Renewables Bolsters Apple’s Declaration Why 1984 Won’t Be Like “1984”

concertIn the famous Apple commercial directed by the renowned Ridley Scott, an omnipotent dictator pontificates to the masses that, “Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!” In 1984 when Apple was about to release the MacIntosh, it used this scorching, Orwellian vision of the future to assert that the Mac would prevent the existence of such an oppressive and malevolent regime because it facilitates the free-flow of information. The commercial can be viewed by Googling “Apple 1984 Super Bowl ad”.

tim-cookWe are all hopeful that Apple is right that the MacIntosh and/or its technological descendants will assure the unhindered proliferation of information and ideas. However, it is prudent to take pause and consider an axiom that was espoused in George Orwell’s iconic novel, “Nineteen Eighty Four”: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” How does one really control the present? For example, can military superiority alone always ensure control? In Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming (Rozich, 2015), there is much discussion on the impending resource crisis noted by the McKinsey Group (2011) and how renewables will likely be necessary for the maintenance of economic stability as well as for stemming global warming. In a resource-challenged scenario, basic resources for energy, water, etc. can arguably present the ultimate leverage that controls the flow of information. Consider that the one who controls the resources could not only potentially control what information gets distributed, but also who has the ability to control a computer and use the internet. After all, the information age has made us even more dependent on energy and power than ever before. Renewables are not only essential to manage the environment, but are also pivotal for providing resource security. If one is not dependent on Big Brother for resources, then one enjoys a higher level of independence and arguably a greater surety in having the ability to participate in the free flow of information.

The history of Apple’s corporate strategy genuinely shows migration towards a renewables-based functionality. In an article in Forbes (Denning, 2014), it was reported that Mr. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, was being asked by a finance group to divulge the costs of the company’s programs for energy sustainability programs. This group further insisted that Apple make a commitment to “doing only those things that were profitable”. Mr. Cook smartly responded to the financiers by noting that “return on investment (ROI ) was not the primary consideration for marcusthese issues.” This exchange was subtle, yet very illuminating on a number of levels. It is prudent to recognize that the calculation of ROI is subject to a number of input variables. It is also impacted by variables that are difficult to quantify for inclusion in a conventional economic analysis. For example, what if the intrepid financiers asked Mr. Cook if Apple was sure that it had resource security and could guarantee that the company’s fiscal performance would not be impacted by an inability to have access to key resources? It is extremely difficult to quantify in detail the value of resource security and its impact on ROI. One can be assured, however, that if you do not have adequate access to resources, your ROIs will be less than optimal and potentially negative. Guaranteed. In this economy and with the myriad of resource interlinkages that exist, it is essential to have renewables as a significant piece of your resource portfolio. It’s not just good for the environment, it’s good business. As Marcus Aurelius once said, “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

References:
1) Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Super Nexus Press, West Chester, PA, 2015.
2) Orwell, G., Nineteen Eighty-Four, Martin, Secker, and Warburg, Ltd., London, 1949.
3) McKinsey Global Institute, Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Food, and Water Needs, McKinsey and Company, San Francisco, November, 2011.
4) Denning, S., “Why Tim Cook Doesn’t Care About ‘The Bloody ROI’”, Forbes, March 7, 2014.

 

Aurelius, Marcus, Meditations, Penguin Books, Ltd., London, 2004.

You’re Drinking What? The California Water Crisis from a Nexus Perspective

Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, once said, “Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” The nasa-photocitizenry of California are acutely aware of this observation. Articles such as a recent one given on AgWeb (www.agweb.com) draw further attention to the growing crisis. This begs the question of “what caused the crisis?” as well as “where can we find more water?” The answer to both questions is not obvious to most and perhaps surprising to others. A better way to view the genesis and exacerbation of the California water calamity is to analyze this problem using nexus thinking.

The Super Nexus
So what is a nexus? A nexus is a connection or series of connections linking two or more things. In “Other Inconvenient diagramTruths Beyond Global Warming” (Rozich, 2015), the Super Nexus is a three-way confluence of the need for environmental and economic sustainability, depletion of resources with increased resource costs and availability, and economic expansion.The McKinsey Group (2011) brought attention to the impending resource crisis noting that resources are increasingly interlinked and it is that interlinkage which creates a nexus. Increased human populations and an increased in standard of living exacerbate resource requirements, resource interlinkages, and related issues of the Super Nexus. With a resource nexus, the costs or availability of one resource impacts the costs or availability of the other resources in a resource nexus. If for example, the cost of energy goes up by 10%, the cost of water may rise by 20% because energy is needed for water production and water is often needed for energy production. The incremental effect of a nexus on resource costs is not linear, but multiplicative.

The incremental effect of a nexus on the supply requirements of a resource is also multiplicative. For example, if one needs more energy to increase the standard of living, more water is often required to make the additional energy. Since more water is needed to make the energy, greater supplies of raw water are then needed.

