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An open letter to the Prime Minister

Lionel Orford is new to Webdiary. He is a professional electrical engineer with a long standing interest in renewable energy, energy sustainability and climate change, and has studied the Peak Oil issue in depth snce 2004. This is his debut piece for Webdiary - thank you and welcome, Lionel.

An Open Letter to Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia

3 December, 2007

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

Dear Prime Minister,

Firstly, congratulations on your historic election win. Your promise of “new leadership” and a focus on Australia’s future are certainly needed at this time.

You have come to power at a time of a looming worldwide economic crisis; a time when we desperately need new leadership to deal with the immense problems ahead of us and an end to the deception, denial and neglect that characterised the Howard era. The news is in and it is very bad news indeed:

  • We have now almost certainly reached Peak Oil. The highest ever level of worldwide production of “all liquids” was in 2006 and conventional crude oil was in 2005. It would now take a minor miracle to raise production above these levels and the rate of decline is almost certain to accelerate over the next few years such that “business as usual” is impossible.
  • Global Warming is proceeding much faster than most scientists expected and we are completely clueless on how serious the problems will be and how fast they will unfold.

I do not address the Global Warming issue in depth in this letter because no actions by your government alone can have any significant impact on the problem as it is a worldwide problem, where extensive damage has already been done and major consequences are now inescapable. However, I must stress that I fully support major initiatives in renewable energy development, energy conservation and a global plan of action through the UN because these are the correct actions to mitigate the crises being brought about Global Warming and by Peak Oil.

Even though the effects of climate change are likely to be very serious, they are largely unknown and will play out over the coming decades. However, Peak Oil will have major consequences over the coming years – during your time as Prime Minister.

The unfolding crisis is in several ways analogous to the sinking of the Titanic. We are now at the stage where the ship has hit the iceberg and is already taking on water; its fate is sealed.

The crew is now trying to avoid panic by the passengers by announcing “All is well, the ship is unsinkable, there’s no need to launch the lifeboats”. Unfortunately most of the crew is yet to realise that this is simply not true – they are optimists, still in the denial of the dreadful truth.

There is an urgent need for recognition of the problem so as to best manage the crisis. Denial of the problem at this time will lead to inaction and a far greater disaster, just as it did on the Titanic.

Like the Titanic, this crisis was caused by gross negligence and hubris that led to the belief that the ship was unsinkable. The inevitability of Peak Oil and its effects have been known for decades, but rigorously denied, based on the belief that our technological prowess has made us invulnerable to reality.

Welcome to the job of Captain of the SS Australia.

Peak Oil and the Unfolding Economic Crisis

To those unstudied in PO, it initially seems “no big deal” - something that, to some Greenies, will stop us destroying ourselves or something, to the economists, that the market and technical innovation will deal with.

Both are extremely misguided by their respective ideologies and just flat wrong.

The bad news for the Greenies is that far from being that which will save us by reining in capitalism, it may well result in our demise through social dysfunction and the use of any available energy source, no matter how environmentally destructive.

The bad news for the economists is that the market and technical innovation is completely unable to provide solutions to the demise of its staple food source – cheap energy. It has been assumed that as crude oil declines, we will turn increasingly to “alternative” sources of oil. This is a ridiculous assumption, based on hubris and blind faith; it is completely detached from reality. There are simply no alternatives to oil – no combination that can be obtained fast enough and in sufficient quantities to replace the dwindling supply.

What we have seen over the last three years of significantly higher oil prices is massive stimulation of efforts to increase supply, but the small increases in supply have not matched the declines in the large mature oil fields. We have seen demand fall to match supply by means of poor countries simply falling by the wayside.

Now the world is guzzling its way through its trading reserves, but this can not last for long.

Very soon we will face an oil supply shortfall which results in dramatic escalation in the oil price. As the price increases, people will do what they can to reduce their usage. However, very quickly the discretionary use of fuel (trips to the coast, overseas holidays, interstate travel, etc) will be reduced to almost nothing.

At first this doesn’t sound that bad, but consider what it means for our service based economy. At best, it means a downturn and at worst, a collapse of the tourism industry, the airline industry and the rest of industries based on selling us stuff we want but don’t actually need. It means unemployment for many thousands, along with the bankruptcies and foreclosures of people’s homes.

The result will be a recession, which drives down demand to match supply through “demand destruction”.

A mild rate of decline (say < 1.5% p.a.) may result in a mild recession that goes on and on because there is insufficient oil to allow re-establishment of economic growth. The world economy would grind to a halt and a failure of the market system would probably follow.

However, it is far more likely that the economy will overshoot into a recession far more severe than what is required to cut back oil consumption to match supply. Ironically, as in the 1980’s, we would then see an excess of oil supply and a dramatic fall of the price. However, unlike the recovery of the 90’s, any economic recovery would be short lived due to significantly reduced oil availability due to depletion in the intervening period.

The magnitude of the coming decline in oil availability is truly alarming. In October 2007, the Energy Watch Group – a research body that provides advice to the German government – released a report which states that which is becoming more and more obvious; that we passed the worldwide Peak Oil in 2006.

Furthermore, EWG forecasts that the decline rate will be much higher than that foreseen by any other group, including ASPO. EWG predicts that crude production will be down to around two thirds of current production by 2020 and to half by 2030. If these well researched forecasts are correct, it is totally infeasible to reduce consumption by this amount in 2 decades, except through a collapse of our current system.

But the story gets worse. Petroleum geologist Jeffrey J. Brown has developed an ‘Export Land Model’ which models what happens to exports from the major oil exporting nations whose domestic demand is still growing while their oil production is in decline. These nations include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Kuwait, many of the smaller middle eastern oil producers and most importantly Russia – the worlds largest oil producer. The model suggests that it will only take about nine years from Peak Oil for exports from the major producers to reduce to zero. This is very much in line with what actually happened to Britain, where it took only six years from peak production for Britain to again become a net oil importer. This spells disaster for major oil importers, particularly the USA and Western Europe.

Right now, the USA seems to be in the initial phase of “The Long Emergency”, as James Kunstler has dubbed it. I think that the only uncertainties are how fast their economy will fall apart and what the reaction of the US high command will be. A collapse of the dollar seems imminent because of the converging effects of the unsustainable boom financed by ballooning consumer debt and the unsustainable flooding of the world economy with US Dollars to import two thirds of their oil as well as a flood of consumer goods. The United States is bankrupt but nobody wants to admit it. The main reasons that in the US Dollar retains any value at all are that a large number of countries hold dollars as foreign reserve, almost everybody buys their oil in dollars and manufacturing countries, particularly China, do not want to see a collapse of their largest market.

The consequences and speed of the downfall of the American Empire are highly unpredictable, but it is certain to be a disaster for the whole world, which ever way it unfolds. I worry that the US high command may do something really stupid, like launching military action to seize oil by force by attacking Iran or Venezuela for example. My only hope is that their current war for oil is going very badly and I don’t think the American people will support any new resource wars. However, this may change if the economy collapses and there is massive unemployment and hardship similar to that of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s.

What your Government can do about it.

Prime Minister, it’s time to tell the crew and passengers the dismal truth and get everybody working together to launch the lifeboats.

Step 1. Tell the Truth

No government wants to tell the truth about the dire situation because that would cause a loss of confidence in the market economy and the government itself. However, you have an obligation to inform the Australian people of the seriousness of the situation and to take action to start to deal with it. You have an obligation to desist with the “all is well” denial and inaction of the previous government; to seek frank, fearless, honest and realistic advice from departments such as ABARE and DITR rather than covering up the problems by seeking only “optimistic” advice that will maintain confidence in the market economy, as your predecessor did.

I contend that it is far better to level with the Australian people before crisis hits than to wait for it to happen and then react by saying “who could have known? – I was deceived!” Well – after verifying what I’m now telling you – you have no excuse not to know! To claim that you didn’t know would be to claim your own incompetence and the electorate would be justified in throwing you out of office at the next election.

The news must be delivered so as not to cause panic and I do see how difficult that is. The finesse required here is to term the news in terms of planning for the coming oil supply and economic problems. I note that your election campaign rhetoric did mention this very briefly.

