Friday, February 16, 2007

Lubricating Our Megamachines
The Denial of Actualities
by Gilles d'Aymery

Spinoza once said that the perfection of things must be measured according to their own nature and things are not more or less perfect because they flatter (please) our senses or hurt them.

"Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves."
—US Senator William A. Clark, 1907

(Swans - February 12, 2007) So long as respected voices like Rep. Dennis Kucinich and other "leaders" of the antiwar movement keep their heads in the deep sands of denial in regard to the real reasons why we are at war in the Middle East, there is absolutely no chance to help the general population of the United States wake up to the evidence. We consume too much energy and the world is running out of it faster than it can be replaced with alternative sources that are at most a placebo and at worst further digging the hole into which we are mudded with seemingly oblivious concerns. People must get real, look at the actualities, and embark on an incredibly difficult change in thinking and behaviors.

Last Thursday evening, around 18:30, the light in my office began flickering; the computers' UPS started wailing. I saved my work in a hurry and powered down the machines. I called Jan in San Francisco to let her know the flickering was becoming more intense. Calling PG&E emergency line is of no use to me. The voice on the other side is a robotic one -- friendly, female, and all, but not real. The voice asks for my phone number. I say, "123-4567." "You said," the voice says, "123-4474." "Is this correct?" the voice asks. "It is not correct," I answer. "Sorry, I did not get your answer," says the voice. "You said 123-4474. Is this correct?" "No, it is not correct, it is incorrect. I said 123-4567." "Sorry, I did not get your answer. You said 123-4474. Is this correct?" Argh, must be my French accent, I thought as I hung up. Meantime the lights kept flickering ever more intensely. I walked to the closet where I keep an old ATT manual phone, unhooked the digital cordless one that only works with electric power, just as the lights stopped flickering altogether. Power down. What does one do when lost in the middle of nowhere without any power? I went to bed.

The next morning, 06:00, it's pitch dark around. Power's still off. Well, no coffee this morning, I thought. Yep, the coffee machine runs on electricity too. Can I heat some water, by any chance? Nope, the propane burners are ignited through a starter that...runs on electricity. Darn, where are the matches? And on, and on. 07:30: Jan calls. PG&E is aware of the situation. They sent a one-man crew last night but the atmospheric conditions were so bad -- it was raining cats and dogs -- that he had to cancel his efforts. They are sending more crews this morning, Jan assures me. I hear the assurance but do not feel particularly reassured! It's a pretty eerie sensation to be all alone in a house perched in the hills in the country with no power at all. What worth is a "modern" house without the energy that is needed to run it? Needs wood, of which we have ample supply, for the woodstove; needs propane, which is a petroleum derivative for cooking and water heating; and needs electricity for practically everything else (lighting, washing machine, drier, oven, microwave, toaster, refrigerator, phone, computers, TV, stereo, satellite, and on and on and on). Of course, we need coal and natural gas to generate the electricity, and all fossil fuels, which we use with abandon (at least in the U.S.) as the main sources, especially petroleum, are rapidly getting depleted -- and that does not account for the effects of our consumption on the environment (global warming).

A two-man crew eventually showed up mid-morning. Good workers overstretched as always due to the cuts in maintenance personnel that utility companies have gone through to increase profits. Armed with binoculars they checked the lines over the hills. They were unfamiliar with the terrain. I helped as much as I could to tell them where the houses, hidden in the woods, were and how to reach them through various dirt roads. They kept hunting for a fallen line somewhere, anywhere, under raging rain, so that my and others' houses affected by the blackout could get back to normal life. They eventually found the culprit on the other side of the canyon. I could hear a chainsaw clearing branches, and their voices echoing up the hill. By mid-afternoon, thanks to their strenuous efforts in hapless conditions, the power was restored. Thank you, good people. Our way of life was back on.

