Month: May 2010

Thoughts from the Energy Forum

Last week I went to DC to attend an Energy Forum. I was very excited to go, to hopefully meet some contacts and talk with like-minded people. My experience was….interesting.

I think I expected too much. I figured people would have a clue about why we were all really there. Unfortunately most people in attendance were fairly clueless about the realities of our energy situation. To be fair, they were probably there to learn something, but mostly they were attending because their organisation has mandated energy reductions and they wanted to learn about ways to do that. Industry was there with a variety of ‘ways to fix it’, but really I got a sense that they were getting on board because renewable energy was the ‘next big thing’. They were there to make money, not to build a more resilient future. I don’t know why I am surprised.

Only one speaker mentioned Peak Oil, but he obviously completely misunderstands what Peak Oil really means. He got it so wrong. I’m not exactly sure where he was getting his information but he couldn’t even explain the concept of Peak Oil correctly, let alone discuss the risks in a meaningful way. He basically dismissed the idea that there was anything to worry about. I was frustrated that this was the information attendees were receiving. I broached this with a few people during the break and most people I spoke to thought he didn’t know what he was talking about, so perhaps there were more people aware of what’s really going on.

Thankfully, at the end of the second day, one of the speakers hit the nail on the head. He basically said that while it was great that people were implementing energy efficiency programs and renewable energy projects, no-one was really addressing the real risks. He was fairly blunt and provocative which was great.

I guess what surprised me the most is that I now feel like I know more about this stuff than even so-called ‘experts’. It’s good that I’m at a point where I feel confident in the knowledge I have, but now it feels somewhat lonely with not many people to really talk to about all this stuff. Thanks goodness for you all in blogland!!

I’ve come away with pages and pages of notes and some good contacts though. It was certainly a worthwhile experience, but I now have to battle with this feeling that  anything I do to change the system is pointless. I had a few drinks with people on Friday night who asked why I was in DC. I explained that I was there to attend an energy forum and gave them my ‘elevator speech’ about why we need to reduce our energy dependence. You know what they said? “So you’re a greenie now?” Grrrrr!!! People are clueless. They don’t even want to listen. Our civilisation is not going to change in time.

It’s time to start building lifeboats.

Photo by: Abrilon

Where in the World? Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver is a lovely city on the West Coast of Canada. We visited in the spring of 2008. In a number of ways it reminds me a little of San Franciso with lots of lovely parks, a large bridge over the bay and plenty of water surrounding the city. It’s also one of the ‘greener’ cities we’ve visited with plenty of hybrid taxis, electric buses and bike lanes.

Check out more photos from my travels

The Gulf Deepwater Oil Spill

I haven’t written about it until now, becuase it’s been too horrible to think about. I still have no words to articulate how I feel about this massive disaster.

The news out of the Gulf continues to range from grim to grimmer. Recently, it was revealed that the spill has created an undersea plume of oil ten miles long, and that some of the oil has already entered the loop current and is being carried toward Florida. Then the federal government doubled the area of the Gulf that had been closed to fishing. On Friday, the government increased that area again, to forty-eight thousand square miles. President Barack Obama has called the spill a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,” a characterization that, if anything, probably understates the case. ~ The New Yorker

I think the pictures say it all.

Here is the feed showing oil gushing from the bottom of the ocean:

http://mfile.akamai.com/97892/live/reflector:46245.asx?bkup=46260

But the following should be an even clearer conclusion from all that has happened, and that is still unfolding: This is what the end of the oil age looks like. The cheap, easy petroleum is gone; from now on, we will pay steadily more and more for what we put in our gas tanks—more not just in dollars, but in lives and health, in a failed foreign policy that spawns foreign wars and military occupations, and in the lost integrity of the biological systems that sustain life on this planet.

The only solution is to do proactively, and sooner, what we will end up doing anyway as a result of resource depletion and economic, environmental, and military ruin: end our dependence on the stuff. Everybody knows we must do this. Even a recent American president (an oil man, it should be noted) admitted that “America is addicted to oil.” Will we let this addiction destroy us, or will we overcome it? Good intentions are not enough. Now is the moment for the President, other elected officials at all levels of government, and ordinary citizens to make this our central priority as a nation. We have hard choices to make, and an enormous amount of work to do. ~ Post Carbon Institute

Aussie Lender to Create Debt Slaves for Life!

Now I think I’ve seen it all! Check out this story of economic insanity from the Sunday Telegraph – Revealed: The home loan that could save you a fortune.

ING Direct, Australia’s fifth largest lender, is preparing to sell loans that have no fixed term and no requirement to repay any capital along the way.

At current rates, the interest-only loans would cut repayments on a $300,000 mortgage by $5000 a year.

“People are needlessly being denied the chance to buy a property while prices spiral rapidly out of their reach” ING Direct CEO Don Koch said. “There is an urgent need to provide more affordable options and borrowers should be able to choose whether they want to repay the capital, or not.”