The Agricultural, Water, and Energy Nexus
In addition to the overall Super Nexus, there is the Agricultural, Water, and Energy Nexus. Agricultural production demands water and energy. Similarly, water demands energy for extraction, treatment, and distribution and energy demands water for extraction, processing, and distribution. These three resources all have a variety of “entrained” resource demands by virtue of the fact that they use commercial products that in and of themselves have requirements for energy and water. For example, agriculture requires fertilizer which requires energy and water in the manufacturing process.

The current relationships between the three resource systems is deepened with increased environmental pressures, climatic changes, as well as the dual impact of growing economies and populations. Hoff (2011) noted that “A new nexus oriented approach is needed to address current levels of insecurity in access to basic services; one “that better understands the inter-linkages and inter-dependencies across water, energy and food sectors as well as the influence of trade, investment and climate policies.” Hoff (2011) in Global Risk 2011 report presented by the World Economic Forum and sponsored by the Swedish Environment Institute, also indicates that the agriculture (food) water energy nexus is a global risk that is a fundamental threat to societal functionality. There are likely to be unexpected consequences as politicos seek to address one part of the nexus and inadvertently compromise another part. The California Water Crisis could actually be worsened if a nexus approach is not used to determine a solution. Because of the substantive interlinkage of resources, it is paramount in solution formulation to use a nexus focus. A nexus approach necessitates the use of a holistic framework that explicitly defines the links between resources and understands the effect one has on another.

You Are Drinking What?
Recycling spent water is likely to be the only long term solution for the California crisis (Kix, 2012). Water and other resources are somewhat different than energy. Once water resources are exhausted, the alternative options for new sources are reduced dramatically. Recycling is the only alternative for inserting water resources back into the economy or into the ecosystem. Some may think that the oceans or large bodies of fresh water may represent viable alternatives. This thinking is flawed on a couple of levels. First, other “new” sources of raw water may have onerous energy requirements for processing, entrained energy needs for transportation, or both. Second, unbridled consumption of oceanic or large freshwater sources may wreak havoc on ecosystems that depend on water. Ecosystem damage could spill over and impact societal functionality. In order to avoid damage to ecosystems due to inordinate water withdrawal, society must be mindful of what has been termed, “peak ecological water” (Gleick and Palaniappan, 2010). Peak ecological water is operationally defined as the amount of water in naturally occurring systems that must be preserved to avoid causing irreparable damage to existing ecosystems. It represents a boundary that cannot be breached without inflicting

unacceptable damage to aquatic ecosystems. In summary, water recycling is a reality that society needs to embrace if it is to avoid more situations such as that which is currently occurring in California.

A Final Note Submitted for Your Consideration
poolThe population of California is projected to increase by 14 million people by 2060 (www.sco.ca.gov). The impact of this population increase on water resource requirements for domestic use is likely to be staggering if current practices prevail. The associated increase in water resources needed to supply the additional population can be calculated using a domestic water footprint of 100 gallons/capita/day. This analysis shows the need for an additional 1.4 billion gallons per day of water resources and does not include the supply requirements for industrial operations and other non-domestic activities. A point of reference is that this amount of water is contained in about 2,100 Olympic-sized swimming pools. California’s choice is simple. Either find an additional 1.4 billion of water resources per day or recycle used water in a prudent manner that complies with a nexus-friendly strategy.

References:
1) Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Super Nexus Press, West Chester, PA, 2015.

2) McKinsey Global Institute, Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Food, and Water Needs, McKinsey and Company, San Francisco, November, 2011.
3) Hoff, H., “Understanding the Nexus”, Stockholm Environment Institute, Presented, Bonn2011 Conference The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus, November, 2011.
4) Kix, P, “You Are Drinking What?”, Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2012.
5) Gleick, P. and Palaniappan, M., “Peak water limits to freshwater withdrawal and use”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, (25): 11155–11162, 2010.

Cleaning Up for the Kardashians

KimKEveryone is probably familiar with the “reality” television show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”. It is a digital landfill dedicated to the glorification of gluttonous consumerism. A Dead Kennedys’ song (see, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death”) evoked similar sentiment when Jello and the gang railed against the excesses of 1980s consumerism. Solid waste is discussed extensively in Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming (2015). So what is there to clean up for the Kardashians? There is a much compelling and sobering “other inconvenient truth” that raises its ugly head. This truth not only applies to Kenedythe Kardashians, but also to many of their fellow Hollywood celebrities and also many of the members of the economic elitist1% club which drew the wrath of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Please understand that this other inconvenient truth is not the sole purview of the Hollywood crowd but it crosses all strata of the 1%. That’s right, you can also include Dick Cheney, the Koch brothers, Hillary Clinton, and Michael Moore as also being complicit. But being complicit with what? The simple fact of the matter is that with increased affluence comes increased wasting of resources. Data collected by the World Bank has shown that the rate of wasting resources is much higher with the affluent than it is with lower economic groups. In other words, those members of society that are the most economically privileged or fortunate are the most promiscuously wasteful. It is a sad, but true, irony.

