Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In Response to Comments...

Scott asks:
I have a question about the cost of solar. Aren't solar cells still prohibitively expensive to produce, even factoring in gains for mass production on a global scale?
There are several answers to this question. The first is to say that there have always been ways that governments could have brought the price of solar down, if they'd been so motivated.

One telling example is the US government's far-sighted program in the 1950s to buy transistors in bulk from whoever could make them - it began quickly bringing the price of these new inventions down. A similar program in the 1970s could very likely have brought the price of solar down to the point where it would be competitve with coal today.

Ignoring governments, the major oil companies could have thrown 1% of their earnings towards solar - which would have in no way threatened their business models - and massively stimulated research and development.

The second answer to Scott's question is that, in some cases, solar power is already the cheapest form of energy available - for example, here in Toronto (where I'll soon be leaving) the electricity prices have been capped by the government. If they had not been, however, we'd be seeing prices in the $0.15/kwh range during this last summer, roughly 150% what the best solar panels can produce. In rural areas that are off the grid, solar is often the only source of energy available.

The Third answer to Scott's question is this: Yesterday I exchanged emails with the people at Nanosolar. I have to say, I wish these guys (and presumably gals too) all the luck in the world. If they pull off what they hope to, we're all going to know this company pretty soon.

If you haven't caught the name before, Nanosolar is a company that is trying to apply printing technologies to photovoltaic cell manufacture. Rather than the energy-intensive and costly manufacture silicon cells currently undergo, Nanosolar essentially hopes to run solar power off by the foot. (They've already demonstrated the process - you can watch a video at their website.) The cost savings promise to be revolutionary - $0.50 per installed peak watt of power, compared to $10 for current PV cells, or $1 for coal plants. You read that right - Nanosolar will be able to under-sell coal.

It gets better. In the medium term, they hope to bring that price down even further, to $0.20 per peak watt. At that point, the power to run your home forever would add only a few hundred dollars to your mortgage. Throw some batteries in the basement, make your heavy-use appliances DC instead of AC, and suddenly the solar future is here.

At $.20/Wp, Solar could compete with coal, even taking in to account solar's intermittency. And given their stated figure of an energy payoff in three weeks and a lifetime similar to conventional cells - decades! - the energy profit would be literally orders of magnitude higher.

To recap: In the next year or two, Nanosolar will be introducing cheap solar power that will be able to compete with even our current cheapest source of electricity. If any billionaire investors are reading this site, consider throwing some pretzel moneez their way. Seriously.

Now, it should be said that I'm basing all this on the company's own website and an exchange with someone from (I believe) their PR department. So a grain of salt would not be ill-advised. Still, I hope you can see why I'm excited.

Dude, I just said that!

Weird. I write a post about the problems with the NPT, Matthew Yglesias writes a post about the problems with the NPT.

Now, if only I could figure out how to get his sitemeter numbers...

Bright & Breezy

Before we begin with the renewables, we should ask ourselves a question: Seeing as we have to rebuild our energy infrastructure almost whole, what should our criteria for new energy sources be?

I think a fair list of criteria would have to include the following:

1) The proposed energy source should be abundant. It doesn't do us any good if we invest trillions in new infrastructure costs, only to have a limited supply run out on us. “Abundant” should mean that a new source of energy can both meet current demand, and allow for substantial growth among developing nations, without expiring.

2) It should be as clean as possible. As a baseline, as clean or cleaner than oil should be our minimum standard. Our current energy mix is already killing thousands of people a year in pollution. It doesn't make any sense to go backwards.

3) It should be as safe as possible. Safe and Clean do not always mean the same thing. Modern coal plants (and the more advanced coal mines) are extremely safe in the immediate sense, but contribute massively to pollution. Nuclear is clean, but poses a non-trivial security problem.

4) It should be affordable. We could mine oil shale from the asteroids if we wanted – it wouldn't exactly make sense to.

A final criteria that isn't a deal-breaker, but is desirable is this:

5) If possible, a new source of energy should be well-distributed around the world. We've seen what geographic concentrations of energy resources has done to the world – the US is essentially playing gas station manager to the world by protecting some rather unsavory oil regimes, Saudi Arabia being first among them. It should be said that the world benefits from the US playing this role, so we shouldn't wag our fingers too much. If possible, it would be best if new energy sources were available to all countries, not concentrated in the hands of a select few.

If you have problems with these criteria, I'd like to hear criticisms. I don't want to be accused of stacking the deck, after all.

But looking at these criteria, we can see that all fossil fuels are essentially out of consideration. With oil and natural gas already running low, we can make up some of our demand with coal – but coal simply cannot meet the needs of a growing global economy.

Now, nuclear is another story. Properly used, nuclear could conceivably provide all of our energy for us for millenia. So check on abundance. Similarly, it's one of the cleanest sources of electricity we have using current technology. So check on clean, too. But safety, affordability, and distribution are serious problems. Nuclear waste and proliferation are essentially insoluble problems, no matter how good your plants are. As for affordability, a proper nuclear plant is always going to be a major expense – they are large, complicated buildings that require constant attention, if not supervision. Finally, distribution of Uranium around the world is almost as uneven as distribution of oil and coal. Does it make sense to give up one simple form of imported energy for a more expensive, complicated form of imported energy? Not really.

Meanwhile, when we look at the renewable options on the table, things suddenly look brighter. Solar and Wind energy are abundant – the US could run it's entire economy off of either of these options, much less both. Sunlight in particular is a simply staggering supply of energy – something like 6,000 times our daily energy consumption reaches the Earth's surface every day. So there's plenty of room for growth. More importantly, some of the sunniest places on Earth are also still very poor. Solar energy gives Africa and South America a chance for real development.

Wind power is currently the cheapest of renewable energies, and continues to expand by leaps and bounds. Spain installed more than 2 gigawatts of wind capacity last year alone- a 30% increase in one year! Germany still leads the way in overall capacity, with Denmark leading in % of total consumption. There's plenty of wind, too – something like 5 times current world energy demand. Just about enough to meet the needs of 9 billion well-off consumers by 2050.

Now it's not all rosy. The biggest problem with wind and solar is their intermittency – that is, what happens when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. Given the generally poor shape of the electric grid in North America, it could cause serious problems to have a high percentage of our electrical production constantly turning off and on all the time.

There's some additional concerns about wind, namely a) that it kills birds, and b) that it's well, ugly. The bird concern, while real, is vastly overstated, especially compared to other aspects of modern life that are avian-hostile. At the absolute worst, wind power would kill a small fraction of the fowl that our pet cats do, or our glass buildings.

The ugliness problem is somehow the bigger problem in getting major new wind farms approved in the US. The most famous case is that of Cape Wind, the effort to build a wind farm off of Cape Cod. I was saddened to see RFK Jr. leading the opposition to this recently, proclaiming that “some views are too good to ruin”. Frankly, I find wind turbines very appealing, so this whole issue is a bit confusing to me. Certainly, the implications of a wind turbine are less nasty than a coal plant.

But the problem of volume still applies – we need lots of energy, fast, if we're going to avert a major calamity. Can we build wind and solar power quickly enough to meet demand? Despite my general optimism, I don't think so. The amounts needed are simply too large. Renewables are growing incredibly fast – solar grew more than 60% in 2004! - but they still make such a small overall percentage. And solar and wind still don't directly address the problem of liquid fuels, which is after all the critical problem of peak oil.

The only way we're going to escape this problem is by thinking different about how we use energy.

More on Nuclear

An additional point about nuclear energy that I neglected to make yesterday.

Any future is which nuclear energy plays a large role is going to be more dangerous than a future in which nuclear is slowly fazed out. This is because of a very simple reason - the line between acceptable civilian uses of nuclear power and unacceptable uses is very small, and a lot greyer than you might imagine. The founding mission of the IAEA was originally to spread civilian nuclear technologies. Later, with the non-proliferation treaty, the IAEA was also given the duty of restricting nuclear weapons technology. That these goals are contradictory is not often stated, but they really are.

The problem with our current non-proliferation regime is not countries like North Korea, Pakistan, or even Iran. The problem with our policies is countries like Japan. Japan is a signatory to the NPT, is vocally in favour of nuclear disarmament, and despite living next to three nuclear-armed states with a history of hostilities, Japan hasn't yet succumbed and devised it's own nuclear deterrent. But if they wanted to, Japan could have nuclear weapons within a year.

This is precisely because of our nuclear regime, not in spite of it.

Now, I'm not saying Japan is going to go nuts and start threatening the US with nuclear hellfire. But the point is, so long as we accept a legitimate role for nuclear power, a country can get 90-95% of the way towards a weapons program within existing treaties. Iran, despite the US's claims, has not yet violated the NPT. Indeed, when Iran was run by the Shah, the US was enthusiastically in support of it's developing nuclear power. One wonders what the US would think of Saudi Arabia developing nuclear power today. How dangerous a world would we live in if Saudi Arabia were - possibly with US assistance - to develop 90% of the infrastructure necessary for a nuclear weapons program, only to have a coup place hardcore bin Ladenites in power? Seeing as Pakistan is already tottering on the edge, this is something we need to be serious about.

Any future in which nuclear plays a role will encourage proliferation. It's that simple.

