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Michael Klare: A Thermonuclear Energy Bomb in Christmas Wrappings

7:56 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

IEA's World Energy Outlook 2012 paints a dire picture of our future

Let’s face it: climate change is getting scarier by the week.  In this all-American year, record wildfires, record temperatures in the continental U.S., an endless summer, a fierce drought that still won’t go away, and Frankenstorm Sandy all descended on us. Globally, billion-dollar weather events are increasingly dime-a-dozen affairs, with a record 14 of them in 2012 so far So is a linked phenomenon, the continuing rise in the volume of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, especially from burning fossil fuels, that get pumped into the atmosphere.  The latest figures from 2011 indicate that those gases once again made an appearance in record amounts with no indication that abatement is anywhere on the horizon.

With new studies and more data, it seems, come ever more frightening projections of just how much the temperature of this planet is going to rise by 2100. After all, as Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of the invaluable The Race for What’s Left, points out, the International Energy Agency’s latest study suggests a possible temperature rise by century’s end of 3.6 degrees Celsius.  That should startle the imagination, involving as it would the transformation of this planet into something unrecognizably different from the one we all grew up on.  And keep in mind that it’s by no means the top estimate for temperature disaster.  A new World Bank report indicates that a rise of 4 degrees Celsius is possible by century’s end, a prospect that bank president Jim Yong Kim termed a “doomsday scenario.”

In the meantime, the most comprehensive study to date of how humans have affected the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere predicts that the planet’s temperature could rise by an unimaginable 6 degrees Celsius by 2100.  These days, it increasingly looks like we’ve entered the lottery from hell when it comes to Earth’s ultimate temperature — especially now that a recent report from the United Nations Environment Program suggests carbon in the atmosphere has increased by 20% since 2000 and that “there are few signs of global emissions falling.”

With this in mind, consider the latest “good news” reported (and widely hailed) in the world of fossil fuels, courtesy of Michael Klare.  Tom

World Energy Report 2012
The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Truly Ugly
By Michael T. Klare

Rarely does the release of a data-driven report on energy trends trigger front-page headlines around the world.  That, however, is exactly what happened on November 12th when the prestigious Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) released this year’s edition of its World Energy Outlook.  In the process, just about everyone missed its real news, which should have set off alarm bells across the planet.

Claiming that advances in drilling technology were producing an upsurge in North American energy output, World Energy Outlook predicted that the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the planet’s leading oil producer by 2020.  “North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world,” declared IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a widely quoted statement.

In the U.S., the prediction of imminent supremacy in the oil-output sweepstakes was generally greeted with unabashed jubilation.  “This is a remarkable change,” said John Larson of IHS, a corporate research firm.  “It’s truly transformative.  It’s fundamentally changing the energy outlook for this country.”  Not only will this result in a diminished reliance on imported oil, he indicated, but also generate vast numbers of new jobs.  “This is about jobs.  You know, it’s about blue-collar jobs.  These are good jobs.”

The editors of the Wall Street Journal were no less ecstatic.  In an editorial with the eye-catching headline “Saudi America,” they lauded U.S. energy companies for bringing about a technological revolution, largely based on the utilization of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract oil and gas from shale rock.  That, they claimed, was what made a new mega-energy boom possible.  “This is a real energy revolution,” the Journal noted, “even if it’s far from the renewable energy dreamland of so many government subsidies and mandates.”

Other commentaries were similarly focused on the U.S. outpacing Saudi Arabia and Russia, even if some questioned whether the benefits would be as great as advertised or obtainable at an acceptable cost to the environment.

While agreeing that the expected spurt in U.S. production is mostly “good news,” Michael A. Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations warned that gas prices will not drop significantly because oil is a global commodity and those prices are largely set by international market forces.  “[T]he U.S. may be slightly more protected, but it doesn’t give you the energy independence some people claim,” he told the New York Times.

Some observers focused on whether increased output and job creation could possibly outweigh the harm that the exploitation of extreme energy resources like fracked oil or Canadian tar sands was sure to do to the environment. Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress, for example, warned of a growing threat to America’s water supply from poorly regulated fracking operations.  “In addition, oil companies want to open up areas off the northern coast of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean, where they are not prepared to address a major oil blowout or spill like we had in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Such a focus certainly offered a timely reminder of how important oil remains to the American economy (and political culture), but it stole attention away from other aspects of the World Energy Report that were, in some cases, downright scary.  Its portrait of our global energy future should have dampened enthusiasm everywhere, focusing as it did on an uncertain future energy supply, excessive reliance on fossil fuels, inadequate investment in renewables, and an increasingly hot, erratic, and dangerous climate.  Here are some of the most worrisome takeaways from the report.

Shrinking World Oil Supply

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Subhankar Banerjee: Shell Game in the Arctic

6:08 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

A blue whale surfaces near a research vessel.

Research vessel tracking blue whales (Photo: Oregon State University / Flickr)

Think of it as a shell game of the worst sort, and we’re the ones being taken for a ride.  Thanks to the burning of the fossil fuels that oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell are increasingly eager to extract from some of the most difficult environments on the planet, the vast quantities of carbon dioxide being sent into the atmosphere, and the way the oceans to absorb CO2, offshore waters are in the process of acidifying.  By the end of this century, ocean acidity could be up by 200%, according to James Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.  It turns out to be a disaster for — you guessed it — shellfish.

A recent study found that “more than half the near-shore waters governed by the California Current system [off the West Coast] are likely to become so acidic throughout the year that many shell-building organisms will be unable to maintain their armor.”  This is obviously bad news for marine creatures, “ranging from tiny plankton to headliners for bouillabaisse and bisque.”  And don’t think it’s just those oysters, clams, and lobsters, either.  Thanks to ocean acidification, coral reefs are, scientists agree, suffering a similar fate now.  They are already globally in significant decline: “In the Caribbean, for example, 75-85% of the coral cover has been lost in the last 35 years.”

On the other hand, one Shell is fortifying itself.  That’s Shell Oil, whose drill ships, as Subhankar Banerjee writes, are heading for America’s Arctic seas, with the blessing of the Obama administration, to begin oil exploration in a region whose ice and fierce weather are a formula for disaster.  Banerjee, a wondrously skilled photographer (whose 2003 exhibit on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History experienced a strange political fate in Bush-era Washington), has spent much time capturing an Arctic world that may soon enough be irreparably damaged.  He has also edited a new book, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point (Seven Stories Press), that includes some of his remarkable photos and a no less remarkable line-up of voices from a fast-melting Arctic most of us know far too little about.  He’s the genuine thing.  Unfortunately, so much else is indeed a Shell game. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Banerjee discusses the importance of the Arctic, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Walking the Waters:
How to Bring the Major Oil Companies Ashore and Halt the Destruction of Our Oceans
By Subhankar Banerjee

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