In the Belly of the Beast: 6/6/11: Why Washington Isn’t Doing Squat About Jobs and Wages

INDEX (full text of stories follow Democracy Now headlines)

 “POLITICS”

CIVIL LIBERTIES TODAY
“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”
THE ECONOMY

THE ULTRA-RIGHT


      
ENVIRONMENT

Hippocrates Reloaded

 from Raj Patel by Raj


from TomDispatch – Blog by Michael Klare

NUCLEAR POWER


      

Headlines for June 6, 2011

 

“POLITICS”

Why Washington Isn’t Doing Squat About Jobs and Wages

 from Robert Reich
13 people liked this
 The silence is deafening. While the rest of the nation is heading back toward a double dip, Washington continues to obsess about future budget deficits. Why?

Republicans don’t want to do anything about jobs and wages. They’re so intent on unseating Obama they’d like the economy to remain in the dumps through Election Day. They also see the lousy economy as an opportunity to sell Americans their big lie that government spending is the culprit — and jobs will return if spending is cut and government shrinks.

Democrats, meanwhile, don’t want to admit the recovery has stalled.  They worry such talk will further undermine consumer confidence or spook the bond market. They don’t want to head into the election year sounding downbeat. And they don’t think they have the votes for anything that will have much effect before Election Day anyway.

But there’s a third reason for Washington’s inaction. It’s not being talked about — which is itself evidence of the problem.

The unemployed are politically invisible. They don’t make major campaign donations. They don’t lobby Congress. There’s no National Association of Unemployed People.

Their ranks are filled with women who had been public employees, single mothers, minorities, young people trying to enter the labor force, and middle-aged men who have been out of work for longer than six months. You couldn’t find a collection of people with less political clout.

Women who had been teachers, public health professionals and social workers have been hit hard. These jobs continue to be slashed by state and local governments. Public schools alone accounted for nearly 40% of the nation’s total public sector job losses in the last year. From March 2010 to March 2011, women lost 214,000 public sector jobs, compared with a loss of 115,000 public jobs by men.

Unmarried mothers are having a particularly difficult time getting back jobs because their work was heavily concentrated in the retail, restaurant and hotel sectors. Many of these jobs disappeared when consumers reduced their discretionary spending, and they won’t come back in force until consumers start spending more again.

According to a new report by the California Budget Project, the recession erased more than half the jobs single mothers in California had gained from 1992 to 2002. The result has been a drop in the share of unmarried mothers in jobs, from 69.2% in 2007 to 58.8% in 2010. Unmarried mothers who still have jobs are working fewer hours per week than before.

Blacks also continue to be hard hit. Their unemployment rate here in California reached 20% this past March, up 5% from a year ago. That’s more than double their rate before the downturn. Some of this is because of the comparatively low education levels of many blacks, and their weak connections to the labor market. Some is due to employer discrimination. Blacks were among the last hired before the recession and therefore among the first to be let go in the downturn. That means they’ll be among the last hired as the economy recovers.

Many young people who have never been in the job market are unable to land a first job. Employers with a pick of applicants see no reason to hire someone without a track record, particularly those without much education. Unemployment among high school dropouts is hovering around 30%. Even recent college graduates are having a much harder time than usual finding a job. Many are settling for jobs that don’t ordinarily require college degrees, which pushes those with less education even further back in the line.

Older workers who have lost their jobs are at the greatest risk of continued unemployment. Employers assume they aren’t as qualified or reliable as those who are younger and have been working more recently. According to research by the Urban Institute, once you’re laid off, your chance of finding another job within a year is 36% if you’re under the age of 34. But your odds drop the older you get. If you’re jobless and in your 50s, your chance of landing another job within the year is only 24%. Over 62, you’ve got only an 18% chance.

What do these jobless have in common? They lack the political connections and organizations to get the ears of politicians, and demand policies to spur job growth.

 

MN GOP’s favorite “minister” wants gays jailed, says Muslim Rep. Ellison wants to overthrow Constitution

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by John Aravosis (DC)

And he was invited to give the opening invocation at the Minnesota House of Representatives.  (Then again, let’s not forget Rick Warren.)  This rather odd fellow, who looks like a leftover child of the AC/DC 70s, says that US Congressman Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim, wants to institute “sharee” (sic) law in the US, and overthrow the US Constitution.  Why?  Because he’s a Muslim.  He also thinks gays should be thrown in jail, for being gay.  And no one in the Republican party thought it odd to invite this guy to give the opening invocation in the state House.    

