Saturday, February 28, 2015

ANS -- Naomi Klein: 'The Economic System We Have Created Also Created Global Warming'

Here's a short interview with Naomi Klein on the twin subjects of capitalism and climate change.  Yes, they are intimately intertwined.  You might go to the page and read the discussion if you like that sort of thing. 
Find it here:  

Best selling author/activist Naomi Klein. (photo: Anya Chibis/G
Best selling author/activist Naomi Klein. (photo: Anya Chibis/Guardian UK)

go to original article

Naomi Klein: 'The Economic System We Have Created Also Created Global Warming'

By Klaus Brinkbaumer, Der Spiegel

28 February 15


[] PIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren't people able to stop climate change?

Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?

Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the "End of History," the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you're saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?

Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You're an activist, and you've blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you're blaming it for climate change too?

Klein: That's no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy.

SPIEGEL: Let's go back to our first question: Why have people been unable to stop this development?

Klein: We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment. Now we're out of time. Where we are right now is a do-or-die moment. If we don't act as a species, our future is in peril. We need to cut emissions radically.

SPIEGEL: Let's go back to another question: Are you not misappropriating the issue of climate change for use in your critique of capitalism?

Klein: No. The economic system that we have created has also created global warming. I didn't make this up. The system is broken, income inequality is too great and the lack of restraint on the part of the energy companies is disastrous.

SPIEGEL: Your son Toma is two-and-a-half years old. What kind of world will he be living in when he graduates from high school in 2030?

Klein: That is what is being decided right now. I see signs that it could be a radically different world from the one we have today -- and that change could either be quite positive or extremely negative. In any case, it's already certain that it will at least in part be a worse world. We're going to experience global warming and far more natural disasters, that much is certain. But we still have time to prevent truly catastrophic warming. We also have time to change our economic system so that it does not become more brutal and merciless as it deals with climate change.

SPIEGEL: What can be done to improve the situation?

Klein: We have to make some decisions now about what values are important to us and how we really want to live. And of course it makes a difference if temperatures only rise by 2 degrees or if they rise by 4 or 5 degrees or more. It's still possible for us humans to make the right decisions.

SPIEGEL: Twenty-six years have passed since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded in 1988. We have known at least since then that CO2 emissions from the burning of oil and coal is responsible for climate change. Yet little has been done to address the problem. Haven't we already failed?

Klein: I view the situation differently given the enormous price we will have to pay. As long as we have the slightest chance of success or to minimize the damage, we have to continue to fight.

SPIEGEL: Several years ago, the international community set a target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Do you still consider that to be achievable?

Klein: Well, it's still a physical possibility. We would have to immediately reduce global emissions by 6 percent a year. The wealthier countries would have to carry a greater burden, meaning the United States and Europe would have to be cutting emissions by around 8 to 10 percent a year. Immediately. It's not impossible. It is just profoundly politically unrealistic under our current system.

SPIEGEL: You are saying our societies aren't capable of doing so?

Klein: Yes. We need a dramatic change both in policy and ideology, because there is a fundamental difference between what the scientists are telling us we need to do and our current political reality. We can't change the physical reality, so we must change the political reality.

SPIEGEL: Is a society focused on economic growth at all capable of fighting climate change successfully?

Klein: No. An economic model based on indiscriminate growth inevitably leads to greater consumption and to greater CO2 emissions. There can and must be growth in the future in many low carbon parts of the economy: in green technologies, in public transportation, in all the care-giving professions, in the arts and of course in education. Right now, the core of our gross domestic product is comprised of just consumption, imports and exports. We need to make cuts there. Anything else would be self-deception.

SPIEGEL: The International Monetary Fund makes the opposite claim. It says that economic growth and climate protection are not mutually exclusive.

Klein: They're not looking at the same numbers as I am. The first problem is that at all these climate conferences, everyone acts as if we will arrive at our goal through self-commitments and voluntary obligations. No one tells the oil companies that, in the end, they are really going to have to give up. The second problem is that these oil companies are going to fight like hell to protect what they don't want to lose.

SPIEGEL: You seriously want to eliminate the free market in order to save the climate?

Klein: I am not talking about eliminating markets, but we need much more strategy, steering and planning and a very different balance. The system in which we live is overly obsessed with growth -- it's one that sees all growth as good. But there are kinds of growth that are clearly not good. It's clear to me that my position is in direct conflict with neo-liberalism. Is it true that in Germany, although you have accelerated the shift to renewables, coal consumption is actually increasing?

