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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Energy, Sustainability, and Project "Better Place"

Regardless of the state of the economy, the stock market has apparently figured out that oil and gas will still be required (duh). As a result, oil is again approaching $100/barrel, oil stocks have recovered roughly half their January loses, and oil service stocks have recently had a couple days of amazing gains, although still down quite a bit from the beginning of the year. Gold is up $20 bucks today and the dollar is coming back to Earth after what I would term a false rally.

Speaking of oil, yet another oil company CEO is warning about peak oil and the inability of worldwide oil production to meet demand in the 2015 timeframe:

http://www.ogj.com/display_article/320225/7/ONART/none/GenIn/1/CERA:-Action-needed-to-avoid-oil-crisis,-Hess-chief-says/site_license.cfm?sl=petrobras

So, now we have at least three oil company CEO's (Conoco Philips, Royal Dutch Shell, and Hess) warn of peak oil and its severe consequences if energy policies don't change. We can throw in Boone Pickens as well. I love his comment on the CNBC commercial:

"A fool with a plan is better than a genius without a plan."

Speaking of a genius with a plan, the Bush administration and the US Energy Dept. continue to stumble aimlessly toward a most uncertain energy future. Well, aimlessly isn't the right word. I suppose the aim of invading Iraq was to steal the oil. On that front, Iraqi production has, in the last few months, gotten back up to the pre-invasion level. So, after years of war, dead soldiers, and mountains of debt, we are at the break-even point (if indeed the strategic objective was to "get the oil"). So, if we are to "win the war", US oil majors must get lucrative Iraqi contracts that allow them to pump out substantially more oil at substantially bigger discounts and bring it all back to the good old USA. Even if that were all to come to pass, it would take years to recoup the "investment" Bush has made in Iraq.

Meanwhile, there ARE folks out there doing their best to logically prepare us for the future. Take Aaron Wissner, who I have been exchanging emails with since he was mentioned in a cover story in the WSJ some time back. He has founded "Local Future" and along with other educators is promoting the "International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change: Paths to Sustainability". I only wish it had been a bit closer to me! Here's the website:

http://sustainabilityconference.org/details/contact.htm

Click on the "Presenters" tab and check out the people and topics being covered. As Neil Young would say "innaresting". I like the approach Aaron is taking: when oil becomes scarce and the price prohibitive, the future will naturally become more local (thus "Local Future"). Hmmm....this reminds me - I need to get off my butt and get down to the slaughterhouse where they will fill up my pick-up truck with a mixture of sawdust and cowshit for $5 a load! What a steal. A neighbor of mine, a fit-as-a-fiddle 70 year old farmer from Minnesota, told me that stuff is the best foundation for starting a garden. That said, my lot would need some trees cut down to make a nice sunny garden space. At least I have the wood-burning stove.

Another "man of the future" is Shai Agassi (nope, no relation to Andre). Agassi has successfully convinced the government of Israel, in partnership with Carlos Ghosn's Nissan, to allow Israel be the proving ground for Agassi's electric car vision of "Project Better Place". Read about it here:

http://www.projectbetterplace.com/

Maybe it is my perverse sense of humour, but this seems almost Biblical to me. I mean, the chosen ones throwing off the shackles of Arab oil? What a panic. It actually has a great chance of succeeding since the country is very small and short auto trips the norm. And, the idea of electric batteries that are merely taken out of the car and replaced at a charging station makes sense to me. I mean, the big issue with electric cars is range and readily available juiced batteries. It will be interesting to watch this project unfold over the next few years. Isn't it too bad the US Energy Department couldn't be a partner in Project Better Place in some US city? Maybe some day.

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