Seriously, Though

New Orleans deserves more than a snarky slap at Bush. We're now looking at 100+ dead. We're also seeing what I hope should be the disintegration of the Bush Mystique.

Since 9/11, the American people have been lulled in to believing that Bush was a leader. This illusion never had much credibility to it - what, he went to New York? Hugged a fire fighter? Please.

In reality, everything Bush has done post- 9/11 has been just as rudderless as the Administration was pre-9/11. Sure, they went to war in Afghanistan - but so poorly that the Taliban was able to beat the US Army in combat at the Shah i Kot valley. Iraq was already the goal, and they focused on it like a laser - to the detriment of actually preparing for the victory. Any half-baked rationale that could buy Bush the approval rating he needed for war was used, often several contradictory ones. This administration is excellent at setting goals - as Atrios puts it: Mars, Bitches! - but has never, ever had the ability to actually achieve on them.

Why? Because leadership is more than setting goals for your subordinates. Leadership requires constant attention, wisdom, and guidance. Bush has said that his favourite political philosopher is Christ. Assuming that's sincere, and not just red meat for the fundies, Bush should know about leadership. Christ called himself the Good Shepherd. Because of it's context, the Bible uses a lot of images from animal herding - the most famous is probably "spare the rod, spoil the child." "The rod" has often been misread as a stick with which to beat your children - the bible would therefore be condoning child abuse. There's a more humane reading, however.

The Rod is a symbol not of authority or domination, but of experience. A Shepherd doesn't beat his animals, he guides them. A good Shepherd doesn't simply set a goal, yell at the herd, and blame someone else when the sheep don't move. A Good Shepherd puts more work in to the process than the goal. The Shepherd, exhausted from his work, never complains "being a shepherd is hard work!" The Shepherd, lost on a hillside, never says "We got bad intelligence." The Shepherd, his flock attacked by wolves, doesn't yell "Bring it on!"

Bush was never a leader - not once, and not even by his own standards. Admittedly, Jesus sets a pretty high bar. But Bush knew that before he signed up.

I'm Just Saying

For the Chinese, a major city being destroyed by a flood would have been a sure sign that the Emperor had lost the mandate of heaven.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Glowing Hot

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

Forget about nuclear winter; these days it feels like nuclear spring. Early signs point to a global renaissance in fission power. Twenty-four nuclear power plants are being built abroad. Well-organized U.S. utilities are identifying sites at existing nuclear power plants where new reactors might be built and asking the U.S. Congress to provide generous subsidies to help. And all of this is happening without the kind of groundswell of public opposition to nuclear power witnessed in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yes, it's a boom time for opinions about nuclear power. I didn't invest in tech stocks, so I might as well throw in with this bubble while I can.

Nuclear makes up 17% of electrical generation worldwide. But the new nuclear boosters would have you believe that's going to change, and soon. A recent Wired article is probably the best example of nuclear optimism.
That's not nearly enough. We should be shooting to match France, which gets 77 percent of its electricity from nukes. It's past time for a decisive leap out of the hydrocarbon era, time to send King Coal and, soon after, Big Oil shambling off to their well-deserved final resting places - maybe on a nostalgic old steam locomotive.

Besides, wouldn't it be a blast to barrel down the freeway in a hydrogen Hummer with a clean conscience as your copilot? Or not to feel like a planet killer every time you flick on the A/C? That's how the future could be, if only we would get over our fear of the nuclear bogeyman and forge ahead - for real this time - into the atomic age.(emphasis added)
That's the key passage, isn't it? How great would it be if we could do whatever we want without consequence? Of course, given the fatality rates for accidents with hummers it's hard to believe that's even possible.

But let's remember the basics about nuclear. Nuclear fission boils water, turns turbines, and makes electricity. In the process, it makes no CO2 (hooray!) but does produce nuclear waste (boo!) How much waste it makes depends on whether or not the fuel is reprocessed. The US stopped reprocessing it's fuel in the 1970s. France reprocesses all of it's fuel, and has much smaller needs for waste disposal.

France is basically the poster child for the nuclear industry these days - almost 80% of France's electricity comes from nuclear, and France's industry is renowned for it's safety and reliability. France exports a large amout of it's nuclear electricity to Germany, making a mockery of Germany's Greens to reduce their nuclear usage.

Of course, France is just about the only country that we can point to with such a positive record. Japan had ambitions similar to France's in the 1980s, until a number of scandals in that country's nuclear industry halted construction. There were fires, worker incompetence, and a number of other problems. The US, Canada, and Russia have all had a long history of problems. For every Chernobyl, there's a less-dramatic Three Mile Island. For every Three Mile Island, there's dozens of near-misses. While France is the exception, the rule of nuclear generation has been a pretty uncertain story.

But with new "Fourth Generation" reactors, there's hope to change all that. New passively safe designs, the nuclear industry hopes to make plants that are safe, cheap, and clean. However, there are some problems here, too. One of the most well-known proposals is the Pebble Bed reactor. It's a promising technology, but it's advocates have to answer a few questions. First off, the "pebbles" in the name are spheres of Uranium encased in graphite. Graphite is flammable, and is indeed the element which burned in the Chernobyl fire. Most PBR proposals involve using helium or another inert gas as an operating gas, so this shouldn't be a problem in normal operation. But nuclear reactors need to be designed for the abnormal times, too. And despite PBR's advocates' claims, PBR is not accident proof. Germany's PBR program was shut down after a 1986 accident caused by a jammed pebble. In any case, PBR reactors will produce more waste, albeit less hazardous waste.

There are other proposed designs, but it's hard to believe that they won't face serious challenges too. And we need to keep in mind that nuclear plants can take years - up to a decade - to build. Given that the energy problems we face are short term, nuclear might not be able to make up the demand we need. All this said, if nuclear were our only option, I'd be in favour of it. Nuclear is CO2-free, and could at the very least be made safe and affordable - though affordable might still mean more expensive than we think. But at the end of the day, even the best nuclear energy is going to produce a waste legacy that will last at least centuries, if not millenia.

Meanwhile, wind power is already cheaper than nuclear. Say that to yourself, again. Wind power is already cheaper than nuclear. Solar power is coming down quickly in price, and companies are already selling modules that are cheaper than nuclear. Another few years - shorter than we can build a single reactor - and rooftop solar panels will be cheaper than nuclear. And there's at least the possibility (if the guys at nanosolar can work their voodoo) that solar can outcompete even nasty old coal.

But both wind and solar have their problems too, which we'll deal with in the next post.

Happy Anniversary

I have to take a moment for something personal.

For those of you who aren't regulars, this is my girlfriend's blog. One of the latest entries is her toilet-papering her ex-boss's office. I'm in love with a self-professed insane person.

Five years and a few days ago, a crazy, funny little woman asked me out on a date. Five years ago today, the date actually happened. I never thought going to see a Jennifer Lopez movie would be so profitable. Thank you, The Cell. (Our second date was seeing the much, much worse Art of War. Damn you, Snipes!) She came to our date looking beautiful, as usual. I came looking like a schmuck, again as usual.

After the movie, we went out for drinks - unfortunately, to the same bar where all of my friends were going for drinks as well. It's a brave woman who meets all my friends, on the same date, and then signs up for a second one. Somehow, despite all the issues that crop up in five years' time, she's still hanging around with me.

It's been a wonderful five years, and I can't wait for the next five.

By The Way...

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

Just in case you thought Peak Oil was the only problem we faced, this profile of Bill McDonough would like to correct you:
McDonough noted that in California, the $2.99 bath toy comes with a warning. Toxic chemicals in that sweet, squishy body have been known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

"What kind of society would make something like this to put in the mouths of children?" McDonough demanded. "Design is the first signal of human intention. What is your intention?"

No designer rose to defend the duck.

McDonough moved on to the usual suspects: belching smokestacks, chemical fumes in carpets, hazardous high-tech garbage. IQs are declining in industrial Ohio. A graveyard of plastics is growing in the Pacific Ocean. Acidification is turning coral, the bottom of the food chain, to jelly....

How much time before we self-destruct?

"Twenty years," McDonough guessed. "We have 20 years to figure this out. We have to work quickly, we have to work systematically, we have to integrate this into everything we do."
So many problems, so little time...

Peak Oil: What We Can Do

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

If the optimists are right and Peak Oil is two decades or more away, we're in a really good position. We've got time to turn our motor fleet off of oil, and begin working hard on squeezing the carbon out of our energy diet. But there's something that needs to be said - even if Peak Oil doesn't come until 2030, we need to start now if we want to avoid severe economic problems. This is confirmed by a Department of Energy report (warning - large PDF) which states very clearly that, unless we get our economies off of oil, we face very serious problems - possibly worse than the Great Depression. The simple reason for this is that replacing two hundred million motor vehicles (the US fleet) takes time. If we're caught without adequate substitutes, we're looking at a decade or more of fuel shortages.

So what are the options? There are three usual answers: Better oil recovery, alternative sources of oil, or non-oil substitutes. But the first two answers are problematic.

