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Why peak oil signals the world’s end, or at least the one we know – Zawya

Why peak oil signals the world’s end, or at least the one we know – Zawya.

By Joel Guglietta

While global financial markets are still levitating somewhere between the stratosphere and the Kingdom of Asgard, by 60°24′31″ North and 172°43′12″ West, in the middle of nowhere, an isolated island of 137.857 sq-mi holds the key of three major economic developments and risks:

  1. November 2013, Lawrence Summers raised the question whether the “secular stagnation” and the impossibility for the US and other major economies to grow without the help of recurring bubbles was not doomed to become the “new normal”.
  2. March 2014, the Conference Board released a study (figure 1) showing the falling trend in global total factor productivity, i.e. in the share of output not explained by the “accumulation of factors” (more on this economic jargon below).
  3. March 2014 again, the NASA published a research paper answering to “widespread concerns that current trends in resource-used are unsustainable, but possibilities of overshoot/collapse remain controversial”. This study tells us that, based on a well-known prey-predator model to which they add “wealth and economic inequality”, a total collapse is “very difficult to avoid” (figure 2).

w
Source: The Conference Board, January 2014

3
Source: NASA, 2014

1. – The tragic fate of the fat caribou, or why we have to fear the reindeer of St Matthew more than the wolves of Wall-Street

During World War II, the US Coast Guard decided to install long range aids to navigation in St Matthew Island, a remote rock in the Bering Sea in Alaska, and to stock emergency food source there. In August the same year, they released 29 reindeer (known as caribou in North America) on the island as a backup food source for the 19 men stationed there. As World War II drew to an end, the Coast Guard left the island and, by the same token, the population of reindeer growing unchecked as their only predators, the 19 men on duty there, were sent back home. It followed a dramatic boom & burst of population dynamics (figure 1). From 1944 to 1966 the number of these herbivores, which did not have to worry anymore about any predator and ate all the available lichen, increased from 29 to 6,000. In 1957, their body weight was found to exceed that of reindeer in domestic herds by 24.5 percent among females and 46.6 percent among males. Then, the following winter, as they faced a limited food supply to sustain their number and their massive body weight, they underwent a crash die-off, the population falling from 6,000 to 42 (figure 3).

There is a lot of food for thought in this story. First, as the NASA study suggests, when one species (for example the top 1 oercent living in the Galapogos, another rock ,as I put it in a paper issued last year “Why Kings of Galapagos are long equity under (mild) Mugabenomics?”) thrive to the abject detriment of another one (the lichen, or the “bottom” 99%), bad things eventually happen.

2
Source: The Conference Board, TED, January 2014

1
Source: Manicore

Second, and more generally, the point of this story boils down to the mundane fact that resources are everything, and when they vanish, the transition from a given state to another one, namely from unchecked growth and exuberance to complete obliteration, is dramatic most often than not. This holds all the more true for the key resource, i.e. oil, which brings us to the second chapter of our tale.

2. – The peak-oil: a conspiracy theory or a mandatory mathematical truism?

Most of the discussions on oil hover around the question of “reserves”. I am going here to state the obvious but the key argument to keep in mind is that these reserves are meant for one and only purpose: oil production. ….woooh!, that’s new, next please! Okay, but bear with me. Till someone proves me I am wrong, I assume that the volume of Earth is finite, so that oil reserves are finite.Now, for a given stock of non-renewable resource, all production functions obey to the same law: they start from zero, grow to a maximum and decline to zero in a “bell-shape” way (figure 4). Now, the area under this curve is called the integral of the production function and it is strictly equal to the oil reserves. Because oil reserves are finite, the integral is necessarily convergent and because they are non-renewable the production function (the derivative function of the oil reserve) cannot have another form than a bell shape. You can stretch it, you can squeeze it, but the general form is this one and not any other. This is mathematical certainty like 2+2=4. The peak-oil is a mandatory mathematical truism, not a “conspiracy theory”.

Obviously, the key question is: the “peak-oil”, is it for now?

Well, running the risk of stating one obvious thing after another, I assume that we all agree that a compulsory task to perform before extracting oil from the ground is to find it. This has profound implications as this makes us certain that a peak is mandatory given the resource potential of the oil field. It also tells us that the higher the proven reserves and the bigger they are with respect to production, the closer the peak of oil production (remember: the integral is the area under the production curve). If I take the example of the United-States, as evidenced by King Hubbert, there is a 35-year lag between discovery and production (figure 5). If evidence proves Hubert peak was a bit bad on timing, possible production curves, based on the world ultimate reserves. i.e. total extractable petroleum, suggest that the peak is now.

4
Source: Laherrere, 2003

f
Source: Manicore

This is old story and, as the world still goes around, one could dismiss all this analysis. However, what is new is that business conditions are becoming more challenging for the oil majors as figure 7 suggests. Indeed since 2009, the capital expenditures of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have increased by 39-89 percent while their production has stalled. This is the balance-sheet-based proof that the peak-oil is happening now.

d
Source: Wall Street Journal

Now, the last point on the peak-oil, and this is key to understand the third and last chapter of our tale. We have to keep in mind that when we hear that we still have for 20 or 30 years of oil ahead of us it does not mean that we live the “good life” for the next 2 to 3 decades with constant consumption and then, the year after, we fall straight to zero consumption in a crash die-off as our reindeer herd experienced. Actually, consumption will be following the bell-shaped production function, it will be a slow death, and in the meanwhile, as the oil majors experience, the massive rise of capital expenditure will be weighting on the marginal energy return of energy. Indeed, according to Kopits, total upstream industry spendind since 2005 has been USD 4 trillion (about USD 2.5 trillion spent on legacy crude oil production), and legacy oil production has declined by 1 mmb/d since 2005. By comparison, between 1998 and 2005 the industry spent USD 1.5 trillion on upstream development and added 8.6 mmb/d to total crude production. This declining energy return in energy production, which is nothing but the by-product of declining/exhausting oil reserves and the very fact we are experiencing the peak-oil, drives the whole economy down.

