Archive for July, 2008

Rising Oil Prices Swell Profits at Exxon and Shell

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, reported on Thursday its best quarterly profit in history, but investors sold off shares in morning trading after expecting even higher earnings because of soaring oil and natural gas prices.

Record earnings for the world’s largest publicly traded oil company have become almost as predictable as the surge of gasoline prices at the pump in recent years, and for the second quarter income rose 14 percent, to $11.68 billion.

It was the highest quarterly profit ever for any American company, as Exxon made nearly $90,000 a minute.

Such profits have made Exxon Mobil a target of politicians in recent years, propelling calls for windfall profits taxes to finance research and development for renewable fuels to replace oil.

The principal reason for the company’s banquet of riches is rising fuel prices. Crude oil prices in the second quarter averaged more than $124 a barrel, 91 percent higher than the same quarter in 2007, according to Oppenheimer & Company. Natural gas prices averaged $10.80 per thousand cubic feet, up 43 percent from the quarter a year ago.

But while high energy prices brought Exxon $10 billion in earnings from selling oil in the quarter, up about $4.1 billion or nearly 70 percent, not everything in its earnings report heartened investors. The company reported that its oil production decreased 8 percent from the second quarter of 2007, largely because of an expropriation of Exxon assets by the Venezuelan government and labor strife in Nigeria.

The company spent $7 billion, or nearly 40 percent more than the same quarter last year, to find and produce oil from new fields.


– 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.

When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Sure glacier melt, sea level rise, extreme drought, and species loss get all the media attention — they are the Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Barack Obama of climate impacts. But what about good old-fashioned sweltering heat? How bad will that be? Two little-noticed studies — one new, one old — spell out the grim news.

Bottom line: By century’s end, extreme temperatures of up to 122°F would threaten most of the central, southern, and western U.S. Even worse, Houston and Washington, DC could experience temperatures exceeding 98°F for some 60 days a year.

The peak temperature analysis comes from a Geophysical Research Letters paper published two weeks ago that focused on the annual-maximum “once-in-a-century” temperature. Researchers looked at the case of a (mere) 700 ppm atmospheric concentrations of CO2, the A1b scenario, with total warming of about 3.5°C by century’s end. The key scientific point is that “the extremes rise faster than the means in a warming climate.”

More… (click through to see a great temperature map)

Ivory poaching at critical levels: Elephants on path to extinction by 2020?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at a pace unseen since an international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989. But the public outcry that resulted in that ban is absent today, and a University of Washington conservation biologist contends it is because the public seems to be unaware of the giant mammals’ plight.The elephant death rate from poaching throughout Africa is about 8 percent a year based on recent studies, which is actually higher than the 7.4 percent annual death rate that led to the international ivory trade ban nearly 20 years ago, said Samuel Wasser, a UW biology professor.

But the poaching death rate in the late 1980s was based on a population that numbered more than 1 million. Today the total African elephant population is less than 470,000.

“If the trend continues, there won’t be any elephants except in fenced areas with a lot of enforcement to protect them,” said Wasser.

He is lead author of a paper in the August issue of Conservation Biology that contends elephants are on a course that could mean most remaining large groups will be extinct by 2020 unless renewed public pressure brings about heightened enforcement.


A Growing Trend of Leaving America

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

By some estimates 3 million citizens become expatriates a year, but most not for political reasons

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—Dressed in workout casual and sipping a soda in one of the apartment-style rooms of Los Cuatro Tulipanes hotel, Matt Landau appears very much at home in Panama. One might even be tempted to call him an old hand were he not, at age 25, so confoundingly young. Part owner of this lovely boutique hotel in Panama City’s historic Casco Viejo, he is also a travel writer (99 Things to Do in Costa Rica), a real estate marketing consultant, and editor of The Panama Report, an online news and opinion monthly. Between fielding occasional calls and text messages, the New Jersey native is explaining what drew him here, by way of Costa Rica, after he graduated from college in 2005. In addition to having great weather, pristine beaches, a rich melting-pot culture, a reliable infrastructure, and a clean-enough legal system, “what Panama is all about,” he says, “is the chance to get into some kind of market first.” Landau cites other attractions: “There is more room for error here,” he says. “You can make mistakes without being put under. That, to me, as an entrepreneur, is the biggest draw.”

Long a business and trade hub, Panama has been booming ever since the United States gave it full control of the Canal Zone in 1999. But as Landau says, it is precisely because so much of Panama’s economy has been focused on canal-related activities that opportunities in other sectors, from real estate to finance to a host of basic services, have gone largely untapped. And among the many foreigners coming to tap them—as well as to enjoy the good life that Panama offers—are a sizable number of Americans.

These Yankees, it turns out, are part of a larger American phenomenon: a wave of native-born citizens who are going abroad in search of new challenges, opportunities, and more congenial ways of life.

