26 September 2007

Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein has a new book out that looks really interesting, Shock Doctrine – the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. “The Shock Doctrine is the story of the secret history of the free market over the past 30 years. Spanning Thatcher’s Britain, ‘shock and awe’ Iraq, Pinochet’s Chilie, Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, ‘End of History’ Russia, and New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, Its’ analysis and narrative are orientating and inspiring and adventurous. It is naming and explaining one of the key ideas behind processes which many in this country and beyond have been witnessing, subjected to and resisting over the years.”

Alfonso Cuaran, who directed Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men has made a short 5 minute film that illustrates some of the themes of the book, and I am posting it here. And the Guardian has published a few chapter of the book already that you can read here and there’s a general website for the book here.

25 September 2007

Protect What's Ours

Supporting 'Our Fair Share:' Stelmach's opportunity to think like an owner
Oilsands companies walking away with some of the highest profits being earned by resource investors anywhere
Amy Taylor and Marlo Raynolds, Freelance
Published: Monday, September 24 Edmonton Journal

The Alberta Royalty Review Panel has issued its report and its conclusion is clear: Albertans are losing $2 billion every year because we charge embarrassingly low royalties for the right to develop our resources.

That's especially true when it comes to the Alberta oilsands, the second largest petroleum reserve on the planet.

Now it's time for Premier Ed Stelmach to take charge and start fixing the problem. As a first step, he should accept and implement the entire "Our Fair Share" package of recommendations put forth by the Royalty Review Panel. These explain how Albertans, as resource owners, can earn their rightful share of the profits from conventional oil and gas and oilsands development.

We're not talking about leading-edge policy or risky measures here. The panel's proposals are certainly comprehensive, but they will only make Alberta an average performer when it comes to royalties. Places like Norway will continue to capture much more revenue for their citizens.

Nevertheless, in Alberta, improving performance from worst-in-class to average is a big deal, worth about $500 dollars per Albertan per year.

It means that for each day the Stelmach government hesitates over the panel's report, Albertans give up $5 million dollars. The longer we wait, the more we lose.

It also means that if Alberta had implemented these reforms in 2000, the province would be $11 billion richer. If we'd started saving and earning interest on those dollars as soon as they came in, we'd be $18 billion dollars richer. Eighteen billion dollars is four times as much as the budget surpluses projected for the next three years. It's also more than the value of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

Albertans deserve every chance to profit from the highly-demanded resources we own, so we can save, invest and plan for the future.

Nowhere is this truer than in the context of the oilsands, where the industry has more than come of age. As conventional reserves dwindle, Albertans are going to rely increasingly on oilsands revenues for long-term investments, but they won't be able to if today's regime stands.

That's because current royalty rates date back to desperate times when Alberta's priority was providing extra incentives for oil companies to invest in an uncertain resource at oil prices less than $20 a barrel.

No one was thinking about how to capture windfall profits if oil prices climbed higher than $30, $50, $70, or as it stands now, $80 dollars a barrel.

A study published by Alberta Energy showed that this leaves oilsands companies walking away with some of the highest profits being earned by resource investors anywhere in the world. At the same time, they enjoy the oilsands' low exploration costs, low risk, predictable long-term production, close proximity to the U.S. market and location in a stable, democratic region.

Thus, as one member of Alberta's Royalty Review Panel (a former executive in the oil industry) put it rather candidly, industry should stop whining. Especially when much of what industry complains about -- increasing costs and labour shortages -- is the direct result of an overheated resource economy.

If anything, low royalties deserve some blame for having fuelled an unsustainable pace of development (kind of like giving Viagra to the already capable).

But beyond that, the whole debate about inflation and costs is a red herring. The decision on royalties is a decision about property rights.

Remember, as owners, Albertans deserve to get a fair share of profits available from resource development.

The Review Panel has clearly demonstrated that this isn't happening, because once developers start making profits, they get to walk away with 75 per cent of the money -- even when revenues soar as a result of windfall resource prices.

The "Our Fair Share" package of recommendations is a good first step in redressing this balance, by increasing Albertans' overall take, maintaining competitive returns for companies, and ensuring that Albertans' share rises when oil prices go up.

