing domestic oil production from finite and increasingly expensive unconventional sources. The latter is just throwing money down a rat hole.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second from right, meets with Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser, second from left, at the Pentagon. April 29, 2014. The two defense leaders met to discuss issues of mutual importance.  DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler  Photo courtesy of DOD

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second from right, meets with Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser, second from left, at the Pentagon. April 29, 2014. The two defense leaders met to discuss issues of mutual importance. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
Photo courtesy of DOD


Next, let’s look at foreign policy and national security. The argument is that energy independence will ensure that our national security is not jeopardized by oil price or supply problems emanating from abroad. It will also allow us more flexibility in foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.

OPEC hasn’t used oil as a political weapon in 35 years. They apparently recognize that embargoes and price spikes hurt them as well as importing nations. That’s not to say something couldn’t happen. The Gulf monarchies are aging and autocratic, and face upheaval sooner or later. If they are replaced by anti-Western radicals, world oil security will be destabilized and/or threatened. However, this is a danger to the world, not just to the US.

We prop up the Gulf monarchies. That may be distasteful, and one may wish it weren’t so. But if we withdrew, the alternative could easily be worse not only for western energy security, but for terrorism, peace and stability around the region and beyond, and perhaps even for the prosperity of the region and hopes for democracy. It’s a case of damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

Second, the U.S. is relatively energy independent already. We are self-sufficient in coal and mostly self-sufficient in natural gas (we import about 15 percent of our natural gas from Canada). We do import about half of our oil but our major suppliers are Canada and Mexico. Only a small portion is from the Middle East.

Europe and Japan are much more dependent on imports from Russia and the Middle East than the US is. Their security and prosperity likely would affect US interests more than any energy-related actions directed against us. But increased US oil production will not be enough to make ourselves energy independent, much less our allies. If we achieve energy independence and our partners and allies don’t, we are still vulnerable both economically and in terms of national security and foreign policy.

Third, would energy independence give the U.S. more latitude on foreign policy? Let’s look at some specific cases.

· What about Syria? A major drought in 2006-2011 created food shortages and drove a million Syrians into neighboring areas. Sectarian tensions and the hope of the Arab Spring then lit this tinder. Syria has been mentioned as a possible route for a pipeline to move natural gas from Qatar to Europe as an alternative to Russian natural gas. That may have attracted some western interest, and it is possible that European dependence on oil and natural gas from Russia may have muted the West’s response. However, one of the US’ main interests presumably is to break Syria’s political alignment with Russia and Iran in hopes of alleviating its border dispute with Israel and the transport of weapons through Syria to Hezbollah. US energy independence wouldn’t make a fundamental difference, though European energy independence may have given them a chance to exert more influence.

· Egypt? One of the causes of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 was the loss of revenue as declining Egyptian oil production drove them to become a net oil importer. This caused food and gasoline subsidies to be cut, leading to steep price rises that people couldn’t afford. Egyptian energy independence would help, but not American energy independence.

· Would it help resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff? We have been independent of Iranian oil for 35 years. It was the economic, trade, scientific, and military sanctions that were successful in getting Iran to the negotiating table. US energy independence is irrelevant.

· What about 9/11? Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America” listed US support for Israel, western interference in Muslim countries, and Western values as the main reasons behind the attack. Energy independence would have made little difference. It’s doubtful that US energy independence wouldhave affected our response in Afghanistan, since that nation possesses little oil.

· Energy independence wouldn’t do anything to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since neither side has any oil to use as leverage.

· What about Crimea or Ukraine? Russia provides a third of Europe’s oil and gas, so European energy independence might have made Russia think twice but that’s not in the cards. In addition, Crimea and Ukraine are vital to Russian interests Crimea is Russia’s only access to a warm sea port, and Ukraine is Russia’s major source of wheat and is a buffer against western encirclement of Russia. What could the West do differently if it were energy independent? Would it really risk military confrontation? Doubtful. Probably sanctions, just like now. European energy independence might make them more willing to endorse stronger sanctions; US energy independence is irrelevant as Russia only exports a small amount of oil to the US (under 4% of US imports and falling).

