Category Archives: Artificial Scarcity

Climate Change ‘wise men’ push for less meat, more nukes and power cuts

Register | May 9, 2011

By Andrew Orlowski

When we last met the Climate Change Committee – the statutory advisory body of “wise men” that makes global warming policy recommendations for the UK – they were urging politicians to make red meat an expensive luxury. If beef or lamb were as expensive as truffles are today, they suggested, we could save the planet from runaway global warming. This time, they’re back to report on energy, with a particularly rosy set of numbers that doesn’t quite add up.

Some of the recommendations will make Greens feel uncomfortable – particularly those Greens with a financial or emotional attachment to wind power. But the Puritan agenda we saw before remains. To make energy supply and demand meet, the “wise men” note, there will have to be power cuts.

“There is an issue about how the system copes with intermittent renewables (ie, keeping the lights on when the wind does not blow). Our analysis suggests, however, that a high level of intermittent renewable generation is technically feasible, as long as options for providing system flexibility are fully deployed.”

This isn’t some paranoid fantasy from a lone blogger. The elites have already been softening up the population to prepare for cuts for some time.

“We need to balance demand for energy with supply,” says Steve Halliday, CEO of the National Grid. “That gets into smart metering, so if we need to interrupt power supply for a few hours during the day when you’re not at home that’s okay,” he told The Telegraph last year

In a a recent speech, Halliday said: “We are headed for a greater diversity in electricity generation coming from a much greater geographic spread. We have to plan for flexibility in the system to manage more intermittent energy flows because a large share of our energy will rely on when and where the wind blows.”

But what the Climate Change Committee delivers is that rarest of things: a cost-benefit analysis of low-carbon energy production. And as in any cost-benefit analysis, the expensive, inefficient technologies such as wind power come out very poorly.

“Nuclear appears likely to be the lowest-cost low-carbon technology with significant potential for increased deployment; it is likely to be cost-competitive with gas CCGT at a £30/tCO2 carbon price in 2020. As such, it should play a major role in decarbonisation, provided that safety concerns are addressed,” they recommend.

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UN to look at giving Earth the same rights as humans

thestar.com | Apr 19 2011

by Debra Black

Bolivia is about to pass the world’s first law that grants nature equal rights to humans and protects it from a long list of evils.

And the Latin American country isn’t stopping there. It is urging the United Nations to adopt a similar convention.

Bolivia’s soon-to-pass law offers up 11 new rights for nature including—the right to life and to exist, the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air, the right not to be polluted, the right to balance and the right not to have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

The law has its roots in the country’s aboriginal spiritual view which puts Pachamama, the environment and earth god, at the centre of all life, according to media reports.

“It makes world history,” Vice-President Álvaro García Linera said, according media reports. “Earth is the mother of all. It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

On Wednesday, Bolivia will be pushing the UN to look at adopting a similar convention that would extend the existing Declaration of Human Rights to the Earth, according to Jean Langlois, strategic relations adviser at Nature Canada.

The move is one of the most advanced Langlois has seen in terms of granting rights to nature itself. The legal concept is an interesting one, he conceded. But it is not without its problems, he added.

About 130 countries already recognize the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, Langlois said. But unlike Bolivia’s legislation, these 130 countries have opted to enshrine the rights of people to clean air, water and land.

Currently, Canada does not have any legislation that either grants rights to nature or the right for people to have a clean environment.

Langlois would like to see the Canadian government establish a bill that gives Canadians the rights to a healthy environment rather than granting the Earth and nature its own set of rights.

In the last Parliament a private members bill called for a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights. But it died when the election writ was dropped.

BMW says no flying cars, for now


The future of transportation won’t look anything like how we used to envision it, according to BMW’s newest documentary segment. (Credit: BMW)

cnet.com | Feb 9, 2011

by Liane Yvkoff

BMW released the second chapter of its four-part documentary series, “Wherever You Want to Go,” which focuses on the future of mobility, cities, and technology. “The future just isn’t what it used to be” is a 6-minute, 42-second clip showing interviews with transportation and technology leaders such as Buzz Aldrin, Google’s Marissa Mayer, and former Zipcar CEO Robin Chase to discuss the future of the automobile.

