Archive for the month “June, 2014”

All Well Aboard The Titanic

POI member Johnson Dantis on the multiple crises that threatens industrial civilisation, and the many handicaps that prevents us from dealing with them effectively. The piece is also in part a response to articles by T. Vijayendra and George Monbiot that were recently posted on

Let me give you my own idea of hope in life. Hope propels change and change is constant. But the pace with which nature changes, the change often looks static in one’s lifetime and even over generations. So change happens all the time, but we do not experience it on a daily basis. Mankind has gone from the simplicity of its early days to the complexity of today mainly to solve the problems of population pressure and resource depletion we encountered along the way, which is behind the cycling loop of complexity throughout history.

So I don’t understand why we should be excessively concerned about it today. The way I see it, we will solve the energy issues of the future by using thorium-based reactors or fusion reactors or some other technology. It is my hope that we will one day colonize other planets, extract metals and this historical process of complexity will continue. But the question is whether it will happen on time – current data indicates otherwise, but this may change anytime with new discoveries and inventions (I am hopeful).

We are not good at going back and reducing complexity and if even we attempted that, the Dark Ages stands as an example on what might happen. So if the solutions do not come on time and we enter a new Dark Age, we are guaranteed to lose 99% of the knowledge we have accumulated, and question of its recreation is something I will leave to your imagination. This cycle of growth and collapse is nothing new, and has happened several times in history – but this time the impact will felt across globe and recovery may take many centuries (that is, if it doesn’t lead to the extinction of the human species).

Hope should be based on facts and reality, or else it is mere self-deception. I think the time for advertising false information for personal leverage is ending and the time for facing reality is here. As someone said, you cannot negotiate with nature when it dictates reality. I find everywhere the same false hope and the advertising of it, but the reality is its exact opposite. Our situation resembles that of the carefree passengers of the Titanic, our time spent in merrymaking and playing musical chairs. We forget that even the winner of music chairs has to finally fight for a lifeboat.
Read more…

News update

Iraq crisis: India braces for Rs 20,000 cr hole in budget as oil could rise to $120 per barrel
India’s government sees oil prices going as high as $120 per barrel for three to four months because of fighting in Iraq, potentially driving a hole of at least Rs 20,000 crore ($3.4 billion) in the budget, two government sources told Reuters. “If the oil prices remain high even for 3-4 months around $120 a barrel, it could have a significant impact on the fiscal deficit and economic growth,” a senior Finance Ministry official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

International Energy Agency Says the Party’s Over
By Richard Heinberg,
The International Energy Agency has just released a new special report called “World Energy Investment Outlook” that should send policy makers screaming and running for the exits—if they are willing to read between the lines and view the report in the context of current financial and geopolitical trends. (Editor’s Note: Other reports, especially in the mainstream business press, have claimed the same IEA report as hailing a new era of oil abundance (see link below for an example). Such extremely contradictory views are typical when it comes to the future of oil, and reflect the high stakes involved).

IEA sees shale oil boom spread beyond N.America
By G. Chandrashekhar, The Hindu BusinessLine
Over the next five years, global oil demand growth will slow, OPEC capacity growth will face headwinds and regional imbalances in gasoline and diesel markets will widen, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said in its annual five-year oil market outlook report released today in Paris. Forecasting that the unconventional supply revolution in the form of shale oil boom currently sweeping North America will expand to other region before the end of the decade, IEA said that in five years, North America will have the capacity to become a net exporter of oil liquids.

A Closer Look at Saudi Arabia
By Ron Patterson,
Approximately 60–65% of all Saudi oil produced between 1948 and 2000 came from the Ghawar oil field. Cumulative production until April 2010 has exceeded 65 billion barrels. It was estimated that Ghawar produced about 5 million barrels of oil a day (6.25% of global production) in 2009. Ghawar also produces approximately 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. After 60 years of production, the field is depleted, and so are other leading Saudi oil fields.

The inevitable demise of the fossil fuel empire
By Nafeez Ahmed, the Guardian
Since 2000, the oil industry’s investments have risen by 180% – a threefold increase – but this has translated into a global oil supply increase of just 14%. Two-thirds of this increase has been made-up by unconventional oil and gas. In other words, the primary driver of the cost explosion is the shift to expensive and difficult-to-extract unconventionals due to the peak and plateau in conventional oil production since 2005.

