Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Is OPEC Calling Peak Oil? Producers Shifting to Solar as Oil Price Slump Endures and Reserves Adjusted Downward

More than ever its clear that an oil based economy is not sustainable from a variety of perspectives, both ecologically and economically. Perhaps counterintuitively, these domains are not obverse to each another, but are interlocked facets of the how the earth sustains lifecycles. They are also twin indicators of humanity’s role in the stewardship of them.

Last week we saw the somewhat mind boggling announcement by Saudi Arabia that it planned to partially wean its economy from oil sales by 2020 and do so completely by 2030.  From Reuters on April 25:

The powerful young prince overseeing Saudi Arabia’s economy unveiled ambitious plans on Monday aimed at ending the kingdom’s “addiction” to oil and transforming it into a global investment power….His “Vision 2030” envisaged raising non-oil revenue to 600 billion riyals ($160 billion) by 2020 and 1 trillion riyals ($267 billion) by 2030 from 163.5 billion riyals ($43.6 billion) last year. But the plan gave few details on how this would be implemented, something that has bedeviled previous reforms….The 31-year-old prince gave assured answers to questions on the plan, and appeared to pitch his comments to appeal across the Saudi social spectrum, and in particular to young people, who face unemployment and an economic downturn despite their country’s oil wealth.

Many were of course skeptical. And while few details were given, the Saudi markets seemed to like the news as they rose by ~2.5% that day. Presumably this is because of publicly announced plans to sell public stakes in the Saudi state run Aramco. Do the Saudi’s think we are in Peak Oil?

Their neighbors in Dubai might think so as well. They are about to bring the world’s largest solar plant online which will provide electricity at 3 US cents per Kilowatt hour.

According to industry analyst Apricum:

All three lowest bids by themselves clearly set a new world record for the unsubsidized cost of solar electricity. A recent bid of 3.6 cents/kWh by Enel Green Power in Mexico did not include the value of additional green energy certificates. Solar tariffs in the USA now regularly dip below 3 cents/kWh, but these include a 30% tax incentive and other subsidies.

Phase 1 Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park 13-MW Source: First-Solar
Phase 1 Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park 13-MW Source: First-Solar

Twist number two was in an Oilprice.com post covering a scientific analysis of the the recent Global Energy Assessment by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis which finds that proven reserves are 50% lower than decades old conventional wisdom would have it:

According to Professor Michael Jefferson [of the ESCP Europe Business School] who spent nearly 20 years at Shell in various senior roles from head of planning in Europe to director of oil supply and trading, “the five major Middle East oil exporters altered the basis of their definition of ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves from a 90 percent probability down to a 50 percent probability from 1984. The result has been an apparent (but not real) increase in their ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves of some 435 billion barrels.”

Global reserves have been further inflated, he wrote in his study, by adding reserve figures from Venezuelan heavy oil and Canadian tar sands – despite the fact that they are “more difficult and costly to extract” and generally of “poorer quality” than conventional oil. This has brought up global reserve estimates by a further 440 billion barrels.

Predictions about the exact nature and timing and of the phase-out process for fossil fuels are premature. Yet, as the the developments above indicate, the pace of the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources continues to accelerate.

How much of climate change is our fault: Exxon and the marketing of doubt

By Walter Borden

Astrophysicist Adam Frank recently commented on NPR that climate change really is not really humanity’s fault. The crux of his argument is that while the science is settled that human activity has caused climate change, we really could not have known better. Clearly there is some real truth in this assertion. To quote from the article:

But here’s the crux of the issue: 150 years ago when we started building that fossil-fuel based civilization, we had no idea of what we were doing. We’d found this black goo seeping up from the ground and it turned out you could do awesome things with it. In the winter, you could burn it in a furnace and keep your house warm. In the summer, you could burn it in a power plant and use the electricity to keep your house cool. You could also burn it in an internal combustion engine and travel hundreds of miles in a single day. And all that electricity you were generating from the power plant? You could use that to keep the lights on at night and watch moving pictures of stuff happening on the other side of the planet.

