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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.


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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Not enough hospital or aged care beds.

Alan, let me assure you a dysfunctional hospital is better than no hospital. George Jelinek in todays Age.

Because there are few available spaces in emergency, people bank up in the waiting room. Worse, if ambulances arrive, they may not even be able to unload their patients on to a hospital trolley. This is called ramping. What could be more indicative of a health system in crisis than a patient being rushed to hospital by ambulance with a life-threatening condition not being able to get into emergency because it is full? This is the place where our health system now finds itself. Despite what experts rightly say is a world-class standard of medical practice, many patients are unable to access that care in a timely fashion.

So what can we do? On the demand side, it is time we as a community addressed the growing problem of unhealthy lifestyles. Our reliance on medical care to undo problems once they have developed will be unsustainable as the projected increase in chronic conditions occurs. Our reliance on pharmaceuticals is proving enormously costly to our community and mostly they don't resolve the problems anyway. Prevention is our most effective weapon. Healthy eating, exercise and finding some balance in work and leisure will, in the long-term deliver better results. We need to increase funding for public health programs. We need to promote wellness as an important aim, not just absence of disease. On the capacity side, we have gone too far with rationalising hospital bed numbers. We urgently need more hospital beds, and soon. And we urgently need more alternatives to hospital care. Hospital in the home programs need support and we need many more aged care places.

For too long we have denied that there is anything wrong. We need to see an open acknowledgement that these problems exist. Perhaps then we can have a concerted approach to dealing with them one that does not get caught up in federal-state rivalry and arguments. Surely our ill, injured and vulnerable deserve that.

George Jelinek is professorial fellow in the Department of Medicine at the University of Melbourne and Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Western Australia.

We blame the patients for an unhealthy lifestyle. I would think that the baby boomers are far healthier than their parents.  Any way what does it matter if your  last years  come  at  aged seventy or aged eighty? Bottom line is old people get sick. The main cause of stress in our hospitals is the lack of aged care places. With the baby boomers about to reach the age where they will require aged care places, this will only get worse.

dysfunctional hospital

John Pratt, How can you say "a dysfunctional hospital is better than no hospital".  When are you going to accept the fact that Labor governments are more concerned with taking bribes from developers than providing services to the public. Wait till the NSW inquiry starts to throw up names of Federal Labor MPs involved in this scandal.


 At today's community cabinet meeting in Narangba on Brisbane's northern outskirts, one young boy pleaded with the Prime Minister to help his sister who suffers from type 1 diabetes.

Harry Rolls asked Mr Rudd to set aside funding for people suffering from the form of diabetes also known as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes.

He told the Cabinet his sister and other sufferers are in desperate need of insulin pumps which cost $8,000 each.
The $2.6 million to be spent on the "The Tree of Knowledge" would purchase 3500 of these pumps. Knowing the way government projects have a habit of blowing out 5000 pumps could be purchased.

Community Cabinet Meetings

It's a good thing that the Rudd Labor government has introduced community Cabinet meetings, so that this young boy and others have an opportunity to be heard by the PM and his ministers, isn't it Alan?

In Cairns we call this "Ramping"

DAVID Koch, the co-host of Australia's most popular TV breakfast show, has not only promised to back The Cairns Post's campaign for a new hospital, he's demanding answers.

"We were stunned when we were showed that photo in The Cairns Post with all the ambulances parked out front," the popular Sunrise personality said from Sydney yesterday, referring to Monday’s ambo gridlock outside the
Cairns Base Hospital emergency department.

"I'm going to show it to the Health Minister (Nicola Roxon) when she comes on the show tomorrow morning (today) and I'm going to say ‘10 ambulances, it's a disgrace, it's un-Australian, what are you going to do about it?’."

"But now with Kevin Rudd announcing a new (hospital) inquiry we thought ‘come on!’. No more words, we don't want another taskforce, we want action."

He said the most urgent action was to bring hospital bed numbers in Australia to the same 85 per cent average occupancy level of other industrialised countries, which meant an extra 5200 beds must be provided across the country at an estimated cost of about $1.3 billion.

A common site at the Cairns Base Hospital (CBH) is a line of ambulances waiting to be admitted to the emergency department. Treating the critically ill and accident victims in the car park. At the same time emergency doctors and are struggling to cope with a full to overflowing emergency department. Not only are patients likely to die while waiting, but with up to 10 ambulances and crew held up for hours in the hospital car park there is often no ambulance available to attend to emergencies. The nearest alternative hospital is in Townsville 400 kilometres away.

The Cairns local government area has an estimated resident population of 130,594, with a median age of 34 years, and is growing at an average rate of 1.8 per cent.  Cairns is located about 1700km from Brisbane and about 2500km from Sydney by road.

As a major tourist centre Cairns' population is well above the 130,000 residents. Thousands of tourists put extra pressure on the hospital and emergency services. One of the problems with CBH is that there is a six month waiting list for aged care beds in Cairns: as many as 60 beds are taken up by patients waiting for aged care places. This is both a federal and state government issue. Both governments need to act now, people are dying. Cairns needs a second hospital immediately.

New hospital

John Pratt, if you speak to the NSW Labor government they have a hospital in Bathurst that they would gladly give away - it is brand new and nothing works in it. It's good that Rudd is going to have an inquiry, that should stall things for a while and it will look as though he doing something about the health system. Somebody should invite the stupid bastard to visit any emergency dept of any hospital in the country, and he will see for himself what needs to be done. Sadly a lot of people are going to die before anything gets done.

Bathurst has it good compared to Cairns

Alan, glad you raise the Bathurst Hospital. Here are some statistics for Bathurst.

Bathurst Base Hospital 

This hospital is situated on two sites, the main campus has 101 beds and services the acute needs of the community.

The Services available are:
Intensive Care/Coronary Care
Emergency Medicine
Drug and Alcohol

Bathurst Rehabilitation Centre

The Bathurst Rehabilitation Centre is located about 5 kilometers from the Base Hospital and has 28 beds and provides a full range of rehabilitation services supervised by a specialist in Rehabilitation Medicine. The services include: Physiotherapy Occupational Therapy Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program Social Work Speech Pathology

St Vincent's Private Hospital with 35 beds is located in Gorman’s Hill Road.

