Monday 30 May 2011

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink

This is more official bad news - again from Dr Fatih Birol of the IEA.  Straight from todays Guardian
Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach
Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.
"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."
Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path ... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100," he said.
"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce."
Birol said disaster could yet be averted, if governments heed the warning. "If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding," he said.
The IEA has calculated that if the world is to escape the most damaging effects of global warming, annual energy-related emissions should be no more than 32Gt by 2020. If this year's emissions rise by as much as they did in 2010, that limit will be exceeded nine years ahead of schedule, making it all but impossible to hold warming to a manageable degree.
Emissions from energy fell slightly between 2008 and 2009, from 29.3Gt to 29Gt, due to the financial crisis. A small rise was predicted for 2010 as economies recovered, but the scale of the increase has shocked the IEA. "I was expecting a rebound, but not such a strong one," said Birol, who is widely regarded as one of the world's foremost experts on emissions.
John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said time was running out. "This news should shock the world. Yet even now politicians in each of the great powers are eyeing up extraordinary and risky ways to extract the world's last remaining reserves of fossil fuels – even from under the melting ice of the Arctic. You don't put out a fire with gasoline. It will now be up to us to stop them."
Most of the rise – about three-quarters – has come from developing countries, as rapidly emerging economies have weathered the financial crisis and the recession that has gripped most of the developed world.
But he added that, while the emissions data was bad enough news, there were other factors that made it even less likely that the world would meet its greenhouse gas targets.
• About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction, the IEA found. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These "locked-in" emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.
"It means the room for manoeuvre is shrinking," warned Birol.
• Another factor that suggests emissions will continue their climb is the crisis in the nuclear power industry. Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.
"People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide," said Birol. The gap left by scaling back the world's nuclear ambitions is unlikely to be filled entirely by renewable energy, meaning an increased reliance on fossil fuels.
• Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled. "The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago," said Birol.
He urged governments to take action urgently. "This should be a wake-up call. A chance [of staying below 2 degrees] would be if we had a legally binding international agreement or major moves on clean energy technologies, energy efficiency and other technologies."
Governments are to meet next week in Bonn for the next round of the UN talks, but little progress is expected.
Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said the global emissions figures showed that the link between rising GDP and rising emissions had not been broken. "The only people who will be surprised by this are people who have not been reading the situation properly," he said.
Forthcoming research led by Sir David will show the west has only managed to reduce emissions by relying on imports from countries such as China.
Another telling message from the IEA's estimates is the relatively small effect that the recession – the worst since the 1930s – had on emissions. Initially, the agency had hoped the resulting reduction in emissions could be maintained, helping to give the world a "breathing space" and set countries on a low-carbon path. The new estimates suggest that opportunity may have been missed.

The IEA changes its mind on Peak Oil

This week’s interview of the International Energy Agency’s chief economist Dr. Fatih Birol on National radio  has had a profound effect on me.  Not only was he giving official confirmation of what we have known for some years now - namely, that world crude oil production has already peaked, about five years ago, but the interview raised about as many questions as it answered.

Foremost amongst these was: why was Dr. Birol making such a stark statement, albeit buried in lots of statements that seemed to be more face-saving self-justification than fact through the antipodean media? (the ABC and Radio New Zealand).  

When I  looked on the internet I could not find any other references to this in the international media except for an article by George Monbiot who was content to merely refer to the ABC interview. I  further checked by sending an email to John Vidal, environmental editor of the Guardian and he wrote back to me: “(It) has been mentioned but we haven't interviewed Fatih directly yet.
We need ‘four Saudi Arabias’ to make up the shortfall.  I  knew I had heard this before so I checked.  Mike Ruppert said so in the movie Collapse, quoting the late Matt Simmons who had in fact said “three Saudi Arabias”.  Then he said “we are the first ones” to make a proper study of oil reserves; I knew that this work had been done years before by people like Colin Campbell, Matt Simmons and many others.

The language reminded me of Brezhnev-era reports that euphemistically warned of “shortcomings”in the Soviet economy just a few short years before collapse.