Step 2. Start Planning for Major Infrastructure Works

When the economy goes into recession or depression, the only known way that some economic activity can be restored and unemployment reduced is by government investment – Keynesian economic intervention.

At the same time as this government intervention is required; the nation has a burning need for infrastructure to allow our society to function with an ever declining supply of oil.

I suggest that these are the most pressing needs:

  • Major investment in national electric railway infrastructure – long distance freight, high speed passenger rail and suburban light rail. A vast amount of petroleum is consumed by road freight, air travel and commuting. The majority of it can be powered by electricity. This would also enable greenhouse emissions to be significantly reduced due to the large increase in efficiency of rail transport compared with road and air transport.
  • Major investment in infrastructure to better manage our water usage. We need to return the waste water generated by our cities to the land, together with the precious nutrients it contains.
  • Major investment in carbon capture and storage. I personally don’t think this will prove technically and economically viable, but none the less, we should pursue it until it is proven non-viable. We have no other resource except coal which can be readily deployed to provide the rapid increase in the electricity we need.
  • Massive investment in renewable energy. The most promising technologies here are solar thermal with heat storage and geothermal. There is no point in developing large scale intermittent resources such as wind, photovoltaic and wave power because such intermittent generation cannot be managed on a large scale.
  • Develop oil from coal technology in Australia, with the up-front requirement that any plant built must sequester the huge amount of carbon dioxide it produces. Again, this may never be viable, but the viability should be assessed.
  • Get serious about infrastructure to allow bicycles to be used safely for commuting. This includes bikeways, storage facilities, showers and possibly public hire bike depots.

There is a problem with major government investment during the current boom times because such investment would be inflationary. However, this boom will end very soon and the planning behind such major infrastructure works takes years, with only a relatively small amount spent during the planning phase.

Step 3. Start conserving what we have left

Rationing of fuel will be one of the first steps required to deal with the coming shortages. If this isn’t done, there will be mayhem – hoarding of supplies, black market profiteering, queues for fuel at petrol stations and crucially, shortages for essential services, particularly food production and distribution. I believe that tradable quotas are the best means of rationing demand as they would allow people with greater needs to buy additional quota and reward those who conserve most effectively.

If rationing was implemented via a worldwide “Oil Depletion Protocol”, where all countries reduce their consumption progressively to match the available supply, this would mitigate the problem in the most equitable way possible, hopefully preventing a breakdown of world order. However, getting the US onboard is bound to be difficult.

The rationing system must also reserve enough fuel to implement the infrastructure works required to adapt to the post-peak world.

Step 4. Get our best and brightest onto developing long term solutions

The size of the challenge that confronts us is truly staggering. I fully support your “Education Revolution” and regard the deliberate neglect of public education by the Howard government as reprehensible.

However, there is no point training more economists and bankers for the capitalist system which will not exist for much longer.

A new economic system

The fundamental problem behind all the problems we face; the reaching of practical limits to growth in the case of oil, water and deforestation, and the consequences of the waste products in the case of Global Warming, is that our economy is dependent on economic growth and fails to function without it.

We need an entirely new economic system which must be able to

  • function effectively without economic growth
  • function to equitably share resources in a world of declining resources
  • enable the development of local communities that are largely self sufficient
  • facilitate depopulation of the planet
  • restore planetary ecosystems

Such an economy may need to be a state run economy, which have a poor track record. We need to learn from the mistakes of former state run economies and come up with something that works. I have thought long and hard about this and can offer few practical suggestions.

A new energy system

We must face reality and understand that we are dependant on large amounts of energy just to meet our fundamental needs and this cannot be changed in years or decades; it will take lifetimes. We must also understand that while there is energy available, we humans will use it because availability of energy is standard of living.

A recent Energy Watch Group report tells the bad news that coal will be peaked out worldwide within 20 to 30 years. It will simply impossible to provide the minimum energy needs of a population that lives in cities once the oil, gas and coal are severely depleted.

Current technology nuclear power (based on the fission of Uranium235) is only able to provide a relatively small part of our energy needs because viable supplies of Uranium235 are very limited. Developing this technology for Australia would be very short sighted indeed.

Hence I contend that we should get started on developing safe breeder reactors which convert Uranium238 to nuclear fuel and/or breeder reactors that convert Thorium to fuel. Uranium238 is a large resource and Thorium is a vast resource, capable of providing our energy needs for millennia. This is a large technical undertaking that will take decades, but the long term need for it is really beyond question.

Conclusion

When one fully understands the magnitude of the problems that we humans have caused ourselves, it’s tempting to just throw up your hands in dismay and just give up. Like the Titanic, we are in a situation where no desirable outcome is possible. However, we must do what we can to work for the best possible outcome.

The first step is to desist with the denial of the problems and the fantasy that everything is OK; that the market will sort it out. This involves informing the public about the seriousness of our predicament.

The second step is to get stuck in and do what we can to adapt to our new situation.

If there is any aspect of this letter on which you would like me to provide references or further information, I am most willing to provide this. Stealing your line - I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help.

Most sincerely,

Lionel Orford

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Globalisation Beta Release

Guess that means that thousands of years ago, when Ancient Egyptians had no market in South America, or Australia, or Japan, or .... we'll let's just say anywhere much beyond the immediate region, didn't quite cut it as a "great era of Globalisation", eh?

Just Wondering

Craig Rowley

And he says Globalisation 1.0 didn't happen thousands of years ago.

Does he? Thats interesting. I note there is no quotation marks - sure this is just not another one of your suggestions?

Interestingly the year 1492 was the discovery of America. And given the book is about  Americans dealing with globalization it did indeed begin in 1492 for that which we now call the United States.

As we explore America’s place in the fast-evolving world economic platform, Friedman presents not only the problems we face, but preventative measures and possible solutions.

According to Tom, it "lasted from 1492 when Columbus set sail to 1800."

Would it be possible for you to post the paragraph this quote was taken from? Perhaps I missed it but I cant find it in your link.

It's in the book, Paul

As I said, Paul, I read that in the book. 

Perhaps you could go borrow a copy from your local library or buy a copy from your local bookstore.

The Strawman May Be Your Conclusions?

Stuart McCarthy : "Paul Morrella, I see your obsession with power and control (eg police, ‘exclusion’ etc) continues. Nowhere have I seen this obsession in the context of relocalisation other than in your ravings."

If this is the case, which I doubt; it neither makes me raising this aspect a stawman argument nor an invalid line of questioning.

Once more for the record: relocalisation does not necessitate a change in the system of government at any level. There are already city/shire councils across the country and state governments already provide police forces.

Well this is the contradiction in the entire frame of this thread. The major contradiction I am attempting to get a lucid clarification on - the contradiction you claim people shouldn't be obsessive about. A contradiction that stands at so much even the casual observer could not help but drive the proverbial Mack truck through.

On the one hand you have current civilization built on this abstract notion of cheap energy (for whom?)? Which you claim is about to come to an end in the not to distant future. Which in turn apparently will leave a huge vacuum that will cause civilization to deviate from its current course - the term localization as opposed to globalization now enters the fray. The contradiction is a simple one: If cheap energy as you claim is the catalyst for globalization how can current government arrangements remain without that catalyst? The next question is obviously what will be the alternative and how will that alternative be made possible?

You reference to Roy Bean is too obtuse – can you spell out the relevance?

The relevance is what can, and did at times take place in isolated communities minus current central control. Actually I could go further and argue that up until the day of George Wallace backing down the Civil War (a war of clashing cultures and economics) was never fully resolved. Even to this day such items as the Confederate flag stir a variety of meanings and passions.

The movement of food and other goods around the world in the volumes that we see today is due precisely to the abundance of cheap energy. In the case of food, each kilojoule of food on your table consumes approximately seven to ten kilojoules of fossil fuel energy in its production, processing and distribution. In the case of imported goods made with cheap labour, the availability of fossil fuels is beginning to take its toll, for example the ongoing diesel shortages in China. As oil prices continue to increase and availability declines, so the viability of moving so much ‘stuff’ around the world will decline relative to local production.