SPIEGEL: That was true from 2009 to 2013.

Klein: To me that is an expression of this reluctance to decide on what is necessary. Germany is not going to meet its emissions targets in the coming years either.

SPIEGEL: Is the Obama presidency the worst thing that could have happened to the climate?

Klein: In a way. Not because Obama is worse than a Republican. He's not. But because these eight years were the biggest wasted opportunity of our lives. The right factors came together in a truly historic convergence: awareness, urgency, the mood, his political majority, the failure of the Big Three US automakers and even the possibility of addressing the failed unregulated financial world and climate change at the same time. But when he came to office, he didn't have the courage to do it. We will not win this battle unless we are willing to talk about why Obama viewed the fact that he had control over the banks and auto companies as more of a burden than as an opportunity. He was a prisoner of the system. He didn't want to change it.

SPIEGEL: The US and China finally agreed on an initial climate deal in 2014.

Klein: Which is, of course, a good thing. But anything in the deal that could become painful won't come into effect until Obama is out of office. Still, what has changed is that Obama said: "Our citizens are marching. We can't ignore that." The mass movements are important; they are having an impact. But to push our leaders to where they need to go, they need to grow even stronger.

SPIEGEL: What should their goal be?

Klein: Over the past 20 years, the extreme right, the complete freedom of oil companies and the freedom of the super wealthy 1 percent of society have become the political standard. We need to shift America's political center from the right fringe back to where it belongs, the real center.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, that's nonsense, because it's illusory. You're thinking far too broadly. If you want to first eliminate capitalism before coming up with a plan to save the climate, you know yourself that this won't happen.

Klein: Look, if you want to get depressed, there are plenty of reasons to do so. But you're still wrong, because the fact is that focusing on supposedly achievable incremental changes light carbon trading and changing light bulbs has failed miserably. Part of that is because in most countries, the environmental movement remained elite, technocratic and supposedly politically neutral for two-and-a-half decades. We are seeing the result of this today: It has taken us in the wrong direction. Emissions are rising and climate change is here. Second, in the US, all the major legal and social transformations of the last 150 years were a consequence of mass social movements, be they for women, against slavery or for civil rights. We need this strength again, and quickly, because the cause of climate change is the political and economic system itself. The approach that you have is too technocratic and small.

SPIEGEL: If you attempt to solve a specific problem by overturning the entire societal order, you won't solve it. That's a utopian fantasy.

Klein: Not if societal order is the root of the problem. Viewed from another perspective, we're literally swimming in examples of small solutions: There are green technologies, local laws, bilateral treaties and CO2 taxation. Why don't we have all that at a global level?

SPIEGEL: You're saying that all the small steps -- green technologies and CO2 taxation and the eco-behavior of individuals -- are meaningless?

Klein: No. We should all do what we can, of course. But we can't delude ourselves that it's enough. What I'm saying is that the small steps will remain too small if they don't become a mass movement. We need an economic and political transformation, one based on stronger communities, sustainable jobs, greater regulation and a departure from this obsession with growth. That's the good news. We have a real opportunity to solve many problems at once.

SPIEGEL: You don't appear to be counting on the collective reason of politicians and entrepreneurs.

Klein: Because the system can't think. The system rewards short-term gain, meaning quick profits. Take Michael Bloomberg, for example ...

SPIEGEL: … the businessman and former New York City mayor …

Klein: … who understood the depths of the climate crisis as a politician. As a businessman, however, he chooses to invest in a fund that specializes in oil and gas assets. If a person like Bloomberg cannot resist the temptation, then you can assume that the system's self-preservation capacity isn't that great.

SPIEGEL: A particularly unsettling chapter in your book is about Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group.

Klein: Yes. I wouldn't have expected it.

SPIEGEL: Branson has sought to portray himself as a man who wants to save the climate. It all started after an encounter with Al Gore.

Klein: And in 2006, he pledged at an event hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative that he would invest $3 billion in research into green technologies. At the time, I thought it was truly a sensational contribution. I didn't think, oh, you cynical bastard.

SPIEGEL: But Branson was really just staging it and only a fraction of that money was ever spent.

Klein: He may well have been sincere at the time, but yes, only a fraction was spent.

SPIEGEL: Since 2006, Branson has added 160 new airplanes to his numerous airlines and increased his emissions by 40 percent.

