Friday, February 29, 2008

An Unless

Yesterday President Bush threatened to veto the bill renewing the financial incentives for the production of alternative energy sources. The lead in the Times reads:

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday approved a bill to extend more than $17 billion in tax credits and other incentives to encourage the production of energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources, and to promote energy conservation. The bill would be financed by ending tax incentives for oil and natural gas producers.

It's not easy. It's not going to be easy.

Oil went over $103 in Asian trading this morning. Some analysts are predicting $4 a gallon gas this spring. Some say that it's only by reflecting the true price of oil stripped of the subsidies that people will be motivated to find an alternative. I'm worried that alternative is going to be coal.

Last night I went to a lovely gathering in the home of one of my favorite people which -- the first in a series of gatherings of local moms to talk about what it is that we can do to make some sort of difference. While raising children is an amazing endeavor, there comes a point when you need to be able to both expand your own focus and also feel like you are working to ensure the world for them...

A terrific guy from the Mass. Democratic party came to talk to us -- just for fun. He is two years out of college, and communications director. Very knowledgeable, helpful -- and very starry-eyed.

The problem in trying to figure out any of this is ... well, the pressures from all angles of any issue become so complex.

Alternative energy, clean air, clean water, affordability, manageability, mobility...

I'm so cynical -- and a little bit of a conspiracy theorist at times... Is it possible that this tie in to oil was put into the bill to kill it? It seems unlikely given this administration that a bill funneling money from oil industries to alternative fuels would pass the big red stamp. Was it set up to fail? Was it set up to make a statement?

The Lorax (Part 6)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Private Matter

Yesterday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments about the Exxon Valdez oil spill -- about whether or not punitive damages of $2.5 billion dollars should be dismissed.

Some notes:

Here is the opening of the "Argument Preview" from the Supreme Court website:

"Exxon Shipping Co., et al., v. Baker, et al., is known – and will always be known popularly – as a case about one of history’s most destructive oil spills. The case is also steeped in maritime lore, because the tanker ship carrying the oil hit bottom on Alaska’s Bligh Island Reef, named for Captain William Bligh, a central figure in the story of the mutiny on The Bounty. But this controversy takes its place on the Supreme Court’s docket as a test of maritime law that reaches back to an 1818 Supreme Court decision charmingly titled The Amiable Nancy. The core issue is whether maritime law allows any punitive damages again a ship owner/operator for an oil spill such as this one and, if so, how high such a damage award may legally go."

Nina Totenberg, the Supreme Court reporter for NPR, is one of my heroes -- her calm and delineated way of explaining the interchanges in the institution are forever in my head when I think about the court at all. Thank you, Nina.

Samuel Alito is sitting out of this case. He owns stocks in Exxon. Why on earth are our Supreme Court Justices allowed to own stock? Any stock! Many journalists aren't allowed to own stock for fear of conflicts. It's the supreme court, for crying out loud. Pay them well -- really well; it's a big job, and they never do anything again -- but make them get RID of their portfolios! Rid.

One issue is that Exxon knew that Hazelwood, a self-admitted alcoholic, had fallen off the wagon when he assumed the helm of the Valdez.

From the website corporate statement:
"ExxonMobil has an unwavering commitment to high ethical standards, operations integrity and flawless execution. This is embedded in our company culture and implemented through our management systems. Our Standards of Business Conduct form the foundation for this commitment, with 16 corporate policies in addition to the company-wide expectations for open-door communication."

Exxon says that they should not be subject to punitive damages because they were not seeking to make big profits from their action. This is interesting to me. Because they were not looking to profit specifically from keeping Hazelwood, a known alcoholic, from captaining the Valdez, they should not be subject to punishment.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for the term "Public Trust." (More hypocrisy on my part!)

"The concept of the public trust relates back to the origins of democratic government, and its seminal idea that; within the public, lies the true power and future of a society, therefore, whatever trust the public places in its officials must be respected.

"One of the reasons why bribery is regarded as a notorious evil is that it contributes to a culture of corruption in which public trust is eroded.

A famous example of the betrayal of public trust is in the story of Julius Ceasar, who was killed by Roman Senators who believed they had to act drastically to preserve the republic against his alleged monarchical ambitions. It is an interesting concept, nevertheless."

The blog of the American Constitution Society said this yesterday:

"Tort law must continue to perform the work of punishing and deterring misconduct that harms private interests. The applicable federal and state laws work together to provide comprehensive but not overlapping remedies for public and private harm. The Supreme Court should continue to recognize this important distinction and retain the plaintiffs’ longstanding rights to both compensatory and punitive damages."

This from the Supreme Court Blog background:

"At seven minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez, loaded with oil and steaming out of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, ran aground on Bligh Reef after missing a turn that would have allowed it to sail safely on out to sea. The ship was owned by a subsidiary of the oil company, Exxon Mobil, and its captain at the time was an Exxon employee, Joseph Hazelwood. The record of the case is filled with arguments and counter-arguments about whether Hazelwood was drunk, about what Exxon knew about that, and just how the turn was missed while Hazelwood was away from the bridge (in violation of company rules). There is no dispute about the first result of the grounding: With the reef punching a hole in the Valdez’s hull, some 11 million gallons of its cargo – equal to about 258,000 barrels – spilled into the Sound, and wind and water spread it over a 600-mile area in the midst of a productive fishery area."

This from a 1994 article from The Anchorage Daily News:

ANCHORAGE- For the first time since he radioed that the Exxon Valdez had "fetched up hard aground" on Bligh Reef five years ago, Capt. JoeHazelwood on Tuesday began his public reckoning of his role in the disaster and of his bouts with alcohol. Speaking as one of the first witnesses called by the attorneys suing him and Exxon in U.S. District Court,Hazelwood described the two-faced life he led during the years leading up to the spill: drinking at sea, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous at home.

In slow, deliberate speech, Hazelwood said many Exxon officials knew he was drinking, but had they asked for details or probed, "I probably would have slammed the door in their face."

"I thought it was a private matter," he said.

I've mentioned before that I am teaching Frankenstein right now -- I still think it's fascinating -- all the issues of responsibility and consequence...

Yesterday, a student for whom I have a big soft spot wrote a free write correlating her own battles with alcoholism with Frankenstein's -- I told her I was concerned that over identification could be problematic in her instance -- taking too much responsibility could work against her ability to keep her life in perspective...

There aren't that many of us with the capacity to commit deep crimes against nature through our own actions and inactions -- to create such catastrophic results in our environments...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Woman's Name

I did not know that Condoleezza Rice had had an oil tanker named after her in 1991, while employed as an aid to the president.

I therefore, too, did not know it was renamed that same year. It just didn't look good.

In November, Chevron settled a court case and will pay $30 million dollars in fines to settle charges of illegal dealings in Iraq. According to a November AP story:

"The oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, was created to help Iraqis meet some basic needs under the United Nations sanctions imposed after Saadam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The program let the Iraqi government sell oil primarily to buy humanitarian goods. It was later found that the program was often used as a means to funnel kickbacks."

