the big energy stories of 2013, “peak oil” — the once-popular notion that worldwide oil production would soon reach a maximum level and begin an irreversible decline — was thoroughly discredited. The explosive development of shale oil and other unconventional fuels in the United States helped put it in its grave.
As the year went on, the eulogies came in fast and furious. “Today, it is probably safe to say we have slayed ‘peak oil’ once and for all, thanks to the combination of new shale oil and gas production techniques,” declared Rob Wile, an energy and economics reporter for Business Insider. Similar comments from energy experts were commonplace, prompting an R.I.P. headline at Time.com announcing, “Peak Oil is Dead.”
Not so fast, though. The present round of eulogies brings to mind the Mark Twain’s famous line: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Before obits for peak oil theory pile up too high, let’s take a careful look at these assertions. Fortunately, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Paris-based research arm of the major industrialized powers, recently did just that — and the results were unexpected. While not exactly reinstalling peak oil on its throne, it did make clear that much of the talk of a perpetual gusher of American shale oil isgreatly exaggerated. The exploitation of those shale reserves may delay the onset of peak oil for a year or so, the agency’s experts noted, but the long-term picture “has not changed much with the arrival of [shale
The IEA’s take on this subject is especially noteworthy because its assertion only a year earlier that the U.S. would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s number one oil producer sparked the “peak oil is dead” deluge in the first place. Writing in the 2012 edition of its World Energy Outlook, the agency claimed not only that “the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer” by around 2020, but also that with U.S. shale production and Canadian tar sands coming online, “North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.”
(Photo: Matthew Allard / Flickr)As “The Hunger Games” trilogy gains popularity in bookstores and the box office, its themes of extreme class inequality, poverty, class warfare, and oppression gain prominence in reality across the globe.
With the release of Catching Fire, the film based on the second novel in The Hunger Games trilogy, it seems like a good time to discuss the relevance of this “young adult” series to real life. For anyone who hasn’t read the books, they center on Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl who inspires a revolutionary uprising among the 12 districts of Panem (a future dystopic North America), where rural people are oppressed and kept in poverty while an elite section of the population live in “The Capitol” and lead pampered lives fueled by the labor and resources of the outlying districts.
Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has indicated that she wanted to write “an updated version of the Roman gladiator games.” Her inspiration came from watching television that seemed to blur the differences between young people competing in reality TV shows and fighting in actual war. Her own father fought in Vietnam.
Opinions about The Hunger Games abound. It is accused of being unrealistic, frivolous, just for teens, etc. Others hope that its revolutionary nature will have a positive social impact. Actor Donald Sutherland, who plays the dictatorial President Snow in Catching Fire, said he hopes The Hunger Games stirs up a real revolution. In an interview for British newspaper The Guardian (currently embroiled in a scandal regarding its publication of articles about US spying via the NSA), Sutherland says, “It just puts things out in the light and lets you have a look at it. And if you take from it what I hope you will take from it, it will make you think a little more pungently about the political environment you live in and not be complacent.”
Chicago polar vortex. (Photo: edward stojakovic / Flickr)As a deadly polar vortex moved across the United States this week, cities scrambled to shelter the homeless, who can face additional problems once in the shelter system. And the hacker collective Anonymous worked to provide additional aid networks for those in need.
Tuesday’s record-breaking cold covered much of the United States in a layer of ice after a polar vortex brought in a low-pressure circulation of displaced Arctic winds. States are reporting at least 21 deaths, and all 50 states experienced freezing temperatures at some point Tuesday.
Since Sunday authorities have reported seven weather-related deaths in Illinois and six in Indiana. Several victims have been identified as homeless people who refused shelter or didn’t make it to a warm haven, such as an exhaust vent, soon enough. Those who have died amid Chicago’s hyperboreal nights, dubbed “Chiberia,” suffered in temperatures as low as minus 15.
As the lethal Arctic air crept over Chicago, the Department of Family Support Services (DFSS), which coordinates homeless services, scrambled to provide shelter for the city’s homeless population, which totals 6,276, according to a “point in time” count that is conducted by DFSS and homeless service organizations citywide every two years. The most recent count was in January 2013, and DFSS will conduct the count again for the first time in consecutive years this month, according to spokesman Matt Smith.
Updated, 2:09 p.m. | I spent a couple of hours this morning discussing the Northern Hemisphere cold snap in the context of global warming on CBC radio shows across Canada. You can hear one at the bottom of this post.
Between 1 and 2 p.m. eastern time this afternoon I discussed extreme weather and climate change on the The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU with Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University focused on the impact of Arctic conditions, and Matthew Nisbet, a communications researcher at American University. You can listen by clicking here.
The results are in: No amount of “green capitalism” will be able to ensure the profound changes we must urgently make to prevent the collapse of civilization from the catastrophic impacts of global warming.