Klein: Yes.

SPIEGEL: What is there to learn from this story?

Klein: That we need to question the symbolism and gestures made by Hollywood stars and the super rich. We cannot confuse them with a scientifically sound plan to reduce emissions.

SPIEGEL: In America and Australia, a lot of money is spent on efforts to deny climate change. Why?

Klein: It's different from Europe. It's an anger that is similar to that held by those who oppose abortion and gun control. It's not only that they are protecting a way of life they don't want to change. It's that they understand that climate change challenges their core anti-government, free-market belief system. So they have to deny it to protect their very identity. That's why there's this intensity gap: Liberals want to take a little bit of action on climate protection. But at the same time, these liberals also have a number of other issues that are higher on their agenda. But we have to understand that the hardcore conservative climate change deniers will do everything in their power to prevent action.

SPIEGEL: With pseudo-scientific studies and disinformation?

Klein: With all of that, of course.

SPIEGEL: Does that explain why you are connecting all of these issues -- the environment, equity, public health and labor issues -- that are popular on the left? Is it out of purely strategic considerations?

Klein: The issues are connected, and we also need to connect them in the debate. There is only one way that you can win a battle against a small group of people who stand to lose a lot: You need to start a mass movement that includes all the people who have a lot to gain. The deniers can only be defeated if you are just as passionate as them, but also when you are superior in numbers. Because the truth is that they really are very few.

SPIEGEL: Why don't you believe that technology has the potential to save us?

Klein: There has been tremendous progress in the storage of renewable energies, for instance, and in solar efficiency. But climate change? I, in any case, don't have enough faith to say, "We'll come up with some invention at some point, so let's just drop all other efforts." That would be insane.

SPIEGEL: People like Bill Gates view things differently.

Klein: And I find their technology fetish naïve. In recent years, we've witnessed some really big failures where some of the smartest guys in the room screwed up on a massive scale, be it with the derivatives that triggered the financial crisis or the oil catastrophe off the coast of New Orleans. Mostly, we as people break things and we don't know how to fix them afterwards. Right now, it's our planet that we're breaking.

SPIEGEL: Listening to you, one might get the impression that the climate crisis is a gender issue.

Klein: Why would you say that?

SPIEGEL: Bill Gates says we need to keep moving forward and come up with new inventions to get the problem, and ultimately our complicated Earth, under control. You on the other hand are saying: Stop, no, we have to adapt ourselves to this planet and become softer. The US oil companies are run by men. And you, as a critical woman, are described as hysterical. It's not an absurd thought, is it?

Klein: No. The entire industrialization was about power or whether it would be man or nature that would dominate Earth. It is difficult for some men to admit that we don't have everything under control; that we have amassed all this CO2 over the centuries and that Earth is now telling us: Well, you're just a guest in my house.

SPIEGEL: A guest of Mother Earth?

Klein: That's too cheesy. But you're still right. The oil industry is a male-dominated world, a lot like high finance. It's very macho. The American and Australian idea of "discovering" an endless country and that endless resources can be extracted is a narrative of domination, one that traditionally casts nature as a weak, prone woman. And the idea of being in a relationship of interdependence with the rest of the natural world was seen as weak. That's why it is doubly difficult for alpha men to concede that they have been wrong.

SPIEGEL: There's one issue in the book that you seem to steer clear of. Although you revile the companies, you never say that your readers, who are customers of these companies, are also culpable. You also remain silent about the price that individual readers will have to pay for climate protection.

Klein: Oh, I think that most people would be happy to pay for it. They know that climate protection requires reasonable behavior: less driving, less flying and less consumption. They would be happy to use renewable energies if they were offered them.

SPIEGEL: But the idea isn't big enough, right?

Klein: (laughs) Exactly. The green movement spent decades educating people that they should compost their garbage, that they should recycle and that they should ride their bikes. But look at what has happened to the climate during these decades.

SPIEGEL: Is the lifestyle you lead climate-friendly?

Klein: Not enough. I bike, I use transit, I try to give speeches by Skype, I share a hybrid car and I cut my flying to about one-tenth of what it was before I started this project. My sin is taking taxis, and since the book came out, I've been flying too much. But I also don't think that only people who are perfectly green and live CO2-free should be allowed to talk about this issue. If that were the case, then nobody would be able to say anything at all.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, we thank you for this interview.