Mr Koch wants to position the bank as a “mortgage partner for life”, with borrowers carrying the same interest-only loan from property to property for as long as they wish, accumulating equity from rising house prices as they go.

Then, as they near retirement, they could sell their property for a big enough profit to pay off the original loan and buy a smaller place outright, leaving them mortgage-free. Or, they could keep the mortgage going and repay the original capital from their estate, after death.

Banks already offer interest-only loans, but borrowers often are allowed to keep them only for five to 10 years. Then they must start paying the capital.

But ING says this preoccupation with paying off the loan is unnecessary.

“There is no economic reason for banks to insist on regular capital repayment,” Mr Koch said. “It just makes the loan more expensive for the borrower.

Financial comparison website InfoChoice CEO Shaun Cornelius said the move was a welcome innovation: “Depending on the size of the loan, it could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to a borrower’s cash flow over their lifetime.”

Is it really home ownership if you don’t actually own anything? No one ‘saves’ anything by not paying down mortgages, the money is simply spent (most likely wasted) elsewhere. Moreover, home prices do not perpetually go up.

This type of loan is just opening up a whole can of worms in Australia. Just because we didn’t have a subprime mortgage crisis of our very own, it doesn’t mean we need to create one.

The more I see these type of crazy schemes happening, the more I fear that collapse of the global economy is an inevitability!

Read more from Mish and the The Daily Reckoning-Australia.

Photo by: ~ Pil ~

Independence Days: We are moving back to Australia in 2011

It’s been a busy month as you can probably tell by my sporadic posting lately. The good news is that I think I’m over the worst of it.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this month completing an application and preparing for an interview for a new job next year. The good news is….I got the job! We’ll be moving back to Canberra, Australia in early 2011. Prior to learning about this job opportunity, I was really struggling to feel motivated about going back to work in Australia. My mindset has totally changed in the 2 1/2 years since I left and I couldn’t imagine what work I would find stimulating, challenging and rewarding. I think this job might just work out for me. It’s in a new program created recently to undertake reform in my organisation. Everything about the way we do business is open to change and I’ll be a part of the team making that happen.

I have also been working on a paper for the last couple of months which I hope will convince senior management that we need to prepare for a future where energy is scarce and expensive. My new job will be inside the program that will consider such things. I hope that will get me some leverage to make the required changes. I guess only time will tell.

Anyway, I now feel a little more settled knowing what I’ll be doing next year. Now we can just enjoy our last seven months here in the USA.

Now that life is getting back to normal, I want to start refocussing on my  plan for Self Sufficiency and Independence.

Preparedness

  • My goal of getting back in shape was unfortunately put on the back-burner these last few months. Time to make it a high priority again. I do not want to come back to Australia with all those extra pounds gained in America.

Getting off the economic grid

  • When we get back to Australia, we are going to have to set our lives back up. That means furniture and white-goods for the house, and a car purchase. This is a great opportunity for us to set ourselves up for more self-sufficient and sustainable living. We’ll be researching low-energy appliances and a fuel efficient vehicle. At the moment I’m leaning towards a diesel car, but I’m also thinking about something that runs on natural gas since Australia has a lot of that. Time to start saving our fiat currency so we can purchase everything with cash.

Grow some food

  • We’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden clearing weeds which have grown like crazy in the warm spring days.
  • We’ve also cleared out most of the winter garden (except for some things we are letting go to seed).
  • I’ve started a few tomato plants already, but we’ll need to start thinking about the rest of the summer garden soon.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • I must get back into riding to work. I’ve been really slack recently and have got into the bad habit of taking the car.

Plan to own some productive land

  • Housing prices are still high in Australia and we continue to watch and wait for the correction. There are more signs that China’s bubble is popping which is likely to translate to economic pain in Australia. I’ve also been reading some articles indicating that a high percentage of ‘first home buyers’ are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments due to the rapidly rising interest rates. Who knows how much longer this bubble can inflate.
  • While we wait for prices to become more realistic, we will be renting. Unfortunately Canberra rents are painfully high. I just hope we can find something reasonable, close to the city which will allow Zoe dog to live with us.

Photo by: Sam llic

    The Perfect Storm: Six Trends Converging on Collapse

    I have an uneasy feeling lately. Everywhere I look I see signs that all is not well. Of course, I’ve been seeing those signs for a couple of years, but things seem to be speeding up and now more and more people appear to be noticing. What interesting times we live in.

    There are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. They are the clouds of six hugely troubling global trends, climate change being just one of the six. Individually, each of these trends is a potential civilization buster. Collectively, they are converging to form the perfect storm–a storm of such magnitude that it will dwarf anything that mankind has ever seen. If we are unsuccessful in our attempts to calm this storm, without a doubt it will destroy life as we know it on Planet Earth!