· Sen. Rand Paul’s response to the Crimean crisis would be to drill, drill, drill. Gen. James Jones, former National Security Advisor, says the Keystone XL Pipeline should be approved to signal to Putin that energy security cannot be used as a weapon. Those kinds of responses are pipedreams. The Eurozone imports 9 mbd. No amount of drilling or fracking will make the US energy independent, much less Europe. Meanwhile, the XL pipeline will move only 800,000 barrels of oil per day. These strategies aren’t exactly threats to Russia’s oil and gas exports, or leverage to curtail their ambitions.

· The only case where US energy independence might have made a difference was the two Iraq Wars, which were unquestionably about preserving access to the world’s second largest reserves. However, even there, the sheer quantity of oil at stake may have been too tempting to have prevented US intervention.

In summary, energy independence would do little to prevent or resolve foreign policy entanglement in the Middle East and elsewhere. In addition, our fate is intertwined with that of Europe, Japan, China and others as they go, so go we. We have more to gain by modeling behavior and encouraging and assisting others to reduce their use of oil, than by trying to achieve energy independence for ourselves.


Next, what are the chances of achieving energy independence? Is it even achievable?

Energy independence is an illusion. The current US energy boom is unlikely to power a shift from energy scarcity to energy plenty.

First, world production of cheap, easy-to-produce conventional crude oil has peaked. It has been on a plateau since 2005, declining slightly. Global production of conventional oil is declining about 6% per year. We need to replace the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s production every 4 years. The large, easy-to-find deposits are generally discovered first, and we found those more than 50 years ago. The oil we’re finding today is from higher-cost unconventional sources smaller deposits of lower quality oil in more remote locations and more complex geologic formations. We have to go into coastal waters many thousands of feet deep; or mine tar sands and heat them until the oil flows; or frack shale to liberate the oil and gas; or drill in the Arctic; or grow corn unsustainably to convert into a more-dilute ethanol fuel. Capital expenditures on drilling have doubled since 2000, but oil production has risen barely 15 percent. All of this just to offset declines from conventional fields, which are accelerating.

Fracking for light tight oil in North Dakota and elsewhere has increased US production from 5 mbd to about 7.5 mbd in the past five years. But the prospects for increased production from shale oil are limited. Decline rates of shale oil wells are 50% or more in the first year much steeper than for conventional oil. That means we have to drill at an ever-faster rate just to keep up. And we’re producing the sweet, easy stuff first it only gets harder. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects shale oil to push domestic oil production another 2 mbd to a high of between 9 and 9.5 mbd by about 2020, declining after that. David Hughes, formerly with Canada’s equivalent of the US Department of Energy and now with Post Carbon Institute, projects shale oil topping off in 2016 at perhaps 1 mbd higher than today good, but still far from providing us energy independence.

Regardless whose estimate you use, the US consumes about 19 mbd of oil. We currently import about 8 mbd. New fuel efficiency standards adopted by the Obama Administration should reduce consumption by about 2 mbd by 2025 and 4 mbd by 2035. However, even under the most optimistic forecast we would still have to import 6-7 mbd, about a third of our needs and potentially more as population grows.

One telling sign about shale oil’s prospects is that the major oil corporations are not heavily involved. The drillers are primarily independent “wildcatters”, who have to finance these expensive projects with debt. If and when production declines, they could go under if they can no longer pay their debts.

Peak oil is not some crackpot idea. Peak oil is about flow rates, not how much oil is theoretically left in the ground. The US Joint Forces Command and the German military have issued reports acknowledging peak oil as an imminent threat. Deutsche Bank, Citibank, Swiss Re-Insurance, Merrill Lynch, and Toyota, among others, have also studied the issue and concluded it is real and will affect them. The only question is how steeply conventional oil production will decline and how much it can be offset by unconventional supplies. And while fracking helps domestically, it barely makes a dent in global supplies. US tight oil production and Canadian tar sands will have little or no effect in reversing or delaying global peak oil.