Friday, February 13, 2015

ANS -- The Individual and the Herd

Here's a good article by Doug Muder.  About the politicians' positions on vaccinations.  He makes some really telling points about balancing needs of individual freedom and community considerations.  There's some fun comments if you follow the link. 
Find it here:  

The Individual and the Herd

[] How the rhetoric of freedom can lead us astray.

The question Governor Chris Christie was asked seemed simple enough:

There�s a debate going on right now in the United States, the measles outbreak that�s been caused in part by people not vaccinating their kids. Do you think Americans should vaccinate their kids? Is the measles vaccine safe?

He could have just said: �The measles vaccine is safe and parents should get their kids vaccinated.� That appears to be what he believes, and the question required nothing more. But instead he decided to expand the context and give a more complex answer:

All I can say is that we vaccinated ours. That�s the best expression I can give you of my opinion. It�s much more important, I think, what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. And that�s what we do. But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well so that�s the balance that the government has to decide.

In response to follow-up questions, he explained that vaccines for different diseases have different risks and benefits (which is true), so the government should be careful about which ones it mandates and which ones it leaves up to parents (which hardly anyone disputes). �I didn�t say I�m leaving people the option,� he protested. And when asked again whether vaccines were dangerous, he responded: �I didn�t say that.� But he also stopped short of saying: �The measles vaccine is safe.�

In short, if you parse Christie�s words very carefully and give him just a little benefit of the doubt, he didn�t say anything all that objectionable. But the question lingers: Why did he go there in the first place? Why not just give the simple answer, if that�s what he believes? After all, that�s the image Christie works so hard to project: a man who bluntly says what he thinks without a lot of political doubletalk. Why couldn�t �Is the measles vaccine safe?� get a �yes� answer, rather than a long-winded discussion followed by a denial that he was saying it was dangerous?

The obvious implication was that (as he progresses towards an as-yet-unannounced presidential campaign) Christie was trying not to offend some bloc of Republican voters. And many then jumped to the conclusion that the bloc in question is the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, who believe the scientifically groundless theory that vaccines cause autism.

The controversy Christie�s remarks started might have died out quickly, if rival presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul hadn�t jumped in and said explicitly what Christie was accused of implying:

I�ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.

(He later backed off, claiming that after just means that vaccines and mental disorders are �temporally related�, not that one causes the other. So I�m sure he won�t mind if the media publishes a slew of stories of the form: So-and-so did something horrible after listening to Rand Paul. Or maybe a headline like �ISIS Beheads Hostage After Paul Speech�.)

But here�s the problem with the pandering-to-Republican-anti-vaxxers theory: First, there just aren�t that many anti-vaxxers. [See endnote 1]  And second, they aren�t all Republicans. There�s a liberal version of anti-vax that focuses the conspiracy theory on drug companies rather than government. [2]

So the theory that a Republican primary might be decided by anti-vaxxers casting a single-issue vote is a little sketchy. That�s why as soon as their position got labelled as pandering to anti-vaxxers, other potential candidates took the opposite side of the argument [3] and both Christie and Paul had to back down to a certain extent.

So who were they pandering to? The Libertarian/Theocrat side of my model in � The Four Flavors of Republican�.

[] Again Paul was the more explicit:

The state doesn�t own your children. Parents own their children. [4]

In other words, decisions about vaccinations shouldn�t be made by the American people as a whole through the democratic process, or by the medical experts that the people delegate those decisions to. Libertarians believe those issues should be decided by sovereign individuals, and Theocrats want them decided by the fathers that God made sovereign over their households.

When you look at the world through either one of those lenses, vaccinations aren�t the point, they just symbolize larger issues about authority. So sure, I�m going to vaccinate my kids, but the decision should be up to me. �It�s an issue of freedom,� Paul said, and when the CNBC interviewer pressed him, he got sarcastic. �I guess being for freedom would be really unusual.�

This ties vaccinations to other �freedom� issues, like your freedom to go without health insurance rather than accept ObamaCare, your freedom to let your kids grow up ignorant rather than send them to a government-approved school (or report their home-schooling progress to an education bureaucrat), or your freedom to take the low wages and poor working conditions an employer offers rather than negotiate through a union. Newly elected North Carolina Senator Thom Tillisdefended the freedom of food-sellers to set their own hygiene standards rather than be bound by government regulations:

�I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like �maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,'� the senator said.