    There is a popular saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” If we keep doing business in the same way as we have for the past century, each of these six trends will continue their steep rates of decline, collapsing the natural systems that form the foundation for our civilization and the lifeblood of the global economy. Perhaps the current Gulf oil spill is the wake up call that mankind needs to snap us out of our complacency, realize that we are soiling our nest and that continuation of “business as usual” will destroy the world as we know it? Time will tell whether we heed this warning, go back sleep once the oil spill is contained, or simply tire of the endless media coverage, numb ourselves, and set these critical issues to the side.

    We already have the technology and the means to turn this dark tide, but we lack the commitment to make the hard choices and sweeping changes that are necessary for shifting the future of our world from its current course of collapse to a new course of sustainability.

    The following six trends are converging to form the perfect storm for global destruction, each of which is a potential civilization buster in its own right, if left unchecked:

    1. Climate Change

    2. Peak Oil

    3. Collapse of the World’s Oceans

    4. Deforestation

    5. The Global Food Crisis

    6. Over Population

    Read more from Matthew Stein

    Photo by: Madeira

    Our Garden in Spring

    This year we’ve left our cool season garden in longer than we really needed. We wanted to watch everything go to seed; to see our garden’s entire life cycle. I’m glad we did. I’m amazed how beautiful our vegetable plants are at this time of the year. I’m sad just thinking that this is our last spring here. I’m going to miss our garden.

    Chives

    Onion

    Garlic – Beets behind

    Leek

    Apples

    Collards

    Where in the World? California Poppies, California, USA

    I’ve finally gotten around to uploading some photos from our trip last month to the California Poppy Fields. We headed off with not much of a plan other than to go in search of wildflowers. We’ve had quite a lot of rain this year, and the desert has bloomed like I’ve never seen before. Stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it. Fields upon fields of fluorescent orange poppies. Pictures can’t do it justice.

    The Stock Market … What Has Become of it?

    James Howard Kunstler put out a particularly good essay this week. Honestly, I sit and watch the global financial markets with utter fascination these days. It is just one giant casino. There is nothing real about any of it anymore. It’s so horrific to watch, I just have to laugh. Does everyone else see this, or do they just want to believe in the recovery?  Thanks goodness I sold all my stocks some time ago. I wouldn’t be in the market these days if you paid me.

    As if life in the USA wasn’t surreal enough last week. Once upon a time, the stock market was a place where people with capital went to look for productive activity to invest in — say, a company devoted to making soap flakes, an underpants factory. Now the market is a robot combat arena where algorithms battle for supremacy of the feedback loops.  Thursday’s still-baffling fifteen-minute “crash” was an excellent demonstration of the diminishing returns of technology. People too-clever-by-half, aided greatly by computers, have now gamed the investment indexes so successfully that these markets no longer have anything to do with investment — they’re just about shaving micro-points of profit at high volumes by micro-milliseconds off mere differentials in… math! This is truly quant heaven, a place where only numbers matter and there is no correspondence to anything in the real world. …

    These algo-robots may be elegantly complex, but they are really no more than triggering mechanisms, and Thursday’s — whatever it was — glitch, let’s say, ought to be regarded as a mere preview of coming attractions … in which the putative contents of these stock markets get sucked into a black hole so vast that the trading desks will have to find a way to arbitrage infinity to ever again catch a glimpse of America’s receding wealth. And it could all happen in a finger-snap.

    Why would anybody not heavily medicated stay invested in the stock markets?

    Photo by: rednuht

    I’m Busy Saving the World….

    …well not exactly, but it sounded catchy.

    I have been really busy this last couple of months researching and writing a proposal to send to the top levels of my organisation to convince them that we need to improve our energy security by decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels. In the past I have been solely focussed on what I as individual could do in my personal life, but in the last few months the activist in me has awoken. I work in an energy intensive industry and I used to think I should just get out and start making a living in a more sustainable way. Recently though, it has occurred to me that I should use the opportunity to try to change the system from the inside. If nobody bothers to try, nothing will ever change.

    While my proposal is far from finished it has been an interesting exercise to put together an argument that senior executives can understand and identify with. I have to somehow convince them that this is in their best interests, not just a warm and fuzzy thing to do.

    I’m really not sure how it will be received when I’m finally done, but initial discussions I’ve had with the senior executive here in North America have been promising. I recently identified an energy symposium I’d like to attend later this month. Because it’s not part of my day job I had to seek approval and funding from the big boss. Surprisingly, he was very enthusiastic about my attendance because this is something he’s passionate about. Who knew? He’s also really keen to read my proposal when I’m done. If he supports this, it lends a great deal of weight to my message.

    Anyway, just thought I’d explain why my blogging has been sporadic lately. It is likely to continue to be that way until I’m finished with this paper.

    Photo by: Lance Cheung