Indeed, though we live in the age of the “information technology” it is worthwhile to remember that the information society is an energy ogre (not mentioning the globalisation mantra which gives a central role to the transport industry which consumes two-third of total oil). For example, according toASU engineer Eric Williams 227 to 270 kilograms (or 500 to 594 pounds) of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. Mark Mills , the CEO of the Digital Power Group, teaches us that a medium-size refrigerator will use about 322 kW-h a year whereas the average iPhone uses about 361 kW-h a year once the wireless connections, data usage and battery charging are tallied up.

3. – There is something deeply wrong about macro-economic theory

So how all this relates to the “secular stagnation” scenario and all the fall in total factor productivity. Well, this is where things get a little bit technical and where our tale comes (finally!) to an end.

Most economists are big fan of more or less complex equations designed to explain everything in a highly stylised fashion. In this quest, in order to explain the origin of economic growth, they use the so-called Cobb-Douglas production function which states that GDP (Y) is a function of technology (A), capital (K) and labour (L). More precisely, the Holy Grail equation takes this form: Y = A * Ka * Lb, with “a” and “b” the elasticity of production to capital and labour. Total factor productivity is for instance derived from this equation.

Now, as the purpose of this equation is to explain the origin of economic growth, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Neanderthals. While we are planning to go in the wild to bring back some proteins to the tribe, we look around us. We do find sturdy arms, sturdy legs and few well-functioning brains. In a word, we find “labour”. Do we find “capital”? A broad and outstanding No! However, as the time goes by, our species is evolving. We will find primal energy in the form of fire, and then, at a very latter stage fossil energy and we will understand how to use it. “Capital” will appear at a much latter stage based on accumulated labour (whatever it is “inspiration”, aka knowledge, or “transpiration”, aka sweat and hard work) and the use of energy around us.

The point is very simple: the central equation explaining economic growth is plain wrong and we need to transform it in order to make capital an inner feedback loop to the system as it is mentioned in the Report to the Club of Rome (2003) or suggested by Jean-Marc Jancovici . How to do this?

Well in order to make things simple, let’s assume that returns to scale are constant (if I multiply resources by 2, output will be increased by 2, which fares as a reasonable assumption) so that we get b = 1-a, and therefore Y = A * Ka * L1-a. Now, let’s make the capital K dependent on energy (E) and labor (L) (or accumulated labor, (integral of L), so that K = c * E * L (with “c” a constant and simply labour which does not change the qualitative properties of the model). Our equation becomes: Y = A * ba * Ea * L.

Add to this new equation a reasonable assumption about the dynamics of labour (I assume a logistic function for the dynamics of the population with a sharp increase followed by an asymptotic rise) and the knowledge we have gained over the shape of the oil production function and thus of the dynamics of how available reserves evolve, we can build a toy-model and easily simulate the path of the economy (figure 8) on an oil(energy)-dependent computer. This toy-model clearly shows how sensitive an economy can be to the downward shift in oil-production during and after the peak-oil.

Do not get me wrong here. I do not believe that the Stone Age ended because we were short of stones. My point comes down to say that we are smack in the middle of an energetic transition, that this transition has a much more profound current negative effect that many can believe and that the world as we know is coming to an end, evolving towards “something else”. The hope here is that, flawed economic models, lack of political will to manage this energetic transition or ideological foolishness from the Talibans of the “all-green” regarding the nuclear energy as “evil”, will not drive us toward the tragic fate of the reindeer herd of St Matthew Island and other unfortunate raging bulls (figure 9). Indeed, the NASA research suggests that high wealth inequality is sufficient to create a total collapse. Add inequality regarding access to energy, water and food (agriculture is oil-dependent too) on the top of that, and we have a Mad-Max-Moment ahead of us. In this state of urgency, do we attend a rise in global capex in renewable energy that could make us more optimistic? Well, unfortunately not. Global investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2013 to USD 254 billion according to Bloomberg New energy Finance. This is the second decline in renewable investments since 2001. So, yes the crash die-off of our fat caribous is unfortunately still a scenario.

v
Source: Joel Guglietta

Joel Guglietta is Managing Director of OCTIS Asset Management in Singapore

Author Steen Jakobsen, Chief Economist & CIO, Saxo Bank
Saxo Bank provides an execution-only service. The material on this website does not contain (and should not be construed as containing) investment advice or an investment recommendation, or a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. Saxo Bank accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result.

Why peak oil signals the world's end, or at least the one we know – Zawya

Why peak oil signals the world’s end, or at least the one we know – Zawya.

By Joel Guglietta

While global financial markets are still levitating somewhere between the stratosphere and the Kingdom of Asgard, by 60°24′31″ North and 172°43′12″ West, in the middle of nowhere, an isolated island of 137.857 sq-mi holds the key of three major economic developments and risks:

  1. November 2013, Lawrence Summers raised the question whether the “secular stagnation” and the impossibility for the US and other major economies to grow without the help of recurring bubbles was not doomed to become the “new normal”.
  2. March 2014, the Conference Board released a study (figure 1) showing the falling trend in global total factor productivity, i.e. in the share of output not explained by the “accumulation of factors” (more on this economic jargon below).
  3. March 2014 again, the NASA published a research paper answering to “widespread concerns that current trends in resource-used are unsustainable, but possibilities of overshoot/collapse remain controversial”. This study tells us that, based on a well-known prey-predator model to which they add “wealth and economic inequality”, a total collapse is “very difficult to avoid” (figure 2).

w
Source: The Conference Board, January 2014

3
Source: NASA, 2014

1. – The tragic fate of the fat caribou, or why we have to fear the reindeer of St Matthew more than the wolves of Wall-Street