The number of hospital beds in Bathurst  is 164. Population 30,000.

See here: Bathurst Hospital

The number of hospital beds in Cairns is 464 for a population five times that of Bathurst.  If Cairns was to be on par with Bathurst we would need and extra 400 beds. We dream of an oncology unit.

If a patient in Bathurst needs urgent treatment Sydney is only 200 kilometers away. Cairns is 1800 kilometers north of Brisbane.

If I lived in Bathurst I would keep my mouth shut. They don't know how good they have it.

Never had it so good

John Pratt, The new $98 million Bathurst hospital is so dysfunctional it is dangerous, doctors say, forcing the Health Department to halt demolition of the old one and raising serious concerns about the future of all hospital redevelopments.

[SMH extract] 

Surgeons have indefinitely suspended routine elective surgery at the new Bathurst Base Hospital, warning that serious design and construction flaws - such as an inadequate emergency alarm system and a pipe that leaked raw sewage into the maternity ward - are putting patients at risk.

It is the latest in countless public hospital blunders that have forced the Health Minister, Reba Meagher, to call a Special Commission of Inquiry (a bit like Rudd's inquiry) into acute care services in NSW, which began last week.

Significant problems
with the new Bathurst hospital include possible hanging points and access to sheer drops outside the mental health unit - which has remained empty - and major communication failures with pagers and mobile phones.

Dr Halloway said the hospital, which opened three weeks ago, was unsafe. "It's mainly accident and emergency and the surgical features that are the problem. The reason that we had to cut off elective surgery is simply … so we could cope with the dysfunction," he said.

"We can't deliver a proper standard of patient care … the community in Bathurst don't have the health care facility that they had a couple of months ago."

The inadequate alarm system was "a pivotal safety issue" but also only half of the intensive care beds could be seen from the nurses station due to poor design, he said.

You say  "If I lived in Bathurst I would keep my mouth shut. They don't know how good they have it". Try telling that to the people of Bathurst.

Future of Transportation

eGov monitor (by Policy Dialogue International) has been publishing an interesting series on the future of transportation.  The second part was published yesterday. Here's a taste of it:

Apart from crossing peak oil, another major event happened around 2005 - the emergence of a new generation of batteries - Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) - able to sustain more charge cycles and based on safe chemistry that can be put into a car. For the first time the total cost of energy for electric transportation has crossed under the cost of fuel when calculated on a per kilometer basis. The fundamental technology and economic drivers behind these two events will continue to drive the price vectors for fuel and electricity further apart in favor of the electron and battery. Within a decade, the cost of energy for a single year of fuel supply for a combustion car should cost more than the cost of energy for an electric car’s entire life, even when taking the cost of battery into consideration. The “cross-under point” had gone almost unnoticed in the world of automotive design which was focused on the hybrid-car race, yet its effect will change the industry in the most disruptive economic shift ever experienced in history. Cars are not complete products, as they would not provide any function without fuel and variety of services (such as maintenance). As the price of crude oil increased, it drove the price of fuel at the pump higher to become a much larger component of the total cost of car ownership. To illustrate, an average European car costs 12,000 euros to acquire, yet over its 12 years of life will require approximately 30,000 litres of fuel costing roughly 35,000 euros (assuming fuel prices do not continue to increase even further). In other words, we now have a container for energy built into the car - the fuel tank - costing US$ 100 to build; yet our energy costs three times the price of the car.

Contrast that with the electric vehicle where the container for energy, in this case a battery, costs roughly 7,000 euros, yet the electricity to run the car costs 2,000 euros for the entire life of the car. In the aggregate, energy to drive an electric vehicle now crossed under 10,000 euros. Historic trend lines for battery over the last 25 years shows a 50% price per kWh improvement every five years, stemming from technological and process improvements. We have seen similar effects in the chip industry, where Moore’s law predicted chip improvements amounting to 50% reduction every 18 months. Similarly, we see the price of renewable generation declining over the years, to the point where large solar installations cost today 2 euros per Watt, shedding price roughly at the same rate of 50% every five years. Projecting forward to 2015, we should see the cost of the battery and solar generation sufficient for a car reaching combined cost of 5,000 euros. By the end of the decade that price should drop to 3,000 euros with the battery and solar generation both outlasting the car. At some point during the next ten years, the total cost of electric energy (with battery) for a car will equate the cost of fuel for a single year. We predict that at some point in time before that next cross-under point the entire car industry will tip to electric drive as the main design principle for new cars.

Twenty Twenty stunt to feature A-list cappucino set. Natch.

As predicted, federal stunt coordinator Kevin Rudd's 'Twenty Twenty' game show is to feature an A-list of the nation's Annointed, heavily qualified by their rich potential for media sound-bite and picture opportunities.

Among the unintelligentsia tipped to take part in the gabfest are Cate Blanchett, David Gyngell, Kerry O'Brien, Siimon Reynolds, Collette Dinnigan, Eddie McGuire, Kerryn Phelps, Dick Smith and the Sass & Bide girls.

Should look like the lunch hour rush at Bar Caluzzi.

Trendy opinions on this-and-that will swirl and banter amongst the snug indoor booths and al fresco sidewalk tables as the smart set and 'it' girls extemporise on their 'vision thing'.

They should take a tip from the Tropicana and set up a big screen in the Domain to cater for crowds wanting to attend the star-studded event.

"Peak oil" is morphing into "peak food"

Was just helping folk

Here's some of the "new logic" for you.

People smuggler Ali Al Jenabi has been refused refugee protection by the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans. But then released from Villawood detention centre.

"The Rudd Government deplores people smuggling. It is a heinous crime that puts lives at risk, undermines Australia's border security and weakens our immigration system," Senator Evans said.

"For those reasons I have refused Mr Al Jenabi's application for a protection visa on character grounds."

Senator Evans then issued a removal-pending visa and released Mr Al Jenabi from Villawood detention centre until he is removed.

Mr Al Jenabi's solicitor, Stephen Blanks, said he was "perplexed by the same hateful jingoism that characterised the last government" in Senator Evans's statement.

Mr Al Jenabi has argued that his people smuggling had a humanitarian basis.

Well, it's working for David Hicks. So, why not?

Welcoming Back Old Faces

Eliot Ramsey: "The gabfest will be the venue where it rolls out its actual policies."

