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Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Coming World of “Peak Oil Demand,” Not “Peak Oil”

Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Coming World of “Peak Oil Demand,” Not “Peak Oil”

In a Greater Middle East in which one country after another has been plunged into chaos and possible failed statehood, two rival nations, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been bedrock exceptions to the rule. Iran, at the moment, remains so, but the Saudi royals, increasingly unnerved, have been steering their country erratically into the region’s chaos. The kingdom is now led by a decrepit 80-year-old monarch who, in commonplace meetings, has to be fed his lines by teleprompter. Meanwhile, his 30-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has gained significant control over both the kingdom’s economic and military decision-making, launched a rash anti-Iranian war in Yemen, heavily dependent on air power. It is not only Washington-backed but distinctly in the American mode of these last years: brutal yet ineffective, never-ending, a boon to the spread of terror groups, and seeded with potential blowback.

Meanwhile, in a cheap-oil, belt-tightening moment, in an increasingly edgy country, the royals are reining in budgets and undermining the good life they were previously financing for many of their citizens. The one thing they continue to do is pump oil — their only form of wealth — as if there were no tomorrow, while threatening further price-depressing rises in oil production in the near future. And that’s hardly been the end of their threats. While taking on the Iranians (and the Russians), they have also been lashing out at the local opposition, executing a prominent dissident Shiite cleric among others and even baring their teeth at Washington. They have reportedly threatened the Obama administration with the sell-off of hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets if a bill, now in Congress and aimed at opening the Saudis to American lawsuits over their supposed culpability for the 9/11 attacks, were to pass.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: William Hartung, What a Waste, the U.S. Military

Tomgram: William Hartung, What a Waste, the U.S. Military

Late last year, I spent some time digging into the Pentagon’s “reconstruction” efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries it invaded in 2001 and 2003 in tandem with a chosen crew of warrior corporations. As a story of fabled American can-do in distant lands, both proved genuinely dismal no-can-do tales, from roads built (that instantly started crumbling) to police academies constructed (that proved to be health hazards) to prisons begun (that were never finished) to schools constructed (that remained uncompleted) to small arms transfers (that were “lost” in transit) to armies built, trained, and equipped for stunning sums (that collapsed).  It was as if nothing the Pentagon touched turned to anything but dross (including the never-ending wars it fought).  All of it added up to what I then labeled a massive “$cam” with American taxpayer money lost in amounts that staggered the imagination.

All of that came rushing back as I read TomDispatch regular William Hartung’s latest post on “waste” at the Pentagon.  It didn’t just happen in Kabul and Baghdad; it’s been going on right here in the good old USA for, as Hartung recounts, the last five decades.  There’s only one difference I can see: in Kabul, Baghdad, or any other capital in the Greater Middle East and Africa, if we saw far smaller versions of such “waste” indulged in by the elites of those countries, we would call it “corruption” without blinking.  So here’s my little suggestion, as you read Hartung: think about just how deeply what once would have been considered a Third World-style of corruption is buried in the very heart of our system and in the way of life of the military-industrial complex.  By now, President Dwight Eisenhower must be tossing and turning in his grave. Tom

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Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, Flashpoint for the Planet

Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, Flashpoint for the Planet

In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.

Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: Gregory Foster, A Case for Demilitarizing the Military

Tomgram: Gregory Foster, A Case for Demilitarizing the Military

Meanwhile, General David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), pressed by Senator John McCain in congressional testimony, called on the U.S. to “do more” to deal with IS supporters in Libya.  And lo and behold, the New York Times reported that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had only recently presented an AFRICOM and Joint Special Operations Command plan to the president’s “top national security advisers.”  They were evidently “surprised” to discover that it involved potentially wide-ranging air strikes against 30 to 40 IS targets across that country.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan — U.S. Special Operations units and regular troops having recently been rushed once again into embattled Helmand Province in the heartland of that country’s opium poppy trade — General Austen and others are calling for a reconsideration of future American drawdowns and possibly the dispatch of more troops to that country.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Energy Wars of Attrition: The Irony of Oil Abundance

Energy Wars of Attrition: The Irony of Oil Abundance 

Three and a half years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) triggered headlines around the world by predicting that the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s leading oil producer by 2020 and, together with Canada, would become a net exporter of oil around 2030. Overnight, a new strain of American energy triumphalism appeared and experts began speaking of “Saudi America,” a reinvigorated U.S.A. animated by copious streams of oil and natural gas, much of it obtained through the then-pioneering technique of hydro-fracking. “This is a real energy revolution,” the Wall Street Journal crowed in an editorial heralding the IEA pronouncement.

The most immediate effect of this “revolution,” its boosters proclaimed, would be to banish any likelihood of a “peak” in world oil production and subsequent petroleum scarcity.  The peak oil theorists, who flourished in the early years of the twenty-first century, warned that global output was likely to reach its maximum attainable level in the near future, possibly as early as 2012, and then commence an irreversible decline as the major reserves of energy were tapped dry. The proponents of this outlook did not, however, foresee the coming of hydro-fracking and the exploitation of previously inaccessible reserves of oil and natural gas in underground shale formations.