Better oil recovery in particular is unlikely to save us. The example of the United States is instructive. After peaking in 1971, US production never, ever reached that point again. The US hasn't managed to even halt the decline in it's production. This is in the richest, most advanced oil-producing nation in the world. It should be said, however, that this has been in a world with cheap oil production overseas - it's at least theoretically possible that once the oil industry realizes that the party's over they'll put more money towards better recovery. At the same time, it's not like oil companies have been short of funds lately - if there were ways of getting more oil out of old fields, it's hard to believe they wouldn't have found them already. Still, it's something to keep in mind.

The second usual answer is unconventional oil. This includes most famously the Alberta Tar Sands, but basically any oil that isn't crude. Here there are other problems. The Tar Sands have been written about quite a lot, with the Premier of Alberta in particular trying to secure more investment for his province with some lofty predictions about Alberta being the new Saudi Arabia. The problem with Tar Sands is that as much oil as there is, it isn't a way of producing oil in large volumes - Alberta currently produces about 600,000 barrels of synthetic crude per day from the tar sands, or 1/170th of world production. This is after several billion dollars worth of investment.

The other problem with the Tar Sands is that it currently takes more energy to make Tar Sands oil then the oil actually produces - and the currently "profitable" prices for synthetic crude were entirely dependent on cheap natural gas - cheap natural gas that no longer exists in North America. It is seriously questionable whether we will ever get more oil out of the tar sands then we do now. Tar Sands optimists need to show either a) where the new natural gas is coming from, or b) what new processes will be used to make the synthetic crude. Even with these challenges, oil optimists predict that Alberta will make roughly 3 million barrels of synthetic crude by 2020. Hardly enough to stave off disaster.

Another potential source of oil is coal. Using chemistry that dates back to the interwar period, it is possible to convert coal (as well as natural gas) to synthetic crude. This chemistry, known as the Fisher-Tropsch process, has a long history and is well-understood. But there's two points to make here. First, F-T chemistry has historically only been used by regimes that had no other choice - Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa being most notable. The fact that it's being talked about seriously is a sign of desperation, not progress. Secondly, while coal reserves are big, they're not nearly big enough - as we saw earlier, if coal has to support both oil and natural gas consumption, it won't last more than three decades.

So that's it, really - there's no way that oil is going to outlast the next three decades, at least not at close to the current level of production. So we need to look at non-oil substitutes. How do we kick the habit?

Well, the hardest thing to say is that, in all likelihood, the market will take care of the problem for us - but not the way the optimists usually predict. Rather, we're going to see a lot of "demand destruction" in the next few decades - code words for recessions. People who can't afford to drive, won't. Currently, American consumers are putting more and more of their gas purchases on credit cards - a really bad sign. In the next few years, we're going to see a lot of people either give up their cars or give up on other purchases to maintain those cars. Look for declining consumer spending as gas prices head up.

After recession, the only thing that can make a serious dent in our oil consumption quickly is getting people out of cars. This may very well mean forcing people out of cars, and in to mass transit. And I do mean force. The reason for something so seemingly draconian is simple - light vehicles (cars, minivans and SUVs) make up half of US oil demand. So the largest gains are in getting people out of their cars - and conversely, attacking other uses of oil while ignoring light vehicles is really just nibbling at the edges. Unfortunately, increased fuel efficiency simply can't reduce demand quickly enough to deal with peak oil. Any number of studies have shown that, even with the most optimistic predictions, increased efficiency at best holds US consumption level. This is insufficient in a world where oil supplies are contracting. We need to get people off out of their cars entirely. They might even thank us for it - they'd have more money in their pockets, after all was said and done.

Aside from transportation, the other sector that is most vulnerable to oil prices is agriculture. Here, the solution is relatively simple - go organic. Given that organic farming is already spreading at double-digit rates and can now deliver yields within 10% of conventional farming - albeit at higher prices - this is something that almost makes too much sense to ignore. As oil prices climb, we'll see conventionally-farmed food become less competitive with organic food, simply because organic food doesn't require the assorted oil-based fertilizers, pesticides, other inputs. Organic food will obviously still have to be brought to your local store, so I wouldn't bet on Canadians seeing a lot of fresh Mexican fruit in the winter for a while - it will simply be too expensive.

I've focused on these two sectors because a) they're the most immediately affected by oil prices, and b) they're the ones closest to consumers. But peak oil will send shockwaves throughout the economy. Going organic and getting on the bus is a beginning, but we need a long-term plan to get off of oil entirely. For that, we need to deal with the other stores at our intersection - Glowing Hot, Bright & Breezy, and the herbal remedy coop. We need to figure out what won't work, what will, and start building towards what will, now. Predicting the future is dangerous business, but in the next few posts I want to try and show why nuclear and hydrogen are dangerous diversions, and why the future will likely be either biofueled or electric.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Pat Buchanan: Still A Nut

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

For a while, a bunch of leftists were really enjoying what came out of Pat's mouth. I don't imagine we'll be seeing that again soon.
Pat Buchanan, a leading conservative pundit and former presidential adviser, quietly suggested House Republicans mull impeaching President Bush -- though not for the liberals' cause celebre, Iraq -- but rather for what he sees as Bush's 'criminal' failure to stem the tide of illegal immigrants, RAW STORY has discovered.

"We are being invaded," the reactionary Republican declared in his column Monday, "and the president of the United States is not doing his duty to protect the states against that invasion."
Say it with me people: Culture war!

Ah, Weddings

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

Vicki and I went to our third wedding this summer last saturday, and our second Chinese wedding this month. (My third overall.) Some thoughts:

1) Chinese food isn't weirder than western food, just more honest. If you can't handle the fact that chickens and fish have faces, then join a PETA rally, pinko.

2) I think I'm becoming an honorary Chinese person - picky eaters are really starting to offend my sensibilities.

3) We need an international treaty time-limiting thank you speeches. Desperately.

4) Until this summer, I'd managed to go without learning how to properly tie a necktie. Damn you, repeated weddings! Make me learn a new skill!

5) I think it's in fact impossible for new brides to look anything other than good, but if people have contrary evidence I'd love to hear it.

Finally, Peak Oil

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

(Part of a series. Earlier posts here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

If you're watching the news today, you'll notice that New Orleans is facing the punishment of God for it's sinful ways. (You know that's what Pat Robertson is thinking.) As bad is this is for the people who live in New Orleans (and I do hope we don't see any more deaths) there's some things we should consider for oil prices. Katrina hit land sometime this morning, and when it did something like a quarter or third of US oil imports were hit with an incredibly powerful force of nature. This is why oil just hit $70 tonight in Asian trading.

Why did this happen? After all, this is hardly the first time a hurricane has hit the Gulf of Mexico - even if this is unusually strong. The root cause is that at this moment, there is zero slack in the oil market. Demand is actually exceeding supply slightly, so when something like this act of God hits, the entire market is thrown in to chaos. Why is there zero slack? Well, this is where we get in to the subject of Peak Oil, or Hubbert's Peak.

When we looked at reserve/consumption ratios, I said this is the wrong way to look at fossil fuel usage. The important number, when we're talking about oil, is not how much oil is left in the ground but how much oil we can actually pump out of the ground on any given day. Currently, we use 85 million barrels of oil globally every day. We pump slightly less out of the ground every day, meaning we're currently depleting existing stocks. (This is a bad thing on it's own - winter's coming, and normally we'd be trying to build up stocks for heating homes in the US northeast.) There are serious questions being asked about how we're going to meet oil demand in the 4th quarter of 2005. So why can't we just ramp up production? Well, because unlike previous shortages, there's no new capacity to build. Time was, back when the price of oil got too high, the Saudis would open up some more supply. Everyone is currently producing flat out, and has been for most of the last 2 years. There's no extra tap we can turn on this time.

When an oilfield is first discovered and pumping begins, oil output begins climbing very quickly. In the largest, most easily exploited fields, the oil is literally bursting from the ground. After a time, production levels off, and you get a long period of stable high output. But then something happens, usually when you've half-emptied the oilfield. Underground pressure begins to drop, and suddenly the oil output falls off dramatically. You can start injecting gas or water in to the field to keep the pressure high, thus prolonging the life of the oilfield, but this doesn't last long. Eventually, the oilfield has to be abandoned because you're either a) spending more money pumping oil out then you're likely to get from it, or b) the oil simply stops coming up altogether. When you graph the production of a single well, it looks like a truncated pyramid - a sharp climb, a long flat plateau, and a sharp decline.

If you combine the output of multiple fields in your analysis (say, if you're looking at national domestic production) then the graph looks very different. The aggregate of multiple fields isn't a truncated pyramid, but rather a curve which climbs, peaks, and begins declining. The Peak is the most oil that nation will ever produce in a single day, and every day after is going to mean less and less oil from that country.

It should be stated explicitly that this isn't a theory. Nation after nation has watched it's production climb, peak, then decline. In the US, the peak happened in 1971. In China, it was earlier. In Russia, oil production peaked in 1987. Canada's conventional oils peaked in the 1970s as well. Some optimists have called Peak Oil a theory. This just isn't the case. We can argue over when the peak will come, what form it will take, how severe the decline will be, but not over the facts. Indonesia's oil production peaked in 1998, and Indonesia now imports more oil than it exports - as a member of OPEC! So clearly, The Peak is going to occur.

