Russia, Energy Security and Alternative Energy 21


The Mail on Sunday have published the second half of my Russia piece, which should cause some controversy. They missed my name out on the web version! I look forward to comments.

http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk:80/pages/live/articles/news/newscomment.html?in_article_id=457865&in_page_id=1787&in_a_source

As I have said in comments on threads below, I have little sympathy for the view that George Bush is the only bad man in the World, and that any World leader whose interests differ from Bush’s, eg Putin, is therefore a good leader. In fact, I would view it as a fruitless and difficult exercise to view which of the two is more sinister. I do not give a second’s credence to the view that the attack on Iraq was wrong, but on Chechnya OK. Or that it was dreadfully wrong for Bush to support the despotism of President Karimov of Uzbekistan, but it’s OK now that Putin is doing it.

In fact I rather despair of the many on the Left who seem to accept Bush and Blair’s risible “With us or against us” logic, and conclude that any opponent of Bush is a good person. Anyone who believes that the Russian oligarchs are not just as evil and machinating as Dick Cheney, has switched off his critical faculties.

And finally the fact that the neo-cons have identified energy security as a problem, does not mean it is not a problem. What the neo-cons have got wrong is the solution, which is not endless wars of resource annexation, but profound measures of energy conservation and re-orientation, and a massive drive to develop carbon friendly alternative energy sources.


21 thoughts on “Russia, Energy Security and Alternative Energy

  • ed

    Craig,

    Thanks for the great article. One angle I think that you missed is the global dwindling – and peaking – of supplies of oil (and later gas) and the impact that will have on our energy security.

    To focus on oil, the Hirsch Report (1) – written for the US Department of Energy and published in February 2005 – gives three scenarios that governments could take in preparation for peak oil:

    * Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.

    * Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.

    * Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.

    Some peak oil commentators (such as Colin Campbell (2), Jeremy Leggett (3), various people at the Pentagon (4) and even some BP employees (5)) predict global peak oil to happen between 2010-2015 and yet we have not even started a mitigation crash program, let alone seriously think about one. Unlike Sweden, we are not preparing for a oil-free society by 2020 (6). Indeed, last time I checked the UK government officially does not think peak oil will happen before 2030 (7)

    This mitigation program is vital because cheap oil, as you know, currently underpins our lifestyle and society and oil derived products exist in almost every sphere of our lives, such as (for a more complete list, see (8) (9)):

    * Fuel, engine oil and grease for land, sea and air transportation

    * Tarmac to pave roads and airfields, to surface canals and reservoirs, and to make roofing materials and floor coverings

    * A variety of plastics

    * Many pesticides and fertilisers (which are key for our current agricultural model)

    * Various medicines and medical supplies (e.g. heart valves)

    * Nylon and polyester clothing, ropes, etc

    * Synthetic rubber

    * Petroleum (or paraffin) wax used in candy making, packaging, candles, matches, and polishes

    * Solvents such as those used in paints, lacquers, and printing inks

    * Heating oil to warm our homes

    * Many other chemicals also need oil in some stage of their processes

    * Various beauty products, including perfumes and deodorants

    Jeremy Leggett has put it very clearly (10) how pervasive oil is in our society:

    "We have allowed oil to become vital to virtually everything we do. Ninety per cent of all our transportation, whether by land, air or sea, is fuelled by oil. Ninety-five per cent of all goods in shops involve the use of oil. Ninety-five per cent of all our food products require oil use. Just to farm a single cow and deliver it to market requires six barrels of oil, enough to drive a car from New York to Los Angeles."

    As oil becomes harder to find, many argue that prices will rise until a more economically feasible alternative is found. Oil derived products (and therefore life more generally) will become more expensive. However, for some of the products listed above there are no current alternatives. Also, many of the energy alternatives to oil, such as coal, are much more polluting and will lead to increased climate change.

    Unless we find real energy alternatives (not just renewables) which is unlikely for our current consumption and energy use – we will have to consume and produce less. Many argue that we will need to power down our society as resources become scarcer and more expensive.

    Craig – I was wondering what your position is on this?