Homeowner cheated by Bank of America legally seizes bank property

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Chris in Paris

2 people liked this
It’s good to see someone use the law to stick it right back to Bank of America.

Florida GOP gov. defends drug testing for welfare recipients

If they’re going to approve silly requirements like this, how about they go the full distance and include drug testing for politicians as well? How can we be sure that the governor and the rest of the state politicians aren’t using taxpayer money to support drug habits? When they waste everyone’s time with policies like this rather than solving the employment problem, one has to wonder what drugs they’re on. CNN:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday defended recent legislation that requires adults applying for welfare assistance to undergo drug screenings, saying the law provides “personal accountability.”

“It’s not right for taxpayer money to be paying for somebody’s drug addiction,” Scott told CNN’s T.J. Holmes on Sunday. “On top of that, this is going to increase personal responsibility, personal accountability. We shouldn’t be subsidizing people’s addiction.”

But the ACLU of Florida, which has already filed suit against Scott over a measure requiring government employees to undergo random drug testing, disagrees, and may sue over the welfare law as well.

CIVIL LIBERTIES TODAY
“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

Former Black Panther Leader, Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt, Wrongfully Imprisoned for 27 Years, Dies in Tanzania

Play_prattWe look at the life of former Black Panther, Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, who died in Tanzania on Thursday. In 1972, Pratt was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Caroline Olsen for which he spent 27 years in prison, eight of those in solitary confinement. He was released in 1997 after a judge vacated his conviction. The trial to win his freedom revealed that the Los Angeles Black Panther leader was a target of the FBI’s counterintelligence program, or COINTELPRO. We play an excerpt of a Democracy Now!interview with Pratt and one of his attorneys, Johnnie Cochran, Jr., in 2000. We also speak with his friend and former attorney, Stuart Hanlon, and with Ed Boyer, the Los Angeles Times reporter who helped expose his innocence. “The FBI followed Geronimo every second, almost, of his life, and they knew he was in Oakland at the time of the homicide,” says Hanlon. “When we started litigating this, rather than turning it over, for the first time anyone could remember FBI wiretaps disappeared. And of course they knew where he was. It didn’t matter what the truth was, because he was the bad guy, and the truth had to take second place, even in the courtroom.” Pratt ultimately won a $4.5 million civil rights settlement against the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. [includes rush transcript]

 

Dr. Gabor Maté: Obama Admin Should Heed Global Panel’s Call to End “Failed” U.S.-Led Drug War

from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by mail@democracynow.org (Democracy Now!)

2 people liked this
Mate_play_drug_war2A high-level international panel has concluded the so-called “war on drugs” has failed and that governments should consider legalizing substances, including marijuana. The Global Commission on Drug Policy is comprised of 19 members, including several former heads of state. The Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House has refuted the findings of the commission’s report. We speak to Dr. Gabor Maté, a Canadian physician and bestselling author of four books, including In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. “On any level you care to name, the war on drugs is a failure,” Dr. Maté says. [includes rush transcript]

THE ECONOMY

Dean Baker on “the very real chance of another Great Depression”

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Gaius Publius

1 person liked this
Yes, both alarmist and depressing at the same time, sort of like an uppers-and-downers soup. But he makes his case, and by reference to the actual Great Depression and not just some generic horrifically large catastrophe.

Economist Dean Baker, writing in The New Republic, begins by comparing the bank bailouts of 2008 to the lack of bank bailouts in the 1930s. According to Baker, the lack of bailouts in the Hoover era was not what caused the prolonged tragedy of the Great Depression — it was the failure of government spending to address unemployment.

Mr. Baker (bolding mine):

Allowing the cascade of financial collapses at the start of the first Great Depression was a mistake. However, there was nothing about this initial collapse that necessitated the decade of double-digit unemployment that was the central tragedy of the Great Depression. This was the result of the failure of the federal government to respond with sufficient vigor to mass unemployment. Indeed, the economy only broke out of the Depression when the federal government undertook massive deficit spending to fight World War II. Deficits peaked at more than 25 percent of GDP. This would be the equivalent, in today’s economy, of running annualdeficits of $4 trillion.

