The power-saver’s diet | Climate Spectator

January 22, 2011

The power-saver’s diet | Climate Spectator.

I saw this article by Andrew Dyer, a former McKinsey & Co consultant, on climate spectator and thought it was brilliant. He suggests a slightly different spin on a “low-carb diet plan that will help to reduce your carbon emissions while also reducing the impact on the hip pocket”. With industry research suggesting that ever increasing energy prices in Aus likely to double in the next 5 years, this is a must read. It pinpoints some of the easier and more doable energy saving options. Set a goal for a 20% reduction in energy use this year and follow the link to get a start on how.

IEA Acknowledges Peak Oil?

December 6, 2010

Sometime between the International Energy Agencies (IEA) 2009 and 2010 World Energy Outlook reports, the topic of ‘Peak Oil’ went from ‘doesn’t rate a mention’ to ‘Thats so 2005’.

Not claiming to be an expert, I am not 100% sure what ‘New Policy Scenario’ means  but at a guess it has something to do with a lot of things that may or may not happen to allow total  liquid production (natural gas liquids, unconventional oil production like tar sands, coal-to-liquids, etc) to continue and   increase ever so slightly up to 2035.

The graph they put up is interesting in itself. I used to think that peak oil was about normal crude oil which according to this graph happened sometime around 2006. What a relief though that conventional oil supplies will basically plateau (at least until 2035) thanks to all of those fields ‘yet to be developed’ and ‘yet to be found’ saving the day. The drop off in known production is a little alarming though considering we had 100 years going up and looks like we will be dry by maybe 2050. If you take out the ‘yet to be found’ which seems reasonable considering they haven’t found anything for a while now, the down curve should still ring alarm bells. And the ‘yet to be developed’ I’m guessing a lot of that is Iraq and how long have they been trying to get to that now?

I heard an interesting analogy the other day. Imagine that the untapped field in Iraq is equal to one bottle of Champaign. At three and a half glasses per bottle, one glass is about equal to global demand for one year. On that basis we have already drank 11 bottles and we have another eight left in the fridge. According to this graph there are few bottles laying around somewhere in the cellar but we don’t know where they are, and there is a bit of summer wine knocking around if you’re not too fussy.

Have a look at the report though if you can get hold of a copy. I did a search on the word peak not expecting to find anything, but it does pop up in the executive summary and there is some discussion about peak albeit, mostly the ‘no need to be alarmed’ kind of thing.

Interesting that this wasnt a news item of note, not anywhere in my part of the world anyway.

1000 Words on Peak Oil

April 23, 2010

In 1956, geologist M King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s (Deffeyes 2003). The analysis was universally rejected. In 1970 U.S. crude oil production began to fall. The industry was silenced. Peak oil is defined as the point at which production peaks and begins to decline. The term can be applied to a well, a field, a country or to global production. Around 1995 analysts began applying Hubbert’s methods to global production. Deffeyes (2003) predicted 2005 as the mathematical peak year stating that there is nothing plausible that could postpone the peak until 2009. There is a good possibility that 2005 was the peak year. Global production has not surpassed 2005 levels of 84.55 million barrels per day. (U.S. EIA).  Approximately 80 percent of the oil produced today comes from fields discovered before 1973, most of which are in decline. Total world production has increased less than 10 percent in two decades (Brown 2008). While there are various arguments around whether or not we have reached peak, the general agreement is that even if we haven’t, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Hubbert's PeakAbove; Simplified version of Hubbert’s curve showing ultimate crude oil production based on reserves of 1250 billion barrels. Variations of the curve showing adjustments as more reserve data is collected are used to extrapolate other curves. (Deffeyes-2003)

This view of production and consumption is simplistic and it is not within the scope of this paper to examine all of the intricacies of production versus consumption along with future predictions for those variables like future consumption levels, population growth, and climate change and so on. Whenever there are unknown variables there is debate, and rightly so. Suffice to say that at some point in the future, diminishing consumption will have economic, social and environmental impact.

