30 October 2008



By Laura MacInnis
28 October 2008
Reuters News
(c) 2008 Reuters Limited

GENEVA, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The Earth's natural resources are being depleted so quickly that "two planets" would be required to sustain current lifestyles within a generation, the conservation group WWF said on Wednesday.

The Swiss-based WWF, also known as the World Wildlife Fund, said in its latest Living Planet Report that more than three quarters of the world's population lives in countries whose consumption levels are outstripping environmental renewal.

Its Living Planet Report concluded that reckless consumption of "natural capital" was endangering the world's future prosperity, with clear economic impacts including high costs for food, water and energy.

"If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles," said WWF International Director-General James Leape.

Jonathan Loh of the Zoological Society of London said the dramatic ecological losses from pollution, deforestation, over-fishing and land conversion were having serious impacts.

"We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically -- seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences," Loh said in a statement accompanying the report.

"The consequences of a global ecological crisis are even graver than the current economic meltdown," he said.

The report said the world's global environmental "footprint" or depletion rate now exceeds the planet's capacity to regenerate by 30 percent. On a per-country basis, the United States and China have the largest footprints, the WWF said.

The United States and Australia rank among the five countries with the largest footprints per person, along with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Denmark.

The lowest five are Bangladesh, Congo, Haiti, Afghanistan and Malawi, WWF said. Regionally, only non-EU Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean remain within their "biocapacity".

Emissions from fossil fuels -- which would be targeted under a successor to the Kyoto climate change accord -- were among the top culprits cited by WWF for the big demands on the planet.

The WWF's Leape said world leaders needed to put ecological concerns at the top of their agenda and ensure the environment is factored into all decisions about consumption, development, trade, agriculture and fisheries management.

"If humanity has the will, it has the ways to live within the means of the planet, but we must recognise that the ecological credit crunch will require even bolder action than that now being mustered for the financial crisis," Leape said. (Editing by Jon Boyle)

Going to Poland

Bright Neighbor

What's a common mantra of peak oil preparers, climate change activists, and environmentalists? Go local, go local, go local. But until now, there have been few tools to help us do so. We don't know our neighbors. The food and consumer goods in our stores come from thousands of miles away. And the places we live are hard to get around by walking or biking.

So as we try to re-localize, how do we find what we need? How do we collaborate when we don't know who's who? How do we garden when we don't know how? How do we buy local when all we see on the streets are big-box stores? It's kind of a difficult slog sometimes, isn't it?

Help is here! Bright Neighbor is an online tool designed for cities or towns to help their residents weather the peak oil and financial storms currently brewing. It helps citizens connect, share and barter items, rides, and knowledge. By facilitating community involvement and local networking, this tool can help increase the liveability and sustainability of our cities.

Bright Neighbor is the brainchild of Randy White, a key member of the Portland Peak Oil Task Force. As usual, Portland is in the vanguard of sustainability and environmentalism. Part of the Portland peak oil plan is the Portland Bright Neighbor site, where residents can:

-Find local businesses and resources
-Meet local people with the same interests
-Swap and share items, goods, and services
-Search for and offer rides and car-shares
-Find community events and news

Bright Neighbor has great interactive maps where you can find all things locally. For example, food. Search on food, and you can see a map of the local farmer's markets, urban gardens, even find the publicly available fruit and nut trees. It also has great lists of people. Click on edible landscaping, and you can find people in your area with the same interest. (Community members use an online alias, with their information hidden, until they chose to "trust" another person and show them their information. )

To put it another way, Bright Neighbor is to going local as Amazon.com is to buying books.

The base cost of the Bright Neighbor online tool starts at $5000 (depends on the size of the town or neighborhood and other technical factors - so the price could be higher for your city), which is a drop in the bucket in most city budgets. Think like this: What is the cost of each person preparing for peak oil individually, versus the cost of everyone working together? Working as a community, we can achieve so much more. And this tool, I believe, could be a major key to working together.

If you are interested in getting your community ready for peak oil and living sustainably, this tool should really be a part of your community preparation strategy. So talk to your town and neighborhood leaders and city planners. Tell them about Bright Neighbor. Check it out. It's been designed so that cities and towns can have a city site up and running in a short amount of time, and the tool grows organically as people join and share their knowledge. But remember, like any community tool, it's only as good as the community members who join it.