There was no economic reason that the government could not have spent on this scale in 1931, as opposed to 1941; the obstacles were political. Then, as now, politicians in Washington were obsessed with the budget deficit. They never would have countenanced such spending, apart from the threat to the nation posed by Hitler and the Axis powers. The New Deal deficit spending helped boost the economy and bring the unemployment rate down to single-digit levels, but fear of deficits limited the scale of New Deal programs and caused Roosevelt to reverse course and cut back on spending in 1937, just as the economy was gaining momentum.

Unfortunately, the country seems destined to follow the same course in the current slump as it did in the 30s.

The article continues with good wonk material: information about the decline in consumption, the role of trade in a possible recovery, and reasons that trade won’t do the trick.

He closes where he started, and where others have gone:

[T]here are more factors pointing to slower growth than faster growth going forward. In addition to the state and local cuts kicking in next month, the new fiscal year for the federal government begins October 1. This is also likely to involve further cuts in spending. … At some point, the pain of high unemployment across the country may lead to some new thinking in Washington, but until that time, welcome to the second Great Depression.

This considered, a simple double dip might be one of the kinder outcomes. But ask yourself: What do you see politically in the next five years that will cause government to address unemployment and to stimulate consumer demand?

Me, I don’t see much — just that pesky 2012 election, the need for Obama to raise $1 billion in campaign contributions from the only folks with money, and the need to pay them back when he’s done.

Jeez; now I’m depressed.

The Rentier Regime

from Paul Krugman by By PAUL KRUGMAN

Bob Kuttner has a very good column (pdf) in The American Prospect about “debt politics.” Let me elaborate a bit.

If you look at the economic policy demands coming from the right in the face of our current slump, they seem remarkably insensitive to the fact that we are indeed in a slump. Early on, some conservatives called for the use of monetary rather than fiscal policy to stimulate the economy — and you had the likes of Greg Mankiw and Ken Rogoff calling for a period of above-normal inflation. But they were shouted down, and these days the right demands not just fiscal austerity (albeit without any rise in taxes), but hard money too. Modern monetarists like Scott Sumner find themselves without a political home.

What explains this opposition to any and all attempts to mitigate the economic disaster? I can think of a number of causes, but Kuttner makes a very good point: everything we’re seeing makes sense if you think of the right as representing the interests of rentiers, of creditors who have claims from the past — bonds, loans, cash — as opposed to people actually trying to make a living through producing stuff. Deflation is hell for workers and business owners, but it’s heaven for creditors.

I don’t mean to suggest that it’s all cynical; my experience is that there are relatively few people who consciously keep a secret set of intellectual books, who preach Neanderthal goldbuggism because it’s in their interests while rereading Keynes by dead of night to figure out what’s really happening. Instead, people generally manage to believe whatever is in their interests. And maybe not even that: I suspect that there are a fair number of small business owners who faithfully believed in Glenn Becks’s warnings of hyperinflation by 2010, quite unaware that the intimidation of the Fed has savaged their own bottom lines.

Still, thinking of what’s happening as the rule of rentiers, who are getting their interests served at the expense of the real economy, helps make sense of the situation.

Krugman: There’s a political “apparatchik test” for professional economists who want to work with Republicans

Finally, Mr. Krugman cottons to what’s growing in the Republican professional fields; it’s not integrity, it’s not honest disagreement about ideas, and it’s not “learned helplessness.”

It’s obeisance to power and political reality. If you’re an economist who wants to work on the Republican side, to get your career in gear you get your mouth in line.

The Professor (my emphasis):

I think the rejection of a Nobel laureate for a seat at the Fed is tied, in a fundamental way, to the willingness of economists with decent professional reputations to sign on to the increasingly crazy proclamations issued by Republican politicians. Whether they are honest with themselves or not, what they’ve realized is that they face a loyalty test — or maybe that’s an apparatchik test; if they have any ambitions of serving in a policy position, they have to prove themselves willing to follow the party line wherever it goes.