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown
By Nafeez Ahmed, the Guardian
A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ is a multi-million dollar programme designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

China Leads World to Solar Power Record in 2013
By J. Matthew Roney,  Earth Policy Institute
China—the leading manufacturer of PV—had until recently installed very little solar power at home. Those days are over. Between 2010 and 2012, China’s PV capacity grew nearly ninefold to 7,000 megawatts. Then in 2013, China added at least 11,300 megawatts, the largest PV addition by any country in a single year. With 18,300 megawatts, China now trails only Germany (at 36,000 megawatts) in overall capacity.

Want to Change the World? Read This First
by Richard Heinberg,
History is often made by strong personalities wielding bold new political, economic, or religious doctrines. Yet any serious effort to understand how and why societies change requires examination not just of leaders and ideas, but also of environmental circumstances (climate, weather, and the presence or absence of water, good soil, and other resources). If you want to change society—or are interested in aiding or evaluating the efforts of others to do so—some understanding of exactly how environmental circumstances affect such efforts could be extremely helpful.

Population: A Heretical View

T. Vijayendra argues that todays population explosion is essentially a product of cheap oil, and that the end of oil means we will be forced to consider a new approach to population which many would find unpalatable now but would ultimately help humans strike a balance between population and resource consumption

The twentieth century was unique in history in many ways. Its hall mark was  the availability of cheap oil. It has given us air travel, auto mobiles, electronics and other marvels of science and technology. It also gave us the two world wars, the nuclear bombs, global warming and an increase in world population to three times.

The population problem is a complex one, and has been debated since the times of Malthus and Marx. In the past leftists maintained that it is not a real problem, but a creation of capitalism. Some say that if you have one mouth, then you also have two hands. Others point out that every adult can produce food for three people, and so on. However, in the last few decades resource constraints of planet earth have been recognised and meeting the needs of the present population of seven billions appears as a severe challenge. Read more…

News update

‘The Cause Is Us’: World on Verge of Sixth Extinction
By Andrea Germanos,
A new study published in the journal Science has shown that human activity has driven current rates of species extinction to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. “This important study confirms that species are going extinct at a pace not seen in tens of millions of years, and unlike past extinction events, the cause is us,” stated Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

UN: ‘Time running out’ to stop rising CO2 levels 
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have topped 400 parts per million (ppm) throughout the northern hemisphere, the United Nation’s weather agency confirmed, warning that time is running out to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions. “This threshold is of symbolic and scientific significance and reinforces evidence that the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are responsible for the continuing increase in heat-trapping greenhouse gases warming our planet,” the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported.

US shale boom is over, energy revolution needed to avert blackouts
By Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian
In 2012, the global energy watchdog International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that the US would outpace Saudi Arabia in oil production thanks to the shale boom by 2020, becoming a net exporter by 2030. The forecast was seen by many as decisive evidence of the renewal of the oil age. But the IEA’s  World Energy Investment Outlook released this week confirms that ‘the party’s over’ – it has lowered US production projections, demands urgent investment. [Note: A contrary view on the above article can be found here]

Peak Oil Revisited…
By Brian Davey,
Conventional “legacy” oil production peaked in 2005 and has not increased since. All the increase in oil production since that date has been from unconventional sources like shale oil or natural gas liquids that are a by-product of shale gas production. This is despite a massive increase in investment by the oil industry that has not yielded any increase in ‘conventional oil’ production but has merely served to slow what would otherwise have been a faster decline.

Is Peak Car the metric for us too?
V. Sumantran, The Hindu
Total global vehicle sales climbed from a level of 66 million units in 2009 to a level of about 82 million units in 2013. India contributed about 3 million to that total. Their postulation is that by the next decade, global vehicle sales will breach 100 million units and by then will face several factors that will cause this figure to have peaked.

Can the Modi sarkar chart a green road to growth?
By Jay Mazoomdar,
Two decades of blinkered double-digit growth has made China an environmental disaster and necessitated such desperate efforts at recovery. There is an obvious lesson in the Chinese experience for India’s new government keen to emulate and overshadow the big neighbour’s growth story while facing the same environmental challenges.