This is on their website under the ethics section:

"Chevron is committed to doing business with the highest ethical standards.

Operating in a responsible and ethical manner lies at the heart of our value system and, combined with superior technology and world-class execution, underpins our success.

That responsibility starts at the top — with Dave O'Reilly, our chairman, and Peter Robertson, our vice-chairman — and is the work of every Chevron employee.

Our standards are guided by The Chevron Way, which explains who we are, what we do, what we believe and how we conduct business in a socially responsible and ethical manner. And we depend on our Corporate Governance Guidelines and Business Conduct and Ethics Code to help us make the right decisions."

Chevron is one of the 6 largest energy companies in the world; the second largest in the US. According to their website: Chevron conducts business in approximately 180 countries; they spent $16.6 billion dollars looking for energy last year; their revenues in 2006 were about $205 billion; you can buy a chevron gift card with an image from the movie Cars as a present.

I don't know -- the ties to the Bush administration -- they bother me. A lot. But you know what else is troubling me today --

-- this idea of Condeleezza Rice being named --

I don't know -- there's something about the way that it points to her being a woman -- and underscores the way that woman are seen -- and the role that even the future Secretary of State of the USA is seen in the eyes of the corporate, political and public eye --

She is not the captain of a ship, she's the mascot. The emblem. The lady to come home for. All that is feminine -- the ship the sea the earth. Those things explored, conquered, braved in the name of...

I picture her tied to the front of the bow in a white and blue flowy dress with her bossom falling out...

Condoleezza Rice

Furthermore, I think this may be the first time a woman's name has come up in this whole project.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Piece of Paper

This morning I'm looking at a story in the International Herald Tribune about a Texas oilman suing a Russian state owned gas company for breech of contract -- they are hoping to have the case heard in a German court.

It's a breech of contract suit -- what it looks like is that the guy from Texas said he would partner with the Russians back in the early days after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was a risky time to do business there, and the American obtained financing, in effect backing the government and the exploration and distribution of what is thought to be the largest natural gas field in the world.

What I don't see is any investment actually made on the part of the American -- not any major investment, anyway -- I'm sure it all cost a lot of money -- there were flights to Moscow and lots of expensive vodka, no doubt. But nothing to really support his claim to 40% of a 12 billion dollar location.

A piece of paper.

I've been sort of interested -- looking at the news for these months -- in just this sort of thing. All over the world much of the oil and gas is controlled by state owned operations. And they often partner with foreign investors. Venezuela, The Middle East, China -- all of these countries hold hold stakes, benefit and look out for their citizens (to varying degrees of success) in relation to their profits and holdings. I thought about the alternative here in the States -- well, one side is that foreign investors are free to come in and begin to obtain controlling interests in many delicate endeavors here -- we saw this last fall when:

Yesterday, Wednesday, Nov. 28, The Abu Dhabi Investment Corp. firmed plans to spend $7.5 billion and become the largest single share holder in Citigroup. I wrote about it then.

Another is that it might be argued that the oil companies run Washington, and it might be better the other way around -- the guy who's suing, his name personally came up in a meeting between Bush and Putin. I for one don't want to think that the Russian government is going to put a promise to any Texas oilman ahead of what is right for the people of Russia -- I've been fairly mortified to learn of the oilman impingement on American interests myself...

I don't know -- it just brings up all kinds of questions for me. Of course, foreign investment and aid are crucial when things are falling apart -- they are also big bargains -- can one who makes an agreement under duress really ever be expected to maintain that oath a decade later?

Really, when should a contract be binding?
Who should it be binding to?
What should we be allowed to take advantage of?
Is some global court of law really what we want in this world?
Wouldn't that likely get the US sued for all sorts of things?

But you promised.

I lied.

You can't lie.

So sue me.

I needed a loaf of bread to feed my starving family.
I needed to get through the day the year the decade.
I needed to get back on my feet.

But I was there for you --
You said you needed me --
You said we were in it together --

I thought you were the love of my life...

Thanks anyway.

"This is about bringing out the facts about our claim," Moncrief ((said oilman)) said during an interview. "We do not view our agreement with Gazprom as a memorandum of understanding. We view it as a binding contract."

Monday, February 25, 2008

One Love, 2

The Top Headline on the NYT site right now is about inflation in the Middle East. Okay, that's not true. The top headline is about the Oscars. But the NEXT top headline.

"Rising Inflation Creates Unease in the Middle East."

The story is very interesting, and rather unease creating in its own right.

It seems to me there are two issues. Rising inflation. Stop. Middle East. Stop.

If we take a look at the Middle East first --

"In Saudi Arabia, where inflation had been virtually zero for a decade, it recently reached an official level of 6.5 percent, though unofficial estimates put it much higher."

One of the things the article talks about is an issue within the government. The thing about countries with an operational king is that that king is supposed to act paternalistic toward his subjects. Subsidies are a major part of the economic workings of many of these countries -- in fact most countries that are heavily state controlled -- so that things stay fairly constant for the average citizen. But with the price of oil increasing so much, so rapidly it's putting pressure on the whole inner workings -- and the rift between the haves and the have nots are growing exponentially. The societal and governmental structure is feeling enormous pressure, and seems to need to find a new way of dealing with all the new money. A few days ago I mentioned Western Universities making their way into the Middle East -- it seems highly unlikely that this is going to make things less volatile.

On one reposting of the NYT article on a blog this morning, one commenter writes "Boo fucking hoo." I don't want to link here, because I don't want to put those cyber connections in place -- sorry. Someone else said something to the effect of "it must be getting expensive driving suicide bomb trucks." Well, things are tough in the blogosphere. Some of us watched poets unwind before our eyes on the National Poetry Foundation blog this month... but things are tough in America, too -- Boo hoo? I'm sad -- in the article it said that a previously middle class guy used to support his family and his parents who lived in the country. He's now unable to send them any money at all. And he just had to switch his baby to the cheap diapers. Moms know -- that means leaks and diaper rash -- that means a lot more cleaning and crying. That means stress -- climbing and quality of life -- dropping. And what becomes of the parents in the country? (I made up that country part -- they don't say where the parents live...)

I wish I had a friendly neighborhood economist to call -- I do, actually, so maybe you will hear more about this soon. It still doesn't quite compute as to why flooding a nation with money makes poverty stronger -- though maybe it's a little like printing more money -- which is easier to understand as a devaluing issue. Could it be that it really doesn't matter if its real money -- as in actual increased earnings -- or paper money? I find this fascinating.

Anyway -- whatever the cause -- things are not going well for a lot of people in the Middle East.

"Public protests and boycotts have followed, and 19 prominent clerics posted an unusual statement on the Internet in December warning of a crisis that would cause “theft, cheating, armed robbery and resentment between rich and poor.” "

It took me a minute to find this statement -- actually, to find a December London Telegraph article about the statement. That's as close as I got. Maybe it was not in English. Ugh -- I don't even know what language they speak in Saudi Arabia. Thank heavens for global etiquette lessons on the web:

((Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, but English is widely spoken. It is used in business and is a compulsory second language in schools. Among the non-Saudi population, many people speak Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and other Asian languages such as Farsi and Turkish.))

