26 November, 2011

The Story of Broke (2011) - YouTube

The Story of Broke (2011) - YouTube
While the orientation of this excellent video is American, the same principles apply to any Western Government including our own UK Government

04 October, 2011

Are we facing long term economic stagnation with rampant energy and food poverty - or worse?

The escalating need to make a swift transition (planned descent) to a local diversified low-carbon Steady State economy becomes alarmingly apparent as our fossil fuel dependent global economies, the Eurozone and financial institutions show signs of unsustainable stress that conceivably could lead to rapid economic decline and even economic collapse as confidence in any prospect for economic growth evaporates while, in UK austerity measures to substantially reduce borrowing begin to take effect, unleashing industrial action not seen since the early 1970/80s and social unrest in the process.
Overburdened with debt and constrained by imported inflation due to the rising costs of rapidly depleting global resources as emerging markets aggressively compete (China in particular) for remaining resources, Western economies and especially consumer habits, expectations and life styles must change dramatically by becoming much more orientated towards supporting local community initiatives that enable local resilience to anticipated energy, food and financial shocks to come.  This will require a local commitment to a planned transition towards energy and food self-sufficiency so that communities can learn to live within ecological limits as far as is practicable - as was the case before the relatively short-lived advent of cheap fossil fuels less than 150 years ago.
In the near future and as austerity measures take effect, affordable and secure local sources of energy and food will increasingly become the highest priority for Government, local authorities and communities as the RSA/Soil Association and Richard Heinberg explains very well here.
For the sake of our children and grandchildren we must accelerate plans for rapid transition and empower communities now to implement these plans in order to reduce or avoid the high risk of energy and food poverty becoming rampant over the coming years.
Initiatives such as the People’s Supermarket are just one of many radical new ways for local social enterprise food markets to gain a foothold that challenges the stifling presence of conventional Supermarkets which are entirely dependent on highly vulnerable and long "just in time" supply chains - God help us all if any of these essential supply chains collapse before we have viable local alternatives including food preservation processes, eco-distribution systems and longer term food storage facilities in place.

Most importantly, local food production and distribution cooperatives keep cash flows local thereby enriching the local economy and communities instead of out of town and mainly distant, indifferent and often predatory corporations and shareholders.  It all comes down to applying common-sense and proactive risk management - are our authorities and communities up to it or not?

Collapse of the Euro-zone is a distinct possibility that the British Government are preparing contingency plans for.  In this event, it is quite likely that trade globalisation would come to an abrupt halt as, quite apart from the ensuing demand destruction for goods and services, many then insolvent banks would no longer be able to issue Letters of Credit that guarantee suppliers' payment upon delivery of imports.  This would have a catastrophic impact on our food and energy imports threatening rampant and severe food and energy poverty nationwide.  Rationing would have to be re-introduced to ensure fair distribution of restricted food and energy supplies while preserving essential services.

08 May, 2011

Attenborough’s RSA speech « Population Matters

Attenborough’s RSA speech « Population Matters  

How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?
In a Horizon special, naturalist Sir David Attenborough investigates whether the world is heading for a population crisis.
In his lengthy career, Sir David has watched the human population more than double from 2.5 billion in 1950 to nearly seven billion. He reflects on the profound effects of this rapid growth, both on humans and the environment.
While much of the projected growth in human population is likely to come from the developing world, it is the lifestyle enjoyed by many in the West that has the most impact on the planet. Some experts claim that in the UK consumers use as much as two and a half times their fair share of Earth’s resources.
Sir David examines whether it is the duty of individuals to commit not only to smaller families, but to change the way they live for the sake of humanity and planet Earth.

25 April, 2011

Positive Money - Fixing what's wrong with the banks.

Debt Crisis? Here's the Simple Solution
Ever wondered why we're all in so much debt? This 3 minute video explains the root of the problem and what we need to do to end the debt crisis...

02 April, 2011

YouTube - The End of growth-Richard Heinberg

Richard's book "The End of Growth" should be essential reading for everyone.  It is a masterpiece of research, observation and deduction which makes so much sense of the chaotic world we live in and the implications of this chaos for our common future.  I can't fault his logic and the conclusions he reaches which are shared by a growing number of economists and global market analysts. This book is easily read and I highly recommend that you buy your copy as soon as possible and read it from cover to cover.  You won't be disappointed!

