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A Green Van for all the People

Green Jobs ! Green Energy !

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Libya Futures

Outside the usual political and media circles, questions are being asked. Why has the United Nations sanctioned military engagement in Libya in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 ? Why the heavy firepower here, in Libya, when the ostensible rationale for intervention was only to implement a No-Fly Zone ? Why not gloibal military action elsewhere in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) arena where there are other despots making life unpleasant or endable for their citizens ?

I present to you two possible futures for Libya, both of which will require extensive cooperation with foreign corporate and political players, something that Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (or Qaddafi) threatens, or rather, depending on various news reports, “threatened”.

1. The Dash for African and Arabic Natural Gas (and Oil)

In a carbon-constrained world Natural Gas is a boon – it has roughly half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal when burned to produce steam to generate electricity. Any country that’s got Natural Gas, especially good quality Natural Gas that doesn’t have to be hydraulically “fractured” from rock strata, is a country we will learn to love and trade on significantly generous terms with.

There has been extensive surveying of Libya, and the whole of North Africa’s Maghreb region, including the type of offshore seismic surveying that found extensive gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean that Israel is now laying claim to (and preventing Gaza from exploiting). This has led to quite a lot of excitement in the fossil fuel energy industry, so, reading between the lines of the conference agendas, there is high dollar value under Libya’s maritime territory :-

In addition to Natural Gas there may well be high levels of top quality oil – and keeping up the flow of crude oil, as we all know, is crucial to the health of the world’s economy. Threats of re-nationalising the Libyan fossil fuel resources therefore caused corporate shock :-

“Oil companies fear nationalisation in Libya : By Sylvia Pfeifer and Javier Blas in London : Published: March 20 2011 : Western oil companies operating in Libya have privately warned that their operations in the country may be nationalised if Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s regime prevails. Executives, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the rapidly moving situation, believe their companies could be targeted, especially if their home countries are taking part in air strikes against Mr Gaddafi. Allied forces from France, the UK and the US on Saturday unleashed a series of strikes against military targets in Libya. “It is certainly a concern. There are good reserves there,” said one executive at a western oil company with operations in Libya. “We have lost some of our production [because all operations have stopped] but our bigger concern is what will happen to the exploratory work as that gives you a future rather than the immediate impact,” he added. Most of the world’s large international oil companies have producing assets in Libya, including Spain’s Repsol, France’s Total, and Italy’s Eni, which is the largest single investor there. Germany’s Winstershall – a unit of BASF – and OMV of Austria are also present. The country is the world’s 12th largest oil exporter, and the escalating violence there has triggered a jump in prices to nearly $120 a barrel. More than half of Libya’s oil was exported to Italy, Germany and France last year…”

BP had to evacuate its staff, and extend a favour to some British citizens, during the recent uprising :-

Production in the country has taken a hit due to the fighting, but order should soon be restored. Clearly, long-term stability in Libya, with unhindered, inexpensive access to the country’s oil and gas resources is an important part of the national security interests of many Western democracies.

2. Solar Libya

The DESERTEC project of the European Union seeks to roll out solar power in the desert sands of North Africa, and makes the promise of economic and social development of the countries that take part, although that dream has been questioned :-

Let’s face the facts here – massive new energy projects in North Africa will be financed and developed through large multinational, transnational corporations, companies who have contributed to the economic slavery of Africa for, let’s approximate here, centuries.

What guarantees can the Maghreb have that this is not a further land grab on Africa’s potential ?

In addition, the recent social and political volatility in the Middle East North Africa region could jeopardise the noble plans of the European Union to reach out in energy partnership.

Hang on. Wait a minute. Is the wave of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa connected in any way to the interests of oil and gas companies who want Future #1 to prevail for the whole region, not just Libya ?

American companies have been so keen to sell nuclear electricity projects to Saudi Arabia and others around the Arabian Gulf – but has this been encouraged from the high-ups to keep the Arabs off the scent of Renewable Energy ? Forget nuclear power – it’s expensive and awkward. Iran only pursues civilian nuclear power to irritate the United States Government. A solar Arabia could give the Middle East and North Africa a second generation of being the energy princes of the world. I suspect they will go for this in a big way very shortly, uprisings or no uprisings. Why ? Two little words – Fukushima Daiichi.

So there we have it – two entirely probable, slightly competing, futures being mapped out for Libya by the big guns of NATO (a euphemism for the USA). If Libya is split into two countries, the fossil fuel Future #1 will be likely applied to East Libya, and the desert solar Future #2 will be foisted on West Libya.

Continued interference in the country is a certainty.

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Breadline Cairo : Democracy’s Challenge

Well, Mubarak’s made an exit – and real Egyptian democracy can begin – as long as the army don’t get crowd control ideas above their station and the old elites don’t interfere with the process of free and fair elections.

But democracy is not going to solve the problem of the price of bread.