The peak of world oil production is intertwined with our current economic malaise. Energy fuels growth, and growth is what makes debt feasible and allows us to pay it off. So when energy production slows, prices rise and the economy slows as well, making it harder to pay debts. Combine the physical limit of stagnant world oil production with bad loans, derivatives, and other complex financial instruments that people didn’t understand, and you get mass default and a system-wide financial crisis.

The greatest threat, then, is not American dependence in a world of growing oil supply, but global interdependence in a world of shrinking supply. In the 1970s US oil was in decline, but global supply was still growing. Today, however, global supply has plateaued. Oil available for export is declining even faster as oil producers keep more for their own use.

As oil supply tightens, economies will struggle and nations will do what they can to solidify their access to remaining resources. This will cause tensions and create opportunities for conflict. We must do what we can to anticipate these problems and head them off. This may include international diplomacy allocating constrained oil exports in such a manner that would reduce competition and the potential for conflict. We cannot abandon our allies or cede the playing field to the likes of Russia, China, or Iran.

What about natural gas? Fracking has increased domestic gas production 25-30 percent in recent years, and long-term supplies are potentially more abundant than oil. Some sources estimate domestic unconventional gas supplies increasing significantly. For example, the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 is able to project US energy independence by 2035 in large part due to an expected major increase in production from unconventional natural gas (fracking). However, decline rates for gas wells are even steeper than oil wells. One-third of gas production needs to be replaced every year. In addition, to help achieve energy independence, natural gas would have to displace imported oil, which is used primarily for transportation. While natural gas can be substituted in vehicles, we would have to double or triple our natural gas production. This is not very likely: our gas supply is not endless, and we’ll be tapping ever smaller and more expensive sources. As with oil, flow rates cannot be sustained. Natural gas may have a niche role to play as a transportation fuel in the short term, but mostly gas from fracking and other unconventional sources will replace declining conventional supplies for existing uses such as home heating and industry, and perhaps to displace coal in electric power generation. There is not enough, and we cannot produce it fast enough, to do everything we would like it to do.

Alternatively, some sources believe the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is in our future. In that case, LNG exports could offset oil imports and potentially make us energy independent on a net basis (i.e., disregarding the different uses of natural gas and oil). However, that would not necessarily reduce our vulnerability associated with imported oil, depending on the source of the oil. In addition, because of the uncertainty of supplies, infrastructure needs, assured markets, and environmental issues with fracking, the siting of LNG terminals, and the movement of LNG, LNG at best must be considered a long shot.

In summary, fracking for oil and natural gas will not make us energy independent. It will have modest economic benefits but won’t materially improve national security or flexibility our foreign policy. Both our economy and national security will still be interdependent with that of Europe, Japan, and other allies and partners, regardless how energy independent we are.


Renewable energy is the other path to energy independence. Would renewables fare any better than fracking?

In terms of foreign policy, it would be about the same as described above for unconventional oil it wouldn’t have much effect unless all our trading partners and allies were energy independent also.

Economically, renewable energy like fracking would keep dollars at home. In addition, like fracking, it wouldn’t be any cheaper for consumers renewables tend to be dispersed resources that are relatively expensive to harness and consolidate into useful packets of energy.

However, renewable energy would have several other benefits. First, unlike fracking, it does hold the potential for energy independence in the long-term. Second, costs will only go down, whereas the cost of unconventional fuels will increase. Third, it creates a new growth industry for the long term, with local jobs as well as export opportunities. And fourth, it reduces carbon emissions instead of aggravating the problem.

However, renewables won’t get us to energy independence any time soon. It will take several decades to build them out, and we’re not exactly off to a fast start. It will require the effort equivalent to that of World War II, but sustained for the next 35 years rather than five years.