Tillis said his interlocutor was in disbelief, and asked whether he thought businesses should be allowed to �opt out� of requiring employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

The senator said he�d be fine with it, so long as businesses made this clear in �advertising� and �employment literature.�

�I said: �I don�t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says �We don�t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,� Tillis said.

�The market will take care of that,� he added, to laughter from the audience. [5]

So in Tillis� ideal republic, you would have to study the diverse hygiene practices of all the places you eat, so that you can make an informed decision about whether it�s safe to eat there. Because freedom.

[] Taken to its logical extreme, the freedom agenda says that you should be free to drive on the left side of the interstate. You wouldn�t, of course, because it�s dangerous and you�re not stupid. At least, you wouldn�t most of the time. Most people wouldn�t, most of the time.

But it wouldn�t take many to screw everything up. What if, of all the drivers who would be traveling north during your next trip south down the interstate, you knew that only one would be using his freedom to drive on the left side and come straight at you? How would that change your driving experience?

Here�s what it boils down to: Human beings are simultaneously individuals and members of society, not fundamentally one or the other. Some issues (like free speech) are easier to understand from the individual point of view, while others (like traffic) require a  social point of view. [6]

Public health is fundamentally social. Germs pay no attention to your individuality; they just spread through the herd. You personally may do everything right, but whether or not you get sick also depends on social things like the quality of the sewage system, whether other infected individuals have access to health care or paid sick leave, how well your city controls rats and other vermin, whether restaurant workers wash their hands, and what percentage of people get vaccinated. In extreme cases, it depends on really draconian government interventions like quarantines and travel restrictions.

No matter what kind of intellectual contortions you do, you can�t square all that with a pure individual-freedom agenda. What if a free individual exposed to Ebola doesn�t want to be quarantined in a treatment facility? (Maybe he has his own theory about diseases and doesn�t believe all this germ-and-virus nonsense. Or maybe he was only probably exposed, and he�s willing to risk it.) If your ideology limits you to looking at everything from the individual-freedom viewpoint, your thinking about public health is going to be crippled.

So that�s who Christie and Paul were pandering to this week: people whose thinking about public health has been crippled by individualist ideology. If either becomes president, he may continue to pander to them.

[1] Anti-vaxxers only dangerous because it doesn�t take many to screw up herd immunity, which protects people who can�t use the vaccine. (In other words: Even if you can�t be vaccinated or haven�t been vaccinated yet, you�ll be safe because you are unlikely to come into contact with sick people.) According to the World Health Organization, as reproduced in Wikipedia, the herd immunity threshold for measles is 83-94% vaccinated, so as few as 6% in a local community might be enough to make that community vulnerable to an outbreak.

If you think of this in terms of the free-rider problem, the herd immunity threshold measures how many free riders the vaccination system can stand before it starts breaking down.

[2] Anti-vaccine liberals are sometimes used to prove that in their own way Democrats are just as much at war with science as Republicans who deny climate change or evolution. But here�s the clear difference: Anti-science liberals are on the fringe of the Democratic Party, and elected officials seldom pay much attention to them. Conversely, climate-change denial is a core position of the conservative base, so virtually every elected Republican has gotten in line.

[3] Marco Rubio demonstrated that a Republican presidential contender can give the simple, direct answer: �There is absolutely no medical science or data whatsoever that links those vaccinations to onset of autism or anything of that nature. And by the way, if enough people are not vaccinated, you put at risk infants that are three months of age or younger and have not been vaccinated and you put at risk immune-suppressed children that are not able to get those vaccinations. So absolutely, all children in American should be vaccinated.�

Also Ted Cruz: �On the question of whether kids should be vaccinated, the answer is obvious, and there�s widespread agreement: of course they should.�

But both avoided a direct endorsement of mandatory vaccinations, like Ben Carson�s.

[4] Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register had the right response:

No, we don�t own our children. From slavery to child sexual abuse, the notion of owning another human has led to nothing good. Legally, we�re responsible for our kids and their care, feeding and safety until they�re old enough to take care of themselves. But they are autonomous human beings, which is why, unlike property, there are laws and standards governing what we can and can�t do to them.

[5] We�ve seen this two-step before. The same politicians who say that a well-informed public can sort things out without government help will also oppose any regulations that inform the public. Today, Tillis says he�d make Starbucks post that sign, but when the time came to vote on it he actually wouldn�t, for exactly the same reason: The market can sort out whether businesses should have to post their hygiene policies.