Say it with me, people! There is help to GO LOCAL. And it's name is Bright Neighbor!

(Thanks, Peak Oil Hausfrau!)

Things just get more surreal everyday....

Oil majors may gain trading business as a result of credit crisis

Oil majors like Shell and Total may emerge unexpected winners from the global credit crisis, as their trading teams fill the void left by battered investment banks, the head of independent trader Arcadia said recently. And while Arcadia's derivatives trading volumes have halved in recent months as credit counterparty anxieties cripple over-the-counter trade across the industry, CEO Peter Bosworth told Reuters he expects oil trading houses to weather the storm as rising margins offset falling volumes. "The big gainers will be the Shells, BPs, Totals... oil companies with sophisticated trading departments," Bosworth, who's been an oil trader for 20 years, said in an interview. "They will be the new investment bankers of the industry," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Asian oil trading industry's biggest conference of the year.

Long skilled at managing their own risks, majors such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell have boosted efforts in recent years to sell their expertise to airlines or utilities who aim to hedge their exposure to volatile prices, and grab a bigger piece of the billion-dollar energy risk management business. Airlines could deal with majors directly for jet fuel hedging for instance, Bosworth said, as banks tighten their business and some corporates grew more wary of dealing with banks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and last-ditch rescue of others. The transformation of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs into commercial banks may also leave the industry's dominant derivatives traders with less appetite for risk. That could open the door for oil majors to provide services that banks normally offer, such as bundling project finance or loan deals together with hedging, while maintaining some of their own conservative business model at a time of crisis.
(Daily Oil Bulletin 081028)

Great...do the oil majors really need to have control of the financial industry now? What next? Control of the government too? Sheesh....

Companies seek pension funding relief

Canadian companies are lobbying the federal government for relief from their pension funding obligations as market turmoil drives down the value of their pension-fund assets. Pension industry consultants and corporate executives have confirmed that a behind-the-scenes effort is under way to persuade the federal Finance Department to offer a temporary reprieve for a diverse array of companies and not-for-profit organizations. Among the voices lobbying the government is Nav Canada, which operates Canada's air-navigation system. Some companies say they are facing possible financial devastation if they are required to immediately make enormous contributions to their pension plans to fund shortfalls. "There are companies that would absolutely fold if they had to make contributions based on the provisions of the legislation as they stand now," said pension consultant Jeff Kissack of Watson Wyatt in Toronto.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which oversees about 1,400 federally regulated pension plans, confirmed this week it has met with companies concerned about the impact of the current market turmoil on their defined benefit pension plans. Judy Cameron, managing director of OSFI's private pension plans division, said OSFI is "monitoring the industry very closely" and is talking to some plans about their funding issues. But she said it is not within OSFI's powers to change funding regulations for plans whose investment holdings have dropped in value. Such decisions would come from the federal Finance Department, which has not yet offered any commitments of support. However, a Finance official said yesterday the department has had a history of providing help to pension funds in difficult circumstances, offering temporary relief in 2006, for example, to help plans cope with funding shortfalls built up earlier in the decade. That relief has since expired. One solution proposed by companies would be a temporary extension of the time limit for funding pension shortfalls, increasing it to 10 or 15 years. Companies currently have five years to make up shortfalls. Another proposal being weighed by Ottawa would give companies a reprieve from doing a pension solvency valuation at year-end, which would help them avoid recording and "locking in" their lower asset valuations for required funding purposes. Pension funds normally have to do a valuation of their obligations and assets every three years, then plan sponsors have five years to fund shortfalls. However, once federally regulated funds are in a shortfall position, OSFI requires valuations to be done annually.
(Globe and Mail 081029)

Pension funds are strange. Despite the inherent faulty economic logic about taking future returns and promises on repayment on the value of investments today (good ol' interest and debt -- what today's entire economic system is based on and why we're in the shit storm we're in now...who thought it was a great idea to predict the future and apply that estimated future value to the current valuation of a product today? Say goodbye to your futures, generations to come).

I can understand the desire to give your dedicated employees a cushion once they leave the company and that this is something that has been encouraged by governments to alleviate the demands on their own pension funding, however somewhere the pension funds became just like corporations; maximizing returns for shareholders no matter the cost to society, the environment or the risk involved. Now these pension fund managers are screwed because they loved the idea of financial instruments that would create value intrinsically...but....they ended up being a bunch of crap, and now everyone's in trouble, and coming to the government hat in hand for help. I'm amazed how quickly this has all come about. Man, people are stupid when times are good. It never ceases to change, economic cycle after economic cycle....

