Archive for June, 2008

Texans head across the border to save on gasoline

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico – With gasoline prices hovering near $4 per gallon, Texans along the U.S.-Mexico border have discovered a cheaper alternative: Mexico.

Mexican service stations all along the border report brisk sales in recent weeks as fuel prices in Texas continue to climb. Even Ciudad Juárez has seen a notable increase in customers from the United States, despite escalating drug violence that includes gunbattles in the streets and several decapitations.

Victor Gonzalez was among those risking their lives for cheaper gasoline Monday. Mr. Gonzalez crossed the border from El Paso in his silver Ford F150 truck with Chip, his cranky Chihuahua, riding next to him.

“I was running on empty – almost,” said Mr. Gonzalez, a cattleman who normally pays about $90 to fill up his truck’s tank on the Texas side of the border.

In Mexico, gasoline is about a dollar cheaper a gallon because the government subsidizes it.

Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, known as Pemex, is the sole supplier of gasoline for the country’s gas stations and buys nearly half of it from the U.S. because of a lack of Mexican refineries.


The U.S., Oil and Iraq

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

– One of the news sources I read daily is the Daily Brief from the Council on Foreign Relations. They put together an excellent summary of the significant foreign events of the day and, for the most part, I recommend them.

– However, today, the Daily Brief had a collection of stories about Iraq and Oil that I found to be a bit surreal. Most of us who understand the implications of Peak Oil, understand that one of the major reasons why the U.S. is in Iraq is to secure oil for its future. Modern industrialized nations absolutely depend on adequate supplies of oil – if they want to continue to be modern industrialized nations.

– There were several things that struck me as disingenuous. One was the following statement about the decision making of the Iraqi government as it considers letting foreign oil companies into the country again:

“Offers by the Western companies-Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP, Chevron, and a handful of smaller firms-reportedly prevailed over bids from companies in Russia, China, and India, and a new deal is expected to be announced on June 30.”

– Did anyone seriously expect that the U.S. would allow Russia, China or India to gain effective control over the vast supplies of Iraqi oil in today’s world? Does anyone really imagine that the U.S. is really leaving such decisions to the current Iraqi government?

– As a further irony, here in the U.S., the Bush administration and McCain are both flooding the media with calls to resume oil exploration/drilling (read ANWR). This, in spite of the fact that it is widely agreed that it will take years for any oil produced from such drilling to hit the market and that when it does, it will only make a very small contribution to solving a very large deficit.

– So, what do I think is going on?

– Well, the stories about the decision making regarding which companies are going to get to process the Iraqi oil are simple PR. In a world where many of the players (read nations) are essentially democratic, such PR is effective because democracy’s weakest point is that its decisions are largely made by those in the middle of the norm curve. And those folks rarely analyze things in more than a cursory manner. So PR spun to them is effective in blunting the responses of those nations by confusing their voters who are the ones who ultimately motivate their political decision makers.

– As for the current push to resume oil exploration in the U.S., I think it is driven by the fact that oil companies here in the U.S., which have an inordinate affect on the decision making processes in the U.S. government and the mostly business driven Republican Party, see significant profits in the exploration itself. The fact that after the work is done and we’ve trashed ANWR and built a huge amount of oil infrastructure, we won’t have much to show for it in terms of oil delivered to the market is irrelevant. Between now and then, the companies involved will show many profitable quarters as the work is done and that’s the bottom line in such decisions.

– I was, and am, a bit disappointed that the Council of Foreign Relations chooses to report these things without a deeper analysis of why the decisions are being made but then I suppose they see their mandate as simply describing the important decisions as the public largely perceives them rather than rendering a deeper analysis of why they are being made. In this, I think they either underestimate their audience or they’ve become a mouthpiece for those who create the spin to obscure the substance.

Saudis pledge to hit record oil production as unrest spreads

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

– Temporary measures. Temporary measures. So they open the taps and more oil flows. So what?

– Demand will keep rising so long as we do not convert to other forms of energy. The Saudis will try to help us now in the short term, but, in the long run, so long as supplies are finite and demand continues to rise, the conclusion will always be the same. It’ll be ground-hog day again and again. It’s just a matter of ‘when’.

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Saudi Arabia will raise oil production to record levels within weeks in an attempt to avert an escalation of social and political unrest around the world. King Abdullah signalled the commitment to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the weekend after the impact of skyrocketing oil prices on food sparked protests and riots from Spain to South Korea.

By next month the Saudis are expected to be pumping an extra half-a-million barrels of oil a day, bringing total Saudi production to 9.7 million barrels a day, their highest ever level.


NSW drought area growing

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

More than 60 per cent of Australia’s main eastern agricultural state of New South Wales has slid back into drought after a dramatic increase in dry conditions in the past month, the state Government says.

Over the past month, drought grew to cover 62.7 per cent of the state, from 48.4 per cent a month earlier.

“Much of the cropping belt [is] on a knife edge waiting for desperately needed rain,” said the state Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald.

“All cropping areas are in urgent need of good rainfall to consolidate crops that have been sown and enable remaining seed to be planted.”

Areas that have slipped back into drought include key wheat growing areas in the central western parts of the state as well as the northern slopes and southern areas.