So The Big Question is when will The Peak arrive, with the secondary question being How Bad Will It Be? Let's take these questions in order. The two most important official bodies for estimating this kind of thing - the Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency - both have estimated oil will peak sometime in the 2020s or later. However, the DOE study was ridiculously biased, and few people take it very seriously - it assumes a 5% chance of a Saudi-sized oil field in Greenland, and bases it's projections on that.

On the other end are predictions from various geologists and petroleum engineers that we have already passed the Peak of production, or that it will occur later this year. So the extremes in this debate are either "Now" or "2030". Most of the more moderate voices I've read predict a peak in or before 2010. My personal belief is that we're almost certain to see a peak before 2010, and I'm leaning toward 2007-8. But that based only on some reading, and I'm not an engineer.

What happens then? Well, as with national production, daily oil production begins to decline. If 85 million barrels per day is our peak production, we'd see the next year decline by a certain amount, say to 84 million barrels. The year after that, we'd see 83, etc etc. (This isn't a prediction, just an example.) Now at the moment, prices are heading skyward just because supply and demand are just about equal. Imagine what happens when demand is actually substantially more than supply. Goldman Sachs has said that, with the market as tight as it is, we could face $105/barrel oil.

This brings us to the second question about Peak Oil, How Bad Will It Be? To put it another way, how severe will the decline be once it begins? This is one I'm not competent to actually predict, but let's take the extremes again. The worst case scenario is that global production begins dropping severely, in the range of 5-10% per year. Even in the low end of that range, this would mean dramatically less oil over a few years. If we lose 5% of world production, that's close to 5 million barrels of oil we lose in one year. It's difficult to see how the global economy - or any national economies - could sustain those kind of losses without collapsing.

The more optimistic scenario is a gentler decline - less than 1% per year. This is close to what the US has historically experienced (roughly 30% decline since 1971) and is obviously a lot less of a shock for the global economy. This scenario relies on high oil prices spurring much better technology to extract the remaining oil, keeping the decline much shallower than it would otherwise be.

But, even in this "optimistic" scenario, oil production declines and never, ever reaches it's pre-Peak levels. For a civilization based on growing oil production, this is a huge change. In the next post, I'm going to talk about what we can do about oil peaking. However, today my girlfriend and I are celebrating our fifth anniversary (though it's actually tomorrow) so the next post will be later tonight at least.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

(Part of a series. Previous posts: 1,2,3.)

A post about peak oil is coming up, but I'd like to explain why I wrote about the reserve/consumption figures so much. As is rightly pointed out by QuietStorm in comments, actual consumption is obviously going to be quite different from those numbers. So why bother? Only to show exactly how unsustainable the status quo is.

This is important, because a number of oil optimists (Michael Lynch and Daniel Yergin, to name two) have recently written very optimistic columns about the future of the oil economy. Yergin is perhaps more famous, but Lynch is more delusional - he refuses to even acknowledge the reality of peak production.

I'd like, if I may, to throw just a few more numbers at you to show how unsustainable the oil age is. Let's look at annual per person oil consumption for some of the larger economies out there.

United States: 7.1 Billion barrels per year/295 million people = 24.3 barrels per person per year.
EU: 5.3 Billion barrels per year/457 million people = 11.6 barrels per person per year.
Japan: 1.93 Billion barrels per year/127 million people = 15.2 barrels per person per year.

Now, Japan's per capita GDP is $29,500, whereas the EU's is $26,900, so we can actually say that on average the EU's oil-per-GDP is actually slightly better than Japan's, but I would say this is one of those areas where it's premature to start talking about the EU as a single entity - the variance from the mean in individual economies is likely to be too large to be useful. So here we have Japan which uses a bit more than 60% of the oil the US does per person, while getting about 75% of the GDP. (GDP could be the wrong measure to use - most of Japan's quality of life indicators are substantially better than the US.) Japan may very well be the most oil-efficient economy in the developed world.

But what if we have to allow for growth? What if China wants a standard of living equal to Japans - which they manifestly do? Well, we'd need to find an extra 20 billion barrels of oil per year. If India wants in, we need another 20. If we could bring every person on the planet to the level of Japan - including bringing the EU slightly up, and the US way down - we'd need almost 100 billion barrels of oil per year, or a production of 270 million barrels per day. This is more than triple what we currently consume.

There is simply no way - no physical way whatsoever - that the human race will ever make even half that much oil per year. If we could, it would deplete global reserves in 10 years, or 20 if we take the absurdly optimistic projection of 2 trillion recoverable barrels.

Oil is not, and cannot be, the basis for a growing global economy in the 21st century. Now, it gets even worse when we start talking about Peak Oil. And I swear that's actually coming next. But I've got a wedding to go to, so you'll all have to wait.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Please Yes Do It Now Good

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

Robert Cringely on Apple's next step:
Here's where I go out on a limb, but I think Microsoft's clearest threat still comes from Apple, though not the way most people expect. Yes, Apple is about to take Microsoft to the woodshed when it comes to Internet movie distribution. Yes, Apple already super-dominates the music player market where Microsoft doesn't even really exist. But the real jewel is one Microsoft has to lose, not gain -- the PC platform, itself.

What could Apple do to take down Windows, with or without the help of Intel?...

Here are the clues. Microsoft is woefully late with its next Windows upgrade, while Apple is far ahead with even the current version of OS X. Apple is moving to Intel processors and hackers have already shown that OS X can run fine on non-Apple hardware....

Every one of those iPods is a bootable drive. What if Apple introduces OS 10.5, its next super-duper operating system release, and at the same time starts loading FOR FREE the current operating system version -- OS 10.4 -- on every new iPod in a version that runs on generic Intel boxes? What if they also make 10.4 a free download through the iTunes Music Store?

It wouldn't kill Microsoft, but it would hurt the company, both emotionally and materially. And it wouldn't hurt Apple at all. Apple hardware sales would be driven by OS 10.5 and all giving away 10.4 would do is help sell more iPods and attract more customers to Apple's store.
There's also an interesting speculation on what Google's doing these days.

But I think this could hurt Microsoft more than even Cringely thinks. I've started using a version of Linux because of my frustrations with Windows, but I don't yet have the money to pay the Apple hardware premium. I'm not the only one - there must be millions of potential users who would die for a free alternative to Windows, but want the brand reliability of an established computer company AND can't afford to replace their hardware. Releasing an Intel-compatible OS X free of charge could turn MSFT's market dominance in to a smoking crater sooner than you might think.

Talking 'Bout Depletion

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

(Previous posts here: 1, 2.)

Okay, so fossil fuels make up 2/3 of the Earth's energy. Oil alone makes up more than 40% of our total energy use. So it would be nice if we could be assured that all three fossil fuel sources had a long lifespan ahead of them. But they don't.

The first analysis we'll look at is the wrong one. Let's take a simple look at consumption vs. reserves. This should, at the very least, give us an idea of the lifespans of existing resources. But like I said - this analysis is the wrong way to look at things.

Start with oil. Those revolutionaries at the CIA estimate that remaining global oil reserves are just a bit over 1 trillion barrels. This is more or less the consensus figure for remaining reserves, but there are optimists out there who think the number might be as high as 2 trillion. But nobody seriously entertains the notion that there is more than that.

So that's supply. Demand, however, is busting the seams at 85 million barrels per day. Show your work everybody:

85mb/d * 365 = 31.025 billion barrels of oil a year.
1,025 billion barrels / 31.025 billion barrels per year = 33 years.

So at current usage rates, using a reasonable estimate of existing reserves, current oil demand would exhaust global supply before I'm ready to start drawing a pension. Crap.

This isn't terribly difficult math. Even some oil companies are starting to accept that the status quo is unsustainable. But let's put this very clearly: current oil reserves cannot meet current demand, much less the needs of a growing economy, for much more than a single human generation. And suddenly we have to replace or do without 40% of our current energy needs.

So let's look at the prime candidate for substitution, natural gas. NG can be used in a number of the same functions that we use oil for, including cars. It's cleaner, and more efficient. But the same math applies. Current consumption/global reserves gives us a larger number - 62 years instead of oil's 33. And this is current consumption - again, making no allowances for increased demand.

But there's an additional wrinkle for natural gas - it doesn't travel well. To be moved around, NG needs either pipelines or tankers capable of holding it at extremely low temperatures and under pressure - liquefied natural gas (LNG.) While America does get some of it's NG from overseas (12-15%), the majority of North American NG supply comes from within the continent. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the flows, either - Canada and Mexico export huge amounts of NG to the US.

The problem, however, comes from the fact - fact, not theory - that North American natural gas production has peaked. It will eventually begin to decline, meaning that shortfalls will have to be made up from increased LNG shipments. This fact has been confirmed by such anti-American radicals as Lee Raymond, former CEO of ExxonMobil. To make up the domestic shortfall, we're going to need to dramatically expand LNG infrastructure.

A further wrinkle, as if we needed one, comes from the fact that most of the world's natural gas is located in Asia. Indian and Chinese demand for NG is climbing as high or higher than their demand for oil - including recent competition over Central Asian oilfields. While the US currently imports it's largest share of LNG from that energy titan, Trinidad and Tobago, it will eventually come in to competition with the new Asian giants. Further, the US will be sending billions of dollars to places like Putin's Russia and Iran.