Something just didn’t add up.  Rather than rest with my indignation I decided to check a few things up.
Back in 2005 the executive director of the IEA Claude Mandil dismissed Peak Oilers as “doomsayers”.  He wrote"The IEA has long maintained that none of this is a cause for concern. Hydrocarbon resources around the world are abundant and will easily fuel the world through its transition to a sustainable energy future." 

The 2007 the IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) report stated: “World oil resources are judged to be sufficient to meet the projected growth in in demand to 2030” and predicted a rate of decline in output from the world's existing oilfields of 3.7% a year. This, it said, presented a short-term challenge, with the possibility of a temporary supply crunch in 2015, but with sufficient investment any shortfall could be covered. 

Yet, just a year later, at the end of 2008 the Agency was acknowledging Peak Oil and projecting a  peak in 2020. and a projected rate of decline of 6.7%. On the basis of this new report environmentalist George Monbiot who writes for the Guardian went to Paris to interview Dr. Birol and there is an excellent video    with excerts from this interview.You can see the consternation Monbiot - he has to repeat his question several times.

In his  account Monbiot writes:
So the IEA had better be right. In the report on peak oil commissioned by the US department of energy, the oil analyst Robert L Hirsch concluded that "without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs" of world oil supplies peaking "will be unprecedented". He went on to explain what "timely mitigation" meant. Even a worldwide emergency response "10 years before world oil peaking", he wrote, would leave "a liquid-fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked". To avoid global economic collapse, we need to begin "a mitigation crash programme 20 years before peaking". If Hirsch is right, and if oil supplies peak before 2028, we're in deep doodah

Well, in 2011 it does seem not only that Robert Hirsch is right but that we have already peaked.  If the earlier predictions place us in deep doodah where does the new reality place us?


It turned out that there was a real story behind all of this.  I found an article from the Ecologist of last year which explained how a young 22-year old politics student Lionel Badal uncovered fraud at the IEA.  This was also covered by an earlier article in the GuardianKey oil figures distorted by US pressure says whistleblower” (5)  I then found an account of the whole thing written by Claude Badal himself. (6)

It appears that  members of the Agency working on the 1998 WEO made a detailed assessment of future oil production  and  reached the conclusion: that oil production would peak well before 2020, around 2014.

The members of this team were Jean-Marie Bourdaire, Ken Wigley, Keith Miller and Fatih Birol.

Right from the start the team was under intense pressure and scrutiny so had to cloak their findings in some sort of code:
“A structural problem with oil as identified by the IEA team would undeniably question the sustainability of the current economic model. During the study, the IEA team realised the extent to which economic growth was correlated to the availability of abundant and cheap energy. Hence, once oil production would stop to grow and tensions appear, economic growth would become far more difficult to sustain, if not impossible. The IEA team was effectively walking on eggshells” (7)
So much so that one journalist David Fleming talked of a meeting with Fatih Birol in 1999 held in secret in a neutral location.  Apparently he even looked over his shoulder before talking.

They decided that they had to use coded language - they could not just blurt it out and say ‘We are looking at a big, permanent oil deficit, for which we can offer no solutions'.

In an open letter the Guardian Colin Campbell explained the background. (8)
In order to soften the message the team decided to add a ‘balancing item” called “unidentified conventional oil” that would suddenly appear, enough to  cancel the shortages.  This “balancing item” was a code for shortages.  It seems that pressure was brought to bear from the United States who had a vested interest in maintaining the fiction that oil was plentiful, and whose EIA reached the conclusion (without the detailed analysis of figures) that:
“ Oil prices are expected to remain relatively low, and resources are not expected to constrain substantial increases in oil demand through 2020... In 2020, world oil consumption is projected to exceed 115 million barrels per day....there is now widespread agreement that resources are not a key constraint in satisfying increases in world oil demand to 2020.”

It transpires that by revealing, albeit in code, the real situation the authors of the 1999 World Energy Outlook had got into trouble and intense pressure was put on the IEA by elements of the US administration:  Bourdaire, would have to leave the Agency while Wigley retired and Miller also left the IEA. The sole person from this team left was Dr. Fatih Birol who would go on to become the Agency’s chief economist.(9) 

It seems that he may have learned from this experience; the 2000 WEO, which he designed and managed suppressed any warning of a coming oil crunch. “The (2000) Outlook views the world oil-resource base as adequate to meet demand over the projection period... One need expect no global ‘supply crunch'.”