Maybe he should invite Mr Howard? He did after all write the first years of policies. If Mr Rudd is really lucky he might just fill in years two but also three for him.

Jerry Springer to chair 'Twenty Twenty gabfest?

Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says the '2020 Summit' planned by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd shows he has no ideas of his own.

"I'm very dubious that 1,000 people, if they're truly given the chance to have their say, are going to come with a conclusive coordinated position," he said.

"I do perceive that what we will end up with is some sort of multi-faceted hothouse gab session with an outcome very similar to Jerry Springer."

Well, of course the 'Me too' Rudd government has no policies of its own. I mean. it campaigned largely by simply re-stating the Howard government's policies as its own.

It's even keeping the troops in Iraq. Well, most of them.

The gabfest will be the venue where it rolls out its actual policies. The policies Peter Garrett alluded to in the "once we are in, we'll change everything" gaffe on the plane.

The hand-picked 'delegates' will be given the opportunity to endorse them by acclamation.

They'll be rewarded in some way. Perhaps Orders of Australia for service to the community? Arts funding grants? Sabbaticals in Tuscany?

That sort of thing...

The content is core - we are moving together one stunt at a time

In a further sign that the 'Sorry' stunt is shaping up as a potential embarassment and long term liability for the Swan-Gilliard government, the Invisiminister Kevin Rudd is still trying to badger the Leader of the Opposition into supporting the draft Act of National Self Abnegation sight-unseen.

Selfishly, Brendon Nelson insists on seeing it first.

"The core content of it will be absolutely clear," Mr Rudd said. "You either support an apology or you don't, and the language of it and how we approach it in overall terms should be clear as the week progresses."

Yeah, doesn't effin matter what's in it, Brendon. Just support it. Bastard.

"We believe it is important that we have an opportunity to see precisely what is going to be said, to whom the apology is being given, on whose behalf it is being given and then, obviously, to understand those consequences," Dr Nelson said.

God-damn, Brendon. Just sign on the dotted line ...

Meanwhile, in another frank personal admission that the government lacks substance, Mr Rudd is planning a national blame-storming session to divert attention.

Loosely based on the popular SBS television programme Insight in which representatives of the Annointed Bourgeoisie are asked to state the bleeding obvious in feel-good, broad brush-strokes, the Invisiminister will be inviting a hand-picked gaggle of acolytes to come up with the vision thing for him.

"Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's expects to have concrete policy ideas from his 20/20 summit worked out by the end of this year."

Well, perhaps. And it's better than having nothing at all.

My tip? The gabfest will;

  • include a few strategically placed token Hansonites for comic effect so the Annointed can demonstrate their innate moral and intellectual superiority in 15 second sound-bites for the evening news.
  • be useless.


Say? Wasn't that the name of that American quiz show at the centre of a national scandal because the questions were rigged and the answers were all faked?

No, wait. that was Twenty-One. Similar.

Original sin - one way we could be Sorry personally

Given that the Sorry Day expression of national contrition will purport presumably to be made on behalf of the entire nation, this suggests that what we are being Sorry about constitutes the equivalent of a kind of secular national Original Sin.

And that saying 'Sorry' is like a secular Act of Contrition we all as good Australians might, or even should make?

Will the apology also be binding on future generations, seeing as they, like the current generation of Australians making the apology, did not take part directly in the events being apologised for?

Perhaps, in keeping with that analogy, could 'Sorry Books' be placed  in Town Halls around the country so, when feeling Sorry, we could pop in and seek absolution by jotting down an apology?

Maybe council clerks suitably trained could take the role of 'Confessors'?

Just a thought.

Audio: Simmons, Hirsch and Rubin update on peak oil

From Jim Puplava at Financial Sense Online:

FSN Expert Roundtable
An audio update on the peak of world oil production from Matthew Simmons, Robert Hirsch and Jeffrey Rubin

MP3 | Real | WMP

Chairman, Simmons & Company International
Author, Twilight in the Desert

Senior Energy Advisor at MISI and consultant in energy, technology and management

Chief Economist, CIBC World Markets

Now say cruel, discriminatory, wrong, inhumane, trauma...

"The report said that besides sorry, "other words asked for included stolen, cruel, discriminatory, wrong, inhumane, trauma, intergenerational impacts, and genocide".

Federal Minister Jenny Macklin's suggestion that the Opposition merely endorse Government draft legislation sight unseen introduces an interesting wrinkle into the fabric of the Westminster system, doesn't it?

Also, by sidestepping debate on the draft Sorry proposal, you avoid discussing in Parliament what might be done about the various "intergenerational impacts and genocide".

St Valentine's Day massacre will be Sorry spectacle...

Talking of Government by Gesture, the February 13 Sorry Day stunt is going to backfire on poor old Kev, too.

Here's my personal prediction. Given Kevin's complete lack of personal charisma and tendency to speak in bland, repetitive clichés, the February 13 Day of National Self Abnegation speech will be a complete let-down for Aborigines and the butt of sarcastic ridicule by everyone else.

The next day, February 14, prominent Aborigines will throw it back in Kev's face as worthless tokenism.

They will then demand then that we apologise for something else instead.

Perhaps for poisoning their water holes or using Aborigines as slaves on cattle stations or hunting them for sport. And fair enough.

Nothing worthwhile will eventuate in terms of Aboriginal education, health, longevity, deaths in custody, housing, employment, etc, that isn't already being done or wouldn't have been done anyway.

The Sorry speech will become a festering sore. And Kevin will go down in history as 'Sorry' Rudd.

Then there'll be another media sensation about child molesters in outback communities.

Shell admits to peak oil. Should be Headline News.

Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our maneuvering room. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to population growth and economic development, and Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.

As a result, society has no choice but to add other sources of energy - renewables , yes, but also more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands. Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue.