Finally, let's take a look at coal. Interestingly, coal consumption is the only of the three fossil fuels whose global use has actually declined over the last few decades - this despite surging Chinese demand. After peaking in the late 1980s, coal consumption is down by almost half. This doesn't seem to be a case of resource depletion - the price simply collapsed in the late 1980s, as the market embraced natural gas for new electrical production. The US is an exception to this trend, where coal production and consumption continues to grow.

How much coal is there? The US Department of Energy says roughly 1 trillion tons of coal, at a global consumption of 5.2 billion tons per year. So we've got roughly two hundred years of coal at current consumption rates. Moreover, North America is the Persian Gulf of coal, with over 25% of global reserves in the continent. This is obviously a much better scenario than oil or natural gas. Further, there is a long history of coal being used to produce liquid fuels - albeit by rather unsavoury regimes, like the Nazis or Apartheid-era South Africa. So it's possible that coal could play a much larger role in energy production - with a few catches.

First off, if coal were to take over the roles played by NG and oil, our consumption would increase by more than eight times. This turns our two centuries' of reserves in to a quarter-century, or less time than oil. This doesn't take in to account any economic growth - just substituting coal for oil and NG. It also doesn't assume any losses for the conversion of coal to liquid fuels, which there would certainly be. While a lot of people assume coal is abundant, the reality is somewhat different. Coal is abundant, but only so long as we use it at the relatively small rates we currently do. So... if we use it less, it lasts longer. Hardly enlightening.

The other big problem with coal, as mentioned before, is the problem of climate change. Coal is, pound for pound, the most CO2-producing fuel there is. (Oil use is actually responsible for more CO2 emissions overall, because of it's much higher use.) A scenario in which the world makes a large switch over to coal is a scenario in which we choose environmental calamity.

So what does this all mean? The first point is that unless we find some huge deposits of oil somewhere, oil will runout before mid-century. Natural gas will follow it shortly, especially if we factor in substitution and economic growth. We could replace these fuels with coal, but only for a few years and at tremendous environmental cost.

And all this doesn't even factor in Hubbert's Peak - the fact that the production of oil and natural gas globally will follow the trend of oil and natural gas in North America: It will peak long before it in fact runs out, and then production will begin to decline, leaving us with daily shorfalls of energy.

That's for the next post.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On Carbon Joe

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

Getting back to energy issues.

Our little parable was not just an exercise in bad writing. Rather, I hope to use it as a way of organizing my thoughts on energy and the problems we face in the 21st century.

The first coffee shop we looked at was Carbon Joe's, and with good reason. Fossil-fuel sources of energy (Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas) made up 2/3 of the world's energy consumption in 2002, according to the International Energy Agency. It isn't a stretch to say that, if you live in a western economy, you shop at Carbon Joe's. However, these resources are all used for very different purposes. Energy, as you'll remember from high school, is simply the ability to do work. The three forms of fossil fuel all do very different forms of work. While I've grouped them all in to one family, this is a writer's trick and not an accurate presentation. Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas - while all made up of long-dead plants and animals - are very different in their composition and uses.

Coal is one of our largest and oldest sources of fossil-fuel energy. It currently generates 39% of the Earth's electricity, makes up more than half of US generation, and 75% of China's. Moreover, unlike the situation with our other sources of fossil fuels, coal is relatively abundant - a century or more at current usages. However, the drawbacks of coal are well known. It's very dirty, as fuel sources go, it's very inefficient, and it makes more CO2 for every watt generated than any other source of energy. In the US, old coal generators aren't covered by the Clean Air Act, and are thus capable of being as polluting as they like.

There's been some talk lately of new "Clean Coal" technologies that would magically make the US energy independent without further hurting the environment. While many of these technologies are much, much better than old coal generators, there is literally no way to prevent coal combustion from producing CO2 in large quantities. The best that could theoretically happen is finding a way to bury ("sequester") the CO2 underground, but this is a) difficult and b) likely to be more expensive than utilities would want to pay for without government twisting their arms.

Natural gas is a much cleaner, and efficient form of energy than coal. It's also been cheaper to use for the last few decades, though this is changing. Because of it's virtues, natural gas now makes up more than double the total energy consumption of coal. This contrasts with the situation thirty years ago, when coal and natural gas were roughly equal. (Note that this is energy, not electricity. Natural gas provides just a bit more than one third of coal's electricity production.) Natural gas is familiar to about 1/3 of the homes in the US, where it provides heating and cooking fuel. It has also become a useful fuel for electricity generation in recent decades, both because of it's efficiency and the small sizes NG plants can be built. Their modest sizes and agility makes NG plants perfect for producing electricity during peak hours.

Of course, natural gas is still a fossil fuel, which means it releases CO2 in smaller amounts when it's burned. Furthermore, Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas in and of itself, so much so that if even 5% of consumed natural gas escapes without being burned, the effect is actual worse for the climate. Since the dawn of the industrial age, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere has about doubled. On the plus side, methane does seem to have a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere (it reacts with oxygen, unlike CO2) so if we stopped emitting methane it would return to pre-industrial levels in a few decades.

Finally, there's the big papa - oil. For total energy use, oil is the 800-lb gorilla. Oil alone makes up 43% of world total energy consumption. Overwhelmingly, oil is used for transportation fuel - 60% of oil's end use is simply moving stuff around. These are global numbers - in the US, that figure is 70%. In some countries (primarily oil exporters) oil is used to generate electricity, but this largely came to an end in the west with the oil shocks of the 1970s. In the US today, less than 1% of electricity is generated from oil. Oil combustion is a cleaner form of energy than coal, but dirtier than natural gas.

Oil's real virtue comes from it's ease of use. Within a few years of it's first discovery in the US, many of the early techniques for refining oil had already been developed. It's high energy content and ability to be stored easily as a liquid make oil a very appealing fuel. Interestingly, gasoline was largely ignored as a motor fuel early on in favour of diesel, steam, and electricity. However, the Model T changed all that. By the 1930s gasoline was the dominant motor fuel in America. Today, diesel cars make up a small fraction of the US light-duty fleet (cars, minivans and SUVs.) This number is higher elsewhere in the world, where fuel prices are higher. Diesel is dominant in US trucking and heavy vehicles.

There is literally no substitute on the market which combines the energy content of oil with the ease of use. Natural gas is comparable in energy, but is harder to store and move. Electricity is easier to move, but harder to store (and so far impossible to store in comparable energy.) Coal is both harder to move and store, is dirtier, and doesn't hold nearly as much energy.

It's important to have a grasp of these facts before we move on to questions of resource depletion. As we'll see, none of these resources is guaranteed to last as long as we might think. For reasons that I'll get in to in the next post in this series, we will need to replace the energy we get from these fuels, and sooner than we think.

You Should Read Timothy Garton Ash

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

In the British case, the angst was a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Boer war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defied the mightiest military the world had seen; concern about the rising economic power of Germany and the United States; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socio-economic problems at home. In the American case, it's a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Iraq war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defies the mightiest military the world has seen; concern about the rising economic power of China and India; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socio-economic problems at home.

Iraq is America's Boer war. Remember that after the British had declared the end of major combat operations in the summer of 1900, the Boers launched a campaign of guerrilla warfare that kept British troops on the run for another two years. The British won only by a ruthlessness of which, I'm glad to say, the democratic, squeamish and still basically anti-colonialist United States appears incapable. In the end, the British had 450,000 British and colonial troops there (compared with some 150,000 US troops in Iraq), and herded roughly a quarter of the Boer population into concentration camps, where many died.

Ash goes on to say that we should lament, not celebrate the end of the American empire. I can't say I'm ready to weep. Ash's main point seems to be that autocratic China will replace the United States, and this is a bad thing. I disagree on two points:

First, despite the recent hype about China, there's no reason to believe that it will replace the US anytime soon as global hegemon. For the next few decades at least, China will still be a poor country in both relative and absolute terms. (In absolute terms, China's economy is just a bit bigger than Canada's.)Meanwhile, what happens inside China will be far more important to the course of the planet. I've previously written that I don't believe the Communist Party of China will survive another decade, due to increasing unrest within China. Assuming China is able to make the transition from autocratic to democratic, why should any of us fear Chinese hegemony?

Secondly, the benefits of American democracy are pretty hard to point to in the international arena. Has America's democracy forgiven African debt? Helped provide cheap AIDS drugs? Lowered tarriffs for developing countries? No, on all counts. America has been just as ruthless in pursuing it's own interests as China has been. Criticize China for buying Sudanese oil, sure. But pretending that the US has a great record in opposing tyranny post-1945 is delusional.


(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

Gee, ya think?
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 23 - With the last of the summer blockbusters fading from the multiplex, Hollywood's box office slump has hardened into a reality that is setting the movie industry on edge. The drop in ticket sales from last summer to this summer, the most important moviegoing season, is projected to be 9 percent by Labor Day, and the drop in attendance is expected to be even deeper, 11.5 percent, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.

Multiples theories for the decline abound: a failure of studio marketing, the rising price of gas, the lure of alternate entertainment, even the prevalence of commercials and pesky cellphones inside once-sacrosanct theaters. But many movie executives and industry experts are beginning to conclude that something more fundamental is at work: Too many Hollywood movies these days, they say, just are not good enough.
You mean people don't want to pay $20 to see Jamie Foxx fight the robot plane? Color me surprised.