During World War II, the US Coast Guard decided to install long range aids to navigation in St Matthew Island, a remote rock in the Bering Sea in Alaska, and to stock emergency food source there. In August the same year, they released 29 reindeer (known as caribou in North America) on the island as a backup food source for the 19 men stationed there. As World War II drew to an end, the Coast Guard left the island and, by the same token, the population of reindeer growing unchecked as their only predators, the 19 men on duty there, were sent back home. It followed a dramatic boom & burst of population dynamics (figure 1). From 1944 to 1966 the number of these herbivores, which did not have to worry anymore about any predator and ate all the available lichen, increased from 29 to 6,000. In 1957, their body weight was found to exceed that of reindeer in domestic herds by 24.5 percent among females and 46.6 percent among males. Then, the following winter, as they faced a limited food supply to sustain their number and their massive body weight, they underwent a crash die-off, the population falling from 6,000 to 42 (figure 3).

There is a lot of food for thought in this story. First, as the NASA study suggests, when one species (for example the top 1 oercent living in the Galapogos, another rock ,as I put it in a paper issued last year “Why Kings of Galapagos are long equity under (mild) Mugabenomics?”) thrive to the abject detriment of another one (the lichen, or the “bottom” 99%), bad things eventually happen.

2
Source: The Conference Board, TED, January 2014

1
Source: Manicore

Second, and more generally, the point of this story boils down to the mundane fact that resources are everything, and when they vanish, the transition from a given state to another one, namely from unchecked growth and exuberance to complete obliteration, is dramatic most often than not. This holds all the more true for the key resource, i.e. oil, which brings us to the second chapter of our tale.

2. – The peak-oil: a conspiracy theory or a mandatory mathematical truism?

Most of the discussions on oil hover around the question of “reserves”. I am going here to state the obvious but the key argument to keep in mind is that these reserves are meant for one and only purpose: oil production. ….woooh!, that’s new, next please! Okay, but bear with me. Till someone proves me I am wrong, I assume that the volume of Earth is finite, so that oil reserves are finite.Now, for a given stock of non-renewable resource, all production functions obey to the same law: they start from zero, grow to a maximum and decline to zero in a “bell-shape” way (figure 4). Now, the area under this curve is called the integral of the production function and it is strictly equal to the oil reserves. Because oil reserves are finite, the integral is necessarily convergent and because they are non-renewable the production function (the derivative function of the oil reserve) cannot have another form than a bell shape. You can stretch it, you can squeeze it, but the general form is this one and not any other. This is mathematical certainty like 2+2=4. The peak-oil is a mandatory mathematical truism, not a “conspiracy theory”.

Obviously, the key question is: the “peak-oil”, is it for now?

Well, running the risk of stating one obvious thing after another, I assume that we all agree that a compulsory task to perform before extracting oil from the ground is to find it. This has profound implications as this makes us certain that a peak is mandatory given the resource potential of the oil field. It also tells us that the higher the proven reserves and the bigger they are with respect to production, the closer the peak of oil production (remember: the integral is the area under the production curve). If I take the example of the United-States, as evidenced by King Hubbert, there is a 35-year lag between discovery and production (figure 5). If evidence proves Hubert peak was a bit bad on timing, possible production curves, based on the world ultimate reserves. i.e. total extractable petroleum, suggest that the peak is now.

4
Source: Laherrere, 2003

f
Source: Manicore

This is old story and, as the world still goes around, one could dismiss all this analysis. However, what is new is that business conditions are becoming more challenging for the oil majors as figure 7 suggests. Indeed since 2009, the capital expenditures of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have increased by 39-89 percent while their production has stalled. This is the balance-sheet-based proof that the peak-oil is happening now.

d
Source: Wall Street Journal

Now, the last point on the peak-oil, and this is key to understand the third and last chapter of our tale. We have to keep in mind that when we hear that we still have for 20 or 30 years of oil ahead of us it does not mean that we live the “good life” for the next 2 to 3 decades with constant consumption and then, the year after, we fall straight to zero consumption in a crash die-off as our reindeer herd experienced. Actually, consumption will be following the bell-shaped production function, it will be a slow death, and in the meanwhile, as the oil majors experience, the massive rise of capital expenditure will be weighting on the marginal energy return of energy. Indeed, according to Kopits, total upstream industry spendind since 2005 has been USD 4 trillion (about USD 2.5 trillion spent on legacy crude oil production), and legacy oil production has declined by 1 mmb/d since 2005. By comparison, between 1998 and 2005 the industry spent USD 1.5 trillion on upstream development and added 8.6 mmb/d to total crude production. This declining energy return in energy production, which is nothing but the by-product of declining/exhausting oil reserves and the very fact we are experiencing the peak-oil, drives the whole economy down.

Indeed, though we live in the age of the “information technology” it is worthwhile to remember that the information society is an energy ogre (not mentioning the globalisation mantra which gives a central role to the transport industry which consumes two-third of total oil). For example, according toASU engineer Eric Williams 227 to 270 kilograms (or 500 to 594 pounds) of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. Mark Mills , the CEO of the Digital Power Group, teaches us that a medium-size refrigerator will use about 322 kW-h a year whereas the average iPhone uses about 361 kW-h a year once the wireless connections, data usage and battery charging are tallied up.

3. – There is something deeply wrong about macro-economic theory

So how all this relates to the “secular stagnation” scenario and all the fall in total factor productivity. Well, this is where things get a little bit technical and where our tale comes (finally!) to an end.

Most economists are big fan of more or less complex equations designed to explain everything in a highly stylised fashion. In this quest, in order to explain the origin of economic growth, they use the so-called Cobb-Douglas production function which states that GDP (Y) is a function of technology (A), capital (K) and labour (L). More precisely, the Holy Grail equation takes this form: Y = A * Ka * Lb, with “a” and “b” the elasticity of production to capital and labour. Total factor productivity is for instance derived from this equation.

