Archive for April, 2010

Ports – There will be blood

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

– People struggle to see the effects of the oncoming Peak Oil debacle.   For a small and rather isolated nation like New Zealand, the effects won’t be long in coming in terms of the cost of goods and their availability.  Read on dear reader.

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On Easter Sunday, Kiwi exporters witnessed a minor miracle. The 260m container ship OOCL New Zealand cruised into Auckland Harbour, the first port on her maiden voyage to these waters. Capable of carrying 4578 containers, she is the largest freighter conducting regular services to New Zealand.

For Auckland exporters the giant vessel was a welcome sight, as she was in the ports of Lyttelton, Wellington, Napier and Tauranga last week.

Shipping companies have drastically slashed services to this country as they try to stem crippling losses – estimated at more than US$20 billion ($28 billion) globally last year.

The shortage of space means exporters are having to book up to eight weeks in advance and orders are being bumped and left on the dock during the peak season, which ends next month. Goods are also taking a day or two longer to reach their destination thanks to a shipping company go-slow policy aimed at saving fuel, reducing the shelf life of perishable goods.

So the introduction of OOCL New Zealand’s huge capacity is a boon. But she is also a troubling sign of changes in the industry that pose a direct threat to this trading nation’s ability to earn its way in international markets.

– More…

– research thanks to Tony H.

Geologists Drill into Antarctica and Find Troubling Signs for Ice Sheets’ Future

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Modeler and geologist Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says the policy implications are grim. “Our models may be dramatically underestimating how much worse it’s going to get,” he says, noting that many population centers worldwide are within a few meters of sea level. Looking at signs of meltwater in the early Miocene, DeConto says, “we’re seeing ice retreat faster and more dramatically than any model predicts.”

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New sediment cores from an Antarctic research drilling program suggest that the southernmost continent has had a more dynamic history than previously suspected

ERICE, Italy—If you think of Earth’s poles as fraternal twins, the Arctic has been the wild one in recent years, while the Antarctic has been a steady plodder. Withered by summer heat, Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record low coverage several times since 2005, only to rebound to within 95 percent of its long-term average extent this winter. By comparison, Antarctica, with some 90 percent of the world’s glacial reserves, has generally shed ice in more stately fashion.

However, emerging evidence from an Antarctic geological research drilling program known as ANDRILL suggests that the southernmost continent has had a much more dynamic history than previously suspected—one that could signal an abrupt shrinkage of its ice sheets at some unknown greenhouse gas threshold, possibly starting in this century. Especially troubling, scientists see evidence in the geological data that could mean the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds at least four-fifths of the continent’s ice, is less resistant to melting than previously thought.

ANDRILL, a collaboration among scientists from Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S., obtained the evidence from a 3,734-foot-long core extracted in 2007 from the seafloor on the southern McMurdo Sound, near Antarctica’s Ross Island.

A prior core, extracted from the McMurdo Ice Shelf between October 2006 and January 2007, indicated that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has frequently advanced and retreated. As ANDRILL scientists met here April 6-11 to integrate core results, the geologists and climate modelers pondered the hints of dynamism observed in the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Contrary to what climate simulations suggest, David Harwood, the program’s co-chief scientist, says, “nature seems to give us a record that the ice sheets are coming and going.”

The southern McMurdo Sound core yielded clear evidence of some 74 cycles of ice sheet buildup and retreat during a 6-million-year stretch starting in the Miocene Epoch some 20 million years ago. The unexpected ice-sheet dynamism has ANDRILL climate modelers considering what input or software adjustments would make the simulation produce the kind of dynamism seen in the geological record. Their model currently indicates that even if the imperiled West Antarctic Ice Sheet succumbs to current warming trends, the much larger East sheet should stubbornly resist melting. According to the simulation, the East ice sheet melts only when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at least eight times higher than preindustrial levels. The ice sheet’s so-called hysteresis, or resistance to change, is now in doubt.

– More…

– research thanks to Tony H.

After Peak Oil, Are We Heading Toward Social Collapse?

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Recently, Glen Sweetnam, director of the International, Economic and Greenhouse Gas division of the Energy Information Administration at the Department of Energy (DOE), announced that worldwide oil availability had reached a “plateau.” However, his statement was not made known through a major US mainstream media outlet. Instead, it was covered in France’s Le Monde.