[6] It�s like the wave/particle thing with light, if that analogy makes sense to you. If not, forget I mentioned it.

Monday, February 09, 2015

ANS -- Saudi Arabia Sees End Of Oil Age On The Horizon

Here is a very interesting interpretation of what Saudi Arabia is doing to oil prices.  This could be a good thing. 
Read it here:

Saudi Arabia Sees End Of Oil Age On The Horizon

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February 6th, 2015 by Guest Contributor

Originally published on EnergyPost.
By Elias Hinckley

Most analysts believe Saudi Arabia refuses to cut production because it wants to shake out its higher-cost competitors or because it wants to punish Iran and Russia. There may be some truth in those theories, writes Elias Hinckley, strategic advisor and head of the energy practice with international law firm Sullivan and Worcester, but they miss the deeper motivation of the Saudis. Saudi Arabia, he says, sees the end of the Oil Age on the horizon and understands that a great deal of global fossil fuel reserves will have to stay underground to avoid catastrophic global warming. "That's why it has opened the valves on the carbon asset bubble."

Saudi Arabia's decision not to cut oil production, despite crashing prices, marks the beginning of an incredibly important change. There are near-term and obvious implications for oil markets and global economies. More important is the acknowledgement, demonstrated by the action of world's most important oil producer, of the beginning of the end of the most prosperous period in human history – the age of oil.

In 2000, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former oil minister of Saudi Arabia, gave an interview in which he said:

"Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil."

Fourteen years later, while Americans were eating or sleeping off their Thanksgiving meals, the twelve members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) failed to reach an agreement to cut production below the 30 million barrel per day target that was set in 2011.  This followed strenuous lobbying efforts by some of largest oil producing non-OPEC nations in the weeks leading up to the meeting.  This group even went so far as to make the highly unusual offer of agreeing to their own production cuts.

The ramifications of this decision across the globe, not just in energy markets, but politically, are already having consequences for the global landscape.  Lost in the effort to understand the vast implications is an even more important signal sent by Saudi Arabia, the owner of more than 16% of the world's proved oil reserves, about its view of the future of fossil fuels.

Since its formal creation in 1960 the members of OPEC, and specifically Saudi Arabia (and in reality the Kingdom's control over global oil markets is much larger than that 16% of reserves implies as its more than 260 billion barrels are among the easiest and cheapest to extract and before enhanced recovery techniques accounted for a much larger share of global reserves) have used excess oil production capacity to influence crude prices.  The primary role of OPEC has been to support price stability.  There are notable exceptions – like the 1973-1974 oil embargo and a period of excess supply that undermined prices and crippled the Soviet Union in the 1980s (though whether this was a defined strategy or serendipity remains in some question), but at its core the role of OPEC has been to control oil prices. As recent events show, OPEC's role as the controller of crude oil pricing is coming to an abrupt end.

But in a world where a producer sees the end of its market on the horizon, then every barrel sold at a profit is more valuable than a barrel that will never be sold

In acting as global swing producer, OPEC has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia, which can influence global prices by increasing or decreasing production to expand or reduce available global supply.  Saudi Arabia can do this not only because it controls an enormous portion of global reserves and production capacity, but does so with crude oil that is stunningly inexpensive to produce compared to the current global market.  A change, however, has occurred in Saudi Arabia's fundamental strategic approach to the global oil market. And this new approach – to refuse to curtail production to support global prices – not only undermines OPECs pricing power, but also removes a vital subsidy for global oil producers provided by the Saudi's longtime commitment to price support.

Understanding Why

The widely held conventional theory is that the Saudis want to shake the weak production out of the market.  This strategy would undermine the economic viability of a meaningful amount of global production.  The theory assumes that this can be done in some kind of orderly bring-down of prices where the Saudis can find an ideal price below the production cost of this marginal oil production but still high enough to maintain significant profits for the Kingdom while this market correction plays out. The assumption is that following the correction there will be a return to business as usual along with higher prices, but with Saudi Arabia commanding a relatively larger share of that market.   An alternative rationale is that Saudi Arabia is fighting an economic war with oil; a strategy designed to economically and in turn politically cripple rival producers Iran and Russia because the governments of these countries that depend on oil exports cannot withstand sustained low prices and will be significantly weakened.