In addition, renewables primarily provide electricity and direct heat. They do not directly displace liquid fuels for transportation, which is precisely what imported oil provides. And anyone who thinks biofuels will ever be more than a niche fuel, much less scale up to displace imported oil, better get a reality check. We need to re-invent a transportation infrastructure and technologies that begin to move us away from oil.


Of course, there is one other “greatest threat” that happens to be deeply intertwined with oil: climate change.

Carbon emissions are the 10 billion ton gorilla in the room that nobody is doing anything serious about. A big downside of increased domestic oil production is that it siphons investment away from development of renewable energy sources, and it increases greenhouse gas emissions. And even if we achieved enough efficiency and renewables to eliminate imports and become energy independent, it would still leave the issue of carbon emissions. More than energy independence, we need to strive for carbon independence.

If we don’t begin to deal with climate change now, it will eventually overwhelm our other foreign policy issues. Without international action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we face a very disturbing future.

Climate change is already driving conflict, migration, and failed states. In both Darfur and Syria, long-term drought drove refugees in search of productive land and into conflict with neighboring populations. The increasing strength of hurricanes, triggered by more heat in ocean waters, has driven millions from their homes in the Philippines, Pakistan, and Central America. Where will climate refugees go? And what problems will that cause around the world socially, economically, politically, and militarily?

Nor is the developed world immune. Drought and fires in Russia and Australia significantly cut wheat production. Here at home, cities from New Orleans to New York City have sustained major blows from extreme weather, and California and other parts of the US are enduring severe to extreme drought. After recent storms in the UK, the unmentionable subject of triaging coastal areas and putting efforts into protecting London has surfaced.

In the long run, carbon independence will be good not just for the US but for everyone. The countries that lead the way will be the moral, economic, and political powers of the nascent solar age that is, if we can get there before we fry ourselves and while we still have the energy and financial resources to bootstrap the transition.

We need international agreement on how to reduce carbon emissions, and how to allocate the cuts among the developed, developing, and undeveloped nations. Since a process is already in place for this discussion, it should subsume my recommendation for international discussions on how to allocate declining world oil supplies even though it has yet to yield much fruit.

But someone needs to lead. Presumably that would be the world’s leader, which is still the U.S., tarnished as we have become. Rather than opposing action, we should be driving negotiations, encouraging and assisting others, and leading by example. In fact, a prerequisite to international leadership is having a strong domestic policy.

Under the principle of first doing no additional harm, two of the biggest things we can do to move toward carbon independence are to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the coal export terminals proposed on the West Coast. This would not only sequester some large and dirty carbon resources it would set us on the path and send a signal that we are prepared to lead and to take the hard steps necessary to reduce emissions.

Other priorities should be shutting down all existing coal-fired power plants, and then figuring out how to transition from oil-based transportation to whatever comes next. Ultimately transportation probably needs to go electric, which can be derived from renewable resources. But it will mean a makeover of our infrastructure, from urban design and manufacturing to transportation and energy infrastructure.

A carbon tax would help drive the transition by giving consumers a more appropriate market signal. It would also induce entrepreneurs to innovate and invest in alternative products and technologies. We have a long way to go, and the transition needs to be mostly complete by mid-century.


There is nothing wrong or bad about energy independence per se. It has modest economic benefits, and doesn’t hurt national security or foreign policy (though the benefits are negligible). However, as I have shown, the purported benefits are typically overblown energy independence is not a panacea for either the economy or national security.

The problem with energy independence is that it doesn’t go far enough. In any event, US prosperity and security are intertwined with that of Europe and Japan; if they remain energy dependent, the US economy and freedom of action cannot remain unaffected, even if we’re energy independent. Any level of energy independence must include at least our allies and trading partners (creditors, too?), if not the entire world. We cannot isolate ourselves.