Shell chief executive Jeroen van der Veer sent this email to all the company's staff this week. I noticed this story in the page 38 of the business section of The Australian newspaper this morning. It should have been headline news. The world is running out of oil and we must move into alternatives urgently. The meltdown on the stock market witnessed this week will be nothing compared to the falls we can expect when oil is touching $200, $300, or $500 pbl. Who will be able to fill their petrol tanks when ULP is selling for $5 or $10 a litre? Gas guzzlers of today will be given away. If we add to the price of petrol a carbon tax we will be lucky if we will be able to buy petrol under $10 a litre. The effects on the global economy will be enormous. Real estate in the suburbs will fall. Who will be able to commute to work at $100 a trip? Inflation will soar as the cost of energy skyrockets. Food will be much more expensive as the cost of production and transport increases. The time to act is now while we still have the ability to move to alternatives.

Who the bell tolls for. And who's for a drop of Yarralumla?

"The world's first commercial cargo ship partially powered by a giant kite is setting sail from Germany to Venezuela."

So ironic that its maiden voyage is to OPEC-thug Hugo Chavez's home turf. Filled with imports, but promising fewer ways of paying for them...

Talking about losers, what's the odds on the replacement Governor General for Michael Jeffrey?

My bet is some kind of Gender & Ethnic Equity Token appointment will be absolutely imperative from a PR standpoint.

Kathy Freeman would be good, but that might upset Anthony Mundine.

Maybe a Chinese Australian or other Asian homeland culture woman?

How about Professor Ien Ang?

Or even better, Aziza Abdulhalim OAM. She's Muslim, of Asian background and a woman.

But that might upset Anthony Mundine.

Probably some flunky within the ALP will be high on the list of sinecuristas, though. 

Any suggestions? That won't upset Anthony Mundine.

In the news

The SMH had two stories relevant to this thread today.

The first was Australia among worst climate offenders. It is talking about our ranking on the Environmental Performance Index, and it's not good. The SMH report doesn't manage to mention our ranking of 46, possibly because 46 out of 149 might seem middling-good if you don't think about our wealth and compare it with others in the table. The reference to Kyoto is misleading, too. The index is based on "25 indicators of on-the-ground results...", not on official proclamations. (That's what it says in the summary, anway.)

In the 2006 ranking we rated 20/133. The fall from 20th to 46th reflects a small fall (80.1 to 79.8) in our index, and increases in the index for quite a few other countries. That's evidence for Howard's feet dragging on environmental issues.

The other story was EU decree of deep carbon cuts raises US ire. The main EU material seems to be at Boosting jobs and growth through climate action and Building a global low-carbon economy. I don't see any references to "the plan's most controversial element", but it has been obvious for some time that the EU is moving towards some form of taxing imports on their carbon cost. Quite rightly!

Container ship saves $1,500 perday using wind power

More on the ship using wind power to save on fuel costs and GHG emissions.

The MV Beluga SkySails, a 400-foot container ship that departed Bremerhaven, Germany, Tuesday night bound for Guanta, Venezuela, carrying components of a particle-board factory for the worldwide shipper DHL. On the way out of the harbor, it lofted a kite-like sail that will be deployed any time the winds are right, cutting 10 or 20 percent or more off the fuel use for the trip, possibly saving as much as $1,500 a day in fuel costs, according to officials at Beluga Group, the owner of the vessel. Of course, this would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Some video of a test “sail” is below.

Wind power makes a comeback at sea

The world's first commercial cargo ship partially powered by a giant kite is setting sail from Germany to Venezuela.

The designers of the MS Beluga Skysails say the computer-controlled kite, measuring 160sq m (1,722sq ft), could cut fuel consumption by as much as 20%.

They also hope the state-of-the-art kite will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, as it tugs the ship.

Fuel burnt by ships accounts for 4% of global CO2 emissions - twice as much as the aviation industry produces.

It may not be as picturesque as a tall ship, but the return of wind power to help cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions it a step in the right direction. 

Follow Cuba's example

Ian MacDougall says:

"The axe is most likely to fall heaviest on the use of brown coal in electrical power generation, which means the Victorian mining and power industries."

Well, Kevin's going to have to slash a lot of jobs to get within cooee of his budget surplus target and deliver on his tax cuts blather. Assuming those, along with the looming interest rate hike(s) don't strangle off growth altogether.

So, assuming he wasn't just fear mongering with all the stuff he said about Global Warming, perhaps one way he can start winding back on growth and CO2 emissions is by getting rid of Victoria's mining and power industries?

This might be something he could discuss with the Peak Oil mob?

Here comes Eliot, right on cue

Eliot Ramsey, it seems you can be relied upon to respond to just about any post with something guaranteed to be disputably relevant, but undisputably rabid. How on Earth you manage to find a Cuban connection to the issue of my post this morning I can only guess, and my guess is that it is something you may have been reading.

Like the previous prime minister, PM Rudd is a right winger. He stands for all the things that you do: you know, God, Queen, Empire, and everything that is right, proper and holy. Only Rudd is a right-winger in the context of the Labor Party, and Howard is one in the Liberal Party.

It seems to me that all the prominent climate change deniers (Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt, Michael Duffy, Miranda Devine etc) are right-wingers, and that they somehow instinctively feel that if CC is true, it threatens everything that is in the aforesaid category of right, proper and holy. Therefore at first glance and on those grounds alone, for them it had to be wrong. But by attacking the science of the issue, they rapidly got themselves out of depth. The smartest backtracked and fell quiet, and the less bright stuck to their guns and are at this moment going down with their ship.

Their concern is understandable, as the more CC bites, the less it can be business as usual in an ever-expanding economy. An important limit to growth has been met in the ability of the Earth's natural systems to absorb CO2 emissions. But the good news for the business brigade, of which I am one, is that while investment in coal and the power stations that burn it may not be such a good idea at the moment, there are plenty of greenhouse-friendly investment opportunities shaping up.

Actually, the Cubans are well placed to get into production of what looks like a big-time future fuel: ethanol. This can be made not only from raw sugar syrup, but cellulosic alcohol can be made from cane bagasse. Best of all, initial experiments indicate that the alcohol produced contains significantly more energy than that used in the process to produce it.

Because meeting greenhouse emission targets will necessitate replacing coal-fired power stations with gas-fired ones (not conversion; replacement) there will be economic dislocation, whose political effects will be in inverse proportion to the extent the hardship is spread over the whole population. This after all is the basic principle of the insurance industry.

Kevin Rudd will have some hard decisions to make soon: I predict Professor Garnaut's report in the middle of this year will not be bland steady-as-she-goes stuff. John Howard would have faced the same problem eventually, but with bells on, as he and GWB were the last climate change deniers running governments, and well offside with world opinion on the matter.