Oils consumption is continuing to grow. Part of the reason for this is countries like India China and other developing nations, rushing to join the oil era—pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the construction of coal mines, oil refineries, power plants, automobile factories, and roads. (Brown 2008)

Consumption projections 2010 and beyond (IEA 2010)

There are two main scenarios that should be considered as a result of peak oil. The first is an assumption that consumption remains on the current trend. The second is based on our capacity to change and innovate. While there is demand, the price of oil will remain high. The higher price along with better technology make high costs for extraction more feasible and this will undoubtedly slow the rate of production decline for some time. The innovation and advances in technology around fossil fuel in this industrialised century have been colossal suggesting that there is no reason why such innovation can’t occur in the effort to find alternative energy sources. Technology has allowed oil companies to drill deeper and faster giving them access to wells that would have been considered unprofitable in the 70s.

World crude production showing two peaks in 2005 (U.S. EIA)

There are several peak oil facts that are hard to dispute.

  • Conventional oil (as opposed to sand oil and shale oil for example) provides most of the oil produced today, and is responsible for about 95% all oil that has been produced so far.
  • Conventional oil continues to dominate supply. It is what matters most.
  • Discovery peaked in the 1960s. We now find one barrel for every four we consume.
  • Middle East share of production is set to rise. The rest of the world peaked in 1997, and is therefore in terminal decline.
  • Production per capita limits were breached late in 2000, causing prices to soar.

(Campbell 2004)

The most obvious impact of decline will be increased price and greatest impact of higher prices is being and will be felt on the roads. The internal combustion engine has dominated personal transportation for more than eight decades. Well over half of the oil consumed every day in industrial countries is consumed as motor fuel. As oil becomes scarcer prices will rise. This is the natural mechanism of supply and demand. As Rubin (2009) points out, life as we know it depends on the price at the fuel pumps and that price depends on an uninterrupted supply of oil. There is an analogy that can be used to describe the economic impact of diminishing oil supplies. The global economy thinks in dollars rather than distance. To get a fish from the ocean to a plate takes a ridiculous amount of energy. From the fuel used for fishing boats, container ships, aircraft and delivery trucks to the energy required to freeze, process, sell it in a supermarket and cook it. For the purpose of comparison, it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food in the U.S. (Pfeiffer 2004). The scenario just described is meant to highlight the reliance of the global economy on fossil fuel; it affects every aspect of our lives. Fossil fuels provide 90 percent or more of the energy in most industrial countries and 75 percent of energy worldwide. (State of the World 1999) Electricity is so taken for granted that any interruption in its supply is considered an emergency. It is fossil fuel that makes the current efficiencies of production and the global economy possible. As the price goes up the efficiency is reduced and production levels fall. These are decreases that a growing population cannot afford. The gap between the haves and have not’s is growing even now.

Oil shock tends to cause recession. As the cost of getting fish to a plate increases, the price of fish goes up and you buy less. It may seem like a quantum leap but when people buy less in general, you have recessions. Recession may become a more permanent fixture because recovery leads to new oil demand until the limits are again breached which leads to new price shocks re-imposing recession in a vicious circle. (Campbell 2004)

Today the comparative price of energy is nearly as low as it has ever been, and finding new energy sources that are more convenient, reliable, and affordable than fossil fuels is beyond the imagination of many experts.

An alternative scenario is one of change. Societies collapse if they fail to adapt.  No one is saying that we are literally going to run out of oil, at least not in the short or even medium term. The industrial age of fossil fuel has only been with us for a short period in the context of total human history.

The one hundred year period of oil production in human history known as Hubbert’s peak (Deffeyes 2003)

In 1929 the motor car was still competing with the horse drawn cart. The concept of change is not unimaginable. The billions of dollars spent on technology designed to bring efficiency to oil extraction and application if spent on alternatives innovation would have the required impact to allow us to make the transition. A world without oil is as unimaginable to us as a world without horses might have been to our great, great grandparents. The challenge is going to be using what fossil fuel is left, efficiently enough to create the next major energy source for our grandchildren, whatever that is.