I would advance the recent trend of mass food importation has more to do with food technologies such as canning, snap freezing etc rather than transport. The spice trade, coffee etc are all historical proof this trade existed pre cheap energy. It is much more likely the mass popularity of the private car will disappear long before this particular trade, that will of course, be supported by economies of scale.

Without cheap oil, the big, centralized, just-in-time, road transport based distribution systems of companies like WalMart are highly vulnerable.

Apart from fresh food, packaged goods are not "just-in-time". I would also argue that in the area of fresh food, even now, smaller niche companies not only hold their own they often win in many instances - and they manage this on a regular basis.

The hole in your argument seems to be the presumption that Wal-Mart will be overly affected by higher energy costs in comparison to the competition. Personally I would argue the exact opposite.

It’s amazing how few of them have figured out that one of the main reasons for this is rising transport costs and competition for food crops from biofuels producers.

Nothing amazes me about people and some of the ideas they come to form.

This, combine this with the recent enormous spike in household debt (mortgages, credit cards etc), will likely result in declining demand for the other frivolous ‘stuff’ on the shelves of WalMart et al in the next recession.

A decline in consumption (or frivolous stuff as you say) will hit much more than Wal-Mart, and be much further reaching.

So the dinosaurs of the business world will cop it from both sides of the balance sheet – increasing costs and decreasing demand. Bummer.

Businesses rise and businesses fall (and are replaced) that is the nature of a capitalist society. Whether Wal-Mart falls into the replaced category is something only the future knows.

… besieges the city gates …

Paul Morrella, your most recent reply to me contained no less than four new straw men:

1. “… you claim (current civilization) is about to come to an end in the not too distant future.”

Nowhere have I ever made such a claim. This is a gross misrepresentation. What I have consistently argued is that the future changes in modern civilization will be very different to most people’s expectations of basically a more high-tech version of today. See my comments further below.

2. “… what can, and did at times take place in isolated communities …”

Once more for the record (at risk of sounding like a broken record) – relocalisation does not necessitate that communities be isolated. On the contrary, most of the material on relocalisation emphasizes the need for greater engagement with the wider community, including governments at every level. This contrasts with the present arrangements in which many people, particularly in the outer suburbs of the capitals, live in dormitory suburbs where there are few jobs and no public transport, and they increasingly isolated by their total dependence on the car. If anything, relocalisation will reduce this degree of isolation. Your use of terms like isolation and exclusion are your own deliberate mis-representation of other people’s arguments, i.e. straw men.

3. “… (your) presumption that WalMart will be overly affected by higher energy costs in comparison to the competition.”

No, I did not make any such presumption. The argument that I made was that “without cheap oil, the big, centralized, just-in-time, road transport based distribution systems of companies like WalMart are highly vulnerable“, i.e. all similar companies will be affected, whether or not they are replaced by a competitor.

4. “The contradiction is a simple one: If cheap energy as you claim is the catalyst for globalization how can current government arrangements remain without that catalyst? The next question is obviously what will be the alternative and how will that alternative be made possible?”

I have never claimed that cheap energy is or was the catalyst for globalization. I do not see globalization and relocalisation as mutually exclusive phenomenon. ‘Current government arrangements’ are not dependent on either phenomenon. There is no ‘contradiction’ that a ‘casual observer’ could ‘drive a proverbial Mack truck through’ because I have not made these arguments. They are yours alone. Please do not attribute them to me. I would be embarrassed to be associated with them.

On the subject of globalization I will make one small digression here to address one relevant point in your post, namely: “I would advance the recent trend of mass food importation has more to do with food technologies such as canning, snap freezing etc rather than transport. The spice trade, coffee etc are all historical proof this trade existed pre cheap energy.” Incorrect. In terms of tonnage/volume, the vast majority of food imports are bulk grain, not refrigerated or processed food. You are correct that the spice trade existed for hundreds of years before oil, however these were luxury goods only –  a long way from today’s circumstances whereby entire countries of millions of people rely on imported basic foodstuffs. I have made the point elsewhere that trade will not cease, but there will certainly be an enormous decline in the volumes and tonnages of freight being shipped around the world. Further improving economies of scale will make little or no difference to this. Remember also that supplies of many of these basic foodstuffs are declining because they are being used to produce biofuels rather than feed people. We are probably just several years away from massive famines resulting from this and other factors. The executive director of the World Food Program recently called it “the perfect storm for the world’s hungry.”

I suggest that if you want to be taken at all seriously in this forum you need to refrain from this sort of school-boy drivel. To get things back on track I will provide a concise summary of my argument, answer the questions in your last reply then make some suggestions for the manner in which you may wish to contribute to the debate in a constructive way.

Here is a summary of the argument that I have been making here and elsewhere for the last few years (you can quote me on this): World oil production is at or near its peak. The economies of the developed world (including Australia) currently rely on growing world oil production, therefore peak oil is a problem that demands urgent action by governments at every level. Policies that will mitigate against the effects of peak oil include public education, phasing out existing fossil fuel subsidies, investing heavily in public transport, freight rail and renewable energy, and regulating to reduce urban sprawl (see earlier post with ‘Top 10’ recommendations for further detail).

Cheap energy comes from energy sources with a high energy return on investment (EROI), i.e. the energy yield is far greater than the energy input. Oil is cheap energy because the EROI from the larger, better, more accessible oil fields has been between 100 (ie the extraction process consumes 1 unit of energy per 100 units of energy in the yielded oil) and 30. By way of comparison, coal is about 10 to 20, wind about 5 to 10, nuclear about 5, solar about 1 to 5, tar sands about 3, shale oil about 1.5 at best, and ethanol about 1 at best. When you need to put more energy into the extraction process, you’re going backwards. Our modern, industrialized food production system has an EROI of about 0.1. Oil is therefore by far the cheapest energy source ever available to humans.

Given your Roman empire analogy you may be interested to read Thomas Homer Dixon’s analysis of the role of declining EROI in the demise of the Roman empire in The Upside of Down. Some of the number-crunching is available on his website here, but he devotes several chapters to the subject in the book. No, the Romans did not have oil; instead they relied on ever-increasing amounts of human and animal labour (food = energy) supported by a growing agricultural base. Here is the conclusion to Chapter 2, which is highly relevant to this discussion of ours:

What does this initial analysis of Roman energy tell us about humanity’s predicament at the beginning of the twenty-first century? It highlights, I believe, two critical lessons.

First, when it comes to the exigencies of energy, our rich, high-tech, Western societies aren’t any different from poor developing societies or, for that matter, from ancient Rome. All our societies require enormous flows of high-quality energy just to sustain, let alone raise, their complexity and order (to keep themselves, in the clumsy terminology of physics, far from thermodynamic equilibrium). Without constant inputs of high-quality energy, complex societies aren’t resilient to external shock. In fact, they almost certainly can’t endure. These ever present dangers drive societies to relentlessly search for energy sources with the highest possible return on investment (EROI). They also drive societies to aggressively control and organize the territories that supply their energy and to extend their interests, engagements, and often their political and economic domination far beyond their current borders – as we see today with American involvement in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

The second lesson is less obvious but more important: after a certain point in time, without dramatic new technologies for finding and using energy, a society’s return on it’s investments to produce energy – its EROI – starts to decline. The Roman empire was locked into a food based energy system. As the empire expanded and matured; as it exploited, and in some cases exhausted, the Mediterranean region’s best cropland and then moved on to cultivate poorer lands; and as its grain supply lines snaked farther and farther from its major cities, it had to work harder and harder to produce each additional ton of grain.

Today humankind is facing the same trend with many of its vital energy sources, like conventional oil, natural gas, and hydropower. We’ve already found and tappet the biggest and most accessible oil and gas fields, and we’ve already exploited the best hydropower sites. Now, as we’re drilling deeper and going farther abroad for our oil and gas, and as we’re turning to alternatives like tar sands and solar, wind and nuclear power, we’re finding that we are steadily spending increasing amounts of energy to get energy.

