Total Pageviews

Friday, February 27, 2009


I today received an e-mail message from James Hanson (NASA, global climate change hero who bedeviled the recent Bush Administration) pointing out two things:

1. A carbon tax is the "most honest effective" way, according to Hanson, to control carbon dioxide emissions. Then why is only the cap & trade concept being discussed in our White House and Congress? The reason is that American industry can profit from this option. Now that is not necessarily bad if cap & trade can work. Hanson thinks not.

2. Secondly, I’ve said this before, and will repeat it here: our political system is overwhelmingly controlled by lobbyists (take the military industrial complex, for example, but unions and religious and other issues groups can also be very influential). While small (and usually, legal) favors help an officeholder, just the getting re-elected part dominates the priorities of any office, and these organizations know how to play that game. Hanson points out that there are 2340 cap and trade lobbyists, many wearing alligator shoes, trying to influence our President, representatives and senators to insure that this policy is enacted. He mentions another group, of 2500 mostly young citizens, who will on March 2 peacefully protest, essentially, for the need to phase out coal. They bear no gifts and will need to pay their own way to the Capitol. Guess which group will have any effect on legislation?

Which then leads me to share with you some of my calculations on the carbon tax:
A $50/ton carbon tax would raise coal-powered electricity from
..............................4.2 cents/kWh to 5.4 cents/kWh
A $348/ton (4.74 cents/pound CO2) carbon tax would raise coal-fired electricity from
..............................4.2 cents/kWh to 12.55 cents/kWh
A 5 cents/pound CO2 tax would raise coal-fired electricity from
..............................4.2 cents/kWh to 13 cents/kWh
A 5.75 cents/pound CO2 tax would raise gasoline by $1/gallon
Thus, a 5 cents/pound carbon dioxide investment surcharge (also known as a tax) would increase oil by $47.72/bbl.
I have long advocated a 5 cents/pound CO2 investment surcharge. Jim Hanson recommends a 5.75 cents/pound CO2 tax. We are in amazing agreement.

The Dow Jones Industrials sunk a further 119 to 7062. Well, I guess I need to buy those same stocks I bought way back in November when the market "bottomed" at 7500. Our Gross Domestic Product dropped 6.2% during the fourth quarter last year, the worst in nearly 27 years. That period happened to follow the second energy crisis. World markets were mixed, but mostly down. Crude oil slipped 27 cents to $44.34/barrel and gold rose $2/toz to $945. Note that people in the know earlier this week were predicting that gold would rise to $1200/toz in the near future.  Who can you believe these days?


Thursday, February 26, 2009


About the yellow tree shown yesterday, the official name is Tabebuia donnell-smithii, Bignoniaceae, prima vera, GOLD TREE.

The following prepares you for Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, which is on eternal life. I began Chapter 1 on October 11 and have several more parts to post, but two articles in the daily paper yesterday spurred me to comment on these matters of our health.

Over the past few years, the prevailing sentiment has been that red wine was good for your health. In fact, two glasses were recommended for men (less for women, mostly because of lower body mass), and that adds up to 10 ounces, or the volume of a can of soda. This no doubt worried some doctors and others, for moral conscience argues that drinking is bad. Well, Rob Stein of the Washington Post reports of a British study of 1.3 million middle-aged women, which found that just one glass of any alcohol per day, increased the risk of cancer.

The headline is sufficient to scare off a good number of marginal drinkers, which, I guess, is probably good, except from the beverage industry’s point of view. The reality, though, is that if you are female, and continue to have a drink a day, there is a 15 in 1000 chance (30 for two drinks) you would be one of those unlucky few. Would you want to give up a lifetime of “one drink a day” for a 1.5% higher chance that you might be stricken with cancer? Plus, medical science keeps re-studying something, many times arriving at a totally different conclusion. Butter-margarine and eggs are just two examples where what was bad is now probably okay…until the next study.

If you are male, you can’t feel totally comfortable just because only females were mentioned. It just happens that the study was focused on women. The odds are high that you, too, should take heed. However, this risk depends on body weight, so if you are really big or somewhat fat, that 1.5% drops some for one drink.

The second article had to do with prostate cancer, the second (skin cancer is #1) most common form in men. Here, women can feel comfortable about being immune. One in five (or six) men will get prostate cancer, and if you’re black, there is a 123% greater chance of death.

The treatment for prostate cancer is another controversial area, which has also undergone various adjustments. At one time, the standard PSA blood test was almost routine, until it began to get questioned for being somewhat unreliable, as a positive result does not necessarily mean you have cancer. In fact, no major medical group now recommends this test. The other dilemma is that if you have prostate cancer, do you wait out the danger (for growth is slow and usually non-life threatening) or go into surgery, which often causes sexual performance or bladder control problems. Well, this article now mentions a drug called finasteride (Proscar) which might prevent this disease. Here is where it gets almost totally puzzling: this drug, so it is said in the article, doesn’t apply to men who choose not be screened. Huh? The bottom line is to check with your doctor.

What has all this to do with eternal life? Not much, except that if the aging gene is checked (or reversed), you can still die from diseases, accidents and the like.
The Dow Jones Industrials jumped 133, then slowly sank to minus 89 to finish the day at 7182. European markets went up and Asia went down. Oil went up a couple of bucks to $44.61/barrel. Gold dropped $10/toz to $945.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Clearly, I'm making a case for Hawaii as Paradise, so let me begin with what is a typical sunset (symbolically beautiful, but like the sun, declining), moving on to a wonder of nature, a resplendent rainbow (tomorrow, the potential to be reborn in splendor--go to the cover of my first book, SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth, for the multi-spectrum bridge to the future is so obviously evident with a concerted effort and a lot of help), and that incredible chartreuse blossom (actually, today, just outside my campus office). These are what make Hawaii different and better. How can something so beautiful be so challenged, relatively clueless and lacking in leadership? I digress, but the following is Part 2 of the discussion initiated yesterday on how Hawaii can best diversify:
What is, then, the answer? In short, we need to focus on where we have a natural advantage. Hawaii cannot afford billions of dollars to start new industries nor wean us off petroleum. To be blatantly frank, we need money from beyond our shores: people, companies and organizations eager to then market our success elsewhere. In this critical transition, they can enjoy our hospitality. Not an entirely bad bargain if they end up profiting.
This is a crucial period when oil prices are in a temporary canyon between the $147/barrel oil of July 2008 and the $200/barrel price of circa 2012. What is it that Hawaii can offer to the national government and major corporations to want to invest in our state?
We are blessed with renewable energy, and the current White House and Congress will be supportive of our efforts toward energy self-reliance. We are in the middle of the largest ocean and neither Hawaii nor the Nation is doing anything about developing the riches of the sea. Tourism will continue to be the backbone of our economy for some time to come, so we need to either find a replacement for the fuel jetliners use, or help someone invent a new form of flight which uses hydrogen.
As the first step, we need to get our Legislature, Governor, congressional delegation, private sector, academia, and, most important of all, the people, to agree that, unless we instantly work together to design and build a pioneering sustainable resource pathway for our future, we will be faced with sure catastrophe.
Our best hope at saving ourselves is to become the national and world model for energy independence. Having about the highest energy prices in the nation make clean options closer to being competitive. Being relatively small (less than one half of one percent of the national population) means the investment can be more affordable. Our detachment from the national grid provides an urgency that is necessary to galvanize action.
Here is what we must do:

1. Gain White House support to immediately host a World Summit to produce a plan of action as a symbol for the globe.
2. Capture a greater share of the various stimulus packages to match industrial investments in wind power farms and solar energy (and conservation) retros to existing residences and apartments (with all new construction mandated to install solar water heaters and PV systems).
3. Augment the 70% in 2030 government-utility incentives. For example, as has been done in Germany (where something higher than a 50 cent/kWh rebate is provided for residences contributing electricity into the grid--making this country now #1 in PV) have the PUC orchestrate a similar payback of twice the cost of what the customer is charged for homes and entrepreneurs (open it up to them, with some sunsetting) so that the utility becomes the storage option (batteries and hydrogen are just too expensive to consider today).