Climate Change plays a part in creating scarcity and irregularity in crop production :-

But it’s what happens next that’s the killer :-

“Food Speculation : What is the problem? : Banks, hedge funds and pension funds are betting on food prices in the financial markets, causing drastic price swings in staple foods such as wheat, maize and soy…”

“By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world. It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level…”

“The hedge fund guy sitting beside me was asked about his next plan for global domination. He’d done houses and gold – what was the new new thing? “Food,” he said between mouthfuls of lobster. “We’re piling into food. Weather’s getting weird, so there’ll be crop failures. There won’t be enough to go around.”…”

Many blessings for your newly-born democracy, Egypt, and we hope you can win the fight to secure affordable food, too.

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Words fail me

It’s not quite accurate to say that language has entirely failed me, in fact, I am as loquacious as ever, but for a few minutes back there, whilst watching Paul Nurse present the Horizon “Science under Attack” show on iPlayer, I was definitely gobsmacked :- (UK TV Licence Payers only. Sorry. I don’t make the rules.)

How is it that even Paul Nurse has entirely missed the key point about why people resent and resist genetic modification of crops and animals ?

There is a very clear dividing line between technology and science. Just because you can engineer something with technology, doesn’t mean you should do it. And it doesn’t mean it’s scientifically sound.

The results are not in from GM crop testing, and in some cases, GM crops are being deployed without the full long-term testing that everybody would expect.

This is worse than the presumptions of the pharmaceutical industry, pumping out Thalidomide and then having to say sorry (or not) to a generation of people born without limbs.

The reason we, the vast majority of people, don’t want genetically modified foods and fuels, is because the science is not complete. We don’t actually know yet the full scale of the impacts of GMOs on ecology, wildlife and human beings.

Technology is building the atom bomb and dropping it. Science is following up the cancer distribution in the Japanese population and making recommendations that this kind of weapon should never, ever be used again, as its effects have profound genetic implications.

Genetically modifying organisms is technology. It’s not science, and we shouldn’t have to accept it if we don’t want to.

It’s instructive to look at the research that is being done into “biosciences” (one of a bunch of phrases used to cover the practices of genetic modification of plants and animals). In the UK, the BBSRC is a prime example of the cooperation between technology and industry, where undercover of some pretty decent research, gene splicing carries on. If only people outside the research establishments knew more about this. Remember, it’s all about increasing the sales of herbicides :-

“…Development of resistant crops could provide a good way forward. If the genes responsible for resistance to pests could be identified, they could be bred into specially selected crops by either conventional or GM methods. GM crops that are resistant to pests have already been proven to be an important tool in developing sustainable alternatives to chemical pesticides. GM is not the only option we have available for crop protection, but given the challenges we face in securing future food supplies all technologies need to be considered, keeping possible social, economic and policy implications in mind…”

“…Herbicide-tolerant crops are engineered to enable crops to withstand doses of herbicides that would otherwise kill them. These crops are generally developed by the manufacturers of the herbicide with the hope of increasing the sale of that herbicide. Roundup ReadyTM crops, for example, are produced by the Monsanto company, the producer of the herbicide Roundup, a billion-dollar product that generates about 40 percent of the company’s annual revenue…”

In the United States, John Podesta, formerly somebody I considered one of the good guys, has joined Joule Unlimited to make fuel from genetically modified microorganisms. Tell me this is a good idea, and I’ll tell you that it could be decades after the technology is implemented before the full facts of contamination of the environment with gene fragments is in the scientific literature :-

Later that same day…

Having watched the BBC broadcast in detail, I have to answer the question posed by the good gene technology scientist. He asks something along the lines of “…if the GM technology has failed, why have millions and millions of farmers planted millions and millions of acres of GM crops ?…”

The answer is, of course, the salesmanship of the agricultural chemical companies in selling their herbicide-tolerant, GM crops.

It has nothing to do with the validity of the product, or even its viability. It has everything to do with the sales of chemicals.

Paul Nurse asks for scientists to be more present in the media and make their evidence more widely available.

So, Paul, where are the publicly available copies of all the GM crop science then ? Or is that too commercially sensitive as “intellectual property” to be shared with us ?

“Can Genetically Modified Crops Feed the World? : Genetic modification has been touted as a solution to hunger, but does it really boost yields? David Biello reports : April 16, 2009 : Humans have been genetically modifying crops for millenia the old-fashioned way – selective breeding. But new techniques that insert foreign genetic material, say bacterial genes to produce insecticide in a corn plant, have raised health and environmental concerns. And that has prompted European countries, most recently Germany, to ban genetically modified, or GM, crops.”

“Proponents argue that GM crops can help feed the world. And given ever increasing demands for food, animal feed, fiber and now even biofuels, the world needs all the help it can get. Unfortunately, it looks like GM corn and soybeans won’t help, after all. A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that genetically engineered crops do not produce larger harvests.”

“Crop yield increases in recent years have almost entirely been due to improved farming or traditional plant breeding, despite more than 3,000 field trials of GM crops. Of course, farmers have typically planted, say, GM corn, because it can tolerate high doses of weed-killer. And the Biotechnology Industry Organization argues that GM crops can boost yields in developing countries where there are limited resources for pesticides. But it appears that, to date, traditional plant breeding boosts crop yields better than genetic modification. Those old farmers were on to something.”