There’s nothing comparable on the other side. For one thing, you don’t find people like Christy Romer or, well, me taking positions on policy issues that are directly at odds with what they’ve said in their professional writings; whereas you see that a lot on the Republican side.

Occam’s Switchblade: They’re acting like political operatives because they are political operatives.

This is as close as we’ve gotten yet to a mainstream economist admitting that Movement Conservative “intellectuals” are just party operatives in professional’s clothing. You can’t fight an army if you can’t spot the soldiers.

The state of the Krugman is clear-eyed, at least today. Thank you, sir.

THE ULTRA-RIGHT


     
ENVIRONMENT

Hippocrates Reloaded

from Raj Patel by Raj

1 person liked this

“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food.” Hippocrates offered that wisdom over two thousand years ago. Tried and tested though it is, it’s an old maxim and one with which the public is perhaps too familiar. Luckily, the good people in the life sciences have decided that to reboot the Hippocratic franchise, with new characters and better marketing.

 

Specifically, the genetically modified crop industry is rolling out the next generation of products. Bruised by (accurate) criticism that its first generation of crops were a trick to update its pesticide sales line, the new generation of crops now have added consumer-friendly traits, like extra vitamins, fatty acids (omega 3s) and amino acids. So what’s the problem with these Nutritionally Enhanced Plants? Well, that’s the problem. We’ll never know.

Although the government can require testing of food additives, and the testing of substantially modified GM crops, minor tinkering with plant genes manages to limbo underneath the (very high) regulatory bar. Alright, maybe not limbo. Stroll. Stroll under the regulatory bar. As David Schubert at the Salk Institute points out,

To date, the FDA has not disallowed a single favorable biotech industry safety determination in over 100 completed applications.

But there’s reason to think that Nutritionally Enhanced Plants deserve scrutiny, and the application of theprecautionary principle. See his paper in the Journal of Medicinal Food, and then
1. boggle at the idea that such a journal exists
2. hope that, although the precautionary principle foundered with the first round of genetically modified crops, it might prevail with Nutritionally Enhanced Plants and
3. wonder whether that thundery sound is the laughter of the gods.


America’s Subsidy Garden

from Raj Patel by Raj

3 people liked this

Ever wonder what the White House garden would look like if it were to follow the patterns laid down by the Department of Agriculture’s funding priorities? Here’s a map, made by my fellow Food and Community Fellow,Roger Doiron.



Tomgram: Michael Klare, How to Wreck a Planet 101

from TomDispatch – Blog by Michael Klare

 

When it comes to the fossil fuels that our civilization now largely runs on, there’s always upbeat news.  For example, the latest hot topic in recovering what TomDispatch regularMichael Klare, author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, has long called “tough oil” or “tough energy” is hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”  It’s a method that uses water, sand, and various toxic chemicals (some cancer-causing) pumped at high pressure into shale formations — layered rock — to crack them open and separate out natural gas.  “It can,”according to one report, “contaminate ground water, deplete water supplies, lead to flammable faucet water, and leave polluted waste water in its wake.”

As a method, it’s now so hot (in the non-flammable sense) that it’s being plugged as potentially solving any future American energy crisis.  But as with all miracle solutions to energy problems in the realm of fossil fuels, after the revival leaders leave the tent, the problems always set in.  There are, as a start, those toxic chemicals that could get into your local water supply.  We need a solution to that. Fortunately, Texas, the biggest natural-gas-producing state, seems to have come up with one.  In a “half-measure” when it comes to openness, the state is now going to allow gas drillers not to reveal their full toxic “recipes” — all the chemicals they are using — on the grounds that these are “trade secrets.”  (And its top energy regulator has just called on Washington to keep its hands offnatural-gas regulation.)  Michigan’s Environmental Quality Department adopted a similar shielding rule.  So stop worrying — if you live in the right place, you won’t even know how bad it is until long after it affects you.