4. Install a smart grid connecting all our islands, even Kauai, which might be easier said than can be done, but is not impossible. This will cost $2 billion, at least. Who will be paying for this tab? These are the details that need to worked out. Remember how we got all those bucks to build national defense highways? Easy, then, to justify national defense grids. And we got the right people in the White House and Congress to do just that. How lucky can we get?

5. Do everything possible to explore for and install geothermal power plants on the Big Island, and, perhaps, Maui. Develop industrial parks around these facilities, as there are various co-products worthy of commercialization. Geothermal is a particularly key part of the mix because it is baseload power not dependent of the availability of the sun or winds.

6. Provide every encouragement for ocean thermal energy conversion, for this technology not only provides baseload electricity, but freshwater, next generation fisheries, marine biomass plantations for materials and fuel, and more. The Hawaii problem is beyond energy...we also need to begin to export some commodities. Hawaii should be the leader of the Blue Revolution.

7. But all the above is mostly about electricity. More energy is used in ground and air transportation than for electricity. Because it is beginning to happen, initially use a mix of plug-in electric cars and flex fuel hybrid vehicles. A command decision must be made to bypass ethanol and biodiesel for methanol. In time, the direct methanol fuel cell could replace the lithium battery.

8. For aviation, continue the effort to develop jet and other biofuels from algae, for this microorganism is at least 5 times more efficient in converting sunlight into biomass than any terrestrial crop. In parallel, explore prospects for the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper, a hydrogen dirigible, advanced by Rinaldo Brutoco, president of the World Business Academy. Clearly, too, the tourist industry must re-invent itself to cater to more affluent visitors and expand eco- and mari-attractions, like Hawaiian onsens. A floating casino or two powered by OTEC and featuring something like Sea World or Disney at Sea might work.

9. Seek special status to become the national symbol for energy self-sufficiency. That should mean more federal-industrial partnerships with Hawaii. Become the national leader for developing marine resources: marine biotechnology, seabed resources, next generation fisheries, marine biomass plantations, etc. Find a way to get the Department of Commerce (wasn't Senator Inouye the past Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman?) to designate Hawaii as a Special Sustainable Resource Zone to commercialize renewable energy and ocean resources. This will surely bring some tax incentives (what about the equivalent of Act 221/215 funded by Commerce just for this Zone?) and facilitate patent rights.

In time, the billions we currently spend on imported fossil fuels can be eliminated and the new sustainable resource industry can rival and someday exceed revenues from tourism. The next two or three decades will be trying. By 2100, but hopefully sooner, Hawaii should become the Sustainable Paradise of the Pacific.
The Dow Jones Industrials neared minus 200 in the first couple of hours, leaped to plus 55, then limped home minus 80 at 7271. By the way, the House today passed the spending bill (with less, but still, a lot, of pork) to keep the government operating, which was about half the size of the Obama stimulus package. Of course, Democrats largely voted in the affirmative, while most Republicans voted no and lambasted the beast. Crude oil jumped $2.57/barrel to $42.47. Gold dropped $13/toz to $954.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


First of all, of course we must. Tomorrow I will suggest a plan to do it right, but today, let me start with the traditional, Hawaii depends too much on tourism and, perhaps, too, on Senator Daniel Inouye and his gifts to the State of defense funds. Both these moneymaking pathways will soon decline.

Half of our 1.3 million people work (with median family income in 2006 at $84,472), placing Hawaii 6th nationally. Unfortunately, our cost of living is 25% higher than the mainland. Our personal real estate worth is about $250 billion. The largest annual bucks (2007) came from retail sales at $26.4 billion, Federal spending was $13.5 billion and tourism $12.8 billion. Agriculture was in the range of half a billion dollars, but we spent $6.17 billion on energy. Ninety-four percent of the energy used in Hawaii is imported coal and oil.

The price of oil will almost certainly zoom upwards in three to five years, and while we will think that the visitor industry will have been saved when it next recovers, the real crunch will come in five to ten years when astronomical jet fuel prices will significantly reduce the incoming numbers. There is nothing on the horizon, either a replacement fuel (jetfuel from algae is the best, but it will still be very expensive) or a new type of aircraft that does not use a fossil fuel. About a third of the energy used in Hawaii goes for air travel.

On defense spending, Senator Inouye will reach 85 this year, and at that age, his life expectancy is 6 years. No Hawaii congressperson is close to attaining chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the odds are that no one ever will again. Plus, as the USA is so militarily dominant these days, with China and Russia facing severe internal and economic problems, as something has got to give in these times of economic recession, defense expenditures will drop over the next decade. With little new coming from the military and a stop in new hotels, construction will crash in a few years. There is nothing we can do about all this, now.

Shan Steinmark has an excellent, but, classical, take in the Honolulu Advertiser today on what Hawaii has to do. Basically, he says, do everything: alternative energy, aerospace, diversified agriculture, aquaculture, tropical medicine, multimedia entertainment, focus on a sustainable and green economic engine, seek high tech corporations to headquarter in Hawaii, locally developed intellectual property, and so on. All of these are great, the problem is that we have been trying to do all these things, and more, since who knows when. We have largely failed!

It is not that nothing monumental has been tried. The Kohala Task Force (so old even Google has trouble finding it) is remembered in ignominy, Act 221/215 is in danger of being too severely downsized, and a thousand other attempts have essentially gone nowhere.

Thus, here is how not to diversify the economy of Hawaii:

1. Do everything interesting and attractive at once.
2. Compete in traditional high tech areas.
3. Assist fledgling companies which then feel compelled to move elsewhere to compete.
4. Involve the community in a constant attempt to gain consensus so that we get nowhere, slowly.
5. Play politics.

Tomorrow, I will look into how we must focus in our attempt to effectively diversify our local economy.
The Dow Jones Industrials jumped 236 to 7351. World markets were mostly down, but guess what will happen tomorrow? Crude oil rose almost two bucks to $39.90/barrel and gold dropped $22/toz to $967.
Regarding North Korea and that missile launch mentioned yesterday, apparently, this is now of the long-range Taepodong-2 version, which, it is reported, can reach the mainland USA.  In side-handed deference to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning not do so, the latest ploy is to place another satellite into space, something they actually accomplished in 1998.  