For almost a decade, until 2008 any findings that indicated that there was a problem with oil production or that discoveries were lower than expected were suppressed or ignored.

It seems amazing looking back now that the IEA could have told its member states in 2004 that oil prices were “assumed to remain flat until 2010, and then to begin to climb steadily to $29 in 2030 (sic)”.

The International Energy Agency was set up after the oil shocks of the 70’s to help prevent another oil shock and to provide a counterbalance to OPEC.  It has provided annual World Energy Outlooks for its member states that would help countries develop their energy policies. Basically the IEA was supposed to be a trustworthy and authoritative source of information.

Because of pressures from the US administration governments and businesses  from member states were basically misled until 2008 that oil prices would remain low - key years in which countries could have made decisions to develop renewable energy sources but didn’t because these energies were made to look uncompetitive compared to oil.


To me this statement by Dr. Birol that conventional oil has already peaked is of huge significance even if it is only confirming something that people in the Peak Oil movement have already known for some time. It seems incredible that this information from an Agency that has such importance for world governments should be largely ignored.  It seems that nobody wants to look at the true implications of this.

To quote George Monbiot again:
“To avoid global economic collapse, we need to begin "a mitigation crash programme 20 years before peaking". If Hirsch is right, and if oil supplies peak before 2028, we're in deep doodah

Well, in 2011 it does seem not only that Robert Hirsch is right but that we have already peaked.  If the earlier predictions place us in deep doodah where does the new reality place us?

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Peak Oil on National Radio - again!

Listening to Nine to Noon on National Radio this morning I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the words "Peak Oil".

Kathryn Ryan interviewed the chief economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA) Dr. Fatih Birol.

Interestingly this was followed immediately by a discussion with Australian correspondent Ray Moynihian on climate change and responses to it it Australia.

Dr. Birol acknowledged that the production of crude oil has already peaked, and put the crisis down to a combination of:
1) Demand from rapidly developing nations such as China and India
2) Geological constraints - ie. Peak Oil
3) Geopolitical considerations such as conflict in North Africa and the Middle East which make the markets nervous.

He does say that demand exceeds supply and that the "age of cheap oil" is over.  He does say (only when cued by the interviewer) that we need "four new Saudi Arabias" to make up the shortfall which he says is "a tall order"

I was slightly bemused to hear this as well as the claim that the IEA were the "first" ones to make a serious study of oil supply.  I heard the quote about 'four Saudi Arabias' from Michael Ruppert in his movie Collapse and he got it from the late Matt Simmons in 2002 who correctly identified what was coming some years back.

I suppose we will have to forgive Dr Birol from claiming the credit for belatedly acknowledging Peak Oil, but there are other huge holes in what he has to say.

Having said that we need four Saudi Arabias he goes on to repeat the nonsense that we can replace oil with  more "efficient" use of transport, electric cars and biofuels. He does say that this is "challenging".

He does make some connections with the state of the world economy which he describes as being "on fragile ground"; he seems to think that the answer to this is to somehow increase the amount of oil being drilled, to increase the amount of oil and to release nations' emergency stockpiles.  This, he says will "increase oil in the market" and "comfort the market".

All of which confirms what the Peak Oil movement has been saying all along.

P.S. There has also been an article reprinted from the Independent in todays New Zealand Herald

This is what he said to the Guardian's George Monbiot back in the beginning of 2009

Sunday 22 May 2011

MIchael Ruppert on National radio

The Sunday programme on Radio New Zealand this morning carried Chris Laidlaw's interview of Michael Ruppert, which is available here.

Friday 20 May 2011

Strauss-Kahn, Greece and the US dollar

A major article came through the Guardian today, posing the question whether if Greece reneges on its debts as a result of a failure to give it further bailout money whether this could act in the same way as the collapse of Lehman Brothers did in 2008.