In England meanwhile, a mining company just suspended its fracking operations after the process caused two “minor earthquakes.”  Well, you never know, do you?  Fortunately, energy expert Michael Klare does know and he’s ready, as ever, with a rundown on a fossil-fuel energy future to die for.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and resource conflicts, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

The Global Energy Crisis Deepens
Three Energy Developments That Are Changing Your Life 

By Michael T. Klare

Here’s the good news about energy: thanks to rising oil prices and deteriorating economic conditions worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global oil demand will not grow this year as much as once assumed, which may provide some temporary price relief at the gas pump.  In its May Oil Market Report, the IEA reduced its 2011 estimate for global oil consumption by 190,000 barrels per day, pegging it at 89.2 million barrels daily.  As a result, retail prices may not reach the stratospheric levels predicted earlier this year, though they will undoubtedly remain higher than at any time since the peak months of 2008, just before the global economic meltdown.  Keep in mind that this is the good news.

As for the bad news: the world faces an array of intractable energy problems that, if anything, have only worsened in recent weeks.  These problems are multiplying on either side of energy’s key geological divide: below ground, once-abundant reserves of easy-to-get “conventional” oil, natural gas, and coal are drying up; above ground, human miscalculation and geopolitics are limiting the production and availability of specific energy supplies.  With troubles mounting in both arenas, our energy prospects are only growing dimmer.

Here’s one simple fact without which our deepening energy crisis makes no sense: the world economy is structured in such a way that standing still in energy production is not an option.  In order to satisfy the staggering needs of older industrial powers like the United States along with the voracious thirst of rising powers like China, global energy must grow substantially every year.  According to the projections of the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), world energy output, based on 2007 levels, must rise 29% to 640 quadrillion British thermal units by 2025 to meet anticipated demand.  Even if usage grows somewhat more slowly than projected, any failure to satisfy the world’s requirements produces a perception of scarcity, which also means rising fuel prices.  These are precisely the conditions we see today and should expect for the indefinite future.

 

 

It is against this backdrop that three crucial developments of 2011 are changing the way we are likely to live on this planet for the foreseeable future.

Tough-Oil Rebels

The first and still most momentous of the year’s energy shocks was the series of events precipitated by the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions and the ensuing “Arab Spring” in the greater Middle East.  Neither Tunisia nor Egypt was, in fact, a major oil producer, but the political shockwaves these insurrections unleashed has spread to other countries in the region that are, including Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.  At this point, the Saudi and Omani leaderships appear to be keeping a tight lid on protests, but Libyan production, normally averaging approximately 1.7 million barrels per day, has fallen to near zero.

When it comes to the future availability of oil, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this spring’s events in the Middle East, which continue to thoroughly rattle the energy markets. According to all projections of global petroleum output, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states are slated to supply an ever-increasing share of the world’s total oil supply as production in key regions elsewhere declines.  Achieving this production increase is essential, but it will not happen unless the rulers of those countries invest colossal sums in the development of new petroleum reserves — especially the heavy, “tough oil” variety that requires far more costly infrastructure than existing “easy oil” deposits.

In a front-page story entitled “Facing Up to the End of ‘Easy Oil,’” the Wall Street Journal noted that any hope of meeting future world oil requirements rests on a Saudi willingness to sink hundreds of billions of dollars into their remaining heavy-oil deposits.  But right now, faced with a ballooning population and the prospects of an Egyptian-style youth revolt, the Saudi leadership seems intent on using its staggering wealth on employment-generating public-works programs and vast arrays of weaponry, not new tough-oil facilities; the same is largely true of the other monarchical oil states of the Persian Gulf.

Whether such efforts will prove effective is unknown.  If a youthful Saudi population faced with promises of jobs and money, as well as the fierce repression of dissidence, has seemed less confrontational than their Tunisian, Egyptian, and Syrian counterparts, that doesn’t mean that the status quo will remain forever.  “Saudi Arabia is a time bomb,” commented Jaafar Al Taie, managing director of Manaar Energy Consulting (which advises foreign oil firms operating in the region). “I don’t think that what the King is doing now is sufficient to prevent an uprising,” he added, even though the Saudi royals had just announced a $36-billion plan to raise the minimum wage, increase unemployment benefits, and build affordable housing.

At present, the world can accommodate a prolonged loss of Libyan oil.  Saudi Arabia and a few other producers possess sufficient excess capacity to make up the difference.  Should Saudi Arabia ever explode, however, all bets are off.  “If something happens in Saudi Arabia, [oil] will go to $200 to $300 [per barrel],” said Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the kingdom’s former oil minister, on April 5th.  “I don’t expect this for the time being, but who would have expected Tunisia?”