By supporting the entire package, Premier Stelmach has a defining leadership opportunity to, as Peter Lougheed says, "think like an owner" on behalf of Albertans and start building the economy of the future.

So far, the premier has been quoted as saying that he "will not be intimidated" by big oil. We should all hope that's true. Because if he chooses the path of leadership and fairness, Alberta will be better off to the tune $2 billion more each year.

Marlo Raynolds is executive director, and Amy Taylor is chief economist at the Pembina Institute. Publications on economic rent and royalty reform are available from www.pembina.org.

That's because current royalty rates date back to desperate times when Alberta's priority was providing extra incentives for oil companies to invest in an uncertain resource at oil prices less than $20 a barrel.

No one was thinking about how to capture windfall profits if oil prices climbed higher than $30, $50, $70, or as it stands now, $80 dollars a barrel.

Why does this not surprise me? Freaking idiots thinking that fuel would stay cheap forever? Man, there is absolutely no long-term planning done anymore. We've known petroleum is a FINITE resource since they discovered it two centuries ago. Even economics would say the price would eventually go up. Why was this a fact not known by the people who set up the royalty programs? Oh right -- they're politicians.

21 September 2007



With a sold out Homecoming tour, a hugely successful perfume launch, a touring exhibition and celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary since the release of her debut hit 'Locomotion', 2007 has been a great year for Kylie fans. And it's just about to get even better...

Kylie releases her fantastic new single "2 Hearts" on November 12th, preceded by the digital release on November 5th.

"2 Hearts" was written and produced by London based electro band Kish Mauve and finds Kylie sounding better than ever. Speaking about the track, Kylie said: "I loved it from the moment I heard it. It was a joy to record!"

The single is the first taster from Kylie's eagerly-awaited new album 'X' which hits stores on November 26th. The 13 track album, Kylie's first new studio album in four years, was recorded in London, Stockholm and Ibiza, and features the first new Kylie material since the greatest hits compilation 'Ultimate Kylie' in 2004.

'X' includes collaborations with the likes of Richard "Biff" Stannard, The Freemasons, Cutfather & Jonas Jeberg, Bloodshy & Avant, Calvin Harris, Greg Kurstin, Eg White, Guy Chambers and Cathy Dennis.

Here's the tracklist!

2 Hearts
Like A Drug
In My Arms
Heart Beat Rock
The One
No More Rain
All I See

20 September 2007

Green Snub

Environment put into deep freeze
Feds cut funding to department overseeing wildlife

By ALAN FINDLAY -- Sun Media
The Ottawa Sun

Environmentalists and opposition party critics are blasting a broad spending freeze quietly imposed on several Environment Canada programs just five months into the fiscal year.

"We're quite shocked," said Sandy Baumgartner, executive director of programs for the Canadian Wildlife Federation. "I'm not sure how you run out of money in September."


According to CBC reports, the federal department severely cut funding to programs monitoring ecosystems and migratory bird populations. It has eliminated the $1.9-million budget for the National Wildlife Areas program protecting significant habitats after running out of money. Several sources and outside agencies have since suggested that a spending freeze could be virtually across the departmental board.

An Environment Canada spokesman acknowledged in an e-mail that department programs are regularly reviewed to ensure "priority services and programs are adequately funded."

"The government has invested $9 billion on environmental priorities since 2006," stated Gregory Jack, director of ministerial services.

But Sierra Club of Canada's national campaigns director Jean Langlois said the government approach simply means abandoning its own species-at-risk law.

"The government is saying the environment is not a priority, period," said Langlois.

Ducks Unlimited met with senior officials at Environment Canada earlier this week to discuss the issue and were assured it was simply a temporary freeze.

"Their intent is to re-profile programs, and the end result is more money on the ground for conservation," said Ducks Unlimited's manager of conservation partnerships Pat Kehoe. "They've given us assurance this is a short-term pain and the government of Canada will be maintaining its lead role in waterfowl and wetlands conservation at the national level."


Liberal party environment critic David McGuinty called the reported cuts astonishing.