    It's a shame that this angle wasn't highlighted in your article.

    (1) http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/others/pdf/O

    (2) http://www.peakoil.ie/Newsletter.htm

    (3) http://www.sqwalk.com/blog2006/000641.html

    (4) http://www.energybulletin.net/18056.html

    (5) http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/BP

    (6) http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/2031/a/67096

    (7) http://www.vitaltrivia.co.uk/2006/05/74

    (8) http://wolf.readinglitho.co.uk/mainpages/oilprodu

    (9) http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/infosheets/petroleump

    (10) http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article

  • Sabretache

    Good solid stuff in that article Craig. Your observations about the Left's tendency to give enemies of Bush the benefit of any doubt in the Gooodies/Baddies stakes is a fair one too. My only real problem with both pieces is in your evident belief that the West has any real alternative to major fawning dependency upon Russia in the global peaking energy production stakes. Anyone who has made a serious study of the extent of the worlds dependency on hydrocarbon-based energy and its impending peak production knows that we are behaving like lemmings with the cliff dead ahead. It is not just energy for transport/electricity production either; it's our near total dependence on natural gas for agricultural fertilisers and the blind stupidity of apparently believing we can divert agriculture to hydrocarbon fuels with no adverse effects on global food production – That 10 calories of hydrocarbon energy is currently expended (Burned) to produce 1 calorie of the food we each consume (and I have yet to see those figures credibly challenged) ought to be a wake-up call if ever there was one. Instead, politicians talk incessantly about anthropogenic climate change whilst totally ignoring that enormous elephant in the living room in the apparent hope that it may go away.

    In fact, you don't have to dig far into the subject of hydrocarbon energy dependency and the Wests desperate need to secure continuing access to supplies, to understand the entire history of 20th century Middle East and our ongoing interference there. If its principle export were lettuce and tomatoes there's no way we or the US would go anywhere near the place. I have a deep foreboding that the chickens for the US, UK and Western Europe are about to come home to roost and we will soon enough find ourselves in deep deep trouble. I also think that our Lords and masters are all too well aware of all this, which goes a long way to explaining the increasingly draconian State 'emergency powers' being lined up both here and in the US.

    As for Putins' alleged false-flag appartment block bombings in 2000, I have no doubt the Russian SS's were/are capable of it. I have equally no doubt that similar considerations apply to the WTC /Pentagon attacks in September 2001.

  • Craig

    ed,

    I don't disagree with any of that, but I've never quite understood why people treat "peak oil" as a revelation. Obviously oil is a finite resource, and obviously a point comes when production starts to dwindle. Pinpointing that exact year, or even decade, seems to me not especially important in the grand scheme of things. Plainly the generation of my grandchildren (should I get any) will not live out their full lives in a fossil fuel based economy.

    Which simply reinforces ny policy prescription of reducing dependence on gas. I rather feel the "peak-oilers" are making a cult out of a pretty plain fact, as though no-one else can see it.

  • Craig

    Sabretache,

    That's an extraordinary figure on the calories consumed to produce a calory of food. It's something I hadn't really thought of.

  • Craig

    Ed,

    Sorry, my comments sounded particularly grumpy! Probably because I just burnt my apple crumble.

  • David Blackie

    It seems that at the Uni of Michigan they calculate 7 calories of fossil fuel for each calorie of food. And then there's coffee…

    "What they've discovered is astonishing. According to researchers at the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an average of over seven calories of fossil fuel is burned up for every calorie of energy

    we get from our food. This means that in eating my 400 calorie breakfast, I

    will, in effect, have "consumed" 2,800 calories of fossil-fuel energy. (Some

    researchers claim the ratio to be as high as ten to one.)