Now, as the purpose of this equation is to explain the origin of economic growth, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Neanderthals. While we are planning to go in the wild to bring back some proteins to the tribe, we look around us. We do find sturdy arms, sturdy legs and few well-functioning brains. In a word, we find “labour”. Do we find “capital”? A broad and outstanding No! However, as the time goes by, our species is evolving. We will find primal energy in the form of fire, and then, at a very latter stage fossil energy and we will understand how to use it. “Capital” will appear at a much latter stage based on accumulated labour (whatever it is “inspiration”, aka knowledge, or “transpiration”, aka sweat and hard work) and the use of energy around us.

The point is very simple: the central equation explaining economic growth is plain wrong and we need to transform it in order to make capital an inner feedback loop to the system as it is mentioned in the Report to the Club of Rome (2003) or suggested by Jean-Marc Jancovici . How to do this?

Well in order to make things simple, let’s assume that returns to scale are constant (if I multiply resources by 2, output will be increased by 2, which fares as a reasonable assumption) so that we get b = 1-a, and therefore Y = A * Ka * L1-a. Now, let’s make the capital K dependent on energy (E) and labor (L) (or accumulated labor, (integral of L), so that K = c * E * L (with “c” a constant and simply labour which does not change the qualitative properties of the model). Our equation becomes: Y = A * ba * Ea * L.

Add to this new equation a reasonable assumption about the dynamics of labour (I assume a logistic function for the dynamics of the population with a sharp increase followed by an asymptotic rise) and the knowledge we have gained over the shape of the oil production function and thus of the dynamics of how available reserves evolve, we can build a toy-model and easily simulate the path of the economy (figure 8) on an oil(energy)-dependent computer. This toy-model clearly shows how sensitive an economy can be to the downward shift in oil-production during and after the peak-oil.

Do not get me wrong here. I do not believe that the Stone Age ended because we were short of stones. My point comes down to say that we are smack in the middle of an energetic transition, that this transition has a much more profound current negative effect that many can believe and that the world as we know is coming to an end, evolving towards “something else”. The hope here is that, flawed economic models, lack of political will to manage this energetic transition or ideological foolishness from the Talibans of the “all-green” regarding the nuclear energy as “evil”, will not drive us toward the tragic fate of the reindeer herd of St Matthew Island and other unfortunate raging bulls (figure 9). Indeed, the NASA research suggests that high wealth inequality is sufficient to create a total collapse. Add inequality regarding access to energy, water and food (agriculture is oil-dependent too) on the top of that, and we have a Mad-Max-Moment ahead of us. In this state of urgency, do we attend a rise in global capex in renewable energy that could make us more optimistic? Well, unfortunately not. Global investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2013 to USD 254 billion according to Bloomberg New energy Finance. This is the second decline in renewable investments since 2001. So, yes the crash die-off of our fat caribous is unfortunately still a scenario.

v
Source: Joel Guglietta

Joel Guglietta is Managing Director of OCTIS Asset Management in Singapore

Author Steen Jakobsen, Chief Economist & CIO, Saxo Bank
Saxo Bank provides an execution-only service. The material on this website does not contain (and should not be construed as containing) investment advice or an investment recommendation, or a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. Saxo Bank accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result.

Civilisation Is Doomed Warns Safa Motesharri’s Nasa-Funded Study

Civilisation Is Doomed Warns Safa Motesharri’s Nasa-Funded Study.

Huffington Post UK  |  Posted: 17/03/2014 08:30 GMT  |  Updated: 17/03/2014 08:59 GMT

civilisation doomed

Civilisation is almost inevitably doomed, a Nasa-funded study has found.

Human society is founded on a level of economic and environmental stability which almost certainly cannot be sustained, it said.

The study used simplified models of civilisation designed to experiment with the balance of resources and climate that creates stability – or not – in our world.

These theoretical models – designed to extrapolate from simple principles the future of our industrialised world – ran into almost intractable problems.

Almost any model “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid”, the report said.

Mathematician Safa Motesharri begins his report by stating that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history” and that this is borne out by maths, as well as historiography.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

roman ruins

Above: civilisations have risen and fallen throughout history
His research – funded by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center and published int he Ecological Economics journal – explored the pressures that can lead to a collapse in civilisation.

These criteria include changes in population, climate change and natural disasters. Access to water, agriculture, and energy are also factors.

Motesharri found that problems with each of these is far more damaging when experienced in combination with another. When this occurs the result is often an “economic stratification” and “stretching of resources” which drags at society’s foundations.

Under this highly simplified model, our society appears to be doomed.

In one of his simulations:

“[Ours] appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature”

He added that elites tend to have a vested interest in sustaining the current model – however doomed – for as long as possible, regardless of the eventual negative outcome:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

There are caveats, of course. The study is a simplified model of society, not a perfect simulation, and it isn’t able to make solid predictions of the future. It’s also worth noting that Motesharri does allow for the possibility that “collapse can be avoided” – though he thinks it will be exceptionally difficult.

Indeed, as the Guardian reports, other studies by the UK Government and KPMG have also warned of a “perfect storm” of energy scarcity and economy fragility coming within a few decades, which lends weight to his conclusion.

Oh, and then there are the robots.

Civilisation Is Doomed Warns Safa Motesharri's Nasa-Funded Study

Civilisation Is Doomed Warns Safa Motesharri’s Nasa-Funded Study.

Huffington Post UK  |  Posted: 17/03/2014 08:30 GMT  |  Updated: 17/03/2014 08:59 GMT

civilisation doomed

Civilisation is almost inevitably doomed, a Nasa-funded study has found.

Human society is founded on a level of economic and environmental stability which almost certainly cannot be sustained, it said.