The referenced World Bank report (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012) assembled pie-chat-imgdata which showed that waste generation varies according to both region and economic levels. Waste generation rates vary as a function of affluence. It appears to be clear that greater societal technological sophistication and affluence results in greater per capita waste generation. Consider the chart showing the impact of affluence on waste generation. High-income countries produce the most waste per capita, while low income countries produce the least solid waste per capita (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012). The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries generate 572 million tones of solid waste per year. The per capita values range from 1.1 to 3.7 kg per person per day with an average of 2.2 kg/capita/day.

Data for this trend is reinforced in the graph shown below from a World Bank Report (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012). These data show the profound impact of affluence which is strongly linked with societal technological complexity on waste generation. As human societies get more technologically capable, waste generation rates per capita rise in kind. In effect, as societal functionality gets more technical, waste generation rates increase and humans become less resource efficient and more wasteful.

Not surprisingly, the World Bank (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012) has reported that global waste volumes are increasing quickly at faster rates than the rate of urbanization. This is not unexpected if one is inclined to believe that per capita waste generation rates will be similar to a trend that Cook (1971) projected for energy usage per capita. That is, the combined impact of population increases along with upgrades in standard which is increased affluence trump urbanization rates.

bar-graph-imgAnother inconvenient truth as noted by McKinsey (2011) is the potential impact of having 3 billion people suddenly thrust into middle class. This trend alone could massively increase the waste production rates of resources. To illustrate this point using the data from the chart above, let us assume that 1 billion people migrate from the lower middle class of affluence to the high affluence. The chart shows that the low class produces about 0.5 kg waste/capita/day while the average middle class produces about 0.8 kg waste/capita/day. This is a difference of 0.3 kg waste/capita/day. In a scenario having 3 billion people transition to the middle class, world waste generation rates increase by a staggering 2.4 billion kgs/day or almost 1 trillion kgs per year. In other words, increased affluence not only increases per capita resource consumption, but also per capita waste production. As world societies strive to increase standards of living, we must be fully aware of this twofold unfortunate reality. A renewable economy with a recycling system is more than a want, it is a necessity.

References:
Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Super Nexus Press, West Chester, PA, 2015.

Hoornweg, D. and Perinaz Bhada-Tata, P., What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2012.

Cook, E., “The Flow of Energy in an Industrial Society”, Scientific American, September, 1971.

McKinsey Global Institute, Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Food, and Water Needs, McKinsey and Company, San Francisco, November, 2011.

van Leeuwen, M., et. al., “The agri-food sector in Ukraine: Current situation and market outlook until 2025”, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Seville, Spain, 2012.

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death!

The Dead Kennedys (DK) are a punk band with hits such as “California über alles”, a commentary on California’s two-time governor, Jerry Brown (watch here). They also took on sustainability issues and I think they dead kenedyshad it right. Hat’s off to Jello Biafra and the gang. In their compilation album of 1987 entitled, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death,” DK’s album title is a play on the famous quote by the US Revolutionary Era politician, Patrick Henry, who proclaimed, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” Henry’s quote came from his famous speech to the Virginia state parliament, the House of Burgess, in March, 1775 in Richmond, Virginia. The full quote from the ending to Henry’s speech is thought to be, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”

So what do the Dead Kennedys and Patrick Henry have to do with global warming, climate change, environmental deterioration, and the impending resource scarcity crisis? Henry’s message from 1775 is clearly that freedom for the American colonies is so precious that it is paramount above all else, even life itself. patrick henryWhat the Dead Kennedys are espousing in their 1987 album with its puck rock polemic is that wanton consumerism and wasting of material things derived from our precious resources is more important to human society than anything else, even life. Thus, “Give me convenience or give me death.”

Consumerism in its earliest forms made life for humans and human societal functionality more palatable. It can now be argued that societal perception of consumerism has morphed significantly during the 20th and 21st centuries. Before this time, having appliances and goods that make daily easier was viewed somewhat as a privilege for which one is grateful. Now it seems that the reckless purchase, consumption, and wasting of goods obtained from resources of any kind is essentially a pathological obsession for material “things.” The “throwaway society” was born. Chemicals which are pivotal for making consumables were created using nuclear reactions with incomprehensible amounts of energy in distant stars. What the Universe took billions of years to create and to convey to Earth, society consumes and wastes in a matter of days.

ratA final note submitted for your consideration. In Chapter 1 of “Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming,” the account of the rats of the Mautam is told. Once every 48 years, local black rat populations (Rattus rattus in the Mizoram environ of India) explode in huge numbers because of the production of bamboo fruit. The locals refer to these events as the “Mautam”. The hordes of rats decimate crops and food supplies in the nearby villages leading to potential famine conditions for the human inhabitants. The rats are also decimated. The rats consume the new resource with a vengeance, see their populations skyrocket and still continue to consume. As the bamboo fruit is exhausted, the rats’ societal structure collapses and degenerates into cannibalism with female rats eating their young. There are compelling lessons to be taken from the Mautam incidents. It should be noted that the events in Mizoram are real and not the subject of a fictional story or movie. There are clearly parallels between the actions of the rats of the Mautam and the consequences of unbridled human activity and associated resource consumption. Consumerism in its earlier forms in balance with resource availability and the environment needs to be standard. The alternatives as depicted by Nature are too abhorrent to even consider and must be avoided at all costs.