 New Mexico's largest electric provider — the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington — has been defending a plan to replace part of an aging coal-fired power plant with a mix of more coal, natural gas, nuclear and solar power. Susan Montoya Bryan/AP & NPR website.

New Mexico’s largest electric provider — the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington — has been defending a plan to replace part of an aging coal-fired power plant with a mix of more coal, natural gas, nuclear and solar power.
Susan Montoya Bryan/AP & NPR website.

At the outset of large scale fossil fuel utilization and into the 20th century this point is fair. But we must consider the case of Exxon, for example has worked to undermine climate science including widespread dissemination of both its own scientific findings as well as those of other groups. According to the New York Times:

So, even as one in-house memo stated that “fossil fuels contribute most of the CO2” that was turning the earth into an overheated greenhouse, another memo showed that the company would seek to “emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions.


Other major players in Big Oil very likely done same. And quite naturally politicians in the House Science Committee (under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith, R-TX) who take large contributions from Big Oil are using sweeping new congressional protocols modeled on the open-ended Benghazi hearings, to harass and intimidate climate researchers. Dr Frank argues that its time to go beyond narratives of greed. Maybe not quite yet. While we all strive to avoid ad hominem, it seems greed driven attacks risk damaging the basic process by which our nation funds basic research. As David Roberts points out in an very thorough post at Vox:

To be clear, Smith has not alleged any corruption, wrongdoing, or even bad science. He hasn’t alleged anything. Nor has he offered any justification for why he needs access to NOAA internal communications. The new rules mean that he no longer has to explain or justify himself to anyone. He’s just hoping to find something he can use.

So, while Dr. Frank’s point has merit, and invective isn’t likely to help much its important we understand its not other factors, and indeed putting profit before future generations apply now as well as to the late 20th century. Because as he stated:

That’s because the real truth is this: While triggering climate change might not be our fault, not doing everything we can about it now that we know it’s happening — that would be our fault. Worse, it would be our failure as a species.

JEB! & the GOP Try to Triangulate Papal Encyclical on Climate

By Walter Borden

Recently the standard taking point for climate science deniers regarding manmade climate disruption has been ‘I can’t say, I am not a scientist’. This no doubt thoroughly focus-grouped response is the equivalent of saying ‘I can’t say if smoking causes cancer, because I am not a scientist’. Yet here is Pope Francis, who also happens to have scientific training and work experience in chemistry, preparing to release an encyclical saying that climate change is real, mostly manmade, will primarily hurt the world’s poor, and represents a moral obligation for Catholics to take steps to combat.

Source: New York Times and The Pew Foundation
Source: New York Times and The Pew Foundation

Jeb Bush, showing a remarkable ignorance and/or naïveté of world history and the history of science pronounced he was skeptical of the pope expressing his views:

But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.

The papacy of course has been involved in politics, sometimes for better and some for worse, since the founding of the church. Certainly many Catholics reference the papal edicts regarding abortion and marriage. And many great scientific discoveries and proofs come from monks and those who considered themselves Christian, such as Gregor Mendel, Pope John XXICopernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Boyle.

So here again, Big Oil and its politicians offer expediency and “truthiness” rather than logic, and sound science. All the while talking of what’s best for future generations and smart policy. Will this tactic play with voters? Maybe not as much as some backers of the GOP think. From the May 17th digital edition of the New York Times:

About 69 percent of adults say that global warming is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem, according to a new Pew Research Center Poll, up from 63 percent in 2010. The level of concern has still not returned to that of a decade ago; in 2006, 79 percent of adults called global warming serious….One small exception on climate change is that Catholic Republicans are slightly more concerned about climate change than non-Catholic Republicans, although the gap is small: Most Catholic Republicans are also skeptical that human activity is heating the planet.



