Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Demining needed in Iraq, oil giants say

UPI reports today:
MOSCOW, March 29 (UPI) -- Gazprom Neft leads a consortium of investors in Iraq calling on the government to clear mines from the Badra oil field near the Iranian border.

Iraqi authorities report there are more than 27 million pieces of unexploded ordnance in Iraq from the war with Iran in the 1980s. The largest number of mine fields is near Badra in Wasit province.

Gazprom Neft said demining of the region was required to retrieve oil in the border region, Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.

Reserves near Badra are estimated at around 2 billion barrels of oil and the project should cost around $2 billion, the report added.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thinking about a Chinese Crash

It seems worth referencing this discussion of Citigroup's Chief Economist Willem Buiter's opinions about a possible Chinese bubble.
Although we still seem to be in the early stages of an asset boom, bubble and bust sequence in the property and land markets, and perhaps just in the recovery stage for the stock market, it is nevertheless likely in our view that China will experience such a sequence, starting in the residential real estate market. From there it is likely to spread to the commercial real estate sector and to the stock market also. Predicting the timing of the bubble phase (when asset price movements decouple completely from fundamentals) and of the bursting of the bubble (when the fundamentals exact their revenge) is not a science – probably not even an art, but more something akin to witchcraft. Our best guess is that a significant bubble may still be one or two years away, and the bust probably at least three years.
That sounds possible - usually, whenever talk about a bubble starts amongst a minority, it's at least a few years before the top (eg consider Alan Greenspan's famous "Irrational Exuberance" comment in Dec 1996, at least three years before the tech bubble burst).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

China's Red Flags

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Net Energy of Pre-Industrial Agriculture

Following on from yesterday's discussion, I want to make a point that seems like it must have been made before, but I cannot quickly find a good discussion of it.  That is that the net energy of pre-industrial agriculture, taken as a whole energy-gathering system, must have been low, with EROEI probably on the order of 1.1-1.6 depending on place and time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Archdruids and Net Energy

This week's Archdruid Essay is an improvement on the ones I discussed last week, but although he's retreated a little onto higher and more defensible ground, I still think his position has some poorly defended salients that he should abandon.  In particular, I think he's still too hung up on energy concentration, and is still trying to argue that there's something physically difficult or impossible about transitioning to a renewable powered civilization.  In my view, there's nothing physically impossible about that (though I'm perfectly willing to concede that the total cultural inertia of western civilization is enormous and that worries me a lot).  The Archdruid makes two main arguments in his post, and in this post I'm going to take on the first of them (hopefully coming back to the other at some point in the future when time and interest allows).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I'm pretty interested in this general question of agricultural residue management for carbon capture.  As far as I'm able to determine there are three possibilities of varying degrees of "greenness":
  • Turn the residues into cellulosic ethanol
  • Biochar (briefly mentioned the other day)
  • Turn the residues into building materials
The most famous possibility amongst the last is straw bale construction, but I wanted to briefly mention another version of this which strikes me as having more potential to scale industrially - there's a company called Agriboard in Texas that turns straw into a kind of Structural Insulated Panel used for green buildings.  There's a company in England, Stramit, that's been around a lot longer and does something similar.

At the moment, there's an interesting series on the first house in California being built with Agriboard by the architect, Michael Cobb (from which the picture at right is drawn).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Limits on the Thermodynamic Potential of Archdruids

I often read John Michael Greer, the Archdruid. He's a smart and thoughtful guy who worries about some of the same things I worry about, though he tends to have decided they are all hopeless, whereas I tend to see society as having a lot more options than he perceives.  He has read very widely and often comes up with interesting historical analogies that hadn't occurred to me, so he's well worth the spot in my reader.

Where he tends to go horribly wrong, and why I think his overall take on the subject is too negative, is when he tries to talk about physics. In a recent series of three posts:
He has been trying to argue that there are fundamental physical barriers to society surviving the transition away from fossil fuels, and getting horribly snarled up.

Now, I am not a working physicist, but I may well be the nearest thing that will admit to reading the Archdruid - I trained in Physics, have a PhD in the subject, and then went into Computer Science.  But the points at issue are pretty elementary here, so let me try to straighten the Archdruid out, and at least place something in the record for anyone that might be confused by his arguments.

In short, there are no fundamental physical barriers to a non-fossil-fuel based economy - the main problems are social, economic, and practical, not issues of physical law.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How to Demonstrate the Value of Climate

All you get this morning are some inconclusive musings.

My gut feel is that people care quite a bit about local climate, and in particular that at least some people have at times relocated based on climate.  Whether it's people living in New York leaving for Florida or California, or the British retiring to Spain and France, it's clear that people move for this reason.

It's likely that this has an effect on house prices, and my guess is that the size of the effect is not trivial and could potentially be used to measure how much people care about an equable climate.  However, it's obviously not straightforward at all to disentangle the effect from all the other effects on house prices - strength of the local economy, qualities of the housing stock, zoning restrictions preventing easy expansion of the housing market, etc, etc.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Scalability of Biochar

Visualization of approximate amount of wood that would have to be charred and buried annually to offset carbon emissions of one United States resident.  (Picture credit)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Iraqi Elections

Pretty dramatic stuff.  The NYT:
BAGHDAD — Defying a sustained barrage of mortars and rockets in Baghdad and other cities, Iraqis went to the polls in strength on Sunday to choose a new Parliament meant to outlast the American military presence here.