Brown, L. R., & Worldwatch Institute. (1999). State of the world 1999 a worldwatch institute report on progress toward a sustainable society (Special Millennium ed.). London: Earthscan.

Brown, L. R. (2008). Plan B 3.0 : Mobilizing to save civilization (1st ed.). New York, N.Y. ; London; Washington, D.C.: W. W. Norton & Co.; Earth Policy Institute.

Campbell, C. J. (2002). Peak oil: An outlook on crude oil depletion. Retrieved 4/16/2010, 2010, from,outlook.html

Deffeyes, K. S. (2003). Hubbert’s peak : The impending world oil shortage. Princeton, N.J. ; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Energy information administration – EIA – official energy statistics from the U.S. government. (2010). Retrieved 4/15/2010, 2010, from

International energy agency – oil market report. (2010). Retrieved 4/16/2010, 2010, from

Pfeiffer, A. (2004). Eating fossil fuels. Retrieved 4/16/2010, 2010, from

Rubin, J. (2009). Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller : Oil and the end of globalization (1 US ed.). New York: Random House.

1000 words on Climate Change

April 19, 2010

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response (Stern, 2006). Although some are still arguing over the cause the effect is no longer in doubt.

As a result, over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — to begin to consider what could be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. More recently, an addition to the treaty was approved: the Kyoto Protocol. Countries with commitments under Kyoto are required to meet emission targets and timeframe goals.

To say that climate change is a complex issue is a vast understatement. Uncertainty is generated by the scale and complexity of potential effects and associated costs, which can only be estimates at best. Add the complexity of the uncertainty and imperfection of the real world which includes politics and economics and practical policy approach is limited.

Stern (2006) states that when dealing with such uncertainty, policy approaches can include

  • taxing of emissions,
  • applying quantity restrictions,
  • establishing property rights which underpin bargaining or trading, or
  • a single control body.

A single control body is out of the question, particularly considering that participants could not even reach agreement on emission levels at Copenhagen. A tax requires consensus and needs to be agreed on a very broad if not global level to be effective. A full set of property rights are difficult to establish considering that many of those affected are yet to be born and therefore cannot bargain. At the very least, any climate change policy approach should ensure that GHG emitters are required to wear the cost of the damage their emissions cause, with a cost high enough to incentivise a preference for low carbon alternatives.

It would seem reasonable then to allow the mechanisms of the market to establish a cost for carbon in an emission trading scheme, or at least be the easier of the options to implement. A cap and trade system reflects the options of quantity restriction and property rights.  The mechanisms of Kyoto favor a cap and trade system establishing a carbon market. With Cap and Trade systems, the overall quantity of emission is established and then the entities within the system i.e. firms, countries etc are free to decide on how to best deliver the reductions.

Established in 2005, the European ETS is the largest and first of the Kyoto trading mechanisms. As the first it has undergone a steep learning curve. The release of the Stern Review which discusses examples from the EU ETS suggests that Trading Schemes may not be the best approach considering the failure of the EU ETS to deliver anywhere near its targets and the enormous costs involved (Stern, 2006). The European ETS did not fail because of the system applied, but rather a failure to effectively control the mechanisms of the system. Failures included over allocation, or caps that were greater than actual emissions and limited scope resulting in the system only capturing a low % of emitters, making price setting difficult. There were administrative issues like excessive free allocation with a knock on effect of windfall profits for emitters. There was general underestimation of the administrative requirements. The EU ETS lacked the complexity and sophistication required to deal with the reality of the free market. There were many criticism of the fledgling system. Stern (2006) noted that the EU went down the trading path having failed to agree on a common carbon tax. This highlights the issue of trying to establish such a tax globally, but suggests that ultimately, if consensus could be reached a tax might be more effective for the short time frame allowed for controlling emissions

The reality is that there is and will be uncertainty about the cost and benefit of action, leaving any solution open to criticism. The uncertainty will decrease over time and as that happens then costs and targets can be adjusted accordingly. In the mean time however the suggestion is that whatever method is used, it should distinguish between the long and short term, the goals should be clear and precise and short term policy should be flexible enough to mitigate the risk of costs getting out of control.