Monday, February 23, 2009


I’ve long been making fun of the floating golf ball spending regular R&R visits over the past three years in Pearl Harbor. The fact that this mysterious piece of hardware cost taxpayers about a billion dollars when the average Department of Energy budget for renewable energy R&D was about the same, long ago caught my attention about our spending priorities. I wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it if the Cold War was still a threat to end life on Earth as we know it, but when the Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, this type of expense should have been cancelled.

I noted over the weekend an unusually acerbic column article by Honolulu Advertiser military reporter, William Cole, entitled: “Golfball” seems at home here. Here are some quotes:

By default, Hawaii is turning out to be a much more hospitable port for the $900 million floating Sea-Based X-Bank Radar than its intended home of Adak, Alaska.

Has it ever pulled into port in Adak? “No,” the Missile Defense Agency said… Did the SBX, as it is known, remain outside port in Adak? “It loitered in the vicinity of Adak for two weeks in 2007,” MDA said.

And how successful has SBX been in missile defense. “SBX has successfully met every operational test requirement to date,” MDA said.

In a way they’re right, for we have not yet been decimated by a nuclear missile from North Korea. But this is like the proverbial public drummer who spends hours each day in Aala Park to save Honolulu from herds of rampaging elephants. Do we need the drummer for this looming catastrophe? Likewise for that U.S.S. golfball of Pearl Harbor?  Ironically enough, the floating hull was built in Russia, but the guts were installed in Texas shipyards.

But, aha, this morning the Associated Press reported that North Korea recently deployed a medium-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam and Alaska. Some lobbyist for these companies or the Department of Defense is doing good work beating the drums to gain validity for this high tech dimpled spheroid.
The Dow Jones sunk an additional 250 points today to 7116. Except for Hong Kong, all other world markets were down today. According to CNN Money, you need to go back to May 7, 1997 to see such a low, but, actually, in current dollars, the 2009 price that day was an equivalent of 9343. However, this was during the decade of escalation when the DJI jumped from 2500 to past 10,000, so it would be early 1996 when the effective 2009 price was around 7116. What this means is that if you bought $1000 of stocks (the equivalent of the DJI) 13 years ago, your stock value today would still be worth $1000. It would be debatable which would have yielded more, dividends or money left in your savings. If the DJI drops to 6000, the 4333 of mid 1995 would be worth that 6000 today. For the truly pessimistic, a 5000 DJI would find an equal value of 3610 late in 1993.
Crude oil dropped about $2/barrel to $38.02. Gold was up a buck to $995/toz. Many in the know see gold continuing to increase to at least $1100/toz in the coming weeks. Is that high? Not really, as gold hit a current value of $2220/toz in 1980 (actual price was $850).

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Confronted with the title above, Carnac the Magnificent would pause because he would at least be mildly confused as to his possible response. However, he utters, “Not the life progression for Americans.” There is only a trickle of laughter from the audience. Johnny Carson grimaces and extends a particularly invective Middle Eastern curse.

Yes, Carnac would have been right, for the above title is not a sequential prediction of your past, present and future, if you are the typical American. But shockingly enough, not for the reason you might think. The punch line comes at the end, when you will learn that, as a Nation, we believe in maybe two of the four.

I recently wrote a book partially treating evolution and the afterlife, and an earlier one analyzing global warming and possible doomsdays, and have lately been busy reading up, responding to and organizing virtual discussion forums on the economic collapse, peak oil, global warming and doomsday. The participants tend to be the more scholarly facet of our society and hardly represent the masses. Yet, many of them have devoted their professional lives to these subjects and are the best and brightest, so their views are important and can't be totally discarded.

I would say something like 10% to 20% of this eclectic group actually believe the combined crush of the economic collapse, peak oil and global warming will be so severe that society as we know it will NEVER recover, our lifestyles will be seriously compromised and survival could become a life-or-death issue. Some have purchased land and are initiating self-reliant communities. There are blogs to prepare individuals living in these uncertain times. A few of my friends are actually looking forward to this new adventure.  Most of us, though, would rather maintain our current mode, but are somewhat worried that they might be right.

I tried to find a real poll on what Americans think about this coming doom, but couldn’t find one with a scenario reasonably close to the above. Sure, the Large Hadron Collider still has that potential and the SciFi Channel in 2006 had a countdown to our mass extinction. However, as none of the respected economists I see on television seem particularly concerned about this worst-case option, I take satisfaction in maintaining a similar insouciance.

Yet, I wonder how seemingly intelligent and respected friends can get so hung up in this latest series of potential catastrophes, for in the 70’s we muddled through the population bomb, limits to growth, potential nuclear winter, the Vietnam War, acid rain and two energy crises...and recovered. In fact, nearly two decades after the Second Energy Crisis, crude oil in 1998 fell to the lowest on historical record ($15.52/barrel in 2008 dollars, even lower than the $18.29 of 1972), and there was nothing government, academics or politics did to orchestrate this drop. Further, another decade later the United States is now supremely unchallenged and oil is heading in the direction of that historic low. Aside for this inconvenient economic collapse, how can things be any better?

All this led me to think, could this small minority planning for the end of life as we like it, in fact, be on to something? Let’s look at religion, for example. The surveys vary a bit, but for the longest time, something on the order of 90% of Americans say they believe in God and some form of Afterlife. Is there something wrong with the 10% who don’t? I would not be surprised if many of them (the 10 percenters) are amused and disappointed at the same time that their friends and family can be so deluded. Is that what this doomsday group thinks of the population at large in terms of the coming downfall?

Changing the subject a wee bit, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin. By now, everyone must believe in evolution, right? Wrong! Two-thirds of Americans actually know that God created us within the past 10,000 years, so does this mean that only 33% of us accept evolution?  Well, it's a bit more complicated then that, but, yet, alarming.  Live Science reports on a poll of 34 countries, placing the U.S. second from the bottom (Turkey was lower at 26% on belief in evolution, while the European countries and Japan were on the other end of the curve, with 60-90% in the evolution camp). I go into vivid detail on this subject in Chapter 5 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.

Okay, so much for that controversial subject, but, then, by now most of us must be convinced about global climate change. Actually, yes, 82% of Americans do believe, with, interestingly enough, 91% being Democrats and 72% Republicans. That was a 2007 survey. A 2009 poll broke this down to 44% saying long-term planetary trends are causing this change, with 41% blaming it on human activity. Only 21% of Republicans think that we are at fault.  Also, 54% say the media exaggerate the dangers. In other words, most Americans don’t think their use of fossil fuels is causing this Greenhouse Effect.

To summarize, the majority of Americans believe in both creationism and an afterlife, the potential for some sort of religious doom, and think they are not causing global warming. So the title of this article should have been: Creationism, Doomsday and the Afterlife. You now should have a better understanding about why we are in deep…(feel free to add your own odious term).

Did we become the greatest country ever because of our beliefs?  Certainly not entirely, which gives hope that the best is yet to come.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The Dow Jones Industrials sunk an additional hundred points to 7366, a six year low. World markets all declined, most in the 2 to 4% range. Our drop was 1.34%. We most probably will get to 7000, but a 6000 floor is now being discussed. Gold topped $1000/toz today, but ended up $18 up at $994.

Crude oil shot up $5.40/barrel to $40.03. Many are still predicting a drop below $30/bbl before mid-year. Remember the high of $147/bbl in July? The average for 2008 was just under $100/bbl, but this was roughly the price in 2008 dollars in 1980. The lowest price on record in 2008 dollars occurred in 1998: $15.52/bbl. In 1972 BEFORE the first energy crisis, the price was $18.29/bbl.