Understandably enough, the stunning increase in North American oil production in the past few years simply wasn’t on their radar. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy, U.S. crude output rose from 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010 to 9.2 million barrels as 2016 began, an increase of 3.7 million barrels per day in what can only be considered the relative blink of an eye. Similarly unexpected was the success of Canadian producers in extracting oil (in the form of bitumen, a semi-solid petroleum substance) from the tar sands of Alberta.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended Consequences

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended Consequences

And No Kidding, That’s the Literal Truth When It Comes to War, American-Style 

It may be hard to believe now, but in 1970 the protest song “War,” sung by Edwin Starr, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That was at the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement and the song, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, became something of a sensation.  Even so many years later, who could forget its famed chorus?  “War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.”  Not me.  And yet heartfelt as the song was then  — “War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker.  War, it’s got one friend, that’s the undertaker…” — it has little resonance in America today.

But here’s the strange thing: in a way its authors and singer could hardly have imagined, in a way we still can’t quite absorb, that chorus has proven eerily prophetic — in fact, accurate beyond measure in the most literal possible sense.  War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.  You could think of American war in the twenty-first century as an ongoing experiment in proving just that point.

Looking back on almost 15 years in which the United States has been engaged in something like permanent war in the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, one thing couldn’t be clearer: the planet’s sole superpower with a military funded and armed like none other and a “defense” budget larger than the next seven countries combined (three times as large as number two spender, China) has managed to accomplish — again, quite literally — absolutely nothing, or perhaps (if a slight rewrite of that classic song were allowed) less than nothing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, The Real Zombie Apocalypse

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, The Real Zombie Apocalypse

Here we are just a couple of weeks into 2016 and we already know that last year was the second-warmest on record in the continental United States (the winner so far being 2012); the month of December was a U.S. record-breaker for heat and also precipitation; and it’s assumed that, when the final figures come in later this month, 2015 will prove to be the hottest year on record globally. Even before this news is confirmed, we know that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred in the twenty-first century which, at least to me, looks ominously like a pattern. And early expectations are that this year will top last, with the help of a continuing monster El Niño event in the overheating waters of the Pacific that has only added to the impact of global warming and to fierce weather around the world. Everywhere it seems increasingly possible to see the signs of climate change: the melting Arctic; the destabilizing ice sheets in both the Antarctic and Greenland; the already rising sea levels that are someday destined to submerge major coastal cities; the disappearing glaciers(and so, in some regions, endangered water supplies); monster typhoons; severe droughts; and the burning that goes with a globally expanding fire season; the — in a word — extremityof it all.

With 2015 in the history books, it’s easy enough to think of our changing weather as part of that history, but that would be a mistake. Climate change, if allowed to come to full fruition, will be something else altogether — not history, but the possible end of it. History, after all, is something we’re generally familiar with.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Corruption U.S.A.

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Corruption U.S.A.

I recently took a little trip into the past and deep into America’s distant war zones to write a piece I called “It’s a $cam.”  It was, for me, an eye-opening journey into those long-gone years of American “nation-building” and “reconstruction” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Mind you, I still remembered some of what had been reported at the time like the “urine-soaked” police academy built in Baghdad by an American private contractor with taxpayer dollars.  But it was the cumulative effect of it all that now struck me — one damning report after another that made it clear Washington was incapable of building or rebuilding anything whatsoever.  There were all those poorly constructed or unfinished military barracks, police stations, and outposts for the new national security forces the U.S. military was so eagerly “standing up” in both countries.  There were the unfinished or miserably constructed schools, training centers, and “roads to nowhere.”  There were those local militaries and police forces whose ranks were heavily populated by “ghost soldiers.”  There was that shiny new U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan that cost $25 million and no one wanted or would ever use. It was, in short, a litany of fiascoes and disasters that never seemed to end.

Financially, Washington had invested sums in both countries that far exceeded the Marshall Plan, which so successfully put Western Europe back on its feet after World War II. Yet Iraq and Afghanistan were left on their knees amid a carnival of corruption and misspent taxpayer money.  What made revisiting this spectacle so stunning wasn’t just the inability of the U.S. military, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a crew of crony warrior corporations raking in the big bucks to do anything right, but that this was the United States of America.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What’s Really At Stake At The Paris Climate Conference

What’s Really At Stake At The Paris Climate Conference

At the end of November, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for what is billed as the most important climate meeting ever held. Officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 treaty that designated that phenomenon a threat to planetary health and human survival), the Paris summit will be focused on the adoption of measures that would limit global warming to less than catastrophic levels. If it fails, world temperatures in the coming decades are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the maximum amount most scientists believe the Earth can endure without experiencing irreversible climate shocks, including soaring temperaturesand a substantial rise in global sea levels.