Energy independence must not rely on fossil fuels; such an “independence ” is simply unachievable, and would be temporary even if it could be achieved. It would continue our dependency on a non-renewable resources that are increasingly difficult and expensive to produce, and which thus act as a brake on economic growth. It would also allow us to continue adding carbon to the atmosphere, imposing significant costs over the long term. Every dollar invested in chasing more fossil fuels is one less dollar for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Energy independence through energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy would provide more economic opportunities and benefits over the long-term, and begin to reduce carbon emissions. However, if the goal is simply cost-effective use of efficiency and renewables, or energy independence conceived simply as eliminating oil imports, it allows carbon emissions to continue grow.

Energy independence, then, must be subordinate to hydrocarbon independence, which implies energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy. Achieving even hydrocarbon independence for and by ourselves would be a good first step. But eventually it must include the rest of the world, not just the US. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation (i.e., using less) are our best hopes for an independent and energy secure future.

4/29/14: The original post of this article incorrectly stated the amount of oil that the US currently imports from Russia.

This article is a repost, credit: Post Carbon Institute.
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by EV News

The Climate Group, SEIA Join Forces to Expand Solar, Reduce Pollution

April 22, 2014 in Climate Change, Environment, EV News, Greentech, Solar

Image courtesy of SEIA

Image courtesy of SEIA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In celebration of Earth Day – and as a way to encourage the widespread use of non-polluting energy sources – The Climate Group and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) have teamed up to create a Facebook campaign designed to accelerate the adoption of solar energy in the United States.

The “I LIKE SOLAR” initiative centers around solar energy’s widespread popular appeal – demonstrated by a recent national Hart poll which shows that 9 out of 10 Americans favor more solar deployment – as well as the power of social media to spread the “buzz” about solar energy. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas, Austin found that interaction with a friend, relative or neighbor with solar can spur someone to “go solar” three times faster.

According to SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch and The Climate Group Executive Director Amy Davidsen, the primary goals of this innovative, new Earth Day campaign include:

  • Substantially increasing the use of residential solar in America
  • Significantly reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions
  • Harnessing Facebook’s powerful social network to create a virtual solar neighborhood
  • Optimizing solar messaging on Facebook and other social media platforms

According to the most recent GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013 there are 13 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity in the United States. When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, that’s enough clean electricity to displace 14.2 billion pounds of coal or 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline. Put another way, it’s the equivalent of taking 2.7 million passenger cars off U.S. highways.

“As we celebrate Earth Day, we are facing a watershed moment in our nation’s history,” Resch said. “Today, climate change is a real and growing threat to America and the rest of the world. It’s indisputable. Sea levels are rising. We’re experiencing more intense and unpredictable storms. And droughts plague the world. Clearly, climate change threatens our economy, our future progress, our health and safety, and even our way of life. Every day, the Earth suffers a little more from human neglect. We can’t wish this problem away, and pointing fingers won’t solve it, either. There’s no better way to celebrate Earth Day – and pay respect to our planet – than to embark on a campaign which can have a positive, demonstrable and measurable impact on our environment.”

Amy Davidsen, The Climate Group Executive Director U.S., said, “The recent Working Group II and III reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlight the need for rapid and ambitious scale-up of low carbon technologies to reduce emissions – the good news is that 70 to 80 percent of these technologies are available today. Residential solar is a leading renewable energy technology that will reduce a household’s energy bills and emissions footprint. The ‘I LIKE SOLAR’ initiative will capitalize on the declining costs of installation, which SEIA reported as declining by 15 percent during 2013, and create a grassroots movement to highlight the benefits of solar to a potential audience of millions of Americans.”

Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, employing 143,00 Americans and accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in 2013 – second only to natural gas.  In fact, more solar has been brought online in the past 18 months than in the prior 30 years combined. All totaled, solar is now generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to effectively power nearly 2.5 million homes.