    But this is only an average. My cup of coffee gives me only a few calories

    of energy, but to process just one pound of coffee requires over 8,000

    calories of fossil-fuel energy — the equivalent energy found in nearly a

    quart of crude oil, 30 cubic feet of natural gas, or around two and a half

    pounds of coal."
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/btc/fossilfuel060

  • Sabretache

    Craig

    The 10 – 1 Calories thing is well documented in 'Eating Fossil Fuels' by Dale Allen Pfeiffer. It is also mentioned by Richard Heinberg in the Google video 'Oil Smoke and Mirrors' at http://tinyurl.com/yx8w5z

    I'm no 'peak oil' nut but I have researched the issue extensively and believe it to be a far more pervasive driver of foreign policy than any politician would dare admit – particularly at Privy Council level. I also think that the primary reason it is obfuscated by TPTB, both in government and the Oil industry itself, is that to do otherwise would be to expose the Wests fundamental weakness and vulnerability. In the meantime, so long as we remain the poodles of the US and acquiesce in the sanctity of a globalised trade view of the world, all we can really do is cling to the hope that the military will secure our interests (and let's not dwell too much on 'at whose expense?') – but that is simply not going to wash with Russia (or China either for that matter). We live in interesting and very dangerous times.

  • Randal

    "I do not give a second's credence to the view that the attack on Iraq was wrong, but on Chechnya OK. "

    You are absolutely right in saying that, Craig, although I wonder how many even on the left would actually make the case that what the Russians have done in Chechnya is OK. Perhaps you mean simply that they implicitly do so by treating Chechnya as less of an issue.

    However, my take on this is to do with personal responsibility. The reason I am particularly angry about the attack on Iraq, and seek by any means I can to make those responsible for it suffer, is that it is my country's supposed "leaders" and my country's armed forces which have perpetrated the crime of invading Iraq and the fruits of my tax payments that have notionally enabled it.

    The crime of what has been done, and continues to be done, to the Chechens is something done by another country for whose actions I do not have even notional resposibility. There are many such atrocities carried out by foreigners against foreigners all over the world, and I cannot take action against all of them. In most cases, I do not have sufficient knowledge even to be sure of the rights and wrongs.

    Apart from the above, there is also the more superficial aspect of the contrast between the mendacious attempt to claim the moral high ground for the west and for "democracies", when in fact some of the worst crimes are committed by them. In terms of consequences alone, the invasion of Iraq bears comparison with the worst crimes of recent years. There is an understandable tendency to hold western leaders to somewhat higher standards than others in view of the constant assertion of their moral superiority.

  • Randal

    "And finally the fact that the neo-cons have identified energy security as a problem, does not mean it is not a problem. What the neo-cons have got wrong is the solution, which is not endless wars of resource annexation, but profound measures of energy conservation and re-orientation, and a massive drive to develop carbon friendly alternative energy sources."

    Absolutely right, that to try to use energy supply security as an excuse for imperialism is absolutely wrong. Such arguments demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of those who use them – very often the very same hypocrites who shout loudest about "moral equivalence" whenever western countries are inconvenienced by being held to any decent standard of behaviour.

    Ultimately the pricing system will deal with the finite nature of fossil fuel supply just as it does with any other issue of supply and demand. The only question is how traumatic the transition will be, and governments (as usual) make the problem much worse by subsidising fuel use in numerous ways, as well as by creating all sorts of new problems by ham-fisted attempts to "cure" things that are generally best left uninterfered with.

  • writeon

    Craig,

    This whole Peak Oil issue is complex and vast. As you say, oil as a finite source will start to dwindle and therefore it's prudent to begin finding alternatives, cutting waste and changing and challanging the way we live.

    One of the big problems is the rate of decline in oil production/supply. Will it be gradual, a gently downward sloping line on a graph, or, will it be something far less benign, like falling off a cliff!

    The next big problem is that we use such vast ammounts of oil to maintain our luxurious western lifestyle of plenty and leisure. Around 85 million barrels a day, which is an awful lot, and supposedly we're heading towards 120 million barrels a day in ten to fifteen years.

    So much of our current way of life or civilization is based on cheap and plentiful and secure oil. This may be changing. Modern agriculture is startlingly energy intensive, based primarily on using lots of oil and gas. Any threat to supplies or substantial price increases would have profound affects on argricultural production.

    If we want to mitigate the worst effects of oil supply constriction, it's important to start early, otherwise we could be in for a very rocky ride in the post fosile fuel era.