The Telegraph article says, "Wealth distribution is a problem in Saudi Arabia, where members of the royal family - including King Abdullah - and businessmen have been listed by Forbes magazine as among the richest people in the world, while civil servants earn 1,000 riyals ($266) a month."

The statement from the clerics says, "We direct this message to the rulers and officials: we remind you of Prophet Mohammad's words that you are shepherds who are responsible for your flock," the group of 19 well-known clerics, including Nasser al-Omar, said in a statement.

"The rulers should seek to try to remedy this crisis in a way that would ease people's suffering ..."

It happens sometimes that in the course of writing I lose something I was going to refer to. It's very frustrating -- I often read 7 or so articles before writing, and the deadline of my kids alarm simply forces me to finish at 7. I've just lost an article -- but what it was talking about was the economic situation in the middle east causing unrest -- protests and death.

It's important to remember why suicide bombings happen -- unrest, frustration -- colonization... oil. Our entanglement in the Middle East.

The Center for Middle East Strategy at Harvard talks has been talking about the boundaries in the Middle East -- how they are drawn and how they will be drawn in the future.

This was posted on that site yesterday:

"On Thursday evening, Turkish forces entered northern Iraq to do battle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari has called the move “a limited military incursion into a remote, isolated and uninhabited region.” According to various sources, there have been clashes in the Qandil mountains along the Iraqi-Iranian border and in the Zap region. Turkish aircraft reportedly also bombed targets around Al-Amadiyah, an Iraqi Kurdish mountain town about 10 kilometers south of the Turkish border."

Boundaries -- again. The Middle East.

Buddha said if one person remains suffering we all do. Same as the Jews in yesterday's post -- and Marley too.

I don't know -- what if that is simply practical advice? Boo Hoo because it's going to come for us too... Middle East strife, uprising. Inflation too...

The following quotes are attributed to Buddha:

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.

All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.

All I guess I can say is I'm glad I don't have diapers to buy -- or parents to support.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One Love

I've been interested in the rise of coal production -- I've noticed a few bad signs in my readings over the last few months -- law exemptions, plant openings... the kinds of murmurings that are single lines in disparate stories from time to time.

I wrote my favorite friendly climate scientist, Dr. Andrew Dessler to ask what he'd heard of late. All he said was that "coal production is an unmitigated disaster and should be halted immediately."

Of course, that's not what's happening.

A report from the Energy Information Administration, the official energy statistic site from the US government, projected coal production for the next many years. "In the IEO2007 reference case, world coal consumption increases by 74 percent over the projection period, from 114.4 quadrillion Btu in 2004 to 199.0 quadrillion Btu in 2030 (Figure 54). Coal consumption increases by 2.6 percent per year on average from 2004 to 2015, then slows to an average increase of 1.8 percent annually from 2015 to 2030."

Furthermore, " Although coal currently is the second-largest fuel source of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (behind oil), accounting for 39 percent of the world total in 2004, it is projected to become the largest source by 2010. The two key factors underlying the increase are a more rapid projected growth rate for world coal consumption than for oil consumption and the fact that carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy output are higher for coal than for oil or natural gas. In 2030, coal’s share of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions is projected to be 43 percent, compared with 36 percent for oil and 21 percent for natural gas. "
I still keep thinking of Dickens -- and illustrations from his books of coal filled air. (This is one of the originals from Bleakhouse.)

One of the biggest factors right now is China -- where the country is changing so rapidly and is searching for ways to keep up with their own population.

But all over people are seeking alternatives to oil. I was reading another story in the Times today about wood heat -- it seems that all over the North East folks are dragging out their wood stoves to combat heating prices. Sounds good to me -- when I was younger, I lived with my mom in the middle of nowhere Maine -- we used an old Russian fireplace for heat -- a wood burning chimney that heated the whole house by conducting heat through bricks and tile floors.

"Air pollution is still a major concern, particularly with wood boilers. A 2006 report from the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of Northeast air quality agencies, found that average particulate emissions from one outdoor wood boiler equaled that of 22 wood stoves, 205 oil furnaces or as many as 8,000 natural gas furnaces."

That I did not know. I didn't want to know it, either.
(From A Tale of Two Cities.)

Yesterday I talked a little bit about the pitfalls of two opposing motivations finding themselves with the same goal -- I was referring to the desire to find an alternative for oil -- those who would like to find an economic relief from the price of oil and those who would like to find an environmental relief from the price of oil may both move to further the production of ethanol. Still, because their motivations are different, should something go wrong, one group may no longer find the solution palatable. What then?

My friend Debbie said the question reminded her of a protest she saw in downtown Boston a few years ago -- there, Orthodox Jews and Nazi skinheads were protesting along side each other in condemnation of Israel. The Jews believe that Israel is an error because it is the requirement of Jews to live in peace with all living things. Not so much the Nazis.

Is one group glad of the others' success? Do the ends justify the means?

For me, it made me think of a very different situation -- but one, too, where opposing motivations wind up in collaboration of sorts. If one person is pursuing love and another is pursuing sex and the two find themselves together...

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
(Bleakhouse: The morning.)

What we want is not the same. What we need ...

One Love, One Heart
Let's get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One Love)
Hear the children crying (One Heart)
Sayin' give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Sayin' let's get together and feel all right

Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One Love)
There is one question I'd really like to ask (One Heart)
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?
Believe me

One Love, One Heart
Let's get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (One Love)
So shall it be in the end (One Heart)
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
One more thing

Let's get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One Love)
So when the Man comes there will be no no doom (One Song)
Have pity on those whose chances grove thinner
There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation

Sayin' One Love, One Heart
Let's get together and feel all right
I'm pleading to mankind (One Love)
Oh Lord (One Heart)

Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Let's get together and feel all right

-- Bob Marley

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Back to the Future

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal's Environmental blog "Environmental Capital" ran a post discussing a new type of vehicle featured at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show in January. "Flex-fuel." As the name would imply, these cars can run on either ethanol, petroleum or a mix, I believe. According to the blog, GM hopes to make half of its production "flex-fuel" by 2012.

2012. I find myself asking again what the future will look like...
Who will be running for re-election; will there still be snow storms like the one we had last night...

As a total aside, I was watching "Meet the Robinsons" last night with my kids. It's such a sweet movie -- one of the best parts of it is the idea of a rejected orphan looking into the future and seeing huge happy playful family. May our futures be happy... At any rate, I started wondering how much of my theory of time -- of how everything in time is linked inexorably and every tiny thing leads to the present -- a theory that gives me much peace -- I wonder how much of my philosophy of time and faith in the past has to do with growing up with shows like "Star Trek" and "The Twilight Zone" I watched with my dad when I was really little -- and later movies like "Back to the Future" and "Groundhog Day..." Charles Dickens must have really shocked people in his day.

I digress.