This is one of my recurring questions for theatre-owners: How do you expect to convince people of the following: 1) Paying high prices is necessary. 2) Watching 30 minutes of advertising is not annoying. 3) You should prefer to see movies in the theatre, despite the excellent (and improving) quality of home entertainment systems.

Forget the quality of films for a moment - though I think that's important. Anyone with Bittorrent can download their favourite TV shows without commercials. People who buy DVDs are used to skipping ads and previews. People with Tivos have all sorts of neat goodies. Meanwhile, the theatres are getting more hostile to their customers, not less.

The movie industry has a choice, which it is currently debating: Either continue to support money-losing movie theatre releases, or make theatre and DVD releases simultaneous. Making DVD releases simultaneous is being called a "death threat" by theatre owners, but fundamentally this isn't in their hands anymore. I would bet on studios abandoning theatre owners before the decade is out.

Four Corners

(Cross-posted at Battlepanda.)

Before we get in to the details and the scope of the energy problems we face, I'd like to start off with a parable, and apologies to Neal Stephenson, from whom I steal this literary device.

Imagine yourself at an intersection in a busy city. Every morning, people come through this intersection looking to wake themselves up.

On the first corner is Carbon Joe's Coffee. Carbon Joe has provided the city with cheap, highly-caffeinated coffee for generations. However, it also has the unfortunate side effect of making Joe's customers extremely gassy. It's gotten so bad that on some days you have to hold your breath to stand in line. Also, the once-cheap coffee has recently gotten more expensive, because of increasing consumption and turmoil in Colombia. Finally, there's the problem of litter - Joe's paper cups are showing up everywhere in the city, making the parks and steets increasingly unusable. Carbon Joe's management deny any involvement in the increasing litter problem, and a number of suspiciously well-funded think tanks have argued that there is no litter problem, or that increasing litter is a natural phenomena having to do with the cycle of the sun.

Fed up with the line-ups, litter and gas at Carbon Joe's, a few people have crossed the street to Glowing Hot Coffee. The original owner of Glowing Hot thought he had a great plan: Take a recipe originally developed by the US taxpayer for the military, and turn it to civilian uses. The first Glowing Hot franchise opened in Shippingport, Pennsylvania in 1957. For a while, it looked like it might even work - one government official said Glowing Hot could make coffee "too cheap to meter." Then the problems started. A coffee machine in another Pennsylvania franchise nearly exploded. Always dependent on government aid, Glowing Hot has been unable to get any private franchises built since then.

On the other side of Main Street are stores of a different type. Instead of coffee, Bright & Breezy sells organic teas. But the business model is kind of funny - rather than charge you for each cup of tea, you make a one-time payment and get months worth of tea free after that. Of course, you can only get so much tea, and sometimes the shop closes without warning. Still, the one-time payments keep getting lower and lower, and Bright & Breezy has been growing quickly for the last decade.

On our last corner is a small herbal remedy cooperative. They don't want to sell you any tea, coffee, or any drink at all. Rather, among the sounds of the Dixie Chicks and the smell of incense, this shop wants to help you sleep better so you don't need caffeine at all. Most of their products are cheap - some are free. But before you can buy anything, they ask you a single simple question: "What do you want coffee for, anyway?"

Day after day, week after week, year after year, governments and markets shovel money at Carbon Joe's and Glowing Hot. 90% of people completely ignore the tea shops and the herbal remedy store. And all "reasonable" commentary on the national caffeine policy believes that "caffeine independence" can only be achieved by some combination of A) more intensive coffee growing, and B) massive building of new Glowing Hot franchises.

Meanwhile, the litter problem gets worse and worse. The price of coffee keeps getting more and more expensive. And families who have lived next to Glowing Hot stores for a few years are seeing a higher incidence of cancer and birth defects.

People begin to wonder: Is there another way? And then they remember those little shops across the street...

News, Everyone!

Angelica at Battlepanda is moving to London (the good one, not the Canadian one) and has asked me to guest-blog over at her place while she packs up. I have happily accepted, so I'll be writing some more stuff dealing with my favourite topics - energy, Asian development, politics, pretty much the usual.

You won't have to check over at Battlepanda to get everything I'm writing here - I'll be double posting everything. But some of it will be old to the people who've been reading regularly. I'll try and spice it up a bit, but by now my regulars must be getting sick of me re-hashing peak oil and electric cars.

That said, I'm working on a series which I hope will coherently cover the current and impending energy crises, and the possible solutions. Hope you all enjoy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Happy Birthday

Not to me or to my blog, but to my beautiful girlfriend Vicki. You can see an example of why I love her so much here. Also, for more crazy, here.

In any event, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'm pleased - no, outright happy! - that she was born, and even more pleased that I'm lucky enough to have her in my life.

Happy Birthday my love.

Light blogging today - I have to help a damsel in need, then have birthday things to tend to.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


As I type this, I'm blogging from my backyard.

My parents got themselves a Dell laptop with a wireless networking card in it, and while the signal is a bit weak from the backyard, it's sufficient for this. It's taken me a while to get it set up, but it's working fine now.

And now my parents can finally stop using my computer. They've been without a functioning unit for a few weeks now, and it's been annoying in the extreme sharing a system with them.

Also, my dad has been really funny while waiting for this thing to arrive. He's like a kid who sent away for a decoder ring - "Ooh ooh! Is it here yet?"

Anyway, now I can blog and get sunlight at the same time. Excellent!

We Should Listen To Fareed

Zakaria's had two good columns lately. The first, from a few weeks ago, tries to explain how dumb Donald Rumsfeld is:
This is how the Chinese challenge presents itself. It is not a crude attempt to corner the world's energy supplies but rather a quiet effort to establish itself as the dominant player in Asia. China pursues this strategy not by making noisy threats, but by making itself crucial to other countries in the region. Consider the turnaround in Indonesia. Ten years ago, when Indonesian officials spoke of their security concerns, China was usually on top of the list. Today, they speak of China only as a partner.

China's growth strategy has been different from that of Japan. When Japan rose to power, it did so in a predatory fashion, pushing its products and investments in other countries but keeping its own market closed. China has done the opposite, opening itself up to foreign trade and investment. The result is that growth in countries from Brazil to Australia increasingly depends on the Chinese market. China is making itself indispensable to the world. Even India, which is wary of China's rise and is a counterweight to it, will not ignore this reality. In three years its largest trading partner will be China, displacing the United States of America.
This is why America's paranoia over China is so misplaced. While the US may see China as a threat, increasingly they're the only ones who see it that way. America's worries increasingly look less like a hegemon trying to maintain stability, and more like a petulant child who doesn't want to play with equals.

And speaking of petulance, Zakaria's latest column is an excellent list of how America's oil dependence is a foreign policy problem:
I leave it to economists to sort out what expensive oil does to America's growth and inflation prospects. What is less often noticed is how crippling this situation is for American foreign policy. "Everything we're trying to do in the world is made much more difficult in the current environment of rising oil prices,"...
Zakaria then goes on to list trouble spots around the globe, such as the Middle East, Russia, Venezuela, etc. The problem is that Zakaria's argument seems to rely heavily on the assumption that the only people living in the problem countries are the people we don't like. It's an assumption that the current war in Iraq relied on heavily - "We're gonna go get Saddam!" Apparently, the other 26 million Iraqis are invincible to cluster bombs.

Zakaria's argument is that by getting off of oil, the US would stop spending money in places that we don't like. Fine, so far as it goes. But let's not forget that this would also impoverish a number of countries that are just starting to get their economies on a decent footing - Russia being just one of them. The Russian people already blame the US for their problems. Do we want to make it worse?

In reality, I don't think the US can get "off" of oil, in the sense that greenbacks would stop flowing to Riyadh and Tehran. So long as there's oil in the ground, we're going to want it (if nothing else, it makes an excellent chemical feedstock.) What we can do is limit our vulnerability to oil disruptions. Getting our transportion and farm sectors off of oil would enormously simplify the equation. Not only would it reduce oil consumption in the US by 80% (in my magical scenario) but when demand for oil inevitably picked up again after the price collapse, the US's two most energy-vulnerable sectors would be relatively safe. The US could then proceed to wage war on brown people across the globe with impunity.

Why Did God Make Republicans?

Is there a single question - anywhere, anytime - that Republicans can't get wrong? From GOPUSA:
Why, then, are oil prices so high?

There is no esoteric reason. It is plain old supply and demand. With the economies of huge nations like China and India developing more rapidly, now that they have freed their markets from many stifling government controls, more oil is being demanded in the world market and there are few new sources of supply.
Unsurprisingly, this is just wrong. The reason Chinese and Indian demand is so high is precisely because they haven't removed price controls - Chinese and Indian consumers are paying artificially low prices for gasoline, which means they're buying more oil than they otherwise would.

If India and China removed their price controls (or "liberated" them, as the GOP would say) gas consumption would almost certainly plummet. Which would bring prices down, temporarily.

Wrong On All Counts, Jackass

Okay, everybody get set for a giggle. Pat Robertson has endorsed murder. Of foreign leaders, no less.
ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
Can't... stop... laughing...

I know that everyone's dying over the irony of an alleged man of God endorsing murder, but why stop there? There's so much more that's wrong with this twit, it deserves a thorough debunking.