But hold on Eliot ... I think I hear a left winger approaching...

Iemma's Dilemma Over Power Sale

The Stern Report  states that in order to keep global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above what we have now, which in itself is still a pretty fierce rise in temperature, then certain economic consequences follow:

“If no action is taken to reduce emissions, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could reach double its pre-industrial level as early as 2035, virtually committing us to a global average temperature rise of over 2°C. In the longer term,
there would be more than a 50% chance that the temperature rise would exceed 5°C. This rise would be very dangerous indeed; it is equivalent to the change in average temperatures from the last ice age to today. Such a radical change in the physical geography of the world must lead to major changes in the human geography
– where people live and how they live their lives…”

 “The risks of the worst impacts of climate change can be substantially reduced if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere can be stabilised between 450 and 550ppm CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The current level is 430ppm CO2e today, and it is rising at more than 2ppm each year. Stabilisation in this range would require
emissions to be at least 25% below current levels by 2050, and perhaps much more. Ultimately, stabilisation – at whatever level – requires that annual emissions be brought down to more than 80% below current levels…”

 “Costs could be even lower than that if there are major gains in efficiency, or if the strong co-benefits, for example from reduced air pollution, are measured. Costs will be higher if innovation in low-carbon technologies is slower than expected, or if policy-makers fail to make the most of economic instruments that allow emissions to
be reduced whenever, wherever and however it is cheapest to do so.
It would already be very difficult and costly to aim to stabilise at 450ppm CO2e. If we delay, the opportunity to stabilise at 500-550ppm CO2e may slip away.”

To reduce Australia's CO2 emissions significantly at all requires action on the front where pollution is heaviest and cost benefit effect is best. The axe is most likely to fall heaviest on the use of brown coal in electrical power generation, which means the Victorian mining and power industries.

For the Federal Government to do this would either send the privatised Victorian power industry broke, or expose the Federal Government to litigation and compensation payouts from and to that same industry.

This must be a concern also for the would-be power privatiser NSW government of Morris Iemma if this is anything to go by.

When it comes to the Paradox of Thrift....

The Invisi-Minister, Mr Rudd, is opting for low growth and a budget surplus. But is still insisting on sticking to the tax cuts blather:

"Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan says $30 billion worth of tax cuts promised during last year's election campaign will not be touched under a new plan to slash budget spending.

The Government is planning to set a new budget surplus target of 1.5 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product, a move which would give the Government a surplus of about $18 billion."

So, what's that? About $12 billion in public service job cuts?

Still, the actual Prime Minister, Mr Swan, gives credit to his predecessor:

"When it comes to the tax cuts they have been earned by the Australian people," he added.

"They worked hard to make our economy strong, they deserve incentive in the tax system and these tax changes which we put forward for a long period of time will provide the incentive for people to work harder and for people to re-enter the workforce."

Remember that folks. The economy was strong when Kevin got a hold of it. And you all had jobs.

Chris Richardson from Access Economics says the savings from the new plan will not be enough to stop another official interest rate rise.

And do you know something?

Richard: "Har Har!  And to think that Letterman was off air for so long for want of a gag-writer..."

Are you kidding? I'm actually beginning to pine for Mark Latham. At least he had a personality of some sort...

Australian Prime Minister nears shoreline after weeks at sea

I heard someone on radio say that the new Australian Prime Minister will start work next week.

Has there been another election?

Richard:  Har Har!  And to think that Letterman was off air for so long for want of a gag-writer...

Well, honey, you're the star...

Ian MacDougall: "Oh dear, Eliot Ramsey:  Oh dearie me. If you can’t answer the messenger, then shoot the messenger. If you can’t shoot the messenger then try to smear the messenger."

 Well, Ian, you did nominate that particular messenger. I'm accepting him on face value.

Actually, I'm undecided about nuclear energy, but obviously it has a better track record than fossil fuels safety and health wise.

Okay, let's see who's right in the UK? Will they run out of uranium and wish they had gone solar, etc? Or not?


Eliot Ramsey as the Deranged Plastic Surgeon

Eliot Ramsey: "Well, Ian, you did nominate that particular messenger. I'm accepting him on face value."

No. To be accurate, you linked to a Telegraph article about a proposal to build ten privately operated nuclear reactors in the UK, the most pertinent comment in that paper's comments section being the highly critical one from the electrical engineer Vivian J Phillips, whom you don't accept on 'face value' at all. Like a deranged plastic surgeon, you tried to build him a new face, as grotesque as you could make it, but then you failed at that as well.  Now you want to walk away from it and pass the buck somehow to me.

"Actually, I'm undecided about nuclear energy, but obviously it has a better track record than fossil fuels safety and health wise."

You may have been told that, or have read it somewhere perhaps, and we may all do likewise if we discount the as-yet-unknown long-term effects of the radioacative fallout over half of Europe following the Chernobyl disaster, and the as yet to be determined health costs for future generations arising out of problems of storage of both low and high level radioactive wastes already created. (The plutonium will need storage for the next 250,000 years. That means it has to be kept in safe custody by the next 10,000 generations of human beings on the surface of this planet.)

For my part, I would not be so rash.

As I have done you the courtesy of following your link to the UK nuclear reactors article, and of giving you my response, I wonder if now at this late stage you could trouble yourself to read the article I originally linked to, namely The Phantom Solution, by (retired) Monash University physicist Alan Roberts. You can go straight to it from here, in pdf or HTML.

I would like to know how you can reconcile the position you take with the issues it raises.

All I am interested in re this whole carbon crisis  is the true story on the magnitude of the problem, the ways it can be effectively addressed, and the time actually available to us to do it. I have long since ceased to doubt that there is a problem.

Nothing I have read to date gives me any confidence that nuclear power is the answer, and by side-tracking huge capital into the coffers of the nuclear industry, it will likely make an effective address the more difficult.

Authoritative commentary

Ian MacDougall, is that the same Vivian J Phillips who once wrote a book about the History of Early Oscillography and who taps out letters to the Telegraph about them wasting his time with movie reviews and reports of weddings?

If so, I cannot imagine why the UK government doesn't take him into their highest counsels.

