Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Screw the Environment: BP and the Audacity of Corporate Greed

David Lindorff writes:

Even as BP's blown well a mile beneath the surface in the Gulf of Mexico continues to gush forth an estimated 70,000 barrels of oil a day into the sea, and the fragile wetlands along the Gulf begin to get coated with crude, which is also headed into the Gulf Stream for a trip past the Everglades and on up the East Coast, the company is demanding that Canada lift its tight rules for drilling in the icy Beaufort Sea portion of the Arctic Ocean.

In an incredible display of corporate arrogance, BP is claiming that a current safety requirement that undersea wells drilled during the newly ice-free summer must also include a side relief well, so as to have a preventive measure in place that could shut down a blown well, is "too expensive" and should be eliminated.

Yet clearly, if the US had had such a provision in place, the Deepwater Horizon blowout could have been shut down right almost immediately after it blew out, just by turning of a valve or two, and then sealing off the blown wellhead.

A relief well is "too expensive"?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oil Spill in the Gulf On Its Way To Miami

Jeff Masters reports that the Gulf oil spill has entered the Gulf Stream.

Satellite imagery today from NASA's MODIS instrument confirms that a substantial tongue of oil has moved southeast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and entered the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current. The Loop Current is an ocean current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. The current flows northward into the Gulf of Mexico, then loops southeastward just south of the Florida Keys (where it is called the Florida Current), and then along the west side of the western Bahamas. Here, the waters of the Loop Current flow northward along the U.S. coast and become the Gulf Stream. Once oil gets into the Loop Current, the 1 - 2 mph speed of the current should allow the oil to travel the 500 miles to the Florida Keys in 10 - 20 days. Portions of the Loop Current flow at speed up to 4 mph, so the transport could be just 4 - 5 days. It now appears likely that the first Florida beaches to see oil from the spill will be in the Lower Florida Keys, not in the Panhandle.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MIT Confirms Validity of Thermopower

We now have academic confirmation of Thermopower. The Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Advanced Institute of Nanotechnology, Department of Energy Science and School of Mechanical Engineering, Sungkyunkwan University, Gyeonggi, Korea have published an article in Nature on May 7th entitled, Chemically driven carbon-nanotube-guided thermopower waves which verifies that Thermopower is a new and powerful way to transform heat to electricity.

Thermopower is the first new method of converting heat to electricity discovered in the last two centuries. Once it is developed into a commercial product, it will obsolete all need to burn any form of fossil fuels (even biofuels). Development has been delayed due to the lack of investment capital, a result of the current Depression. But, when it comes, Thermopower promises to destroy most fossil-fuel based energy companies and revolutionize our society.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Decline and Fall of Civilizations

John Michael Greer in The Twilight of Money explains why civilizations fail:

The further you get from the concrete realities, the larger the chance becomes that the concrete realities may not actually be there when needed. History is littered with the corpses of regimes that let their power become so abstract that they could no longer counter a challenge on the fundamental level of raw violence; it's been said of Chinese history, and could be said of any other civilization, that its basic rhythm is the tramp of hobnailed boots going up stairs, followed by the whisper of silk slippers going back down. In the same way, economic abstractions keep functioning only so long as actual goods and services exist to be bought and sold, and it's only in the pipe dreams of economists that the abstractions guarantee the presence of the goods and services. Vico argued that this trap is a central driving force behind the decline and fall of civilizations; the movement toward abstraction goes so far that the concrete realities are neglected. In the end the realities trickle away unnoticed, until a shock of some kind strikes the tower of abstractions built atop the void the realities once filled, and the whole structure tumbles to the ground.

We are uncomfortably close to such a possibility just now, especially in our economic affairs. Over the last century, with the assistance of the economic hypercomplexity made possible by fossil fuels, the world's industrial nations have taken the process of economic abstraction further than any previous civilization. On top of the usual levels of abstraction -- a commodity used to measure value (gold), receipts that could be exchanged for that commodity (paper money), and promises to pay the receipts (checks and other financial paper) -- contemporary societies have built an extraordinary pyramid of additional abstractions. Unlike the pyramids of Egypt, furthermore, this one has its narrow end on the ground, in the realm of actual goods and services, and widens as it goes up.

The consequence of all this pyramid building is that there are not enough goods and services on Earth to equal, at current prices, more than a small percentage of the face value of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other fiscal exotica now in circulation. The vast majority of economic activity in today's world consists purely of exchanges among these representations of representations of representations of wealth. This is why the real economy of goods and services can go into a freefall like the one now under way, without having more than a modest impact so far on an increasingly hallucinatory economy of fiscal abstractions.

Yet an impact it will have, if the freefall proceeds far enough. This is Vico's point, and it's a possibility that has been taken far too lightly both by the political classes of today's industrial societies and by their critics on either end of the political spectrum. An economy of hallucinated wealth depends utterly on the willingness of all participants to pretend that the hallucinations have real value. When that willingness slackens, the pretense can evaporate in record time. This is how financial bubbles turn into financial panics: the collective fantasy of value that surrounds tulip bulbs, or stocks, or suburban tract housing, or any other speculative vehicle, dissolves into a mad rush for the exits. That rush has been peaceful to date; but it need not always be.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010