It seems like the world has turned upside down since the beginning of the year. I’m trying to make sense of it all, so I plan to spend a bit of time over the next few weeks discussing the big events; what may have led to them and what might be the outcome. First up….let’s talk about Libya.

When the West decided to intervene in Libya my first thought was, “Of course…Libya has oil”. After all, plenty of humanitarian crises are occurring in other parts of the world and yet they are left alone to sort their own problems out. Oil makes Libya a special case.

However, from politicians and talking heads on TV I was hearing that this was not about oil, because Libya only has about two per cent of the world’s oil production. They claim that they were going into Libya because they had learned their lesson in the 90′s and didn’t want another Kosovo on their hands. Two percent is supposedly nothing in the global oil supply….a mere blip, which the global economy could care less about.

And yet, Libya is a big deal. Why is it that a potential loss of only two per cent of the world’s oil production is cause for expending huge amounts of money launching air strikes against Col Gaddafi’s regime? (With warheads containing depleted uranium no less…. but that’s a whole other story)

When we look at the percentage of European oil imports that come from Libya, the story becomes a lot clearer. More than half a dozen European nations rely on Libyan oil for more than 10 per cent of their oil imports. This then is one obvious reason for the West’s intervention in Libya. Industrialised economies cannot afford to lose access to 10-23 per cent of their oil imports.

Source

But given the relatively small quantity of oil passing from Libya to North America, why is the US so heavily involved? Is it just a matter of the US helping out its NATO allies or is there more to this than meets the eye?

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of US Treasury provides some insight on the revolution in Libya in a recent interview. He states:

In my opinion, what this is about is to eliminate China from the Mediterranean.  China has extensive energy investments and construction investments in Libya.  They are looking to Africa as a future energy source.

The US is countering this by organizing the United States African Command (USAC), which Qaddafi refused to join.

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In my opinion, what is going on is comparable to what the US and Britain did to Japan in the 1930s. When they cut Japan off from oil, from rubber, from minerals like ore; that was the origin of World War II in the pacific. And now the Americans and the British are doing the same thing to China.

The geopolitics of oil is a very interesting subject and occurs very much outside of the spotlight of the mainstream media. It is my opinion that the great world powers are fully aware of the oil shortages upon our doorstep and are manoeuvering to control access to the remaining deposits of conventional oil. What concerns me is how this might play out. What we are now seeing in Libya could be the beginnings of the 21st century’s first great war.

The other interesting story surrounding Libyan oil is that Saudi Arabia pledged to raise production to offset the decline from Libya, and yet Saudi Arabian production remains flat. Could this be an indication that the kingdom actually no longer has the spare capacity to meet the global demand for oil? From the Daily Reckoning:

For better or worse, most of the “spare capacity” burden falls on Saudi Arabia. Saudi princes claim to be able to goose production from 9 million barrels a day to 12 at the drop of a hat.

Never mind that they’ve never done anything like that before, even when oil ran up from $25 to $147 a barrel between 2003-08. The official line – and, therefore, the oil market – still believes it’s true.

Bottom line: “Saudi Arabia can’t make the shortfall from Libyan supplies,” says commodities investing legend and Vancouver veteran Jim Rogers. “They’ve said in the past that they can increase production, but they can’t.”

To me, this is just one more indication that we are very close to, or past the peak in global oil production. If a loss of two per cent of the world’s oil supply cannot be made up by OPEC’s ‘swing producer’, and is cause for military posturing, then surely we are in a desperate place indeed.

What we hear from the media is that this latest run up in prices at the fuel pump is simply a result of speculators and freaked out investors, coupled with typical Easter long weekend price hikes. What they are missing is that the end of cheap oil is here. We have now entered a world of highly volatile liquid fuel prices, and just about anything could happen. Oil production can no longer keep pace with demand and desperate times call for desperate measures. Hold onto your hats, we could be in for a wild ride.

Reverse Culture Shock

Posted: April 19, 2011 by Mia in Culture, Travel

It’s been a long time since I posted on this here blog, but it’s now time to get back into it.

I’ve now relocated and settled back in to Canberra, Australia after a wonderful three years living and working in Southern California. I’ll be honest and say that I did suffer quite a bit of reverse culture shock; the feeling that I no longer fit into my home country. We had been warned by fellow ex-pats to be prepared to experience reverse culture shock, but I guess you can’t fully prepare for how it really might feel.

Nobody Cares About Your Travels

OK…maybe I’m being a little harsh to say that nobody cares, but my experience is that most people will listen superficially for only a short time before losing interest. At first this was hard, but now we just keep our experiences to ourselves unless someone specifically asks. One of my saviours has been talking to people who have also been ex-pats. They understand what it feels like to return ‘home’ and are actually interested in the experiences we had overseas.

Normality Hits Hard

For the first couple of weeks back in Australia we were excited to see family and friends, eat all our favourite foods, sit in our favourite cafes and see kangaroos again. However after about two weeks the ‘normality’ of Australia began to hit us hard. When we moved to America, everyday tasks were interesting (although sometimes extremely frustrating) simply because they were different. Even though some things had changed in the three years we were away, Australian supermarkets still stocked all the same foods, the cars on the road were still familiar and the Aussie slang which was a shock when we arrived home began to sink back in. 

People Just Don’t Understand Us

Most noticeably, we came home with many new opinions about things. Our minds had been opened while away and we came back seeing Australia and the world in general, in a totally different way. Unfortunately for us, people back here still think the same way they always have, so we have had a difficult time trying to find common ground. For the last few months we have felt very isolated because we couldn’t fit our new beliefs and knowledge into our old lives. However we are now starting to find ways to mesh the two together and are starting to feel more comfortable.