Oh Dear, Eliot: What Can I Say?

Oh dear, Eliot Ramsey. Oh dearie me. If you can’t answer the messenger, then shoot the messenger. If you can’t shoot the messenger then try to smear the messenger.

I’d say yes, on the face of it the Vivian J Phillips who complained of the Telegraph film review centring on the fate of the dog ‘Nigger’, faithful companion of Wing Commander Guy (Dam Busters) Gibson, is probably one and the same, lui meme. (From the link and for the record, he wrote: “Dear Sirs, What damn fool wrote that? Coupled with the piece on weddings, the Telegraph must be scraping the bottom to come up with stories like that. Editor, please take note. You have a famous newspaper to manage, not the Daily Mail. [Posted by Vivian J Phillips on August 28, 2007 5:25 AM] )"

There you have it. Condemned out of his own early morning word processor, as if writing books on aspects of the history of electronics (Waveforms: A History of Early Oscillography, 1987; Early Radio-Wave Detectors, 1979) was not already enough to damn him. After that, who would heed a bloody word he says about these marvellous new nuclear power stations the UK government proposes to have privately built and operated (on the ‘privatised profits, socialised losses’ principle)?

Really Eliot, I have read a considerable number of your (216 +) posts on Webdiary, some of which have at times convinced me that under that veneer of condescending cynicism and sarcasm there is a mind capable of intelligent discourse. Please don’t destroy that impression; it has been painstakingly put together over all those posts. If you do, what will I have left?

More to the point: what will you have left?

Silly old UK Labour government too stupid to understand issues

Ian MacDougall , well obviously the UK Labour government thinks "there may be some future for nuclear power", short term or otherwise, because they're building ten more nuclear power stations.

And regards to the supply of uranium being "just as limited as that of coal or oil", well, so are coal and oil and that hasn't stopped them from being developed. Or rather, over developed, the underlying reason why the UK government is opting for increased nuclear power generation.

With respect to a nuclear power industry developing "a political momentum", how is that any different from other, perhaps more damaging, power industries, including hydro-electricity as you say?

And if you think nuclear energy's  "waste disposal problem has yet to be solved", then neither has that of the vastly more lethal fossil fuel industries. Or have we suddenly forgotten how fossil fuel waste is disposed of? Pumped into the atmosphere?

You say:

"The British Government in my opinion would be best advised to try something else, though clearly the nuclear industry lobbyists have got to it."

Of course. They wouldn't have taken into account any of the concerns you mentioned, and as a Labour government, they'd be easily "gotten to" by industry lobbyists. Like those French governments of the last 60 years.

And what "something else" should they try?

The UK nuclear power smoke & mirrors

Eliot Ramsey, as I think the Roberts paper I linked to makes clear (and which I take it you have declined to read), apart from its own considerable CO2 generation in the mining and processing of the nuclear fuel, the costs involved in decommissioning the reactors (which as the UK Telegraph article you linked to makes abundantly clear, the private companies building these things in the UK will be able to pass to the taxpayers when the time comes, along with the public liability if there is a disaster [of probability always greater than zero]) and the still unsolved problems of long-term waste disposal, the fact of the matter is that the construction of these reactors can only be a short-term solution because of the limitations of nuclear fuel supply. And the more countries there are in the world prepared to take up this option, the shorter the supply overall will be.

Did you read the comments below the Telegraph article? Most are overwhelmingly enthusiastic (though of course it is a biased sample of the UK population), which tells us nothing about the long term electrical feasibility of the project, but a hell of a lot about its short-term political feasibility as far as PM Gordon Brown is concerned. However, the comment I considered to be the best reasoned comes from “an engineer from the power industry with over forty years experience in producing the world's largest power plants.” He is a man who favours one of the despised ‘alternative energy sources’ namely the proposed Severn Barrage, which its planners want to use to tap into the huge tidal power available in the Severn Estuary. I quote it here in full:

“Dear Sirs,
This predictable piece of information is masked in political dogma, and not based on good engineering practices. There is also a blatent attempt to minimise the already known costs of de-commissioning a nuclear power plant which immediately puts nuclear power out of the competitive market for power generation. Coupled with the neat little arrangement whereby depreciation on the finance is given preferential accomodation over conventional fuels to 'even out' the cost of fuels spread over the competition i.e. solid, liquid and gaseous fuels, then this becomes a sordid and extremely expensive joke. The very suggestion that the contractors will not be liable for the mess they will leave behind is describing the former attitudes that have ruined large tracts of Britain in the unregulated pursuance of profit in a variety of industries both during and after the industrial revolution. How many Aberfans' does one wish to entertain?

As for the production of primary power generation I have often quoted the available research which would guarantee eight gigawatts of power from the Severn Barrage which apart from the initial build, costs nothing in fuel costs. A strange silence hangs over these proposals and when enquiries are proposed, one is told that such decisions must come from Parliament, as by law anything over five megawatts requires central government authority!

With such huge resources of shining green free power that would also sweeten the drab estuarian environment, have a drive over the old Severn suspension bridge if one needs encouragement, it would appear that the nuclear industry lobby has finally succeeded in pulling off another huge confidence trick and be able to walk away once this disastrous policy is visited upon the populace of Great Britain.

This is not only the opinion of a concerned citizen but that of an engineer from the power industry with over forty years experience in producing the world's largest power plants. This truly must be stopped because it is a faulted arguement and always accompanied with the threat of impending doom if we do not listen to this vociferous and well connected lobby. There are better ways than going nuclear, and one only has to look at the excellent pumped storage facility of Dinorwick to realise that we do have the capability and ingenuity to produce well engineered power plants.

This proposal will require uncountable millions to decommission when their life span of forty years is completed. This is the most outrageous project ever attempted by this well heeled lobby. One trusts that there are like minded people out there with similar backgrounds who will join in protecting our future from such crass decisions that seem to be supported by those gentlemen of both parties in Parliament. The alternatives have been ignored for over forty years due to latent pressure from such lobbying. Let us illuminate the subject properly. This case cannot stand the scrutiny of informed public debate, and we must not allow the smoke and mirrors of Blairite policy making to cloud the issues. There is no Doomsday because we choose not to embrace nuclear power and there is a viable alternative rising and falling with the highest tidal capacity on the planet that cannot be threatened by any import restrictions; we do not have uranium ore in Britain, any Middle Eastern policy change, or posturing from a Russian oligarch, or terrorism for that matter. What then, are we waiting for? Eight thousand megawatts of power is a hefty chunk of the national grid and it's all home grown. I say again. What are we waiting for?

