Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wine, local food, and local resilience, Part 4

In this series’ previous post, we discussed making wine at home as a possible solution to wine availability in an age of declining cheap energy. In this the final post of this series, we will discuss in some detail the advantages of home grape growing and wine making. Along the way, we’ll mention organic viticulture methods and briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of specific grape varieties that might be considered for a home vineyard.

Advantages I see for home wine production include the following. First, we’re by no means limited to Concord and Delaware; we have many, many more choices than Gene Logsdon’s immigrants did (Logsdon 78). Many of these newer choices have a fair degree of disease resistance, and they include a much wider variety of wine types and flavor characteristics. Second, the home winemaker can rely on his/her own wine tastes in choosing vines to cultivate; he/she is not restricted to what will sell commercially. Third, it’s easier to practice organic soil maintenance on a small scale, and this could prove very important in maintaining vine health in an era when fungicide sprays may be difficult to obtain. Fourth, growing one’s own wine as part of a household economy means minimal carbon footprint and possible long-term sustainability. Finally, for those who have the attention to detail, the interest, the patience, and the space to raise and test hundreds of grape seedlings, breeding one’s own grapes for wine quality, better disease resistance, and suitability for one’s local conditions remains a possibility.

Choices, Choices

We have many more possible grape variety choices in the east and Midwest than just about anywhere else on earth. I have listed a mere few of them at the end of this post. There are so many others that one could try, with new varieties being released every few years or so, that it can be almost overwhelming. The key is to pick vines that ripen well in one’s climate, that have at least some disease resistance, and that can produce the kind of wine that one’s household enjoys. And another key is not to pay attention to what the wine snobs say.

Antidote to Wine Snobbery

Leon Adams defined wine snobbery as “drinking the label, not the wine” (13). Snobbery occurs when people turn up their noses at a wine someone else enjoys just because they don’t like it (or think they don’t like it). Wine, for some strange reason, seems to encourage this boorish attitude. Here in the eastern US, a kind of wine snobbery has arisen against the French hybrids—especially the red ones—among those who enjoy the vinifera wines grown and produced here and elsewhere. Growing the kinds of grapes that make the kinds of wine one likes, and then making the wine oneself, is perhaps the best preventive to snobbery, since the wines can be enjoyed at home without disparaging comments from others.

Furthermore, grapes that aren’t widely grown by commercial operations can often be good choices for home winemakers. I’ll talk about a few of these in my comments on specific grape varieties. The home winemaker is free to experiment with unusual varieties since there’s no bottom line to keep in mind.

Organic Grape Growing

Organic agriculture has made significant strides in recent decades. The key to organic growing is building, maintaining, and protecting the soil structure, including the complex soil ecosystems of microorganisms and other soil dwellers. We are learning more and more every year about the vital importance of maintaining and encouraging good soil ecology, as it provides direct benefits to the plants we are trying to grow, including increased disease resistance. Lon Rombough, in his excellent book on organic grape growing (see the Works Cited list at the end of this post) gives a detailed discussion of the benefits of organic soil maintenance. I highly recommend Rombough’s book, not only for the organic techniques themselves but also because it provides all the basic information one needs for successful grape growing—not just the basics of organic soil maintenance, but also the fundamentals of grape growing such as training and pruning.

One of the most interesting and helpful discoveries about soil maintenance is the importance of micorrhizal fungi. These fungi live in the soil and develop symbiotic relationships with the roots of many plants, including grapevines. The fungi provide soil nutrients to the plants, and the plants in turn provide sugars to the fungi through photosynthesis. This symbiotic relationship can help keep vines from becoming stressed, making them more resistant to disease and insect damage. Lon Rombough provides detailed information about micorrhizae in his book; he also posted this article online. Micorrhizae inoculant is available online and is easy to use.

Many techniques for organic soil maintenance exist; one of the best known is the French bio-dynamic system. Lon Rombough recommends that anyone interested in growing grapes look into this system (Rombough 72). I don’t know much about bio-dynamics specifically, but it and similar organic techniques (I think of John Jeavons’ and Toby Hemenway’s books) seem to be ideal for home and small producers. They will likely become vital in an age when fossil fuel inputs are not available or are extremely expensive.

Home Economics

Growing one’s own grapes and making one’s own wines with them, just like growing and canning one’s own tomatoes, can be a valuable support to a household economy. And it can eliminate most of the carbon emissions caused by industrial-scale wine production, distribution, and retailing. Here’s a simple example: a home winemaker can clean and re-use empty wine bottles much easier than a commercial operation could. One can even learn how to culture wine yeast strains and keep them viable from year to year.

Creating New Grape Varieties

I won’t go into detail about this because Rombough devotes an entire chapter to the topic. Anyone interested in the topic should consult Chapter 13 of his book. All who are interested in maintaining the cultivation of good wine grapes in the eastern third of North America into the future will be interested in breeding efforts, whether they actually want to participate in it or not. The goal for breeders would be a vine that reliably produces grapes capable of making high-quality wine, is well-adapted to one’s locality, and that is so highly resistant to the indigenous diseases and insect pests that it can be grown successfully in a given location without chemical spray. Those who have the inclination, the patience, and the space to engage in breeding grapevines will help carry the tradition of quality wine into the future.

Musings about Specific Grape Varieties

I don’t know this, of course, but my guess is that the immigrants Gene Logsdon mentions did not spray fungicide on their Concord or Delaware grapes. Neither of these varieties is immune to fungus attack, but if the vines were planted in a favorable location with good air circulation and trained to take best advantage of that circulation, they would have been less likely to contract disease. If they did, the grower might have picked off diseased leaves, shoots, and/or clusters and burned them. Active and meticulous grower attention to how the vines are doing, along with removing and disposing of any infected plant material, can go a long way toward maintaining vine health. Add to that solid, organic soil building and soil ecosystem maintenance techniques, including the cultivation of micorrhizal fungi, and the grower can increase odds that the vines will stay healthy most of the time.

But the vines themselves come first. Choosing vines that have natural resistance to infection is the first line of defense. It isn’t infallible, but it’s the best place to start here in the humid east and Midwest. I’m going to end this discussion with some thoughts about specific wine-grape varieties, including a few that are not commonly seen in commercial vineyards, if they are grown there at all. I’m basing these choices primarily on disease resistance and wine quality.

These are NOT recommendations, however. These are mostly observations. The varieties one should try depend on one’s local conditions (including such factors as disease pressure, winter cold, length of growing season, air circulation, and soil type and drainage) and one’s personal tastes in wine. One may or may not wish or be able to consider any of the varieties mentioned here. Nevertheless, readers might use my descriptions as a guide to the things to look for when choosing grape varieties to grow.

I did not include any vinifera varieties here, since they are all well known—if you live in a favorable location (such near the shore of one of the Great Lakes) and want to try Riesling or Cabernet Franc, by all means go for it. Just keep in mind that you likely will be committing yourself to rigorous and systematic spraying against disease. Also, I didn’t discuss most of the standard labrusca varieties—Concord, Catawba, and Niagara, not because of snobbery (if you enjoy wine from these grapes, by all means grow them!) but because they usually need sugar amelioration. I’m assuming that refined sugar, just like fungicide chemicals, may be in short supply in a future without cheap energy, so I think it’s best to include only grapes that are capable of obtaining adequate sugar levels on their own.

For Red Wine

Baco Noir —this French hybrid is a good choice for beginners. The vines are easy to grow and it’s easy to handle in the wine cellar. It can make a good red wine. Vines are quite vigorous—secondary shoots with secondary clusters need to be pinched off. Grapes ripen quite early and must be protected from birds. A friend in southeast Ohio told me it is susceptible to black rot there, but the vines were always healthy for me in Bowling Green. Baco tolerates heavy soils.

Chambourcin —Considered one of the best red French hybrids. Productive, moderately disease resistant, Chambourcin produces a balanced dry red wine that is often highly rated. But it needs a long growing season to ripen fully. The other common French hybrid reds—Chancellor, Chelois, and De Chaunac—ripen earlier than Chambourcin and have similar wine qualities. Of the three, Chelois, perhaps, is the most disease resistant. Some commercial operations blend two or more of these four varieties for a proprietary red.

Corot Noir —A new variety from the Cornell breeding station in Geneva, New York. The release notes claim that Corot makes a vinifera -like red wine with lots of tannins and none of the grassy, herbaceous character that some dislike in the red French hybrids. They also claim good disease resistance.

Frontenac —Developed at the University of Minnesota breeding program for cold resistance, Frontenac produces a uniquely flavored, more vinifera - than hybrid-charactered red wine. I’ve tasted wine from Frontenac and it had a luscious, cherry-like aroma and flavor. It lacks the typical red hybrid herbaceousness. Frontenac vines should be highly disease resistant.

