21 December 2012

Pakistan's Rural Poor on Path to Post-Carbon Prosperity

A revised and updated version of my piece published on this blog here as 'Between Climate Catastrophe and Civilisational Renewal' was published today on OurWorld 2.0, the interdisciplinary web magazine published by the United Nations University's Media Centre.

The piece offers a comprehensive but concise round-up of the latest scientific reports on climate change - with quite scary implications; along with exploration of how the rural poor in remote Pakistan are quietly pioneering truly sustainable socio-economic and political models of local grassroots empowerment that might well hold the potential to save us all.

I hope this is a fitting way to close the working day on 21.12.12.

And with that, have a thought-provoking Christmas and an inspiring New Year!

20 December 2012

The Great Oil Swindle: why the new black gold rush leads off a fiscal cliff

Published in Ceasefire Magazine

UPDATE: Various versions published Le Monde diplomatique, Truthout and other publications

Headlines about this year's World Energy Outlook (WEO) from the International Energy Agency (IEA), released mid-November, would lead you to think we are literally swimming in oil.

The report forecasts that the US will outstrip Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2017, becoming "all but self-sufficient in net terms" in energy production - a notion reported almost verbatim by media agencies worldwide from BBC News to Bloomberg. Going even further, Damien Carrington, Head of Environment at the Guardian, titled his blog: "IEA report reminds us peak oil idea has gone up in flames".

The IEA report's general conclusions have been backed up by several other reports this year. Exxon Mobil's 2013 Energy Outlook projects that demand for gas will grow by 65 per cent through 2040, with 20 per cent of worldwide production from North America, mostly from unconventional sources. The shale gas revolution will make the US a net exporter by 2025, it concludes. The US National Intelligence Council also predicts US energy independence by 2030.

14 December 2012

The Frack Farce

Published on Huffington Post UK

The UK government's decision to resume fracking has been welcomed by the oil industry, and widely lambasted by environmental campaigners. But to a large extent the debate about the potential of shale gas in this country has completely missed the point.

While Prime Minister David Cameron this week lauded the economic potential of the "shale gas revolution", critics insist that fracking will escalate fossil fuel emissions and create intractable environmental problems.

Yet neither have acknowledged a far deeper, and arguably more fundamental question: do the economics of shale gas really add up?

A New York Times investigation last year found that state geologists, industry lawyers and market analysts "privately" questioned "whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves." According to the Times, "the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells."

7 December 2012

Between Climate Catastrophe and Civilisational Renewal: How the Rural Poor Might Yet Save Us All

Revised version published in United Nations University's OurWorld 2.0 (21.12.12)

Although governments around the world ostensibly agree that our carbon targets must aim to keep global temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point, it's now clear that we have failed dramatically to stick to our commitments.

According to the latest report from the Global Carbon Project, the rate of growth of carbon dioxide emissions of 3.1% a year is on track to lead to a 4-6C rise by the end of the century - the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) worst case scenario that would lead to an uninhabitable planet.

The report, released while the UN climate talks at Doha continue, follows a spate of studies confirming that industrial civilisation is on the edge of triggering climate catastrophe. A World Bank report, more conservatively, warned that a 4 degrees C rise this century is inevitable on our current emissions trajectory. 

Another report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) similarly concluded: "Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees [C] of warming by the end of the century" - suggesting that current emissions levels could lead to even higher global temperatures.

Many corporate and government leaders insist that humanity must simply adapt to the new conditions generated by global warming. Earlier this year, for instance, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson argued that the "consequences are manageable... We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions."

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