Even though today’s societies confront the same energy exigencies as ancient Rome, they’re different in one key respect: they’re vastly more complex and ordered, and they’re much further from thermodynamic equilibrium. Colossal flows of high-quality energy make this possible. If we can’t sustain these flows, our societies will fall back toward equilibrium – which means, essentially, that their complexity will unravel. And that unraveling, should it occur, would make Rome’s decline pale by comparison.

To conclude, Paul, some suggestions. What should governments do about peak oil? Should they implement some of my policy recommendations? What policies do you propose? More broadly, what changes to capitalist society do you foresee arising from peak oil? Do you have any other original thoughts on the subject of peak oil? I’m looking forward to your reply.

History Never Repeats

Stuart McCarthy: "Wrong. The average item of food on your table travels about 1500km. Most of the manufactured goods in your home are imported. Even your sources of entertainment are probably thousands of kilometres away. Relatively speaking, work is one of the more local things that most people do."

Well yes, a lot of things I purchase originate from different regions (purchased at local stores). Not sure that is because of so-called cheap energy (for whom?). All roads did lead to Rome; not Roman oil rigs.

Re your comments about governance, you seem to be the only one here who is obsessed with power and control. Relocalisation does not necessitate a different form of government from what already exists.

And how will localized governments be policed? Local democracy perhaps?

Local communities across the country are already markedly different from one another despite the fact that the system of local government is essentially the same.

Exclusive even?

What is required is re-engagement with local governments and other local institutions. Many of the most vocal critics of local government would struggle to name their local councillor.

If this guy were Mayor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Bean a fair assumption is that they would.

If 'community A' really wants to have a WalMart I suppose there is nothing prohibiting them from having one, but it would be rather pointless. The WalMart business model is reliant on cheap energy, so I doubt whether it will survive the next decade.

Cheap energy huh (for whom?)? I thought Wal-Mart was reliant on bulk sales and small margins (and cutting out middle man). If cheap energy were that which Wal-Mart was seeking most things would be produced in America. Over a billion people with about half that as surplus requirement is not something America has. I think you will find Wal-Mart has become reliant on good oldfashioned manpower - and lots of it. A machine may take one operator to make an item; a hundred man at half the cost with the same outcome is even better.

so I doubt whether it will survive the next decade.

I don't - why wouldn't it? Not as if higher energy costs will only hit Wal-Mart. And baulk transport will give an even bigger advantage. But of course "cheap energy" produced current capitalist world globalization http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Sea_Bubble. Cheap energy must have been found on one of those Roman roads huh?

The Army of Straw Men Marches on Rome …

Paul Morrella, I see your obsession with power and control (eg police, ‘exclusion’ etc) continues. Nowhere have I seen this obsession in the context of relocalisation other than in your ravings. Once more for the record: relocalisation does not necessitate a change in the system of government at any level. There are already city/shire councils across the country and state governments already provide police forces. You reference to Roy Bean is too obtuse – can you spell out the relevance?

The movement of food and other goods around the world in the volumes that we see today is due precisely to the abundance of cheap energy. In the case of food, each kilojoule of food on your table consumes approximately seven to ten kilojoules of fossil fuel energy in its production, processing and distribution. In the case of imported goods made with cheap labour, the availability of fossil fuels is beginning to take its toll, for example the ongoing diesel shortages in China. As oil prices continue to increase and availability declines, so the viability of moving so much ‘stuff’ around the world will decline relative to local production.

Without cheap oil, the big, centralized, just-in-time, road transport based distribution systems of companies like WalMart are highly vulnerable. WalMart is basically one large ‘middle-man’ anyway. At some point in the not-too-distant future, this very cumbersome middle-man will go the way of the dinosaur as buying fresh food directly from farmers' markets and growing much of it in the back yard (as the majority of people did until only a few decades ago) becomes a better alternative for the average person.

People are already complaining about large increases in grocery prices in the major supermarket chains. It’s amazing how few of them have figured out that one of the main reasons for this is rising transport costs and competition for food crops from biofuels producers. This, combine this with the recent enormous spike in household debt (mortgages, credit cards etc), will likely result in declining demand for the other frivolous ‘stuff’ on the shelves of WalMart et al in the next recession. So the dinosaurs of the business world will cop it from both sides of the balance sheet – increasing costs and decreasing demand. Bummer.

Omnes viae Romam ducunt

"All roads did lead to Rome; not Roman oil rigs."

Why tell us where Roman roads did not lead?

Baseload fallacy

Hi all, this is my first post so go easy! I'm fragile. ;-)

While I fully support Lionel Orford's policies, and think it's a debacle that peak oil has been kept from the public for so long, I wonder if Lionel is being a bit "old school" in his approach to renewable potential for baseload power?

I understand his traditional concerns, but are there not a number of revolutionary new baseload renewable approaches to at least providing electricity? (Not a solution for peak oil given the current liquid fuels infrastructure, but VERY useful once we electrify most transport especially rails and trams.)

Dr Mark Diesendorf has written a paper called the "Baseload Fallacy" arguing that wind of all things can get very near to baseload! Now if wind, with its fairly intermittent nature, can approach baseload, that is very exciting. I understand from the experts that wind has a very high ERoEI. The fact that it is already approaching the price of coal and may even be cheaper than coal soon (Lester Brown) says that even if wind doesn't supply all our energy the fact that maybe 50 or 60% of the grid could have such a high ERoEI source of electricity is good news.

But then there's a new approach to wave power which is invisible and just bobs up and down under the waves out at sea called CETO which is meant to be 24 hour baseload power at a reasonable price, invented by an Aussie ex oilman familiar with the marine environment. This system has no electronics at sea, and just uses the up and down energy of the waves to pump high pressure water onto land where it spins a turbine. 2000 hectares of Sydney's coast is all Sydney's energy. It's baseload, doesn't wreck any of our beaches, improves the marine environment with extra habitat for fish, and because it's 24 hour power at night it can desalinate some of that water. Just 700 hectares would give enough water+power to give Sydney all its water! I think the NSW government should try CETO just to see how its power generation works, let alone the fact that with this system you "buy one and get one free" with the desal thrown in cheap! Why build a desal plant when this also supplies power?

(Weird how the two ocean systems are palindromes... CETO and OTEC — Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. Weird.)

Then there's David Milne's reinvention of solar thermal. His plan sees straight steel panels instead of curved parabolic dishes, saving heaps of money. With liquid salt backup they are claiming to get solar thermal down near the price of coal. When we consider the government subsidies to coal ... I don't see why they shouldn't be giving those subsidies to solar thermal as well.

4 Corners had a great piece on David Milne called "Earth, Wind and fire". Also see the Ausra wiki.

To keep this short, I'm only going to mention Australia's Geodynamics geothermal plant which is under development and is also mentioned in the 4 Corners program above. (Watch it... it's worth the time.) So with all of these being potentially 24 hour power, surely a combination of wind, solar thermal in mostly sunny deserts and dotted across the nation for maximum effect, CETO wave power off the coast of all our major cities, supplying both power and water, and of course with Agrichar / Biochar (see ABC' s Catalyst)  giving us fuel and fertilizer from agricultural waste — also soaking up CO2 and adding it to our soils and preparing our soils for post-oil agriculture, I think there's good reason to be optimistic that we'll keep the grid running.

I agree with all the comments on the need for electric rail, conserving fuel, signing the Oil Depletion Protocol, Rezoning our cities around New Urbanism, and one more thing... encouraging a stable population! (More consumers = more demand for oil and everything = great environmental impact.)

Cheers

Dave Lankshear
Eclipse Now
Free peak oil posters

Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, Dave. What a positive comment - this should really fire up a few 'diarists (though I can't promise that they will all be gentle...).

Just one more on CETO

Hi all, just wanted to add the following quote to dispel any myths people had about wave power, because CETO's strategy is TOTALLY different to any other wave power thing you might have read about before. Over to their Advantages of CETO page.

CETO Technology

Advantages of CETO

The best wave energy sites in the world receive consistent swell. CETO operates across a variety of wave heights making CETO a base load renewable energy option.