Marechal Foch —A very early ripening French hybrid, originally from Alsace and named for Marshall Ferdinand Foch, the French World War I hero. It’s highly resistant to cold and disease. It ripens well in cool growing seasons. Ron Lombough indicates that in the cool coastal Oregon climate it can be grown without spray and the cool nights help it develop a deeply-colored, complexly flavored wine (188). It’s grown successfully here in Ohio, too, though it usually ripens with perhaps less complexity. A sister variety, Leon Millot (from the same cross as Foch), ripens a week earlier and produces a very similar wine. Millot was disease free in Bowling Green, but I had to protect the ripening clusters from the birds. Foch and Millot might be good choices for home growers the northern Great Lakes regions.

Marquette —A new variety from the University of Minnesota breeding program, Marquette is supposed to be capable of producing a vinifera -like red wine with lots of tannins and without red hybrid herbaceousness. Marquette should be quite disease resistant and very cold-hardy.

Noiret —From the Cornell breeding program, Noiret is a newer variety that, like sister release Corot Noir and Minnesota’s Marquette, promises to produce a high quality, vinifera -like red wine with none of the red hybrid herbaceousness. One commercial winemaker recently told me he’s very excited about offering it when his first crop is ready for release in a couple of years. Noiret may be a bit less resistant to disease than Corot.

Norton —An old American variety, also called Norton’s Virginia and Virginia Seedling in the east and Cynthiana in Missouri and Arkansas. Thought to be pure or mostly Vitis aestivalis , Norton can produce a high-quality red wine with no off-aromas or flavors. It needs a very long growing season to ripen properly. It may not be a good choice for beginning winemakers, as it requires expert handling to make good wine. Norton vines are said to be virtually immune to fungus disease.

For White Wine

Beaumont —The late Byron T. Johnson of Cincinnati bred grapes for both disease resistance and wine/juice quality and released several named varieties. Lon Rombough claims that Johnson’s varieties can be grown “in much of the central Midwest” without fungicide spray (242). Unfortunately, of the varieties Johnson released, only Beaumont and Kee-Wah-Din (a Baco Noir cross) are available commercially, so far as I know. (Someone who is interested in starting a grapevine nursery and who likes to do detective work might want to track down and obtain cuttings of other Johnson releases like Scioto, Beaufort, Joyous, and Chief Wauwautan [Rombough 242], propagate them, and begin offering them to the public.) Beaumont is descended from Delaware; the clusters are similar to Delaware in appearance, but the vine is more disease resistant than Delaware. Johnson thought that it made an excellent white wine with a slightly musky or spicy character, similar to Delaware. Beaumont certainly is worth experimenting with at home.

Cayuga —From the Cornell breeding program, Cayuga (often labeled Cayuga White) was their very first wine grape release, and it immediately became popular among growers and winemakers in upstate New York and beyond. Cayuga makes an excellent, fruity white wine that some have compared to Riesling. The vine is vigorous, easy to grow, and quite resistant to disease. Cayuga has Zinfandel and Seyval in its ancestry.

Chardonel —From the Cornell breeding program, Chardonel is a cross between Seyval and Chardonnay and is supposed to have wine qualities similar to its more famous parent. It isn’t widely grown in Ohio, however, possibly because Chardonnay itself grows well along the Lake Erie shore, but it’s popular in places like Missouri where summer heat and humidity are simply too much for Chardonnay. Moderately disease resistant.

Delaware —Among the old labrusca varieties, winemakers considered Delaware the best for wine quality. And it’s still worth growing, in my opinion. My favorite wine from the old Steuk winery in Sandusky, Ohio, was a dry Delaware. Unfortunately, Steuk went out of business about fifteen years ago and I haven’t found another source for dry Delaware. Unless grown in deep, fertile soil, Delaware vines should be grafted to increase their vigor. It’s not a heavy producer, but in most years, Delaware develops enough sugar not to require amelioration. The vine is not as disease resistant as Concord.

Horizon —Cornell’s second wine grape release (Cayuga was first), Horizon has not become commercially popular. Horizon comes from the same cross as Cayuga. Lon Rombough says the fresh juice has a strong apple aroma and flavor. He also says the clusters are prone to botrytis bunch rot, like Seyval, one of its parents, if wet weather coincides with ripening (Rombough 187). The vine is vigorous and productive. Experimental home growers might wish to try it out.

Melody —Another release from Cornell’s breeding program, Melody has also not caught on among commercial winemakers (maybe it was the name). But it’s a heavy producer and might be ideal for a home wine making operation. Melody has Pinot Blanc and Seyval in its ancestry and is said to produce a wine with Pinot Blanc character. Disease resistance is supposed to be moderate.

Seyval —Considered the best of the French hybrids for wine quality. Well made Seyval, or Seyval Blanc, compares favorably to Sauvignon Blanc. Not highly disease resistant, Seyval is also susceptible to bunch rot (botrytis) if cool, wet weather coincides with ripening. Cayuga might be a better choice for a home vineyard, unless local growing conditions are favorable for Seyval.

Steuben —From the Cornell breeding program, Steuben was bred as a table grape, not a wine grape. The grapes are quite tasty: very sweet and juicy, with a unique spicy tang (though they are not seedless). Steuben also makes great unfermented grape juice. However, if the juice is pressed out and fermented at low temperatures, without contacting the dark blue skins (the way “white Zinfandel” is made), and a small percentage of residual sugar is retained, German style, Steuben creates a unique, spicy, slightly pink wine that is the only wine I know of that really can complement the sweetish-smoky taste of ham. I don’t know whether any commercial winery makes wine from Steuben grapes today; Dr. Tom Wykoff’s Cedar Hill Wine Company in Cleveland Heights made it and sold it in his Au Provence restaurant back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Unfortunately they’re out of business. His Steuben wine was very tasty. Making Steuben wine might be the perfect project for a home winemaker who wants to do something unusual. It also helps that Steuben is a very healthy and vigorous vine. It’s also one of the relatively few vines that develop attractive autumnal colors. Ron Lombough says Steuben would probably do very well trained on an arbor (191).

Traminette —A Cornell cross between GewГјrztraminer and a French hybrid, Traminette is the latest big hit among growers and wineries. It’s much easier to grow than its vinifera parent, and it can produce a spicy, aromatic wine very similar in character to GewГјrztraminer. Doing well with it, though, probably requires some winemaking expertise. I’ve tasted Traminette wines that ranged from very excellent (try the 2008 Traminette from the Meranda-Nixon winery in Ripley, Ohio!) to good to so-so, and one example tasted downright medicinal. The vine is moderately disease resistant.

Vidal —Vidal, also labeled Vidal Blanc, is probably the most popular and widely grown French hybrid, at least here in North America. One of its parents is one of the most widely grown grape varieties in Europe, known as Trebbiano in Italy and St. Emilion or Ugni Blanc in France. Vidal is easy to grow, very productive, and versatile, so it’s a good choice for beginning grape growers and winemakers. I grew Vidal in Bowling Green and could regularly count on a yearly harvest of at least five gallons of juice from four vines. The wine is pleasing to excellent, with a slight herbaceous aftertaste if finished dry. The best wine I ever made came from Vidal juice fermented in a cool place with Epernay yeast. Wineries make a wide variety of wine styles with Vidal, including an unusual sweet wine called ice wine (the sweet juice is pressed from frozen grapes that are left to hang on the vines until a deep freeze). Aside from that, wineries typically make Vidal into an off-dry, aromatic, German style wine (try Farmers White from Troutman Vineyards in Wooster, Ohio; it was so aromatic I even asked them if there wasn’t a bit of Traminette blended in. They assured me it was 100% Vidal). However, I once tried a dry, barrel-fermented, malolactic, sur lie Vidal labeled St. Mary’s Blanc from Rockbridge Vineyard in Virginia that was also quite excellent. My Vidal vines in Bowling Green were somewhat susceptible to powdery mildew but otherwise healthy. Vidal needs a fairly long growing season to ripen properly.

Vignoles —A French hybrid, Vignoles has gained some popularity, mostly for sweet dessert wines, though a few make a dry table wine from it. I have never tried wine from this grape. Moderate disease resistance.


Much more could be said. I hope that these musings spark further discussion among those concerned about coping with the end of cheap energy. I believe that wine will become an important part of the future home and local economy as we begin doing more and more things for ourselves.


Works Cited

Adams, Leon. The Wines of America . 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.

Logsdon, Gene. Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol’ Demon Alcohol . White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 1999.

Rombough, Lon. The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture . White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2002.

The Trillium Patch: wine, local food, and local resilience, part 3Home sales take unexpected dip

Laughs for doomers

Boris Yelnikoff is a self-described "Nobel-level thinker" who feels beseiged by "microbes," one of his many terms for people who don't see "the big picture." And, what's the big picture? He tells us in the first five minutes of Woody Allen's latest movie, "Whatever Works," when he says, "On the whole, I'm sorry to say, we're a failed species."

Yelnikoff, played by Larry David, is an aging former Columbia University physics professor who has divorced his wife, moved to a dingy (but affordable) New York apartment, and taken up teaching chess to children to support himself. While the movie doesn't explicitly tackle the many converging catastrophes of the 21st century--there is exactly one mention of global warming--it does provide a catharsis for one's doomerish side as we laugh at Yelnikoff's misanthropic pessimism and his general ability to be a killjoy. We even get a treatment of the concept of entropy that elicits laughs. Now that's a true doomer's delight!