The study used simplified models of civilisation designed to experiment with the balance of resources and climate that creates stability – or not – in our world.

These theoretical models – designed to extrapolate from simple principles the future of our industrialised world – ran into almost intractable problems.

Almost any model “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid”, the report said.

Mathematician Safa Motesharri begins his report by stating that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history” and that this is borne out by maths, as well as historiography.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

roman ruins

Above: civilisations have risen and fallen throughout history
His research – funded by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center and published int he Ecological Economics journal – explored the pressures that can lead to a collapse in civilisation.

These criteria include changes in population, climate change and natural disasters. Access to water, agriculture, and energy are also factors.

Motesharri found that problems with each of these is far more damaging when experienced in combination with another. When this occurs the result is often an “economic stratification” and “stretching of resources” which drags at society’s foundations.

Under this highly simplified model, our society appears to be doomed.

In one of his simulations:

“[Ours] appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature”

He added that elites tend to have a vested interest in sustaining the current model – however doomed – for as long as possible, regardless of the eventual negative outcome:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

There are caveats, of course. The study is a simplified model of society, not a perfect simulation, and it isn’t able to make solid predictions of the future. It’s also worth noting that Motesharri does allow for the possibility that “collapse can be avoided” – though he thinks it will be exceptionally difficult.

Indeed, as the Guardian reports, other studies by the UK Government and KPMG have also warned of a “perfect storm” of energy scarcity and economy fragility coming within a few decades, which lends weight to his conclusion.

Oh, and then there are the robots.

Activist Post: Missing Military-Industrial-Complex Money

Activist Post: Missing Military-Industrial-Complex Money.

James Hall
Activist Post

When Major General Smedley Butler made his case, “War is a Racket” he did not pull any punches.

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits – ah! That is another matter – twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent – the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.

The business of military procurement has multiplied since his fateful revelations.

Not satisfied with fair profits or feasible competition, the practices of the defense corporatists illustrate one aspect of waste, graft and systemic bribery. William D. Hartung describes the consolidation and expanse of a select group of companies in the paper, The Military-Industrial Complex Revisited: Shifting Patterns of Military Contracting in the Post-9/11 Period

Many of the same companies that benefited from increased Pentagon and war spending were top contractors for other security related agencies. For example, Lockheed Martin was not only the top contractor for the Pentagon, but it also ranked number one at the Department of Energy; number eight at the Department of Homeland Security (Boeing was number one); number two at the State Department; and number three at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Contracts let by these agencies were only a fraction of the levels awarded by the Pentagon, but they were significant nonetheless. For example, the Department of Homeland Security issued $13.4 billion in contracts in FY2008, NASA $15.9 billion, the State Department $5.5 billion, and the Department of Energy $24.6 billion.

This dramatic growth in budgets is even more significant, when viewed in the context of world expenditures of other counties. Leaving aside the relative merits of the dangers and risk of external threats, the gigantic enterprise of fostering the biggest military apparatus in history has made select factions rich at the expense of the many.

Jonathan Turley in “Pentagon Plugs: New Study Finds Pentagon Has Hidden Trillions In Missing Money And Equipment,” references an example on how the overall avoidance of financial accountability, outright fraud and intentional concealment operates.

A new report has detailed how the military has cooked the books to hide trillions, that’s right trillions, in missing money and equipment. The military calls them “plugs,” a curious term for fraud. These are knowingly fake figures used to hide the fact that there is no accurate record of the money.

The plugs are generally the work of the office of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Pentagon’s main accounting agency. Required to complete an audit, the staff simply faked the numbers.

Reuter’s reports on a “Special Report: The Pentagon’s doctored ledgers conceal epic waste.”

Over the past 10 years, the Defense Department has signed contracts for the provision of more than $3 trillion in goods and services. How much of that money is wasted in overpayments to contractors, or was never spent and never remitted to the Treasury, is a mystery. That’s because of a massive backlog of “closeouts” – audits meant to ensure that a contract was fulfilled and the money ended up in the right place.

Now trillions are sums that are unimaginable The Department of the Treasury acknowledges that U.S. gold reserves (if you believe their figures) total $11,041,059,958.16 as of their Current Report: January 31, 2014.

An eleven billion dollars equivalent is a mere drop in the bucket to the monies allocated to the military and homeland security. Taxpayers are regularly deceived about the costs. Congress is kept in the dark about black programs. And the war racket keeps funneling and siphoning off unknown sums to accounts that only a super computer can track.

Corporatocracy: How the Corporate Welfare State Divides and Conquers is a video by James Corbett that provides an insightful analysis which establishes a surreal account how the oligarchy operates.  The financial shenanigans of corporatists contribute to the interlocking directorates, which run the money pit that keeps the empire operating.

A rational reform of a depraved money laundering arrangement is impossible without a fundamental repudiation of the internationalist foreign policy doctrines that permeates the State Department. Funding advanced technological warfare platforms that are unheard of to even congressional oversight is profoundly unconstitutional.

When such practices become routine, the economic incentives breed crooked abuses. The obligations for responsible public policy are methodically destroyed, when transparency is eliminated.

Washington’s Blog provides several useful sources that document the extent of the problem in “$8.5 TRILLION In Taxpayer Money Doled Out By Congress To The Pentagon Since 1996 … Has NEVER Been Accounted For” and sums up with a bleak assessment.

The Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.

Evidently, the elites that benefit from bilking appropriations and the board members that steer the defense contractors want the con to continue. For all the money directed towards maintaining the war machine, our actual security become less secure.

Banks launder ill-gotten gain, as prevailing practice, in the normal course of business because the arm merchants are protected players in the trade. The reprehensible circle that the dogs of war unleash the cash flow from their illicit drug sales, through arms sales, allows for the smooth transfer of hidden blood money into number accounts.