  • Some other advantages of wave energy and CETO include:
  • Wave energy is a renewable, zero-emission source of power.
  • 60% of the world live within 60km (40 miles) of a coast, removing transmission issues.
  • As water is approximately 800 times denser than air, the energy density of waves vastly exceeds that of wind dramatically increasing the amount of energy available for harvesting.
  • Waves are predictable days in advance making it easy to match supply and demand. (Wind is predictable hours in advance at best.)
  • CETO sits underwater, moored to the sea floor, resulting in no aesthetic impact.
  • CETO units are designed to operate in harmony with the waves rather than attempting to resist them. This means there is no need for massive steel and concrete structures to be built.
  • CETO wave farms will have no impact on popular surfing sites as breaking waves equate to areas of energy loss. CETO wave farms will operate in water deeper than 15 metres in areas where there are no breaking waves.
  • CETO units attract marine life.
  • CETO is the only wave energy technology that produces fresh water directly from seawater by magnifying the pressure variations in ocean waves.
  • CETO contains no oils, lubricants, or offshore electrical components. CETO is built from components with a known subsea life of over 30 years.
  • Wave energy can be harnessed for permanent base load power and for fresh water desalination. The ratio of electrical generation to fresh water production can be quickly varied from 100% to 0% allowing for rapid variations in power demand.
  • CETO uses a great multiplicity of identical units each of which can be mass produced and containerised for shipping to anywhere in the world.

Good to read positive news

David Lankshear, good to end the year on a positive note. Your post shows that there are  solutions; we just need the political will to make the changes. Welcome to Webdiary, where you will find quite a few 'diarists have a military background. Let's hope our new PM has the courage to invest in the new technologies that you have pointed too. With the oil price nudging $100 a barrel again we have no time to waste.

Happy New Year to all

Localized Abstaction

Stuart McCarthy: "This entire thread is littered with your irrelevant straw men Paul. Re-localisation is not an ideology, a form of government, a 'product', or even an outcome. It's a process of change. Quite simple really."

Well that's not what Craig Rowley has been writing: "Another way of defining the concept is to say that Relocalisation is a process by which communities localise their economies and essential systems, such as food and energy production, water, money, culture, governance, etc."

Reads like a nation state to me.

The term 'local' is also relative. But to argue that the process of relocalisation won't occur you would need to establish that the era of cheap energy will continue indefinitely, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I am not arguing it won't occur or even that if it did it would be bad. I would even argue; most things are mostly local, for most people, away from work. What I am asking is what form of local government, and local rules Craig Rowley has in mind? And would this be different for each community? Like, can community A have totally different government, and rules in comparison to community B? An example; can community A have a Wal-Mart say whilst community B chooses not to have a Wal-Mart?

Straw man again

Paul Morrella: "Reads like a nation state to me."

Then you are reading something into what I wrote, rather than simply reading what I wrote.

And I'd suggest that's entirely clear to everyone reading what you and I have written.

Substance over Abstraction

Paul Morrella: "... most things are mostly local, for most people, away from work."

Wrong. The average item of food on your table travels about 1500km. Most of the manufactured goods in your home are imported. Even your sources of entertainment are probably thousands of kilometres away. Relatively speaking, work is one of the more local things that most people do.

Re your comments about governance, you seem to be the only one here who is obsessed with power and control. Relocalisation does not necessitate a different form of government from what already exists. Local communities across the country are already markedly different from one another despite the fact that the system of local government is essentially the same.

What is required is re-engagement with local governments and other local institutions. Many of the most vocal critics of local government would struggle to name their local councillor.

The key outcome from re-engagement with local governments needs to be changes in laws, zoning and other regulations. For example, agricultural land needs to be zoned properly to prevent it from being displaced by urban sprawl. Local businesses need to be given priority over large developers.

You will be no doubt be pleased to hear that some de-regulation is also required. For example, why do people have to pay a fee to be connected to the town water supply even if they don't use it? Why do some building codes prohibit the use of local, recycled, natural or sustainable building materials?

If 'community A' really wants to have a WalMart I suppose there is nothing prohibiting them from having one, but it would be rather pointless. The WalMart business model is reliant on cheap energy, so I doubt whether it will survive the next decade.

Going Local

In Going Local, Michael Shuman of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies said that Localisation:

... does not mean walling off the outside world. It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers. It means becoming more self sufficient, and less dependent on imports. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back to the community where it belongs.

The Local Secret Society

Craig Rowley: "Don't you think it's about time you give up your straw man, Paul?"

The problem here is that there is no straw man argument being made. You're the one making the case for a way of living; all I'm doing is asking a few questions. Questions you seem unable or unwilling to answer.

BTW, Paul, as you've asked "Wouldn't it be better for Webdiaryville to ignore what it dislikes rather than force what it likes?"  I'm going to have to ask: Can you not comprehend what I'd written?

Can you not comprehend that a question is not a statement?

First Paul Morrella tries to set up a straw man to pretend that localisation equals total protectionism.

Never did I do this. I asked questions as to whether it would mean certain kinds of protectionism - Questions that remain unanswered.

Then another to pretend that localisation equals what the rednecks in American Klans might make of it.

Well, rednecks also live in communities. So if you're thinking of giving communities power at the expense of the "nation state" you could in some cases be empowering rednecks. Or is there a plan you have to stop such things from happening? If so would you like to explain it?

Can he not see that underlying both the globalising and localising trends is a single force: the empowerment of individuals and communities at the expense of the monolithic nation state?

I'm not so sure about the individual gaining power. Sure the local government may gain power, and it may be through democracy. However, democracy means the majority, not the individual.

And I thought he said he was an anarcho-capitalist!

So why would I want to give power to another form of government, local or otherwise? I certainly wouldn't swap a lack of individual freedoms for even less individual freedom - and that is exactly what I'm trying to work out with the product you're gabbing about.

Relocalisation is not another 'ism' Paul

Paul Morrella: "... there is no straw man argument being made."

This entire thread is littered with your irrelevant straw men Paul. Re-localisation is not an ideology, a form of government, a 'product', or even an outcome. It's a process of change. Quite simple really.

The key contributing factor to relocalisation is the demise of cheap energy, particularly for transport. When cheap energy is taken out of the equation, re-localisation becomes an inevitability, as food, products, work and leisure have to be sourced closer to home. Sure, some societies (I suggest the smarter ones) will be proactive with relocalisation while others will have it eventually thrust upon them by default, and the process might be evolutionary or revolutionary. The term 'local' is also relative. But to argue that the process of relocalisation won't occur you would need to establish that the era of cheap energy will continue indefinitely, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Now, is it possible for you to discard your ideological baggage for a moment and reply with just one lucid post?

Not a product

Localisation is not a product, Paul.

The Fact

Anthony Nolan: "Regarding the discussion on relocalisation and globalisation I think that Paul Morrella makes a very valuable point when he rises the potential for small scale 'closed' communities to tend towards undemocratic and unfree values."

Exactly, a town of good old boys may be a democracy unless one happens to be say African-American. There is nothing that Craig Rowley has either written or linked that should make either of us less suspicious about what type of practices could take place under such "localized" conditions.

Glocalisation

First Paul Morrella tries to set up a straw man to pretend that localisation equals total protectionism.

Then another to pretend that localisation equals what the rednecks in American Klans might make of it.

Anthony Nolan gets sucked in by the second straw man and Paul desperately clings to that lifeline, foolishly sticking to his ridiculous straw man.

Can he not see that most populations are both integrating with the world economy and devolving power to local governments and communities (a phenomenon some refer to as "Glocalisation")?

Can he not see that underlying both the globalising and localising trends is a single force: the empowerment of individuals and communities at the expense of the monolithic nation state?

And I thought he said he was an anarcho-capitalist!

You Keep Hiding From The Real Issue

Craig Rowley: "However, should the newcomer make a persuasive case for the superiority of his particular use of an apostrophe between "I" and "am", then perhaps many members of the Webdiaryville community, who in the main are open-minded people, may be convinced and start writing things like..."

Why would I wish to make a case? Would it be compulsory? What happens if I said something like I' am an individual so y' all can go censored yourselves? Wouldn't it be better for Webdiaryville to ignore what it dislikes rather than force what it likes?

