Exporting Carbon Emissions

It’s no secret that the developed world exports it’s consumer manufacturing along with the resulting pollution, exploitation, and environmental degradation to the factories of the developing world.  However, the carbon emissions from this process accrue to a shared atmosphere that can’t be isolated in another country far from our point of consumption.

Link to full story

As it stands now, most emissions data focuses on the production side of our consumer society. For example, the factory that makes your gadget in China contributes to China’s emissions count. When that same gadget is shipped to a UK consumer it does not count towards the UK’s emissions count. Barrett showed that the result of this approach has led to what he called “carbon leakage.” He said that as countries become more and more service based, with demand for products and services met by imports rather than production, the overall amount of carbon leakage goes up. “The volume of emissions that are not counted goes up.” This lack of accounting for growing imports of consumer goods shows up directly in the UK’s emissions records. According to Barrett’s data, there is a discrepancy between the UK’s Kyoto emissions reporting and his research into UK consumer emissions: the Kyoto numbers show an overall emissions reduction in the UK, but consumer emissions have actually gone up in the same time period!

Peak Oil Stress Centered in Southeast

Based on drive time to work and income it appears that the focus of peak oil stress is centered in the drill-baby-drill geography of the Southeast.

Slow Money

Put your money where your food is, affirm the Slow Money Principles.

The Slow Money Principles

In order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration, we do hereby affirm the following Principles:

I. We must bring money back down to earth.

II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down — not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.

III. The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later—what one venture capitalist called “the largest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.

IV. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.

V. Let us celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing the way from Making A Killing to Making a Living.

VI. Paul Newman said, “I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:

* What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
* What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
* What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

The Promise and Hype of Shale Gas

A contrarian view of the potential of shale gas from the very experienced and credible Mr. Henry Groppe:

“Everyone thinks [shale gas] is going to solve all of our problems. There are very optimistic estimates about the economically recoverable volumes of gas from this new resource,”  … “That’s dominating everyone’s views about the gas supply picture – that we’re going to be flooded with gas.”

The reality, he argues, is that shale gas deposits are a tiny part of the North American production pool – and they are already depleting fast.

Towards a more Resilient and Robust Economy

Nassim Taleb’s take on a ecologically resilient Capitalism 2.0

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.

4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning. Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.

8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

In other words, a place more resistant to black swans.

The Reality of Our Oil Demand

Another gem from Gregor Macdonald:

Here in United States we like to outsource the extraction of our oil supply to anyone but ourselves. We don’t particularly want to see the results of our own demand for liquid fuels, the pull from our 300 million vehicles and our four million miles of highways. We’d prefer that someone else–preferably far away–despoil their own landscape. And we’ve done quite a good job over the past several decades to make sure that’s happened, as the amount of oil we’ve had to import from the Mideast, from Africa, from Mexico and Canada has skyrocketed. This background is helpful in framing the BP well blowout in 5000 feet of Gulf deepwater. The reality of our oil demand has now touched home. In fact, it’s washing up on our coastline.

500,000 Barrels per Day?

This is more like a volcanic eruption of oil than a “spill” and much larger than we are lead to believe.  More…

This is not a system in stasis.  This is an out of control volcano of oil spewing up with 70,000 psi behind it, from a reservoir nearly the size of the Gulf, with an estimated trillions of barrels of oil and gas tucked away.  It is this deposit that has me reminding people of what the Shell geologist told me about the deposit. This was the quote, “Energy shortage…, Hell! We are afraid of running out of air to burn.” The deposit is very large. It covers an area off shore something like 25,000 square miles. Natural Gas and Oil is leaking out of the deposit as far inland as Central Alabama and way over into Florida and even over to Louisiana almost as far as Texas.

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could be stopped with an underground nuclear blast, a Russian newspaper reports. (Slashdot; May 11, 2010)

What we are seeing now could be small compared to what may yet unfold if things break apart, as they can do under such circumstances.  If this thing blew, it could be like the Yellowstone Caldera, except from below a mile of sea, with a 1/4-mile opening, with up to 150,000 psi of oil and natural gas behind it.