We do own a small Honda generator, which, if the blackout had lasted longer, I would have fired up to cool the fridge down, turn on the computers to save this edition of Swans on a portable hard drive, thus if worse came to worse, I could jump into my car and drive to San Francisco (fossil fuel, CO2, etc., notwithstanding) in order to load the issue on the Web. I can run the generator for about four or five hours on a full tank of gas -- yes, more fossil fuel -- and I have a small reserve of gasoline, enough to fill the generator's tank three times. Then, I'd need to drive down to town and fill a few containers with gasoline. Imagine this repeated by the number of households affected by the power outage. Imagine this in the entire valley -- how long would it take for the gas station to run out of gas? A few hours? One day? Two days at most. What about an entire city?

When shall we face reality? There's this raging debate about the war in Iraq, but practically no politician talks about the real reasons for our disastrous military adventure: Access to and control of oil fields and military bases to keep control of and access to these oil fields. Nothing new. The Brits acted similarly in the 1930s; the U.S., from 1945 onward with an increased urgency. People, many good people, talk about morality, war profits, terrorism, Israel, legalities (or illegalities), hubris of the elites, to explain the war... But remember Ockham's razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem ("entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity")... In other words, "all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one."

Elites' arrogance is a constant of history as are war profits for the few, but the let's-start-a-war-to-make-a-bundle thought process ignores the old saying that "war is simply the continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means" (Clausewitz, On War, 605). First there's a policy put in place and then the choice to implement the policy through a military strategy. Keep the eyes on the policy. If it's incorrect, chances are the military strategy will fail. It's not about terrorism because you certainly do not need a full-fledged, multi-pronged military strategy with huge naval assets in the Persian Gulf to defeat a bunch of people in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, help Madrassas instill knowledge and not hate in their pupils' minds, and work on the political conditions that may have fostered terrorism in the first place. Morality (freedom and democracy, civilizing forces, etc.) is the good old Calvinist messianic attitude used for the past 400 years to sell expansion and foreign adventures. It's always been a basic marketing technique with a white man's syndrome of superiority to conquer land, subjugate people (the lesser races), and plunder resources.

When you refuse to look at the evidence you then need to create new explanations and find convenient scapegoats. From the Left (James Petras) to the Right (Paul Craig Roberts) and many in between, there must be some cabal controlled by powerful interests who brought this war upon us unwillingly. For them, Israel is the culprit. Israel (read the Israeli government/military/elite) actually rules the US government with the help of the Jewish lobby and a bunch of neocons who, they keep reminding, are in large majority Jewish themselves. In other words, without Israel and the "Jews" the U.S. would not have engaged into such a dramatic disaster. They duped us into waging war on their behalf. That these so-called "respected" analysts can be taken seriously is truly befuddling and not worthy of further comment. There's no cabal; only a policy based on energy realities that was poorly conceived and hence botched with results still unforeseen, potentially with catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and the entire world.

Four and one-half percent of the world population consumes 25 percent of global energy resources as the world is creeping away toward energy scarcity. That strategic resource is getting depleted and consumed faster that it can be replaced, assuming it can. By the same token, other economies worldwide are increasing their dependence on and use of that resource. Furthermore, to control and have access to that resource you need local governments amenable to your objectives. Saddam was not. The Iranian Mullahs are not. In typical fashion the American elites -- on both sides of the aisle -- decided that regime change was becoming a matter of urgency, and chose to act through a military strategy. That the members of the elite would enrich themselves in the making is certainly correct, but it was not the motivation behind the decision process. The military strategy, while largely opposed by the military itself, was the only logical or known-of strategy that could be used. The US Armed Forces have always been the favorite diplomatic tool of US movers and shakers. That Israel is used as a patsy can be a useful tool to deflect the attention of the dissenting populace. That the Establishment is deeply reluctant to call it as it is -- "people, we/you need the oil" -- is not surprising. Panic would ensue; the stock market would dive; the streets would be filled with masses of very unhappy customers (remember the pitchforks?). But listen carefully, well beyond the guard dogs of the Citadel, the MSM and all think tanks. Listen to the elites very carefully. They know the stakes, and they are tremendous. Listen for example to the February 1, 2007 Senate Intelligence Committee's Confirmation Hearing of Vice Admiral Mike McConnell (Ret.), the former (1992-1996) National Security Agency Director during the Clinton administration...yes, the Clinton administration... You can listen to the entire hearing on C-SPAN. About one hour and fifteen minutes into the hearing, Senator Richard Burr (R. - North Carolina), after lauding the nominee for his business acumen, asked:

