Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Maribyrnong City Council Peak Oil Contingency Plan

Phil Hart has posted an article on The Oil Drum about this initiative for the Maribyrnong City Council Peak Oil Contingency Plan (warning: PDF) with which he has been involved. It's well worth a read. The comments are worth a look too (as they usually are at TOD). In the comments there's a link to an article about the Shire of Yarra Range's attitude to the same question. Here's the vital quote…
But councillors Richard Higgins, Graham Warren and Chris Templer disagreed, saying it wasn’t council’s responsibility to plan for such contingencies.

They believe it should be a State or Federal Government issue.
Shouldn't we all just wait for Daddy to look after us?

Let me just say that when the tide rises it lifts all boats, but when it sinks only those who make it to the channel can float. We South Gippsland people live in the State electorate of the leader of the National Party in Victoria (the conservative former Country Party), Peter Ryan, and we also live in a Federal electorate represented by Russel Broadbent, a member of the Liberal Party (also conservative, you foreigners!). Both these gentlemen are in opposition to their respective governments. Neither are likely to get a bone tossed to them by their political opponents.

So as far as I'm concerned, the Lord helps those who help themselves. We have already seen how the government in Melbourne works when those closest to it (electorally) are threatened.

A cheerful 6 minutes (not)!

Here's a cheery video from Marc Faber about the immanent collapse of capitalism — enjoy!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our Transition Town meeting

It went well! We had fifteen altogether, although Ross West, who's in the State Emergency Service, was called away to an emergency (a lost windsurfer I think) soon after we started. Andrew McEwen (Director of Sustainability at South Gippsland Shire Council) talked about the situation which makes local community based organising so important, and Councillor Jennie Deane talked about how the transition initiative got going in Loch, which is a very small town up the western end of the Shire. Susan Davies (ex State Member of Parliament) talked about the Energy Innovation Cooperative which she is setting up. We had a fairly wide-ranging discussion, but in the end Fiona Mottram (who is a journalist on the Foster Mirror) and I decided we'd get a Transition Town initiative going here, just with the two of us to start with. Not quite sure what we'll do yet, but there were lots of ideas in the air!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Neat explanation of the current Global Financial Crisis

From Steve Keen's Debtwatch, a quote...

According to Minsky’s theory:

  • Capitalist economies can and do periodically experience financial crises (something that believers in the dominant “Neoclassical” approach to economics vehemently denied until reality—in the form of the Global Financial Crisis—slapped them in the face last year);
  • These financial crises are caused by debt-financed speculation on asset prices, which leads to bubbles in asset prices;
  • These bubbles must eventually burst, because they add nothing to the economy’s productive capacity while simultaneously increasing the debt-servicing burden the economy faces;
  • When they burst, asset prices collapse but the debt remains;
  • The attempts by both borrowers and lenders to reduce leverage reduces aggregate demand, causing a recession;
  • If the economy survives such a crisis, it can go through the same process again, with another boom driving debt up even higher, followed by yet another crash; but
  • Ultimately this process has to lead to a level of debt that is so great that another revival becomes impossible since no-one is willing to take on any more debt. Then a Depression ensues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is a Transition Town?

I haven't explained what Transition Town means — thanks Elizabeth! A quote from the Transition Town site…
A Transition Initiative is a community (lots of examples here) working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Transition Town meeting in Foster!

At 7:00 pm on Thursday the 24th of September — that's next week — we're having a meeting at the Community House in Foster (Corner of Station Road & Court Street, Foster) to talk about Transition Towns and related stuff. Andrew McEwen (Director of Sustainability at South Gippsland Shire Council) and Councillor Jennie Deane will speak. I'm sure I'll say a few words too. Bring some food to share, and ask anyone who might be interested to come along.
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Left or Right wing — what difference will it make?

Our government in my state — Victoria — and federally is Labor, nominally left-wing. Will it matter in the longer term whether right or left wing parties dominate politics? Supporters of both sides hope that it will matter and hope their side will win, which is perfectly natural. But I wonder whether it will make a lot of difference in the long term. I'll concede it does in the short term. I was very glad to see the end of John Howard and his gang. I wish the new lot were less like him than they are. I'll admit it — I'm a soft, left leaning libertarian who wrote letters to the papers deploring the treatment of asylum seekers and the rush to support George W Bush in whatever international adventure he was involved in. But in the longer term, maybe it doesn't make as much difference as we would like to imagine.

Politics is the froth and bubble on top of society. It is the way power and resources, which are scarce, are apportioned to an infinite demand. Underneath however are the hidden trends which really control our lives and most often they are not the product of politics. Politicians of all stripes are "successful" when they surf the wave of prosperity, the way Maggie Thatcher surfed the wave of growth which resulted from the huge bonus North Sea oil gave to the British economy. In Australia, Malcolm Fraser and the Liberals (conservatives to you non-Australians: we're upside down here at the bottom of the world) reaped the whirlwind of the recession of the late seventies, while Labor under Bob Hawke were the beneficiaries of the boom brought on by a world awash in cheap energy in the eighties. Dmitri Orlov has it that the same cheap energy destroyed the Soviet economy which was dependent on oil exports to maintain the system, thus leading, at least in part, to the collapse of the Soviet system at the end of the eighties.

