Monthly Archives: November 2008

Staring at the Future from the Top of the Slippery Slide

The IEA World Energy Outlook reports get more accurate every year – by 2030 it’ll be spot on.

Disclaimer: As the title should indicate, don’t read this post if you’re of a delicate disposition.

The International Energy Agency has just released the latest incarnation of its annual ‘World Energy Outlook‘ report – the 2008 edition. Please stand for a moment of mock-reverence.

Thank you. Please be seated.

For those not familiar, the IEA releases an annual report, making reasonably detailed projections of expected energy supplies and demands for the nations of the world. It breaks these total energy forecasts down into its various sources (oil, coal, natural gas, renewables, etc.), and looks at expected economic growth trends for different countries and sectors and their impacts on energy consumption. The last several editions have covered the period from publication to the year 2030, and they have also factored in a few different scenarios to roughly cover policy changes that could occur throughout the period to give policymakers an idea of potential outcomes.

It is certainly a worthwhile endeavour – you could say critical, actually. If only they did it well.

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Posted in Energy, Geopolitics & Economics, Global Warming

The ‘Dangerous Threshold’ – a Destination, or a Milestone?

I’ve often expressed my concern (here & here for example) that scientists, and, in particular, the politicians that have the greatest power to incentivise change in the world, have been rather arbitrary in settling on a politically correct (read – economically barely palatable) target of reining in the world’s emissions just shy of 450 parts per million (ppm: that’s 450 parts of CO2 for every million parts of atmosphere). 450 ppm would be a 60% increase in CO2 concentration over pre-industrial levels (approx. 280 ppm), and this was accepted by many — even if uncomfortably in some quarters — as the point where we would hit the red zone on our climate system’s tachometer.

A couple of the reports I recently highlighted (3 & 4: The Big Melt, and Target Practice) sought to cut through the political/economic hype and motivational factors to determine a safe concentration target — one that is expedient, rather than merely politically acceptable. If the figures in these reports are correct, then we need to hit the rewind button on emissions real fast. Standing at 387 ppm today, we have already passed the 350 ppm point that has sent the arctic ice sheets into dramatic decline and weather patterns into disarray (also see here & here). The conclusion is that 350 ppm is the point we need to endeavour to pull back beyond — a point we overtook a couple of decades ago….

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Posted in Global Warming

The Food Crisis: “A Perfect Storm” – and How to Turn the Tide

A recently released study, the largest of its kind, examines the root causes of, and solutions for, a food crisis that will likely get much worse before it gets better — and that will never get better if we continue with business as usual

I’m hungry.

No, not because I don’t have enough food to eat, but because I’m too busy typing and too lazy to walk to the refrigerator. How I wish it were this simple for the people I keep reading about.

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Posted in Food Shortages, Geopolitics & Economics

Chemical Based Farming Systems Robbing Us of Nutrients

Full Report
(5mb PDF)
Executive Summary
2-Page Consumer Summary
Press Release

Nutrient levels in food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields

When we sit down to a meal of supermarket-bought produce, we like to think we’re getting a reasonable cross-section of the body’s nutrient requirements, but studies are showing that our chemical intensive monocrop farming systems are not delivering the vital ‘secondary nutrients’ that our ancestors enjoyed. Plants ‘flourishing’ on fast, soluble chemical fertilisers  get ‘lazy’ and do not develop the deep, healthy root systems that pull additional elements out of the soil. In addition, the soil micro-organisms that break down organic matter and minerals to feed to plant roots are being slaughtered through chemical bombardment and violent mechanised manipulation of their environment.

Essentially, we’re getting robbed, and having to pay for it in reduced health/vitality/longevity and increased medical bills.

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Posted in Health, Pollution, Soil

Powering Down – Will We?

Most underestimate the implications…

Through our Hollywood-tinted glasses we’re accustomed to happy endings. The instinctive “it won’t happen to me” mentality is alive and well, but, whilst perhaps preserving the comfortable status quo (if not our sanity), it does little to promote objectivity. In a world threatened by global warming, potential constructive accomplishments are thus too often hampered and bogged down in the realm of discourse and debate.

In plain English – we need to get real.

On this note, check out the following clip. Richard Heinburg, the author of the book “Powering Down“, has much to say on possible strategies, or failing that, outcomes, for our post peak-oil world. I think it’s time we really examine, not just computer climate models – but societal projections.

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Posted in Consumerism, Energy, Geopolitics & Economics, Global Warming, Society

Letters from Vietnam: The Hmong People – Reclaiming Lost Skills

The Future of the Hmong People
Photos: Craig Mackintosh

It took a few moments for my eyes to adapt to the light. There was a single, clear incandescent bulb hanging just millimetres above my head – hanging from somewhere high in the blackness of the ceiling, from a cable so weathered it looked more like a vine than an electrical cord. But it wasn’t turned on. After all, it was daytime. Below my muddied boots was the hard, earth floor; cool to the touch, with just a hint of dampness. The lady of the house swept dirt outside, which, while necessary, almost seemed nonsensical, since the floor was dirt. The walls were thick, and windowless – also made with packed earth. And unlike most other minority tribes in Vietnam, who normally build their houses on poles, this one was built directly onto the ground.

This home was about as ‘earthy’ as they get.

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Posted in Consumerism, Education, Geopolitics & Economics, Photojournalism, Society

Letters from Vietnam – Hanoi, or Venice?

Downtown Hanoi – on a Bad Day
Photos: Craig Mackintosh

I wasn’t supposed to be writing about this. Actually, I’m not even supposed to be here.

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Posted in Global Warming, Photojournalism, Pollution, Water