The failed species remark indicates promise that the movie will provide laughs for doomers. This is confirmed in what is really an opening monologue in which Yelnikoff warns the audience as follows:
I'm not a likeable guy. Charm has never been a priority with me. And just so you know, this is not the feel-good movie of the year. So if you're one of those idiots who needs to feel good, go get yourself a foot massage....What the hell does it all mean anyhow? Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

That such a character could be the basis for a comedy is a testament to the genius of Allen. That this character could be the conduit for catharsis for the peak oil- and climate change-obsessed is a minor blessing. Yelnikoff tells us in the opening monologue that the daily news is enough to drive one to suicide as it did his father:
My father committed suicide because the morning newspapers depressed him. And could you blame him? With the horror and corruption and ignorance and poverty and genocide and AlDS and global warming and terrorism..."The horror," Kurtz said at the end of Heart of Darkness. "The horror." Lucky Kurtz didn't have the Times delivered in the jungle, then he'd see some horror. But what do you do? You read about some massacre in Darfur or some school bus gets blown up, and you go, "Oh, my God, the horror!" And then you turn the page and finish your eggs from free-range chickens.

Yelnikoff also demonstrates frustration you can believe in. How many times a day (or times a minute if you are watching any cable newscast) do the peak oil- and climate change-obsessed among us want to yell out, "You idiot, you moron, you imbecile!" Most of us are too polite to say it, so Yelnikoff says it for us (for various doomer- and non-doomer-related reasons) over and over again.

The continuing spark for the comedy in "Whatever Works" comes from Yelnikoff's liaison with a young, beautiful runaway from Mississippi. Desperate for food and shelter she accosts him in front of his apartment one evening and convinces him to let her in. She ends up staying, and eventually (spoiler alert), they marry. It doesn't last. But Yelnikoff is resigned in the proper entropic way: "The universe is winding down. Why shouldn't we?"

In the end, however, as is appropriate for a comedy, love conquers all, and the main characters land in fulfilling, if not necessarily traditional, love relationships. The film also examines the role of chance in life, an issue discussed frequently on this blog in both the financial and natural worlds. The film's focus, of course, is on chance in our love lives.

The movie never seems to have gained wide release, probably in part because it takes so many jabs at gun advocates and Christian fundamentalists--two of the main characters are fundamentalists from the South--and probably because of its relentlessly doomerish main character.

I recommend more than one viewing to get the full cathartic effects, and also because you won't catch all the jokes the first time through. If you are among the peak oil- or climate change-obsessed, how can you resist a film that uses Heisenberg's Uncertainy Principle and the fate of the ancient Mayans as setups for jokes?

Rob Hopkins helps “unleash” the Transition Town Totnes Energy Descent Action PlanBusiness briefs: Movie Gallery to cut 225 La Vergne jobs

Redesigning Civilization after the Stress Tests

Redesigning Civilization after the Stress Tests

The BP oil gusher should remind us that our civilization relies on unseen, not very well understood forces, especially energy and the environment, for our day-to-day economies.

Our institutions and communities have recently failed stress tests that pushed system designs beyond intended limits: whether it's toxic exurban real estate assets, climate-altering pollution or deepwater oil drilling.

The Post Carbon Institute just published my report, "The Death of Sprawl: Redesigning Urban Resilience for the Twenty-first Century Resource Crises." Random exurban sprawl and informed urban systems are the opposite ends of a spectrum. In this continuum, the interplay of economics, energy and natural resources management can be optimized (or wasted or ignored) through planning, design, behaviors and technology to yield astonishingly different outcomes.

The chapter will be in a Fall 2010 book being published by The University of California Press and Watershed Media.

We need to understand what stresses will hit before the levees reach their breaking point. When stresses do hit, we will better know how to respond quickly and systemically. Meanwhile, we're stuck with the impacts of scores of towns like Victorville, California, which were overbuilt during the height of 1990s and early 2000s speculation. I examine in detail just how Victorville became a poster child for foreclosures and why it is a harbinger for our economy, resources and oil use. Chances are if you are in the West, Sunbelt or Midwest, there's one of these towns out on the fringes near you.

Redesigning Civilization after the Stress Tests

Location of hyper-growth US Boomburbs 2000-2009 (click to enlarge)

Quickly developed and poorly planned exurban communities, called "Boomburbs," require cars for virtually every human activity outside the home, going to school, eating out, shopping, dating, seeing a movie, playing and of course, working. But working actually comprises only about 25 percent of the driving we do as a nation: the national reliance on cars goes far beyond our jobs, and is more based on how our communities and streets are designed.

(If that "Green Home" you see in so many magazines doesn't analyze how people get to and from that home, then it's probably far from being sustainable.) 

The foreclosures started in these exurban areas after gas prices started rising in 2006, impacting local communities, lenders and housing or strip mall developers that formed the points of the triangle, or a pyramid, you might say. A bank, rig or smokestack regulator won't limit the flood of bad paper, crude or carbon emissions if rules can be circumvented in order to make more money. That's the point when stresses build up, exposing failures that at first seem an outlier, then become more commonplace as the very fabric of the system gives way. 

Historically cheap gas was enabled by the federal government and foreign producers, combined with no-holds barred real estate development encouraged by the feds, states, and local communities, and of course the banking industry. Zero down homes are still being offered by developers and their agents in these sprawled communities. To be fair, many low-income individuals wanted to own or invest in their first home, but greed greased the transactions.

Sprawl was one of the major factors requiring more driving and more cars, leading to more time spent commuting, poorer health and ever-greater oil consumption. As a nation we needed to Drill, Baby, Drill in ever-more precarious situations, be it Iraq or the deep waters of the Gulf. 

Meanwhile, the ongoing foreclosure crisis in sprawled California, Arizona, Florida and Texas is undermining a national economic recovery, and will eat away at resources for decades to come: energy, water, time, investment, and security.

Redesigning Civilization after the Stress Tests

Real estate prices in or near transit-served Washington DC (green arrows indicate prices going up) and in car-dependent outlying areas (red arrows mean prices decreasing): Credit: Kaid Benfield, NRDC, 2010

Even before the oil gusher, smart institutional money started to avoid sprawl like the plague for the first time. Now, there is a new wrinkle: will the BP Deepwater Horizon incident change global access to oil and the public's cognitive understanding of what burning gas and driving really mean?

So far the reaction in this nation has been to talk about developing renewable sources of energy, including wind, solar and nuclear energy. None of those forms of energy have been used to power our cars and trucks on a meaningful scale--though they will in 10-20 years--so such talk is premature.

Other nations, such as China in wind and solar, are leading US development in such technology, so we are falling down in preparing for the distant day when cars will be powered mainly by renewable energy and alternative fuels (Brazil has gained dominance in producing non-food based ethanol).

Euro nations have tempered their oil addiction by taxing gas at a higher rate while also building denser communities requiring much less driving, and allowing many people to walk or cycle to their destinations. Besides being more energy efficient for residents, these cities and suburbs are also more attractive to businesses and tourists, with their density and mixed-uses (cheese and wine markets, parks, schools and office buildings) being a big part of the charm.

China and India are embarking on ambitious programs to build new cities and redesign existing cities, which is a necessity, considering their exploding urban populations. While automotive growth is a given in these nations (China just overtook the US in auto sales last year), both nations are weighing innovative metro-area designs. Tianjin, China has an "eco-city" district (one of 40 in the nation) that is planned to have 90 percent of all trips by public transit, bicycle or walking.

Redesigning Civilization after the Stress Tests

Denver, meanwhile, passed an innovative update to its zoning codes this week that will make its transit-oriented planning and investments more successful, reducing auto-dependent development and integrating more mixed uses into the city's neighborhoods.

Not everyone wants to or is able to afford living in a city or dense suburbs served by transit. But as "The Death of Sprawl" illustrates, we need to find a way out of the institutional, economic and environmental hangover from the last days of cheap and easy oil.

We can deny there's a problem and continue our delusional ways, or we can put the bottle down, sober up and get to work on seeing what the rest of our lives can really be.    

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and author of How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings.

Originally published Green Flow blog of Common Currents

The death of sprawl: designing urban resilience for the 21st century resource and climate crisesNissan aims to lower cost of Leaf battery

Shale gas — the hydrofracking wars

Josh Fox's film Gasland has stirred up a lot of controversy over the environmental damage caused by shale gas drilling. Shale gas reservoir rock lies many thousands of feet below the surface, with the depth depending on the location. In order to get the gas to flow up to the wellhead, operators drill down to the shale rock layer, and then apply a process called hydraulic fracturing to "open up" the rock. This requires injecting a fracturing fluid into the shale at very high pressure. This fluid is mostly water, but also contains hundreds of nasty chemicals.

Where do the gas, the chemicals, and the contaminated water end up? The best outcome says that all three 1) flow up to the wellhead, where they are captured or produced; or 2) stay trapped in the shale rock many thousands of feet below the surface. This description is over-simplified, but basically correct. The gas industry wants you to believe this story. Josh Fox wants you to believe that these gas or fluids get loose, flowing into the water table or the air, and thus polluting both.

Which story should you believe?

You should believe both of these stories. How many times in the last 40 years have we seen this narrative play out? The answer is too many times to count. Does drilling and hydro-fracking sometimes pollute the environment? Sure it does! Does a bear shit in the woods? On the other hand, shale gas production is perfectly safe most of the time. No one really knows how frequently drilling pollutes the environment in a serious way, which is really the immediate issue at hand.

But we need to step back and look at the Big Picture. Do we need the natural gas? Yes, indeed—see my Betting The House On Shale Gas. Do we want to further pollute the environment? No, of course not—see any story on the BP oil spill. This is the bed we have made, and now we have to sleep in it.

Where are the wind farms, and the solar concentrators, and the whatevers which are supposed to alleviate pressures to produce more & more natural gas? They don't exist! We could re-frame that question. Where are the natural gas vehicle fleets & infrastructure that could alleviate pressures to produce more & more oil? They don't exist! I could go on and on here, and the answer would always be the same: They don't exist!

OK, why don't they exist? Once again, we get into two narratives. The oil & gas industry will tell you that renewable energy is not up to the task of replacing fossil fuels. The environmentalists will tell you the political power of the oil & gas industry prevents us from implementing renewable solutions. I could write a book about this too, but take note: we are still trapped in the same old pointless conflict. People want a sustainably clean environment, but they also want their homes heated (or cooled) and their lights to come on when they flip the switch.

In other words, we want to have our cake and eat it too. How do we break out of this vicious circle? One way we could have escaped would been to have a coherent, universally agreed upon energy policy in place over the last 3 decades after the energy dislocations of the 1970s and early 1980s. That policy could have been amended as circumstances changed. But it was way too much for us to expect such a wise policy in Cowboy America. No can do—we'll just make it up as we go along.

So, we don't break out of this vicious circle. This infantile Fossil Fuels versus The Environment debate has gone on for about 40 years now. This noise will continue well into the future until all the Big Questions have finally been resolved. And that resolution will mean that sometime in the 21st century, we will have exhausted most of our exploitable fossil fuel resources, and we will have trashed the planet.

All because we wanted to have our cake and to eat it too.

Here's the Hydrofracking Wars video from Tech Ticker.

Note: pause the video when it's finished to prevent it from playing again

Gulf spill won’t dampen U.S. appetite for oilInterview with Jeff Rubin, part 2

Interview with Jeff Rubin, part 2

Jeff Rubin was the chief economist at CIBC World Markets for almost twenty years. He is one of the first economists to accurately predict soaring oil prices back in 2000 and is now a sought-after energy expert. Peak Oil Review caught up to him in Toronto the week before last. Part 2 of the 2-part interview:

POR: Is there a growing number of economists who are getting the resource depletion story, or is it still business as usual?

Rubin: I think more economists are coming around. I can just see that from the number of economists who respond to my blog. I think what’s happening is that economists are beginning to realize that, yes, the supply curve-meaning, the higher the price of oil, the more oil we’ll find-has a big problem in that much of the new oil that we’ll find, like tar sands or deep water, we won’t be able to afford to burn. Economists’ responses will be that $150 oil will give us new forms of supply but that those prices will send a lot of motorists to the sidelines. Sure, we can produce 4 or 5 million barrels a day out of the Athabasca tar sands or Venezuela’s heavy oil, but the prices to produce it translate into $7-a-gallon gasoline. Can we really afford to burn that? They are starting to understand that depletion is more an economic term than a geologic term because we not going to hit the absolute limit of oil supply; as we’re keep drilling towards the bottom of the barrel, it’s going to get too expensive to bring out what’s left.

POR: Who in the oil industry gets peak oil?

Rubin: I think everybody gets peak oil in some sense because, you know, what’s BP doing drilling in a mile of water at the Macondo well, or planning to develop the Tiber field which is much deeper below the ocean floor? Or for that matter, what’s Suncor doing in the tar sands? We’re there because that’s all that’s left. They may not want to articulate it as peak oil, but their actions speak louder than their words. When you’re spending billions of dollars on new tar sands production where you need $90 to $100 a barrel to provide adequate economic returns on your investment, you can call it whatever you want but I call it peak oil.

They had a pilot project in Fort McMurray (Alberta) in 1920, so this is not a new discovery. Neither is the Orinoco. The only thing that’s new is that, not only are these seen as commercially viable sources of supply, but now a recent CERA report says these are going to be the single largest source of supply of US imports. What do you call that if it’s not peak oil?

POR: Speaking of CERA, Daniel Yergin wouldn’t call anything peak oil. If you had to pick the four horsemen of false oil optimism, the list would include Cambridge Energy Research Associates, the US EIA, OPEC, and a voice or two from industry-maybe BP and ExxonMobil. What’s going to make them change their tune so they don’t postpone acknowledgement of this looming reality?

Rubin: I’m not sure that it’s really going to matter what those folks think or say any more because those folks, especially CERA and the International Energy Agency, have lost so much credibility on this issue that I don’t think people are going to be terribly concerned about their view on oil supply.

They’ve been so patently out to lunch in the last five years about oil supply that I don’t think that’s where people are looking for such information.

I think that what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico is bringing things into focus. Once Americans get over their initial rage at BP, they’re going to ask themselves the more fundamental question which is “why are we drilling a mile below the ocean floor?” The answer they’re going to get may not be called peak oil but for all intents and purposes that’s the answer they’re going to get. If the deepwater Gulf of Mexico was Plan A, and Plan A is now off the table, Plan B can only be one thing: consume less oil. You can call it peak oil, or you can call it $150 to $200 oil prices, but it basically all takes you to the same place-we’re to consume less.

POR: For the upcoming paperback version of your book, are you doing some updates?

Rubin: We did updates on supply, on deep water, on Canadian tar sands, but also on how the environment can change. One of the changes is that the first time we encountered triple-digit oil prices, we ran up massive record deficits trying to stimulate our economies. The next time we encounter triple-digit oil prices, which I think will be reasonably soon, not only will we no longer have the latitude to fight them with deficit spending but we’re going to start having to pay back those deficits that we racked up. In other words, yesterday’s bailouts are tomorrow’s spending cuts. Then I think we’ll look back and see that the bailouts of the auto companies were such a colossal and costly mistake.

POR: When do you see inflationary forces overcoming deflationary forces in a big way?

Rubin: I argued in the book that what really sparked the financial crisis was the fact that the Federal Reserve had to move the Fed funds rate from 1 to 5.5 percent following in a similar rise in US inflation that came from the energy component. We’re already beyond the minus signs in inflation, we’re in the two percent inflation range. If we’re going to see triple-digit oil prices by 2011, then we’re probably going to see inflation close to double where it is today. While people are worried about deflation, history has shown that these huge massive deficits that have arisen have as their dancing partner inflation and not deflation. The US government has always monetized those deficits, meaning that they’ve always printed money to pay for them in the past and I see no reason why they won’t do that in the future, particularly when so much of the debt is owned abroad.

POR: Any comment on the Pickens plan and shale gas?

Rubin: Two comments. First of all, I think what’s happening in the Gulf is going to raise the environmental bar, not just for deep water but also for shale gas. There are a number of environmental issues surrounding shale gas drilling and we’re going to find that many jurisdictions may not be as open to shale gas development as the industry believes, particularly when it comes to contamination of ground water.

Secondly, we can substitute natural gas for oil for a whole lot of things, and we have. For furnaces, for power generation, as a feedstock for petrochemicals-we can make that substitution. But oil packs four times the energy density of natural gas and that’s why oil is our transport fuel. Yeah, there’s 130,000 natural-gas-powered vehicles in the United States, but out of a vehicle stock of 245 million, that’s not going to do the trick. So the Pickens plan doesn’t mean anything until we can use natural gas as a widespread transportation fuel, and we’re a long way off from doing that.

What I say about the Pickens plan is the same thing I say about growing corn to feed our gas tanks and a lot of other stuff; instead of learning how to turn cow shit into high-octane fuel, we have to learn how to get off the ropes. In other words, the adjustment has to be more on the demand side than on the supply side. I’m sure that’s not a message that North Americans want to hear, but it’s the message that $7-a-gallon gasoline will deliver loud and clear in the near future.

POR: Thanks very much for your time.

Interview with Jeff RubinConsumer caution may fuel debate over stimulus, deficits

Defining the mountain

UNCIVILISATION already seems as if it happened several years ago. Looked at from another angle, it seems as if it happened yesterday. The fallout from the festival has given us a lot to digest. It’s been fascinating and fun digesting most of it, but it does take time.

Responses to and reports about the festival – the first substantial Dark Mountain gathering – are popping up all over the web. I think it would be fair to say that they are very largely positive, with a good number of useful suggestions about what could be done better next time (assuming there is a next time), what worked, what didn’t and what could change.