You dodged my question Paul

I asked you more than a week ago, Paul:

Paul, would you outline in an article for Webdiary all your "considered opinions" on what will happen in 2008, so that 'diarists can watch events unfold and check the results against your set of "considered opinions"?

BTW, Paul, as you've asked "Wouldn't it be better for Webdiaryville to ignore what it dislikes rather than force what it likes?"  I'm going to have to ask: Can you not comprehend what I'd written?

It was:

The newcomer's way of applying an apostrophe between "I" and "am" seems to all the people of Webdiaryville to be inefficient. The newcomer is adding an additional symbol without dropping one or more as would usually be done. They decide to continue to conform with their cultural norm and use apostrophes the way they were taught at their local primary schools.

However, should the newcomer make a persuasive case for the superiority of his particular use of an apostrophe between "I" and "am", then perhaps many members of the Webdiaryville community, who in the main are open-minded people, may be convinced ...

Where's the bit about the Webdiaryville people applying any force?

The Man That Told Me Nothing

Craig Rowley, well in this local culture you could play secretary - perhaps contact someone at a "localized" management level and offer dictation services? So as then I (and most probably others) might be able to understand what the hell it is you are gabbing about. I'm certain that would make this particular situation a whole lot easier.

So can Wal-Mart come to town or not? And if it did wouldn't people make it known they didn't want it by simply not purchasing anything?

Time to give up the straw man?

Don't you think it's about time you give up your straw man, Paul?

Localisation does not equal total protectionism.

Localized Gibberish

Craig Rowley

 He's presenting a misrepresentation of Relocalisation.

I' am not misrepresenting anything. You are the one doing the selling and I' am only asking questions about the product. Questions you seem unable or unwilling to answer.

Another way of defining the concept is to say that Relocalisation is a process by which communities localise their economies and essential systems, such as food and energy production, water, money, culture, governance, etc.  People in our communities would never completely disconnect from regional and global economies, they'd just find it makes better sense to buy local where possible.

Basically the way most already live. It's called globalization. So what happens in this localized "culture" when a person decides some things don't make "better sense", and Wal-Mart has really low prices?

What happens in a localised "culture"

Let's walk through an example, Paul.

Say there is a local community, let's call it "Webdiaryville", and in this community an aspect of the "culture" is to primarily use the English language to converse in a written form. Generally, the people comprising the community of Webdiaryville observe the rules of "English grammar", including the proper uses of the apostrophe.

Then one day, someone comes along and contrary to cultural norms in our little community of Webdiaryville he starts using an apostrophe between the world "I" and the word "am" in what can only be described as an almost unique way.

The newcomer's way of applying an apostrophe between "I" and "am" seems to all the people of Webdiaryville to be inefficient. The newcomer is adding an additional symbol without dropping one or more as would usually be done. They decide to continue to conform with their cultural norm and use apostrophes the way they were taught at their local primary schools.

However, should the newcomer make a persuasive case for the superiority of his particular use of an apostrophe between "I" and "am", then perhaps many members of the Webdiaryville community, who in the main are open-minded people, may be convinced and start writing things like:

"I' am going to cast off these cultural chains and use an apostrophe any damn way I want to!"

So, whatever you make of my example, Paul, I've one question for you: If people want to check the correct use of an apostrophe between "I" and "am" would it make most sense for them to go see if Wal-Mart stocks English dictionaries at really low prices or would they be better served by just observing the way most people use it in a few books borrowed from their local library?

What happens in a localised culture Craig Rowley

Is that if you split another infinitive, I come round to your house at 3 am, after I've dropped Alphonse off, and either play the bagpipes or beat you about the head with a good old-fashioned copper stick.

Malcolm B. Duncan

Beat me about the head with a good old-fashioned copper stick?

No, you will not.

Copper stick - as in a copper

Craig Rowley, in the words of the Marine Colonel in Dr Strangelove: "Are you some kind of prevert?"

Amongst my various accomplishments, at College, I was (naturally) appointed as Washing Machine convener.   That was because I was the only person in College with my own copper and the only person who had a dryer in my room (a nurse got lost in it one day - the dryer not the room - but that's another story altogether).   One cannot have a copper without having a copper stick.   I'm sure Jenny Hume would agree with me on this and we might get Angela Ryan's support as well.   Dr Reynolds no doubt remembers her grandmother's copper stick from visits to Bondi as a child.   Her mother and mine were in the same class in Primary School and everyone had a copper.

So, my lad, go and wash your mouth out.   Dirty little boy as Mrs Firmage (Jack Birney's sister) might have said to us in Transition. 

Relocalisation

Paul Morrella has set up a straw man argument. He's presenting a misrepresentation of Relocalisation.

Relocalisation, as defined by The Post Carbon Institute, is "a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture."

And there's nothing in that definition that equates Relocalisation with "exclusion" as Paul has done to set up the straw man.

Indeed the Post Carbon Institute's Relocalisation strategy is all about a network of communities cooperating, sharing their knowledge, etc

Another way of defining the concept is to say that Relocalisation is a process by which communities localise their economies and essential systems, such as food and energy production, water, money, culture, governance, etc.  People in our communities would never completely disconnect from regional and global economies, they'd just find it makes better sense to buy local where possible.

Essentially it’s about taking care of more of our needs closer to where we live.

I Didn't Do It

Craig Rowley

is not 'exclusion', so the best way of making Relocalisation work is nothing like that described by the anarcho-capitalist who has been misleading readers on very the nature of Relocalisation.

You do seem to have the acquired virus of proving my points for me.

From your own link:

Relocalization is a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture.

So what happens when a person doesn't  fit the "culture"?

Opinion

Craig Rowley : "I note that you seem to make many predictions.  Would you outline in an article for Webdiary all your predictions for 2008, so that 'diarists can watch events unfold and check the results against your set of predictions?"

I make known at times my considered opinion. "Predictions" sounds so mystic. People are free to ask for my opinion at any time.

Your "considered opinions" then?

Paul, would you outline in an article for Webdiary all your "considered opinions" on what will happen in 2008, so that 'diarists can watch events unfold and check the results against your set of "considered opinions"?

A Correction

Craig Rowley: "One or two nuclear proponents here (e.g. Jay White and Paul Morrella) have never genuinely engaged like you've been doing, so I'm appreciative of the way you are taking up my questions."

I can't speak for Mr White, however; I haven't ever been a particular proponent of the nuclear industry. It is (nuclear energy) an issue I hold very neutral views on - very similar in fact to issues such as abortion, and euthanasia. Both sides (for and against) tend to make very good overall arguments, and I personally don't think there is a right or wrong; for me it depends on the particular situation at a given time.

What I have made clear is that I believe Mr Rudd will proceed with a nuclear industry in Australia. I have always believed that would be the case. I have also believed any utterance, made by him, to the contrary was merely political gamesmanship. Time will prove me right or wrong on that particular belief.

If you believe genuine engagement with you naturally means agreement with you, than I proudly side with Mr White. And I note that you do seem to take disagreement with your ideas overly to heart.

Correction and Question

Paul Morrella: "I note that you do seem to take disagreement with your ideas overly to heart."

I don't. 

I note that you seem to make many predictions.  Would you outline in an article for Webdiary all your predictions for 2008, so that 'diarists can watch events unfold and check the results against your set of predictions?

Audio: The Perils Of Overpopulation

Dr. Albert Bartlett spends an hour and ten minutes with Electric Politics, discussing population growth and sustainability.

MP3: http://www.electricpolitics.com/media/mp3/EP2007.12.14.mp3

"It's an enormous conceit to think that population increases are everywhere and always a good thing. In the blessed tradition, however, of neo-classical economic theory (aka 'free markets') such is the miracle of rational choice that left to themselves people will 'optimize' the rate of population growth: no natural limit on population exists. Nevertheless, in reality the unacknowledged costs of population growth mostly shift to future generations. Call it the ultimate Ponzi scheme. And if you think about it, population growth is the main driver of all our planetary scale problems, from warming to Peak Oil to food production, right down the list. Locally as well, even to diluted democratic practices of governance. Although it makes no sense whatsoever to tackle any of these without due consideration of the population factor most of the time population doesn't get mentioned — the implications are so politically controversial. To help put population and its derivatives into perspective I turned to a man who's been sounding the alarm about sustainability [.doc] for decades, Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett. It was a real privilege to talk with Al, who's as close to being a prophet as anybody can be these days. Listen, and pass the word! Total runtime an hour and sixteen minutes."