In practical terms, a long term stabilization goal needs to be agreed, again highlighting the failure of Copenhagen. The price mechanism could be a tax or a tradable quota but for the short term, a tax would undoubtedly be most effective. The disadvantage of a Tax is the challenge associated with global establishment and adjustment. Individual countries can establish a tax without consultation however the result would most likely be increased revenues for that government with little effect on emission levels elsewhere.

Assuming a Tax could be agreed, the ease with which it could be adjusted to meet the long term stabilization goal would be its greatest advantage. As understanding evolves, policy will need to evolve and the mechanisms will need to adjust accordingly and with ease.

The unpredictability of market drivers like oil price for example is easier to react to with tax. In certain circumstances however if input cost is low, the polluter may just choose to wear the tax and pass the cost on to the consumer, with little resultant change in emission. It is unlikely though that oil prices will fall a great deal any time soon with the peak in global production occurring in 2005. (EIA, 2010)

Tax revenues raise public revenues. Those revenues can be used to pass on tax incentive to the polluting industry easing the transition. Alternatively tax revenue can be funneled to innovation.

In a quota based system the revenue can only collected if the quotas are initially sold by governments. If the quotas are free then the benefit goes to the polluter in the form of profit. This is one of the criticisms of The EU ETS where quotas were freely given without any impact on emissions. It’s a big if though.

Equity relies heavily on the ease with which finance can flow between developed and undeveloped countries. A tax system would require the implementation of additional vehicles to allow for this transfer.

The sophistication required for complimentary policies and measures most likely lends itself to government policy making mechanisms, but government policy making can be costly and inflexible. Both tax and tradable quota systems are capable of financing carbon reduction. Only the quota system will do it automatically and via the most cost effective path, and only then if managed properly. The failings of the EU ETS have highlighted the difficulties of getting this right however and as a result the pain and compromise of arriving at a equitable and effective tax rate is now being examined as a preferred path.


Energy information administration – EIA – official energy statistics from the U.S. government. (2010). Retrieved 4/15/2010, 2010, from

Stern, N. H. (2006). The economics of climate change: The stern review Cambridge, UK ; Cambridge University Press, 2007.

United Nations FCCC. (2010). United nations framework convention on climate change. Retrieved 4/14/2010, 2010, from

United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organisation. (2010). Climate change. Retrieved 4/5/2010, 2010, from

World resources institute | global warming, climate change, ecosystems, sustainable markets, good governance & the environment. (2010). Retrieved 4/18/2010, 2010, from

Black Soldier Fly (and their babies)

April 12, 2010

Just wanted to add this post on Soldier flies. Amazing little creatures that they are. If you read no further , this is the link I recommend. It explains everything and got me started on this little side track. There are other links from this page too.

I discovered these little treasures after a trip to the compost bin one morning. I noticed initially that the volume of waste had reduced considerably, (about 50%) which was great, but what I also noticed was what looked like an infestation of maggots, which was not so great. So off to the internet I went in search of info on how to get maggots out of a compost bin.

Luckily I noticed a small article about soldier fly larvae and how amazing they are when visiting your compost bin. After checking and re checking (including a couple more trips to the compost and a collected sample to check against pictures on the net), I realised that my maggot infestation was actually Soldier Fly Grubs. (or larvae)

These amazing little creatures basically exist to consume our waste. They have a pretty bad rep what with looking a lot like maggots and all but the job they do is incredible. Not only will they convert waste to compost in a matter of hours (as opposed to days and weeks in the worm bin or months in a conventional compost heap) but what they leave behind is great worm food.  They actually speed up the worms process.

After moving a few rotting mangoes and apples around I realised that the bin is literally heaving with these grubs. (An explanation for the 50% reduction in waste volume) These are some amazing stats on the volume of waste these grubs can consume. They eat anything including meat, citrus, and onion bits but can also reduce waste volume by about 95% in pretty short order.