While there may be some truth to both of these theories, the real motivation lies somewhere closer to Sheikh Yamani's 2000 prediction.  Saudi Arabia has embarked on an absolute quest for dominant market share in the global oil market.  The near-term cost of grabbing that market share is immense, with the Saudis sacrificing potentially hundreds of billions of dollars if low prices persist.  In a world of endless consumption, this risk would be hard to justify merely in exchange for a temporary expansion of global market share – the current lost revenue would take years to recover with a marginally higher share of global supply.

But in a world where a producer sees the end of its market on the horizon, then every barrel sold at a profit is more valuable than a barrel that will never be sold.  Current Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi had this to say about production cuts in late December: "it is not in the interest of OPEC to cut their production whatever the price is," adding that even if prices fell to $20 "it is irrelevant."  Implied, if not explicitly stated, is that Saudi Arabia wants its oil out of the ground, regardless of how thin its profit margin per barrel becomes.

Saudi Arabia is seeing a new and massively changing energy landscape. The U.S. and China have agreed to bilateral carbon reduction targets.  2014 is now officially the hottest year recorded in human history, a record set almost impossibly without the presence of El Nino.  And on January 7 a report released in Nature lays bare the fossil fuel climate change equation by concluding that to achieve anything better than a 50/50 shot at keeping global warming under 2 degrees centigrade (the most widely accepted threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change) 82% of fossil reserves must remain in the ground.  That report puts hard numbers on the percentages of fossil fuels that must "stay in the ground" and calls for 38% of proven Mideast oil reserves to never to be pumped from the ground.  That 38% represents some 260 billion barrels of oil – worth tens of trillions of dollars – much of that not held in Saudi reserves.

Saudi Arabia no longer needs OPEC.  Global action on carbon dioxide emissions is gaining global acceptance and technological advances are creating foreseeable and viable alternatives to the world's oil dependence

All of these threats to oil use are occurring against a backdrop where the acceleration of costs-effective alternative technologies expands the potential of viable alternatives to our current fossil fuel-based energy economy.  Yamani's prediction no longer seems a fantasy where no one outside of science fiction writers could envision an alternative to the age of oil, but rather a stunningly prescient analysis of the future risk to the value the largest oil reserve on the planet by a man who once managed that reserve.

Saudi Arabia no longer needs OPEC.  Global action on carbon dioxide emissions is gaining global acceptance and technological advances are creating foreseeable and viable alternatives to the world's oil dependence. Saudi Arabia has come to the stark realization, as Yamani foretold, that it is a race to produce, regardless of price, so that it will not be leaving its oil in the ground.  The Kingdom has effectively open the valve on the carbon asset bubble and jumped to be the first to start the race to the end of the age of hydrocarbons by playing its one great advantage – a cost of production so low that it can sell its crude faster and hoping not to find itself at the end of the age of oil holding vast worthless unburnable reserves.

The end of the age of oil, of course, remains many years off (and almost certainly well beyond Yamani's timeline of 2030), but to Saudi Arabia, that end is clearly not so far away that the owner of the largest, most accessible crude resource is willing to continue to subsidize higher prices for other producers at the risk of leaving its own oil untapped one day in the future.

Collateral Fallout

Much has been made of the catastrophic economic consequences to Russia, Iran, Venezuela and other oil exporting nations caused by these low oil prices, as well as, the profound damage to their economies and impending political turmoil.  Meanwhile in the U.S., there has been endless analysis of the impact (or lack of impact) on the nation's resurgent oil production and speculation about the price at which U.S.  production will begin to decline.

Less well documented is the impact on access to capital for drilling operations (and given the disastrous economics of North American coal, perhaps fossil fuel extraction broadly).  Drilling for oil requires huge amounts of capital with a significant appetite for risk, as both production uncertainty and market volatility can undermine the value of investments.  In the current production boom, market volatility was wildly underpriced.  When combined with pent up appetite for yield due to persistently low interest rates, capital, including tremendous amounts of high-yield debt, has flooded into oil companies.  As low crude prices persist there will be substantial losses by investors.  This will cause volatility in crude oil markets to be re-priced, and access to low cost capital will disappear for all but a select group of oil production investments.

There is a much much bigger story unfolding: the carbon asset bubble is deflating

OPEC will continue to meet and hold itself out as a cartel that can control the oil markets, but that time has passed.  The cartel was dependent upon Saudi Arabia to use its outsized swing position to control spare capacity in the market.  With the Saudis no longer interested in that role, the influence of the cartel is gone.  It would be no surprise at all to see Saudi Arabia actually increase production (though how much additional output is readily available is unclear) as prices stabilize and begin to climb later this year because excess capacity will be shed from the market and global economic growth will accelerate.