He said Environment Minister John Baird has spent too much time and money campaigning against the Kyoto Accord rather than focussing on his department's important programs.

"At a time we should be investing, they're cutting," said McGuinty.

I think it's obvious where the Conservative government's priorities lie, and they're much more in step with the US Bush Administration and Big Business than they are with the mandates of many of the other world's governments as well as the Canadian public.

No more Monopoly money jokes, eh?

Parity and beyond
How high will the loonie go?
Last Updated September 20, 2007
CBC News
Ever since the Canadian dollar bottomed out at 61.79 cents US on Jan. 21, 2002, it has been on a seemingly unstoppable charge higher.

Since then, the loonie's value has risen by 62 per cent, driven by surging commodity prices, a healthy economy and rising interest rates.

Then, on Sept. 20, 2007, the dollar finally hit a level that seemed most unlikely just a year earlier — parity with the U.S. greenback for the first time in almost 31 years.

The question now being asked is how high the Canuck buck will go.

Canadians may not remember that the loonie was actually worth more than the U.S. greenback for much of 1972, 1974 and 1976 (see chart above). On April 25, 1974, the Canadian dollar went as high as $1.0443 US.

Going back even further, the loonie was worth more than $1.06 US in August 1957.

Most analysts are not expecting it to head to those lofty levels again. But some are.

Beyond parity?
Dennis Gartman, who writes an influential market newsletter, thinks $1.05 US is possible.

"Our clients know us as very long-term bulls on the Canadian dollar, having said for many years that the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar are heading eventually toward parity," he wrote on Sept. 11.

"Far beyond parity is entirely possible."

Some of the reasons for the Canadian dollar's strength have been around for years. Commodity prices have been soaring in the last few years. Oil, copper, gold, wheat — you name the resource and Canada seems to produce and export it in abundance.

The loonie is also drawing strength from the comparative strength of the Canadian economy. Canada has healthy budget and trade surpluses; the U.S. runs big deficits in both. The Canadian economy is still generating jobs, while the American economy is shedding workers.

The Canadian housing picture is also much healthier, with little evidence of the subprime meltdown that's shaken the U.S.

The weakness south of the border has the U.S. Federal Reserve slashing interest rates, while the Bank of Canada may soon be raising rates to rein in inflationary pressures.

That divergence has been noticed by currency traders. The futures markets show that speculators are increasingly betting that the Canadian dollar will extend its gains.

The U.S. dollar, on the other hand, has been limping through historic weakness. It's now at an all-time low against the euro.

The implications of parity
On an exchange rate basis, that U.S. vacation is now 60 per cent cheaper than it was back in 2002. We can also expect to see even more Canadian licence plates in the parking lots of U.S. shopping malls near the Canadian border.

Investors who have U.S. stocks will have noticed that the loonie's rise has wiped out the gains they would have otherwise enjoyed. As of Sept. 20, 2007, the Dow Jones industrial average is up 10.6 per cent since the start of the year. But the loonie is up 15 per cent against the U.S. dollar over the same time period. That translates into a bottom line loss for Canadian investors.

It's cheaper to import goods from the U.S. than it has been for a generation. Those who export to the U.S., on the other hand, are hurting even more.

The Canadian Labour Congress cites the high dollar as the main reason for the loss of 250,000 manufacturing jobs since 2002.

But there is no chance that the government would order the Bank of Canada to take measures that would drive down the value of the dollar. The central bank doesn't take orders from the Prime Minister's Office. As Liberal finance critic John McCallum put it: "Once you've got a floating exchange rate, you've got to let it float."

Canada's top banker isn't about to depart from the floating exchange rate that Canada and the United States have had for the past 37 years. In a speech in early May, David Dodge acknowledged "our floating dollar has appreciated sharply and thus, has forced some necessary adjustments."

But he maintained that "a flexible exchange rate regime has definitely helped Canada to maintain production close to full capacity and to minimize the effects of the boom-bust cycles in various sectors."

So look for the loonie to stay high and perhaps go higher still - a floating journey with implications far beyond the currency trading desks.

For one thing, a dollar on par with the greenback makes it easy to compare prices of the same goods in Canada and the U.S. That comparison is even easier with the internet.