Such an organized system of mutual payoffs greases the ever growing industry of fear and destruction. All the missing money is buried in the unknown cashes of subterranean tyranny. Creating false flag threats allows for imaginary scourges to be new enemies. Protection from such manufactured foes is the real business of the military-industrial-complex.

So, when more details surface about the lost and unaccounted military funding money, it is just part of the price of keeping you safe.

Original article archived here

James Hall is a reformed, former political operative. This pundit’s formal instruction in History, Philosophy and Political Science served as training for activism, on the staff of several politicians and in many campaigns. A believer in authentic Public Service, independent business interests were pursued in the private sector. Speculation in markets, and international business investments, allowed for extensive travel and a world view for commerce.  Hall is the publisher of BREAKING ALL THE RULES. Contact batr@batr.org

NASA and Britain’s GCHQ Mapping “Political Alignments” of Millions of Smartphone Users Worldwide. | Global Research

NASA and Britain’s GCHQ Mapping “Political Alignments” of Millions of Smartphone Users Worldwide. | Global Research.

New information made public by Edward Snowden reveals that the governments of the United States and United Kingdom are trawling data from cellphone “apps” to accumulate dossiers on the “political alignments” of millions of smartphone users worldwide.

According to a 2012 internal UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) document, the National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ have been accumulating and storing hundreds of millions of user “cookies” —the digital footprints left on a cellphone or computer each time a user visits a web site—in order to accumulate detailed personal information about users’ private lives.

This confirms that the main purpose of the programs is not to protect the population from “terrorism,” but to facilitate the state repression of working class opposition to widening social inequality and social counterrevolution. The programs do not primarily target “terrorists,” but workers, intellectuals, and students.

The collection of data regarding the “political alignment” of cellphone users also suggests that the governments of the US and UK are keeping lists of those whose “political alignments” are of concern to the government. Previous revelations have shown how the NSA and GCHQ “flag” certain “suspects” for additional surveillance: the most recent revelation indicates that suspects are “flagged” at least in part based on their “political alignment.”

The legal rationale behind this process points to a growing movement to criminalize political thought in the US and UK.

If, as the revelations indicate, determining a user’s “political alignment” is a primary goal of this program, then it is also likely a factor in determining whether the government has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the user is a “terrorist suspect.” If this is the case, the web sites a user visits may raise the government’s level of suspicion that the user is engaged in criminal activity, and may thereby provide the government with the pseudo-legal pretext required to unlock the content of all his or her phone calls, emails, text messages, etc.

Such a rationale would amount to a flagrant violation of both the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Not only does the Fourth Amendment protect against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” but the First Amendment also proscribes the government from monitoring individuals based on their political beliefs. The elimination of such a fundamental democratic right would be a dangerous step towards the imposition of a police state dictatorship.

The new report also details the depth of the mobile-app spying operation.

A 2009 “brute-force” analysis test performed by the NSA and GCHQ of what the New York Timesdescribes as a “tiny sliver of their cellphone databases” revealed that in one month, the NSA collected cellphone data of 8,615,650 cellphone users. Data from the GCHQ test revealed that in three months, the British had spied on 24,760,289 users. Expanded to a full year, this data shows that in 2009, the NSA collected data from over 103,000,000 users, while GCHQ collected data from over 99,000,000 users: and this coming from only a “tiny sliver” of a month’s data!

“They are gathered in bulk, and are currently our single largest type of events,” one leaked document reads.

The program—referred to in one NSA document as “Golden Nugget!”—also allows the governments to receive a log of users’ Google Maps application use. Such information allows the intelligence apparatus to track the exact whereabouts of surveillance victims worldwide. One chart from an internal NSA slideshow asks: “Where was my target when they did this?” and “Where is my target going?”

An NSA report from 2007 bragged that so much geo-data could be gathered that the intelligence agencies would “be able to clone Google’s database” of all searches for directions made via Google Maps.

“It effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system,” a 2008 GCHQ report noted.

Additional presentation material leaked by Snowden shows that in 2010 the NSA explained that its “perfect scenario” was to “target uploading photo to a social media site taken with a mobile device.” The same slide asks, “What can we get?” The answer, according to the same presentation, includes the photographs of the user, buddy lists, emails, phone contacts, and “a host of other social networking data as well as location.”

The agencies also use information provided by mobile apps to paint a clear picture of the victim’s current location, sexual orientation, marital status, income, ethnicity, education level, and number of children.

GCHQ has an internal code-name system for grading their ability to snoop on a particular cellphone user. The codes are based on the television show “The Smurfs.” If the agencies can tap the phone’s microphone to listen to conversations, the codename “Nosey Smurf” is employed. If the agencies can track the precise location of the user as he or she moves, the codename “Tracker Smurf” is used. The ability to track a phone that is powered off is named “Dreamy Smurf,” and the ability to hide the spy software is coded “Paranoid Smurf.”

That the intelligence agencies have cheekily nicknamed codes in an Orwellian surveillance program after animated characters from a children’s show is a telling indication of the contempt with which the ruling class views the democratic rights of the population of the world.

Additionally, the agencies have been tracking and storing data from a series of cellphone game applications, including the popular “Angry Birds” game, which has been downloaded over 1.7 billion times.

The tracking of data from online games like “Angry Birds” further reveals that these programs are not intended to protect the population from “terrorism.” It would be indefensible for the NSA and GCHQ to explain that they suspected to glean information about looming Al Qaeda plots from a mindless cellphone game.

Yet this is precisely how the NSA has attempted to justify these programs.

“The communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets are not of interest to the National Security Agency,” an agency spokeswoman said. “Any implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true. Moreover, NSA does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission.”

In an added indication of its anti-democratic character, the US government is therefore employing the technique of the “Big Lie” by denying what has just been proven true.

In reality, the revelations have further exposed President Barack Obama’s January 17 speech as a celebration of lies.