-Dr. Alan Rozich

Photo credits: Dead Kennedys Logo, Patrick Henry Speaking to the House of Commons-Wikimedia Commons; Common Black Rat-Wikimedia Commons and Rathater

Moose and Squirrel Would Use Renewables to Get Russian Leader Putin Place

mooseIn the dark days of the Cold War in the early 1960s, the threat of communism and of foreign totalitarianism loomed large. Unbeknownst to most, a couple of unsung heroes stepped up to America’s defense. These two intrepid patriots, the favorite sons of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, are Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel, a flying squirrel, and his best friend Bullwinkle J. Moose, a good-natured moose. They are better known to us as Rocky and Bullwinkle. They frequently locked horns with nefarious agents from the totalitarian nation of Pottsylvania. The agents, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, directly reported to an apparatchik named Fearless Leader. Boris Badenov frequently referred to Rocky and Bullwinkle as “moose and squirrel”. It is important to note that the Pottsylvanian “nogoodniks” are only mere subordinate drones to Pottsylvania’s real epicenter of power. The one who is really pulling all the strings is the mysterious and elusive Mr. Big who ultimately calls all the shots.

Fast forward to present day’s world affairs. There are a numberPutin of “Mr. Big wannabes” sprinkled around the world. Many of these wannabes are essentially fossil fuel resource thugs who aim to intimidate and bully other countries because of their (current) abundance of these resources. In Russia’s case, it is oil and gas. Their days are numbered and if the US and others take initiatives to hasten the end of those days by introducing competitive renewable alternatives, these thugs and (unfortunately) their dominions will be relegated to the status of irrelevant and impotent, outlaw pariahs.

There are clearly similarities between the Mr. Big associated with Rocky and Bullwinkle and Vladimir Putin, the current ruler of the Russian Federation. Although he has done some things for the Russian people, e.g., Putin oversaw large scale military and police reform. His energy policy has affirmed Russia’s position as an energy superpower and supported high-tech industries such as the nuclear and defense industries. Putin has cultivated a “he-man”, “super hero” image attempting to be a pop cultural icon in Russia. Rumor has it that he recently made plans to open a French restaurant in Moscow called, “The Creped Crusader” and Dennis Miller tweeted on March 20th that “Putin just signed to play the villain in new Bond flick “ ‘Goldnipple.’” Perhaps there’s just a touch of narcissism? He even has many commercial products named after him and Forbes ranks Putin as the world’s most powerful person. However, he has crushed free press and now taken a couple of chapters from “Mein Kampf”…except the Vladster is going east to west not vice-versa. Crimea today, who knows tomorrow? What can be done? What’s his ultimate goal?

ladyIn the Cold War days of the 1960s, one thought of (God forbid) nukes or tactical incursions with ground, air, or naval forces. We don’t have Rocket J. Squirrel anymore, but maybe we should re-think how we confront paleo-Fascists such as Putin. The late, great, Nobel laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathi noted that, “In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources, and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the relationship we see today between human rights, democracy, and peace.” Dr. Maathi passed in 2011 (view link) of complications due to cancer. Maathi was quite ahead of her time. Your blogger was privileged to hear her speak in person near Philadelphia in October of 2006. Maathi astutely notes that future conflicts will be over resources. This view is in line with what others such as the McKinsey Group (2011) and yours truly (2013) have been espousing about the coming economic and resource crisis. Other groups, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, and major U.S. corporations like Wal-Mart are also coming to this realization (Rozich, 2013) and acting on it.

So how would Rocky and Bullwinkle formulate a long term strategy to get the Putins of the world “put in” place? One would conjecture that “moose and squirrel” would recognize that leverage can be obtained by the countries that adhere to the conceptual thinking advocated in the Inconvenient Triad or Super Nexus (Rozich, 2013) and the counsel of Dr. Maathi regarding the role of resources in future international conflicts. Competitive renewable resources, particularly energy in Russia’s case, would compel Russia to sell oil and gas at lower rates. The ultimate goal would be to make their fossil fuels economically irrelevant. As previously noted, Putin has made Russia into an energy superpower. However, that can be a two-edged sword. For example, based on a February 2014 CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) Report (view link), “The Russian economy, however, was one of the hardest hit by the 2008-09 global economic crisis as oil prices plummeted and the foreign credits that Russian banks and firms relied on dried up. According to the World Bank the government’s anti-crisis package in 2008-09 amounted to roughly 6.7% of GDP”. What would happen if renewable alternatives were available to Russian oil? Even moderate levels of alternative energy sources would have a stifling effect on the Russian economy.