First of all -- "Flex-fuel" cars fulfill all requirements of being a hybrid vehicle despite the fact that they need never run on anything but petroleum. Loophole much?

Also necessary -- Right now, ethanol isn't widely available enough to count on. Jane Huckabee owns a "Flex-fuel" car -- but can't find corn oil anywhere...

Furthermore, when you do find ethanol, the $.40 or so savings per gallon is canceled out by a possible mpg reduction of over 25%, according to a December story in the Times.

Some of this argument has to do with the pursuit of ethanol as a monetary relief. $1/gallon ethanol is shimmering on the lips of the future...

And then there are the environmental warnings... in the last year many stories have been written about the environmental dangers of growing corn enough for real fuel consumption -- and the pressure on food production -- of ethanol.

Even if we give car companies the most sympathetic of motives -- that they really do want to be part of the solution and are trying to be flexible moving forward to adapt to changes as they might arise... even then we've got issues.

Maybe part of it is that groups with different motivations coming at one problem for entirely different reasons are linked in an unnatural way...

Money and the environment.

If some people are looking for an alternative to petroleum based solely on price -- and others are looking for an alternative based on the environmental situation the use of petroleum worsens -- can those people really work together without the needs of one group ultimately outweighing the other.

Does investment on future promise eliminate our being able to really look around to see what's not working as we go -- do we get into a track we can't find our way out of through momentum...

If the only real purpose of finding a new energy source is to save money we need a time machine to look at that future... the air, the water, the fields...

The Twilight Zone Gallery at

Friday, February 22, 2008

Unwearied In That Service

I used to be really cynical -- it was kind of my thing.
I get less so in spurts, and sometimes I'm downright optimistic these days... faith in humanity, love, poems -- Yesterday a student asked me what was the point of understanding literature... I think I might have really said because literature can save you -- or someone you care about. "To see into the life of things..."
Art too. Me, every day.

Ansel Adams

To say I don't learn anything through any story I write about ... that's the most cynical thing I've said through this project, and it's almost like opening a pipeline...

On the other hand...

Yesterday evening Ted Stevens said he would run for his 7th term as Alaska's senior senator. He's 86 years old. The Washington Post story said:

He told reporters he decided to run again to battle Alaska's high unemployment and energy costs. He said he thinks the state's development has been stymied by "extreme environmentalists."

Stevens is currently under investigation for accepting kick backs from the oil industry. Last summer his house was raided and the government seized a bunch of stuff... Steven's denies allegations of wrong doing.

Bill Allen, the former head of VECO Corp., an oil field service company, who has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators, testified in trials that he oversaw extensive renovations at the home and sent VECO employees to work on it.

Stevens also made a slightly infamous speech I've listened to on youtube this morning railing against the internet...

I think the internet is pretty amazing. Researching this post, sitting on my green velvet couch, I read articles in the Times, the AP, The Washington Post and The Anchorage Daily News. Somewhere there was a small sidebar box that linked to "other stories about corruption in Alaska."

Former Alaskan Speaker of the House Pete Kott was sentenced in December to 6 years in prison "for his role in a corrupt scheme to push an industry-backed oil tax."

A federal jury in September convicted Kott, 58, of bribery, conspiracy and extortion for his role in advocating an oil tax pushed by Veco Corp. executives and favored by North Slope oil producers. He received nearly $9,000, a political poll for his re-election campaign and the promise of a lobbying job, all from Veco executives, according to testimony.

The stakes in Juneau during the 2006 legislative session were huge. Kott and other Veco allies were trying to keep the proposed new oil tax on profits at 20 percent, as the industry wanted. But others were pushing for a higher rate. Even a 1 percent change in the tax rate meant tens of millions to the state, if not even more.

Just to repeat...

"He said he thinks the state's development has been stymied by "extreme environmentalists."

The Alaskan indigenous tribes? The protectors of the polar bears and walrus and albatross...The Alaskan explorations?
Ansel Adams?

Mary Shelly?
We could call Wordsworth an "Extreme Environmentalist," couldn't we?


If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence--wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love--oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Didn't Learn A Thing

Sometimes you just need to know the story.

Or at least an idea of a story... Yesterday it came up that Central Asia is another major factor in the short term issues of energy production, and I had no idea why.

There's a bunch of oil and natural gas in Central Asia. It's seen (by the government by the oil companies by some economists) as one possible source of release from dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

I know so little I actually had to pull out a map -- where is this area I'm about to try to talk about -- this morning I read a December article which laid the issues out pretty well, it seemed ... the article centered around an energy field in Uzbekistan.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

I had to pull out a map. Sometimes my lack of geographical knowledge scares me. Bukhara is somewhat central Uzbekistan; two countries north of Iran and Afghanistan -- two countries west of China.

((seems mighty close to the problem area itself...))

Anyway -- there's a lot of energy there -- natural gas and oil. There seem, from this article, anyway, to be two major issues with supply -- one is that Russia has a major stake in the production there. They have put a lot of money in, are putting in more, and have no inclination to leave the area for western development. To hear the story the whole globe is still in a land grab -- Russia V. The West -- or Exxon V. Lukoil. Somehow I'm imagining a spaghetti western...

It's funny -- you think a threat is no longer a threat when it ceases to be talked about -- or the immediacy is subverted. We can get over a thing and while it isn't looked at or talked about we can almost forget it existed... Having grown up in the height of the cold war, it is not hard to imagine that the tensions between the US and Russia need little air to reignite...

There's another issue in that humanitarian issues are pretty questionable in the region:

In May 2005, President Islam A. Karimov’s troops opened fire on a mixed crowd of escaped prisoners, gunmen and antigovernment demonstrators in a square in the Fergana Valley town of Andijon, killing hundreds in what human rights groups say was the worst massacre of street protesters since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

I forget who said it to me, but not too long ago someone repeated to me a theory that terrorism really started because of the first US involvement in the middle east. Culture clashes and the imposition of values...

I read another story this morning about American Universities moving into the middle east -- capitalizing, again, on the oil wealth.

How does that seem like a good idea? I have no doubt that there is a thirst for an American-style education -- especially in a place where that may not have existed before -- but the mind must reel... What if women aren't wanted. What if they are? What if the things Carnagie Melon wants to teach aren't what the students -- or the parents or the government want to learn? On NPR this week I heard that 35% of Americans don't believe in evolution... Only to say, the issues of education are not simple.

These seem like the same issues to me.

Entering --

Imposing... conquering...

and what values are expendable... for what reasons...

How do external values come into a society and put pressure on that society to change through and imposition of difference? How does a visiting culture put pressure on its own values in the pursuit of money?

What did I learn about Central Asia... I realize I barely talked about what it was I was trying to understand... I'm glad to know where it is -- what I should keep look out for.

Wherever there is oil, this place will take its turn in our sites. Where ever we set our sites there is potential for devastation.

Maybe I didn't learn anything today.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

There's no place like now

A few days ago I wrote that I was playing a bit of an energy game -- one that projected future fuel requirements based on the current state of affairs.
It seems I'm not the only one...