The president told the nation that the spying programs do “not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans.” He also said that the US “is not abusing authorities to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails,” and that “the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security.”

He added in reference to the “folks” at the NSA that “nothing I have learned [about the programs] indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.”

But the evidence is mounting that the governments of the US and UK are compiling information regarding the “political alignments” of hundreds of millions across the globe. All those responsible for carrying out such a facially anti-democratic campaign—including President Obama, David Cameron, their aides, and the leaders of the security apparatus—must face criminal charges and immediate removal from office.

Activist Post: NASA Announces Incoming CME Likely to Cause a Geomagnetic Storm

Activist Post: NASA Announces Incoming CME Likely to Cause a Geomagnetic Storm.

Chris Carrington
Activist Post

NOAA is predicting a geomagnetic storm later today as the CME from the X1 flare hits the Earth’s magnetosphere. The speed of the solar wind will spike at around 1.6 million miles per hour. (700km/s)

The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has the following information for the 9th, 10th and 11th January:

January 9th 

50-90% chance of major-severe geomagnetic storm depending on where you live. The further north you are the higher the percentage of risk

January 10th 

50-85% chance of major-severe geomagnetic storm depending on where you live. The further north you are the higher the percentage of risk.

January 11th

1-50% chance of major-severe geomagnetic storm depending on where you live. The further north you are the higher the percentage of risk.

The risk from flares today stands at 80% for an M-class and 50% for an X-class. Any eruption is most likely to come from somewhere within AR1944, though it has grown so massive it’s hard to see where AR1943 ends and AR1944 begins.

Today’s sunspot number is 178.

A good explanation of how all these things fit together is provided by NASA:

Coronal mass ejections are more likely to have a significant effect on our activities than flares because they carry more material into a larger volume of interplanetary space, increasing the likelihood that they will interact with the Earth. While a flare alone produces high-energy particles near the Sun, some of which escape into interplanetary space, a CME drives a shock wave which can continuously produce energetic particles as it propagates through interplanetary space. When a CME reaches the Earth, its impact disturbs the Earth’s magnetosphere, setting off a geomagnetic storm. A CME typically takes 3 to 5 days to reach the Earth after it leaves the Sun. Observing the ejection of CMEs from the Sun provides an early warning of geomagnetic storms. Only recently, with SOHO, has it been possible to continuously observe the emission of CMEs from the Sun and determine if they are aimed at the Earth.

One serious problem that can occur during a geomagnetic storm is damage to Earth-orbiting satellites, especially those in high, geosynchronous orbits. Communications satellites are generally in these high orbits. Either the satellite becomes highly charged during the storm, and a component is damaged by the high current that discharges into the satellite, or a component is damaged by high-energy particles that penetrate the satellite. We are not able to predict when and where a satellite in a high orbit may be damaged during a geomagnetic storm.

Another major problem that has occurred during geomagnetic storms has been the temporary loss of electrical power over a large region. The best known case of this occurred in 1989 in Quebec. High currents in the magnetosphere induce high currents in power lines, blowing out electric transformers and power stations. This is most likely to happen at high latitudes, where the induced currents are greatest, and in regions having long power lines and where the ground is poorly conducting.

The damage to satellites and power grids can be very expensive and disruptive. Fortunately, this kind of damage is not frequent. Geomagnetic storms are more disruptive now than in the past because of our greater dependence on technical systems that can be affected by electric currents and energetic particles high in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Wake the flock up!

Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It in for the Planet – Our World

Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It in for the Planet – Our World.

This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt, who is also the author of the brief introduction.

• ♦ •

Two Saturdays ago, I was walking with a friend in a park here in New York City. It was late January, but I was dressed in a light sweater and a thin fall jacket, which I had just taken off and tied around my waist. We were passing a strip of bare ground when suddenly we both did a double-take. He looked at me and said, “Crocuses!”  Dumbfounded, I replied, “Yes, I see them.”

And there they were, a few clumps of tell-tale green shoots poking up from the all-brown ground as if it were spring. Such a common, comforting sight, but it sent a chill through me that noticeably wasn’t in the air. Even the flowers, I thought, are confused by our new version of weather.

Later that same week, as temperatures in the Big Apple crested 60 degrees, I was chatting on the phone with a friend in Northampton, Massachusetts. I was telling him about the crocuses, when he suddenly said, “I’m looking out my window right now and for the first time in my memory of January, there’s not a trace of snow!”

Of course, our tales couldn’t be more minor or anecdotal, even if the temperatures that week did feel like we were on another planet. Here’s the thing, though: after a while, even anecdotes add up — maybe we should start calling them “extreme anecdotes” — and right now there are so many of them being recounted across the planet. How could there not be in a winter, now sometimes referred to as “Junuary,” in which, in the United States, 2,890 daily high temperature records have either been broken or tied at last count, with the numbers still rising?

Meanwhile, just to the south of us, in Mexico, extreme anecdotes abound, since parts of the country are experiencing “the worst drought on record”.  Even cacti are reportedly wilting and some towns are running out of water (as they are across the border in drought-stricken Texas). And worst of all, the Mexican drought is expected to intensify in the months to come.

And who can doubt that in Europe, experiencing an extreme cold spell the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades — even Rome had a rare snowfall and Venice’s canals were reported to be freezing over — there are another set of all-too-extreme anecdotes. After all, in places like Ukraine, scores of the homeless are freezing to death, pipes are bursting, power cuts are growing, and maybe even an instant energy crisis is underway (at a moment when the European Union is getting ready to cut itself off from Iranian oil).

That’s just to begin a list. And yet here’s the strange thing. At least in this country, you can read the “freaky” weather reports or listen to the breathless TV accounts of unexpected tornadoes striking the South in January and rarely catch a mention of the phrase “climate change”.  Given the circumstances, the relative silence on the subject is little short of eerie, even if worries about climate change lurk just below the surface. Which is why it’s good to have TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, take a clear-eyed look at American denialism and just what it is we prefer not to take in.