In his recent book Bad Money, political commentator Kevin Phillips warns that an unprecedented number of citizens, fed up with failed politics and a souring economy, have already departed for other countries, with even larger numbers planning to do so soon. But that may be putting too negative a reading on this little-noticed trend. In fact, most of today’s expats are not part of a new Lost Generation, moving to Paris or other European haunts to nurse their disillusionment and write their novels. Some may be artists and bohemians, but many more are entrepreneurs, teachers, or skilled knowledge workers in the globalized high-tech economy. Others are members of a retirement bulge that is stretching pensions and IRAs by living abroad. And while a high percentage of expats are unhappy with the rightward tilt of George Bush’s America, most don’t see their decision to move overseas as a political statement.


– research thanks to PJ 

Could we start industrial society from scratch today?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

– An excellent article over on Resource Insights Blog. Kurt Cobb writes some good stuff and I’ve had his Blog listed in my Blogroll for some time.

– The point he’s making here is one I’ve thought about for years. Though I would have said before that we might rise and crash two or three times in succession until we figured out how to either establish a steady-state relationship with the biosphere or until the resources were too depleted to support another rise.

– After reading his piece, I think I’m in the “we have just one change to get this right” camp now.

– This sort of thinking has been around for awhile. Here’s a quote from Sir Fred Hoyle in Of Men and Galaxies, 1964:

It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.

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By Kurt Cobb

Could we start industrial society from scratch today? The answer is probably not. While such a question seems merely hypothetical, its answer has important implications regarding the prospects for a sustainable industrial future.

The reason it would be so difficult to start an industrial society from scratch today is that most of the natural resources associated with advanced societies have been drawn down to a point where it would be difficult to extract what’s left without an up-and-running industrial system. It is worth quoting at length Harrison Brown, author of “The Challenge of Man’s Future,” writing on this point in 1954:

Our ancestors had available large resources of high-grade ores and fuels that could be processed by the most primitive technology–crystals of copper and pieces of coal that lay on the surface of the earth, easily mined iron, and petroleum in generous pools reached by shallow drilling. Now we must dig huge caverns and follow seams ever further underground, drill oil wells thousands of feet deep, many of them under the bed of the ocean, and find ways of extracting the leanest ores–procedures that are possible only because of our highly complex modern techniques, and practical only to an intricately mechanized culture which could not have been developed without the high-grade resources that are so rapidly vanishing.

As our dependence shifts to such resources as low-grade ores, rock, seawater, and the sun, the conversion of energy into useful work will require ever more intricate technical activity, which would be impossible in the absence of a variety of complex machines and their products–all of which are the result of our intricate industrial civilization, and which would be impossible without it. Thus, if a machine civilization were to stop functioning as the result of some catastrophe, it is difficult to see how man would again be able to start along the path of industrialization with the resources that would then be available to him.

What Brown is really describing is a lack of resilience in modern industrial civilization. It lacks the redundancy built into agrarian cultures because the whole system has become so specialized and interdependent. For example, rare earth minerals are critical to the functioning of modern electronics, in the making of strong magnets useful in such things as hybrid cars and as catalysts in chemical processing. Some 90 percent of these elements currently come from China. Any cutoff could prove difficult for the rest of the world. There are other known deposits of rare earth elements, but it would take time to develop them and start up production.


The Rise of the Rest

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

– Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts to gain a global focus, we can get too caught up in, and too influenced by, the view from our home country.

– After reading the excerpt from Zakaria’s book, The Post American World, below, I have to admit I may have this problem.

– My view of the world and its problems is much too U.S. centric and there’s an entire other way of looking that things that I’ve been missing.

– I encourage you to read the excerpt from Zakaria’s book, below, and to share your thoughts on it.

– Here is also a review of the book:

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It’s true China is booming, Russia is growing more assertive, terrorism is a threat. But if America is losing the ability to dictate to this new world, it has not lost the ability to lead.

by Fareed Zakaria

Americans are glum at the moment. No, I mean really glum. In April, a new poll revealed that 81 percent of the American people believe that the country is on the “wrong track.” In the 25 years that pollsters have asked this question, last month’s response was by far the most negative. Other polls, asking similar questions, found levels of gloom that were even more alarming, often at 30- and 40-year highs. There are reasons to be pessimistic—a financial panic and looming recession, a seemingly endless war in Iraq, and the ongoing threat of terrorism. But the facts on the ground—unemployment numbers, foreclosure rates, deaths from terror attacks—are simply not dire enough to explain the present atmosphere of malaise.

American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, it feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. “Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus,” wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And—for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.

Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

These factoids reflect a seismic shift in power and attitudes. It is one that I sense when I travel around the world. In America, we are still debating the nature and extent of anti-Americanism. One side says that the problem is real and worrying and that we must woo the world back. The other says this is the inevitable price of power and that many of these countries are envious—and vaguely French—so we can safely ignore their griping. But while we argue over why they hate us, “they” have moved on, and are now far more interested in other, more dynamic parts of the globe. The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.


– Research thanks to John P.

– This book review 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.




Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brain

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

The human mind is a remarkable device. Nevertheless, it is not without limits. Recently, a growing body of research has focused on a particular mental limitation, which has to do with our ability to use a mental trait known as executive function. When you focus on a specific task for an extended period of time or choose to eat a salad instead of a piece of cake, you are flexing your executive function muscles. Both thought processes require conscious effort-you have to resist the temptation to let your mind wander or to indulge in the sweet dessert. It turns out, however, that use of executive function—a talent we all rely on throughout the day—draws upon a single resource of limited capacity in the brain. When this resource is exhausted by one activity, our mental capacity may be severely hindered in another, seemingly unrelated activity. (See here and here.)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are facing a very difficult decision about which of two job offers to accept. One position offers good pay and job security, but is pretty mundane, whereas the other job is really interesting and offers reasonable pay, but has questionable job security. Clearly you can go about resolving this dilemma in many ways. Few people, however, would say that your decision should be affected or influenced by whether or not you resisted the urge to eat cookies prior to contemplating the job offers. A decade of psychology research suggests otherwise. Unrelated activities that tax the executive function have important lingering effects, and may disrupt your ability to make such an important decision. In other words, you might choose the wrong job because you didn’t eat a cookie.


Cull Ghats – a dream

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Sharon and I were sitting together on a plane about to land in Denver. The plane began to bank right in preparation for landing and somehow I could see the banking indicator in front of me. The plane kept banking over further and further and then it began to nose down steeply. I was also able to see right through the nose of the plane so I could see the ground below. I was thinking this was an interesting thing for a jet to do but that it doesn’t look good.


I found myself walking hand in hand with Sharon about a block or so outside the airport buildings. It was twilight and there weren’t many people about. I realized I had no idea how I’d gotten there and I said so to her.

She relied, “I don’t either.” We weren’t upset or emotional about this – just amazed that we should find ourselves somewhere with no idea how we’d gotten there.

We walked towards the buildings and Sharon glanced out into the open spaces to the right and said, “Maybe that’s the reason.” Off in the distance, it seemed like something had happened. It was hard to see in the semi-dark but it looked like there was a big dark area with a small pale of smoke above it. I looked and saw what she meant and said, “Maybe.

We went into the buildings and up some stairs. I was feeling light somehow and I imagined that I could fly and a moment later, I was floating beside her as she climbed the stairs. I said, “Look, I’m flying.” She began to fly with me as we went up.

I realized now that we might be dead and that we could do new things. I couldn’t think why we needed to be at the airport any more so I suggested that we simply pass through the next door we came to and that on the other side we’d pop out into our own place. And we did.


When we entered the room, I thought I recognized it but I was only partially sure that it was ours. It seemed familiar but strange at the same time. I had the sense we were renting it though I knew we owned our place.

Then we went out and we were walking at night in the neighborhood and talking about all of this strangeness. I remember weaving our way through a narrow passage between some bushes and saying, “Gosh, I don’t know what we do like this. Do we eat? Do we sleep? It’s really bizarre.” She didn’t know either.

I began to wonder, as we walked through a crowd of people, if we could influence them. Make them aware of us. I wondered what it would be like to walk through them. Would I see their insides? I pulled my keys out of my pocket and realized I had physical possession of them and I wondered what the boundaries were between what we could effect and what we couldn’t.

We walked and talked some more about various things like food and water and after awhile, I said, “This will be a problem because we have a place to stay right now but it won’t stay ours.

I continued, “I mean we’re not here to pay a mortgage or rent so we won’t have a place that’s ours.

She said, “Yeah, this is probably the sort of thing that forces people to move onto their next reincarnation. We just won’t have anything to do here after awhile.


Then the dream jumped again, and we were laying there face to face in bed. And I finally realized, after all this walking around as a ghost, how sad it was and that I was going to be forced to advance and leave this life and this relationship with Sharon behind.

I grabbed her and held her really close and began to cry really hard because I loved her and didn’t want to lose her.


Later, after I awake from crying in my dream and I got up and recorded all of this, I went back to bed and dreamt again.

I found that I was looking up at a squarish church steeple somewhere in California and on the steeple a banner was hung that said, “Cull Ghats“.

I awoke again and lay there and thought about what “Cull Ghats” might mean. And I realized that it was, somehow, the title of the dream I’d just had about the crash.

China loses track of 121 tons of ivory

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

– And we wonder why species are going extinct? Humans are surely a scourge on the Earth in so far as the other species who live here are concerned.

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UNITED NATIONS – China’s government lost track of 121 tons of elephant ivory over a dozen years that probably were sold on illegal markets, according to a previously undisclosed Chinese report to UN regulatory officials.

The “shortfall” in ivory described in the document between 1991 and 2002 – equal to the tusks from about 11,000 dead elephants – could provide fodder for representatives of a UN accord to reject China’s attempt next week to gain permission to import more ivory.

“We have not been able to account for the shortfall through the sale of legal ivory by the selected selling sites in the country,” Chinese officials reported in 2003 to the Swiss-based UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. “This suggests a large amount of illegal sale of the ivory stockpile has taken place.”

AP obtained the Chinese report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group based in Washington and London. EIA also has compiled a briefing for nations that signed on to CITES to try to prevent China from gaining permission to trade ivory at a CITES meeting in Geneva, Switzerland next week.


How To Power The Entire Country With Renewable Energy: Fun With Maps Edition

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

– Excellent post over on The Sietch Blog replete with great maps showing the abundance of the difference types of renewable energy across the U.S.    Highly recommended.

Click here to see the article: