Category Archives: Nature

Breaking Bad

What’s Good About It

It’s one big compelling bit of television with the slow burn of tension and anxiety. It’s very well conceived and executed,right down to the nuance of angled shots and off-kilter compositions, oddball camera moves and exquisite attention to detail. most and best of all, it’s incredibly thought-provoking and is a quietly discursive meditation on all manners of things philosophical, sociological moral and ethical, and perhaps even to do with generational demographics.

It has great characters that keep you watching if nothing else but to see what they do next; and really you couldn’t ask for more than that from a TV series. The actors keep things very consistent through the series and never have an overstated moment. The dialogue is taut, the vision the series has of New Mexico is austere and yet meticulous, and possibly even loving. It’s an excellent production.

What’s Bad About It

Sometimes, because it’s a TV series it loses focus and chooses to meander into side-stories.  The fly episode in Season 3 was tedious and the episodes about Marie and her kleptomania are a little dull except it offers us an insight that DEA agent and brother-in-law Hank might look the other way for family.

Human relationships come and go with the ease of television plotting when in fact you suspect some of these entries and exits, like Ted Beneke and Jane might have the potential to be even stickier than they end up being. There’s a bit of repetition of the same emotional space that plagues some of the characters, for instance Jesse and the various traumas he is subjected to and witnesses, and Skyler’s insistent demands that are actually destructive to her own relationship, both get a little monotonous at times.

What’s Interesting About It

The main character Walter White essentially starts cooking meth to pay for his medical bills and then provide for his family after his death. This central action comes about because he discovers he has an inoperable lung cancer. So everything Walter does follows on from his prior acknowledgment of his own death. Right off the bat, Walter White is an existential hero, if a little uncertain as to where that leads him.

Yet it’s great viewing because everything he does in the first 3 seasons until his cancer situation stabilises, flows out from this prior acknowledgment of his own mortality. There’s something of ‘Fight Club’ in this prior acknowledgement that propels Walt into his journey. It’s also interesting from an Australian point of view because if Walt got diagnosed with cancer in Australia in the manner that he does, he could count on medicare to pay for treatment and that would be the end of that.  The fact that the drama spins out as far as it does is so fascinating from this side of the Pacific Ocean.

The Anatomy Of Meth

America is the land of the Western. The bifurcated myth of the law man and the outlaw, both heroic and unrelenting, standing tall in a reified landscape defines so much of America’s own cultural concerns. The Western myth has transmogrified into other genres and with it has gone the eternal chase. Some narratives lean on the law while others lean on the outlaw. And just as one law man catches up to one outlaw in on narrative, another area of crime opens up and a outlaw rises.

‘Breaking Bad’ of course moves right into the territory of methamphetamines with its manufacture, distribution, law enforcement and other assorted details. As it does so, it goes a very long way towards discrediting prohibition, even for a drug like methamphetamines. Together with ‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’, ‘Breaking Bad’ presents a compelling narrative of how prohibition and the law enforcement that goes with it creates black markets which feed on the vulnerable.

Many people have stood up to have marijuana and THC made legal. But by presenting the meth ‘trade’ with such detail, ‘Breaking Bad’ offers us insight into why Prohibition in general is going to be a failed strategy for dealing with drug abuse. Other narcotics such as marijuana and heroin and cocaine are derived from plant materials. The fact that they can be grown makes them like commodities and with great market demand. In one sense, the third world only have to grow these to make the greatest returns on their investment, all thanks to the prohibition regime that seeks to limit the flow of he commodity. If that is the case with something that can be grown, then what about something that can be manufactured in a lab?

Should The Government Be Sitting On Your Pleasure Centre?

The series does a tremendous job of editing and thus juxtaposing the nexus of all manner of recreational drugs in our society. The show rightfully connects the act of lab manufacturing crystal meth with home brewing, and in doing so implicitly points to the meth lab cooks as moonshiners. The only difference being the drug of choice is methamphetamine and not alcohol. The show also draws an interesting line into our acceptance of over the counter pharmaceuticals which can be abused, as well as nicotine which is legal, marihuana which is beginning to cross over out of the shadow of illegality, and gambling which has its own addictive problems.

Steadily and surely, the show demonstrates that there is some fundamental problem with prohibitionist reasoning. If possible harm to our health is the issue, it begs the question why tobacco remains legal and other substances do not. If addiction, and the associated  addictive behaviour is the issue, then we could point to nicotine and tobacco as well as alcohol and caffeine. And caffeine drinks are perfectly legal while there are age restrictions on alcohol and smoking. Heroin is another substance that is heavily controlled by the state when in fact it could help greatly in the medical field as an anaesthetic. We as a society seem to have made this decision to nobble Anaesthetists in favour of removing the spectre of heroin addicts from our society.

The best guess I can say is that the government would not like us to have fun. The government would not like us to have fun because it might impact on our ability to work and be productive; and the state wants us all to be at maximal productivity because it funds taxes and government and the violence mechanisms. A military and police which, – in a very dark irony – we then use to prosecute and persecute the drug abusers and traffickers.

And all of this has created massive black markets for the banned substances worth somewhere in the order of 800billion dollars globally. Think about that figure. It’s enough to wipe out global third world debt several times over. Instead, its swimming through the coffers of drug cartels and tin pot dictators in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The drug trade isn’t just killing the end user or the dealers who shoot one another in turf wars. It’s robbing the world of the possibility of enough money to keep ever more people in abject poverty.

It raises the fundamental question, why the hell is government sitting on people’s pleasure centres? Why is the government so keen to stop people enjoying themselves? The insanity that stems from the prohibitionist position is clearly untenable. There has to be a better solution than what’s going on. Unsurprisingly, in the five years that the show has been running, some states in America have now legalised Marijuana. Uruguay has decided to regulate marihuana as other governments regulate tobacco products.

From Desire To Will

Nietzsche famously observed that our ‘desire’ dessicates into ‘will’. It’s a seemingly casual throwaway observation except it points out something very peculiar about our endeavours. We start off doing something because we like it, and we want to do it, but at some point we find ourselves doing the same thing under a different kind of emotional engine, one which connects to our will power, more than our desire.

It’s fascinating how Walter and Jesse go from a carefree improvised meth lab on a recreational vehicle eventually moving to Gus’ industrially designed meth lab, slaving away to produce quantity. For Jesse, the act of cooking meth goes from a fund sideline into a seriously dolorous and tedious *job* robs the glamour of being the outlaw from him. Similarly, once there is an established factory, Walt finds that he has been reduced to being a factory drone churning out product.

The world of ‘Breaking Bad’ is seemingly full of this kind of joy-sapping transformation, especially for the men. The only character not touched by this ennui is Hank, who remains a DEA detective out of a genuine desire to keep playing cops and robbers into his adult life. For hank, desire does no dessicate, although he is mightily challenged  by a couple of incidents which send him back into a near-infantile state.

The Odyssey And Walter White

Walter and Jesse find themselves in all kinds of interesting trouble, but it occurred to me somewhere late in season 5 that in fact Walter was a man simply trying to get home, and that all these obstacles and threats were things that kept him from home. You can see that across 5 seasons, and going into the final season garbled re-tellings of the Odyssey are scattered in the series.

For instance, his wife Skyler’s affair with Ted Beneke echoes the suitors at the door for Penelope. The bombing by Tio that slays Gus leaves Gus temporarily one-eyed before he collapses and dies; thus Gus is shown to be the Cyclops. Jane and her drugs entraps Walter’s traveling companion Jesse, so this is the lotus eater episode. The need to slay nine of Mark’s trusted men is a metaphorical Scylla and Charybdis moment. The horrible poison massacre at the Cartel boss’s house has echoes of the Circe episode.

To date, Walt himself is yet to encounter Calypso so far, but his ever dutiful son is on a search to find the true nature of his father, much as Telemachus goes looking for Odysseus. It’s interesting that the echoes of the Odyssey can be found in this series.

Gangsters And Massacres

By the end of Season 5, Walt has made a full journey into the world of hoodlums and crooks. He is no longer in denial that what he is doing is flat out illegal and has very little excuse. Indeed, we’re led to an interesting point where we understand that although what prompted Walt into being the meth cook was the cancer, there was a greater, deeper resentment about the world that drives him hard towards this goal.

Just as Michael Corleone spends the better part of the first ‘Godfather’ movie in denial of his destiny, we come to realise Walt has been holding off this part of himself for a very long time. The great lie that he tells himself through the first 3 seasons is that he no other choice. He actually has a lot of choice – for instance, taking the money from his old colleagues who have now become rich. Instead, he tells them to go fuck themselves, and opts to cook meth. On the balance of things, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that Walt wants the murders and mayhem and the attendant thrills that come with being a criminal, the same way Hank wants to keep being a cop.

The prison massacre of the 9 guys who worked for Mike, then is a distant echo of the ‘Saint Valentine Day Massacre‘ as well as the big massacre at the end of ‘the Godfather’.

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Oil Stories

Which Peak Are We Climbing?

Around 2008, the big story was peak oil. The production of crude was going to peak, and that spelt a contracted future for energy for our civilization. since then, the world has gotten on to this business of fracking and as ugly as it may seem, it has changed the equation of our future consumption of oil as energy.

Heck, I admit: I was one of the people taken in by the Peak Oil argument – but only because the person who first introduced me to the notion had very good facts and figures. Of course, if you take a static snapshot of where we are and extrapolate, you ca imagine all kinds of scenarios. Neither he nor I imagined that fracking would come along, back in 2005-2006.

In that light I want to draw attention to a couple of articles worth getting your head around. The first is this one which discusses oil and gas in the context of a ‘commodities supercycle’.

After eight years, the Oil Drum is closing down, giving up the long struggle to alert us all to ‘‘peak oil’’ and the dangers of an energy crunch. The theme has gone out of fashion, eclipsed by shale and US fracking.

The demise of Britain’s leading website for oil dissidents has been seized on by critics as an admission that peak oil is a Malthusian myth. It comes amid a spate of reports from global banks announcing the death of the commodity supercycle, slain by creative technology.

Yet if you stand back, it is hardly evident that the world is again enjoying an abundant supply of cheap energy, metals, or food. Commodity prices have held up remarkably well, given that we are in a global trade depression of sorts.

The eurozone is in the longest unbroken recession since the 1930s, with industrial production 13 per cent below the pre-Lehman peak. Growth in the US has averaged 1.1 per cent over the last three quarters as it grapples with the most drastic fiscal tightening since the Korean War.

Russia and Brazil have ground to a near halt. China’s growth is near zero on a GDP deflator basis. Oil imports were down 1.4 per cent in June from a year earlier. Imports of iron ore were down 9.1 per cent.

It all adds up to a prostrate global economy, yet Brent crude oil is still trading at $US106. There is no comparison with the collapse to $US11 in 1998. The CRB commodities index remains three times higher than a decade ago.

You might conclude that the supercycle is in rude good health given what has been thrown at it. A new Eos report by the American Geophysical Union, Peak Oil and Energy Independence: Myth and Reality, argues that global crude output has been stuck on a plateau near 75 million barrels per day (bpd) since 2005 despite enticing returns.

The way the article couches it, it seems the immediacy of peak oil is temporarily delayed, thanks to the development of fracking, which will stave off peak production of fossil fuels in general for a generation. It’s pretty begrudging about the technological development aspect of what has led to the fracking business. The fact is, that a technological breakthrough came along and solved the problem of peak oil by changing the mode of our harvesting of fuel and energy. This is very much in line with Schumpeter’s observations about a creative destruction of value, as well as why to date, the Malthusian crunch has not come about.

The other article is this one in the Economist which covers the possibility that our demand for oil may be peaking, so future demand for crude oil may be nothing like the extrapolation of the Malthusian alarmists.

The other great change is in automotive technology. Rapid advances in engine and vehicle design also threaten oil’s dominance. Foremost is the efficiency of the internal-combustion engine itself. Petrol and diesel engines are becoming ever more frugal. The materials used to make cars are getting lighter and stronger. The growing popularity of electric and hybrid cars, as well as vehicles powered by natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells, will also have an effect on demand for oil. Analysts at Citi, a bank, calculate that if the fuel-efficiency of cars and trucks improves by an average of 2.5% a year it will be enough to constrain oil demand; they predict that a peak of less than 92m b/d will come in the next few years. Ricardo, a big automotive engineer, has come to a similar conclusion.

Not surprisingly, the oil “supermajors” and the IEA disagree. They point out that most of the emerging world has a long way to go before it owns as many cars, or drives as many miles per head, as America.

But it would be foolish to extrapolate from the rich world’s past to booming Asia’s future. The sort of environmental policies that are reducing the thirst for fuel in Europe and America by imposing ever-tougher fuel-efficiency standards on vehicles are also being adopted in the emerging economies. China recently introduced its own set of fuel-economy measures. If, as a result of its determination to reduce its dependence on imported oil, the regime imposes policies designed to “leapfrog” the country’s transport system to hybrids, oil demand will come under even more pressure.

Basically, our policies and technological advances are working to constrain our demand for oil. It seems there will be enough of these to match the decline in production of oil with a decline in demand. I imagine this sits really badly with my friends in the environmental movement who have been praying and hoping for peak oil to crash our technological civilisation once and for all. I chalk all this up to Schumpeter and his creative destruction of values as well as the Kurzweil vision of a Technological Singularity. Collectively, we seem to be accelerating to a point of development, not slowing down. Calling this cargo-ism seems to be just as ideologically motivated as the sort of people who wanted peak oil to cripple our civilisation.

Certainly, this is an interesting vision of the near future:

The biggest impact of declining demand could be geopolitical. Oil underpins Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy. The Kremlin will find it more difficult to impose its will on the country if its main source of patronage is diminished. The Saudi princes have relied on a high oil price to balance their budgets while paying for lavish social programmes to placate the restless young generation that has taken to the streets elsewhere. Their huge financial reserves can plug the gap for a while; but if the oil flows into the kingdom’s coffers less readily, buying off the opposition will be harder and the chances of upheaval greater. And if America is heading towards shale-powered energy self-sufficiency, it is unlikely to be as indulgent in future towards the Arab allies it propped up in the past. In its rise, oil has fuelled many conflicts. It may continue to do so as it falls. For all that, most people will welcome the change.

If this indeed comes to pass, the world is going to be a very different place to the ‘Peak Oil’ scenario.

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Carbon Price Banter

Finally Something In Place

We know the story: Kevin Rudd swept to power in 2007 with the promise of an ETS. He decided to negotiate one with the Coalition, finding common cause with his counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, which led to the demise of both men as leaders. Julia Gillard became Prime Minister having buried both the ETs and Kevin Rudd, went to the polls promising not to price carbon. Tony Abbott did worse, he supported the ETS, then in the expediency of his leadership challenge opposed it and buried Malcolm Turnbull. Both went to the polls and the electorate were so disenchanted, it resulted in the hung parliament. So off they went talking to the cross bench independents and the lonce Greens MP who negotiated the carbon price back on to the agenda, – which made Julia Gillard a ‘liar’  but that was the price of keeping office. Tony Abbott’s been running around siding with the loonies and climate change deniers drumming up a fear campaign, while the Greens and independents negotiated with the ALP to get this legislation.

And that’s how we got the second-best policy according to Petr Hartcher.

For Gillard, carbon pricing is the reform she didn’t want. She proposed the vacuous “citizen’s assembly” as a way of killing carbon pricing. She has negotiated this tax not because she believes in it but because it was the price of bringing the Greens and independents together in support of her minority government.
Brown decided to block Rudd’s emissions trading scheme in the Senate to hold out for a more ambitious one, then bewailed the government’s failure to reform carbon pricing. He is now supporting Gillard’s second-best scheme in an effort to salvage something from nothing.

And Abbott once urged the opposition to support the Rudd scheme in the interests of expediency, and then, as leader, opposed it in the same cause.

Even so, industry leaders thought he should have negotiated the terms of the carbon tax with Gillard. This would have reduced the power of the Greens and made it more business friendly. Instead, he pursued his populist oppositionism and left Gillard to deal with the Greens.

And there’s the crux of the biscuit for the industrial lobbies that opposed the carbon tax along with Tony Abbott this time through. In a game of double or nothing, they doubled down on the side of not having any kind of policy on carbon in this country but badly misread the prevailing winds. If Julia Gillard’s only reason for being PM was that she negotiated *something* with the independents and Greens, then they should have been awake to the probability that this time, the thing was going through. The greater irony is of course is that had the last one gone through, it might have been a bit better for the industry lobbies.They really misread the public mood, which has resulted in this legislation.

The funny thing is that this was on the cards ever since the hung Parliament election last year and when Julia Gillard announced she would price carbon as a result of her deals. It’s amazing such a poliy got through in a hung Parliament, but maybe sometimes that is what it takes to get change.

Phil Coorey writes the Greens had to compromise greatly too.

The Greens complained last time abut the lack of restrictions on polluters to stop them buying permits overseas, enabling them to keep polluting at home. This scheme has restrictions but they do little more than pay lip service to the concern.

The CPRS was to start with a fixed price of $10 for a year before turning into an emissions trading scheme with an estimated starting price of $26. This scheme will start as a fixed price of $23, indexed upwards for three years, and has a floor. The government claims it will be a net lower carbon price over the first three years.

Today, the already febrile nature of federal politics will increase to that of an election campaign, with Gillard and Abbott locked in a fight to the death. The Greens and the government can ill-afford to bicker.

Either way, the Greens’ policy purity of two years ago has gone. Like Labor, the minor party could not afford to fail to reach a deal this time. It’s called compromise.
Welcome to political reality.

It seems in the final wash up, the Greens didn’t come close to getting everything they wanted, and that perhaps this is a good thing for industrial Australia. After the last time through, it raised serious questions as to what on earth the Greens were doing in parliament if they couldn’t get some kind of carbon trading scheme up and running. So it seems this round of negotiations was indeed a last ditch effort to salvage something from a real political opportunity with their names carved in to it. It was do or die for the Greens as much as the ALP.

Why Are You In Politics, Tony?

Which brings me to Mr. Abbott, who made a laughable speech after the Prime Minister made her speech. He said taxation was bad. I laughed out loud because if taxation per se was bad, then the Liberal Governments he was part of did a lot of bad things – like introduce the GST. There is no way taxation in of itself is ‘bad’ – it depends on the tax policy and this why policies get debated (like, d’uh Tony). So it seems it’s quite appropriate to point out that had Mr.Abbott done some negotiating instead of fear-mongering in the public arena, they might have gotten something that better suited their perceived constituency of big business.

I guess he decided it was better to play the political game than to wrestle policy – which he already seems to choose every time – but just this once it seems he missed an opportunity to do something worthwhile and participate in a historic decision. Instead he’s going to go down as the clown who went jumping around playing politics in the polls while an important legislation worked through Parliament with nary an input from his party.

The polls might suggest he’s way ahead of Julia Gillard right now, but once this thing goes through, he’s going to look weak and powerless for not being able to stop it. All this talk of repealing it is not going to help his cause at the next election when the pricing will already be in place. So really, what the hell are you doing in politics, Mr. Abbott?

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What Prof. Ross Garnaut Has To Say About The Carbon Price

And The Charcoal On The Wall Says…

Pleiades sent me this link today. Professor Ross Garnaut had a few words to say about the way the big end of town is conducting itself in the carbon pricing debate.

Garnaut takes particular aim at BCA chairman Graham Bradley, Bluescope Steel chairman Graeme Kraehe and AWU boss Paul Howes, as well as BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser. He accuses them of elevating the cause of narrow business interests over the national interest.

He is also nauseated by the claims of the mining industry and its “hue and cry” against a market-based carbon price. He notes that the huge amount of money flowing into the country for the mining boom is displacing investment, and jobs, elsewhere in the country – a situation that is rarely appreciated in public debate. He accuses Bluescope and the AWU, who have been among the loudest opponents, of using the carbon price as a “scapegoat  …to duck the consequences of the resources boom.”

He reserves special condemnation for the BCA, the peak business lobby group, which has been riven by internal dissent over a carbon price, including from many members who do not accept the science of climate change. Just this week the BCA has recommended a starting carbon price of just $10 a tonne, and asked that most emissions-intensive industries be shielded completely from the carbon price – a proposal that has since been echoed by the Australian Industry Group.

Garnaut recalls the BCA’s rejection of a consumption tax at Bob Hawke’s National Taxation Summit in 1985 – the first “big outing” for the then newly formed council. “What emerged that day in Parliament House was a lesson in how vested interests can make the perfect the enemy of the good. In overreaching for an ideal outcome for themselves if not for the community, the business Council destroyed a central pillar of tax reform for two decades. They shot themselves squarely in the foot, with the country as collateral damage.”

Now, Garnaut says, the BCA has “returned to old type” in discussions about climate change policy. He recalls an anecdote about a visit to China by BCA chairman Graham Bradley in April this year, with a delegation led by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. “During high-level discussions with senior government and business leaders, Mr Bradley said that the Business Council would not support any carbon tax that would ‘discourage investment’ in Australia. And there should be no carbon tax on natural gas,” Garnaut writes.

But Garnaut says this approach has no logic. “There can be no carbon pricing without structural change. Structural change removes some jobs and discourages some investment. It is not logical to be in favour of a market-based mechanism for reducing emissions, as the (BCA) professes to be, and simultaneously be against a carbon price that discourages any investment. It would be as illogical as favouring productivity-raising reform but being against any policy change that discourages any investment.”

So take that, Business Council of Australia! There’s more in that link, so do have a read.

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The Charcoal Writing Is On The Wall

Cate Blanchett stumped for the cause of a carbon price and got a ripping from the Murdoch press. What followed was an admission by Dick Smith that he agreed with Blanchett but was too ‘gutless’ to front up for his beliefs for he feared exactly the sort of treatment Blanchett was receiving from the Murdoch press. Dick Smith even pointed to Murdoch’s own words about climate change and implored the employer of these institutional climate change deniers. to come back and set them straight. Barnaby Joyce charged that Blanchett was unfit to comment as she was rich. Adam Bandt pointed out that so was Gina Rinehart and that it didn’t stop her from campaigning for her own personal gain. Blanchett at least is campaigning for the common good – an important distinction.

Since then it’s been a bit of a free for all.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, did not overplay Blanchett’s involvement, saying she was as entitled as anybody else to have her voice heard on the issue.
Mr Abbott dismissed her as a celebrity who was out of touch. ”You do not give special weight to celebrities,” he said. ”You do not give special weight to people who live half the year in Hollywood where there is no carbon tax.”

That last bit is a bit (pardon the pun) rich. It points to a deeply undemocratic vein in Tony Abbott’s political outlook but I won’t go into that too much. Barnaby Joyce’s denunciations too reveal a largely patriarchal anxiety wherein he is acutely aware that the beauty bias runs against him. If he had to stump up next to Cate Blanchett, he can’t win because she is far better looking, better known and liked.

Still, it’s this patriarchal libertarian leave-me-alone-to-do-as-I-will entitlement of bloke-ishness that seems to glavanise around the political end of the carbon price debate; and it’s the school-marmish restraint of women like Julia Gillard and Cate Blanchett who are arguiing strongly for restraint of carbon emissions and a means of setting price point to discourage excessive emissions. No wonder the barbecue-loving blokes are going flipper and tongs at Cate Blanchett, ad hominem.

Well this is not about Cate Blanchett’s right to side with the Carbon Price. It’s about where the debate will ultimately go, and should go.

The Carbon Price debate is going to crash over the line with a lot of screaming rhetoric, but in the end the big end of town knows it needs to be done, and that if the discussions go past 1 July, it will be the Greens who will control the debate in the Upper House. This would suggest that it is incumbent upon the Coalition to represent the big end of town and secure the best deal they can out of the wounded Labor party before they both get taken hostage by the Greens – but no, it’s Tony Abbott at the helm.

It’s not just me saying it.

Abbott’s whole “big new tax” campaign shuns acknowledgment of the real point, as does his alleged alternative strategy of paying farmers to bury carbon. It has worked in scaring voters and perhaps raised the hopes of a few gullible cockies, but it’s also created investment uncertainty and is contributing to wobbly consumer confidence.
Keep shouting that the Government is taking Australia down the drain, that our macro economic policy is a total failure, and some people will be silly enough to believe it. The mindless simplification of budget policy into “surplus good, deficit bad” has been effectively debunked by Ross Gittins but don’t expect most of the media to understand it.

But the ructions of the past week within the Liberal Party might indicate the very people who gave Abbott the job somewhat by default (remember that Joe Hockey didn’t stand) are beginning to realise there are limits to Total Opposition. More pragmatically, they know Labor is so on the nose, the Liberal Party can afford to be seen to have some principles again.

Labor presently thinks Tony Abbott is the best thing going for it. If they can implement their Malaysian boat people solution, their (rather simplistic) hope is that a very mild carbon tax then proves to be a non-issue upon implementation, leaving Abbott as the attack dog without a bone to worry.

Tony Abbott and his climate-change denying cohorts are an embarrassment.

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Peak Oil Is Knocking

Today’s Peak Oil Article

Here it is.

Peak oil is forcing its way to the top of the agenda with stark warnings from the International Energy Agency and others repeated on ABC radio and television this week, after an investigation by the Catalyst program.
Following up a similar program she made in 2005, journalist Jonica Newby gained a rare interview with the IEA chief economist, Fatih Birol, who said crude oil production peaked in 2006 and, in veiled terms, added governments should have started working seriously on the problem a decade ago and warned of the threat of more oil wars.

Whereas five years ago the agency expected total production – including oil from deep-sea drilling and unconventional sources such as tar sands – could rise to 120 million barrels a day by 2030, the agency now expects production will reach only 96 million barrels. And Birol reckons there are no guarantees it can be brought out of the ground in a timely fashion.

”Existing fields are declining so sharply that in order to stay where we are in terms of production levels, in the next 25 years we have to find and develop four new Saudi Arabias. That is a huge challenge.”

If you’re unsure of the general outline of the argument for Peak Oil, here’s the helpful Wikipedia entry with the usual caveats about Wikipedia. Even the mighty Russian fields peaked in 2007 according to Wikipedia. If you want to read in more depth, here’s a cool link.

Anyway, back to the article:

Desperately needed, of course, is a policy to tackle both peak oil and climate change at the same time.
Last year the think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, with Melbourne University’s Energy Research Institute, published its Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, which shook things up by calling for investment of $37 billion a year to switch the whole country over to 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade. The plan included enough installed energy capacity to power all our transport needs.

Beyond Zero has assembled a team of scientists, engineers and planners working pro bono on a fully costed, national transport plan that will take in three streams: city passenger and public transport, freight, and intercity transport and high-speed rail.

Workshops are under way, drafts are circulating and the report is due out by the end of the year.
The executive director, Matthew Wright, says the opportunity for Australia is there to invest in new, climate-friendly transport infrastructure and avoid spending on high-priced oil imports, which Beyond Zero estimates could exceed $50 billion a year by 2015. ”That’s what I call a great big tax,” says Wright.

That should be the take home message for now. our politicians are barely on the edge of the crux of the problem, and they’re whipping up the wrong frenzy. Somewhere in the midterm, our dependence on oil could cripple our economy when it becomes impossible to move things around this country without oil. It’s on the cards, it’s part of the complex problem that gives rise to the need to prepare infrastructure for alternative energy sources. If one thing could contribute to the popping of the Australian Property Bubble, it would be the rising cost of oil.If people value the investment value of their houses, they might consider moving to alternative energies faster, not slower; and in turn stop whinging about the Carbon pricing because that is the mechanism by which the technology will be funded.

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Fail Safe Part II

Aeschylus Was His Name…

I’ve been arguing a lot about the inferences that can be drawn from the Fukushima plant going into meltdown and a category 6 disaster in the wake of 12m high waves as well as a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. What I find most annoying is the group of anti-nuclear types citing that given the failure of Fukushima, it conclusively proves nuclear power should never be used. I’ve pointed out that there is an epistemological problem with risk management in my previous post here.

The people saying that Fukushima proves nuclear power plants cannot be safe are ignoring the freakishness of events that befell the plant to send it into its current condition. And this is is what I have for you.

Aeschylus was a playwright. He famously – and apocryphally – died when he was sitting in a forest reading a book when he was hit on the head with a turtle that was dropped by an eagle.

It’s exactly that sort of freakishness that led to the events at Fukushima; the off the charts unlikelihood of a series of events overcoming all the fail safes. So if we were going to argue that Fukushima does indeed *prove* nuclear power is an unacceptable risk, then we have to draw the same inference and say that the death of Aeschylus proves sitting in the forest reading a book is an unacceptable risk.

People sit in the forests all the time. They don’t get killed by eagles dropping turtles. There are around 2000 reactors around the planet safely supplying power, day in, day out. If we use Fukushima as the yardstick and make all nuclear power generation unacceptable, it would be like making Aeschylus’ death the reason why we can’t sit and read books in a forest. It’s like taking the most outlier statistical abnormality and claiming it should occupy the middle.

Again, I’m not pro-nukes. I find radio-activity and human error and fallibility to be frightening risks. But I can’t stand listening to people expressing their fears of nuclear power using the Fukushima disaster as the conclusive reason why we should stop all nuclear power stations. It’s the worst kind of opportunism and it is inherently unscientific.

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