“Iraqis are not afraid of bombs anymore,” said Maliq Bedawi, 45, defiantly waving his finger, stained with purple ink, to indicate he had voted, as he stood near the rubble of an apartment building in Baghdad hit by a huge rocket in the deadliest attack of the day.

Insurgents here vowed to disrupt the election, and the concerted wave of attacks — as many as 100 thunderous blasts in the capital alone starting just before the polls opened — did frighten voters away, but only initially.

The shrugging response of voters could signal a fundamental weakening of the insurgency’s potency. At least 38 people were killed in Baghdad. But by day’s end, turnout was higher than expected, and certainly higher than in the last parliamentary election in 2005, marred by a similar level of violence.
After the polls closed at 5 p.m., party leaders said two coalitions seemed to have fared best: the one led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who has campaigned for a second time on improved security in Iraq, and another led by the former interim leader, Ayad Allawi, who has promised to overcome Iraq’s sectarian divides.

As expected, neither coalition appeared to have secured an outright majority in the new 325-member Parliament, and so it was unclear whether Mr. Maliki had succeeded in winning another four years in office.

That sets the stage for a period of turmoil — months, not weeks, politicians here predict — as the winning coalition tries to cobble together enough votes to elect a prime minister.
Should be an interesting process to watch...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Weather Worms

This evening, I was going through the citations of my (and collaborators') 2004 paper The Top Speed of Flash Worms which pointed out that there were designs for Internet worms that could infect almost all vulnerable computers in a second or two, depending on your exact assumptions.  This is something that seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but hadn't been noticed before, or at least not in public.

I was going through the citations kind of generally looking for interesting updates on what else you could do as a result of being able to do that.  There were a number of somewhat interesting papers of the "Here's how to go even faster" variety, but one crazy-ass paper by Szabo et al at the University of Calgary caught my attention with the concept of a "Weather Worm":
We introduce the idea of weather worms, worms that can automat-
ically identify abnormal events and their location, and target computers
at that physical location. Such worms could be used to take advantage
of poorly-defended computers in a disaster zone, and could even amplify
the effects of a physical terrorist attack.
They then spend 14 or 15 pages examining the engineering challenges of building such a computer worm that would sit around not doing much except reading online news sites until it automatically identified that a disastrous event was occurring, then figured out where the event was happening physically, mapped that to a set of Internet addresses, and then headed over to pile onto the unlucky victims of the disaster by infecting their computers too.

I must admit that I'm not really quite sure what the motivation would be for the author of such a worm - general nihilism presumably, but then that might be better served by just attacking everywhere at once right away, and not just the unlucky denizens of future iterations of New Orleans.

Still, if anyone were ever motivated to write and release this kind of thing, I guess the fact that ongoing climate change means that extreme snowstorms, droughts, floods, category five hurricanes, etc, will all get more common will give the weather worms plenty to do.

The Just-In-Time Economy

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hacking the Power Grid

This is old hat in the computer security community, but I thought many of the readers of this blog might appreciate it. The really cool part starts at about 1:20 where they show video of an official government experiment in which they physically destroyed a 27 ton diesel generator just by hacking the network control interface.

Hacking and physically damaging a material fraction of the power grid would, I think, be pretty much the end of civilized life in the target country for a long time.  It's not easy to do - it requires a lot of specialized knowledge and skills - but it almost certainly is possible and there are specialized offensive cyber-attack units in various countries that are tasked with knowing how to do this kind of stuff (there have been persistent rumors that the Chinese were involved in the North East power grid outage of 2003, but it's never been confirmed and might well be speculation).

February Male Employment

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Haradh Well Count

In a rare treat today, JoulesBurn has a new post up at Satellite o'er the Desert in which he makes a pretty persuasive case that Saudi Aramco has drilled an additional 20 or so wells over the total they originally planned in Haradh III (the southernmost tip of Ghawar, the world's largest oilfield).  This suggests they might have been having some production challenges there which had to be addressed with additional drilling.

Not a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, but Joule's pieces are always delightful treats of careful detective work.

Chinese Leverage vs US Leverage

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Iraqi Oil: Thamir al-Ghadhban Interview

Ruba Husari at Iraq Oil Forum emails to point out that she has a new interview up with Thamir al-Ghadhban, former Iraqi Minister of Oil and Chairman of the Advisory Commission at the Prime Minister’s office. Indeed, it's a completely fascinating read for those following the Al-Shahristani plan, and its likely impact on peak oil timing.  The most significant news to me was that the signature bonuses from the new contracts went to fund a 20% budget deficit and not to help pay for the major new infrastructure the government needs to develop in order to export all the oil the IOCs have committed to produce.  I guess Iraqi budget deficits in the next few years are a risk factor to this plan that I need to understand better.

Definitely read the whole thing, but here are some of the best bits (according to me):

Monday, March 1, 2010

The US in a High Emissions Scenario

Number of days annually over 100oF in the recent past, and under high emissions in 2080-2099 according to p90 of Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States