08 February, 2011

21st Century Challenges for Civilization

We are on the threshold of unprecedented, rapid and unavoidable change over the next 10 to 20 years as we struggle to negotiate a path through a confluence of growing fundamental uncertainties, the scope and dynamics of which have never been encountered before by humanity at any one time.  These uncertainties threaten local community security as well as national security.  They include climate uncertainty, energy uncertainty, economic and financial uncertainty as well as political and employment uncertainties while global natural resource depletion is accelerated by growing demand for resources in the developing high growth economies of India, Brazil and China in an increasingly over-populated world.
Of all these uncertainties, energy uncertainty is perhaps the most ominous as it presents the most immediate and compelling direct threat to modern society and economic growth.  In the Western world in particular, all human activity is entirely dependent on secure and affordable sources of energy which in turn underpins the value of all investments in global property, commodity and financial markets.  Hence, with growing energy uncertainty we are experiencing unprecedented volatility in these markets which are now directed by short term speculation largely financed through speculative debt, rather than responsible long term investment strategies.
Approximately, 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of all resources.  This obviously can’t continue indefinitely and dictates that already developed societies in the West (G8 Nations) must adopt sustainable and more self-sufficient lifestyles that will require a reversal of current cultural values and consumption habits in order that the standards of living in the rest of the world can catch up and be raised to an extent limited by available resources.  The latest Chatham House report titled “More for Asia: Rebalancing World Oil and Gas” confirms that this investment and resource demand shift towards Asia and other developing economies is ongoing and has major geopolitical implications for North America and Europe over the next ten years.
Current unrest in North Africa and the Middle East highlights the need for UK energy independence as international tensions grow in proportion to the increasing risk of major oil and gas supply disruptions (highlighted recently in a US military report to Congress) in regions threatened by or undergoing regime change by popular demand.  A revolution in Saudi Arabia, for example, would have a catastrophic impact on oil supplies worldwide that would undermine global economic recovery from the 2007/8 financial crisis to an extent that it may not be possible to recover from.
In a world with finite resources but ever increasing global demand for resources brought about by exponential population growth, coupled with the rising energy usage and costs of new technologies to increase resource extraction rates from less accessible or already diluted or depleted resource deposits, we will simply exhaust affordable resources much faster than any of us realise.  Consequently, we have a very limited window of time for radical change to take place within.
"The Optimum Population Trust (now Population Matters) believes that Earth may not be able to support more than half its present numbers before the end of this century, and that the UK's long-term sustainable population level may be lower than 30 million."
Without rigorous but humane population and immigration controls (as effective as China's), the future standard of living of our children will decline rapidly with increasing competition for dwindling resources and job opportunities.  Western society in general is only just beginning to appreciate that increasing population and greater population densities simply dilute the resource per capita share, dilute democracy, the value of individual worth, individual growth potential, opportunities for employment and thus, the ability to have any individual control or even influence over the quality of life that can be expected in a world with severely depleted resources.
These are stark realities that many people will have great difficulty in accepting and facing up to, preferring instead to maintain the “status quo” that they have a lifelong vested interest in.  This attitude is reactive and can only lead to increasing the risks of international conflict or resource wars.
It is essential that we adopt a proactive attitude towards preparing society for a very different future by promoting and enabling cultural change towards sustainable lifestyles.
This can only happen with reform of our sense of values and perceptions of what is important for the future of humanity, bringing our whole value system into question.  Can we continue to condone or morally justify the excessive amounts invested in military spending or being paid to a few sports and entertainment celebrities, business or government elites and bankers, for example, when this money can be better channelled towards developing more equitable and self-sufficient communities within a low-carbon economy?  How can we develop a fairer and better distribution of wealth throughout a more inclusive society?  What are the core values that society should aspire to?  Which is more important - standard of living or quality of life?  The two are not necessarily intertwined or mutually dependent.  It is high time we reviewed these fundamentals that underpin our “advanced” civilisation because the current Government policy of economic growth at all costs may literally cost the earth and eventually consign our advanced civilisation to oblivion.  Capitalism as we know it must undergo radical change or perish.