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 — War in Iran. Gasoline rationing, at $5 a gallon. A military draft. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan. Double-digit inflation and unemployment. The draining of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

This is where current energy policy is leading us, according to a nightmare scenario played out

played out where, you might ask -- in a basement while mom fixes a snack and a group of 12 year old boys take turns with a joystick? Oil Shockwave...

as a policy-making exercise here on Thursday by a group of former top government officials.

Far into the future?

The ignition for the game was $150 a barrel oil.
Oil yesterday closed above $100. It had hit $100 but hadn't closed there before.

The factors in the game included sanctions against Iran, instability in Central Asia and the political situation in Venezuela. I don't know what the Story in central Asia is -- guess I should figure that out tomorrow.

The group was led by the national security adviser, played by Robert E. Rubin, secretary of the Treasury during much of the Clinton administration. At one point, weighing a variety of unpleasant options, Mr. Rubin said in near despair, “This wouldn’t be this big a problem if the political system a few years ago had dealt with these issues.”

Carol M. Browner, the Democratic former head of the Environmental Protection Agency who played the secretary of energy, chimed in, “Year in and year out, it has been difficult to get a serious energy policy.” She and others noted that previous Congresses failed to act on auto mileage standards, efficiency measures and steps to replace foreign sources of oil. Michael D. McCurry, President Clinton’s former press secretary, who played a senior counselor to the fictional new president, said that energy issues were barely discussed in the 2008 campaign.

I'm not sure what piece is so alarming -- the proximity of the panic date -- the extreme and yet entirely plausible circumstances -- or, more than all that, the fact that private companies and retired government officials are enacting awful scenarios simply to try to get some attention -- and that the answers over and over revolve, in the future, of someone saying no one did anything now.

In the game, now is foregone...

Thursday’s exercise, the organizers acknowledge, was a bit of a stunt to publicize the issues and nudge Congress and the presidential candidates.

A few minutes ago, my alarm went off. I was downstairs and it went off loudly with an annoying rock song and scared the life out of my 7 year old daughter who had climbed into my bed for protection. I wonder what the world will look like for her.

I wrote a a friend I was feeling vulnerable yesterday...

Vulnerablity is a funny thing -- we can feel it and strong at the same time -- regard and disregard concern at the same time.

He didn't answer.

I don't know -- maybe I want to give someone in Washington a pair of ruby slippers:
There's no place like now; there's no place like now; there's no place like now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How To

This from Slate Magazine:

Answers to your questions about the news.

Oops, I Made an Oil Spill …What should I do?

A research vessel ran aground in a Hawaiian marine wildlife reserve on Sunday and appears to be leaking oil. Aerial surveillance of the crash site by the Coast Guard revealed a "rainbow-colored sheen" on the water, and the crew of the ship took actions to control the spread of a possible spill. What happens when your ship spills oil?

First, you report the spill to the Coast Guard, along with an explanation of what you plan to do about it. Big oil tankers must have a pre-approved "vessel response plan," which includes the name of a private marine cleanup company that can get the right equipment to the scene within a few hours. If you don't have a plan, the Coast Guard will hire a cleanup crew and send you the bill.

Big tankers are required to carry "spill kits" so their crews can start to mop up a slick before the pros arrive. Spill kits typically include pads of oleophilic (oil-attracting) material that soaks up the spill. These devices, called sorbent pads, come in many forms. Crews might use an 18-inch square that can be dabbed in the oil and then wrung out on board the ship; sometimes bales of hay are used.

Once a cleanup team has contained the oil, it can attempt to skim it off the surface of the water. Some skimmers work by separating the top layer mechanically; others use a sort of blotter or a suction mechanism. Very thick oils that resemble floating tar can be removed by hand, or with a pitchfork or shovel. Any of these mechanical methods for cleanup can be used immediately after a spill without prior approval from government officials.

Later on, workers can use chemicals or fire to clean up if the spill occurred far enough away from sensitive areas and if the government approves. "Dispersants" are EPA-approved chemicals—deployed from water cannons or from specialized booms—that break up the oil slick into tiny droplets that sink below the surface and wash away. If the oil slick isn't too thin, and if it's contained with a fire-resistant boom, workers can set it on fire. (This creates some local air pollution, which may be less dangerous than the water pollution.) The fire burns off most of the oil but leaves a viscous burn residue that either floats or sinks to the bottom—and must be picked up either way.

Cleanup crews have a few options to protect local shorelines and wildlife before they even come in contact with a spill. The land nearby can be pretreated with chemicals to prevent the oil from sticking when it washes ashore. Birds and other animals that might be affected can be "hazed"—frightened away—by high-tech scarecrows such as floating dummies, helium balloons, or propane scare cans, which fire off a frightening pop every minute or so.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Unreportable Warfare

This morning, about oil, I learned that if you burn the pools from an oil spill and seal off the hole in the earth, you have only made things worse. The burning releases fumes, vapors and toxins, and leaves a denser crude behind.

Still, this is a common method of clean up for many villages in Nigeria, according to a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The land is devastated. The drinking water and streams are polluted. As it rains, we use the rain water but cannot drink it, because even that is full of crude oil,” youth leader Amstel Monday Ebarakpor told IRIN.

“At every groundwater intrusion, you see seepage. Sometimes you can see oil sheen on drinking water,” he told IRIN. “Crude will be there for the next 50 years.”

Just to repeat: Sometimes you can see an oil sheen on the drinking water.

On 25 January the chairman of the government’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, Bamidele Ajakaiye, told Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology that there are 1,150 abandoned oil spill sites in the Niger Delta region. Many, communities say, are cleaned like the one in Kedere - if at all.

There seem to be a lot of factors at work.

The largest is the growing unrest in that region. I've written about Nigeria before... Local people steal oil from pipelines to sell on the black market or to heat their homes -- as one would imagine, this is not a very safe practice. Also sabotage against the oil companies is occurring frequently as communities protest the discrepancy between what is being taken from the land and what is being given back to the people of the land. Also -- pipelines are really old. Also -- in the realm of things that are never reported -- doesn't it stand to reason that if the huge oil companies are responding to guerrilla style warfare that by killing and crippling the surrounding lands and people they would be engaging in their own warfare...

Unreportable warfare.

I noticed in the news coverage last year the language of the stories reported made the issue sound very much like a band of thieves and hooligans were set on messing things up for everyone. It concerned me then -- and then the coverage fell off all together. The UN report was picked up be Reuters, but I didn't see it in the Times, and a Google search didn't show it as appearing in any major newspaper.

President Bush will be traveling to Africa this month.

Posted today, on what looks to be a newsish site -- though I can't really decipher, because it's all in Portuguese (I think) -- is a letter to our President.

"Mr President:
Greetings from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) of Nigeria. We trust this letter will reach you and your entourage touring some African countries well.

MEND needs little introduction to you since you must have been briefed after the actions we have taken to address the injustice in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria may have affected the oil dependent American economy.