One could assume that the US assessment of the oil decline was exposed through this particular publication perhaps due to some arrangement that Barack Obama made with Nicolas Sarkozy. (Maybe it is an indirect way to alert the French while keeping most Americans still in the dark on the topic, so that the latter bunch can ignorantly carry onward as usual. After all, no unsettling prognosis should disturb their slow return into shopoholic ways that keep the economy, particularly China’s, on which the US federal government depends for loans, going strong.)

All considered, there was not, as far as I know, even a ten-second blurb about Sweetnam’s message issued via newscasts in New England where I live. At the time of his declaration, their reports primarily covered ad nauseam the recent flood again … and again.

In a similar vein, no reporter discussing the deluge dared to raise the point that worsening extreme weather is on the way with climate change consequences in the mix, along with oil’s relationship to these outcomes. Moreover, imagine the effect on the Dow or NASDAQ if Sweetnam’s estimation and a discussion of connected economic ramifications got splashed all across the USA.

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Ocean acidification: Global warming’s evil twin

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

While there’s much focus on the impacts from warming temperatures, there’s another more direct effect from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. More than 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved into the oceans, gradually turning ocean water more acidic. Coral reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg explains the threat of ocean acidification: “Evidence gathered by scientists around the world over the last few years suggests that ocean acidification could represent an equal – or perhaps even greater threat – to the biology of our planet than global warming”. Thus a new paper Paleo-perspectives on ocean acidification (Pelejero et al 2010) labels ocean acidification the ‘evil twin’ of global warming.

As CO2 dissolves in the oceans, it leads to a drop in pH. This change in seawater chemistry affects marine organisms and ecosystems in several ways, especially organisms like corals and shellfish whose shells or skeletons are made from calcium carbonate. Today, the surface waters of the oceans have already acidified by an average of 0.1 pH units from pre-industrial levels and we’re seeing signs of its impact even in the deep oceans.

The past gives us an insight into future effects of ocean acidification, as we continue to emit more CO2 and acidify the ocean even further. Ice cores give us accurate data on the evolution of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last 800,000 years. These reconstructions, together with data derived from foraminifera, find that the pH of ocean surface water was lower during interglacials (high levels of atmospheric CO2). Seawater pH was also higher during glacial periods  when atmospheric CO2 was low. Correspondingly, foraminifera seem to have grown thicker or thinner shells over glacial–interglacial timescales in time with changing CO2 levels.

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Oil Supply Crunch: 2011-2015

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Concerns are mounting about peak oil, and there continues to be much debate over when the peak will be reached, whether a plateau can be sustained or whether the onset of decline would occur quickly, whether we will hit peak demand before we hit peak supply, etc.

There is convincing evidence that conventional oil production has already peaked, since we have been stuck at around 74 mbpd for over half a decade (despite the incentive of record high prices).

There also seems to be growing consensus that global liquids production (currently around 86 mbpd) is likely to peak within the next decade and almost certainly at less than 95 mbpd.

(Mainstream opinion a few years ago predicted no peak before 2030, with output at 130 mbpd.)

However, there are increasing warnings about an “oil supply crunch” within the next few years, not because of geological constraints, but because of under-investment.

These warnings began just over two years ago, yet the mainstream media have rarely mentioned them, so the public remains largely unaware.

Listed below is a chronology of some of these warnings, with URL links to the original sources.

One of the first warnings came from the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol in the summer of 2007 and then reiterated in Nov. 2007, cited here:

In May 2008 the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, Energy Watchdog Warns of Oil Supply Crunch:

This was followed by a study from Chatham House, a highly regarded think-tank in the UK. In August 2008, it published a paper entitled The Coming Oil Supply Crunch in which author Paul Stevens predicted a shortage within the next 5-10 years. His 40-page study (which includes a May 09 reaffirmation of his 08 prediction) is available here:

On Nov. 15, 2008 the International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook, which was something of a bombshell. The IEA, which had been quite dismissive of peak oil, suddenly warned, “What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution… the era of cheap oil is over… time is running out….”

It further warned, “Some 30 mb/d of new capacity is needed by 2015. There remains a real risk that under-investment will cause an oil-supply crunch in that timeframe” (WEO, Executive Summary, p. 7).
The Executive Summary of the 2008 WEO is available here:


– research thanks to Tony H.

US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015

Monday, April 12th, 2010

• Shortfall could reach 10m barrels a day, report says
• Cost of crude oil is predicted to top $100 a barrel

The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.

The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel.

“By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day,” says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis.