The experts all say the same thing: start thinking small.

A sketch of the Megacity Vehicle (Credit: BMW)

Despite the advances of aeronautics in recent years that may make suborbital travel possible, the automobile hasn’t quite made that same technological leap. Cars don’t work that differently from the way they did when they were first invented. And with the need to focus on sustainable transportation technology, you can shelve dreams of flying cars and jet packs for the masses (at least for the near future). Instead, start cozying up to the idea of small, efficient vehicles that drive themselves and are better suited for use in dense metropolitan areas.

It’s almost like BMW is telling its viewers, “Prepare to be disappointed.” Or at the very least, “Manage your expectations.”

The weekly documentary series is leading up to BMW’s announcement of the official name for its Megacity Vehicle (MCV) on February 21. The vehicle is intended for cities with dense urban populations of more than 5 million people. Only sketches of the vehicle are circulating the Internet, but it’s assumed the car is going to be small, front-wheel-drive, and fuel-efficient–the exact opposite of what BMW is known for now. The commuter vehicle is such a departure from BMW’s typical mantra of cars for people who love to drive that it will be marketed under a new sub-brand, which is also yet to be named.

South Carolina scientist works to grow meat in lab

Reuters | Jan 30, 2011

By Harriet McLeod Harriet Mcleod

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) – In a small laboratory on an upper floor of the basic science building at the Medical University of South Carolina, Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., has been working for a decade to grow meat.

A developmental biologist and tissue engineer, Dr. Mironov, 56, is one of only a few scientists worldwide involved in bioengineering “cultured” meat.

It’s a product he believes could help solve future global food crises resulting from shrinking amounts of land available for growing meat the old-fashioned way … on the hoof.

Growth of “in-vitro” or cultured meat is also under way in the Netherlands, Mironov told Reuters in an interview, but in the United States, it is science in search of funding and demand.

The new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, won’t fund it, the National Institutes of Health won’t fund it, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration funded it only briefly, Mironov said.

“It’s classic disruptive technology,” Mironov said. “Bringing any new technology on the market, average, costs $1 billion. We don’t even have $1 million.”

Director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center in the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology at the medical university, Mironov now primarily conducts research on tissue engineering, or growing, of human organs.

“There’s a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab. They don’t like to associate technology with food,” said Nicholas Genovese, 32, a visiting scholar in cancer cell biology working under a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals three-year grant to run Dr. Mironov’s meat-growing lab.

“But there are a lot of products that we eat today that are considered natural that are produced in a similar manner,” Genovese said.

“There’s yogurt, which is cultured yeast. You have wine production and beer production. These were not produced in laboratories. Society has accepted these products.”

If wine is produced in winery, beer in a brewery and bread in a bakery, where are you going to grow cultured meat?

In a “carnery,” if Mironov has his way. That is the name he has given future production facilities.

He envisions football field-sized buildings filled with large bioreactors, or bioreactors the size of a coffee machine in grocery stores, to manufacture what he calls “charlem” — “Charleston engineered meat.”

“It will be functional, natural, designed food,” Mironov said. “How do you want it to taste? You want a little bit of fat, you want pork, you want lamb? We design exactly what you want. We can design texture.

“I believe we can do it without genes. But there is no evidence that if you add genes the quality of food will somehow suffer. Genetically modified food is already normal practice and nobody dies.”

Dr. Mironov has taken myoblasts — embryonic cells that develop into muscle tissue — from turkey and bathed them in a nutrient bath of bovine serum on a scaffold made of chitosan (a common polymer found in nature) to grow animal skeletal muscle tissue. But how do you get that juicy, meaty quality?

Genovese said scientists want to add fat. And adding a vascular system so that interior cells can receive oxygen will enable the growth of steak, say, instead of just thin strips of muscle tissue.

Cultured meat could eventually become cheaper than what Genovese called the heavily subsidized production of farm meat, he said, and if the public accepts cultured meat, the future holds benefits.

“Thirty percent of the earth’s land surface area is associated with producing animal protein on farms,” Genovese said.

“Animals require between 3 and 8 pounds of nutrient to make 1 pound of meat. It’s fairly inefficient. Animals consume food and produce waste. Cultured meat doesn’t have a digestive system.