SEN. BURR: I want to take a different tack from the standpoint of questions. We've all got questions that will deal with the threats du jour, regardless of where they are. Let me ask you about two specific areas if I can. You referred, in your questions and answers, to energy as a national security issue. Can you expand on that slightly?

MR. McCONNELL: Sir, what I mean by that is our dependence on foreign oil sources. And what I worry about is something like Venezuela now, where energy can be used as a weapon. So understanding it and how it might be controlled is something, I think, that not only the others in the federal government but also the intelligence community, needs to understand and get ahead of, think about it.

So much of intelligence is forecasting what might happen. "Alternative futures" is how we like to describe it. So when I look at problems facing the nation in the future, I think our demand -- almost insatiable appetite for energy, particularly with the growth of India and China, it's going to put increasing pressure on the nation to compete for energy resources. So that's what I mean by that.

SEN. BURR: Do you see our role at trying to predict what the energy future looks like, and how that may or may not affect our national security, the role of the intelligence community, or is there another area of government that should have that charge to be the one in charge?

MR. McCONNELL: What I see the role of the intelligence community to be is to look at hard problems and talk about them. I go back to Senator Mikulski's question about speaking truth to power. Many of these problems are not very pleasant to deal with, to think about. So for me, it is to spend some time and energy looking at the problem and attempting to come up with a forecast of at least options on what we might have to deal with, and then serving that information up to the policymakers that have to deal with it.

SEN. BURR: On another subject, have we lost sight of Russia as a strategic threat to the United States?

MR. McCONNELL: Senator, you probably have heard about mission managers in the community (now to be?) focused on problems of concern. And I've talked to some of the mission managers and I'm very impressed. They look at the problem from the analytical standpoint, collection, and they integrate across the community. They challenge assumptions and conclusions, do a little red-teaming, that sort of thing.

And where I am in my thinking at the moment is to take a look at Russia, because there isn't a mission manager for Russia. I think we need to understand it. We need to know where it's going. And having someone focused on it as a mission manager at the national level would serve us well to stay focused and continue to review it.

SEN. BURR: The last question, Mr. Chairman. Does the fact that oil is now $57 a barrel, I think, today, $56 and some change, increase the likelihood that we should look at Russia as a strategic threat?

MR. McCONNELL: Sir, as you know, Russia because of that increase in oil prices is significantly advantaged in terms of resources right now, in terms of what they get for their oil. I've been troubled by some of the trends in Russia over the last year or so. So that's a scenario that needs attention and focus and, again, producing those forecasts on where it might be taking us.

SEN. BURR. Thank you, Admiral.

Is this clear enough? No need to duplicate Michael Doliner's work in this space.

On January 27, 2007, you would have been hard-pressed to learn that there was a big antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., going on, except if you watched C-SPAN or were attending the demo yourself (as well as smaller ones in other cities around the country. The event(s) simply did not make the news. The TV networks did not report much of anything. The local news were at best sparse in their comments. The next morning, The New York Times buried the story on page 20. They reported that "Tens of thousands of protesters converged on the National Mall on Saturday to oppose Bush's plan for a troop increase in Iraq..." The White House issued a statement: "The president believes that the right to free speech is one of the greatest freedoms in our country." End of story. On Monday morning, the ever-affable Amy Goodman ran with the story for the entire Democracy Now! newscast. We could see Rep. Maxine Waters leading the crowd with a series of slogans ([Bush] is not the decider. We are the decider. He is not the decider, he is a LIAR). The usual motley mix of antiwar activists like Sean Penn and Dennis Kucinich and many genteel speakers walked up to the podium to rouse the crowd with passionate speeches. It was an all bon-enfant gathering. No one heard them. They were talking to themselves, in a bubble. None addressed the energy challenges that the world and most severely this nation face. I'm not even sure that they ever considered the irony of how much energy -- fossil fuels energy -- they expended to have their essentially ignored little celebration in D.C.

