Climate & Energy

Portrait of an oil-addicted former superpower

How rising oil prices are obliterating America’s superpower status

The following was originally published on Tom's Dispatch, which has graciously permitted us to use it here. ----- Nineteen years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall effectively eliminated the Soviet Union as the world's other superpower. Yes, the USSR as a political entity stumbled on for another two years, but it was clearly an ex-superpower from the moment it lost control over its satellites in Eastern Europe. Less than a month ago, the United States similarly lost its claim to superpower status when a barrel crude oil roared past $110 on the international market, gasoline prices crossed the $3.50 threshold at American pumps, and diesel fuel topped $4.00. As was true of the USSR following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. will no doubt continue to stumble on like the superpower it once was; but as the nation's economy continues to be eviscerated to pay for its daily oil fix, it, too, will be seen by increasing numbers of savvy observers as an ex-superpower-in-the-making. That the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the erasure of the Soviet Union's superpower status was obvious to international observers at the time. After all, the USSR visibly ceased to exercise dominion over an empire (and an associated military-industrial complex) encompassing nearly half of Europe and much of Central Asia. The relationship between rising oil prices and the obliteration of America's superpower status is, however, hardly as self-evident. So let's consider the connection. Dry hole superpower The fact is, America's wealth and power has long rested on the abundance of cheap petroleum. The United States was, for a long time, the world's leading producer of oil, supplying its own needs while generating a healthy surplus for export.

Notable quotable

“Are there negatives associated? Sure. But 50,000 people die per year in our highway system, and you don’t think about that when you get into your car. And you shouldn’t.” – Fred Palmer, senior vice president for governmental affairs at Peabody Energy (formerly Peabody Coal), responding to a question about air and water pollution from coal

Cause of death: apathy

Lieberman-Warner moved from critical condition to the morgue

The fading hopes for the Lieberman-Warner climate bill have all but ended (see E&E News, "Sponsors lower expectations for Lieberman-Warner bill," $ub. req'd, reprinted below). Serious climate legislation had been in critical condition for some months (see "Boucher lets conservatives block House climate bill" and "Don't hold your breath on Lieberman-Warner passing in 2008."). Doctors and family members finally pulled the plug this week, and the patient appeared to lose all vital signs. The coroner listed "apathy" as the cause of death. The only hope for revival now rests in the faint possibility that Lieberman-Warner turns out to be either an immortal cop, a vampire private detective, or possibly a relentless, indestructible killing machine from the future that had taken on the guise of so-so climate legislation in an effort to fulfill its mission of ruining life on this planet for Homo "sapiens." (Note to self: That was a bit harsh.) More seriously, too many senators simply wanted to do too much watering down of L-W, plus we have the little-known provision of the Constitution that says all pieces of legislation aimed at sparing billions of people from unimaginable misery must receive 60 votes. The messy details are below:

A national environmental policy?

New paper demands consideration of global warming in federal policy decisions

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Kari Manlove, fellows assistant at the Center for American Progress. ----- The fact that our country has a National Environmental Policy Act means we should have a national environmental policy, and any national environmental policy is bound to take into consideration global warming, right? Wrong on two counts. The U.S. is sorely lacking an updated environmental policy. It's been over a decade and counting. With the EPA as example, and based on its condition as of late (see here and here), the climate's looking grim. As for a cohesive national policy that takes into account global warming's causes and impacts? Think again. States have been infinitely more active than our federal government (and we thank them).

On the Ball: Balls, balls, and more balls

Give this roundup a sporting chance

Ado, ado, ado. It’s been a while since our last sports roundup, so with no further ado: Baseball: Major League Baseball was all about Earth Day. The Seattle Mariners hosted the league’s first carbon-neutral game, while the uniforms of the Boston Red Sox displayed a pair of red socks in a green recycling logo. (Reaction from Grist Prez — and Sox fan — Chip Giller: “This is butt ugly! And what does the recycling sign have to do with energy issues?”) Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies have bought 20 million kilowatt-hours of renewable-energy certificates. The L.A. Dodgers have unveiled a new …

Five bucks a gallon?

Goldman says oil ‘likely’ to hit $150-$200 by 2010

Goldman Sachs' Arjun N. Murti said this in a May 5 report: The possibility of $150-$200 per barrel seems increasingly likely over the next 6-24 months, though predicting the ultimate peak in oil prices as well as the remaining duration of the upcycle remains a major uncertainty. That would mean gasoline prices of $5 to $6 a gallon. Unless, of course, we permanently suspend the gasoline tax, in which case gasoline prices would only be $5 to $6 a gallon. Why should we listen to Murti? Well, back in 2005, when prices averaged under $60 a barrel, he was one of the few Wall Street analysts who predicted oil could soon hit $105 a barrel -- or higher if we don't take the right actions quickly:

Straight as a circle

Big Oil’s crooked talk on profits

Has the oil industry borrowed the (laughable) tagline of presidential candidate John McCain? As Fox Business reported last Friday: The American Petroleum Institute took out a full-page ad in USA Today, and other major media were tapped this week to provide "straight talk on earnings." The earnings that need "straight talk": ExxonMobil's $11 billion quarterly profit, and Chevron's $5.2 billion quarterly profit. (Note to Big Oil: When Fox doesn't give your spin favorable coverage, you've definitely become the Britney Spears of industries.)

Big Oil will shell out for groundwater cleanup

Some of the nation’s largest oil companies will over the next 30 years have to pay to clean up groundwater befouled with gasoline additive MTBE. In settling a suit brought by 153 public water providers in 17 states, a dozen companies — including BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron — will also have to pay a total $423 million cash. If approved, the settlement will be “a step in the direction of making the parties responsible for the contamination pay for it rather than the folks who drink the water and pay the rates,” says an attorney for the plaintiffs. Well, …

Coal moratorium now!

Preventing dirty coal plants is the most urgent climate policy

A livable climate can (probably) survive the burning of almost all of the world's conventional oil and gas -- but not if we also burn even half the coal (see here [PDF] and figure below). So the top priority for any climate policy must be to stop the building of traditional coal plants -- which is why that has become the top priority of NASA's James Hansen (see here). The next priority is to replace existing coal plants with carbon-free power, which could include coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS), as fast as possible. And that means a related priority is to encourage the introduction of CCS as quickly as possible, to see if that is a viable large-scale solution. A climate policy that does not start by achieving at least the first goal, a moratorium on coal without CCS, must be labeled a failure. By that measure, the cap-and-trade system currently being employed by the Europeans looks to be a failure, as we'll see.

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