Also, consider Russian agriculture in a country which is dependent on foreign imports of food to feed its citizens. Only about 7% of Russian land is arable and to say that Russia is climate-challenged now is an understatement. This aspect does not even address other key critical aspects of the Agriculture, Water, and Energy Nexus along with resource inter linkage factors that will ultimately negatively impact Russian agriculture. Despite initiatives launched to achieve food self-sufficiency (view link), some see issues in Russia achieving the goalUntitled of food self-sufficiency. A glitch with Russian food production in concert with the inability to sell their oil at premium prices inflicts a twofold hit on the Russian economy. By no means is it being suggested that we try to “out-Putin Putin” by substituting renewables for fossil fuels as leverage. The recommended tact is to take a page from former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who advocated to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

The upshot is that the Russia invasion of Crimea may be less about Putin flexing Russian military power and more about resources. Maybe it is agricultural resources? The Ukraine is a major exporter of food with agricultural exports accounting for 20% of exports (van Leeuwen, et. al., 2012). A long term strategy of “re-acquiring” and/or bullying the Ukraine could be a longer term play by Putin to ensure Russian food self-sufficiency goals. After all, even Vlad knows that you can’t eat oil. It gets even worse for the Vladster if he can’t sell the black gold and make a decent profit.

References

McKinsey Global Institute, Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Food, and Water Needs, McKinsey and Company, San Francisco, November, 2011.

Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Virtual Bookworm.com, College Station, Texas, 2013.

van Leeuwen, M., et. al., “The agri-food sector in Ukraine: Current situation and market outlook until 2025”, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Seville, Spain, 2012.

Photo Credits

Bullwinkle and Rocky Taking a Picture of a “Wanted” Poster of Boris and Natasha, Taken from a 1962 Cereal Box
Vladimir Putin, Courtesy Wikipedia

Dr. Maathi with then Senator Obama in Nairobi in 2006, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Fredrick Onyango

Theodore Roosevelt, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Fossil Fuel Lobby to Cure U.S. Obesity Epidemic

Given the nature of what comes out of the fossil fuel lobby these days, it’s no surprise that lone gunmananother X-File is likely to be opened for this industry. A blogger friend of mine tells me of a call he received from someone who only identified themselves as “F. M.” My fellow blogger using the moniker, “Deep Green”, noted that F. M.’s voice was electronically masked to make him sound like Darth Vader huffing helium. F.M. purportedly has information from the Lone Gunmen about a new energy lobbyist, energyyesterday.com. As the name suggests, it’s all about yesterday’s energy sources and they have nothing to do with tomorrow. This group has a marketing initiative that endeavors to ensure that the public knows where fossil fuel energy sources originate, that is, yesterday as in 500,000,000 years ago, there’s no tomorrow or long term future with fossil fuels, and the lobby is here to help. They Spenderstruck a deal with the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, which was brokered by C. G. B. Spender, a.k.a., the Cigarette Smoking Man, who is now a consultant for energyyesterday.com. HHS will provide marketing assistance to energyyesterday.com because HHS knows that more energy production with preferably inefficient fossil fuel sources with heavy agricultural interlinkages will cause food prices to rise. The US gets more energy, food becomes unaffordable, and the public gets thinner. It is really all about a humanitarian initiative to confront the obesity problem in the U.S. And, as a fortuitous circumstance, the fossil fuel industry prospers. New marketing slogans have already been floated such as “Want not, waist not!” and “Go frack yourself and lose a few!”

If you think the above vignette is baseless and totally bereft of reality, you are probably right. Well, maybe. In truth, the vignette is a spoof and satirical parody that is designed to both alert and (hopefully) entertain the reader. In reality, the societal conflict between energy and food is real and is currently being manifested. This conflict will only worsen. Consider that the fossil fuel energy marketing apparatus performs like a (pardon the pun) well-oiled machine. The public gets inundated with ads from organizations like www.energytomorrow.org whose tacit goal is to manipulate public opinion in order to influence national energy policy to favor fossil fuels over renewables. This objective is even implied in their website (Rozich, 2014).

Previously, this blogger (Rozich, 2014) called attention to fossil fuel energy’s befuddling thesis on the status of U.S. fossil fuel energy reserves and potential resources and the lobby’s associated arcane rationale. There are at least two potential negative impacts that this skewed public relations juggernaut can have:

• Disadvantaging the renewable energy industry.
• Crippling the agricultural industry and food production.