"It was less than three years ago that the failure of Lehman Brothers sent tremors through the global financial system, threatening the existence of every major bank and triggering the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. As Europe's policy elite met for fresh crisis talks today, the dark fear that haunted everyone around the table was this: if the bankruptcy of a middling-sized Wall Street investment bank with no retail customers could have such dire consequences, what would happen if the Greeks decide they have had enough and renege on their debts?
Could Greece, in other words, be the new Lehmans? Given the structure of modern financial markets, with their chains of derivative trades and their pyramids of debt, there is only one answer. Greece could certainly be the next Lehmans. The likelihood that a Greek default would pose a threat to the future of the eurozone as well as to the health of the world economy means it has the potential to be worse than Lehmans. Much worse."
Furthermore a report from Russian Today indicates that the charges against Strauss-Kahn, former head of the  IMF could have come as a result of pressure from the dollar lobby that need the dollar to remain as reserve currency and to prevent the sale-off of US treasuries to allow the printing press to keep running and prevent the financial collapse of the United States.

Thursday 19 May 2011

What you won't see reported in the press ... unless you look hard enough

One thing that I am certain of more than anything else is that we can't rely on our media to get any sense of the mess that we are finding ourselves in.  In the world of NZ television and print media climate change and Peak Oil may as well not exist and I wouldn't  hold by breath about the media helping to make sense of what is happening in the world economy.

For a while now I have been using the Internet and checking in with CollapseNet just about every day.  They do a stirling job with their News Desk which is a digest of daily news stories taken mostly from conventional media that is relevant to understanding the road to resource depletion and economic/social collapse that we seem to be on.

I have decided, for my own satisfaction to take what I consider the most important stories from the past two weeks or so and to try and bring these stories together to attempt to paint a picture of what is happening around us while most of us sleep.

I have looked at major stories from around the world; I am, however aware that there are things happening in other countries that do not get reported and examples of individual and group suffering that just evades our attention.

The economic situation in Europe continues to worsen as the sovereign debt crisis spreads from Greece to Ireland, then to Portugal, Spain and Italy

Denmark has violated EU rules by reintroducing passport control at its border

One report from Reuters said that there is a risk of the crisis spreading to the ‘core countries

During this week the French head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested for alleged sexual assault.  It looks very much as if this was a set-up, either from another rival group within the IMF or within the context of French politics.  Even such an august publication as the Telegraph is willing to entertain ‘conspiracy theories

The arrest has sent shock waves throughout Europe.  He was supposed to be in Brussels on Monday for a meeting to discuss a possible further 60 billion euro bailout for Greece. 

He strongly supported policies that would help Greece avoid restructuring its massive public debt. and wanted to give Greece, Portugal and Ireland the time needed to put their accounts in order, and he also argued for softening the austerity measures associated with the bailouts for those countries. possibly providing a counter to the strict austerity policies favored by northern European leaders.

There have been several articles on the effects the economic crisis and austerities are having on Greeks

In the meantime one in five Spaniards under the age of 30 is unemployed and David Cameron has said that there are a million 16-24 year-olds without work in Britain.

The main story of the week has been the floods on the Mississipi as the floodwaters make their way down towards Louisiana and the coast bringing devastation to crops along the way.

Not only this but floods were threatening the oil and gas industries

Meanwhile other parts of North America are being threatened by crop failures due to wet weather while Texas is being threatened by the worst drought in years with wildfires.

The Canadian Wheat Board said fields are so muddy that only 3 percent of grain has been sown, compared with 40 percent normally. At the same time, drought left the  Kansas wheat  crop in the worst shape since 1996

The other big news of the week  is that the United States has now reached the its debt ceiling; the pension funds are being looted and it is probable that the debt ceiling will be raised allowing things to carry on for a bit longer, but also placing the possibility of default by the world’s largest economy on the agenda.

Meanwhile the super-rich continue their plunder and are getting richer.

Commentary from Mike Ruppert - politically, the US government and President Obama appear to be more and more out-of-touch and in recent time we have been sold the idea that the US and NATO are bombing the hell out of Libya to help a democratic rebellion; then that they have rid the world of Osama bin Laden.  Ever seen "Wag the Dog"? And now Obama has announced that they are going to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) despite the fact of ecological destruction; despite the fact that there is only 10% of estimated oil and that melting permafrost will make the process difficult.