Posted by Vivian J Phillips on January 11, 2008 4:06 AM”

Eliot, you ask me “And what 'something else' should they try?" A combination chow mien, Eliot, made up from wind, solar-thermal, photovoltaic, tidal, hydroelectric, biofuels, geothermal, and nuclear if the waste disposal problem is first solved. There are some promising developments also in fusion power, but practical commercial generators are a long way off still. All except nuclear fission reactors are long term, open-ended energy sources.

Labour Government proposes ten new nuclear power stations

"Up to 10 nuclear power stations could be built in Britain by 2020 - after the Government paved the way for a new era of energy supply."

"A looming energy crisis caused by unstable supplies of gas and oil has forced the Government to back nuclear which will also help meet global climate change targets."

 .... and these nuclear power stations will be privately operated.

Meanwhile, our own Labor government is piss-farting around with plastic bags.

Answer: Start Some More Problems

Eliot Ramsey, there may be some future for nuclear power, but it is short-term at best, for at least some good reasons:

1. The supply of uranium is just as limited as that of coal or oil, and alternatives such as thorium and plutonium are dangerously worse;

2. A nuclear power industry develops a political momentum (becomes a lobby intent on self-serving growth) of its own. Think of the hydro authority of Tasmania which (for years under 'Electric Eric' Reece) ran energy policy in the Tasmanian (yes Labor) Government;

3. The waste disposal problem has yet to be solved (probably by future generations.

Worth reading: The Phantom Solution by (retired) Monash University physicist Alan Roberts.

The British Government in my opinion would be best advised to try something else, though clearly the nuclear industry lobbyists have got to it.

Don't use land to produce energy - the sea is better.

The US government abandoned research on algal biofuel in the 1990s because of the low cost of crude oil. But as oil and food prices began to rise, small algal fuel producers sprang up.

Shell plans to begin construction on a pilot plant in Hawaii immediately, which it expects will produce 15 times as much oil for a given area as other biofuel crops, thanks to the efficiency of algal photosynthesis.

Instead of using land to produce biofuels  it looks like the ocean may be a better alternative. With the cost of oil skyrocketing this sort of technology holds some promise.

Cars of the future may run on grass.

Researchers led by Ken Vogel of the US Agricultural Research Service in Lincoln, Nebraska, paid farmers in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota to grow switchgrass for five years in plots ranging from 3 to 9 hectares. They measured the energy needed to grow the crops, including that used to make fertilisers and the diesel consumed by farmers' vehicles.

From the biomass of grasses harvested, they calculated that ethanol derived from them should yield 5.4 times as much energy as all these inputs combined (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

As research continues on improving the efficiency of Bio fuels it looks like grass might play a part. But for every acre that we use to fuel our energy demands there is an acre less to grow food. The world's food supply needs to be protected otherwise the rich will drive their Hummers while the poor starve.

Car sales in India to quadruple in the next 8 years.

The Nano release comes as India's domestic car market is predicted to soar in the coming years on the back of the country's fast-growing economy and increased consumer wealth.

'People's car'

Indian car sales are predicted to more than quadruple to $145bn by 2016.

Company chairman Ratan Tata said the launch of the Nano was a landmark in the history of transportation.

With the cost of cars falling and Indian cars sales set to quadruple in the next eight years. A similar increase in car sales is probably being repeated in China and other developing nations. No thought is being directed to the extra demand on oil supplies. The cost of oil is set to continue as demand outstrips supply. If we look at the rise of the price over the last twelve months or so. I hope we are prepared for the $300 pbl  which looks inevitable. How will our economy cope when it takes two or three hundred dollars to fill the average tank?

Don't worry

John Pratt, you worry too much because a few months ago you were telling us all that it was Howard's fault, now Rudd and Swan are in charge what could go wrong.

"If we look at the rise of the price over the last twelve months or so. I hope we are prepared for the $300 pbl  which looks inevitable. How will our economy cope when it takes two or three hundred dollars to fill the average tank?"

With Swan and Rudd putting downward pressure on inflation and interest rates, things could not be rosier.

"With many Australian homes at risk of sea level rise, who would be wanting to buy sea front properties?"

Have you forgotten that Rudd signed Kyoto, and he and Bob Brown said that would fix the problem. Again no worries son.

"The world's food supply needs to be protected otherwise the rich will drive their Hummers while the poor starve."

Bloody Howard again, still Garrett will fix that.

Show us the evidence!

Alan Curran, can you show us a decent source where either Kevin Rudd or Bob Brown have claimed, or strongly implied, that signing Kyoto would "fix the problem"?

I think you will find that all they have ever said or implied is that Kyoto is a step in a long and difficult process.

Nano Cars, biofuels and more oil...

Hi John Pratt. I know you're a positive guy, but this Nano car thing is a disaster! It is made, almost entirely, from sheet metal and plastic. Neither of the articles I read mentioned the plastic component, although it would be the first point on a journalist's "peak oil aware" notepad! It's probably the most damaging petrochemical-based car this century. If it is as successful as they expect, it may help bring about the end of the oil age more quickly than any car before it...

Can the world afford the Tata Nano? (UK Guardian)
India's Tata unveils world's cheapest car (SMH)

Now to biofuels. As you say...

As research continues on improving the efficiency of Bio fuels it looks like grass might play a part. But for every acre that we use to fuel our energy demands there is an acre less to grow food. The world's food supply needs to be protected otherwise the rich will drive their Hummers while the poor starve.

They will play a part in our oil-deficient future, but the scale of the problem does not allow biofuels to play a major part in the solution. This quote is from the Prof. Nathan Lewis' "Powering the Planet" article in Caltech's Engineering & Science magazine (PDF):

If we assume that the net energy return from biomass equals the gross energy production – that is, that it takes negligible energy input to run the farm and harvest the crop – generating 20 terawatts would require 31 percent of the total land area of the planet – 4 × 10 (to the 13th! – sorry couldn't find a superscript) square meters. The problem is that photosynthesis is fundamentally inefficient. Leaves should be black instead of green. They have the wrong band gap, and they convert less than 1 percent of the total energy they receive from sunlight into stored energy on an annual basis.