For the two of us, the most significant part of the festival was simply bringing together 400 people for whom Dark Mountain means something. For some of those people, this project has become an important part of their development and even their lives. Others had a passing interest and turned up to see what was going on. What was fascinating was that there seemed to be no-one there who didn’t have something significant to say. We had hoped this would be a gathering of participants, not a show with an audience, and that seems to be what happened. This is probably the reason why the most common demand for future events was a lot more time and space for people to self-organise, get together and just talk and spend time, away from the manic menu of talks, debates and the like. This is something we’ll certainly listen to. If there’s one thing we learned from UNCIVILISATION, it’s that we probably tried to do too much. We can perhaps plead over-excitement here: there were so many good people and groups that we wanted to showcase that we probably tried to cram too much in. We also took too much on our own shoulders. You live and learn.

UNCIVILISATION also showed us how much energy has gathered around this project and what a remarkable collection of people have been drawn to it. More than before, this now feels like a real movement. There are enough people involved, making things happen (see the network for evidence, and join it if you haven’t already) that we can happily begin to stand back a bit and not take everything on ourselves. We never wanted this project to be focused around us as two individuals, so this comes as a relief. It’s thrilling to see others taking ownership – and to start thinking about the best ways of acknowledging this – as well as to respond to the offers of help, suggestions, proposals and plans that have been coming our way over the last few weeks. It’s beginning to look like Dark Mountain really is meeting a need that is not being fulfilled elsewhere.

But the festival also focused our minds on which aspects of the Dark Mountain journey this project ought to be focusing on. The strength and the weakness of this project has always been its wide range. The issues we addressed in the manifesto, and the interests and experiences we have as people cover a wide range – politics, journalism, poetry, art, community organising, activism. Applying ourselves to even one of these areas would be a big task. Sweeping them all up together, as we have sometimes done, is a vast undertaking, and perhaps not a desirable one. On occasions, we have probably lost our focus. This recent blog, from mountaineer Dave Pollard, makes that case, and restates eloquently what DM could, and in Dave’s view ought, to be about.

In the wake of UNCIVILISATION, and the many possibilities it has thrown up, we think it’s time for a restatement of what Dark Mountain is – and what it isn’t. Time for a paring away of the fat and a focus on where we go next.

For us, the Dark Mountain Project is an invitation to face the converging crises of our century as a cultural challenge – rather than only a technical or political one. We use the word ‘cultural’ in several senses. In the sense that anthropologists use it, since this is about changes in our way of being in and making sense of the world. In the sense, too, that the Culture sections of the newspapers use it, because writers, artists and musicians have a particular role in the way we make sense of the world and find meaning in it as it changes. But our list of those who work in the field of culture would be broader, taking in craftspeople and those with practical skills, and embracing, too, the need to move beyond the ‘Two Cultures’ of the sciences and the humanities famously identified by CP Snow. (We find it encouraging that responses to the manifesto have come from mathematicians, psychologists, engineers and biologists as well as poets and songwriters.)

We do not dismiss technical or political responses to the crises we face, although we may question the assumptions behind them, and the extent to which they rely on wishful thinking. But they are not the focus of this project. Rather, we invite people to explore certain questions: in what ways are these crises rooted in our cultural assumptions, the stories we have told for generations and the ways in which we have seen the world? How do we disentangle ourselves from those assumptions? How can we forge cultural responses that undermine the poisonous myths we have inherited – the myths of humanity’s centrality, materialism, progress, the separation of ‘people’ from ‘nature’? Where do we find new stories, or old stories whose time has come? What other ways of seeing might alter our understanding of our situation? And how do we help send these stories and ways of seeing out into the world?

This is what, for us, Dark Mountain is. So, what is it not?

Dark Mountain is not intended as a vehicle for theoretical or abstract arguments about the future. While we anticipate a difficult century ahead, our emphasis is on the unknowability of the future, not on attempts to predict it. We do not want to construct a boxing ring in which fights between worldviews are staged, nor a vehicle for apocalyptic fantasies. And, perhaps crucially, this is not an ‘activist’ project: if you are looking for new ways of ’saving the world’, you have come to the wrong place. Dark Mountain is not a political movement, in that specific sense, nor was it meant to be.

Having said which, we recognise that we have not always been so clear. Sometimes we have forgotten the starting point of our journey – and sometimes others have misunderstood our purpose. (Among other things, this has led to too many fruitless arguments about whether we are ‘giving up’ on ’saving the world’.)

If you approach Dark Mountain as an open question – approach it seeking, or wanting to help craft, a cultural response to an age of crisis; and understand that it starts at the point where we stop pretending that our current narratives can provide us with what we need – then you may find much nourishment in it. We have been heartened by the responses of people who have encountered the project in this way.

On the other hand, if you approach it as a political project, and you come to us looking for programmes, five-point plans or suggestions for what the next stage of your journey through activism should be, then you are likely to find yourself frustrated. Answering these questions is not what we are here for. Admittedly, we’ve engaged in enough publicly political dogfights over the last year to make it understandable that some should see us this way. And small-p politics will always be, as someone once put it, the ‘background hum‘ of our work; it could hardly be otherwise. But it’s not the central focus, and if you’re looking for political answers, this project is unlikely to satisfy you.

This, then, is the basis on which we’ll be going forward. The festival and the book have been, we hope, good attempts at providing forums for this cultural response to flourish. We’ll be on the case with a new book later in the year, and we’re looking for contributions now (more on that here soon). Other events and approaches are taking place all over the network. And we’ll be announcing a call for submissions for a more specific project on this blog in the next week, which we hope will get some juices flowing.

What we’ll also be doing over the next few weeks is posting film, photos and responses to the festival up here, so that those who couldn’t make it can engage with what was on offer. This should be enough to keep us all busy for the summer. In the meantime, your responses to what we’ve said here would be very useful.

Finally, thanks again to everyone who made UNCIVILISATION possible: to the speakers and performers who gave their time and their talents, to Michael and Kat who held things together, to the stewards, to the sound and lighting crew and the rest of the Pavilion staff, and to everyone who came. A great deal of hard work, perspiration and inspiration, patience and generosity went into making the festival happen. We feel grateful and inspired by the way that people came together.

Eight principles of uncivilisationFake CMA festival merchandise can be seized on the spot

Peak oil review - June 28

1. Oil and the global economy
After the brief euphoria following Beijing’s un-pegging of the Yuan on Monday, oil prices slipped lower for most of the week. On Friday, however, concerns about the effects the first gulf hurricane of the season might have on oil production sent prices sharply higher to close at $78.86, the highest since early May. As of Monday morning, it appears that Hurricane Alex will remain in the Western Caribbean where it will not be a threat to work on the leaking oil well or US oil production.

US crude inventories continued to increase during the week before last. American driving over the holiday weekend is forecast to increase by 18 percent over last year. This forecast sent gasoline futures up 7 cents on the NYMEX to close at $2.17 a gallon.

The general outlook for future economic growth in the US and EU does not look good, leaving the dynamic between stagnant OECD oil demand and more robust Asian demand in place. If the Yuan moves higher, dollar-denominated oil will be cheaper for China to import and should in the longer-run bolster demand, but the austerity measures being implemented across the EU could well reduce oil demand, thereby moderating any overall increase.

In a revised estimate, the IEA now forecasts annual demand growth for oil at just 1 percent per year through 2015, or 940,000 barrels a day this year, down from their earlier forecast growth of 1.9 percent, or 1.62 million barrels a day, in 2010. The Agency projects that global consumption will be 91.9 million b/d in 2015 as compared to 86.3 million b/d this year.

Car bombs continue in Baghdad as unusually high summer temperatures have led to serious electricity and water shortages, which in turn have led to some domestic unrest. With the Iraqi election from last March still not settled and no oil law in place, major increases in Iraqi oil production may be difficult to achieve in coming years.

2. The Deepwater Horizon
Developments last week
BP continued to collect about 24,000 of the 35,000-60,000 barrels that are currently estimated to be leaking from the well each day. For a brief time last week the cap that is collecting much of the leaking oil had to be removed for repairs after it was bumped by a remotely operated vehicle.

Most of the news last week centered on a Louisiana Federal Judge’s order that the administration’s temporary ban on deepwater drilling be lifted. The administration is appealing the ruling and none of the companies drilling in the Gulf are expected to resume operations until the litigation is settled. As US unemployment continues to grow, many feel that the risks of renewed drilling, especially in an era of super-caution on the part of the oil companies, are minimal in comparison to even the temporary loss of thousands of highly-paid offshore jobs.

After the judge’s order to lift the ban, Interior Secretary Salazar said he would issue a new order banning drilling that made clear the magnitude of the risks that were being taken and the federal government’s authority to issue the ban.

The furor surrounding the ban will increase the pressure on the administration to complete the investigation of the Deepwater Horizon explosion as quickly as possible and to lift at least parts of the drilling ban.

The near term
Provided Hurricane Alex does not interfere with BP’s oil capturing operations this week, new equipment being moved to the site could increase the daily oil collection rate to as much as 53,000 b/d by the end of this week. Plans are being prepared for a new collection system that could boost the amount captured to 80,000 b/d if that much oil is actually coming from the well.