Even though the consequences of the March earthquake and tsunami and the ongoing environmental catastrophe at Fukushima have completely disappeared from our headlines events in Japan continue apace.

At Fukushima the Japanese are losing the battle and there has been acknowledgement of a meltdown in the sense that the core of reactor no. 1 has melted through the containment and the fuel rods are dry meaning that radiation levels are too high for the reactors to be worked on. Meanwhile there are problems with the other reactors such as a lean of the whole structure of  reactor no.4.

This has been well documented elsewhere and I can highly recommend commentary by Arnie Gunderson of Fairewinds Associates.

Plutonium has been found more than a kilometer away from the site indicating that the surrounding area is likely to be permanently uninhabitable.

Japan has closed down another nuclear facility at Hoamaoka because of earthquake risks.

There are lots of stories coming out of Japan about energy shortages largely as a result of the accident in Fukushima. and factories have had to cut back production 
There have been consequent shortages of componentry manufactured in Japan which has affected industries in the US, Germany and China.  One example is Toyota which has cut back production of its plants in China. because of disruptions in supply lines

One plant, Renesas Electronics Corp which produces 40% of the world's automotive microcontroller chips is expected to be at 50 % capacity by mid- July.

Meanwhile Japan’s ten regional utilities more than doubled their crude oil consumption in April from a year earlier as they boosted output at thermal power plants.

Back in April Mike Ruppert gave his take on what he thought the downline effects of events in Japan might be.  Although he takes a decidedly apocalyptic view of things he may well turn out to be not that wrong, and what he said then is certainly being borne out by what is unfolding now.

Meanwhile China, on whom we are pinning so much hope is not without its problems.

One of China’s biggest headaches is energy shortage.  There has been shortages of gasoline in both China and Russia such that both have banned exports.

In the meanwhile there are shortages of electricity in many parts of the country (Hunan is one example);  and the country's press has been full of stories such as this one on a looming energy crunch, or this report from Reuters

The other big issue for China is water and its shortage, especially in the capital Beijing. Here is an article about drought in China

In the meantime inflation is a huge problem for China and the government moved again to head off inflation by requiring banks to hold more of their deposits in reserve, the eighth such move since November, despite little evidence that measure is taming prices and worries that it is depriving needy smaller companies of capital.

One article discusses the major problems in the Chinese economy and compares this situation with that in the United States prior to the Great Depression.

1) Massive disparity of wealth, income and education
2)  Rapid industrialization and displacement of labor
3)  Opaque and misleading economic and financial data
4)  Massive build-up of leverage across the “rising class”
5)  Bubbles in both residential real estate and fixed asset/infrastructure development
6)  Accelerating and uncontrolled growth in credit
7)  Expected transference of economic growth to domestic demand.
8)  Inflation and accelerating price/wage spiral

The major ongoing story is, however likely to be one of resource shortages combined with environmental problems such as water shortages as well as climate change (drought and flood)

At the moment events in the Middle East are dominating our headlines, especially events in Libya and Syria.

Whilst the contribution of Facebook and Twitter and even Wikileaks have been given plenty of coverage, little attention has been paid to resources in general and to food in particular.

Egypt, for example was one of the major importers of Russian wheat; when the Russians banned the export of wheat after their drought and fires last summer Egypt suddenly had to find a new source of grains.  Food prices have increased hugely in Northern Africa and there have been recent articles talking about the role played by food  problems in the area

In a recent article the Military Council in Egypt has warned of economic collapse

One story that certainly has not made it into the mainstream is the decline in oil production capacity in the Middle East.  The IEA has confirmed that actual production is declining (see the recent ABC documentary).  The flow of oil in that part of the world is less than guaranteed.  The Libyans have announced they won’t be exporting any oil until the war finishes and the situation in Saudi Arabia is far from stable.

There has been an increase in violence on the West Bank and on Israel’s borders especially with the marking of the Nakba in Palestine.
There have been amazing shots of young Palestinians crossing the border from Syria into the Golan Heights as well as demonstrations in other areas

Basically the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are failing; Egypt is falling into chaos.  The question is what happens if Arab anger gets directed back towards Israel and the Camp David accord which has determined much of Arab-Israeli relations for the past 30 years is challenged?