Will Canadians tolerate paying $22 for a book that costs $17.50 in the U.S.? How about paying $399 for an iPod that costs $349 in the States? How about shelling out $10,000 more for a luxury European car than the Americans do?

The pressures to reprice may just be beginning.

14 September 2007

To America, Love China

China outsells Canada in US

China has firmly eclipsed Canada as the No. 1 seller of goods to the US, a shift in trade that reflects the Asian consumer goods juggernaut's ever deeper penetration of the US market. It also signals that Canada's much-vaunted special trading relationship with Washington is growing a little less so, a development that experts say should hasten Ottawa's efforts to open up new markets. Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said Ottawa must also redouble effort on its relationship with Washington in order to keep borders open and dodge restrictions to bilateral trade. “You pay the greatest attention to people you do the most business with - and the extent to which we get eased out as a supplier to the United States by the Chinese, it has an impact on our relative standing” in Washington, Beatty said. China's shipments by value to the US have previously surpassed Canada on a monthly basis, but this summer marks the first time it did so over a 12-month period. China sold US$312.2-billion worth of merchandise to the US between Aug. 1, 2006, and July 31, 2007, while Canada shipped $305.6B, trade statistics show. “This really pounds home the point of just what kind of weight China now carries in the global economy,” said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist of BMO Nesbitt Burns. “It's safe to say we have had a shift in positions now … I think China's position as the number one provider to the US economy is basically locked in now.” He said he doesn't believe controversy over tainted Chinese product will undercut China's new lead.

Canada and the US are still each other's biggest trading partner - and are expected to remain so for many years - because this country imports about four times as much in goods from the US as China does. The US shipped $237.5B to Canada over the same 12-month period from August 2006, to July 2007, while it only sold $59.7B to China. Trade lawyer Riyaz Dattu said Canada's second-place finish to China in merchandise goods shipments to the US doesn't tell the whole story because this country's lucrative service sectors - from financial services to engineering to telecom - is where Canadian export strength has been growing. “[This] does show that the Canadian manufacturing sector is not as competitive now - and hasn't been competitive for the last little while - but it means that Canadian businesses need to focus where we can make the biggest dent,” said Dattu with Osler Hoskin & Harcourt. There's a silver lining to this trade shift: Canada has become less dependant on the US market, with sales to the US dropping over the past seven years. As a share of Canadian exports, sales to the US have declined to 75% from an all-time high of around 85% back in 2000. “That's actually helped Canada's economy stay on the rails … in the last year even as the US economy has slowed markedly,” Porter said.
(Globe and Mail 070914)

All the more reason for Canadian industry to start pulling up stakes and more earnestly look for markets elsewhere before the American ship starts sinking and pulling us down with it. We're still far too dependent on the U.S. market for our general prosperity. Time to look at the emerging markets which will be the powerhouses of the future once the exhausted and overextended American market starts to tank. I personally think we're far too late to not be sucked down as well (we really should've been doing this 10-15 years ago), but later is better than never.

13 September 2007

Because the truth hurts

Recession? What recession? says Wall St.

The US may be a long way from recession but economists and policymakers probably wouldn't know the country was in one until it was well underway, argues a leading economist who himself puts the risk of such a downturn at 70%. David Rosenberg, chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch, who has long been forecasting the US housing market would crumble and pressure consumer spending, says the Wall Street consensus has missed all five recessions dating back to 1973, even on the eve of the downturn. "Since very few macro forecasters, if any, ever publish negative growth rates in their GDP spreadsheets, they end up missing the recession even when it is staring them in the face," Rosenberg said in a research note. The average growth forecast for the advancing year, just as a recession is unfolding, has been 2.6%. The actual growth has shrunk on average 0.6% in the past five recession years: in 1973-75, 1980, 1981-82, 1990-91, and 2001. Rosenberg adds policymakers hardly get it right either, including Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve who said in August 1990, just after the recession began in July, that "there was no evidence of deterioration in what was a very sluggish pattern." In Jan. 2001, Greenspan forecast growth of 1.7% for the first quarter. Data later showed it to have contracted 0.5% as a recession began in March.