1960 ...............2.91 .........................20.88
1972 ...............3.60 .........................18.29
1975 ..............12.21 .........................48.21
1979 ..............25.10 ........................73.44
1980 ..............37.42 ........................97.47
1998 ..............11.91 ........................15.52
2008 ..............99.65 ........................99.65
2009 ............($40??) ....................($40??)

Prices are based on historical free market (stripper) prices of Illinois Crude as presented by
IOGA . Price controlled prices were lower during the 1970's but resulted in artificially created gas lines and shortages and do not reflect the true free market price.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Yes, says President Barack Obama, prior to leaving the U.S. for his first foreign trip…to Canada. He also indicated that the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and he is in favor of clean coal technology.  Is this our Green President?  Well, I've previously called him gray, but, has he become the black president?  Nah, he needs to perform a balancing act.  Treehugger indicates that he was just trying to be polite, but preferred that he be forthright.

Clean is one thing, but economic is another. My Huffington Post article on “Renewable Electricity is the Only Viable Option” indicates that most of the renewable electricity options are cheaper than coal with carbon dioxide storage. If this is the case, why bother with clean coal? One reason is that coal-fired electricity is baseload, while solar and wind are not, so, over the next decade or two, some mix of them all will be necessary.

But why is Obama saying that Canadian oil-sands (previously known as tar-sands) can be clean? First, he is going there on his very first international trip, and is trying to be a good neighbor. Second, Canada supplies us with more oil than anyone else, with Saudi Arabia #2 and Mexico #3. Third, there are twice as much oil-sand reserves (mostly in Canada and Venezuela) than conventional petroleum.

Almost two-thirds of Canadian oil is heavy oil of some type. Those oil-sands are stripped mined, and need to be processed with a lot of water and heat, for which natural gas is used. For every barrel of oil produced, about three barrels of water are required. Toxic chemicals also result. This fossil resource is an environmental nightmare.

Further, the economics do not work so well for oil-sands if they are produced "clean."  The estimated cost of mining and refining this oil is from $50 to $70/barrel, without carbon dioxide re-injection. If it is to be clean oil-sands, then the cost could well increase to $100/bbl or more. Seriously being considered is nuclear power to replace methane for the extra heat, but that would probably increase the final cost of the product.

Thus, many oil producers are in real trouble today, for the break even price (BEP) of oil is much higher for countries like Venezuela, Canada, Iraq and Iran. The projected price of oil over the next two years will remain below $60/bbl. All four countries will lose money by selling oil. Even at $90/barrel, Venezuela and Canada will be in trouble if they need to produce CLEAN oil-sands.
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 90 to 7466, a 76-month low. World markets were mixed, but more up than down. All indications are that continued slouch will continue until mid-year. Oil prices, though, leaped $4.13/barrel to $38.76. Gold slid $5/toz to $976.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


President Ronald Reagan jacked up the defense budget, and it worked, for the strategy bankrupted the Soviet Union, we won the Cold War, and we now have no major enemy. There is every good reason, thus, to drastically change our spending priorities.
The threat of nuclear holocaust has shifted to the economy, peak oil and global warming. Wait a minute, that was twenty years ago, and nothing has changed. Why don't we now smartly reallocate most of our defense spending to green applications? Boeing can make wind energy conversion devices, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics manufacture OTEC plantships, etc. My very first Huffington Post article suggested this plan to Barack Obama last year when he was still trying to gain the democratic nomination.
Here is one way of looking at this. The next nuclear carrier will cost $8 billion. That is about the total amount the U.S. Department of Energy spent on renewable energy R&D over the past decade. After the carrier is delivered, the lifetime operational cost could well be three to four times the capital cost, so we are now in the range of $30 billion to $40 billion. Even though aircraft carriers are strategically obsolete, for the next couple of decades, it will serve the purpose of intimidating minor enemies, so keeping the peace is worth something, I guess. Plus, very little carbon dioxide is generated.
But, say these tens of billions are utilized to stimulate the building of wind farms, solar power facilities, developing next generation transport options and the like. Clean energy will be produced, plus more and peaceful jobs will be created to better benefit humanity. Revenues will be generated, the economy will be sparked and our atmosphere cleansed. This should be a no brainer.
Unfortunately, this did not happen in 1989 and won't in 2009. Why won't our decision-makers take such an obviously sensible step? American companies can dominate the competition for defense funds. They don't need to compete against those foreigners. They have effective lobbyists. Anyone in the know has no confidence that Congress can act for the common good on these matters. This one of the glaring flaws in our political system.
The second reason is that the public likes to feel secure, and, as long as no American is being killed, it's okay, if not desirable, to have the best (and most expensive) weapons to protect our country, especially if the factories or bases are in their home state. The military industrial complex has planned wisely, for virtually every state does, indeed, benefit from this jobs machine.
That thinking should be obsolete today, but is not, for it takes time for a society to realize that we have no enemy anymore, and won't for a long time to come, if ever. There is that rag-tag bunch of terrorists, but China and Russia have their own problems, Iran is now losing money producing oil and North Korea is a joke. Further, as badly as the U.S. stock market did last year, we were still about the best in the world, dropping only 35% in value. Chinese and Russian stocks fell 70%.
Make no mistake about it, though, this recession is leaning in the direction of depression, and those trillion dollar rescue packages dwarf past government expenditures. Yes, World War II did cost something on the order of $2.5 trillion, but how many realize that the total of the Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan and Apollo Project, in 2009 dollars, is only about a quarter trillion dollars? The Bush and Obama rescue packages alone amount to five times more than what it took to build the atomic bomb to end the war, save Europe and send Men to the Moon.
That was bad enough, but the issue is, actually, larger than the country and beyond the economy. When you add the potential cost of combating Peak Oil and Global Warming, the challenge facing society becomes downright depressing, for the International Energy Agency last year reported that $45 trillion was the amount needed only to neutralize climate change. That's about forty times the Bush/Obama stimulus.
So, clearly, the challenges are monumental and solutions must be international. Forget the United Nations, for the bureaucracy is stultifying. If only one monumental agreement can be made at the next G8 summit, which will occur in July of this year in Italy, the world can begin to work together on a common solution for Planet Earth and Humanity. What could they possible agree on? Well, let me be brutally naive. If each country can reduce defense spending by 10% each year, with the resultant savings being applied to renewable energy and climate change, that would be a nice start.
It will take time for each country to arrive at a legislated resolution, so the protocol for agreement can be signed in the 2010 Canadian Summit. By 2012, when President Barack Obama hosts the G8 gathering, the world economy should be well on the way to recovery, with oil prices tolerable, atmosphere perhaps already showing signs of healing and a globe at peace. Hey, what's wrong with a little loud dreaming? Maybe someone important will take some of this seriously.
The Dow Jones Industrials stayed steady, plus 3 to 7556. World markets were mixed but mostly down. The auto bailout is now reported to possibly topping $130 billion. Oil also was essentially unchanged at $34.63/barrel. Gold is approaching $1000/toz, rising $12 to $981.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Our economy has crashed. Okay, we know that. How can we get ourselves out of this mess? Trillion dollar sums are being tossed around, and we can't really relate to what is happening. Let me throw a few more numbers at you for the purpose of establishing some relativity and reality. Perhaps we can then appreciate what might be the priorities and how to find the ideal solution.