In the meantime, progress is being made on the pair of relief wells that are being drilled to intercept and plug the leaking Macondo well. As the relief wells draw closer to their target depth, however, drilling must stop while the drill string is pulled to the surface and is replaced by electro-magnetic sensors that can detect electrical pulses sent down the casing of the blown well. While the relief wells are currently close to the depth required to block the original well, casing these wells and then locating the pipe to be blocked is expected to take another 4-6 weeks.

Although this week’s hurricane may not turn out to be much of a threat, we are just at the beginning of what is forecast to be an active hurricane season with new storms forming regularly for the next few months.

The economic impact
In the two months since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the economic costs of the disaster continue to spread outward like ripples in a pond. The drilling moratorium has cost thousands of jobs. The collapse of BP’s stock value has endangered pension funds around the world. The seafood and hotel industries have been badly damaged. Last week British Prime Minister Cameron warned President Obama that BP could be destroyed which is not in anybody’s interest if the pressure is kept up. The Prime Minister is probably concerned that the US will seek to impose billions of dollars in fines on BP in addition to the billions it will cost the company to stem the leak and pay for the damages.

The one point that is emerging from the furor surrounding the disaster is that the cost of deepsea well drilling is bound to go much higher as governments and the companies themselves introduce tougher drilling rules and emergency preparations. Insurance costs for offshore drilling are increasing rapidly.

Environmental impact
With oil continuing to flood the Gulf, the cost to marine life continues to expand at deeply impactful proportions. The Fish and Wildlife service reports a growing toll of birds and marine mammals being found along the coast and oil is starting to reach the beaches of northern Florida. People are increasingly worried about what will happen if a large hurricane passes across the spill this summer.

The future of BP
As BP’s liabilities grow, not only Britain’s Prime Minister but many others are worried about the company’s future with earnings likely to be tied up for many years paying off claims and government fines. Capital for new drilling projects will become increasingly scarce and there is much talk of BP’s selling off major assets to remain solvent.

In recent weeks, BP has upped its cash and lines of credit from $15 to $20 billion dollars as the credit-default swap market continues to believe that the risk of a BP default within the next year is growing. Many analysts point out that a bankrupt or significantly weakened BP would be a major threat to US energy security.

3. Venezuela continues nationalizations
Last week, Caracas nationalized 11 drilling rigs belonging to the US firm Helmerich & Payne. The nationalization came after the company halted drilling in a dispute over $49 million that PDVSA owed it. In 2007, President Chavez nationalized billions of dollars worth of heavy crude facilities and last year took over dozens of small oil service companies.

Venezuela’s Oil Minister said the government would pay for the nationalized rigs, but would not allow equipment to stand idle while payments to private firms were being disputed. The minister noted that five additional rigs being operated by a subsidiary of Chevron were also in danger of being nationalized. Since oil prices collapsed in 2008 PDVSA has become notoriously slow in paying its bills to foreign oil service providers. Last week the company announced that it had reached settlements with 32 companies that were owed money.

In the long run this frequent resort to nationalizations will only weaken Venezuela’s oil industry --reducing production and driving away private foreign investors and service providers.

Quote of the Week
“The data resoundingly rejects ... peak oil. In all aspects, I find the peak oil model an inadequate empirical representation of historical patterns. This is not to say that oil production may eventually peak. It does say that the peak oil model will have little, if anything, to say about it.”
-- John R. Boyce, University of Calgary economist

Briefs (clips from recent Peak Oil News dailies are indicated by date and item #)

Brazil's state-controlled oil company said its seventh well in the offshore Tupi field confirmed the potential of light oil in pre- salt reserves. The seventh well reinforces earlier estimates that Tupi holds 5 billion to 8 billion barrels of recoverable light oil and natural gas, the company said. (6/26, #4)Mexico's Pemex said Friday that crude oil production during the January-May period dipped 1.9% year-on-year to an average of 2.601 million barrels a day. Yet it appears that Pemex's crude production is starting to bottom out after a steady decline since it peaked at 3.4 million barrels a day in 2004. Pemex's crude exports, most of which go to the U.S., hit the highest level in two years at 1.591 million barrels a day in May. (6/25, #10)Oil and gas production in Russia will start declining gradually after 2011 if the government does not change laws to stimulate geological exploration, LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov said on Wednesday. (6/21, #16)India’s government fears that substantial deregulation of petroleum product prices will stoke inflation. It refuses to see that countries without price controls-the US, Europe, Japan, Philippines-have just 2-3% inflation while India with all its controls has 10% wholesale and 14% consumer price inflation. (6/26, #5)Kazakhstan plans to resume an export tax on crude oil and begin the levy for certain metals to increase government revenue. (6/22, #8)Under the pressure of earlier Western sanctions, Iran has prepared for new sanctions over the past four years by reducing its dependence on foreign imports of refined oil products from about 40 percent of its domestic needs to just under 30 percent, according to analysts. (6/24, #3)State-run Indian Oil Corp, a large oil retailer, is incurring a daily revenue loss of Rs1.15 billion ($24.9 million) on fuel sales in the domestic market, its chairman told reporters on Wednesday. BM Bansal said petrol prices are currently Rs3.2 per litre below desired market prices, while diesel prices need to be raised by Rs3.4 a litre. (6/23, #9)In China, oil prices rose 2 percent early in reaction to the government’s moves to loosen its exchange rate, but analysts said the knee-jerk reaction faded, as costlier exports may slow exports, reducing the manufacturing sector's oil needs. (6/22, #12)The number of US rigs drilling for oil and natural gas in the U.S. climbed to 1552 this week as 13 were added onshore. (6/25, #20)About three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters. But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea on a 31-acre artificial island built by BP. (6/24, #15)Oil companies don't have much incentive to measure spills accurately, and government officials haven't always needed to get a reliable count. (6/26, #10)The notion that the world is approaching “Peak Oil” is just not supported by the facts. We may still be getting closer to a peak, but the world has far more untapped oil than anyone could have imagined 10 years ago. (6/23, #28)Norway’s natural gas should secure the Norwegian economy in an era of rapidly falling oil production. That is the government's standard response to questions about the near future. But researchers at Uppsala University have presented results indicating that Norway's gas production will decline rapidly. (6/22, #24)Pakistan's foreign minister expressed hope the sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program would not affect his country's gas pipeline deal with Tehran. (6/22, #7)Liquefied natural gas traders are taking advantage of the lowest shipping rates in five years and rising prices in the U.K. to store fuel on tankers and profit from higher values in coming months. (6/22, #5)Encana Corp. and China National Petroleum Corp. signed an agreement under which they would negotiate a joint venture to develop Encana's Northeast British Columbia gas plays. (6/26, #13)Natural gas will provide an increasing share of America’s energy needs over the next several decades, doubling its share of the energy market to 40 percent, from 20 percent, according to a report to be released Friday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The increase, the report concluded, will come largely at the expense of coal and will be driven by abundant supplies of natural gas. (6/26, #12, #14) [Editor’s note: consider us skeptical, due to potential cost discrepancies between current and future shale gas.]Natural gas futures show the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico will do less damage to production than in 2005 as supplies from offshore wells decline. (6/25, #19)Natural gas producers are cutting back production from wells in the Haynesville Shale, a prolific natural gas-bearing rock formation in Texas and Louisiana, as a way of boosting the overall efficiency and life span of those wells. (6/22, #19)Overwhelmingly, Americans think the nation needs a fundamental overhaul of US energy policies, and most expect alternative forms to replace oil as a major source within 25 years. Yet a majority are unwilling to pay higher gasoline prices to help develop new fuel sources. (6/22, #26)The Obama administration on Tuesday backed a proposal to spend up to $6 billion more on subsidies for electric vehicles, amid renewed interest on Capitol Hill in measures to cut petroleum consumption in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. (6/23, #29)Over the past several months, as utilities have rolled out smart meters in homes throughout the country, they've been met unexpectedly with consumer backlash. Shortly after roll-out, reports starting surfacing that consumers were getting a noticeably higher bill the very next month. The smart grid industry is moving quickly to respond. It's forming industry groups and
hosting conferences and microsites focused on consumer education, but it's playing a game of catch-up (6/26, #16)California is headed for another showdown over greenhouse gases. A citizen's ballot initiative approved Tuesday could suspend AB32, the state's landmark 2006 law mandating a 25 percent reduction in industrial greenhouse gases by 2020. Backed by manufacturers and Texas oil companies Valero Energy Inc. and Tesoro Corp., the ballot initiative would halt enforcement of the law until California unemployment, now at over 12 percent, sinks to 5.5 percent for at least a year. (6/25, #18)A change in Italy's public incentives for renewable energy investment has brought financing for the sector to a halt, stunning aspiring players in the green economy that many hoped would be a driver of growth. (6/23, #26)

Tyson returns to profitabilityPeak oil notes - June 17

Creating a post-peak future you will want to live into

This is a guest post by AndrГ© Angelantoni, known on TOD as aangel. He is co-founder of PostPeakLiving.com and a former executive coach and business consultant. He wrote this article to give people one way to navigate through the forced transition to a post peak world we are all going to experience. This post was run previously in December 2008.