A recession is traditionally defined as two successive quarters of contracting activity, though the National Bureau of Economic Research, widely recognized as the final arbiter of the US business cycle, defines it as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months." Thus it declared a recession in 2000-01 even though it was a start-stop affair, with growth contracting in the third quarter of 2000 and the first and third quarters of 2001, interspersed with quarters of growth. Of course, hindsight is not a luxury most economists have. While Wall Street and Bay Street are not normally in the business of flagging bad news - it rarely sells stocks - Peter Dungan, director of the Policy and Economic Analysis Program at the University of Toronto, says the Street's prowess may have been shaped more by the changing business cycle than any inbred optimistic bias. A more gentle cycle may have simply made forecasting more difficult. Indeed the US economy expanded for a record 10 years until the last recession in 2001 while Canada has not had two successive quarters of negative growth since the 1990-91 recession, though some economists figured the soaring loonie might ground it in the recent cycle. Rosenberg, who has no problem being a contrarian, says his recession checklist is flashing for the US economy. But Dungan says a recession is unlikely, mostly because there is nothing constraining the Fed from acting to stop it.
(National Post 070913)

...because the Fed can create money out of thin air now that it is fiat currency, legal tender in itself and not tied to any natural entity or process. Need a trillion dollars? No problem, just print it. Sure, each dollar is worth a whole lot less, but who cares? That doesn't show up as anything in the books so everything's a-ok. WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO LISTEN TO THE ECONOMISTS???? WHY????

12 September 2007

One Night in New York City

Admittedly, I don't think the promoters did a very good job at promoting this event, and when I did finally get talking to Tom, he didn't come across as being very impressed with things on the PR side either -- not that I got into much detail about whether he blamed the promoters for the small turnout or was just pissed with the Calgary crowd in general for not showing up (maybe that's just my paranoia). Whatever - his set was great and I loved all the new tunes in the playlist. The beer was cheap, the regular Legion staff were very accommodating, and I got to hang out with my 'I wish boyfriend' once again in his environment behind the decks. I really wonder why they didn't promote this event more in the Calgary gay community? I mean, in any other city, Tom Stephan has a huge gay following and many of the events he plays are circuit parties in superclubs. Most DJs like playing intimate venues too, but this was beyond intimate. It was a Royal Canadian Legion, fer chrissakes! I thought the choice of venue was interesting and different in an original kind of way, and that's why I made even more of a point to go. They actually did a really good job of setting up props, tapestry and lighting, at least in the main room. The Breaks room upstairs was pretty bare of decorating to make it into 'a NYC-style nightclub'. I really hope Tom wasn't so pissed off he'd never come back to Cowtown, but if he never did, I wouldn't really blame him.

No worries though. I'd go anywhere to see my most favorite DJ.

Try Not to Panic

I love this quip of wisdom, typed on Clusterfuck Nation this week:

Hey folks, try not to panic!

The rest of the world doesn't live in the same mental institution fantasy world as the U.S., even if many aspire to. Try getting out more and connect with something more useful and satisfying than what you have been fearful of losing.
Its doomed, so let it die. While one world decays and disappears, another is born and grows.

To have something of value, you not only have to detach from everything worthless but also be willing to redirect your energy into something worthwhile (in your own terms) each day so that at the end of each day you feel that you didn't waste another day of your own limited existence.

Intelligence is a gift that handicapped by fear has great potential to bring suffering- so please don't panic! It may sound very bright to talk alot about how we are all doomed and everything is shit, but that just makes you stupid.

Posted by: Steven1034 | September 10, 2007 at 02:50 PM

So true. I am so over being angry and frustrated; I need to divert my energy into something productive, possibly positive? I went to my first Green Party meeting on Monday night and met a great group of people that piqued my interest in getting involved in the political process. Whether through volunteering time to re-vamp the Alberta Greens website, or working on policy development, I have a lot of ideas I'd like to channel into something more positive. Green Party is based on grassroots, localized policy development, and I truly do believe this is the only paradigm that is going to be able to nurture the ideological revolution the rich, first-world nations so desperately need to go through in order for the planet to remain habitable. I plan to attend the next meeting in two weeks! Unfortunately I already find myself spread pretty thin with my volunteer obligations, so I think it's time to re-prioritize things again.