A good beginning is to start with how we spend our money. According to U.S. Department of Labor Consumer Expenditures (for 2006, which was released in October of 2008):


Number of consumer units
(2.5 people per)...................1..............119 million

Income before taxes.......$60,533.........$7.3 trillion
Amount spent on
...Housing......................$16,366.........$1.9 trillion
...Transportation.............$ 8,508..........$1.0 trillion
...Education.....................$ 888...........$0.1 trillion
...Alcoholic beverages......$ 497...........$59 billion
...Tobacco products.........$ 327...........$39 billion
.. (selected categories)

So the total income earned by individuals in America was $7.3 trillion. The Internal Revenue Service that year collected $1.24 trillion from individuals (total of $2.5 trillion). Interesting to note that for those making $150,000/year, your expenditures for all the above were just about double the average, except for tobacco products, where you spent less.

The combined congressional bailout and Obama stimulus packages amounted to $1.64 trillion ($5360/person or $13,782 per household). Of course, we’ll get back some of this, but only a small sum. Where is the money going, anyway?

You should further know that:

The next generation aircraft carrier,
the Gerald R. Ford, will cost.....................$8 billion
(two more are planned, but it is
reported they will be cheaper.)

Virginia class submarine.........................$2.5 billion
(30 planned = $75 billion)

F-22 Raptor............................................$361 million
(183 to be purchased = $66 billion)

Not to be left out, the U.S. Army is
undergoing a makeover...........................$200 billion

That floating golf ball (radar) making
frequent R&R visits to Pearl Harbor..........$1 billion

The Port Royal guided missile cruiser
recently grounded...................................$1 billion

The annual expenditure by the U.S.
Department of Energy on renewable
energy over the past decade.....less than $1 billion
As another reference point, if you add up the cost of the Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan and Apollo Project, and convert each sum into current (2009) dollars, the grand total is $266 billion. Let me repeat! The sum of money it took to build the atomic bomb to end World War II, save Europe after that war and send a Man to the Moon was about a quarter of a trillion dollars when converted to 2009 dollars, or:

.....One-sixth the two part economic rescue cost

.....Less than the amount we spend on alcohol and tobacco in three years

.....About what it will cost the Department of Defense for the Army makeover, plus a few major weapons of war
So where am I leading? Our problem today is unprecedented and almost unbelievable. First, as a country, considering that the Cold War is over and the crises at hand have to do with the economy, peak oil and global warming, isn't it about time we totally change our government spending priorities? Of course, yes, but that's easy to say and nearly impossible to do. If change, though, somehow, is possible, the opportunities abound, for there are gigantic sums of money that can be applied to the right purpose. Alas, we are not doing that, seemingly won't and are headed for a cataclysm.


The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 298 to 7553, and the whole world also all declined. Crude oil dropped $2.37/barrel to $34.60. Gold jumped $27.90/toz to $969.50. Is the recession heading for depression? The Dow Futures look green for tomorrow, so is now the right time to buy? Or are we crashing into treacherous territory? If a fatal flaw of our society is that we can't make any important decisions until the crisis is at hand, well, we might now be there.


Monday, February 16, 2009


Today is a national and state holiday, celebrating the birthdays of all U.S. presidents. However, you will note that the apostrophe is just after the “t” because the U.S. Congress in 1968 failed to add Abraham Lincoln and, instead, retained the third Monday in February as only George Washington’s birthday (Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12). So, while the people (and advertisers) call it Presidents’ Day, grammatically, it should be as above.
The next Federal holiday is not until Memorial Day on May 25.  In the meanwhile, Hawaii will have Kuhio Day and Good Friday in March.
Until the 80’s, this day was a real holiday like Christmas, and businesses shut down. Today, this is just another opportunity for sales. California also recognizes Lincoln’s birthday, and there are instances when there is a four-day break
President Lincoln, incidentally, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, was selected by 65 historians as our best president. The top three included George Washington as #2 and Franklin D. Roosevelt as #3. George W. Bush was ranked 36th out of our 42 presidents. Interestingly enough, Richard M. Nixon received a spot (#26) ten better than the younger Bush, with William Harrison coming in last.  However, Harrison was only in office for 32 days, so the real worst president was Franklin Pierce. His unpopularity came from his sympathies with the South and slavery in general.
The reason why Barack Obama is number 44 is that Grover Cleveland was both number 22 and 24. Vice Presidents who become president are also accorded a new number.
The New York Stock Exchange observes this day as a holiday, but world markets mostly declined. Crude slipped 48 cents to $37.03/barrel. The International Energy Agency warned that oil supplies will tighten up in 2010, while there are signs that we are nearing peak oil, meaning significant price increases will occur in a couple of years. Gold remained at $943/toz.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


A few months ago, my Huffington Post article on “The Dawn of the Blue Revolution” reported on the potential the ocean provided for humanity. The world has been wrestling with the economic collapse and worried about the dual hammer of Peak Oil and Global Warming. Almost never is the ocean recognized as part of the solution. The surface of our globe has two and a half times more water than land. Surely, then, greater consideration should be given to this largely ignored and mostly protected portion of our planet.

To quote from the above posting:

In my 2003 Bruun Memorial Lecture to UNESCO in Paris, I proposed that the United Nations take a leading role in galvanizing Project Blue Revolution. There are important Law of the Sea and international political issues to be considered. There are today only 192 countries forming the UN. Someday, perhaps, a thousand OTEC-powered Blue Revolution platforms, each a nation in itself, could well be plying our oceans, providing clean and sustainable resources for Humanity in harmony with the ocean environment.

Well, the thought of a thousand new nations is disarming at best, but noteworthy because of the potential immensity of the promise.

Not too long ago we had the romance of space with Star Wars and the Apollo Project. But each NASA shuttle shot costs about a billion dollars, the same amount as the U.S. Department of Energy has annually spent over the past decade to develop renewable energy. We can keep contemplating the sky, but the reality is on Earth, and, more specifically, our seas.

Where else can we turn to for next generation clean energy technologies, green materials, exciting new habitats and more seafood? The ocean, of course, and three recent developments have particularly caught my attention.

First, I have never met him, but initiated some virtual dialogue with Patri Friedman, self-professed poker authority, who left Google to help form the Seasteading Institute (as opposed to homesteading on land). Funding was received from billionaire Peter Andreas Thiel, chess-master and co-founder of PayPal. My only connections with them are that we all went to Stanford University and have the belief that our oceans provide a hope for our future. They are dissatisfied with the current civilization and want to build a new and better one on the high seas. Their goal is to form new nations as seatopias.

Second, the Blue Revolution was trademarked (77/452663) to spur the concept, which is similar to seasteading, except the latter is a whole new society, while the former is a focus on the technical aspects of optimizing a system powered by ocean thermal energy conversion to support a floating city or industrial complex, with next generation fisheries, marine biomass plantations for biofuels, hydrogen, green chemicals and materials and freshwater, while remediating global warming and preventing the formation of hurricanes. Corporate interest has been expressed to carry on the effort.