The direct oil markets impact and the geopolitical fallout will likely be the defining headlines of 2015, but there is a much much bigger story unfolding: the carbon asset bubble is deflating.  The value of effectively every asset class on Earth is influenced by the assumption that a fossil fuel-based economy will persist for so long that any potential for future change to asset values can be ignored.  That assumption is wrong.  The global industrial economy operates on an assumption of available and relatively inexpensive energy, either in the form of electricity or liquid fuels.  If the form, availability of, or cost of, those energy sources changes it will fundamentally change the cost to use and produce virtually every other asset on Earth. And that will necessarily change the value of every one of those assets. There will be both positive and negative impacts, and understanding this change, in both scope and speed, will provide insight on one of the largest wealth shifts ever experienced.

The owner of the most valuable fossil fuel reserve on Earth just started discounting for a future without fossil fuels.  While they would never state this reasoning publicly, their actions speak on their behalf.  And that changes everything.

[Elias Hinckley (@eliashinckley) is a strategic advisor on energy finance and energy policy to investors, energy companies and governments. He is an energy and tax partner with the law firm Sullivan and Worcester where he helps his clients solve the challenges of a changing energy landscape by using his understanding of energy policy, regulation, and markets to quickly and creatively assemble successful energy deals.]

Reprinted with permission.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Fwd: Re: ANS -- formatted for printing versions available

Dear ANS group -- at the end of this, if it came through, should be a link to a Word doc of this article formatted (beautifully) for easy reading.  It was done by one of our readers.  He says he does this with many of our articles, and that he would be glad to share if anyone wants the Word formatted version.  He likes to print them out and save them.  If you do too, it's something to consider.  Let me know. 


The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

The new evidence will force us to change ourselves.
By Johann Hari / The Huffington Post
January 21, 2015

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned - and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction, by our teachers, and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my book 'Chasing The Scream - The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs' to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong - and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind - what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can't stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: "Drugs. Duh." It's not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That's what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments - ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: "Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It's called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you."

But in the 1970s, a Professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was - at the same time as the Rat Park experiment - a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was "as common as chewing gum" among U.S. soldiers , and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified: they believed a huge number of addicts were about the head home when the war ended.

But in fact, some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers - according to the same study - simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn't want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It's not you. It's your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days - if anything can hook you, it's that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know - if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can't recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is - again - striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal - but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the most scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don't seem to make sense - unless you take account of this new approach.

Here's one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine - the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much high purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right - it's the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them - then it's obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave hospital and try to score smack on the streets, to meet their habit.

But here's the strange thing. It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts - and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe - as I used to - that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander's theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home - to a life where she is surrounded by the people she love. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find - the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding'. A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn't shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me - you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers' Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

But still - surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre's book 'The Cult of Pharmacology.'

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism - cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That's not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that's still millions of life ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one hundred year old war on drugs. This massive war - which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool - is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people's brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren't the driver of addiction - if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction - then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction: for example, I went to a prison in Arizona - 'Tent City' - where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages ("The Hole") for weeks and weeks on end, to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record - guaranteeing they with be cut off ever more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world - and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn't theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them - to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs - so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other's care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I'll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira - the country's top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass - and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal's example.

This isn't only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster's - only connect. But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live - constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this "the age of loneliness." We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander - the creator of Rat Park - told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery - how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

But this new evidence isn't just a challenge to us politically. It doesn't just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.

Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention - tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won't stop should be shunned. It's the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction - and you may lose them all together. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever - to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can't.

When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow - we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

The full story of Johann Hari's journey - told through the stories of the people he met - can be read in 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs', published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at

Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma's in Baltimore on the 4th February.

The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book's extensive end-notes.

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Friday, February 06, 2015

ANS our Indiegogo campaign -- please help

It has come to my attention that some of you did not receive this link the first time around.  So, if you did get it, I apologize for sending it again, but it's really important that we get this invention into production because it will bring solar energy to many more people than can have it now, and help save the planet. 

Please check out our Indiegogo campaign -- We have invented The Next Big Step in Solar -- it is going to really help the transition to distributed renewable energy -- but we need help funding the transition from working prototype to production model and then to production. We just need to get the word out. Please have a look:
And send it on to your friends.