A week later, Super Bowl day watched by hundreds of millions, British Petroleum ran an ad in The New York Times Magazine (p. 33). In bold characters, the title was in the form of a question: Energy. From the ground, the sun, or both? It continued in two short paragraphs:

OIL: Responding to today's energy needs means doing so responsibly. BP's Advanced Seismic Imaging allows us to see hidden energy reserves buried below rocks, deep beneath the ocean floor. Most importantly, we now drill fewer offshore wells, reducing the impact on the environment.

SOLAR: We're also bringing the U.S. closer to the sun. Recently we invested over $25 million in the expansion of our solar facility in Maryland, doubling its manufacturing capacity. And BP Solar Home Solutions (TM) is helping homeowners reduce or eliminate monthly electric bills.
It's a start.
What start is this? Twenty-five million dollars to double a manufacturing facility...and how many billions of dollars spent to bring oil to markets and refine it? How many? And they try to make us believe that BP stands for Beyond Petroleum... What a sad, terrible joke. Worse, ask Kucinich and other prophets of the antiwar movement, and they'll tell you all about their indomitable faith in the market. They too are undoubtedly sincere; but they are deeply misguided.

We must face the dance with clarity of mind and purpose. Once again, sanity deserves better from the commons.

United States' Gargantuan Energy Appetite
by Gilles d'Aymery

In 1999, the world energy consumption was 382 quadrillion (Quads) British thermal units (Btu). (1) Out of 382 Quads the USA consumed 97, or 25.39 percent of the worldwide consumption.

The USA, with a population of about 281 million inhabitants -- just about four percent of the world population -- consumes 25 percent of all the world energy and accounts for about 25 percent of the pollution of the earth's ecosystem. (2)

In other words, the USA has a gargantuan energy appetite. This is well known though not particularly brought to the attention of the public.

Let's illustrate the extent of this appetite with the help of an energy flow chart, the U.S. Energy Flow Trends for the year 2000 during which the USA consumed 98.5 Quads. (3) This chart was created by Gina V. Kaiper, Technical Writer-Editor, Energy and Environment Directorate, for the University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy, and is reproduced here by permission.

Not surprisingly fossil fuels are the overwhelming source of the energy consumption, 85 percent over all (even more if one adds the wood element of biomass). Petroleum is the biggest component with 38.5 percent, followed by natural gas (23.7%), and coal (22.8%). The net petroleum import in 2000 was 57%. This again is relatively well known.

However, the most startling information provided by this flow chart is the extent of waste in the U.S. energy system; what Ms. Kaiper delicately labels Rejected energy.

Take the time to review this chart carefully. Indeed, please do.

Look at the electricity generation of 40.4 Quads and check out the amount of the electrical system energy losses of 28.1 Quads. What the chart shows is that 69.55 percent of all generated electricity is wasted. (4) So, every time one switches on the 100-watt light in the kitchen or in the bathroom, the system needs to generate some 170 watts to light it... Think about your computer or your air conditioning... (5)

Even worse, 80.07 percent of all energy used for transportation is wasted. What it means is that to get our favorite vehicle, SUV included, all the way to the store, 80 percent of a barrel of oil is required and wasted to bring 20 percent to the power train that make the wheels turn. (6)

The more energy we use the bigger the generation of waste.