“Further out, if we have interplanetary exploration, people will need to produce food in space and you can’t take a cow with you.

“We have to look to these ideas in order to progress. Otherwise, we stay static. I mean, 15 years ago who could have imagined the iPhone?”

Cancun climate change summit: scientists call for rationing in developed world


‘The Second World War and the concept of rationing is something we need to seriously consider if we are to address the scale of the problem we face’ Photo: GETTY

Global warming is now such a serious threat to mankind that climate change experts are calling for Second World War-style rationing in rich countries to bring down carbon emissions.

Telegraph | Nov 29, 2010

By Louise Gray

In a series of papers published by the Royal Society, physicists and chemists from some of world’s most respected scientific institutions, including Oxford University and the Met Office, agreed that current plans to tackle global warming are not enough.

Unless emissions are reduced dramatically in the next ten years the world is set to see temperatures rise by more than 4C (7.2F) by as early as the 2060s, causing floods, droughts and mass migration.

As the world meets in Cancun, Mexico for the latest round of United Nations talks on climate change, the influential academics called for much tougher measures to cut carbon emissions.

In one paper Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while allowing the poor nations to continue to grow, is to halt economic growth in the rich world over the next twenty years.

This would mean a drastic change in lifestyles for many people in countries like Britain as everyone will have to buy less ‘carbon intensive’ goods and services such as long haul flights and fuel hungry cars.

Prof Anderson admitted it “would not be easy” to persuade people to reduce their consumption of goods

He said politicians should consider a rationing system similar to the one introduced during the last “time of crisis” in the 1930s and 40s.

This could mean a limit on electricity so people are forced to turn the heating down, turn off the lights and replace old electrical goods like huge fridges with more efficient models. Food that has travelled from abroad may be limited and goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture.

“The Second World War and the concept of rationing is something we need to seriously consider if we are to address the scale of the problem we face,” he said.

Prof Anderson insisted that halting growth in the rich world does not necessarily mean a recession or a worse lifestyle, it just means making adjustments in everyday life such as using public transport and wearing a sweater rather than turning on the heating.

“I am not saying we have to go back to living in caves,” he said. “Our emissions were a lot less ten years ago and we got by ok then.”

The last round of talks in Copenhagen last year ended in a weak political accord to keep temperature rise below the dangerous tipping point of 2C(3.6F).

This time 194 countries are meeting again to try and make the deal legally binding and agree targets on cutting emissions.

At the moment efforts are focused on trying to get countries to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 relative to 1990 levels.

But Dr Myles Allen, of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, said this might not be enough. He said that if emissions do not come down quick enough even a slight change in temperature will be too rapid for ecosystems to keep up. Also by measuring emissions relative to a particular baseline, rather than putting a limit on the total amount that can ever be pumped into the atmosphere, there is a danger that the limit is exceeded.

“Peak warming is determined by the total amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere, not the rate we release it in any given year,’ he said. “Dangerous climate change, however, also depends on how fast the planet is warming up, not just how hot it gets, and the maximum rate of warming does depend on the maximum emission rate. It’s not just how much we emit, but how fast we do so.”

Other papers published on ‘4C and beyond’ in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A warned of rising sea levels, droughts in river basins and mass migrations.

BP’s evaporating oil slick leaves America without a villain

With the gush from the BP oil spill plugged for the past two weeks, experts are beginning to question whether it can really be called an environmental disaster at all, writes Alex Spillius.

Nature is taking its course, aided by a naval-size flotilla of skimming boats and some powerful chemical dispersants.

Telegraph | Jul 31, 2010

Alex Spillius – American Way

Published: So, the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is disappearing much more quickly than expected.

The sea’s warm surface and oil-munching bacteria have dissipated the slick to such an extent that a planeload of journalists had to fly for an hour before their pilot could find a patch of oil. His relief, according to one reporter on board, was comparable to the anxious captain of a tourist boat spotting a distant pod of dolphins.

It turns out that the playful sea mammals, like other creatures, suffered much less damage than was forecast. A grand total of three dead dolphins covered in oil have been recovered by wildlife rescue teams. The spill has so far killed less than one per cent of the number of birds claimed by the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.