Your trip to Africa comes at an opportune time and indicates the soft spot you have for the people of this great continent. Africa is facing several on going conflicts, almost all are avoidable. Nigeria is at the verge of entering its own mega-conflict even though everyone seems to be in denial. When Nigeria erupts, the lava will spread so fast, far and wide that the human and economic catastrophe will dwarf Darfur."

The letter goes on to outline a proposal for action. It doesn't sound like the kind of letter I would be reading if I was president of the United States.

I wonder if President Bush will read this letter.

I wonder if oil is being used deliberately as chemical warfare.
But really, isn't it hard to imagine a group of pissed off American or European oil workers, hot and sick of being messed with, not saying...

Photo: Dulue Mbachu IRIN photo
Environmental damage from an oil spill in Kegbara-Dere in the Ogoni district of the Niger Delta. Residents say the spill is more than 10 years old and has not been cleaned up.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Well, I started out writing about a court case -- Environmental groups and local officials up in Alaska are suing to block the development up there -- and it looks like Shell has to wait for the court case to begin exploration on its lease of some 29 million acres of land... I may get back to this tomorrow -- in the meantime I've been playing a game...


I clicked on a paid advertising link on the New York Times article page and came across a very elaborate web site of the Chevron Corporation.

Energyville is a game where you (I) make energy decisions for the future of an imaginary city -- I didn't realize it was imaginary at first though; you put your own town's name in and it calls your city that name. I was really impressed until I noticed the plan and stats are the same for Cambridge and Dallas and Afdser. Energy levels, the site asserts for each city (2007-2015) are based on projected production patterns and lifestyles of prosperous countries in North America, Europe and Asia. There, factories consume/will consume 41.59 percent of the energy consumed; vehicles 19.83%; trucking and freight 9.05% airplanes 2.7%; single family homes 9.09%; apartment buildings 6.53% and commercial buildings 8.48%.

Anyway -- you go through the city and you substitute different energy sources for the current usages -- wind, solar, nuclear, coal hydro and bio fuels -- there are buttons for a few emerging energy sources -- but those options are unavailable because they haven't been discovered yet. The game supposedly tracks cost, environmental ramifications and security risks.

Not surprisingly, this game is an advertisement. After a few substitutions it tells you you need petroleum, and it makes sure to mention the problems with each alternative energy source along the way. I had never thought, for instance, of the issue of sea storms with off shore wind farms -- seem like black outs could conceivably go on for a little longer than usual... If you only load your city up with petroleum, on the other hand, it tells you that you need to work on diversification. Man cannot live on oil alone.

But what alarmed me most about inside of the game was the down play of the environmental effects of coal and nuclear power. The lead story in the Times today is about languishing nuclear waste sites -- waste hasn't been buried -- "The federal government is at least 20 years behind schedule on its obligation to bury nuclear waste." The addressing of our current state solely as a production and energy issue, and not as an environmental one seems to me the most damaging issue before us presently.

The other disheartening thing on this site was a link to the Kyoto Protocol. I spent some time reading some of the text of that agreement. I like the fact that I now have a PDF of the entire thing on my computer...

Elsewhere on the site, Chevron had a set of e-cards that was a print advertising campaign in the New Yorker:

large version of piece

large version of piece

large version of piece

Well, while I would certainly support us all going out and getting tandem bikes, driving a little slower, and downsizing out need for more more more, it seems to me that by offering this focus to consumers Chevron is saying one thing -- the need for larger changes are out of our control -- focus on what YOU can change and trust us to take care of the rest...

Since beginning this project I have made a lot of changes to my life - I've been quite happy about them, and keeping up with them to varying degrees. But I certainly don't think they are going to save the polar bears.

(As an aside I think someone needs to take a look at the health effects of florescent lights.)

Well -- I feel a little badly, but I'm not going to link the Chevron site here. If you really want to play it should be easy enough to find...

They also have a cool little counter on the front of the front of the page ala MacDonalds:
4.57 million gallons of oil were consumed during the writing of this post.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cross Sections

I've been meaning to get around to figuring out where the candidates stand on these issues -- though I have to say I've been somewhat removed from the whole election thing this time around -- as much as I feel it is an ultimately everything changing event that is about to happen.

Instead I have been reading a very interesting article from the Yale Climate Forum about why the environment and global warming are not an issue in this election.

A Gallup Poll in November had asked Americans to list the top ten issues that were most important to them - and environmental issues ranked 10th.

In its analysis, Gallup wrote:

"On the prominent global warming issue, most Americans take it seriously as a problem. At the same time, only about 4 in 10 Americans believe that immediate, drastic action is needed to deal with global warming, and just 28 percent say there will be 'extreme' impact of global warming in 50 years if efforts to address the problem are not increased."

That, in a nutshell, may explain why the climate change issue has not received sustained attention by reporters and editorial writers covering the presidential election, or from the candidates themselves.

One of the major goals of this project was to begin to fill out a picture that we usually only glimpse in tiny pieces. To try to understand how different ideas cross -- cross sections of the newspaper, cross sections of society -- cross sections of our daily lives.

Because the globe's warming climate is driving long-term changes and many of them are incremental, the story is difficult and often tedious for the news media to track, said Richard Somerville, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a coordinating lead author for the latest series of IPCC Reports.

Another report I've been reading this morning was a roundup of a number of different polls from around the country regarding issues of import for this election. In many of these polls the environment wasn't even an issue. Still the war in Iraq and the price of oil were consistently among the top issues weighing on people's minds. Hurricane relief, health care, homeland security.

All of these things, it seems to me, have oil at their core.

We are so fragmented in the information we obtain; we are so compartmentalized in the way we look at our lives. Moment to moment, task to task, thought to thought.


"Now I'm going to read to you a list of issues that the U.S. Congress may address. Which one of the following issues do you think should be the top priority for the U.S. Congress to address: [see below]?" If "All": "If you absolutely had to choose, which one issue would you say should be the top priority?"



War in Iraq


Health care






Social Security/Medicare


Terrorism/Homeland security




Gas prices


The actions of the executive branch/the President


The environment


All of the above (vol.)




Lately I feel like I've been taking some liberties -- writing about coal once or twice -- writing about wildlife or the environment without specifically having oil itself as my topic. I've allowed this to enter in because I don't think that compartmentalizing works. Coal is an issue because of peak oil. The pending extinction of many animals is due to oil exploration, refining, burning. The fact that yesterday felt like spring -- that tornadoes and hurricanes are multiplying...


My real fear in the election though is that it's about to get really ugly. I fear that whichever democrat wins is about to feel wrath the size of a sunami, and that when the American public sees either candidate in the lead of a white male vice president, they haven't a chance in an oil refinery of winning.

That when it comes down to it, people only think about what they see, what they are afraid of and what is easy -- the rest falls into the realms of forgotten.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Be In Touch

There's an interesting article in the Times today -- it talks about how cowboys are looking out for the land all over the country --

''Look at this grass. If I don't take care of it, that's my livelihood,'' Nitschke said, kneeling as he examined foxtail shoots. ''We dress differently than the eco-folks, we probably vote differently, but in the end there's a lot of ways in which our core values are really close.''