Aren't pensions a baby boomer invention anyways? What happened to good old personal responsibility? That was lost a long time ago, I'm afraid.

Banks urged to stop hoarding bailout funds

The White House and Treasury pressed the banking industry Tuesday to use the US government's capital injections to boost lending instead of simply hoarding the cash. "Banks exist to lend money -- that's how they make money," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said as the Treasury prepared to deliver the first round of infusions of a $US250-billion recapitalization plan. "So we think that one of the things that we have to do is help recapitalize them so that they have a capital base, so that they are willing to lend money." Perino said the government cannot force the banks to lend money but pointed out that "the banks are regulated by the Treasury Department ... they have every incentive to move forward and start using this money." The comments came as the Treasury announced a series of steps to begin delivering capital to banks this week and concerns expressed by some analysts that the banks were either hoarding cash or using the funds to buy other institutions.
(Vancouver Sun 081029)

Within a few months, everything has gone from being rosy to being drowned in shit. And now everyone is depending on the public purse to keep everything afloat by printing unlimited amounts of money, prompting inflation and currency devaluation. Everyone has to pay for a few people's greed and stupidity. Ridiculous.

Emergency lender may need a rescue

With Pakistan now joining Iceland, Hungary and Ukraine in the line forming outside the International Monetary Fund's New York headquarters, fears are rising as to just how prepared the IMF is should more countries fall into financial catastrophe. Though the fund is set up to float loans to central banks in times of financial crisis, some say the mounting pressures could soon leave the global lender of last resort unable to help those countries in need. Yesterday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a substantial increase in the IMF's reserves, appealing for help from countries still holding high foreign reserves, including China and oil-rich Middle Eastern states. "Capital flight has made a number of countries potential victims of this crisis," Brown said. "It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot delay and that we need substantial international resources in addition to the US$250 billion that the IMF already has. We need this for the crisis we face now in the 21st century." The funds currently available to the IMF have been mostly amassed and given to the fund by members of the G-8 and, in total, amount to roughly a third of what the US alone required to bail out the American banking industry earlier this month. Peter Christoffersen, professor of economics at McGill University who worked with the IMF during the Asian financial crisis, seconded Brown's assertion. "(The IMF) could certainly reach a point where they have no lending capacity and then the governments that are not in trouble would then have to step in" to keep the fund buoyant. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly hard to find a country that's currently navigating the global financial storm with impunity.
(Toronto Star 081029)

Where does it all end? Once everyone is bankrupt and everything ceases to operate the way it once did? Wow, we could be on the verge of a sea change of attitude and design of all our cornerstone institutions after this sea of sludge washes over us and the survivors manage to surface for air. And this is just the present, folks. I think we've royally fucked several generations yet to come because of the past 20-30 years of unbridled 'free markets'.

20 October 2008

The best is right at home...

In the eternal search for the best Engrish phrases around, here is the one that was stuck on one of our apartment building elevators during the weekend. Despite the inconvenience of only one elevator for the entire building over the weekend, the sign was worth the laugh.

18 October 2008


Obviously nothing much has been going on that I want to write about today. Where has all the time gone? I can't believe it's the middle of October already.

I've been hitting the gym pretty hard for the past few months with my workout partner and started increasing my running mileage again, finally. I was quite sick at the end of September into early October which derailed training plans a bit. I was at a family wedding at the beginning of October in Saskatoon as well as finally getting to visit my new niece over the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend.

Work is painful to endure these days. I have been less than motivated to do anything and I'm currently working on a new resume format to finally start distributing. With the economic situation these days, I'm wondering if it's not prudent to just stay put until things settle down a bit and figure things out from there.

As well, relationship problems are rearing their ugly faces again, and I'm still not sure how that's going to turn out in the near and far future.

It's busy Halloween season coming up, plus all of the bike organization AGMs and Synergy casino coming up in November. I'm also heading to Chicago for the Remembrance Day long weekend and then at the end of November will be family Xmas in Red Deer.

Suddenly, December's here...2008 can't pass into history soon enough, although the time certainly is flying whether I want it to or not.