Let us reflect on the second bullet point regarding the crippling of agriculture. Kindly observe that not once has the “C” term, carbon dioxide and associated references to global warming, been mentioned as a reason to warn against overdependence on fossil fuels. The concern with fossil fuel dependence in this discourse concerns resource interlinkages. In today’s societal functionality, agricultural productivity is inexorably interlinked with the availability of water and energy. EgyptThis interlinkage also manifests itself in the costs of water and energy as these costs impact production costs for food. Intensive agriculture has higher water and energy usage. Water is also needed for energy production and energy is also required in other industries. For example, energy is needed for the production of water. These factors set the stage for a “resource competition” that is ultimately unhealthy and must be addressed. A nexus perspective provides a better working framework with which to reconcile these emerging conflicts. An unbalanced and prejudicial emphasis on only one component of the nexus works to the detriment of societal functionality by debilitating one or all of the other nexus components.

As a society, we must question whether we are missing the mark when it comes to priorities. It is not suggested that the importance of energy be dismissed in favor of agriculture. However, the public perception of the role of agriculture and ensuring that it has the ability to maintain current functionality must at the very least have parity with that of the energy industry. The early, great civilizations grew up near great water and fertilizer sources, and not near coal mines or oil wells, for a reason. It was not a fortuitous coincidence.

A Department of Energy (DOE) report (Skaggs, et. al., 2012) notes a good example that occurred in Texas in 2011. Water withdrawals in Texas for thermoelectric production were already significant and there were other competing water withdrawals for domestic, industrial, and agricultural concerns. This situation resulted in numerous overlapping competitions for water which antagonized interlinkage effects because all of these water users needed energy and a key energy source is thermoelectric which uses significant amounts of water. A heat wave and associated drought depleted critical deposits of water while at the same time increasing water demand in the various areas of societal functionality. The result was there was not enough water to meet all the requirements of the water users such as farmers who need water for food production. Unless society embraces a nexus perspective in ameliorating and preventing resource conflicts, interlinkage effects will only worsen ultimately leading to intra-societal clashes and strife.

References:
Rozich, A.F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Virtual Bookworm.com, College Station, Texas, 2013.

Rozich, A.F., Why Oil Industry Estimates for Energy Reserves Can Be an X-File, Blog, http://www.otherinconvenienttruths.com/?p=141, Accessed, March 17, 2014.

Skaggs, R. et. al., Climate and Energy-Water-Land System Interactions, US Department of Energy, PNNL-21185, March, 2012.

Photo credits:
Lone Gunmen: Byers, Frohike and Langly, Courtesy, Wikimedia
C. G. B. Spender, Courtesy, Wikimedia
Ancient Egyptian Farmer, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Unusual Suspects

So what are we talking about? Who or what are the “Unusual Suspects”? We certainly have an idea of where the term, “Usual Suspects”, originated. The phrase, “Usual Suspects” was first used in popular culture in thcaptaine classic film, “Casablanca” (Warner Brothers, 1942). As the story goes, during World War II in French Morocco after the fall of France, people wanting escape Nazi-occupied Europe would make their way to Casablanca in the hopes of getting transit visas to free or neutral countries like Portugal. Captain Renault holds sway over Casablanca and when a murder occurs, he instructs his officers to “Round up the usual suspects.” spaceyThis phrase inspired the movie, “The Usual Suspects” (Bad Hat Harry Productions Blue Parrott, 1995) wherein Verbal Kint, played by Kevin Spacey, chronicles the tale of the evil master villain, Keyser Söze, and Kint’s mortal fear of Söze given that authorities are asking Kint to agrees to testify against Söze.

Both humans and other species are currently being plagued by a mysterious malaise that is perhaps being surreptitiously conveyed throughout our natural and man-made water systems. So who are the Usual Suspects in this case? Someone who knows Captain Renault? Maybe it could be the seemingly omniscient Keyser Söze? The grim reality is that these suspects are unusual everyday ones and there are approximately 7 billion of them. The Unusual Suspects are Homo sapiens and they have been at it for quite some time. So what is the “it” that they have been “at” that is making them and fellow planetary inhabitants ill?

One of the lesser known aspects of the result of human societal activity is the production, dispersion, and proliferation of numerous compounds that have detrimental impacts on both humans and other life forms. These compounds are collectively often referred to as “persistent organic pollutants” or POPs. Just like Keyser Söze, POPs can act in insidious and devious ways. The reason for this statement is that many of these compounds work subtly to interfere and alter the biochemical functionality for humans and numerous other species. After being manufactured and consumed by people, most of these products are not converted in the human body to innocuous substances. Consequently, the vast majority of these materials merely “pass- through” the human body and are discharged into domestic wastewater collection systems or other disposal systems. When these materials arrive at wastewater treatment facilities, the current technology is not capable of destroying the preponderance of POPs and they are then widely dispersed into the environment.organics

One class of POPs are called endocrine disruptor compounds or EDCs. These compounds can interfere with the functioning or human and animal endocrine systems. The endocrine system is comprised of glands in the body. These glands produce hormones which act as chemical messengers. These chemicals control a number of important biological functions, including reproduction, growth, development, and food processing. Insulin, estrogen, and testosterone are examples of hormones. Alarmingly, these substances have found their way into the environment at levels which can inflict adverse health effects, even death, to organisms including humans. EDCs are one class of anthropogenic organics that can be particularly insidious.. They are usually in health care products and the like and usually found in consumer products.