Nuclear Power on the Downward Slope

In terms of the energy markets, the second major development of 2011 occurred on March 11th when an unexpectedly powerful earthquake and tsunami struck Japan.  As a start, nature’s two-fisted attack damaged or destroyed a significant proportion of northern Japan’s energy infrastructure, including refineries, port facilities, pipelines, power plants, and transmission lines.  In addition, of course, it devastated four nuclear plants at Fukushima, resulting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the permanent lossof 6,800 megawatts of electric generating capacity.

This, in turn, has forced Japan to increase its imports of oil, coal, and natural gas, adding to the pressure on global supplies.  With Fukushima and other nuclear plants off line, industry analysts calculate that Japanese oil imports could rise by as much as 238,000 barrels per day, and imports of natural gas by 1.2 billion cubic feet per day (mostly in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG).

This is one major short-term effect of the tsunami.  What about the longer-term effects?  The Japanese government now claims it is scrapping plans to build as many as 14 new nuclear reactors over the next two decades.  On May 10th, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the government would have to “start from scratch” in devising a new energy policy for the country.  Though he speaks of replacing the cancelled reactors with renewable energy systems like wind and solar, the sad reality is that a significant part of any future energy expansion will inevitably come from more imported oil, coal, and LNG.

The disaster at Fukushima — and ensuing revelations of design flaws and maintenance failures at the plant — has had a domino effect, causing energy officials in other countries to cancel plans to build new nuclear plants or extend the life of existing ones.  The first to do so was Germany: on March 14th, Chancellor Angela Merkel closed two older plants and suspended plans to extend the life of 15 others.  On May 30th, her government made the suspension permanent.  In the wake of mass antinuclear rallies and an election setback, she promised to shut all existing nuclear plants by 2022, which, experts believe, will result in an increase in fossil-fuel use.

China also acted swiftly, announcing on March 16th that it would stop awarding permits for the construction of new reactors pending a review of safety procedures, though it did not rule out such investments altogether.  Other countries, including India and the United States, similarly undertook reviews of reactor safety procedures, putting ambitious nuclear plans at risk.  Then, on May 25th, the Swiss government announced that it would abandon plans to build three new nuclear power plants, phase out nuclear power, and close the last of its plants by 2034, joining the list of countries that appear to have abandoned nuclear power for good.

How Drought Strangles Energy

The third major energy development of 2011, less obviously energy-connected than the other two, has been a series of persistent, often record, droughts gripping many areas of the planet.  Typically, the most immediate and dramatic effect of prolonged drought is a reduction in grain production, leading to ever-higher food prices and ever more social turmoil.

Intense drought over the past year in Australia, ChinaRussia, and parts of the Middle East, South America, the United States, and most recentlynorthern Europe has contributed to the current record-breaking price of food — and this, in turn, has been a key factor in the political unrest now sweeping North Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East.  But drought has an energy effect as well.  It can reduce the flow of major river systems, leading to a decline in the output of hydroelectric power plants, as is now happening in several drought-stricken regions.

By far the greatest threat to electricity generation exists in China, which is suffering from one of its worst droughts ever.  Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China’s longest and most economically important river, have been 40% lower than the average of the past 50 years, according to China Daily.  This has resulted in a significant decline in hydropower and severe electricity shortages throughout much of central China.

The Chinese are burning more coal to generate electricity, but domestic mines no longer satisfy the country’s needs and so China has become a major coal importer.  Rising demand combined with inadequate supply has led to a spike in coal prices, and with no comparable spurt in electricity rates (set by the government), many Chinese utilities are rationing power rather than buy more expensive coal and operate at a loss.  In response, industries are upping their reliance on diesel-powered backup generators, which in turn increases China’s demand for imported oil, putting yet more pressure on global fuel prices.

Wrecking the Planet

So now we enter June with continuing unrest in the Middle East, a grim outlook for nuclear power, and a severe electricity shortage in China (and possibly elsewhere).  What else do we see on the global energy horizon?