And, by the way, the fastest-growing plants known are a mere factor of two or so under their ultimate CO2 fixation rate. CO2 is dilute in the atmosphere, so unless there’s a transport system atmosphere; so unless there’s a transport system sucking carbon dioxide down from above; the natural mass-transport rates limit plant growth to a factor of two or so over the fastest that we already have. So if someone shows you pictures of little tomatoes and big tomatoes, and extrapolates from tall switchgrass to 20-times-taller switchgrass, that’s defying the laws of physics.

You hear a lot about schools of management. I believe in the Willie Sutton school of energy management. The Willie Sutton principle is simple. Willie Sutton was a famous bank robber, and when they finally caught him someone asked, “Why do you rob banks, Mr. Sutton?” He said, “Because that’s where the money is.” I believe in that, too.

One hundred twenty thousand terawatts of solar power hits the earth, so Willie Sutton would say go to the sun because that’s where the energy is. It is the only natural energy resource that can keep up with human consumption. Everything else will run up against the stops, soon. In fact, more solar energy hits the earth in one hour than all the energy the world consumes in a year.

Now on to fuel from algae, here in Australia:

“We have conducted detailed feasibility studies that show that, once key technical milestones are overcome, this technology could achieve economic viability, which will increase further with the introduction of carbon trading schemes and the predicted rise in the oil price,” Associate Professor Hankamer said.

“We have focused on micro-algae as a source of hydrogen because they have several advantages over traditional bio-fuel crops.”

One major advantage, especially in drought-stricken countries like Australia, is that hydrogen can be produced from salt water. Marine and salt-tolerant algae can extract hydrogen and oxygen from seawater and on combustion these gases produce fresh water and electricity, which can be fed into the national grid. Consequently, clean energy production can theoretically be coupled with desalination.

This is by no means the only advantage. One of the current concerns about traditional bio-fuel crops is that they will compete with food production for arable land and water. In contrast, algal bioreactors can be placed on non-arable land and use much less water than conventional bio-fuel crops.

“This opens up new economic opportunities for arid regions and eliminates competition with agricultural crops or rainforest regions which are increasingly being used to plant oil palms for bio-diesel production,” Associate Professor Hankamer said.

I have reservations about fuels from algae. Producing fuel from CO2 is, of course, a great idea, but no system is entirely efficient; so we may just be perpetuating the oil age, in this case slowly leaking CO2 into the atmosphere in a "responsibly small" way. Perhaps it's too early to tell, so I'll wait for more info. This technology is a long way from "scale", anyway!


On the potential of Solar power, I recommend everyone interested watch Nathan Lewis' "Powering the Planet; Where in the World will our Energy come from?" RealPlayer Presentation. It's an education in energy dynamics.

Nathan Lewis: Powering the Planet: Where in the World Will Our Energy Come From? - 67 minutes
In a Watson lecture, Nathan Lewis, Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry at Caltech, discussed what it would take for the world to turn away from fossil fuels and switch over to renewable energy. He outlined the hurdles that must be overcome in order to power the planet with abundant, clean, inexpensive energy in the 21st century.

Powering the Planet

Ian McPherson and John Pratt: You are probably both right. If crops are to be used as a source of energy in future, then the whole plant will have to be used (eg via bacterial fermentation to alcohol), not just harvested oil seeds as is largely done at present. Cutting down perfectly good and vitally important rainforest in order to grow palm oil for diesel fuel (as in Indonesia) or soya beans to export to China for chook feed (as they do in Brazil) is about as brainless and short-termist as it gets.

But no one source of energy is likely to power the future, any more than one source does now.

Wood fibre reinforced plastics may also have a role to play where steel is used at present. I understand that some components used in the production of Mercedes-Benz cars are made of recycled newsprint, because of the fantastic strength to weight ratios it offers. So the Tata Nano may get better in future models. Some plastics are also recyclable, so the future of motoring may lie in super-strength polythene bodies, like the poly used to make milk crates.

I have saved this thread to a Word file and will read through it offline, because I am on a dodgy computer at the moment. Future comments from here may be a bit sporadic.

One thing for sure: the human species in future will have to live within its means, energy-wise. The carbon crisis is shaping up as the biggest potential disaster since the start of the Pleistocene.

A mole of CO2 contains 6.023 X 10^23 molecules

Thanks for prompting me to look, Ian McPherson. The HTML tag you wanted is SUP. (SUB will do a subscript).

So: A mole of CO2 contains 6.023 X 1023 molecules.

It looks like Firefox (and probably other browsers) are adding line space to show it, which doesn't look all that flash, but it works.

Subscripts and Superscripts

Hi Mark. Thank you. You're quite right, I was looking for a subscript not a superscript. Could you post the code, or would the browser just show it? Your example looks great here in Mozilla (Firefox). If you can't post it, please email it to me, and I'll use from now on. Thanks!

Super Sub

This is a test of Subscripts and Superscript entered directly in the comments box.

I had to use the "Toggle HTML Source" button to make it work.  (At least in preview, but it should survive.

Fiona: Very pretty, Mark. Fingers crossed.

The Super Sub

Hi Ian. The SUP link shows the code for both (SUP & SUB). It's just a standard tag. There is a way of displaying the code (they do it in the link), and I think it is easy, but I've never learned it.

I haven't tried entering it directly in the comments box - I use a text editor (Textpad) to write this stuff. (Disapproved of by the powers that be, but it works for me.). I'll try a follow-up post to see if I can do it in the box.

Don't ever say that high-school chemistry is never any use!

Catalyst: 70% of CO2 emissions in food, goods and services

Web video, from the ABC's Catalyst program:

The Consumers’ Guide To Carbon Conscious Shopping

We've all heard that switching light bulbs and walking to work are ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  But, you may be surprised to know that our domestic energy consumption is NOT the greatest contributor to our personal carbon footprints.

So, what are the greater contributors, and what can we do about them?  Catalyst reporter, Dr. Maryanne Demasi put together a consumers’ guide to carbon conscious shopping.

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