“We are excited about this new collaborative effort,” said Resch and Davidsen. “Facebook has 180 million users in the United States and reaches 71 percent of all online adults. Creating a robust community of solar owners to share their stories and offer personal testimonials about the value of solar – both from an economic and environmental standpoint – will certainly pay dividends in our fight against pollution and climate change. Working together, we plan to make this an Earth Day that will be long remembered.”

About SEIA

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to champion the use of clean, affordable solar in America by expanding markets, removing market barriers, strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at

About The Climate Group

The Climate Group is an award-winning, international non-profit. Our goal is a prosperous, low carbon future. We believe this will be achieved through a ‘clean revolution’: the rapid scale-up of low carbon energy and technology.

We work with corporate and government partners to develop climate finance mechanisms, business models which promote innovation, and supportive policy frameworks. We convene leaders, share hard evidence of successful low carbon growth, and pilot practical solutions which can be replicated worldwide.

Our offices are in Greater China, North America, India and the Europe. 2014 is The Climate Group’s 10th Anniversary.

This article is a repost, credit: SEIA.

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by EV News

First oil from Russian Arctic shelf offshore field loaded

April 21, 2014 in Climate Change, Environment, EV News, Oil, Politics

Photo courtesy of Gazprom

Photo courtesy of Gazprom

Today Gazprom loaded the first cargo of oil produced from the Prirazlomnoye field – the only Russian project for hydrocarbons development in the Arctic shelf. Taking part in the event were Alexey Miller, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, heads of the Company’s specialized structural units and subsidiaries as well as contracting companies.

The command to start oil loading was given by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The first oil cargo totaled 70 thousand tons. It will be delivered to consumers in Northwestern Europe by oil vessels Mikhail Ulyanov and Kirill Lavrov purposely built on Gazprom’s request for shipping oil from the Prirazlomnoye field. All in all, it is planned to ship over 300 thousand tons of oil from the field this year.

It is the first time that ARCO (Arctic Oil), the new type of Arctic oil produced from the Russian shelf entered the global market. It was purchased by one of the top European energy companies; the feedstock was sold under the direct contract. The new ARCO oil was traded among oil refining companies of Northwestern Europe in the first quarter of 2014. Once the production volume of the Prirazlomnoye field is increased, a part of feedstock will be sold under long-term contracts.

The Prirazlomnaya offshore ice-resistant stationary platform secures every process operation in the field – oil drilling, production and storage, end product processing and loading. The platform design fully excludes any oil spills during production, storage and loading processes.

The produced oil is stored in the caisson with three-meter-high concrete walls covered with two-layer corrosion- and wear-proof clad steel plate. The caisson is able to store some 94 thousand tons of oil. Its safety margin greatly exceeds the actual loads. In addition, a wet method of oil storage is used at the platform. The method eliminates the possibility of oxygen getting inside the tanks and thus prevents the creation of an explosive environment.

In order to pump the end products into oil vessels, special equipment was developed for direct oil loading. To avoid accidental oil spills, the loading block system goes off in seven seconds at most. The platform is equipped with two special complexes of such a kind, placed diagonally on the opposite boards – southwestern and northeastern.

The loading point is chosen depending on a combination of natural factors – the sea surge, ice drift, currents, and wind. When an oil vessel goes beyond the sector serviced by one complex, the vessel is disconnected and moved to another facility. In order to exclude the incidental collision with the platform, oil vessels are equipped with dynamic positioning systems, which may anchor them despite the wind and wave loads.

“Gazprom has opened a new stage in the development of the Russian oil industry. The first oil produced in the Russian Arctic shelf, the first oil from the Prirazlomnoye field was loaded into the oil vessel to be delivered to consumers. From this moment the return on the investments in Prirazlomnoye will start.

Today’s event is highly important for strengthening Russia’s position in the global oil market. We increased the flexibility and reliability of oil supply to almost any part of the world,” said Alexey Miller.

This article is a repost, credit: PennEnergy Editorial Staff (Source: Gazprom).