The following is an updated version of an article that originally was published in the Real-World Economics Review. We consider Richard Smith’s article foundational to understanding the world we live in. Given its length, several sittings or a printout may be required to complete reading.
As soaring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions drove global CO2 concentrations past 400 parts per million in May 2013, shell-shocked climate scientists warned that unless we urgently adopt “radical” measures to suppress GHG emissions (50 percent cuts in emissions by 2020, 90 percent by 2050) we’re headed for an average temperature rise of 3 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius before the end of the century. Four degrees might not seem like much, but make no mistake: Such an increase will be catastrophic for our species and most others. Humans have never experienced a rise of 4 degrees in average temperatures. But our ancestors experienced a four-degree cooler world. That was during the last ice age, the Wisconsin Stage (26,000 to 13,300 years ago). At that time, there were two miles of ice on top of where I’m sitting right now in New York City. In a four-degree warmer world “Heat waves of undreamt-of-ferocity will scorch the Earth’s surface as the climate becomes hotter than anything humans have ever experienced. … There will be “no ice at either pole.” “Global warming of this magnitude would leave the whole planet without ice for the first time in nearly 40 million years.” Sea levels will rise 25 meters – submerging Florida, Bangladesh, New York, Washington DC, London, Shanghai, the coastlines and cities where nearly half the world’s people presently live. Freshwater aquifiers will dry up; snow caps and glaciers will evaporate – and with them, the rivers that feed the billions of Asia, South America and California. The “wholesale destruction of ecosystems” will bring on the collapse of agriculture around much of the world. “Russia’s harsh cold will be a distant memory” as “temperatures in Europe will resemble the Middle East. … The Sahara will have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and be working its way north into the heart of Spain and Portugal. … With food supplies crashing, humanity’s grip on its future will become ever more tentative.” Yet long before the temperature increase hits four degrees, the melting will have begun thawing the permafrost of the Arctic, releasing vast quantities of methane buried under the Arctic seas and the Siberian and North American tundra, accelerating GHG concentrations beyond any human power to stop runaway warming and sealing our fate as a species.(1)
Program #BROL003. Recorded in Seattle, WA on November 11, 2013.
When it comes to climate change the operative word is “hot” with “record” and “unprecedented” closely following. UN conferences on climate do little beyond the powerful issuing grandiose proclamations about how green they are and then it’s back to their destructive policies. The Guardian, captures the hypocrisy, “governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority.” Rome is burning. The eco-crisis includes rising temperatures and sea levels, deforestation and species extinction, drought and soil erosion, and water and food shortages. In the not so distant future the ecological crimes against the Earth will come home to roost. Rex Weyler in EcoWatch warns, “A great reckoning awaits humanity if we fail to awaken from our delusions. Earth’s delicately balanced systems can reach tipping points and collapse.”
Scientist Michael Mann is being sued under freedom of information laws by climate change denial groups, seeking access to his emails. Photograph: guardian.co.uk
When Michael Mann chose a career in science, he didn’t think that he would be denounced on billboards, grilled by hostile legislators on Capitol Hill and in the British House of Commons, have his emails hacked and stolen, receive letters laced with an anthrax-like white powder, and become the target of anonymous death threats.
Mann also did not imagine that he would be spending quite so much time with lawyers and in courtrooms. Today, he is the plaintiff in a controversial case that is being argued before the Virginia Supreme Court. It pits the scientist against a climate change denialist group, which is seeking to get a hold of several years worth of his emails, as well as those of dozens of other climate investigators.
Mann, who currently directs Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, is one of the authors of the so-called “hockey stick graph“, which Al Gore used in his film, An Inconvenient Truth, to illustrate the precipitous rise in global temperatures since the dawn of industrialization when humans started spewing the heat-trapping greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere. For the “sin” of helping to create this “exhibit A” in the scientific case for climate change, the conservative semimonthly, the National Review, called Mann “the Jerry Sandusky of climate scientists”. Blogger Rand Simberg wrote on the Review’s online site:
Except that instead of molesting children, [Mann] has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.
Welcome to Transition Studies. To prosper for very much longer on the changing Earth humankind will need to move beyond its current fossil-fueled civilization toward one that is sustained on recycled materials and renewable energy. This is not a trivial shift. It will require a major transition in all aspects of our lives.
This weblog explores the transition to a sustainable future on our finite planet. It provides links to current news, key documents from government sources and non-governmental organizations, as well as video documentaries about climate change, environmental ethics and environmental justice concerns.
The links are listed here to be used in whatever manner they may be helpful in public information campaigns, course preparation, teaching, letter-writing, lectures, class presentations, policy discussions, article writing, civic or Congressional hearings and citizen action campaigns, etc. For further information on this blog see: About this weblog. and How to use this weblog.
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