It adds: “While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India.”


– research thanks to Tony H.

Social Security to See Payout Exceed Pay-In This Year

Friday, April 9th, 2010

The bursting of the real estate bubble and the ensuing recession have hurt jobs, home prices and now Social Security.

This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, said that while the Congressional projection would probably be borne out, the change would have no effect on benefits in 2010 and retirees would keep receiving their checks as usual.

The problem, he said, is that payments have risen more than expected during the downturn, because jobs disappeared and people applied for benefits sooner than they had planned. At the same time, the program’s revenue has fallen sharply, because there are fewer paychecks to tax.

Analysts have long tried to predict the year when Social Security would pay out more than it took in because they view it as a tipping point — the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency, unless Congress strengthens the program’s finances.

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– Hat tip to Cryptogon

US unable to win a cyber war

Monday, April 5th, 2010

24 Feb 2010

The inability to deflect even a simulated cyber attack or mitigate its effects shown in the exercise that took place some six days ago at Washington’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel doesn’t bode well for the US.

Mike McConnell, the former Director of National Intelligence, said to the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee yesterday that if the US got involved in a cyber war at this moment, they would surely lose. “We’re the most vulnerable. We’re the most connected. We have the most to lose,” he stated.

Three years ago, McConnell referred to cybersecurity as the ‘‘soft underbelly of this country’’ and it’s clear that he thinks things haven’t changed much since then.

And he isn’t that optimistic about what warnings about the possibility might achieve. According to InfoWorld, he thinks that only an attack with catastrophic consequences will spur the government into action. “We will not mitigate this risk,” he says. “We will talk about it, we will wave our hands, we’ll have a bill, but we will not mitigate this risk.”

James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thinks that cyber security is not something that has to be left in the hands of private companies and that government intervention should be called for. “Government needs to give the market a kick,” says McConnell.

Not so long ago, the introduction of two Senate bills that would allow the US president to shut down the Internet in case of a cyber emergency made corporations all over the country sweat. But, it’s plain to see that government affiliated experts would welcome it with open arms and are longing to see the government taking a more active role when it comes to cybersecurity.

– To the original…

Six nations gather over drying up of Mekong

Monday, April 5th, 2010

– We can expect to see more and more headlines like this as we go forward.

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Leaders of four countries whose people depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods get the chance today to confront China over claims that it is draining off their lifeblood with the building of large dams upstream.

They meet as the Mekong, which provides food, transport and irrigation for 65 million people in six countries, has dropped to its lowest level in nearly 20 years.

China and Myanmar will join the summit meeting of the Mekong River Commission, whose members are Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Chinese officials – as well as the Mekong Commission’s technical experts – say the scientific evidence does not support environmentalists’ allegation the dams are the main cause of reduced downstream flow.

Blame Mother Nature, they say, or climate change.

This year’s low flow and consequent drought is attributed to an early end to the 2009 wet season and low rainfall during the monsoons.

As Asia’s superpower, China wields considerable economic and political leverage over its southern neighbours.

The four Mekong commission nations, plus Myanmar, are heavily invested in hydropower projects to meet great shortfalls of electricity and have little interest in examining their drawbacks too closely.

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Magnets ‘can modify our morality’

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

– I have some odd and off the beaten path interests.  One of them centers around techniques developed more than a decade ago by Dr. Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Canada.

– This link will give an explanation: 

– The article, below, was sent by a friend who knows of my interests in this area and it does, indeed, make for interesting reading.

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Scientists have shown they can change people’s moral judgements by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses.

They identified a region of the brain just above and behind the right ear which appears to control morality.

And by using magnetic pulses to block cell activity they impaired volunteers’ notion of right and wrong.

The small Massachusetts Institute of Technology study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead researcher Dr Liane Young said: “You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour.

“To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.”

The key area of the brain is a knot of nerve cells known as the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ).

The researchers subjected 20 volunteers to a number of tests designed to assess their notions of right and wrong.

In one scenario participants were asked how acceptable it was for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knew to be unsafe.

After receiving a 500 millisecond magnetic pulse to the scalp, the volunteers delivered verdicts based on outcome rather than moral principle.

If the girlfriend made it across the bridge safely, her boyfriend was not seen as having done anything wrong.

In effect, they were unable to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions.

Previous work has shown the RTPJ to be highly active when people think about the thoughts and beliefs of others.

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– Research thanks to Alan T.