From the out of the box and off the wall department

The Big Print Giveth, The Small Print Taketh Away...

Hi Evan. From Wikipedia:

Implementation

Currently, no known physical implementation of an energy tower exists. However, there are people who say that making a tower to test its capacity can be much easier. This is now being tested in the Netherlands. Projections made by Altmann and by Czisch about conversion efficiency and about Cost of Energy (cents/kWh) are based only on model calculations, no data on a working pilot plant have ever been collected. Actual measurements on the 50kW Manzanares pilot solar updraft tower found a conversion efficiency of 0.53%, although SBP believe that this could be increased to 1.3% in a large and improved 100MW unit. This amounts to about 10% of the theoretical limit for the Carnot cycle. It is not unreasonable to expect a similar low conversion efficiency for the Energy tower, in view of the fact that it is based on a similar principle as the solar updraft tower. It is worrisome that Zaslavsky claims instead that the Energy Tower would achieve up to 70-80% of the Carnot limit. If the conversion efficiency turns out to be much lower it is expected to have an adverse impact on projections made for Cost of Energy.

Potential Problems
 

  • If salt water is used, corrosion rates can be very high. Not only would the tower and the turbines be subjected to the salty humid air, but anything nearby or downwind a bit could be affected.
  • The technology requires a hot and arid climate, and at the same time access to large amounts of water. This poses restrictions to where these plants could be built, such as along the coast of West Africa, Western Australia, northern Chile, Namibia, and along the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of California. Most of these regions are remote and thinly populated, and would require power to be transported over long distances to where it is needed.

Waste, enrichment and decommissioning

Mark Sergeant, I agree that waste facilities may be best held in government hands. This more due to the time lines involved than ‘trust’ issues. I expect the existing federal government structure will have a longer lifespan than your average company. I place no greater trust in a government bureaucrat than a private company manager. Ultimately the controls securing the waste will he overseen by ordinary people, irrespective of the organisational structure that employees them.

As for funding the waste storage, I also agree that this should be funded by the power suppliers/users and not the federal government. One way to achieve this could be a levy on the supply of nuclear power, cents per MWH or something like that, a similar model to the levies on insurance used to fund fire departments. Regarding formal or tacit approval over an enrichment program. I’m not certain how long it would take or how hard it would be, but I don’t see why this would be a big issue. Argentina is already enriching uranium for purely civilian purposes (I believe the new Lucas Heights OPAL reactor is of Argentine origin), I’m sure we could at least get the US on our side. Australia’s Silex Systems is already known for its enrichment technology. In relation to decommissioning, it has been done before, I found a couple of American examples (Picqua, Ohio and Hallam, Nebraska). The American DOE (Dept of Energy) estimated that it would take 120 years for the radioactivity to “decay to levels low enough to allow the removal of all safety constraints.” Obviously you don’t just “walk away” from the site. I imagine the site would have to be overseen by an EPA and ARPANSA type body while the site remains contaminated. Funding could be from the same model as waste storage, but would obviously require some kind of Future Fund type arrangement as well. I don’t think the funding requirements are that unpredictable. We already have existing examples of decommissioning to estimate the initial cost of site preparation. We also have a reasonable idea of the site monitoring timeline involved. I see nuclear power as a temporary option (50 – 100 years worth) we can use to replace coal power, while genuinely renewable sources of base load power are developed and brought on line.

A little ghost of the past

It's about time someone charged AWB for something - what a hope we might all have that the defendents subpoeana Howard, Downer and Vaile to appear. Howard is especially fair game now that he is not in parliament and I bet the farm that Flugge will certainly call him.

After all, they employed the slug.

Pity the stupid and corrupt feds never bothered to interview them about criminal charges even though the world knows they stole $300 million from starving kids.

Let the games begin.

Broader? More comprehensive?

Craig Rowley, first thing I thought is that the American Title 10 appears a lot broader than ARPANS. For example Part 5 covers "Nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance."

Considering the US already has operated nuclear reactors for some time, I would expect (without performing a detailed comparison) their laws, rules and regulations to be far more comprehensive. Probably more specific too knowing what the Yanks are like (I work with Sarbanes Oxley on a regular basis). For example I noticed Part 100 is devoted to "Reactor site criteria." I doubt ARPANS has anything like this yet, I don't recall seeing it anyway. Maybe a future amended or new ARPANS Act could be based on the American legislation? Although the French and Japanese versions may have more to offer, I don't know?

Where are you going with this anyway?

Title 10 Part 5

You did notice that Part 5 covers what you said in the context of those programs administered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC), didn't you, Gareth?

Learning from the POV of a pro-Nuke person

Gareth, I'm seeing the same gap as you do.

When I compare the two, I find the US regulations significantly more robust and, in particular, very prescriptive. The American law regulating its nuclear industry is certainly more comprehensive than ours.

In part that's because the USA has the most nuclear experience (from the perspective of plant operating years). It's also because they have learned some lessons after a significant nuclear accident.

I’ve heard nuclear proponents in Australia speak critically of prescriptive nuclear regulation. That worries me.

You ask: "Where are you going with this anyway?"

I'm keen to learn how nuclear proponents see the issue, so that's 'where I'm going' in general.

One or two nuclear proponents here (e.g. Jay White and Paul Morrella) have never genuinely engaged like you've been doing, so I'm appreciative of the way you are taking up my questions.

A second bite on the subject.

What I find most concerning in eco-alternative discussions, that is, discussions about alternative modes of organising production and distribution, is the way that there is very little discussion about how to structure in democratic institutions and practises.  The interviews with Fritjof Capra (posted below) are entirely typical.
 
This does not mean that there are not those within the ecological movement who are not concerned to do this.  Robyn Eckersley is one of note who comes to mind as is Val Plumwood (aka "Crocodile Plumwood"). 

At the level of resource management and the production and distribution of life's necessities I have no difficulty with the idea of living within ecological constraints. To this extent then ideas like bioregionalism, which has been around for a long time, are excellent.  Bioregionalism would lead to the management of the Murray-Darling basin as a discrete ecological entity which transcends state borders and other social boundaries.  Common sense stuff. 

Regionalism could be instituted at the level of production and distribution through particular knowledge bases: engineering, water management, all sorts of bio-sciences and so on.  However, at the socio-political level there is a lot of work to do.  One necessary component of regionalism would be sustaining the nation state in order to organise inter-regional resource transfers.  Otherwise there would be a population drift from resource poor areas to resource rich areas.  There is already evidence of a degree of hostility towards so called 'outsiders' from the residents of the Byron area who, while dependent on tourism for much of their local economy, are nevertheless resentful at the intrusiveness of tourists. And then there is the matter of Queensland exceptionalism.  Can we imagine what this sort of resentment might be like if unmediated 'regionalism' became the sin qua non of social organisation?
 
So, a strong, central state is one of the necessary corollaries of successful regionalism.  Guaranteed rights to minimum subsistence would be another.  Regionalist thinking is certainly overdue but not at the expense of freedom of movement, thought or any of the other democratic freedoms.  It is necessary to remember our history ander the long struggle for the unification of Italy which, prior to that, consisted of independent and sometimes extremely wealthy city states who routinely launched wars and punitive expeditions against each other.   Had there not been Italian national identity and a unified economy (of sorts), Italy would heave been easy pickings for the Northern european colonial powers.

Let us keep that in mind.

ARPANSA

Craig Rowley: “What regulation would you advocate to ensure a safe nuclear fuel processing and power generation industry in Australia?”

I imagine the ARPANS (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety) legislation would be a good place to start. Might need to be reviewed and amended prior to approving an actual power reactor, I’m not sure how comprehensive the act is. ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) is the obvious candidate as a regulatory authority.

I would still be advocating ‘minimal regulation’ in relation to pricing (of power, in the absence of a monopoly situation) as per my points to Phil. I’ve never suggested there should be ‘minimal regulation’ of issues related to nuclear safety.

Mark Sergeant: “How do you deal, if at all, with the externalities?”

Australia happens to be blessed with the ideal environment for storing nuclear waste, with plenty of dry, geologically stable and remote locations to choose from. The Woomera Area already has some small scale facilities for storing nuclear waste. If Australia runs a full end to end nuclear lifecycle from uranium mining, to enrichment, power and waste storage, I don’t see proliferation as an issue. The nuclear material should never leave the country. I’m not sure what you mean by decommissioning as an externality. Are we talking site remediation type issues here?

Externalities

I was thinking of it internationally rather than domestically, Gareth. But since I didn't say so, the discussion has been about domestic policy and Craig's question was explicitly about Australia, then your answer is fair enough. I'd be interested on your views on the wider issue, though.

Your answer is fair enough as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far at all.

On the waste issue, Australian governments at various levels have already spent quite a bit on investigating the various options, and, on your scenario, would be spending considerably more, through, I hope to running the site(s) - I wouldn't trust a power company to do that. I don't think I'd trust the company's research, either, if decisions affecting the public were to be made on that.

Altogether, a lot of public money would be spent, and I'd be looking for an assurance that it gets charged back to the companies running the power stations. We pay, either way, but if it is as taxes then the companies have an unfair competitive advantage. This is rather like the current situation with coal and oil, except that nobody's been paying for the CO2. Taxes have been paying for the roads and the hospitals.

You can argue that storage facilities would charge for their services, thus, properly, transferring the cost to the power companies. Add a premium to recover all the public money spent on research, etc (but how do you quantify it?), and another because you have to account for thousands of years of storage (??). I don't think it will add up: storage will be charged on the basis of staff costs, site acquisition and depreciation of plant and equipment. Probably with a discount to help the industry along.

Proliferation is unlikely to be a problem with a closed cycle within Australia, Except that it's pretty clear we've been close to chasing nuclear weapons in the past, and given some of the events of the last decade I'm not confident we couldn't do it in the the future. But I'd say that if it come to that then it'll be the least of our problems.

This next bit I'm not clear on. I'll chase it up if necessary.

My understanding is that if we were to embark on a closed cycle nuclear power option, that would require uranium enrichment here, with aluminum cylinders in the centrifuges and so on. That is a no-no. I'm not clear whose no-no it is, but breaching it would set an unhealthy precedent that less responsible nations might expliot. That's an externality.

Decommissioning.

 

I’m not sure what you mean by decommissioning as an externality. Are we talking site remediation type issues here?
Mostly site remediation, but the waste issues may be an order of magnitude greater than business as usual, so are perhaps worth considering.

If, at the end of a power plant's working life, the company running it closes the doors and walks away, that is an externality. If the company has unfortunately gone bankrupt (or just gone), that's an externality to. The received way to deal with this risk is via some sort of trust fund, dedicated to remediation, with small (relatively), regular contributions which will accumulate over time with the power of compound interest. Rather like superannuation.

Two problems.

First, we don't know what it will cost. It hasn't been done yet, apart from encasing Chernobyl in concrete, and that is not a good model. A set of "Do Not Enter" signs is not a good model either, but probably favorite. One of the costs will be monitoring, into the indefinite future, and who knows what additional costs that might throw up.

Second, we don't know what we'll have available to spend. Like a super fund, you have to have faith that after thirty or forty years it will deliver. I'd rather have the defined benefit of the indexed pension, but in this case we are going beyond that. What we have here is a guarantee to pay whatever the cost. If someone guarantees it, they are talking magic.

One of the difficulties with externalites is that quite often they are not recognized until too late. We are currently hoping that it isn't too late with global warming. We pay the price whether it gets incorporated into the market or not.

Regulation of the Nuclear industry

Gareth, what do you notice when you compare the ARPANSA Act  and regulations with, say, Title 10 of the USA Code of Federal Regulations (which regulates the nuclear industry over there)?

Nature, localisation and freedom.

Regarding the discussion on relocalisation and globalisation I think that Paul Morrella makes a very valuable point when he rises the potential for small scale 'closed' communities to tend towards undemocratic and unfree values.

In reply Craig Rowley cites Fritjof Capra on the nature of nature and life.  Capra's thinking, however, contains exactly the seeds of unfreedom that Paul is worried about and that alarm me greatly.

For example, Capra's claim to have discovered the essence of both nature and life is an attempt to gain authority based on a partial and incorrect reading of both nature and life.  Capra writes:

Networks is listed as the first principle because it is it the defining characteristic of life.

No, that is not correct.  In human social life one of the defining characteristics, not the defining characteristic, is mutual interdependence between people commencing in infancy and continuing through life.  As Wittgenstein noted it is impossible to have a language of one.  But this take is considerably different to the assertion that 'networks' define life. (As an aside, Capra's claim that psychotic football hooligans are 'seeking community' is risible.  It highlights how much he knows about his discipline and how little he knows about people).

On another count Capra claims:

Nature sustains life by creating and nurturing communities.

The significant problem with this statement is the attribution of agency to nature.  Where is the entity doing this 'creation' and 'nurturing'?  This is how elements of the ecological movement initiate a slippage in categorical meaning that almost always ends up in utopian models of society in which 'nature' is is both the object of worship and the final arbiter of what is acceptable.  Unsurprisingly, natural scientists with a tendency towards social utopianism always end up as the high priests of such societies and in positions of authority.

In fact the evidence about nature tends in the other direction.  It doesn't exist.  It isn't real. What we call and conceive as nature is either a social construction deriving from discursive practices of various disciplines from biology through to art or it is in fact the remnant of human activities which have been forgotten. 

Bernard Smith, Australia's foremost art historian, said:

Nature is what the artist of the day before yesterday said it is.

In so saying he was pointing to the role of Romantic painting in bringing a new and acceptable aesthetic of 'wild' nature into being.  Prior to the Romantics the wild places of the earth, mountains and deserts, were regarded as valueless wastelands because they did not easily sustain human social existence.  These places were regarded with repugnance. 

As to nature being natural?  There are vast areas of the Earth which are today held as 'natural' landscapes and which are photographically celebrated as 'natural' beauty but which are in fact the creations of human activity.  The rolling, high heaths of Scotland and Ireland were, up until the 17C covered in dense forests.  These were removed to provide fuel for the steel industry which had not at that stage developed the technology for coking coal.  The spectacular treeless landscape of Greenland was, up until the 9C also covered in dense forests.  The Vikings cut them down.  The treeless Mediterranean basin?  Thank the Roman Empire for that.  The Australian landscape was created over at least 50,000 years of fire management by Aborigines. 

At this point we need to be very wary indeed of those making claims to have special knowledge of 'nature' and how it works.  Nature has been socialised by humans for a very long time.  Attempts to place partial constructions of nature at the centre of ecologically informed human social life need to be contested.  I would argue for a 'nature' in which human and other life forms are imbricated and immersed but not one to which we are subordinate.

Globalization With Higher Taxes

Altermondalisme (alter globalization) is a really snazzy (it is French after all) word for globalization with high taxes - similar with Kyoto being an environmental agreement where nobody has to actually follow the agreement. Sheesh, if people wanted higher taxes wouldn't you think they would just vote for them?

Localized Crap

Craig Rowley: "To me, Capra's "network concept" applied to "Relocalised" communities reflects the very core of the idea that we'll do well to "think globally, act locally"." 

Sounds to me you need a good dose of rural living (really all this is) - mending fences might even take those blues away.

People generally choose to live in large cities because they enjoy the "international" lifestyle and they enjoy being somewhat anyonmous. And they most of all enjoy the choices on offer. And the only time ANYONE is against globalization is when it directly affects them - usually in the form of competition. Similar to a loving bargain prices except when one is doing the selling.

The world and the majority of people in it act in a globalized manner. It has become as natural to people as breathing. Having the local little Hitler turning up on one's doorstep demanding how one will act is not the type of living I would be seeking out. A healthy dose of get the censored off my property would soon be the order of the day in that instance.

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