A case in point for EDCs is DDT. The alarming impacts of DDT were brought to public attention by Dr. Rachel Carson in her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring”. As a result of Dr. Carson’s book, investigative efforts determined that DDT had effects on wildlife and other data were obtained that showed that DDT represented a potential risk to human health. DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by both U.S. and international experts. Data from studies using animals showed that animals exposed to DDT developed liver tumors. Since DDT biodegrades slowly, it is very persistent in the environment.egg

Although society ultimately dealt with DDT, there are numerous other POP compounds currently being manufactured, consumed, and widely dispersed into the environment. The Unusual Suspects are increasingly dispersing these compounds into the environment. This proliferation is facilitated by the society’s water and wastewater treatment systems which are unable to cope with these substances resulting in the dispersion of POPs into the environment. Persistent organics is an issue that will require our attention as an “other inconvenient truth” particularly as economies and populations grow and water is “recycled” more frequently in society.

References:
Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Virtual Bookworm.com, College Station, Texas, 2013.

Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring, Houghton-Mifflin, New York, 2002.

Photo credits:
The Inimitable Captain Renault (Claude Rains) in a Scene from the Timeless Classic, CasablancaCourtesy Wikimedia Commons

Kevin Spacey, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Eggshells Deformed by DDT, Courtesy, Wikispaces and Anthony Li.

Why Oil Industry Estimates for Energy Reserves Can Be an X-File

“Mulder…not everybody is plotting to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate.” So says Dana 1Scully (in the “Teliko” episode from Season 4 of The X-Files originally aired in 1996), the intrepid FBI agent and partner to the sometime over-zealous Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) on The X-Files. The story revolves around Agents Mulder and Scully  investigating “X-Files” which are essentially unsolved cases with paranormal features. Mulder believes in the paranormal while Scully, the skeptic, is tasked to use scientific methods to discredit Mulder’s work. The agents are gradually manipulated as part of a larger agenda and ultimately come to trust only each other.

The topic of fossil fuel energy reserves is one that is subject to fierce debate and discussion. Take for example the case for oil reserves and supply outlook. As one would expect for the energy space, oil and other energy reserves are hotly debated and frequently laced by some with mindless political rhetoric sans engineering, scientific, and economic reality. The result is the creation of a public perception that actual reserve numbers are subject to wildly different variations for “no apparent reason”. This situation is almost worthy of being designated an “X-File” requiring the investigative acumen of Agents Mulder and Scully.  The public perception is realistic, but the reason 2for the chasm in reserves estimate is more subtle and should be embarrassing for the fossil fuel lobby. Examining this chasm reveals the underlying reasons for this difference and there may those who attempt to “deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate” or, at the very least, “spin” the reality for energy reserves.

The key is trying to assess the underlying reasons for the variation in estimates. For example, consider two sources for 2012 oil reserve estimates which both use the same data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA):

•    CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency): 22 billion barrels

•    Wintery Night: 2,303 billion barrels (view link).

It should be noted that the EIA 2012 oil reserves data are provided in four categories: 1) proved reserves, 2) technically recoverable, 3) oil shale, and 4) undiscovered resources. The data are based on a report from the Rand Corporation. A preliminary reaction would be something like, “If that’s the case, then why isn’t the U.S. the world leader in oil exports?” or as the Wintery Night articles implies, “Is Obama telling the truth about US oil reserves?” This confusion could have the public asking, “Why does the CIA say we have 22 billion in reserves while Wintery Night says 2,303 billion barrels?”

The answer is simple and comes down to two words. One word is “proved” and the other is “economical”. “Proved” oil reserves are those that are well-defined and can be extracted and processed using existing technologies with known economies. Furthermore, proved oil reserves are the only ones that the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) allows energy companies or others to put on their balance sheets as assets. The SEC’s rationale is that there is a high enough confidence level that the reserves exist and can be processed to be a net energy resource. This means Obama was following SEC guidelines in reporting to the American public while Wintery Night noted that “undiscovered reserves” are available to meet national energy demands. One of these parties, and probably not the President, must have been wearing a virtual reality helmet while crafting their commentary.