    And here's the rub. It appears that world oil production may already have reached maximum levels and from here on out are going to decline, even perhaps radically. Mexico is in decline, Russia's true situation is debatable and Saudi Arabia may even be on the very edge of a steep decline in production which would have serious consequences.

    If, If, this scenario is valid and accurate and the gap between supply and demand is set to widen substantially, then we should expect profound economic, social and political distruption in the coming years. One thing is more or less certain though, scratch the surface and access and control of oil is behind almost every conflict in the world today.

  • johnf

    >In fact I rather despair of the many on the Left who seem to accept Bush and Blair's risible "With us or against us" logic, and conclude that any opponent of Bush is a good person. Anyone who believes that the Russian oligarchs are not just as evil and machinating as Dick Cheney, has switched off his critical faculties.

    I'd like to clarify my own position on this. As one used to have to say on entering the US, "I am not and I have never been a member of the Communist Party." I have also never been a marxist of any shade or hue. I can't stand the man. The only thing I have ever converted to is Catholicism (and my name is not Bruce Kent)..

    By the late 1980's, due to my work for the group END (European Nuclear Disarmament) and my links with Solidarnosc in Poland and members of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, I found myself being in the position of having all my visa applications to all Soviet bloc countries being consistently refused.

    I get probably more heated over the behaviour of my own governments (the UK and US) at the moment than of the Russian one for two reasons:

    1/. They're my governments, not anyone elses, and therefore the shame I feel at their behaviour is greater than any shame or anger I feel at any other governments' behaviour. My government is my responsiblility and therefore its my duty to fix it.

    2/. I do not see Putin's government as being anything like the threat – AT THE MOMENT- to the peace of the world as I see the governments of the UK and US. If Putin were a greater threat, I'd oppose him more. As things are, as a pragmatist I'd rather have a reasonably stable government controlled by reasonably covert gangsters in Russia (with the support of the majority of the people) rather than the chaos when she was ruled by open and unashamed gangsters like Berezovsky.

    The world needs relatively stable and strong blocks at the moment to be able to resist the neo-cons deliberate attempt to destabilize large areas of the globe. As Churchill said in 1941 after he welcomed Stalin to the anti-nazi front – "I would welcome the devil himself if he was on our side."

    And I agree with everything that is being said about the extreme urgency of fighting climate change.

  • Craig

    Hi johnf,

    all views are welcome on this blog. I think if you were a Chechne you'd see things differently, but I think I accept the view that Bush has presently more power to do harm.

    I have been quite combative in this argument on Putin, also disagreeing with the views of hayate. But this is a blog where a good argument, conducted rationally, is very welcome. It would be damn boring if we all had the same view. I don't mind at all if people argue their point strongly, and I hope no-one is upset when I do.

  • ed

    Craig,

    You say:

    " Pinpointing that exact year, or even decade, seems to me not especially important in the grand scheme of things."

    Well, the Hirsch report, as I pointed out in my previous comment makes a very different case. As I posted before, it gives three scenarios that governments could take in preparation for peak oil:

    * Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.

    * Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.

    * Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.:

    If this is even vaguely true, then it is vital to know when the peak is so that we can adequately prepare and shift to a post peak oil world. Otherwise, as the Hirsch report points out, we will be faced with large shortfalls.

  • ziz

    The arithmetic about the UK's declining energy resources is simple.

    I formed the Forthcoming UK Energy defecit (FCUKED)in 1999 to identify the woeful state of our natural reserves – which is also reflected in varying ways in Europe.

    The French are the winners as they have plenty of cheap Hydro power (and if necessary more where that comes from) and of course working safe nuclear power.

    I do not share Craig's view that the people at Privy Council level knew and understood – they had been sold on cheap North Sea gas and Oil and failed totally at any level to identify that there are two Peak Oil inflexions on the Graph.

    1. The one every one talks about when oil demand exceeds available supplies.

    2. When everyone who uses oil realises that Point 1 is a finite and fairly near point – we passed this some time ago.

    Putin and his silovaki and the egg heads in St Petersburg also worked this one out – hence the great welcome Craig received from their PR man.

