US Oil Boom Busted

These oil wells were thick as fleas along the Texas coast in 1978, when America was awash in oil. But production has been declining since 1970, and simple-minded hype will not change that. (Photo by Roger Wollstad (Roger4336)/Flickr)

The latest version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” being sung by the Big-Oil Tabernacle Choir is a variant of the old favorite,  “Drill, Baby, drill.” The new lyric is that we have drilled, baby, drilled (or more accurately, fracked) and that now there is plenty of oil and gas in America, and there will continue to be plenty as long as you don’t dare tax or regulate Big Oil. You can even hear the backup singers muttering, “Energy independence! Energy independence!” Alas, the song is wrong.

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Apocalypse Any Minute: The Sun Storm Scenario

A solar flare recorded Dec. 5, 2006, by the X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite. The flare was so intense, it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture.

Add to the list of mortal threats to the continued existence of the industrial age another inevitable, natural event to which we have exposed the throat of our machine. You may know about the threat of solar storms — I wrote about it here in January of 2011 (“A Solar Powered Blackout”) — but did you know that one of the consequences of a strong one will be the moral equivalent of a nuclear war — a kind of Chernobyl times 100? Continue reading

The Silence of the Bats

This brown bat is lucky -- he's just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he'd be dead. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

Is there anything Americans care less about than species extinction? It is as if their house were on fire, but they continue to watch TV because a) they didn’t need that stuff in the garage anyway, and b) it will probably go out by itself before it gets to the living room, c) it’s not their job to fight fires, and d) if it was really important it would be on television. Now that the fire has reached the living room — i.e., impending extinctions are a direct threat to the human food supply — Americans are at last responding. By turning up the TV. Continue reading

China Government Report: Brace for Impact

Shanghai slowly strangles in the exhaust of its prosperity. Seven years after this photo was taken, China sees a problem. (Photo by thraxil/Flickr)

While the American president doesn’t discuss it, and the candidates vying to replace him swear it doesn’t exist, scientists working for, and under the supervision of, the government of China are warning their people in an official report that “China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming.” This is the judgment of the “Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change” released for public consumption this week. Continue reading

“One Simple Trick” for Global Warming

Industry doesn’t even have to bait the hook any more, we and our journalists take it with the line and the sinker. (Photo by ToastyKen/Flickr)

If you’re on the Internet — and of course you are — the ads are all around you: “One simple trick” for losing belly fat; “one weird trick” drops your car insurance costs to near zero; “housewife discovers simple trick for white teeth;” and on, and on. If you respond to those ads, and buy whatever it is they’re selling, then you will also buy the new kind of headlines we’re seeing about climate change. Just one simple trick, they suggest (perhaps discovered by a housewife!), and the problem is solved.

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The Silence of the Bees

To be a bee, or not to be a bee, that is the question when the colony is about to collapse. (Photo by Doug88888.Flickr)

This is how the media deal with stories such as bee-colony collapse disorder. It is as if, on day one, they sight a forest fire approaching the city and begin to air breathless bulletins containing little information and wild speculation bout how bad it might get. On day two, the fire being bigger and closer, they go to wall-to-wall coverage and talk of nothing else. On day three, the fire is even bigger and even closer, but it’s old news. Back to celebrity divorces. Thus has the prospect of losing our honeybees — and one third of our food — dropped from the public radar. Continue reading

Damn Right, NIMBY!

“Not in my back yard” campaigns directed against industrial projects are thought to be fundamentally different (progressive) from those against renewable-energy projects (regressive). It’s not so. (Photo by blakophoto/Flickr)

The NIMBY (“Not in my back yard!”) movement bears the contemptuous brand assigned by the industrial media to people who oppose things such as power plants, refineries, power lines and urban sprawl. NIMBYans contradict the relentless logic of industry — “You gotta have electricity, right? Gotta have a place to live.” — with demonstrations and signs that complain about aesthetics, pollution, the danger of increased cancer rates, the ruination of quality of life or, to use the industry’s term, trivia. Now, to the bemusement of the uninformed who see a conflict here, NIMBYans are turning their wrath on so-called renewable-energy projects. [See The New Look of NIMBYism” — The Daily Climate] And so they should. Continue reading

Oil and Troubled Waters

Monster machines scrape tarry sand from the surface of Alberta, Canada. By applying enormous quantities of water and natural gas, they make a low quality, corrosive crude oil and proclaim a “new Saudi Arabia.” (Photo by HowlMontreal/Flickr)

Like some crazed fan-dancer, the oil industry (along with its wholly owned subsidiaries such as the US Congress) is doing its best to conceal and distract us from the naked truth. It has waved in our faces during the past year such ostrich feathers as “Canadian tar sands; another Saudi Arabia!” and “shale gas; another Saudi Arabia!!” and “hyper-deep ocean drilling; another Saudi Arabia.” But when we step back from the year, and look at the unhyped numbers, it doesn’t matter any more whether the dancer has any clothes on or not.

World’s Top Energy Economist: Brace for Impact

According to the chief economist of the IEA, this is where we’re headed. (Photo by Cherryllynx/Flickr)

Fatih Birol is the chief economist for the International Energy Agency. Throughout most of its history, the Agency (like its American counterpart, the U.S. Energy Information Administration) gave short shrift to alarms about peak oil and global climate change. But now its top analyst says (in a recent talk to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)  that “the world is perfectly on track to six degrees Celsius [warming due to global climate change]…which is very bad news. And everybody, even school children, know[s] this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.” In other words, Brace for Impact.

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Can You Say Infrastructure? Now Say Brace for Impact

A 24-inch water main spills its guts near the National Mall in Washington DC in October of 2010. Flooding reached the National Museum of Natural History. There is much more to come. (Photo by Mr T in DC/Flickr)

It was a rare occasion and a good way to start the new year — a major American newspaper gave front-page coverage to a major American problem. This morning’s Washington Post features prominently a story detailing one reason why this country is about to crash: the machinery that delivers water to city dwellers, and treats their sewage has been neglected for nearly half a century. Like all neglected machinery, it is about to break down. And it’s the machinery that makes urban life possible.

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