05 September 2007

04 September 2007


Have you guys seen this? Yeah, I know only a billion or so people have already, but I needed to post it here again. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen on an award show.

Miss Teen South Carolina answers a simple question, duh!

Then, Jimmy Kimmel did an in-depth analysis of her diatribe...

Oh, our world is not shallow!!! LOL

Plan B? What Plan B?

After oil supplies dry up, what's Plan B?
Extreme scarcity could be disastrous for U.S. economy
Erica Etelson

Sunday, August 26, 2007

When Hurricane Katrina struck two years ago, Americans learned just how ill-equipped the government is to respond effectively to natural disasters. But if you think the government's response to Katrina was inept, brace yourself for peak oil.

Global oil production will hit its peak in the next few years, at which point oil prices will skyrocket and voracious consumers like the United States, China and Europe will quickly drain every last barrel they can afford to buy. Our per-capita oil consumption is double that of most European nations and more than triple Mexico's, and shows no sign of slowing. As supplies dwindle, an economic disaster on a par with Katrina will start to unfold.

Global oil demand is at 84 million barrels a day and rising, and there are at most a trillion barrels' worth still in the ground, most of which is very difficult and expensive to recover. Do the math, and you'll see that the end of oil is, at most, 30 years away.

But long before oil actually runs out, economists and energy analysts warn that extreme scarcity will cause prices to soar so high that it will no longer be feasible to use petroleum on a wide scale. It is the imminence of this supply-demand shortfall that has people like National Petroleum Council member Matthew Simmons and Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., worried - very worried - about our economy's ability to withstand the end of oil.

Cheap and plentiful oil is the foundation of our economy. Everything from food production and distribution to the manufacture of clothing, footwear, medications and plastic goods relies heavily on petroleum. You name it, and we need oil to produce it, ship it and, in many cases, run it.

In February, the U.S. Government Accountability Office dropped a quiet little bombshell: a report on peak oil concluding that there is an urgent need for a swift, coordinated government strategy to assess and develop alternative energy technologies to avert "severe economic damage."

The agency concluded: "(T)he United States, as the largest consumer of oil and one of the nations most heavily dependent on oil for transportation, may be especially vulnerable among the industrialized nations of the world." Stark though its conclusion is, the GAO may in fact be understating the gravity of the situation.

The report followed on the heels of a 2005 peak oil risk management report commissioned by the Department of Energy, which warned of the "extremely damaging" and "chaotic" impacts that will ensue if "intensive," "aggressive" and "expensive" mitigation measures are not put in place at least 10 years ahead of time. Both reports landed with a dull thud and have been dutifully ignored. In other words, there is no Plan B.

Depending on whom you ask, the impacts of peak oil range from dire to catastrophic: At best, get ready for a crippling recession and widespread inflation. At worst, we face severe global food shortages that threaten wide-scale starvation and an overall breakdown of social and economic institutions. And if history is any guide, we can expect a series of military invasions into every remaining oil hot spot in the world - invasions that may, by the way, require even more fossil fuels than we could possibly expropriate by force.

Because oil companies and OPEC nations are notorious for overstating their reserves to manipulate the market, it is impossible to predict when exactly the world will start feeling the crunch. As award-winning New York Times reporter Peter Maas wrote in 2005, "Because we do not know when a supply-demand shortfall might arrive, we do not know when to begin preparing for it, so as to soften its impact; the economic blow may come as a sledgehammer from the darkness."

But here's a little hint: Crude oil futures hit an all-time high of $78.21 per barrel on July 31. Prices cannot go much higher without us beginning to feel the foreshocks of a peak oil catastrophe. Oh, and by the way, natural gas (which provides 42 percent of California's power) is running out, too. One day, even coal will be gone. How much longer are we going to wait before we figure out how to survive without fossil fuels?