    But do not be deflected by Gazprom – take a very long look at Vagit Alekperov and LUKoil.

    Finally GAZ prom are already in the UK and own a small gas dsitributiojn Company – Pennine to danglea foot in the water.

    The French and Germans own our electricity production, anyone taking odds on Russina owned gas distribution within 5 years ?

    Tip buy shares in DRAX , you may run out of electricity but you will have a solid investment.

  • Craig

    Ziz,

    demand never exceeds supply except momentarily, if prices are free. The price just rises up to edge out surplus demand. Demand for fossil fuels is pretty inelastic. Demand is rising and, at some stage, supply will start to decline. So we will at some stage get a huge price increase, and possibly demands to suspend market mechanisms and control prices.

    That is all pretty simple. Obviously we need urgently to be cutting demand now. Knowing the precise moment when supply will start to decline (and I personally doubt the supply graph will show a single, well – defined peak – I think you'll probably get a twenty year spikey plateau) really isn't crucial. The "Peak Oil" stuff is a profitable publishing fetish.

  • hayate

    Craig

    Good point about the need to replace oil and gas power with renewable alternatives. I'm afraid I find the rest of the article to be rather hysterical and sensationalist, though.

    I really don't understand all the paranoia about Russia and Gasprom. The nightmare scenario you described is already here. In fact, you have been living with it all your life. All you are describing is a theoretical change in the corporations who control your life. The tap shut-offs you fear Russia might do to preasure you. You already get them. Once or twice a year, you get mild price increases, when Exxon/Cheveron/BP/etc really want to grind their thumb into the top of your head, you get major increases, like you are getting right now. You have absolutely zero imput on what you use for energy and how much you pay for it in any real useable sense. You have no more power over this aspect of your life now than you would in your nightmare Russia/Gasprom scenario of the future. All that will be different is your money will go to a different company. If you think "our" guys are any "nicer" than those at Gasprom, ask the people of Bopal, India.

    We are powerless pons in a worldwide struggle of control of the world's energy between several economic blocks. The Ameroisraeli/EU economic block was almost totally dominant for a long time. They almost had it all sewn up with Yeltsin "running" Russia to become the sole power, as well. But they are still trying. These two essays describe what I am getting at much better than I could:

    The Emerging Russian Giant Plays its Cards Strategically

    by F. William Engdahl
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=vi

    Darfur? It's the Oil, Stupid?

    China and USA in New Cold War over Africa's oil riches

    By F William Engdahl,
    http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/Geopolitics

    We don't have to remain powerless pons, though.

  • Craig

    William,

    No, there is a real difference. The big Western oil corporations are in it simply to make money. There is no realistic question of them being used as a hostile weapon of state power against the UK (their role in engendering armed conflict in other places is a different matter). I cannot conceive of a situation whereby the inhabitants of this street in London will be denied energy by the US oil giants, provided they are willing to pay for it at whatever the manipulated price happens to be.

    There is every possibility of Gazprom's position as monopolist supplier of gas to Western Europe being used politically by the Russian state as a weapon against us, here in this street, by denial of supply. That is the key difference.

    Craig

  • Chuck Unsworth

    Peak Oil has been rumbling away in the background for at least ten years, maybe longer.

    But right now the issue is Peak Energy. That is, electricity. America is beginning to see Summer Peak regularly overtaking Winter Peak. This will without doubt increase as the demand for summer energy is bordering on being out of control – largely as a result of the exponential growth of domestic central air-conditioning. Already electricity generators are frantically looking for ways of reducing demand and increasing supply. This will necessitate building large numbers of new coal-fired power stations. And what about emissions, then?

    Europe lags behind to some extent, but Global Warming – whatever the cause – will escalate demand for more air-conditioning. Air pollution in Japan and now China is manifestly on the increase.

    There are proven alternatives to air-conditioning, evaporative coolers, for example, which use about one tenth of the energy that air-conditioners do. I have first hand knowledge of installation in industrial and commercial applications of such machines and, despite initial scepticism, have become a convert.

    Of course the next discussion will be about rapidly diminishing water resources…

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