The third blip of activity is the Japanese Ocean Sunrise Project. The chairman of the group, Toshitsugu Sakou, last week passed on to me their final report on “Seaweed Bioethanol Production in Japan.” Unfortunately, both volumes were in Japanese. However, the journal paper he gave me reported that their aim is to produce seaweed (a brown macroalgae) bioethanol by farming in the Exclusive Economic Zone of their country. They don’t quite say that the ocean can produce all the fuel necessary for the world, but they did mention that the theoretical limit of terrestrial cellulose was such that only 18% of transport needs could be met. Clearly was the implication that the ocean can much better meet the full challenge.

As land-based societies attempt to cope with economic, social, political, environmental and assorted other problems, the notion of a totally new initiative to do it better this next time seems enticing at sea. Someday we will explore the stars, but for the next few centuries the ocean is our only new frontier for progress.

Friday, February 13, 2009


This has been a very mixed week.  The Obama stimulus package was approved by Congress and will be signed on February 17 in Denver, but the stock market took a hit.  Michelle Wie is in first place as of now, but Hawaii will probably lose all our golf tournaments as we did the Pro Bowl.  Yes, people coming here to attend these events helped the economy, but the greater benefit was the free publicity when the weather is really cold in the Northern Hemisphere.  Worse, those involved with tourism do not realize that the major crunch will come in five years or so when the price of jet fuel will make coming to Hawaii unaffordable.  Rinaldo Brutoco, Madeleine Austin and I are the only ones attempting to find a substitute for the conventional jet liner with the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper.  Jet fuel for algae could become competitive when oil reaches $150/barrel, but that still will make travel to Hawaii a problem.  The 70% renewable in 2030 does not apply to aviation fuel, which is just under 40% of all the energy used in Hawaii the last time I looked.

My Huffington Post articles generally are placed in my daily blog a few days before they appear in that internet newspaper.  I do improve it for the media, and the comments are sometimes interesting.  My three latest HuffPos are:

The Dow Jones Industrials declined 82 to 7850, New York Mercantile Exchange crude oil jumped $3.53/barrel to $37.51 (but the Dated Brent Spot price is $43.65/bbl) and gold stayed steady at $943/toz.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CHAPTER 1 (Part 25)

The following excerpt is largely from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.

Then the Rest of the Terrorist World

Twenty-four bombs exploded at the same time on August 31, 2006. They were homemade and triggered by mobile phone signals. Baghdad? Nope! Southern Thailand, where, more and more, Muslim insurgency seeks to create a separate country from the Buddhist dominated nation at large. Women were among those planting these bombs, and this time only one person was killed, indicating a sense of humanity. However, since 2004, 1,500 people have been killed in this civil war.

There, too, are terroristic acts in India, Indonesia, Philippines, Russia and China. Most of these deeds are Muslim inspired, even in those Chechnya incidents, for while separatism is the goal, they are Islamic militants. Another group, from Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, cannot be controlled, and has perpetrated a series of actions in India, including the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, killing 173. Part 26 will discuss Israel.
I'm on my way to help kick-off the first Ladies Professional Golf Association event of the year at Turtle Bay, and watch Michellie Wie re-start her career. So, over the next couple of days, I'm not sure what will be my schedule. For now, the Dow Jones Industrials dropped more than 200 points and improved a bit, early in the session. Oil has dropped below $35/barrel. Typical for this type of day, gold is up to $950/toz.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


It's been almost three weeks since my last serial on Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, so let me continue. To bring you up to date, we are now into former President Bush's Axis of Evil, with Iran presented on January 23 and Iraq on January 20.
What about North Korea

By legend, Korea was founded in 2333 BC by Dangun, and is referred to as CHOSoN, loosely interpreted to be “Land of the Morning Calm.” Through invasions and religions, Three Kingdoms formed, and were unified by Silla in 676 AD. The Mongols invaded in the 13th century, King Sejong ruled and the Korean alphabet han-geul was created in the 15th century. Japan first invaded in the 16th century.

The modern history of Korea begins in 1910 with the annexation by Japan. After WW II, the peninsula was split, with the northern half coming under communist sponsorship and the south going democratic. Almost 7 million Americans served in the Korean War of 1950-53, with 54,000 deaths, but the total killed approached 3.5 million, all that to maintain the 38th parallel as the line separating North and South. Founder Kim Il-song passed away in 1994, and the leadership passed on to his son, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea serves a useful purpose for American policy. Their hilarious leader is more an embarrassment than foe. Their toothless pronouncements, now and then reinforced by a pointless lob in the Pacific, cause sufficient panic in Japan and allow our military-industrial complex to justify ridiculous expenditures for billion dollar radar stations, like the one floating in Pearl Harbor on regular R&R from Alaska. (In fact, the USS Port Royal, a Navy guided missile cruiser, recently stranded just off Honolulu Airport, also cost a cool billion. REMEMBER that the average annual U.S. Department of Energy budget for renewable energy during the past few years has been LESS than a billion dollars. ) Even U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has expressed concern about Hawaii someday becoming a target of a nuclear missile from North Korea. But the fact of the matter is that North Korea is more bizarre than dangerous, and there is no evidence whatever of their forming an evil axis with any country. Maybe not surprisingly, the Bush White House policy of ignoring them finally worked when Great Leader Kim caved in by dropping his nuclear program in 2007. However, this relationship in the past has been a flim-flam game where Kim has been the consummate confidence man. Where is he today on this subject or on Earth? Who knows.

There, too, remains a dark side to this untrustworthy country, as reported in various publications, but well summarized in the July 23, 2007 issue of TIME. Legitimate exports totaled $1.7 billion. Illegitimate ones approached $1 billion:

o 41 billion contraband cigarettes...$160 million
o Counterfeit currency....................$ 48 million
o Illegal drugs.................................??
o Weapons......................................??

Diplomatic immunity has helped their own consulate people bring in and distribute these items. Finally, $25 million was seized in a Macau bank, representing revenues from Mafia-like operations, but were released as part of the package for Kim to give up their nuclear weapons program.

Although there are overtures from the South Korean media for a quick transition into normal relations with the North, the fact of the matter is that the South is not falling all over itself to accelerate anything. They saw what happened between East and West Germany, and have decided that prudent discretion is the smart economic plan. To summarize:
...................North Korea....South Korea.....U.S.

Age.............4000 years......4000 years.....223 yrs

in sq. km.....120,540..........98,480.......9,826,000

Population..23 million........49 million...302 million

GDP...........$40 billion....$1,196 billion..$13 trillion


Expend....Not Available...$32 billion......$528 billion
%GDP.....Not Available........2.7%................4.1%

Clearly, South Korea, since the Korean War, has flourished, but the North has putrefied.
The Dow Jones trickled up 51 to 7939 on word that the U.S. Senate and House agreed to President Obama's stimulus package, maybe. They were still working out some trivial language at this writing. This was not quite a bipartisan effort, as only 3 of 219 Republicans are in favor of this legislation. Actually, 11 Democrats voted against this measure too, so there were more defections from this party than conversions from the other side of the aisle. Full passage should be this week, so President Obama will be able to sign it that day or wait until Presidents' Day on Monday, a national holiday. World markets were mixed, and oil prices declined another two bucks or so to $35.94/barrel. The Dated Brent Spot price, though, is now at $43.88/bbl. It is reported that OPEC will take additional measures at their March gathering. Gold rose $24/toz to $940.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


About a month ago I wrote an article in The Huffington Post, wondering if there was a better option than the plug-in electric vehicle. Evidence indicated that the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) was worthy of exploration. To quote from that posting:

Per unit volume, a fuel cell should be able to provide five times more energy than the lithium battery. Chapter 3 of Simple Solutions for Planet Earth can be referenced for details. In short, this device works like a battery to produce electricity, but uses hydrogen as the energy source instead of lithium, lead or cadmium. However, and this defies common sense, one gallon of methanol has more accessible hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen. So as hydrogen is very expensive to manufacture, store and deliver, with no existing infrastructure...