China Sacks Plastic Bags

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

– I find it a complete bummer that China’s found the grit to do this but the U.S. hasn’t.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Ban could save 37 million barrels of oil and alleviate “white pollution”

SHANGHAI—Thin plastic bags are used for everything in China and the Chinese use up to three billion of them a day–an environmentally costly habit picked up by shopkeepers and consumers in the late 1980s for convenience over traditional cloth bags. Fruit mongers weigh produce in them, tailors stuff shirts into them, even street food vendors plunk their piping hot wares directly into see-through plastic bags that do nothing to protect one’s hands from being burned or coated in hot grease. They even have a special name for the plastic bags found blowing, hanging and floating everywhere from trees to rivers: bai se wu ran, or “white pollution,” for the bags’ most common color.

Yet, the Chinese government is set to ban the manufacture and force shopkeepers to charge for the distribution of bags thinner than 0.025 millimeters thick as of June 1—and no one seems prepared. “I don’t know what we’ll do,” Zhang Gui Lin, a tailor at Shanghai’s famous fabric market, tells me through a translator. “I guess our shopping complex will figure it out and tell us what to buy to use as bags.”


Obama’s In Control: No More Lobbyist Contributions To Democratic Party

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

… since he crossed the delegate threshold to become the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama’s mark on the party is already being felt.

On Good Morning America Thursday, ABC News’ Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos reported “the Democratic National Committee will no longer accept contributions from federal lobbyists, will no longer take contributions from PACs” in keeping with Obama’s well-publicized policy.

UPDATE: DNC issues a statement:

“The DNC and the Obama Campaign are unified and working together to elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. Our presumptive nominee has pledged not to take donations from Washington lobbyists and from today going forward the DNC makes that pledge as well,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. “Senator Obama has promised to change the way things are done in Washington and this step is a sure sign of his commitment. The American people’s priorities will set the agenda in an Obama Administration, not the special interests.”

To the original on the Huffingtonpost:

Mounting Costs Slow the Push for Clean Coal

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

WASHINGTON — For years, scientists have had a straightforward idea for taming global warming. They want to take the carbon dioxide that spews from coal-burning power plants and pump it back into the ground.

President Bush is for it, and indeed has spent years talking up the virtues of “clean coal.” All three candidates to succeed him favor the approach. So do many other members of Congress. Coal companies are for it. Many environmentalists favor it. Utility executives are practically begging for the technology.

But it has become clear in recent months that the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly.

In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.

Perhaps worse, in the last few months, utility projects in Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington State that would have made it easier to capture carbon dioxide have all been canceled or thrown into regulatory limbo.

Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.

“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

Global warming may be greatest threat to tropical species

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Washington – While global warming is expected to be strongest at the poles, it may be an even greater threat to species living in the tropics, scientists say.

Tropical species are accustomed to living in a small temperature range and thus may be unable to cope with changes of even a few degrees, according to an analysis in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There’s a strong relationship between your physiology and the climate you live in. In the tropics many species appear to be living at or near their thermal optimum, a temperature that lets them thrive. But once temperature gets above the thermal optimum, fitness levels most likely decline quickly and there may not be much they can do about it,” Joshua J. Tewksbury said in a statement.


The Last Father’s Day

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

– This post from over on the Climate Progress Blog is well worth a read. Do the fathers in our Baby Boomer generation deserve a Father’s Day? I agree with the author – I’m beginning to think we don’t.

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So when will the last Father’s Day be?

Proposed nearly a century ago to honor the “strength and selflessness” of fathers, the underlying premise of the holiday is that fathers selflessly work hard to ensure their children have a better future than they did. Interestingly, “the holiday was not officially recognized until 1972.”

Certainly it made sense to honor the fathers who came from the Greatest Generation, with their grit and determination to win WWII. But on our current path, for the first time in US history, we know with high confidence that thanks to our actions (and our inactions) our children will not face a better future, quite the reverse (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction.”)

No books will be written labeling the Baby Boom generation, the “Greatest Generation” or even the “Second Greatest Generation.” Right now, we’re not even in the top 10.

Selflessness? Try selfishness. We appear unwilling to shift even 1.1% of our fabulous wealth toward the clean energy investments needed to avert catastrophe….


Worries Mount as Farmers Push for Big Harvest

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

GRIFFIN, Ind. — In a year when global harvests need to be excellent to ease the threat of pervasive food shortages, evidence is mounting that they will be average at best. Some farmers are starting to fear disaster.

American corn and soybean farmers are suffering from too much rain, while Australian wheat farmers have been plagued by drought.

“The planting has gotten off to a poor start,” said Bill Nelson, a Wachovia grains analyst. “The anxiety level is increasing.”

Randy Kron, whose family has been farming in the southwestern corner of Indiana for 135 years, should have corn more than a foot tall by now. But all spring it has seemed as if there were a faucet in the sky. The rain is regular, remorseless.

Some of Mr. Kron’s fields are too soggy to plant. Some of the corn he managed to get in has drowned, forcing him to replant. The seeds that survived are barely two inches high.

At a moment when the country’s corn should be flourishing, one plant in 10 has not even emerged from the ground, the Agriculture Department said Monday. Because corn planted late is more sensitive to heat damage in high summer, every day’s delay practically guarantees a lower yield at harvest.


– Hat tip to Survival Acres for this story

– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.