The United States has reacted to the threat of peak oil and gas with all the alacrity of its response to climate change. It is ignoring the looming crisis for as long as it can, just waiting for that sledgehammer to land its first blow. Eventually, when a recession hits, tax revenue will plummet, and the government will have nowhere near the money it needs to build an alternative energy and transportation infrastructure. Every year that goes by without an intensive mobilization to build an oil-independent economy diminishes our odds of surviving the end of oil.

States, too, seem to have their heads in the sand. California, considered a leader in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, just cut funding for mass transit by $1.3 billion for the fiscal year. Like most states, it ignores the urgent need to build a transportation network that does not rely on fossil fuels.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: When oil becomes scarce, how will I get food? That's a very good question. Here are a few more: Will my garbage get picked up? How will my water district purify and deliver water and treat sewage without petrochemicals? What if I need an ambulance? What if my home is one of the 7.7 million that rely on oil for heating? Which of my medications are made out of petrochemicals? How will I get to work? Will I even have a job anymore?

But don't just ask yourself. Ask your elected officials, your public utility district and your grocer. Ask the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and American Airlines. Ask GM. If you have one, ask your financial adviser or stockbroker which companies will still be in business after peak oil hits. Odds are, he or she will give you a blank stare.

While the United States blindly carries on with business as usual, countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Ireland are taking steps to assess and mitigate peak oil impacts. Oil-rich Iran has begun rationing and has already cut oil consumption by 25 percent. But here at home, demand for oil is ever on the rise, and there is no talk of conserving reserves for essential goods and services or to develop an alternative energy infrastructure.

Instead, we are on course to squander every last drop on long solo commutes, leisure travel, mountains of plastic junk and the senseless transglobal shipment of unsustainably grown food.

That's where local government comes in. Small but growing numbers of municipalities are initiating a process that federal and state leaders should have begun 30 years ago, when domestic oil reserves peaked. They are, in short, figuring out Plan B.

In May, Oakland appointed an Oil Independent Oakland by 2020 Task Force. In June 2006, Portland, Ore., formed its own Peak Oil Task Force, which got busy fast: By March of this year, it had released its first major report, urging the city to "act big, act now," even without further study or analysis. The report prompted the city to pass a resolution to accelerate oil and gas conservation measures to halve Portland's fossil fuel consumption.

Last year, San Francisco passed a resolution to assess the city's vulnerability to oil depletion and to develop a transition plan. Other cities, from Austin, Texas, to Bloomington, Ind., are confronting the stark reality and trying their best to figure out how to soften the blow.

Cities are looking at options such as local food cultivation, urban redesign to minimize transportation needs, locally controlled electricity, rainwater catchment systems (to ensure local access to water for food cultivation), energy-efficient mass transit, and the preparation of emergency plans for sudden and severe food, water and energy shortages. They are embracing bio-regional sustainability - a concept once dismissed as an ecotopian fantasy that is suddenly starting to look like our last best hope.

But cities cannot solve the peak oil problem on their own. They don't have the revenue needed to build light-rail networks and wind farms or to store massive grain reserves. During a recession, they will be in no position to guarantee income supports for millions of laid-off workers. But the more they do now, while they still have a revenue stream, the better off their residents will be.

If the peak oil doomsday scenarios are to be averted, it will require coordinated action at every level of government, by every sector of the economy and by every community and citizen in the nation. We are heading into a political era in which the need to come together to invent and support life-sustaining social and economic systems will trump all else.

Some tout alternative energy technologies as the silver bullet that will save us from a peak oil crisis. But there is a broad consensus among energy analysts that it will be decades before such alternatives are available for wide-scale implementation. Moreover, some of the alternatives with the strongest political backing, including ethanol and liquefied coal, may cause even more severe global warming than petroleum has.

The United States needs to slam the brakes on fossil fuel consumption. As if arresting climate change weren't enough of a reason for immediate and strong conservation measures, the end of oil may just force upon Americans a reality we have ignored for far too long: We cannot go on like this, pedal to the metal, asleep at the wheel.

Erica Etelson is a Berkeley journalist, former environmental attorney and oil independence activist. Contact her at oilindependence@yahoo.com.

01 September 2007


This is a great flick. Yeah, you can talk about conspiracies and such all you want, but the evidence contrary to the 'reality' you think you understand is very convincing.