...the logic argues for producing methanol from biomass to power a fuel cell. This simplest of alcohols is the only biofuel capable of directly and efficiently being utilized by a fuel cell without passing through an expensive reformer.

There were 32 comments, the most significant had to do with the glaring fact that there is no DMFC available for ground transport, and might well be impossible to build. Feedback from experts in the field, though, overwhelmingly indicated that, first, the DMFC is real, and could in a few years begin to replace batteries in portable applications such as computers and iPods. One obvious reason why there is no DMFC for cars is because the U.S. Department of Energy has prohibited R&D on this option. The Farm Lobby effectively convinced Congress and the White House to only focus on ethanol and biodiesel, purposely leaving out methanol. Details are provided in the above posting.

So therefore, where are we as a Nation on next generation cars? Not unlike our ethanol fiasco, the plug-in electric car has a different kind of gigantic problem: we don’t produce any advanced batteries for this application. Panasonic and Sanyo manufacture nearly all of the nickel metal hydride batteries used in our current hybrid autos. The irony to all this is that Stanford Ovshinsky of Ovonics in Detroit invented this technology, and even succeeded in suing Panasonic for stealing his idea. Ovshinsky worked out a partnership with General Motors, but their conventional wisdom must have prevailed, for nothing much happened.

The story of the lithium battery is also a national nightmare. If you trace the expertise, you will find yourself in Japan, Germany, South Korea, France and China. Where are the American companies with the world patents and leadership? They don’t exist!

But, ah, we have coming the ballyhooed Chevy Volt. This hybrid will use a South Korean lithium battery and cost $40,000 when it becomes available in the fourth quarter of 2010. The Toyota Prius ranges in price somewhere in the twenties. The Volt is the car that will save Detroit?

We need to instead invent our own new power system. Toshiba and a few other Japanese companies do have a current advantage for portable uses of the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC), but no one is doing anything about using this technology for cars, yet.

How ideal and opportune, then, for Detroit and the Obama Administration to partner on a new pathway for our future: initiate an Apollo-like project to develop the DMFC. The heartland of our country can also become involved, for the non-food portion of our crops and fields, cellulose, is the ideal feedstock for biomethanol.

The traditionalist might say, isn't this risky? It will take another decade or more just to build a competitive DMFC. Yes, they are right, it will take some time. But ten years from now, if we maintain our current course, we will be importing foreign batteries or paying royalties for our domestic brand. Is this smart?

The simple solution comes in two parts. Sure, continue the thrust to combine 14 American companies in a billion dollar federally funded venture to design an advanced battery. This will almost surely be a lithium battery. Even though this already been done, that's all right as a necessary hedge, for the plug-in concept has merit as a transition option. For one, the electricity can begin to come from wind energy.

The parallel focus should be to provide an equal sum to a consortium of American firms to accelerate the prospects for a direct methanol fuel cell. An important part of this effort should be to find a substitute for the platinum electrode, as, for example, carbon nanotubes. The potential is at hand to again become the world leader in vehicle production.

This second pathway is not currently being discussed in the White House or the Congress.

Why copy the world? Let us invent our own future.


The Senate passed an $838 billion Obama economic stimulus package, 61-37, but the Dow Jones tumbled 382 to 7889. Oil dropped two bucks to $37.85/barrel and gold rose $20.30/toz to $915.30.


Both tropical cyclones Gael and Freddy in the Indian Ocean have dissipated.


Monday, February 9, 2009


free counters


The following is one of my e-mails today to the Peak Oil and Global Warming group. We are now way past 100 e-mails, and might be closer to the doom than away from it.
Dear Wake-up Caller:

Let me limit my response to OTEC and wind power. First, that 100 MW OTEC facility will actually be something on the order of 10 MW, very close to the equivalent of the first flight of the Wright Brothers. Several generations of OTEC successes will be necessary, and this will take many many decades. Someday, the electricity alone will still cost more than 10 cents/kWh, but, hopefully, the co-products of freshwater, clean fuels, next generation fisheries, floating cities and a thousand new nations will make that technology worthy, or onerous, if you think the United Nations is already stalemated. But that will take us into the 22nd century, long after your world has collapsed, maybe.

That Mitsubishi wind farm at South Point? This was a special project for me because I lived in Naalehu for several years, the southernmost community in the USA. Second, while I had no personal involvement in the project, this was a first generation wind energy conversion system. All FGWECS, everywhere, failed. So did the second generation, the Boeing MOD2 above Turtle Bay, being a good example. Hawaii was Boeing's final windmill. Nearby was the third generation Westinghouse wind farm. That fell apart.

For a while I wondered what was wrong with us. Everything we helped install virtually self-destructed. Were we incompetent engineers? Only much later did I get it. Government gave universities and companies money to serve as guinea pigs. We sacrificed our egos for the sake of humanity. Sure computers and iPods work when you buy them. But that is because they are small enough to go through a hundred generations of failure in the laboratories of Sony and Apple. Hawaii served as the international test laboratory for the renewables.

Mitsubishi floundered, and just recently installed a current generation 2.4 MW device in Oregon. They are still testing, a quarter century later.
Westinhouse, as we knew it, is no more. Toshiba owns the nuclear power portion, and Taiwan took over the segment that made windmills and motors. Just this past Friday came this announcement:

TECO-Westinghouse breezes into wind turbine industry

Written by Amy Stansbury, Friday, 06 February 2009

Clean energy is produced by thousands of wind turbines across the open spaces of West Texas. In a state that leads the nation in wind energy generation, the wind turbines in Texas are not made locally
, and TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company would like that to change.

With expertise in industrial motor design and manufacturing, the company recently launched into the emerging wind energy industry, making it the only wind turbine manufacturer in Texas. In December, the international company’s headquarters in Round Rock shipped 10 110-ton wind turbines to Chile for a $40 million wind power generation project.

Now, this from the only renewable electricity industry (with hydropower and geothermal) that is competitive with coal and nuclear. It took a long time and lot of mistakes, but the technology made it, and universities played an important role.

PV is still too expensive for the nation, but maybe not for Hawaii. Leighton's most recent blog has a comment, from me, indicating that even this option might well be ready for our state, and would certainly be if the Legislature shocks us by passing something similar to Germany. And this current technology is said to be close to being replaced by "paint on systems" at much lower costs. Frankly, the boasts are outrageous, but, within a decade, who knows?

So what does this all mean anticipating the doom? You can look at it as too little too late, or hope and subsequent progress.