The future most people are living into is beginning to disappear. The financial crisis threw the first punch, but oil depletion will deliver the knockout blow. The moment people realize that the society they have known their whole life can no longer function the same way without the energy provided by oil, it will become glaringly apparent that the future will be very, very different. It’s not just that we will no longer have fresh food flown in from around the world. Some of the fundamental assumptions held by people living in the rich countries will no longer hold:

many jobs that have never existed before will once again no longer existretirement, a phenomenon only a century old, will disappearaccumulating “wealth” will be out of reach for most peoplemost children will no longer be able to attend institutions of higher educationdiseases and conditions that are easily treated now will once again claim lives

Once a person has realized that these and many more futures will no longer exist, they will ask themselves the following question: If the future I’ve lived with my whole life will not longer occur, what will my future be?

Creating a post-peak future you will want to live into

People will react in many different ways as they consider the question of what their future will be. Some people will become resigned and despondent, others will become resolute as they concentrate on the job of making sure they and their family are sheltered and adequately fed. Still others will become happier as they leave the rat race and simplify their life. If you are considering this question, hopefully you will realize that creating the future rather than waiting for it to happen to you will give you a better result. That's what this article is about.

Before continuing, I am going to outline a principle that is a part of the coaching model I use. It is not the only model in the world, but it has worked consistently for me and my clients.
Your Future Gives You Your Experience of Now

In this article, I will operate on the following principle:

The future a person lives into determines how they operate in and experience the present.

This may seem counter-intuitive to you because there seems to be so much evidence that it is the past that gives us our experience of now. For example, don’t we feel proud of our accomplishments — and didn’t those accomplishments happen in the past? Don’t we suffer from events — and aren’t those events in the past?

To see that it’s our future that gives us our experience of the present, try this simple experiment. Imagine you are holding a lottery ticket and are about to check the winning numbers. You might be interested and cautiously optimistic. As you read the winning numbers you realize that yours is the winning ticket. What is your experience at the moment you realize you’ve won the jackpot?

If you are like most people, you will be surprised and ecstatic. But has anything — in physical reality — changed in any way? No, it hasn’t. But the future you see before you has completely changed and your happiness comes from a new future filled with a life of leisure or travel or the finest things in life.

The same principle operates whenever a future changes. Whether it’s agreeing to marry someone, getting a new job or facing a serious illness, in all these circumstances the future determines how you operate in and experience the present.

What about those past events, the accomplishments and tragedies? Don’t they impact us in the present? They certainly do, but the impact comes from how they have changed the future that we live into because those events happened. I’ll leave it as homework to the reader to determine the future that is created when we experience an accomplishment or tragedy.

People who panic when they learn of peak oil see a terrible future for themselves and society. Although I didn’t panic when I first learned of peak oil, I did experience a feeling of dread. I looked into the future and saw the possibility of social turmoil and hunger. This seems to be a common reaction, and most people move through the experience in hours or days as they gradually see that the gloomy future is not inevitable.
Gloomy Futures Are Useful — To a Point

Gloomy futures are often conjured up by your brain without your permission or guidance. Your brain is simply an associative machine that took in the idea of oil depletion, recalled images from its past (perhaps including a Mad Max movie), and plopped the result in your mental lap. Although it may have you prepare in ways you wouldn’t normally, this gloomy future can also paralyze you and turn you into a morose individual unable to experience the joy there is and will always be available in life.

If you are unsatisfied with the future your brain invented for you, you will have to create one yourself.
Quality of Life vs Standard of Living

We’re almost ready to discuss how to create a future worth living into. I’m going to make one more distinction that should help the transition. With the loss of inexpensive and plentiful oil you are not just confronting the loss of vacations in the Tropics. It will look like the sudden loss of much more than that. But what is it you are losing, exactly?

At this point it’s valuable to get yourself clear on what you are actually going to lose. If you don’t stop your brain, it is likely to say, “Everything!”, send you down a dark tunnel and leave you there. But you aren’t going to lose everything; you aren’t even going to lose the most important things, as you’ll soon see. That’s because almost every person tends to make one fundamental mistake (myself included when I’m not paying attention).

We tend to confuse what economists call “standard of living” with “quality of life.” The two are not the same, no matter how many vacation advertisements try to convince you otherwise. The standard of living index measures the number of things a person can purchase or possess. This is again useful only to a point. Beyond the very basics of life, like food and shelter, we want things not for the things themselves but for what they give us at an emotional level.

We want money to go on vacation so that we can have fun. But is it necessary to leave town to have fun? We want to send our kids to college so that they can “create a future for themselves.” But what does that mean? Are people who don’t go to college incapable of experiencing happiness in their life? If your children were healthy and happy, wouldn’t you have done your job as a parent? We know that the poor can be happy and the rich can be (often desperately) unhappy.

Things and circumstances fool us into short-term happiness, and then the happiness wears off and the cycle starts again. Have you noticed as your income rose, your expectations rose with them? If you hadn’t noticed that, you’re in the standard of living trap and you don’t even know it.

Creating a Future Worth Living Into

Now we’re ready to look at futures worth living into. This future won’t be attached to things and circumstances or you’ll never get out of the trap. So, as you create your new future, remember to resist the pull of equating being fulfilled with having things. Many people who have been preparing for peak oil have found that their life has dramatically improved as they have taken on new responsibilities and learned new skills, like growing their own food, even as they started to lower the number of luxuries in their life.

One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to create a fulfilling future is to distinguish a role for yourself. Roles are powerful because they establish a context to live in and are easy to remember. When we take on a role, we automatically get access to all the properties that define the role. For instance, if I say that I will take on the role of being a loving husband, I don’t have to memorize “The Ten Steps to Being a Loving Husband.” I will immediately have access to ways of expressing that role I’ve heard about (like hiding love notes around the house) and I will easily invent new ways to express the role with just a bit of creativity.

You are undoubtedly playing all sorts of roles right now, and there are thousands of roles you can play in post-peak oil world. Your job is to create a new, fulfilling role for yourself. Here are a few basic roles, starting with some roles you may want to avoid.

The Victim. To play this role, you should complain that the world isn’t fair and that there isn’t enough time to prepare. Talk only about things that we will lose or how other people or groups are better off than you. Unfortunately, this role isn’t very attractive and people will try to avoid you — but it is a valid role. I include it so that you can recognize when you are playing the victim, discard it, and choose a different role.The Drama Queen. Be a Drama Queen by saying, “We are so screwed” or similar things after describing how you see the future playing out. This can be a fun role to play, especially when describing a Mad Max scenario in great detail. Most people will eventually want you to talk about how they can actually prepare for the future. The Drama Queen role can often be matched up with the Victim role to great effect, but people tire of it quickly.The Bystander. To do a good job with this role, say “what will happen will happen” whenever you hear about something terrible happening, preferably in Spanish. This is actually a good role to keep handy because often events will truly be out of your control, and there is no need to get your knickers in a knot over them.The Leader. With this role, you see peak oil as an opportunity to make a difference in your community and the world. You can be a leader in thousands of ways, from starting a community garden to inviting friends over to teach them a useful skill you know. The only requirement to be a leader is that you create a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. You don't need to know how to speak in front of crowds and you don't need a commanding presence. All you need is the commitment to create a future that wasn't going to happen unless you became involved.

You can add these roles to any that you are currently playing (parent, student, entertainer, etc.), and you can switch at any time. Of course some roles will give you better results than others.

Being a leader can be an immensely fulfilling role and one I wholeheartedly recommend, especially since we are going to need many local leaders very soon. I'd like to see the leadership positions filled with people who see it as way to serve the community rather than to enrich themselves materially. But that doesn't mean you won't get benefits by being a leader, and there should be some benefits. For example, being a leader means that you will create your own support network faster, and you will gain information about the world earlier than others, allowing you to prepare better.

Many people shy away from being a leader because they think it is a burden, but they have it backwards: the Leader role can be freeing because small inconveniences stop being annoying — as a leader you’ll have bigger, more inspiring goals on your mind.


In this article, we looked at how your experience and actions in the present are a function of the future you are living into. We also saw that your brain will invent a gloomy future given no direction: To have a fulfilling future to live into, you’ll need to take charge. Then we noted one of the most common mistakes people make: confusing the economists’ standard of living with quality of life. Last, we looked at some roles that you might consider taking on, particularly the Leader role.

Ultimately, the purpose of this article was to point out that many of the roles you are playing now are no longer going to hold, and that you will need to take charge. Take a moment and ask yourself, “What kind of fulfilling role can I create for myself in a post peak world?

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’ (paper excerpt)

The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’ (paper excerpt)

In the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, the villainous business tycoon Domenic Greene, makes a moving (and familiar) speech to potential company sponsors at a spectacularly glamorous, environmental fund-raising gala in Bolivia. He states:

We are in a spiral of environmental decline. Since 1945 17% of the planet’s vegetated surface has been irreversibly degraded. The Tierra Project is just one small part of a global network of Eco-Parks that Greene Planet has created to rejuvenate the world on the brink of collapse. I hope that tonight you make a decision to be part of that.

Meanwhile, Greene is creating immense environmental and social upheaval: investing in oil pipelines and profits in various localities globally; creating a scarce resource of Bolivian water by diverting it into huge hidden dams, thereby increasing dependence on private provision which he of course owns; and managing a tight cabal of self-serving global Г©lites intent on resource capture on a massive scale.