– Tom Engelhardt

• • 

The Great Carbon Bubble
Why the fossil fuel industry fights so hard

By Bill McKibben

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology. Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.

It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The US and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western US is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”

In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded US history”. Indeed, it followed in 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” The nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”

In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.

Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”

Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.

And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.

In ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of fossil fuel reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil.

Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.

If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.

Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).

If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead. To take just one example, last month the boss of the US Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.

The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions.

What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.

Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.

Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Sun’s pending magnetic flip has physicists on edge – Technology & Science – CBC News

Sun’s pending magnetic flip has physicists on edge – Technology & Science – CBC News.

soho-nov8-2013An image taken by NASA and ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory on Nov. 8 shows active areas near the sun’s equator as it approaches the peak of the current solar cycle. (ESA/NASA)

The Sun’s magnetic field will soon make a dramatic flip, which it does every 10 to 13 years, and scientists are keeping a close eye to see if that reverses the bizarre behaviour they’ve been seeing for the past decade.

Last week, the sun unleashed the biggest solar flare of the year, an X3.3 flare, which was followed with an only slightly less intense X1 flare from a Jupiter-sized sunspot.

X-class flares are the most powerful class of solar flares, and in late October the sun fired off four in the space of a week.

All indications suggest the sun is ramping up to the midpoint of its solar cycle — which is the peak moment at which it is expected to reverse its magnetic field.

‘We would feel happier if we saw the sun doing business as usual.’– Ken Tapping, National Research Council of Canada

The sun has been behaving particularly strangely since the last time its magnetic field flipped in 2003.

So solar physicists such as Ken Tapping at the National Research Council of Canada are watching carefully.

“As you can imagine, we’re concerned about what’s going to happen next,” said Tapping, who leads a team that monitors the sun’s magnetic activity using a radio telescope in Penticton, B.C.

“Obviously, we would feel happier if we saw the sun doing business as usual, rather than heading off into some territory where we basically are not sure we understand what’s going to happen.”

A ‘sphere’ of gas

The sun’s magnetic field is produced by the movement of hot gases as it rotates and as heat rises from the sun’s core to its surface.

Tapping says the magnetic field is what makes the sun appear like a solid sphere rather than a transparent ball of gas: “It changes the fuzzy blob into something that’s more like a block of rubber.”

sunspots-nov8-2013The sun unleashed an X1 solar flare from a Jupiter-sized sunspot on Nov. 8. (ESA/NASA)

The effects of this magnetic field extend far beyond the planets of the solar system to the edge of interstellar space.

The polarity of the sun’s magnetic field flips every 10 to 13 years, an average of 11 years, marking the peak and midpoint of each solar cycle. The most recent cylcle, Solar Cycle 24 started in 2008 and is now approaching its midpoint.

According to NASA, the next flip is expected by the end of the year.

Tapping says the event typically takes one to a few months, and can be observed via the strength of the magnetic field over the sun’s surface — something that the Penticton measurements help calculate.

The beginning of the flip is also marked by the appearance of sunspots at high solar latitudes that are “magnetically the other way round” compared to those at the sun’s equator, Tapping said.

Sunspots typically form close to the “poles” of the sun at the beginning of a solar cycle, and gradually move toward the equator over the course of the cycle. The cycles overlap so that sunspots from two cycles typically coexist for a period of time.

Temporary increase in solar flares

Tapping added that the flip will probably have little effect on us humans, other than temporarily increasing the chance of significant solar flares.

‘I think that will give us an indication of whether the sun will sit there smouldering or whether it’s going to come back to usual behaviour.’– Ken Tapping, National Research Council of Canada

Solar flares are eruptions of magnetic energy from the sun’s surface.

If they are directed toward Earth, they can interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, knocking out man-made satellites and power grids, affecting navigation equipment on airplanes, and interfering with other electronics and communications systems.

The potential damage to electronic infrastructure on and around Earth are one of the main reasons scientists keep such a close eye on the sun’s magnetic activity.

Around the solar cycle peak and magnetic flip of 2003, the midpoint of Solar Cycle 23, the sun blasted off 17 major eruptions over the space of three weeks, including a record-setting X28 flare.

The resulting geomagnetic storms generated blood-red auroras on Halloween and partially disabled half of NASA’s satellite fleet, permanently damaging some satellites.

The rise in powerful solar flares at the peak of a solar cycle are due to the increased complexity of the sun’s magnetic field as it prepares to flip.

Start of strange behaviour

While this year’s solar storms are far weaker than the ones in 2003, they are “a bigger surprise even as they do less damage,” NASA says, since they come at the peak of one of the weakest solar cycles in a century.

The 2003 magnetic flip marked the beginning of some unexpected behaviour. The relationship between two measurements of the sun’s magnetic activity that normally correspond — the magnetic field strength and sunspot counts — started to diverge.

The next solar cycle was supposed to start in 2008, but “things just sat,” Tapping said. “And then the next cycle was about two years late in starting.”

Since then, it has been a cycle of unusually low magnetic activity.

“When we see the flip and start to get an idea of how activity starts to build up for the next cycle,” Tapping said, “I think that will give us an indication of whether the sun will sit there smouldering or whether it’s going to come back to usual behaviour.”

He noted, however, that usual behaviour is relative term, since scientists have only been monitoring sunspots since the 1700s, and taking more comprehensive measurements of the 4.5-billion-year-old sun since the mid-20th century.

“In all probability,” Tapping added. “The sun has done this before.

 

US Naval Update: There’s A Party In The Middle-East And All The Sailors Are Invited | Zero Hedge

US Naval Update: There’s A Party In The Middle-East And All The Sailors Are Invited | Zero Hedge.

 

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