Peak Oil is not a political issue, it's a geological one. The same goes for all the looming shortages which nature is shortly going to impose on us freely breeding humans. Politics may matter to you and me in our immediate time and place, but in the longer term, which is not much longer these days, these larger, hidden issues are going to take charge of our lives in uncomfortable ways.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Malthus, the Commons and localism

An interesting post from Ran Prieur. A quote…
Whenever someone brings up Malthus, I remember this critique of Malthus by Iain Boal, arguing that population only outruns food supply when there's non-local control of resources.
We've got a great example of that with Melbourne now pillaging the resources of the State ie. the water from the Thomson River and the North-South pipeline in order to keep the political peace in the ever-expanding outer suburbs. There is a certain inevitability about Melbourne acting more and more as a city-state, concerned only with its internal politics and riding roughshod over external interests. The most powerful player seems to me to be the construction industry, although you could argue their influence is national.

Anyway, bad luck if you're sitting on resources which the powerful in the City need to shore up their position. We are fortunate that so far we are just a bit too far away and awkwardly situated in South Gippsland for them to pinch our water. But it does underline the fact that local control of local resources is the key to sustainability. How can a community survive if the water is gone?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reporting back

The talk at the Green Door went well, considering that in the rush to get there (a fifty-five kilometre trip for me), I left my lecture notes sitting on the printer back at the office! But I know this stuff back the front and the crowd was pretty aware of the issues so I didn't need a script. I only knew two people there out of the twenty-five or so, but was impressed with the occasion: the attitudes of the people, their obvious commitment to finding new ways of doing things, and Karen's soup! Lots of stuff is going on everywhere it seems!

One of my friends there got stuck into me about what he sees as my excessive negativity (as he sees it represented on this blog). I'm not sure how to deal with this. I call things as I see them. Someone has to bear witness to the truth. I realise that my view of the world is very partial, and very personal in many ways. I don't think that invalidates it. There are plenty of people out there boosting their causes with lots of happy talk. No-one has to listen to me if they don't want to. I guess I'm more interested in the truth as I see it, than pushing any control agenda or trying to steer people in certain directions by subterfuge. This means I'm no politician, but someone has to say uncomfortable things if we're to understand what's going on. I'm aware that it may bring people down, but what is the alternative?

Talking of being the bearer of bad tidings, there is a great article online by J.S. Kim at Seeking Alpha, which calls the current stock market rally and happy green shoots talk for the fraud that it is. Long, but well worth reading!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Talking at the Green Door

I'm giving a talk on Peak Oil at the Green Door Cafe & Produce Store, 29 Bridge Street, Korumburra this Thursday at 6:00 pm. Call them on 03 5655 2351 or email for more info.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Important post on The Oil Drum

This is a pretty important post on The Oil Drum concerning how we in Australia will deal with a reduction in fuel availability. Please read it! A quote from the conclusion…
I hope these thoughts encourage you to consider the local and personal angles and think about what you and your family would be able to do. Good general advice is perhaps to buy a sturdy bicycle, get to know your neighbours better and ponder about how you can get around with much less fuel.
All very well for those city dwellers with a reasonable public transport system. Wot about us country folk eh? No rail to our area, only diesel powered road freight deliveries. Ulp!

Strategic minerals

The Archdruid has just put up a post entitled "The Dawn of Scarcity Industrialism" about the Chinese government's moves to stop exports of certain rare earth minerals. A quote…
Those of my readers who don’t track the latest fads in technology may not know that these have become crucial to many cutting edge technologies. Lanthanum, for example, is used in high-tech batteries, and neodymium goes into the permanent magnets used in electric motors and wind turbines. The innards of the Prius and other hybrids, to say nothing of the as-yet-imaginary electric cars being hyped by what’s left of the American auto industry, depend on rare earth elements, and China currently produces well over 90% of the world’s supply of most of them. The report thus sparked claims of an imminent shortage in these minerals and, predictably, a flurry of speculative interest in (and hype-ridden articles about) mines outside of China that can produce the same minerals.
An article from the Sydney Morning Herald (via Gippsland friends of Future Generations) gives more background on Australia's situation in regard to the production of rare earth minerals. Another quote…
A decision is looming in Canberra that could block plans by China to tighten its grip on the market for some of the world's most obscure but valuable minerals. China accounts for 93% of the production of so-called "rare earth" elements - and more than 99% of the output for two of them that are vital for a wide range of green energy technologies and military applications like missiles.
Over the next decade or so we will almost certainly see a rush to secure what are seen as vital raw materials by the dominant powers in the world. How this will play out for Australia is uncertain. While we are the source of many important supplies our capacity to control or defend that capability will be a major political test. The Sydney Morning Herald article refers to moves by Chinese miners to buy up rare earth miners in Australia. If China corners the market in these materials world-wide and then plays big power politics with them, we will find ourselves in a situation not unlike that leading up to World War 2, where the economic autarky of the 1930's, brought on by the Great Depression, saw the Axis power attempt to seize by force the economic resources they could not obtain by trade.

Will China attempt to make Australia into a vassal state? How will the USA react to all this? We live in interesting times.