The parallels with contemporary scenarios are uncomfortable. As Mac Chapin in A Challenge to Conservationists, Christine Macdonald in Green Incorporated and Dan Brockington in Celebrity and the Environment have detailed recently, the world’s major environmental organisations are collaborating systematically with corporations known more for their socially and environmentally polluting effects, competitive exploitation of highly valued natural ‘resources’, and Г©lite profit structures. Donations from the corporate world have led to staggering increases in such funding for the ‘not-for-profit’ mega-environmental NGOs (ENGOs) of Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF); leading to harsh accusations that these organisations are ‘polluter-funded leeches sucking on the flesh of environmentalism, leaving it weaker and depleted’. The corporate world in turn is rewarded by these mega-ENGOs with ‘green awards’ for apparent demonstrations of environmental stewardship, distributed at glamorous environmental fund-raisers not dissimilar to that conveyed for Domenic Greene’s ‘Eco-Parks Foundation’ in Quantum of Solace. Corporate ‘green’ reputations are thereby ensured, contributing to accusations of ‘greenwash’ from some quarters.

The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’ (paper excerpt)

But the benefits to business do not stop there. Environmental mega-NGOs increasingly are working with the corporate, business and financial worlds to reformulate and repackage environmental conservation and ‘sustainability’, such that this is centralised as part of profit-making portfolios. This includes: endorsement of so-called ‘green’ products; assistance with finding ‘offset’ solutions, such that environmentally damaging extractive development in one location can be ‘offset’ against investment in environmental health in a different location; work to mobilise additional financial values in land now owned by corporations based on measures of environmental health, such that these can be traded in new environmental offsetting markets and additional profits can ensue; and lobbying international environmental policy forums for subnational rather than national targets, the former being easier to manage for lucrative revenue generation under emerging global markets in new environmental commodities.

There are several interrelated strands to the justifying, and neoliberal, logic guiding these alliances and practices. First, that it is a capitalist market economy based on the profitable trade of commodities, including commoditised environmental damage, that will solve environmental crisis. Second, that it is only the correct pricing and ‘capitalization’ of nature, framed as the attribution of ‘value’, that stands between degradation and health of the non-human world. Third, that with the assistance of appropriate technical, scientific, economics, financial and legislative expertise, this pricing will additionally boost and sustain the global economic growth required to sustain capitalism, thus producing ‘green growth’. And fourth, that business and corporations are the key to the development and instituting of social and environmental ‘sustainability’. Stuart Hart, writing in the Harvard Business Review epitomises this view in the statement that ‘corporations are the only organizations with the resources, the technology, the global reach, and, ultimately, the motivation to achieve sustainability’. In this logic, it clearly makes sense for those with apparent expertise in nature management to join forces with those with expertise in business and finance.

Since a key motivation in the corporate, business and finance worlds is the expansionary production of surplus to sustain the acquisition and growth of capital, what is required for these sectors to be brought onto the environmental board in a structural way is that environmental concerns are reconfigured as ‘a major source of revenue growth’. ‘Sustainable development’, as the catch-term that brings the notion of environmental sustainability into the arena of economic development, increasingly is presented as ‘one of the biggest opportunities in the history of commerce’, with companies ‘selling solutions to the world’s environmental problems’. This is a discourse that has intensified in the wake of recent financial crisis.

These developments constitute an important shift. Under neoliberalism, business frequently has been protected from the costs of environmental governance through ‘free trade’ agreements that identify environmental regulation as a barrier to trade, and that may require additional legal mechanisms to protect the right to profit of investors. Today, the current combination of environmental and financial meltdowns instead are being constructed explicitly as creating investment opportunities in ‘sustainability’. The homepage of the new investment fund ‘Inflection Point Capital Management’, for example, states that it is ‘the world’s first multi-strategy asset management boutique offering exclusively sustainability-enhanced investment products across a broad range of asset classes’; and elsewhere on the website includes the statement that the company sees ‘recent market meltdown as a multi-trillion dollar “advertorial” for sustainability-enhanced approaches’.

The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’ (paper excerpt)

This fund is headed by Matthew Kiernan, acclaimed author of Investing in a Sustainable World, former President of the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and regular speaker at the annual Davos World Economic Forum. Kiernan suggests that we are entering a ‘Sustainable Investment Revolution’, poised to re-engineer ‘the very “DNA” of the capital markets’. The cover of Kiernan’s book features an image of a blue-green earth, half of which is subsumed by gleaming American quarter-dollar coins (1.).

The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’ (paper excerpt)

This is an optimistic ‘earth-as-money’ trope repeated in the logo of the United Nation’s Environment Programme’s (UNEP) New Green Deal initiative, which depicts a delicate young green plant, shooting up from a pile of Euro coins (2.); and echoes an earlier UNEP and IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) document on payments for ecosystem services (PES) that includes an image of verdant green foliage amongst which various currency notes appear as ‘leaves’ (3).

This apparent ‘financialisation’ of environmental crisis and protection extends a key feature of capitalism in its current guise as neoliberalism. As Moore notes, this is ‘the penetration of finance into everyday life, and above all into the reproduction of extra-human nature’. In this paper I am concerned with the specific ways in which this financialisation is occurring in the arena of environmental governance for environmental conservation, as a constitutive part of ‘world-ecology’ – of both ‘the accumulation of capital and the production of nature’ – under neoliberal capitalism. I am interested in environmental crisis as not only signalling a developmental crisis of capitalism – aka James O’Connor’s ‘second contradiction of capitalism’, whereby capitalism undermines its own possibilities for accumulation by depleting its required material base. Instead, I wish to draw attention to the ways in which environmental crisis and conservation become accumulation opportunities for capitalism, particularly through relationships with finance and investment. I thus depart from Brockington and Duffy, who state that ‘[c]onservation has hardly been involved in the production of value through financialisation’, in focusing on some ways in which environmental governance for conservation, justified by environmental crisis, currently is being financialised.

For capitalism to make an accumulation opportunity of environmental crisis it needs to create new products, new commodities, that can be invested in, traded and speculated on. Nature needs to be ‘capitalised’ and ‘capital ecologized’ in new ways. Or, to paraphrase Morgan Robertson, capital needs to create new natures that it can see: requiring that the earth-in- crisis is rethought and reworded such that it is brought further into alignment, conceptually, semiotically, and materially, with capital.

With regard to the scale of planetary ecosystem management, three statements by significant ‘players’ in the world of global environmental governance are indicative of the magnitude and reach of this current ideational shift. The first is by the Deputy Head of the Species Programme of the IUCN who, in a 2009 document on the IUCN websites states that ‘[i]t’s time to recognize that nature is the largest company on Earth working for the benefit of 100 percent of humankind – and it’s doing it for free.’ The second is by Maurice Strong, Secretary General at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and first Executive Director of the UNEP. In a 1996 lecture to the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, Seoul, he states that ‘[i]n addressing the challenge of achieving global sustainability, we must apply the basic principles of business. This means running “Earth Incorporated” with a depreciation, amortization and maintenance account.’ Recently, this second statement has appeared in full on the website of a new investment fund called EKO Asset Management Partners, whose website homepage describes them as ‘… a specialized investment firm focused on discovering and monetizing unrealized or unrecognized environmental assets… in short, a “merchant bank” for the world of environmental markets.’ EKO’s investors hail from the world of haute finance and include James Wolfensohn, 9th president of the World Bank Group, as well as Lord Jacob Rothschild and Alexander and Ben Goldsmith of the Rothschild and Goldsmiths banking dynasties.

The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’ (paper excerpt)

There are two key aspects of these statements that I wish to emphasise. First is the conceptualisation of nature as a company that needs to be acknowledged for the work that it does. Of course, any ensuing payments do not actually go to nature, but to the people who are able to capture them. So what becomes significant is the question of who, via enforceable property rights signalling ownership, becomes able to capture the revenue arising from such exchanges. The second is the construction of nature as akin to a bank account: as a store of capital, requiring and justifying ‘its’ expert management by ‘nature bankers’. These conceptualisations are making possible the rapid creation and proliferation of an arguably unintuitive, even weird to use Polanyi’s term, ‘environmental infrastructure’ of new markets in novel environmental commodities seen as representative of environment health and damage. In combination, these innovations are posited as a solution to environmental crisis that not only sustains a capitalist political economy but actually enhances it to produce ‘green growth’ (see below). This environmental infrastructure is populated by a new and frequently opaque ecology of intersecting terms and concepts: offsetting, payments for ecosystem services, natural capital, green-indexing, biodiversity derivatives, green bonds, environmental mortgages, to name a few.

In what follows I highlight a few aspects of these new concepts and products that I think are indicative in terms of the earth they are bringing forth, and in which particular social relationships, as well as relationships between human and non-human worlds, are implicit and imbricated. I will conclude with some gestures towards how I am currently theorising the implications of these phenomena.

Paper presented at the conference An Environmental History of Neoliberalism, Lund University, 6-8 May 2010.Download full paper

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