First of all, the idea that the US "did nothing" while a Latin American leader was deposed (however briefly) is funny beyond description. Someone should put up a list of American leaders who were deposed without US involvement in the 20th century. I'm pretty sure there's this guy, and that's it. Of course the US was involved in Chavez' aborted removal from office.

Secondly, the idea that Chavez has, by investing in food and education for the poor, "destroyed the Venezuelan economy", is also false and badly so. With high oil prices, the Venezuelan economy has grown 16.8% this year - but that's according to the CIA, that bunch of Leninists. In truth, the people who've done the most damage to the Venezuelan economy have been Chavez's enemies, with their repeated attempts (both legal and not) to remove him from office, and their constant economic unrest.

Thirdly, the idea of Venezuela as a "dangerous enemy to our south" and a "terrific danger" is really just the icing on the cake. Yes, exports of 2 million barrels of oil per day is nothing to sneeze at. But really. What Robertson is talking about is the continuing US idea that America has the right to kill for oil. A supposed believer in Jesus Christ has said that, as a matter of national policy, it's nifty if the US goes and whacks a guy to keep gas prices low.

I don't think I need to ask it, but I will: What would Jesus do?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Remember That?

Oh yeah... I remember something like that happening:
The 2000 election is still an open sore on the body politic. That was clear from the outraged reaction to my mention last week of what would have happened with a full statewide manual recount of Florida.

This reaction seems to confuse three questions. One is what would have happened if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn't intervened; the answer is that unless the judge overseeing the recount had revised his order (which is a possibility), George W. Bush would still have been declared the winner.

The second is what would have happened if there had been a full, statewide manual recount - as there should have been. The probable answer is that Al Gore would have won, by a tiny margin.

The third is what would have happened if the intentions of the voters hadn't been frustrated by butterfly ballots, felon purges and more; the answer is that Mr. Gore would have won by a much larger margin....

More broadly, the story of the 2000 election remains deeply disturbing - not just the fact that a man the voters tried to reject ended up as president, but the ugliness of the fight itself. There was an understandable urge to put the story behind us.

But we aren't doing the country a favor when we present recent history in a way that makes our system look better than it is. Sometimes the public needs to hear unpleasant truths, even if those truths make them feel worse about their country.

Not to be coy: election 2000 may be receding into the past, but the Iraq war isn't. As the truth about the origins of that war comes out, there may be a temptation, once again, to prettify the story. The American people deserve better.
It's nice of Paul Krugman to remind people: The wrong man is President. An illegitimate Commander-In-Chief is in charge during wartime. In most countries, this would be reason for concern.

America: Yawwwn.

It's On

Well, it looks like Civil War in Iraq is almost a sure thing now. Via Pogge, we find that the constitution the "Iraqis" negotiated actually didn't include the sullen and heavily armed Sunnis.
A potentially more intractable problem in the long run was the disaffection of Sunni leaders, who have been largely excluded from the deliberations during the past week. The constitution has been written almost entirely by Shiite and Kurdish leaders, who said they had decided to leave the Sunnis out because they were being too inflexible.
The Shia are now saying that this is a "compromise", that they'll bend on some positions, but let's look at the issues: Sunnis wanted national control of the oil, no federalism with Kurd or Shia areas, and were wary of increasing islamicization of the government. The Kurds and Shia have written a federal constitution with Islamic rule and autonomous control of oil. This might still have worked, if the Sunnis weren't showing their prowess at detruction on a daily basis.

So what are the options? A Shia-Kurd crackdown on Sunni insurgents? Possibly, but it's hard to see that not spiralling out of control. Some of the metaphors we've used with regard to Iraq have been Vietnam, Somalia, the Balkans. We now have a depressing new possibility:


NAFTA, Dieppe, Canada and the World

It's hard to think of a more mainstream organ of the press than the Globe and Mail. Seriously. This paper - nearly a quarter century older than our country - is the bastion of sober, conservative thought in Canada.

So I was surprised to see the headline on Saturday: "Betrayed Over Free Trade." The gist of the article is that a) The US has reneged on it's word, expressed in both the 1988 FTA and the 1993 NAFTA, and B) Canada should seriously consider leaving NAFTA. Who are the radicals who are advocating this course? The exact same fucking morons who negotiated free trade in the first place.

Ahem. Pardon me.

I think our American cousins would be surprised by how visceral the reaction to the softwood lumber dispute has been up here. Canada has historically been slapped around by it's colonial masters - whether it was the French, the British, and now the US, we've never been taken seriously. Some poor, deluded souls (who unfortunately ran the government at the time) believed that Canada could protect itself by tieing the US Goliath down with international law. To have this illusion shattered by the arrogance of the Bush administration's position on softwood lumber is to bring back all the old resentments of larger powers.

Interestingly, the anniversary of the Dieppe raid has just passed. For those who don't know, Dieppe was an aborted attack in 1942 on German positions in France where Canadians (and I believe some Australians) were used essentially as cannon fodder to make the point to the Soviets that it wasn't time for a second front against the Nazis yet. Though estimates vary, somewhere in the range of 1,000 Canadians were killed and 3,000 captured in a piece of theatre designed to placate larger powers. There's really no question that Canadian lives were being thrown away - Louis Mountbatten, head of the operation, is reported to have said "Who knows, it might even work!" So Canadians take imperial arrogance very seriously, and very personally.

But back to NAFTA. The Globe article in question interviews a number of the Tories who thought they could play the role of Llilliputians to Gulliver - tie down the Americans with law, and guarantee Canadian access to the US market. Of course, this was an idiotic idea. The US government is never, ever, going to choose Canadian interests over it's own. We even, in a fit of madness, offered the Americans what amounts to an unconditional surrender - guaranteed access to Canadian energy, in perpetuity and regardless of any Canadian energy shortages.

To be clear - we gave that away, it wasn't a demand by the Americans. And in exchange, Canada has received pretty much nothing except the occasional kick in the nuts.

But there's something that should be said. As bad as the Bush government's position on trade has been, we're kidding ourselves if we think the Clinton/Gore/Kerry administrations would have been any better. Former foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy seems to want to believe that there is something particularly noxious about the Bush administration, but the fact of the matter is that so long as we put our faith in NAFTA, we're putting our economic lives in the hands of the US Congress. A deeper cesspool for rational thought has yet to be thought of by the minds of man.

So was Canada "betrayed" on Free Trade? Yes. But not by the American government - it's just doing what it does, and what anyone with a brain could have predicted. No, Canada was betrayed by our own government, who idiotically believed they could control the elephant. Specifically, Canada was sold out by the exact people who are now complaining that the US isn't playing nice.

Waaaaaah. I want my bottle. God, the Canadian people actually voted for these morons? Talk about getting the government you deserve...

But where do we go now? Well, the softwood lumber dispute is moving on to the WTO, which will without question rule in our favour, again. This will allow Canada to impose retaliatory tariffs against the US. But it should be asked: If our only option for serious negotiations is to go to the WTO, what does Canada have to gain from NAFTA anymore?

The Canadian punditocracy mocked David Orchard when he said we had to get out of NAFTA. They refused to listen to him when he said FTA was a bad idea that was going to hurt Canada. They called him "anti-globalization" when he said that Canada should rely on the WTO, not the goodwill of the US congress. Now, the Tories who recommended Free Trade are essentially in agreement with Orchard.

The good news is that Canada has more options today then we did 20 years ago. The US no longer needs to be our overwhelming trade partner (though geography tends to mean they'll always be the largest single partner.) China, India, Europe, even Africa offer Canadians a number of growing markets to trade in. If we really want to work seriously on de-emphasizing trade with the US, that means working tirelessly to forge new links across both oceans. It also means rebuilding the east-west relationships of this country, rather than the north-south ones we've let grow since Free Trade. Given that this would be good for Canada anyway, it's hard to see why we wouldn't do it.

Just don't elect the Conservatives again.

It's A Weird Day When...

I agree with Liberals and disagree with the NDP. I've only voted Liberal once, and that was to ensure the defeat of Ernie Eves.

In the Good News category, the Ontario Liberals are planning to introduce a european-style subsidy for renewable energy, where green projects get a guaranteed selling point for long periods. This kind of subsidy has been instrumental in the success of wind power in Europe. So good for the Liberals, if they actually bring it through. I believe (though I could be wrong) this would make Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to use this kind of policy. So go us!

In the Bad News, however, NDP leader Jack Layton is recommending we investigate the gas companies for any collusion or price-fixing. Now, I'm not so naive as to think there's no collusion, but frankly the symptom Jack's seeing - gas prices all moving at the same time - doesn't indicate the disease he thinks. Rather than foul play, the fact is gasoline is a pretty simple commodity, and it derives from a single, very dear resource - oil. Rather than a sign of mischief, this is just a sign of a very competitive market in a simple, easily produced good.

Now, if prices were extremely stable, that would be evidence of market collusion.

Anyway, it gets worse - Jack wants the feds to set a maximum price for gasoline, nation-wide. Oh boy, it's hard to believe the NDP has a single economist working for them, that idea's so bad. See, China's done the same thing, and as a result scores of cities have gasoline shortages now.