In the UK, the new Coalition Government has recognized the urgent need to stimulate reform, substantially reduce costs and waste, eliminate bureaucracy and red tape that get in the way of progress and empower communities in its recent launch of “The Big Society” which aims to deliver cultural change and inspire social enterprise, highlighting the urgent need to increase community resilience and self-sufficiency through Localism and Relocalisation.  The differences between Localism and Relocalisation are explained here.
All communities should be looking at ways to collaborate, share scarce resources and take advantage of these reforms to help regenerate many of the now derelict commercial and industrial sites that have become casualties of globalisation, in a bid to stimulate local employment.  This is because the necessity for local employment will increase exponentially as the costs of fuel and travel escalate beyond the means of the majority of residents that commute daily to distant places of employment.  However, this will depend on communities taking a significantly more proactive or pragmatic “hands on” and “can do” approach to shaping their future.  This also means communities must accept that they can no longer expect big business (e.g. Superstores and national property developers) or Local Government to cater to all their demands for facilities, goods and services and that they will have to begin a process to help themselves as the government’s austerity measures combined with growing inflation stemming from the rising costs of imported goods and resources add momentum to a spiral of economic contraction that further reduces local business and employment opportunities which in turn limit access to credit and diminish the general well-being of a cash-strapped society.
The UK government is desperate for private enterprise to employ the mass of people expected to be laid-off in the public sector but fails to recognise that businesses can only respond to consumer demand for goods and services.  If consumer demand falls due to rising unemployment, concerns about job security and a lack of confidence in an economy with restricted access to credit, then employment opportunities in the private sector will also fall.  This leaves social enterprise (charities, local community or worker owned enterprises) as the most hopeful source of future gainful employment, financed through credit unions, mutuals or co-operatives as well as Local Government issued bonds and debentures guaranteed by local Council Tax payers for those projects that we all have a stake in.  Local development of microcredit organisations, similar to those in Bangladesh, may also enable new small business opportunities in UK.
Capital raised on the open financial markets will do what it always does which is fly to where it gets the greatest return on investment.  Currently, this is in the developing high growth economies of Brazil, India and China which has led to a vacuum of investment capital in North America and Europe that have had to resort to large scale borrowing to stimulate growth over the past decade or so.  However, credit has been over-leveraged and severely restricted by the continuing high risk of economic contraction and new banking capitalisation requirements in the wake of the 2007/8 financial crisis.
Partnerships between local businesses, social enterprises, Local Government and communities must be established so that a consensus can be achieved as to how best to develop local resilience to anticipated energy, food, employment and financial shocks to come.  This will necessarily test local direct democracy to the full extent possible.
The degree and pace of change necessary to enable transition (planned descent) to a low-carbon steady state economy can be compared with that of the extraordinary transformation of China from a large backward nation, recovering from a long bloody Cultural Revolution, to an economic super-power in the space of a mere 30 years.  Conversely, due to over-population, ensuing resource depletion and climate change, we face the increasing risk of impending economic collapse the longer we procrastinate and fail to swiftly make the transition to a low-carbon Steady State economy. The degree of urgency has never been greater.  Change needs to take place on a wartime footing if we are to succeed.  As Lester Brown of The Earth Policy Institute puts it:
“Continuing with business as usual (Plan A), which is destroying the economy’s eco-supports and setting the stage for dangerous climate change, is no longer a viable option. It is time for Plan B.  There are four overriding goals in Plan B: stabilizing climate, stabilizing population, eradicating poverty, and restoring the earth’s ecosystems.  At the heart of the climate-stabilizing initiative is a detailed plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020 in order to hold the global temperature rise to a minimum.  The climate initiative has three components: raising energy efficiency, developing renewable sources of energy, and expanding the earth’s forest cover both by banning deforestation and by planting billions of trees to sequester carbon.”
Plan B includes a wholesale restructuring of the world energy economy with a wartime sense of urgency, much as the U.S. restructured its industrial economy in a matter of months at the beginning of World War II.  The stakes in World War II were high, but they are far higher today. What is at issue now is whether we can mobilize fast enough to save our global civilization.