I do have a break coming up so I have a project scheduled to make the compost bin a bit more BSF friendly. I will post the results. 

Meet the project manager

And another thing, Economics???

April 5, 2010

What is economics? Modern practices and neo classical definitions would have us believe that growth has no upper limit. This perception seems hard to kill and part of that is the demonstration of that growth for the last century.  The question of course is how is unlimited growth possible when resources are finite. Do we need a new economic model and is sustainability possible with the current one? In addition to the great definition of sustainability that was shared with me by Wilf, he also shared a definition of economics that might work for sustainability too.

“How any system obtains its lowest complexity energy and matter from its environment to satisfy its needs”. (not greeds)

Still digesting this one too but it seems to suggest that best practice is about using the absolute minimal resources to achieve an outcome. Last century could definitely be labeled the century of growth. Growth is the goal of every society. At every level, human beings strive to raise their standard of living by expanding their wealth. Aspiring politicians promise faster growth, and the performance of corporate CEOs is judged by how quickly their firms expand.1.  We started in 1900 with a world population of 1.6billion. It took us thousands and thousands of years, all of human history, to reach that number. in 2010 we sit just a little over 6.9 billion. We have managed to average about 1 billion every thirty years or so since 1900.

The global economy has expanded from an output of 2.3 trillion in 1900 to 70 trillion in 2009. Economic growth has allowed billions of people to live healthier, more productive lives and to enjoy a host of comforts that were unimaginable in 1900. It has helped raise life expectancy, perhaps the sentinel indicator of human well-being, from 35 years in 1900 to 66 years today. Children born in 1999 can expect to live almost twice as long as their great-grandparents who were born around the turn of the century, the top 1/5 at least.

At the other end, nearly 4 billion have never made a phone call, more than 2 billion live on less than $2 a day and 1 billion on less than $1. No electricity or sanitation for more than 2 billion no health care or clean water for nearly 1 billion and 834 million people are malnourished.

We face financial crises on a global scale and doubts about the basic soundness of the global economy are growing. The needs of billions are inadequately met in the best of times and more fundamentally, our current economic model is overwhelming our natural resources.

I know, it sounds bleak but there is hope right. We just have to start thinking a bit differently right?

(cite: state of the world, 1999 A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. Lester brown)

What is sustainability?

April 4, 2010

Havent had much luck in getting an answer on this one unfortunately. Such a complex topic and all of the definitions that get dredged up as part of any discussion or when someone has to write a paper, usually end up being the one from the 1987 UN World Commission on Environment and Development, “our common future” or the Brundtland Report as it is know which goes

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

Which is very nice, thankyou Mr Brundtland. But the report is over 200 pages long and even if you read the whole thing there is nothing which offers the guidance required to deliver this definition or substance around questions like how many future generations and what specific needs. So it’s not really a definition so much as a vague concept. If you’re looking for definitions that offer substance, they are hard to find and I have only managed to find one so far, (credit to Andrew ‘Wilf ‘ Wilford here) the definition goes.

“How any system, relates with its environment, and regulates its own activities, to promote enduring health and maintain system viability”

I havent digested it completely but it goes a long way to suggesting that Sustainability has to happen in every system that exists in order to be viable. The human centric approach doesn’t work for me either which is why I like this definition. We seem to try to define everything from a human perspective and as the dominant species that’s probably fair enough. When it comes to this stuff though we are talking about survival of the species.

The planet is fine, we don’t need to save it, we need to save ourselves. A whole system approach seems to be the most viable in addressing the complexity of the topic.

If anyone is watching.

April 3, 2010

Well this is my first post on WordPress. I have moved here from another blogging site, only because this one seems to be much more usable and readable. This is intended to be the record of a journey to a Post Grad Masters in Development and Sustainability. I must admit, it did seem like the most unlikely thing for me to be doing this year. It feels like it’s a little bit too self-indulgent and such a luxury, but despite the guilt , here I am. My amazing wife has encouraged me every step of the way. At time of writing, I am about to complete the first semester. Three to go.