Look, the price of oil is going up - whether you believe it's driven by asian demand or oil peaking, it's heading up for the forseeable future. Therefore, the price of gasoline is also heading up. Period. Setting artificial prices won't actually help matters - if anything, it'll make things worse.

If the NDP wants to really help matters, it should propose an alternative to oil and gasoline - the alternatives are out there, and they could use a political champion.

Oh, and just so people don't think I'm really a Liberal in disguise, let me take this opportunity to say that no, Ontario does not need new Nuclear plants, contrary to Minister Duncan's assertions. If Ontario is serious about renewables and efficiency, we can quickly eliminate the "need" for new nuclear plants. I don't, however, think that we should shut down the nuclear plants before the end of their lifetimes, however. Rather, shutting down our coal plants should be the priority.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

In Which I Say Nyahh

Well, I've been saying at least since January that the US has to pull out of Iraq, and soon. Given the news (via Billmon) that the US is now backing Islamic law for Iraq, I think they're paving the way for exactly that. The only reason the Bush administration would concede such an embarassing reversal to the Shia is in the belief that it can calm things down in time for 2006. I think they're wrong - the US-caused civil war is still pending, in my books.

So here we are: The US invaded a country on the pretext of WMDs, which they never found. They then proceeded to claim they invaded to "liberate" the Iraqi people, who will now almost certainly find themselves living (optimistically) under an Iranian-style government, or (pessimistically) having to choose between at least three factions in a civil war. Of course, exactly this outcome was predicted by the anti-war crowd in 2002. We were called cowards, appeasers, pro-Saddam, etc etc.

One of my friends recently speculated that Canada's absence in Iraq might, in the future, be remembered as infamously as Canada's refusal to take Jewish refugees in World War II. It's a provocative thought, but I think it's not entirely sound - for Canada to be culpable, we'd have to be able to do something meaningful. Canada's military is not in a state where we could deliver a meaningful assistance to the Americans. To put it briefly, it's not our fault this is coming undone on the US.

More importantly, this war could never have been a good war. It was waged in defiance of the international community, and sold on the basis of lies. It did substantial harm to the US's relationship with the world, and undermined a half-century's worth of work on international law. It has, and could only ever have, made the world a more dangerous place in which to live. If you don't believe this, ask a Londoner.

We were right all along. Don't ever, ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Ooh, More Fiction

Thank God it's all a conspiracy:
Icy Greenland turns green
By Richard Hollingham
BBC News, Greenland


The Earth's climate has warmed before, albeit naturally.

A ruined church on the banks of a fjord marks the remains of a Viking farming civilisation.

The sun casts shadows through the arched window to the site of the altar, last used in the 1400s before the area was abandoned when it became too cold to support habitation.

Today, the farmers are back.

Sheep once again graze the surrounding hillside and shiny new tractors work the fields near the southern coast.

Greenland is turning green, something the rest of us should be very worried about indeed.
I'd have to look it up to be sure, but I was under the impression that Greenland's glaciers also contain a lot of trapped Methane (hydrates), so the melting of Greenland's ice is possibly also releasing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Boy, the news keep getting more and more bleak. I've basically accepted the fact that we now face a catastrophe. It might have been different if we'd listened to the scientific consensus in the late 1980s - when 48 countries (including the US) concluded that climate change represented a threat to the world "whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war". They also set a voluntary 20% reduction in CO2 emissions target - by 2005. Oops.

We probably couldn't have avoided climate change entirely, but if the nations of the world had taken the threat seriously in 1988, we would already have solved these problems. We'd have gotten off oil and coal, and prepared our economies for the 21st century.

I hate missed opportunities.

TE Lawrence on Insurgencies

Past Peak has a great post on the last westerner to achieve regime change in Arabia. Go read it all, but the last line is "Or, to summarize: the US is completely screwed in Iraq."

On Gaza

Don't have much to say about the Gaza withdrawal, except A) It's about bloody time, and B) For the first time in living memory, the Israeli army is making headlines for its restraint.

Snark aside, the settlers in Gaza are finally being shown to be as crazy as I always assumed they were. Calling for Sharon's death, calling the Israeli soldiers Nazis (!), comparing it to a pogrom, all these things are just insane.

Let's be clear - these people elected to live in a place where they had no reasonable expectation of permanence. The settlements were always unsustainable, and only the might of the IDF and substantial financial incentives made it appear "normal". The settlers are being resettled and compensated (argh) generously.

The good news is that the Gaza withdrawal is going well, hopefully paving the way for a withdrawal from the West Bank, too.

Japan Redux?

We all know the story of the 1970s - how cheap, fuel-efficient Japanese cars displaced gas-guzzling American models during the oil shock years. Is it possible we'll see a repeat?

Fuji Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi have both announced that they'll begin production of electric cars. Both are small 2-seaters (think SmartCar, not sedan) with ranges from 75 miles to 130 on full charges. However, the Fuji car may have the advantage because of this:
Based on the R1 minicar, the R1e uses a lithium-ion battery can be recharged to 90% of capacity in five minutes. The current prototype can be driven 120 kilometers (75 miles) without recharging, but the distance is expected to be expanded to 200 kilometers (124 miles).
With recharging that fast, suddenly electric cars' last major disadvantage relative to gasoline cars goes away. Even for longer trips, pulling over for a bathroom break and a drink would give you more than enough time to get a 90% charge in the batteries.

Extending the range for the cars would be great - at 120 miles, the R1e's range is about 1/3 that of a gasoline-powered car. If the range can be doubled (or even tripled) the R1e suddenly goes from being a good idea to a necessity for most people.

Now, the more important question is whether or not Chinese and Korean carmakers can compete. I want my cheap EV!

The Aristocrats

Saw this movie last night. It's hysterically funny, and incredibly disgusting. But if you're not turned off by the abundant references to horrible acts against children, and frequent references to bodily fluids, go see it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

New Milestones In Stupidity

There are days when I hate the Capitalist Triumphalism of Wired Magazine. Case in point:
When the United States beat the Soviet Union in the first race to the moon, it confirmed the view, to many, that capitalism rules and communism sucks. But the state that President Reagan called The Evil Empire learned its lesson and embraced capitalism wholeheartedly, in space at least, while NASA ossified into a monstrous, inefficient bureaucracy that would have done Khrushchev proud.
First things first - the state the Reagan called the Evil Empire was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and that state no longer exists. The state that "embraced" capitalism wholeheartedly is the Russian Federation, and those two countries are not the same thing. God, is basic historical literacy too much to ask for?

Secondly, if anyone drew the conclusion from the Apollo program that "capitalism rules and communism sucks" then they're idiots. NASA was in the 1960s as much a command economy as anything that Brezhnev could draw up. The Americans made incredible technical progress, but it wasn't free-market dynamism behind it. Rather, it was government spending to the tune of $100 billion dollars, which you've got to admit will solve a lot of problems.


Kevin Drum writes:
The dovish left is losing patience with establishment hawks, and if this continues we can be sure that Karl Rove will do his best to hammer this wedge straight through the heart of the Democratic party as the 2006 midterms begin to heat up.

This is about the last thing we need, and both sides would be well advised to do some serious thinking before this internecine warfare gets out of hand. For its part, the dovish left needs to content itself with merely trying to win support for its position, rather than also demanding ritual public humiliations from ego-driven politicians. It ain't gonna happen, and if it did it would do nothing but destroy their credibility and fracture the party anyway. So knock it off.
I'm torn. On the one hand, I realize that getting the Republicans out of power - without "ritual public humiliations" - is more important than vindicating my personal views about the war.

On the other hand, having my views vindicated with ritual public humiliations is still really, really important to me.

Besides, the Democrats have been so complicit with America's war-making, it's hard to see how the party can make a new, coherent stand against continuing the war in Iraq without at least a little ritual humiliation - some of the pro-war Dems in Congress are going to have to say "we were wrong." Period. Not to assuage the left wing of the Democratic party, but to justify the party's new anti-war stance.

Because let's face it - the Democrats have a very real problem. Kerry, despite a relatively consistent position on Iraq, was portrayed by the Republicans (and therefore the media) as confused. The same applies for the Democratic Party, on a larger scale. I don't think that there's an easy way for the party to escape this trap: They supported the early war efforts, so now that the plan has gone to shit in Iraq, it's as impossible for them to withdraw ideologically as it is for the US to withdraw militarily. And in both cases, the withdrawal is going to be more painful because there are no other options.

The Democrats are going to have to say, clearly and loudly, "We fucked up." But what bugs me more about Kevin's post is not simply that I think it's wrong-headed, but the defensiveness that I may be reading in to it. Kevin was, it should be remembered, an advocate of the war just until shortly before it began, whereupon he switched. But I don't think he's ever abandoned the idea that the war "could have been" right, if only Bush wasn't in charge. Somehow, the pro-war left imagines that the various problems of Iraq would have been magically solved if only President Gore had invaded. This is ridiculous - no Iraqi suicide bomber actually cares that much. So long as the plan involved invading Iraq, there was going to be a large, well-armed insugency. Would the war in Iraq really be that much better if only 1,000 US servicemen and women had died thus far?

As much as I think Bush has criminally misled this war, he isn't to blame for the fact that, with remarkable consistency, bad ideas continue to be bad ideas. This is true regardless of who thinks them up, or how hard you clap.