It’s only in the last couple of weeks that I have started feeling comfortable with my life back in Australia. Our house is mostly unpacked, we have caught up with all of our immediate family members, I have settled into my new job and actually think I know what’s going on and have received a couple of exciting opportunities which I’ll tell you more about soon.

Despite the uncomfortable transition, it’s good to be home.

Image by: Garry

Fire Alarms

Posted: December 19, 2010 by Mia in Big Picture, Preparedness

Brendan and I are well trained to respond to fire alarms. I won’t speak for Brendan, but my experience started in earnest during my four years at University. I shared a building with 47 other people, and my building was directly adjacent to many others just like it. During exam time, we inevitably had people up at all hours studying and making toast….or rather burning toast. This resulted in spending many hours in the parking lot wrapped in a doona (comforter) and waiting for the fire department to arrive and declare the building safe.

Years later, Brendan and I were backpacking through Tasmania, Australia and one night our Devonport Hostel caught on fire. We evacuated, waited a few hours until the fire was contained and then slept in a room reeking of smoke. Obviously we moved on the next morning, but a few days later we saw in the news that the same hostel had caught fire again and this time, people had died.

A few nights ago in Sarlat, France we were awoken at 1am to a shrieking fire alarm. We quickly got up, dressed, grabbed our essential belongings and headed out into the street. One other hotel guest was outside in the freezing cold with us. No fire department turned up. No hotel manager. Just us…and one other guy. After about ten minutes the alarm switched off, we all looked at each other, shrugged shoulders and went back to bed.

We’ve learnt from experience that although 99% of fire alarms are nothing to worry about, every now and then, responding appropriately could save your life. This evening, after a decent sized carafe of good French ‘vin blanc’ I’m being a little introspective. I realise that I approach life the same way I approach fire alarms. If I see warning signs I respond, even if it means that 99% of the time it was for nothing. Surviving that 1% is the key.

Photo by: L.C. Nottaasen

Paris, France

Posted: December 13, 2010 by Mia in Travel

I’m currently in Paris, France. It’s cold, but at least it isn’t snowing. We’ve been enjoying beautiful blue skies and gorgeous soft winter light; just perfect for photos.

It’s been 13 years since I was last here, although I can’t honestly remember the city much from that trip. Back then I was a student on a very tight budget and the Aussie dollar was terrible. I remember eating a lot of McDonalds that trip. This time, the Aussie dollar is good and it’s croissants, crepes and plenty of good coffee.

The city is not as crowded as I remember. Perhaps the weather is keeping people away or everyone’s too broke to travel. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more used to big cities and I try to avoid the tourist traps as much as possible. Either way, it’s been really quite pleasant. After being constantly disappointed by American cities (with a few exceptions), it’s nice to re-discover a city with a long and interesting history, beautiful architecture, a great sense of fashion and fabulous food on every block.

Paris also feels very safe. We were out until nearly midnight last night (darn jetlag!) and even though it was a Sunday night, there were plenty of people in sidewalk cafes or out strolling the cobblestone streets.

The transportation here is also a far cry from American or Australian city transportation. The metro is fast, efficient and extremely extensive. Wherever we found ourselves in the city these last few days, we never seemed to be more than a few blocks from a metro station. The stations themselves are clean and the trains come through every few minutes like clockwork. I can see why the metro strikes would completely disrupt the ability of the city to function.

There is also very little parking space, so the personal vehicles are mostly very small cars (think smart cars) or scooters. They zip around very handily and fit into the tiniest spaces. It’s a world apart from the monster trucks and equivalent parking spaces we’ve been used to in California. They also have this fantastic new Vélib’ bike rental system with stations scattered all over the city. Although we like cycling I honestly couldn’t see myself weaving in and out of traffic like the locals do. You’d need nerves of steel to try it!

Tomorrow we start our three week journey through France and Italy. Although I’ve enjoyed la cite, I’m looking forward to visiting the countryside and some of France’s smaller towns.

USA: So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Posted: December 10, 2010 by Mia in Culture, Travel

Tomorrow we get on a plane and leave the USA. For the last few weeks we’ve alternated between frantically finalising our life here and reminiscing about our favourite and least-favourite experiences here. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling leaving a country that has been home for three years. We are excited about ‘going home’ to the culture we grew up in, to see family and friends and to eat all those foods we’ve been missing. But we are also sad to leave new friends and a country that has opened our eyes and broadened our horizons.

I don’t think the fact that we are leaving for good it has fully hit us yet. As with moving over here from Australia in 2007, I expect we’ll experience some level of reverse culture shock once we get home. There are a lot of differences between these cultures and I expect I’ve become rather accustomed to the US way of doing things. Returning to Australia will no doubt highlight those differences more than I can remember at the moment.

Anyway, we are returning to Australia via ‘the long way round’ (i.e. via Europe). I hope we don’t experience too many delays with the crazy snow storms or protests against Europe’s austerity programs. If we do, I guess we’ll have stories to tell. That is the joy of travelling.

I hope to update this blog with some of my travel tales along the way, but until then I’ll leave you with a photo of Zoe dog enjoying her morning walk before she left the US last week. She’s now residing in Australian quarantine until we get home.

On the day after Thanksgiving each year, Americans partake in a strange pastime where they line up for hours (or even days) in order to be one of the first to rush into a store and snap up all the supposed bargains on offer. I have a very hard time understanding the allure of this type of madness, but then I’m not much of a consumer. In America land, consumerism is a national sport and Black Friday is the equivalent of the Super Bowl. This is one aspect of the American culture that I will not miss at all.

The following video offers a glimpse of the frenzy. Someone likened the scene to what you would see in starving, third world nations when the food convoy arrives. I’d advise you to turn down the volume before you watch this clip. For some reason it’s pretty loud.