Isn't it sweet -- the image of this cowboy bending down to touch a baby tree... The story says, usually, those who live off the land and those who seek to protect it are at odds...

Across the West, cattlemen and environmentalists have locked horns over grazing practices for decades. But increasingly, ranchers are buying into the idea that they have a role to play in protecting open space, be it through preserving private wildlands or promoting sustainable grazing techniques.

Arizona state card.

"Arizona state card."

Wealth does Arizona hold
In her mines and hearts of gold,
In her towering Canon Grand
Till she seems, 'The promised land'.

Near Florida's Lake Okeechobee, the World Wildlife Fund has recruited ranchers to build ditches on their lands to improve wetlands habitat for threatened and endangered birds like the wood stork and crested caracara.

In Wyoming, the Audobon Society is trying to persuade oil and gas companies to pay ranchers to maintain sage brush expanses key to the survival of the sage grouse.

It's a strange sort of question -- what constitutes living off the land -- in harmony with -- in understanding of -- in cooperation with -- respecting...

In touch vs out of touch -- isn't it nice to think of skin involved in that interchange. In touch with one's surroundings. In touch with the earth. The people around us...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hearts and Other Gushers

Well, I set out to be holidayish this morning. I tend to like Valentines Day -- my mother used to put out lots of sparkle and glitter and hearts and things -- also yesterday I really was sick of everyone.

But look what I found --
A few months ago in Houston there was a huge conference which put heart surgeons and oil industry researchers in the same room to brainstorm!

Pumps, valves, coursing liquid.

Everyone wants to be more efficient.
Everyone wants to be less intrusive.
Everyone knows that what they provide is crucial.

Pumping -- transferring -- embedded imposed passages -- corrosion -- clogged lines...

It's kind of cool -- all the power point material is on-line!

One presentation was called "Top 10 Reasons we Are Really in the Same Business." The number one reason was the cool uniforms. Can you imagine a room full of brain surgeons and oil executives laughing at slapstick power point presentations?

One new breakthrough in angioplasty is a bioabsorbable stent -- after six months the whole thing deteriorates and is absorbed into the body.

In one of the presentations Exxon says,

"The pumping system we use are familiar and have been around a long time. The challenge is in the techniques used to transfer energy to deeper pumps efficiently in the face of the increasingly hostile and sensitive environments we face."

Well -- they are Exxon, after all. Can't get too gushy.

Interesting to think about how one looks at their environment -- and how you behave in one you consider both hostile and fragile... I've known hostile and fragile people from time to time -- generally I try to stay away from them... especially on Valentine's Day.

I first came across this story on a blog titled, Applied Imagination. That's what's so cool -- just the idea of bringing people together to think together -- to parallel industries in a way most people would never think of. That's what Einstein did, wasn't it... people are pretty amazing...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Keep Your Mouth Shut

I started out today reading about -- trying to figure out how to write about -- a rather discouraging court case.

Appeals Court Overturns EPA on Mercury Emissions By Sandy Bauers, The Philadelphia Inquirer Feb. 8--A federal appeals court ruled today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrongly exempted power plants from curtailing mercury emissions, which means the agency must now develop new rules to fight mercury pollution.

According to the article, the EPA was set to impose some regulations, the exemptions within the new law were too great to allow. It seems that energy producing plants were exempt from the legislation. For one thing, when coal is refined, mercury is released as a vapor.

Mercury becomes airborne when coal is burned. Once it falls into waterways, it becomes methylmercury, which is more toxic and works its way through the food chain into fish. It can cause nervous-system damage in a developing fetus and young children.


"Ironically, with their aggressive litigation posture, the environmental community and their state allies have again caused uncertainty and delay in regulating mercury," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. The EPA "essentially must return to the drawing board in developing a new mercury rule," he said.

In college I wrote about the propaganda art of the Soviet Union -- how it communicated strength and power. Dictatorships need to communicate this way to keep order among the masses.

Keep your mouth shut!
N. Vatolina, N. Denisov, 1941

Strength and power and fear.
A few months ago I was tired of listening to myself talk. I think today I'm tired of listening to everyone else talk. The language of propaganda seems to attempt to elicit emotion -- but seems today to me to be more an imposer of powerlessness...

This from George Bush Sr. -- on my birthday in 1988:

Vice President Bush, campaigning in the Northwest, has been urging greater domestic oil production and arguing that it can be achieved without endangering the environment.

For the end of this post I wanted to find a quote where George Bush Jr. said something nice about the environment, but I couldn't find one.

History Of Oil Propaganda

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Darwin

Today is Charles Darwin's 199th birthday. Thanks to Wired for this celebratory tid-bit.

Well, nearly two centuries later the Origin of Species is still in contention -- but not survival of the fittest...

''The Pacific walrus is an early victim of our failure to address global warming."
Said Shaye Wolf, a Biologist for the Center of Biological Diversiy which filed a petition last week to have the Pacific Walrus listed endangered. Read the Times article here.
''As the sea ice recedes, so does the future of the Pacific walrus.''


Uncredited NASA photo

Without ice the walrus are driven to land -- out of their usual habitat -- and into the habitat of others...

As many as 6,000 walruses in late summer and fall abandoned ice over deep water and congregated on Alaska's northwest shore. Herds were larger on the Russian side, one group reached up to 40,000 animals. Russian observers estimated 3,000 to 4,000 mostly young walruses died in stampedes when herds rushed into the water at the sight of a polar bear, hunter or low-flying aircraft.

One day before the petition was filed, during a lag in ruling on the listing of the Polar Bear in the arctic, The Shell Corp. was the high bidder on oil exploration leases on some 2.76 million arctic acres. They bid $18,497 an acre, according to the article in the Times.

Shell’s vice president for exploration for the Americas, Annell Bay, said the lease sale was an opportunity to move into an undeveloped region that could help meet an increasing demand for energy. “There’s not many areas like this in the United States,” Ms. Bay said.

There are not many areas like this in the world.

"In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment." -- Charles Darwin

Monday, February 11, 2008

Corruptors of Governments

The other day I mentioned in passing the law suit that temporarily bars Venezuela from control over its own oil supplies -- the order passed down freezes 12 billion dollars in assets.

I've been avoiding Venezuela. I'm not sure I can do it any more justice today. As if to underscore that fact I clicked on a link to "current local time in Caracas;" It's 6:29 am there -- which is exactly a half an hour off of the time here. Good Grief.

I was told last year that Venezuela was the biggest story not being looked at in oil world-wide. Venezuela, one of the largest oil suppliers in the world, I was told, is letting their fields languish in pursuit of it's socialist ideals... putting money into social programs and such at the expense of the oil fields. "Isn't that a good thing?" I said at the time; feeling silly even as the words came out.

The latest law suit with Exxon has to do with Chavez attempting to exert control over their own oil reserves -- asking Exxon and others to abandon billions of dollars of investment.