Despite the IEA’s forecast of diminished future oil consumption, global energy demand continues to outpace increases in supply.  From all indications, this imbalance will persist.

Take oil.  A growing number of energy analysts now agree that the era of “easy oil” has ended and that the world must increasingly rely on hard-to-get “tough oil.”  It is widely assumed, moreover, that the planet harbors a lot of this stuff — deep underground, far offshore, in problematic geological formations like Canada’s tar sands, and in the melting Arctic.  However, extracting and processing tough oil will prove ever more costly and involve great human, and even greater environmental, risk.  Think: BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Such is the world’s thirst for oil that a growing amount of this stuff will nonetheless be extracted, even if not, in all likelihood, at a pace and on a scale necessary to replace the disappearance of yesterday’s and today’s easy oil.  Along with continued instability in the Middle East, this tough-oil landscape seems to underlie expectations that the price of oil will only rise in the coming years.  In a poll of global energy company executives conducted this April by the KPMG Global Energy Institute, 64% of those surveyed predicted that crude oil prices will cross the $120 per barrel barrier before the end of 2011.  Approximately one-third of them predicted that the price would go even higher, with 17% believing it would reach $131-$140 per barrel; 9%, $141-$150 per barrel; and 6%, above the $150 mark.

The price of coal, too, has soared in recent months, thanks to mounting worldwide demand as supplies of energy from nuclear power and hydroelectricity have contracted.  Many countries have launched significant efforts to spur the development of renewable energy, but these are not advancing fast enough or on a large enough scale to replace older technologies quickly.  The only bright spot, experts say, is the growing extraction of natural gas from shale rock in the United States through the use of hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking”).

Proponents of shale gas claim it can provide a large share of America’s energy needs in the years ahead, while actually reducing harm to the environment when compared to coal and oil (as gas emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released); however, an expanding chorus of opponents are warning of the threat to municipal water supplies posed by the use of toxic chemicals in the fracking process.  These warnings have proven convincing enough to lead lawmakers in a growing number of states to begin placing restrictions on the practice, throwing into doubt the future contribution of shale gas to the nation’s energy supply.  Also, on May 12th, the French National Assembly (the powerful lower house of parliament) voted 287 to 146 to ban hydro-fracking in France, becoming the first nation to do so.

The environmental problems of shale gas are hardly unique.  The fact is that all of the strategies now being considered to extend the life-spans of oil, coal, and natural gas involve severe economic and environmental risks and costs — as, of course, does the very use of fossil fuels of any sort at a moment when the first IEA numbers for 2010 indicate that it was an unexpectedly record-breaking year for humanity when it came to dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

With the easily accessible mammoth oil fields of Texas, Venezuela, and the Middle East either used up or soon to be significantly depleted, the future of oil rests on third-rate stuff like tar sands, shale oil, and extra-heavy crude that require a lot of energy to extract, processes that emit added greenhouse gases, and as with those tar sands, tend to play havoc with the environment.

Shale gas is typical.  Though plentiful, it can only be pried loose from underground shale formations through the use of explosives and highly pressurized water mixed with toxic chemicals.  In addition, to obtain the necessary quantities of shale oil, many tens of thousands of wells will have to be sunk across the American landscape, any of one of which could prove to be an environmental disaster.

Likewise, the future of coal will rest on increasingly invasive and hazardous techniques, such as the explosive removal of mountaintops and the dispersal of excess rock and toxic wastes in the valleys below.  Any increase in the use of coal will also enhance climate change, since coal emits more carbon dioxide than do oil and natural gas.

Here’s the bottom line: Any expectations that ever-increasing supplies of energy will meet demand in the coming years are destined to be disappointed.  Instead, recurring shortages, rising prices, and mounting discontent are likely to be the thematic drumbeat of the globe’s energy future.

If we don’t abandon a belief that unrestricted growth is our inalienable birthright and embrace the genuine promise of renewable energy (with the necessary effort and investment that would make such a commitment meaningful), the future is likely to prove grim indeed.  Then, the history of energy, as taught in some late twenty-first-century university, will be labeled: How to Wreck the Planet 101.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and resource conflicts, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Michael T. Klare

 

 

© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175400/
    
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This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Corporations, Corruption, Events, Obama, US Economy, US Electoral Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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