A failure to cap carbon emissions guarantees another result as well, though one far less discussed. It will, in the long run, bring on not just climate shocks, but also worldwide instability, insurrection, and warfare. In this sense, COP-21 should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference — perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.

To grasp why, consider the latest scientific findings on the likely impacts of global warming, especially the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When first published, that report attracted worldwide media coverage for predicting that unchecked climate change will result insevere droughts, intense storms, oppressive heat waves, recurring crop failures, and coastal flooding, all leading to widespread death and deprivation. Recent events, including a punishing drought in California and crippling heat waves in Europe and Asia, have focused more attention on just such impacts. The IPCC report, however, suggested that global warming would have devastating impacts of a social and political nature as well, including economic decline, state collapse, civil strife, mass migrations, and sooner or later resource wars.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: William deBuys, Entering the Mega-Drought Era in America

Tomgram: William deBuys, Entering the Mega-Drought Era in America

The other day here in New England it was chilly, rainy, and stormy and I complained. Where was the sun? The warmth? The summer? I happened to be with someone I know from California and he shook his head and said, “It’s fine with me. I like it rainy. I haven’t seen much rain in a while.” It was a little reminder of how insular we can be. California, after all, is in the fourth year of a fearsome drought that has turned much of the North American West, from Alaska and Canada to the Mexican border, into a tinderbox. Reservoirs are low, rivers quite literally drying up, and the West is burning. In rural northern California, where the fires seem to be least under control, the Rocky Fire has already burned 109 square miles and destroyed 43 homes, while the Jerusalem Fire, which recently broke out nearby, quickly ate upalmost 19 square miles while doubling in size and sent local residents fleeing, some for the second time in recent weeks.

Fires have doubled in these drought years in California. The fire season, once mainly an autumnal affair, now seems to be just about any day of the year. (This isn’t, by the way, just a California phenomenon. The latest study indicates that fire season is extending globally, with a growth spurt of 18.7% in the last few decades.) In fact, fire stats for the U.S. generally and the West in particular are worsening in the twenty-first century, and this year looks to be quite a blazing affair, with six million acres already burned across the region and part of the summer still to go.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

 

Big Oil in Retreat

Big Oil in Retreat

On July 14, 2011, at TomDispatch, Bill McKibben wrote that he and a few other “veteran environmentalists” had issued a call for activists to descend on the White House and “risk arrest to demand something simple and concrete from President Obama: that he refuse to grant a license for Keystone XL, a new pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico that would vastly increase the flow of tar sands oil through the U.S., ensuring that the exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands will only increase.” It must have seemed like a long shot at the time, but McKibben urged the prospective demonstrators on, pointing out that “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” especially “dirty” to produce and burn in terms of the release of carbon dioxide and so the heating of the planet.

Just over four years later, the president, whose administration recently green-lighted Shell to do test-drilling in the dangerous waters of the American Arctic, opened the South Atlantic to new energy exploration and drilling earlier this year, and oversaw the expansion of the fracking fields of the American West, has yet to make, or at least announce, a final decision on that pipeline. Can anyone doubt that, if there had been no demonstrations against it, if it hadn’t become a major issue for his “environmental base,” the Keystone XL would have been approved without a second thought years ago? Now, it may be too late for a variety of reasons.

The company that plans to build the pipeline, TransCanada Corporation, already fears the worst — a presidential rejection that indeed may soon be in the cards. After all, we’ve finally hit the “legacy” part of the Obama era. In the case of war, the president oversaw the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan soon after taking office, sent in the bombers and drones, and a year ago plunged the country back into its third war in Iraq and first in Syria.  

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

 

Dirty Energy vs. Clean Power

Dirty Energy vs. Clean Power 

The Past Battles the Future at Seneca Lake

Let’s amend the famous line from Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” to fit this moment in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. There, Big Energy seems determined to turn paradise, if not into a parking lot, then into a massive storage area for fracked natural gas. But there’s one way in which that song doesn’t quite match reality. Mitchell famously wrote, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” As part of a growing global struggle between Big Energy and a movement focused on creating a fossil-fuel-free future, however, the residents of the Finger Lakes seem to know just what they’ve got and they’re determined not to let it go. As a result, a local struggle against a corporation determined to bring in those fracked fuels catches a changing mood not just in the United States but across the world when it comes to protecting the planet, one place at a time, if necessary.

It’s difficult to imagine a more picturesque landscape, a more tranquil locale, a more bucolic garden spot than the Finger Lakes region. Each year, it draws tens of thousands of tourists to gaze at the waterfalls in Watkins Glen, to kayak and canoe in its deep waters, to dine in its farm-to-table restaurants and enjoy the homespun hospitality of its bed and breakfasts. Lush vineyards rustle on tree-studded hillsides. Wine Enthusiast magazine gave it top honors last year, calling it “one of the most vibrant and promising wine regions of the world.” There are fruit and vegetable farms and sugar maples, too. In 2013, the state’s maple syrup production ranked second only to Vermont’s.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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