The Dow Jones slipped a bit, 10 to 8271. I was watching President Obama's townhall statement and Q&A this morning at the so called unemployment epicenter, Elkhart, Indiana, and noticed that the DJI started minus and ended on the plus side after his presence. He continues to push renewable energy. Remarkable! The Japan Nikkei dropped 1.3%, but the rest of world moved upwards.
Crude sunk below $40/bbl to $39.69 today. Remember, my Friday blog reported that Morgan Stanley was predicting $25/barrel during the next quarter. If this happens, then oil will, in current dollars, reach the price BEFORE the First Oil Crisis, which occurred in 1973. All time low? No, that was around $16/barrel in 1998. Yes, the absolutely lowest price of oil in current dollars was only eleven years ago.
Gold dropped $16/toz to $896.
Tropical Cyclone Gael never did hit Madagascar, and is now veering south southeast to nowhere. Tropical Cyclone Freddie, now at 40 MPH, formed northwest of Australia and is moving safely west, also to nowhere.
That storm closing French airports almost looks like a typical hurricane, even on satellite. Winds from 70 to 80 MPH are expected in Paris, with much higher velocities aloong the Atlantic seaboard. But this one is not as fierce as the one a little more than two weeks ago, causing $1.3 billion of damage.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I noticed in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin this morning an article by David Kansas, author of The Wall Street Guide to the End of Wall Street as We Know It. He says the time has come to again invest in stocks, recommending four: Avon Products, Microsoft, General Electric and Boeing. Amazingly, three of those stocks were in the small list I purchased in November last year. He picked these stocks as the best safe values. You'll remember that I selected them because Microsoft was doing something about intelligent grids, General Electric invented the modern wind energy conversion device and is the national leader in the production of this option and Boeing at one time was interested in hydrogen aviation. Of course, the value of those stocks I bought in November has dropped 8%, so now might be the time cut my losses. Then again, maybe I'll wait until the Dow Jones Industrials crash to 7000.
Cyclone Gael is now at 121 MPH, but will only skirt Madagascar and head south. There is a whole lot of rain in the area between, and including, La Reunion Island and Madagascar. It is the fourth largest island with 20 million people, half subsisting on $1/day, and is having other problems, too. Thirty people were killed near the presidential palace, as an attempt is being made to unseat President Marc Ravalomanana. Once mostly known for rare wildlife, eco-tourism and those cartoon movies, oil (at least 3 billion barrels, with first production speculated to be six times present consumption) was found three years ago, complicating the present and promising an interesting future for the country.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Most probably yes, which will significantly affect the cost-effectiveness of most renewable energy projects. What is low? Well, in 1980 the price converted to 2009 dollars was $90/barrel. But that was a high period. So let me arbitrarily say low is $55/barrel (which is $1.30/gallon). Pardon me for this very tedious posting, but that’s the way it has to be if you want to understand what is really happening.

First, there are 161 different crude oil prices. The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) version, linking West Texas intermediate grade crude with point of delivery at Cushing, Oklahoma, is usually the one mentioned in newspapers. The European counterpart is the Dated Brent Spot, and the difference between the two reached $9/barrel in mid-January. On 5Feb09, the NYMEX was at $40.85/bbl and the Brent at $46.46/bbl. This difference is not that important to this discussion.

Remember that oil went up to $147.27/barrel on 11July08 and dropped to $32.40/bbl on 19December08, a four year low. This is not close to the $11.91/bbl of 1998, or about $16/bbl in current dollars. In 1972, before the first energy crisis, oil in current dollars sold for $23/barrel (actual price then was $2.85/barrel), or higher than in 1998. This is significant. Let me repeat: the cheapest oil has ever been in current dollars was eleven years ago.

On January 1, 2009, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reduced output by 2.46 million barrels/day. The world used 86 million bbl/day in 2008, will drop closer to 85 million bbl/day in 2009 and return to 86 million bbl/day in 2010. So the reduction only amounted to 3%. In comparison, the U.S. is producing at a rate of 5 million bbl/day and consuming at 20 million bbl/day.

What then are the oil prices to come? The U.S. Department of Energy has projected an average of $43.25/bbl in 2009 and $54.50/bbl in 2010. Morgan Stanley predicts a drop to $25/bbl in the second quarter and an average of $35/bbl in 2009, more than $8 lower than the USDOE, with an increase to $55/bbl in 2010, about the same as the USDOE.

Tossing these speculations into a pot and stirring, it looks like oil will drop below $30/barrel by mid-year, and average about $40/bbl this year. Next year looks to be $55/bbl. Again, though, oil at $147/bbl caught the USDOE by surprise (possibly because their system does not allow for sudden re-predictions), while Goldman Sachs was looking at $200/bbl in the near future and was off by a factor of three when their recalculated ballpark guess of $100/bbl for December 2008 sunk to $32.40/bbl instead. My rule of thumb is that these prognosticators could be right, but they are usually wrong.

What is the reality of average oil prices remaining at or below $55/barrel for a couple more years? Well, it should depend on supply, demand and the state of the economy, right? But if you were an oil producer, here are the realities:

  1. The break-even price (BEP, anything they sell for less than this price, they lose money) of oil, as indicated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for Iraq is $94/bbl (or $111), Iran $90/bbl and Venezuela $58/bbl. Are you already uneasy?
  2. The National Bank of Kuwait reports that the BEP for Saudi Arabia is $30, but IMF says $54/bbl and Wikipedia lists $49/bbl. I would believe something closer to $50/bbl than $30/bbl. So, do you think Saudi Arabia could survive if they have a minus balance on oil for the next two years?
  3. Canadian oil sands are reported by the National Bank of Kuwait to have a BEP of $33/bbl, but Straightstocks indicates a figure over $50/bbl. Plus there are those fierce environmental and global warming concerns dogging this resource.

So, on the one hand, you have the Department of Energy and Morgan Stanley officially pronouncing that oil will average something in the range of $40/bbl this year and $55/barrel next year. On the other, you have Iraq, Iran and Venezuela all with a break-even prices greater than $55/barrel. These three countries, and, probably Saudi Arabia, too, will be losing money through next year. Will that be tolerable? If all the reported information is accurate (even though they never really are), then I can only fear the worst. My gut sense is that political solutions will become necessary imperatives. You can let your imagination run wild on what those may be.

However, you can also think positively and treat this period to be a "Gift to Planet Earth and Humanity," for time is being provided to develop the technologies and systems to combat Peak Oil and Global Warming. Secondly, let's face it, cheaper oil will improve the economy, for, combined with all the stimulus packages, $5 trillion dollars will thus be pumped into the economy. There is a "but," though, to this second gift. Will we be able to take advantage of this reprieve? We need to "Do It Now." What has to be done NOW? Click on that posting.

January saw 600,000 fewer jobs, the steepest loss in 34 years, but the the Dow Jones Industries nevertheless jumped 217 to 8281, a 280 point increase for the week. Crude oil slipped 75 cents/barrel to $40.10 and gold went up a dollar to $912/toz.
Cyclone Gael is now at 85 MPH and still heading for Madagascar, but current predictions show that just as she gets between Madagascar and La Reunion Island, there could well be a slight easterly move. It must be raining in La Reunion. My friends from La Reunion, let me know what is happening.