Wintery Night is not the only that entity that creatively portrays EIA reserves data. The group, Energy Tomorrow (www.energytomorrow.org) takes a similar tact with the EIA data. Their approach is more subtle. In their pyramid portrayal (view link), they refer to all oil deposits as “ultimately recoverable”.  They also nimbly articulate the difference between “reserves”, “resources”, “undiscovered technically recoverable resources”, and “discovered and undiscovered sub-economic resources”. Energy Tomorrow also states that, “The distinction between ‘reserves’ and ‘resources’ is important to note because it can inform policy decisions. If you believe the amount of oil is small, then energy development strategies will differ than if you know it is large.” OK, so if there is no direct evidence that something exists, simply note that it “may exist” and that it may be “very large”. This sounds like a creative way to influence policy and scarily reminiscent of the “WMD” argument for the second Iraq war.

By the way, “undiscovered sub-economic resources”? These are not “reserves”, they are “resources” and they are “sub-economic”. What a deal for the American public! Not only do they not exist, they aren’t economical. I think I’ll buy two. Should the American taxpayer have to have energy security future based on a cacophony of lawyered, verbiage that could have been better written by Saul (“Better Call Saul!”) Goodman. (Goodman is the ethically-challenged attorney on the “Breaking Bad” television series. Here is his website should you need his services: http://www.bettercallsaul.com/). Mulder’s evidence for little green men was far more concrete than those for large energy reserves which are really “resources” that don’t exist and that are not economical. Are we good now?

Interestingly, the Institute for Energy Research (IER, 2012) has noted that “the U.S. technically recoverable oil resources at 1.442 trillion barrels, 57 times more than EIA’s current proven reserve number for oil, and over 200 years worth of oil at current consumption rates”. That may sound great, but realistically 200 years is not a long time. It should be stressed that the 200 year supply for oil reserves uses the very optimistic and rather high-end reserve estimates shown in the pyramid diagram that was previously referenced.

3It is obvious that long term planning for a vital energy resource should use conservative reserve estimates and not depend on estimates based on “irrational exuberance”. Also, this thinking must consider the population and economic expansion trends that are in play which will have a huge impact on energy and all resource availability and costs as noted by the McKinsey Group. It also does not consider that assuming that “current consumption rates” will hold is wishful, if not reckless, thinking.  Unfortunately, when considering the U.S. and the world’s energy future, one has to be very careful. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal constantly with misinformation like Mulder and Scully had to when jousting with their malevolent arch-nemesis, the Cigarette Smoking Man. However, be prepared to do some digging to get at the facts.

The truth is out there!

Photo credits:
Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully) and David Duchovny (Fox Mulder) of the X-Files, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Gage Skidmore
X-Files Logo, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) of the X-Files, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons and   B D Engler

Why Bill Gates’ 2035 Prediction of World Poverty Elimination is Unwarranted Based on Other Inconvenient Truths

January 28, 2014

In a recent article published by Quartz titled, “Bill Gates predicts there will be almost no poor countries by 2035” Microsoft philanthropists, Bill and Melinda Gates, conjecture in an annuaBill Gatesl letter to their foundation that worldwide poverty will be largely eradicated by 2035. They list three myths about poverty that can be overcome but do not address a stark reality that, unless confronted, makes efforts to deal with these myths ultimately fruitless in the long term. The Gates’ have good intentions. However, their efforts and goals will be largely impeded and blighted if they do not account for the impending resource crises and its implications in their thinking.

In addition to the “Inconvenient Truth” of global warming, there are a number of “Other Inconvenient Truths” that comprise an “Inconvenient Triad”, or super nexus. The super nexus consists of societal needs for economic and environmental sustainability, economic and population expansion, and simultaneous resources needs. These trends will begin to act collectively in a negatively synergistic manner to the detriment of human civilization if left unchecked. One consequence is skyrocketing resource costs which threaten the very fabric of societal functionality.

Societies which are cataloged as impoverished are likely to function at relatively low levels of technological sophistication. So what are the implications of this statement? It means that when a society is raised out of poverty, its level of technological functionality is also likely raised. It has been shown that societies which operate at increased technological levels also have increased resource demands per capita which are required to maintain societal functionality. For example, in the early 1970s, Cook indicated (Scientific American, September, 1971) that a society transitioning from primitive agricultural to industrial will require about 50,000 more Kcal per capita per day of energy to maintain societal functionality. Water demands will also rise as well as waste generation. Furthermore, because of potential resource interlinkages, other unforeseen conflicts may arise such as determining whether water is used for energy or food production. Thus, an unforeseen consequence of raising the level of societal functionality is exacerbating resource requirements and associated resource interlinkage issues.

Do potential resource challenges mean that we should attenuate philanthropic initiatives such as those of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Absolutely not. It means that when initiatives are engaged to address poverty situations, a more comprehensive approach should be employed that also encompasses long term resource considerations. Without a solid resource foundation, the long-term worldwide amelioration of poverty will be difficult to realize.

-Dr. Alan RozichAlan Rozich IMG_9296

 

 

 

Photos credits: Wikimedia Commons (Bill Gates), BioConversion Solutions