The problem with this story is that I don't trust the reporting. That is my least favorite situation to be in. For the most part I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that the American press is an amazing institution -- but occasionally I do feel like I'm reading non-thinking pop-language soundbites at best -- government propaganda at worst.

Venezuela’s government has been seething since Exxon recently won orders in British, Dutch and American courts freezing as much as $12 billion in Venezuelan oil assets abroad — refineries and other oil-related infrastructure that Venezuela owns. Venezuela vowed to overturn the decisions before arbitration over Exxon’s attempts to win compensation for its nationalized oil project.
By Simon Romero, NYT

Seething? Vowed? It has seemed clear over the past few months in trying to delve into this story that Chavez is turning into a cartoon.

I watched the Wizard of Oz this weekend with 6 kids between the ages of 5-7.

Chavez, for his part, is certainly an easy target -- the propaganda he spews aids the image...

“I speak to the American empire, because that’s the master,” Mr. Ch├ívez said. “Continue, and you will see that we won’t send one drop of oil to the empire of the United States.” Referring to Exxon, he said, “They are imperialist bandits, white-collar criminals, corruptors of governments, overthrowers of governments.”

The issue is language again, and how do we trust people who are so clearly trying to tell us what to think... so clearly communicating with words intended to elicit feeling, not thinking...

The problem inside Venezuela is that there is still an extreme food crisis.

The problem outside Venezuela is that world oil prices being effected.

I guess one question is whether or not socialism can exist at all in this globalized world -- and how on earth that works in a country so enmeshed in the oil market.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Essential Human Elements

Robert Bateman, Canada
Antarctic Evening – Humpback Whales

I'm still needing art. And I think it's interesting -- at a time when there is so much money being generated by and for oil in this country alone -- that there is no money for the arts. Some of this is a philosophical issue of what we choose as our values and what is important -- other is just logistics. Artists can't afford to do their work and live in this culture. In talking about funding for the arts -- and I include poetry and performance in this term -- we have to look at the role and purpose in art. Politics? Entertainment? Meaning? If we starve the arts what conversations do we end...

Yesterday, Andrew C. Revkin of the New York Times bemoaned the lack of initiative in this country. Hard to imagine I could possible be more cynical than a New York Times reporter, but really -- we don't even back the UN...

Following the environmental tenants of that organization is this statement:

Internationally co-ordinated work on the environment has been led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), since its inception in 1973. UNEP has provided leadership and encouraged partnerships to care for the environment, for example, through Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) which have addressed issues such as species loss and the need for conservation at a global and regional level. UNEP has created much of the international environmental law in use today.

The three environmental principles of the Global Compact are drawn from a Declaration of Principles and an International Action Plan (Agenda 21) that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janerio in 1992. Chapter 30 of Agenda 21, identified that the policies and operations of business and industry can play a major role in reducing impacts on resource use and the environment. In particular, business can contribute through the promotion of cleaner production and responsible entrepreneurship.

The UN is a supporter of the arts in this endeavor.

"Science informs the mind, music and the heart but art connects with the human spirit," said Achim Steiner, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNEP.

I love that. The human condition, right -- great art explores the human condition. Maybe that is part of what makes this particular topic so compelling, and so easy to integrate in terms of aesthetics and politics in a way that doesn't alienate one from the other -- demise is not foreign to the soul at all...

Steiner goes on to say: "We urgently need to empower all three of these essential human elements if we are to rise to the challenge and seize the opportunities for economic, environmental and social renewal glimpsed through the lens of climate change."

25% of the worlds oil reserves are believed to reside in the Arctic.
The icebergs are melting at a rate that far exceeds all expectations.

For UN World Environment Day 2007, the Natural World Museum in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme produced an exhibition that addresses the theme of Climate Change from a global perspective - the melting and thawing of ice, snow and permafrost are environment-altering changes taking place around the world- from the Andes to the Himalayas to the melting ice caps of the Poles. "Change" the transition that occurs from same to different, the moment of transformation, a change of position or action. Change used in reference to our environment can describe the transformation of material substance -- from ice to water, liquid to gas - the changing conditions of our rivers, our rapidly melting glaciers,, and the overall changes in the earth's climate. Change requires organisms and organizations alike to adapt to new environmental conditions. Metaphorically, change can also refer to the transformation of society's mindset to act in a positive way individually and collectively to work toward a more sustainable future.
Press release from the Natural World Museum.

The Exhibit will be at the Field Museum in Chicago from April to October of this year.
I want to go.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Car free... calm... quiet... breathe...

I don't know -- yesterday I was writing about saying goodbye -- how does that enter in to conversation -- how do you say it when you can't imagine the future -- the new life...

And then comes a breath of fresh air...

A city is being planned in Abu Dhabi which will be entirely solar powered, zero carbon emissions, 100% recycling, car free... a future with clean air and less pollution. If plans hold, it will be up and running by 2016 -- my kids won't even be in college yet!

Groundbreaking is scheduled for Saturday for Masdar City, a nearly self-contained mini-municipality designed for up to 50,000 people rising from the desert next to Abu Dhabi's international airport and intended as a hub for academic and corporate research on nonpolluting energy technologies.

The 2.3-square-mile community, set behind walls to divert hot desert winds and airport noise, will be car free, according to the design by Foster + Partners, the London firm that has become a leading practitioner of energy-saving architecture.

The community, slightly smaller than the historic district of Venice, will have similar narrow pedestrian streets, but shaded by canopies made of photovoltaic panels. It will produce all of its own energy from sunlight.

Water will flow from a solar-powered seawater-desalinization plant. Produce will come from nearby greenhouses, and all waste will be composted or otherwise recycled, said Khaled Awad, property manager for the project.

The first phase, to be completed over the next two years, will be construction of the Masdar Institute, a graduate-level academic research center associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From an article in The International Herald Tribune by Andrew C. Revkin.

In the Times DOT Earth Blog there's an interactive promotional video about the project -- it looks like something out of the Jetson's -- but it also looks pretty... "enjoy a fresh cup of coffee on the veranda in a car free environment..."

Car free... calm... quiet... breathe...

While it is unrelated to oil, I was further lifted this morning by a new report issued by the World Health Organization proposing a global anti-smoking campaign. The report goes tracks world-wide who is smoking and where in order to combat the situation with a huge anti-smoking communications.

There is hope.

Revkin makes a really big point that none of the major movements in sustainable energy happening here in the US. Even his lead in the International Herald Tribune pits the Gulf as an unlikely spot for such strides and why not Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico... I would further complain that while this story was given prominence in the International Herald Tribune, which is the international paper of the New York Times Corp., the story is relegated to the blog (albeit the best blog in the country) in the Times itself.

The World Health Organization report was funded by mayor Bloomberg himself.

I don't know -- I think where we live is all messed up. Power and money and an inability to change the situation we are in... overwhelming.

But there are people out there doing it -- and I don't care who they are or where they live -- we are all people. We are all here together -- and while I would prefer to say that we will be part of the solution, I'm just glad someone is working on a solution this morning.

Car free... calm... quiet... breathe...