Obama unveils historic rules to reduce coal pollution by 30%
From The Guardian
The Obama administration unveiled historic environment rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 30%. The new rules, formally announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, represent the first time Barack Obama, or any other president, has moved to regulate carbon pollution from power plants – the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

U.S. Wars In The Middle East: A New Age Of Hydro-Imperialism
By Garikai Chengu, Harvard University
Water is to the twenty-first century what oil was to the twentieth century: the commodity that determines the wealth and stability of nations. People who think that the West’s interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria are only about oil are mistaken. Broadly speaking, Western interest in the Middle East is becoming increasingly about a commodity more precious than oil, namely water.

New Environmentalists Are Taking Bold Actions and It’s Working
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers.
No longer dominated by the traditional “Big Green” groups that were taking big donations from corporate polluters, the new environmental movement is broader, more assertive and more creative. With extreme energy extraction and climate change bearing down on the world, environmental justice advocates are taking bold actions to stop extreme energy extraction and create new solutions to save the planet. These ‘fresh greens’ often work locally, but also connect through national and international actions.

Letter: One Year of Peak Oil India

T. Vijayendra, a Founder-Member of POI, writes to the group reminiscing on its formation and offering pointers towards the future 

It is just about a year since the informal group called Peak Oil India was formed (on June 7, 2013) and we decided to have a website. The website has been active for quite some time and we have a mailing list with nearly 60 subscribers. I am considered a ‘founder member’ and am probably the oldest member at 70+. So, I may be permitted to take the initiative to look back and offer a few suggestions.

I will begin with my own involvement with the issue of Peak Oil. Of course, many others have been engaging with the issue independently, not necessarily knowing each other. The first person I met in the field was Suyodh Rao. Sagar Dhara, Sajai Jose and Mansoor Khan have also been active on their own. All of them are now members of the group.

My Experience

I wrote my first article on Peak Oil in December 2007 titled Who is Afraid of Global Warming? Global Warming, Capitalism and the Road to a Saner Society’ and presented it at The Social Science Congress in Mumbai. It was very well received and was later published in Frontier and Medico Friends Circle Bulletin.

In 2008-09, I began to write a series of articles and published them mainly in Frontier, the journal from Kolkata. Frontier is a left wing weekly addressed mainly to the non-parliamentary Left. I chose to address them because they alone have an agenda of changing the system as a whole in a revolutionary manner. By the end of 2009, I published a book called Regaining Paradise: Towards a Fossil Fuel Free Society. That brought me in touch with many people who had similar ideas and engaged with the same issues, and eventually an embryonic Peak Oil community came into being.

Based on the book’s ideas, in 2009 August, a friend, Vinayak moved into a small block level town called Kinwat in Nanded district in Maharashtra to work on ‘urban initiatives towards a fossil fuel free society’. At that time we had not heard of the Transition Towns movement. Vinayak worked for three years and although he was successful in everything he tried, we failed to evolve a viable group. Our activities mainly revolved around water harvesting, kitchen gardens, local food, transport etc. By the end of the period, we came across Transition Town literature and on reflection, realised that we had not done enough work to reach out to the people with the big picture. We thought we will bring out booklets on the subject and arrange talks to the youth in colleges etc.

There was a biodiversity mela in Hyderabad in the year 2012 and we decided to release four booklets on the occasion. These were:

1. Yugant: Capitalism, global warming and  peak oil  By T. Vijayendra
2. Global Warming by Nagraj Adve
3. Peak Oil  Primer By Energy Bulletin
4. Cuba without isms By T. Vijayendra

These were priced between Rs. 5 to Rs. 8 and we managed to reach a few people (You can download electronic copies by clicking on above links or visiting our Documents page).

Following this, in June 2013 we organised a 3 day workshop on Sustainable Development—An Oxymoron! Search for Alternatives near Hyderabad. In the workshop, we distributed the booklets mentioned above and also gave a DVD which had all the books, booklets, some Powerpoint presentations, articles and four films. Mansoor Khan gave a talk and also did a presentation on his  book, The Third Curve: The End of Growth As We Know It. It was on the third and concluding day (June 7) that we formed the informal group called Peak Oil India and decided to have a website.

Today our network has some active people in Bangalore, Udupi, Belgaum, Pune, Goa, Kinwat and Hyderabad. I hope there are some more people and places.

Incidentally, Vinayak left Kinwat, but a young local person, Yogesh, who had attended the workshop in Hyderabad, is now trying to continue the work he started.