With the gush plugged for the past two weeks, experts are beginning to question whether the BP spill can really be called an environmental disaster at all.

Doubts remain about the long-term underwater affects of the oil on the ecosystem, but the greatest tragedy remains the 11 lives lost when BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, causing the well to rupture.

On Friday, the company’s new chief executive Bob Dudley announced that the clean-up operation could now begin to be scaled back. It was one of the American’s first public utterances since replacing Tony Hayward as chief executive.

In an earlier appearance before BP employees in Britain, Dudley praised his predecessor for having the decency to stand down “just when things are starting to go right”.

It was not something Dudley would dare to say in the United States, where Hayward, as he acknowledged last week, remains a villain.

There are understandable reasons for this.

His “I want my life back” remark was callous in its carelessness.

You also don’t compare the biggest oil leak in US history to a “drop in the ocean”, even though that has turned out to be more or less the case, when your company is responsible for dumping 60,000 gallons a day into the sea, and when it has probably been economical with the truth about the size of the outflow.

But Hayward’s pillorying revealed how the well-spoken scoundrel remains a latent British stereotype, one that is connected to the “don’t-forget-we-kicked-your-butts-in-1776” smirk that can easily greet a British visitor on July 4.

It was also a reminder that the primary purpose of a scapegoat is to deflect blame. Amid the anger at BP, there were very few in government, the environmental movement or the media prepared to acknowledge that the despoliation of the Gulf and of the Louisiana coast has been going on for decades.

Long, long ago the state – and its people and its elected representatives – embraced oil and all its hazards. Development of the industry was rampant, corrupt, poorly regulated and carried out with little regard to the delicate marshlands that everyone was so worried about once the BP well burst open.

The thirst for oil, and the jobs and revenues it brought, led to the construction of 4,000 offshore oil and gas platforms. Thousands of miles of pipeline and a complex of roads and canals contributed to the disappearance of more than 2,000 square miles of Louisiana coastline over the past century. Teams assessing the damage caused by BP to the wetlands found 350 acres of oily marshes, but the state was already losing many times that amount every year.

As the Washington Post’s energy correspondent put it, Louisiana had become a “Cajun sheikhdom”, with over-dependency on one commodity leading to underdevelopment in many areas.

That reliance explained why the major issue for locals during the spill was not the nationality of the BP’s CEO. They cared about prompt payment of compensation – and there are few complaints heard about that these days – and President Barack Obama’s moratorium on deep-water drilling, which was regarded as a mass job-deprivation programme.

The vilification of Hayward was a Washington affair and the onus is now on Washington to craft an energy policy that will exploit natural resources while offering better care for local environments and requiring stricter adherence to safety standards from the industry.

BP, having committed a colossal and tragic error, seems to be doing its part. It is now up to America’s politicians to do theirs.


‘Peak water’ could flush civilisation author claims

Early civilisations prospered by taming rivers, but as water gets scarce in some regions, populations rise and lifestyles remain the same, we might not be far from warring over water, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON

Irish Times | Jan 23, 2010

FORGET PEAK OIL. Forget climate change. Peak water is where it’s at, according to Scottish journalist and broadcaster, Alexander Bell, who has just written a fascinating book, Peak Water (Luath Press, Scotland).

“It’s the coming issue of our age,” says Bell. “Civilisation is thirsty. It has never stopped to think about what would happen if the water ran out.” And while Bell acknowledges tackling climate change is important, he firmly states peak water would have happened with or without it.

“You could say that it’s a re-framing of the climate change [issues] and what we are doing with the planet. With climate change, we’ve become conditioned to the idea of disaster but by focusing on water, you can’t say there is nothing you can do. Water is a precious resource that is running out in various parts of the world and even if it’s not running out in Ireland or Scotland, we will lose food, clothing and stability of the world order as we know it because of water shortages.”

Writing for the non-expert reader, Bell offers a fascinating journey through civilisations, charting how important access to water was in their growth and, in many cases, their demise. He brings us back to ancient civilisations in Persia, Egypt, China and Peru, with details of canal transport, aqueducts, dams and irrigation schemes. Bell argues that when humankind began to lose its connection to the river, we got the water to follow us rather than us following it.