18 January, 2011

Space Solar Power

The concept of SBSP (Space Based Solar Power) was theorized over 40 years ago by renowned scientist Dr. Peter Glaser. Since then, in response to periodic energy crises, the idea has been re-evaluated from time to time by the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, major aerospace companies and countries such as China, Japan and India. Their studies generally concluded that there is no technical barrier to implementing SBSP; rather, the principal impediment has been economics -- the ability to provide SBSP at a cost that is competitive with other energy sources...
However, as we rapidly run out of affordable non-renewable fossil fuel sources of energy and before competition to access what remains becomes too aggressive risking international conflict, the imperative is to find long term alternative sources of base load renewable energy that are also environmentally friendly before catastrophic Climate Change becomes irreversible.
Energy generated from Uranium fuelled nuclear fission is not a viable long term alternative to fossil fuel generated energy, particularly when taking into account the costs for radioactive waste safe storage and disposal as well as lengthy decommissioning and decontamination costs that can run into billions over a period of sixty years or more after the power plant is closed down.   Moreover, global non-renewable supplies of uranium are now limited.
Energy derived from Thorium fuelled nuclear fission is experimental at this stage and might become an important contributor to the base load global energy mix.
Energy derived from earth bound nuclear fusion remains a distant possibility but, why would we want to create a nuclear fusion reactor on earth when we already have one in the form of the sun freely pouring infinite amounts of clean energy over us?  Why are we spending billions on this unproven technology when we could be harnessing the sun’s energy from space with already proven technology for a fraction of the cost? After 50 years of trying unsuccessfully to prove the science of fusion power with no conclusion as to its commercial viability, this represents an extraordinary waste of taxpayers’ money and simply does not make any sense at all.
There is only one reliable, clean and secure source of renewable energy with the potential to meet all future global base load demand for energy in perpetuity and that is Space Based Solar Power. All we have to do is reach up and capture this energy.
Hundreds, possibly even thousands of Communication satellites have been using similar technology for decades to broadcast Satellite TV and Radio worldwide - why not take this a step further and broadcast or narrow-cast energy to where it is needed by using microwave or laser technology to achieve SBSP from large solar furnace or PV arrays in space?
The time has now come for international government collaboration to create the commercial environment and incentives that foster rapid development of this new approach to generating energy well before the Energy Return on Energy Invested to extract, refine and distribute conventional oil and gas becomes no longer viable or affordable (also known as the NEROEI).  The initial high capital costs can justifiably be amortised over a longer period than usual because, once commissioned into service, the actual cost of generating energy from the sun are virtually free from the onset.  Moreover, maintenance costs are low to non-existent when compared with conventional power stations - there are hardly any moving parts to maintain because the systems are essentially maintenance free solid state systems with high reliability and built-in redundancy.
Energy companies and in particular oil and gas companies with vast financial resources at their disposal, must start to think about diversifying their operations into the new realm of SBSP by partnering with aerospace companies and energy distribution companies to expedite the development of this energy source for humanity's long term consumption. The sooner the better!
The Case for Space Solar Energy is explored in this book which is exceptionally well written and easy to read even by those of you without a technical background.  John Mankins, the author of this book, has appeared in a TED video on the subject that is also well worth viewing.  A more detailed and lengthy presentation by John Mankins can be found here.

Home Project

"We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth's climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being."

16 January, 2011

More for Asia: Rebalancing World Oil and Gas

This December 2010 Chatham House report makes interesting reading and confirms what many of us have believed for years:

Extract from the Executive Summary:
"The oil and gas industry is set to undergo a decisive transition over the next 10 years as global balances of demand and investment shift towards Asia and away from Europe and North America. These are sectors where geography matters and such a transition will have major geopolitical implications and a profound effect on industrial strategy. Oil and gas companies and their governments also face unprecedented uncertainties over a growing range of issues, including the development of low-carbon policies, shale gas, questions about Iraqi oil production, and surging demand in China.

Asia will account for 60% of global oil deficits by around 2030. Its oil demand is already beginning to exceed and outstrip the net surpluses available from the Middle East. Europe will no longer be able to rely on Middle East surpluses to meet its oil deficits. It will instead have to look to Russia as its default supplier of oil, while competing with Asian importers for supplies from areas such as West Africa, Northern Iraq, Central Asia and Eastern Siberia which are pivotal between Asian and Atlantic markets.  This is a development that will carry major policy implications: the EU needs a stable political and security relationship with Russia within which energy trade and investment can develop, while also developing policies that combine or pre-empt the policies of individual member states in relations affecting gas and oil supply from Russia and the pivotal supply areas...."

Signs that this has been going on for sometime comes from BP who recently agreed a share swap with Rosneft, the Russian government-owned oil company, that will become the owner of 5 per cent of BP's shares in exchange for approximately 9.5 percent of Rosneft shares.

This would appear to be a smart move on BP's part which does much to bolster the company's credibility following the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.  However there are caveats to this highlighted by Shadow Justice Minister Chris Bryant who said: "The level of corruption in Russia is completely unchecked."  So watch out BP as you enter the lion's den!

European and North American governments will be watching developments very closely as energy supplies and their National Security may be at risk judging from past experience which could raise international tensions. It is essential that the West develop alternative sources of energy that guarantee long term energy security and therefore energy independence.  One major source of energy is of course the sun and hopefully this real and present threat to our national security will spur our governments on to not only find ways to mobilise energy efficiency and conservation on a massive scale but accelerate development of Space Based Solar Power which is the most effective way to harvest the freely available constant flow of unlimited clean energy radiating from the sun.
Why governments and power companies are prepared to squander colossal amounts of tax payer's money on developing either more fission nuclear power plants, with all their inherent complexities, risks, waste storage and decommissioning costs, or fusion nuclear power which remains a remote reality, is a complete mystery to me when we already have a fusion reactor in the form of the sun pouring unlimited amounts of energy over us free of charge all the time.  All we have to do is reach up and capture this energy with technology that has been available for over half a century.

13 January, 2011

300 Years of FOSSIL FUELS in 300 Seconds

This video sums it all up and aptly portrays how humanity has progressed over the past 300 years.