A Few Suggestions

Recent posts in our website paint a gloom – doom scenario. There is certainly enough basis for this and all of us have enough reasons to feel pessimistic about the world and about our country. To me, it appears that most of these authors expect the existing governments to change policies and they find that there is no hope. Many rule out the revolutionary alternative completely – either for ideological reasons or because they feel that there is no empirical evidence that such an alternative is in the offing. The net result is that no action programme emerges – at least I have not seen any action programme coming out of it.

Now, I come from a tradition of politics where engaging with people is primary. There are two good examples we can look to in trying to meet the present challenges of Peak Oil, global warming and growing inequality. These are that of Cuba, which faced and overcame a Peak Oil-like situation in the early 90s, and the Transition Town Movement. There are thousands of separate activities carried out by individuals and small groups all over the world that can contribute to either of these ‘models’. Each part of the world has to evolve a model that suits its history and genius. This applies to us also and different regions of our country may have to evolve different models as well, since India is a sub continent with distinct ecological regions. My idea is that we should work towards evolving such a model for our country or at least for some regions of our country and evolve an action plan.

Suggested Programme

The programme that is proposed here is:

  1. Awareness lectures to youth groups, Left groups, NAPM, Trade Unions and any local mass organisations including housing societies, etc.
  2. To take up Transition Town kind of work in a few small towns

Proposed Activities

  1. We should as a collective create a few small booklets and pamphlets for the purpose. We can have an editorial group which selects, edits and creates/commissions new material for the purpose.  The documents available on this website can also be considered. We should also have a group that prepares ppts for these booklets so that anyone can use them. 
  1. We should take up translation of this select list of booklets and presentations for regional use. As of now, we may need it in Telugu, Marathi and Kannada- languages of states where we have some live contacts. We should include Hindi too, as it covers a large area. 
  1. We have been doing some work in Kinwat for some years. We can share our learnings. I feel we should initiate work in a few more towns. Khanapur near Belgaum, Karkala in Udupi and may be some small towns near Bangalore and Hyderabad should be explored. The question is who is going to take initiative? If the gloom-doom scenario is real, we can either forget it and enjoy life (as some commentators put it) or do something worthwhile, even if it is a losing battle. As I see it, most of us are neither enjoying life nor doing anything worthwhile. If some of our younger activists are prepared to come forward for it, I think it will create some energy and synergy.

To conclude, I am neither a pessimist nor a pure optimist. I think I can call myself a sceptical optimist and an activist. I feel that during the remaining years of my life I should pass on whatever I have learned in the four and half decades of my activism.

Mobile: +91 9490705634


Peak Nuclear Energy May Be Behind Us

In the context of Peak Oil and the general depletion of fossil fuels, we often hear about Nuclear Energy as an option. However, if we look at the empirical data, we will soon discover that it’s not – even if we discount all the dangers associated with Nuclear Energy programme, such as waste disposal problems and accidents. In fact, as figures in a recent World Watch Institute study shows, we might have already passed the peak of nuclear power as a viable energy source. 

By T. Vijayendra, POI Founder-Member

There is a popular belief that the Three Miles Island (1979) , Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima nuclear accidents (2011) have slowed down the growth of the nuclear power, even though the nuclear lobby continues to claim that, on the whole, nuclear power is still much safer than other options, say, coal. However, the truth is that nuclear power, economically and technically, is not a viable source of power.  The accidents, of course, contributed to its unpopularity in the public mind, but the primary reason why nuclear energy is doomed is its own inner weakness.
Read more…

George Monbiot: The Impossibility of Growth

POI Editor’s Note: This piece by environmental writer and The Guardian columnist George Monbiot eloquently sums up our present predicament – the converging catastrophes of climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil. Monbiot also looks at why we are unable to deal with, or even discuss its possibility. We thought it worth reproducing in full on the POI website, considering how in India too, now Economic Growth is considered not only desirable and inevitable, but has transcended ideology to almost take on the status of national religion. Do visit the original Guardian web page where its edited version was published, to view readers’ comments and a discussion provoked by the article.

It’s simple. If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up
It’s the great taboo of our age – and the inability to discuss the pursuit of perpetual growth will prove humanity’s undoing

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th May 2014

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham(1).

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems(2). It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse. Read more…

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