Water, Water, Everywhere….Time to Stop and Think

By Walter Borden

One can easily argue that water is the sine qua non of life. Pope Franicis stated this most eloquently and firmly yesterday in leading the Angelus Prayer. The Buenos Aires Herald reports:

A branch of Shades Creek, Mountain Brook, Alabama
A branch of Shades Creek, Mountain Brook, Alabama

Francis called water “the most essential element for life” and he urged public and private sectors to work together to ensure all people have access to clean, potable water.

“(Water) is a universal and unalienable right for all people,” the Argentine pontiff said. “Humanity’s future depends on our ability to care for it and share it,” he added.

Of course many large industrialists disagree. They seek to become rentiers, or worse, monopolists of water. Take the example of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of Switzerland based global food, consumer staples, and agricultural service provider Nestlé Global. In 2013 he made waves (and not just with his yacht on lake Geneva) by his quote

The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.

As a result of the resultant uproar Nestlé Global released a publicity video with Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe, along with a set of questions and answers from its publicity department. They contend that his point was

However, he does not believe it is fair that more than two billion people worldwide lack even a simple toilet, and more than one billion have no access to any kind of improved drinking source of water, while in other parts of the world people can use excess amounts of this precious and increasingly scarce resource for non-essential purposes, without bearing a cost for its infrastructure.

To be sure there are many firms, such as the B Corp WaterSmart that are taking on the challenge with an eye towards fair trade and profit as opposed to the mercenary view. Coverage of this firm and others will be the subject of upcoming posts.

It’s difficult to parse the last sentence quoted from the video. Who in the civilized world doesn’t pay a water and sewer bill directly and/or via taxes allocated for infrastructure? And as for the developing world, there can be no doubt that wealthier nations should chip in on a charitable, or least non-profiteering basis i.e. with capped profits, to provide these regions with clean water. Further, this new approach makes no mention of the fact that at the World Water Forum in 2000, Nestlé successfully prevented water from being declared a universal right all but declaring that local water resources are now targets for the multinational corporations to control. For Nestlé, this means billions of dollars in profits. For the rest of humanity and earth, it means paying up to 2,000 times more for drinking water because it comes from a plastic bottle. Many observers have noted how in countries around the world, Nestlé promotes bottled water as a status symbol. Yet, questions on the quality of the water persist.

Of course, keeping water clean means conservative approaches which permits fossil fuel extraction as well as processing near estuaries, rivers, aquifers, and lakes. What has happened to large portions of New Jersey with its sludge lagoons or ‘Cancer Alley’ in Louisiana where not just American owned firms, but firms from nations such as China are brazenly toxifying the environment with unchecked emissions of methanol?

And, then there are the well known dangers to our fresh water supply presented by fracking, the keystone pipeline,krugman coal blog480 coal mining, and industrial agriculture with its attendant subsidies delivered yearly in the US farm bill. None of which industries, inter alia, provide any significant amount of employment during their boom cycles, and then of course leave befouled ghost towns when they go bust. For example, there was a War on Coal, and as Paul Krugman pointed out, Big Coal won. It automated strip mining:

Basically, it’s a job that was destroyed by technology long ago, with only a relative handful of workers — 0.06 percent of the US work force — still engaged in mining.

None of the oil in the Keystone XL will enter the US energy supply and almost half of US mined coal is sold to other nations. So, most fossil fuel extraction is not about jobs, despite what the owners of Big Coal claim, nor is it about energy independence.

Senator Mitch McConnell, along with his lobbyists and big donors, is out to fight new EPA regulation aimed at transitioning US power source away from coal towards renewable energy. Even in ways outside his purview as a Senator — interestingly his own state of Kentucky, a large coal producer plans to adopt the new EPA mandates. Its clear many Kentucky residents know that the benefits of coal far outweigh the costs.

Lastly as President Obama pointed out this last weekend, the Solar Panels on the Department of energy are not just for show, they save tax dollars and help protect out drinking water from the dirty business of fossil fuel extractions.  Perhaps some polices could be put in place to use the money to upgrade water infrastructure creating long-term, sustainable jobs that preserve the balance between energy security and a clean water supply.