“The triumph of the early empires is that they tame unpredictable flows but from about 1,000 BC on, civilisation begins to take the control of water for granted and something that has been magical becomes a given. It is still the source of power and the determinant to an empire’s success but the gradual process of burying water under the complexity of the state begins,” he writes.

This process, according to Bell, was evident in Greek and Roman civilisations where the source of food moved farther from the cities, and water became more associated with cleanliness than with basic survival.

“Two thousand years ago, places to wash in Rome were as common as coffee shops today,” he writes. “And a whole body of jurisprudence existed to govern the ownership and rights to water flow.” Some of the current problems with water shortages stem from our luxurious approach to water, particularly in places where there is very little. Bell is particularly fascinated by Dubai, which “has the highest water consumption per capita in the world. It sucks up water for construction, agriculture and industry. It gulps in the name of luxury and cleanliness,” he writes.

He also cites the excessive use of water in the US, particularly in places such as Las Vegas where there is very little. “In gated communities, huge structures look out over green lawns and rolling golf courses and artificial lakes. Never mind that the water for Las Vegas is piped from miles away – this is 20th century civilisation, where water follows man – no matter the lunacy of the destination.” And while he acknowledges that the Las Vegas city council now offers incentives for planting desert grass and fines for wasting water, Bell predicts that cities such as Las Vegas will die by ecocide.

The great rivers of the world are already running dry. The Colorado doesn’t make it to the Pacific Ocean for half the year. The rivers that made China, the Yellow and the Yangtze, also fail to reach the sea for stretches of the year. It’s the same story with the Nile and the Ganges. As Bell puts it, “the iconic rivers of our imagination are drying up. The rivers are the visible, potent symbols of our deluded belief in water control. With them come wetlands, flood plains, natural irrigation and the steady, if slow, replenishment of underground water reserves.”

Bell argues that while the great empires of the east used water to establish a consistent food supply, the northern countries used it “to lubricate the growth of capital.

“In the east, water control meant simple social structures of a ruling elite and a labouring class. In the north, water helped create a more complex hierarchy, based on wealth and skill. This liberal society found water could drive the mills that kick-started major industries. This created factories and the lure of urban living and higher wages to draw people from the countryside. It could move barges full of coal and cotton. Steam powered larger engines, pumps, trains and then ships.” And while Bell acknowledges that some of our current crises are caused by global warming, he argues that unsustainable water usage is a key reason the ways of the world have to change.

LIKE BELL, MANY writers have raised the point that when population growth in places such as India and China is coupled with the desire for a more western lifestyle, this puts further pressure on natural resources including water. This is where the idea of valuing water as a precious resource links right into the same issues raised by climate change.

In fact, the idea of an individual water footprint has already been raised. A water footprint encompasses the reality that we affect water beyond our borders when countries that have a short supply of water grow and make things that have a heavy demand on water.

Bell suggests that revaluing water across the globe would take a radical shift. He explains how, because water is growing scarce in traditional wheat-, rice- and maize-growing areas of the US, India and Pakistan, it should be possible that the wet north could replace production, in part.

He also suggests that the north European (and now North American) model of industrialised, liberal, capitalist society may be best suited to wet countries. Secondly, he suggests we are quite used to making naturally occurring materials such as coal or oil into assets, so why not water? There is already a price on water in some places but putting a price on water that changes people’s usage habits (both personal and agricultural) is a broader issue.

Bell says: “We should be the ones who build new houses with composting toilets and reed beds to clean the waste water. We should instigate rainwater collection on a large scale . . . We should ensure that more food is grown for local consumption. The wet world should grow vital food for the dry world.”

BELL ALSO BRINGS up the widely held belief that the next wars to be fought in the world will be over water. In fact, he states that such wars have already occurred in some places – for example, between Pakistan and India. And the investment bank Goldman Sacks has dubbed water the petroleum for the next century.

“With the Cold War over and the threat from mass nuclear deployment apparently gone, we have switched our fears to a water war,” he writes.

According to Bell, what both threats show is that we fear our capacity to self-destruct (many would argue that much of the rhetoric around climate change comes from the same place).

He adds: “the reality of changing our water use is colossal. It calls for a new kind of civilisation built on global co-operation. The penalty for not doing this will be widespread social chaos.”