For example, in 1999, the USA consumed 97 Quads and the ratios of waste for electricity and transportation were 68 and 79.92 percent respectively. In 1997, 94 quads of consumption brought a respective percentage of waste of 67.38 and 79.92 (note that the transportation waste is pretty constant due to the engineering limitations of the combustion engine -- though the bigger the engine...)

Simply put, the more we consume the more we waste. The more we consume the more we need energy resources. The more we waste and depend on non-renewable sources of energy, namely fossil fuels, the more we must find, develop, grab sources, especially in a time of dwindling resources.

Meantime, we want -- at least in rhetoric -- the entire world to adopt the American way. To put a perspective on this American way, take China as an example: were China to consume the same amount of energy per capita as the United States, the Chinese Net Primary Resource Consumption in 2000 would have been 450.8 Quads! (7) Should the polluting consequences be mentioned?

According to the International Energy Outlook 2002, world energy consumption is projected to increase by 60 percent over a 21-year forecast horizon, from 382 Quads in 1999 to 612 Quads in 2020. Renewable energy use, presently about 9 percent of total worldwide energy consumption, is projected to actually decrease to 8 percent by 2020. (8)

While it simply does not compute it certainly does illuminate the ongoing U.S. policies.

· · · · · ·

References and Notes

1. A quad is 1015 and a Btu is the quantity of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1° F. at or near 39.2° F. (back)

2. "The United States, with the world's largest economy, is also the world's largest single source of anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions. Quantitatively, the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission is carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels (i.e., oil, coal, natural gas) are burned. Current projections indicate that U.S. emissions of carbon (mainly in the form of carbon dioxide) will reach 1,694 million metric tons in 2005, an increase of 357 million metric tons from the 1,337 million metric tons emitted in 1990, and around one-fourth of total world energy-related carbon emissions." Source: EIA-DOE; United States Country Analysis Brief; (back)

3. Permission to reproduce a slightly smaller version of this flow chart was kindly granted by Ms. Deborah Brown-Harris, Authorized Reprint, Copyright & Permissions Agent, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Technical Information Department. Credit is given to the University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy under whose auspices the work was performed. We acknowledge the U.S. Government's right to retain non-exclusive, royalty-free license in and to any copyright covering this material. Energy flow charts for the United States can be accessed on the Web site of LLNL at The full size energy flow chart for 2000 can be viewed at

In addition, Gina Kaiper recommended that we include a link to the Energy Flow web page "to provide access to the accompanying report that documents and explains the data sources and the terms and categories. For example, as the report explains, the proportion of 'useful' to 'rejected' shown on our chart derives from the conversion efficiencies (page 5 of our report) of the technologies involved." This is a must-read report for anyone wanting to fully understand the flow chart. The report, in Adobe Acrobat format (pdf file, size: 177 kb) can be accessed at

Finally, the permission granted by LLNL should not be construed as an endorsement of this Swans dossier. (back)

4. My thanks go to Richard Merk and Steve Mader for leading me in the right direction. I also wish to express my gratitude to Ian Woofenden and the folks at Home Power Magazine for their invaluable help. Home Power, "The Hands-On Journal of Home-Made Power," is based in Ashland, Oregon, and focuses on alternative and renewable energies. The magazine published an article by Randy Udall, "U.S. Energy Flow: In the Belly of the Beast," in its February/March 2002 issue. It can be read online in Adobe Acrobat format (pdf) at (back)

5. "According to AER2000 (p. 248, Note 1), 'Electrical system energy losses are estimated as the difference between total energy consumed to generate electricity and the total energy content of electricity consumed by end users. Most of these losses occur at steam-electric power plants (conventional and nuclear) in the conversion of heat energy into mechanical energy to turn electric generators' . . . . Transmission and distribution losses....are estimated to be about 9% of the gross generation of electricity." Source: Gina V. Kaiper, U.S. Energy Flow—2000, February 2002, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,; page 5. (back)

6. "For transportation, we continue to assume a generous 20% efficiency, which corresponds to the approximate average efficiency of internal combustion engines as measured on Federal Driving Schedules (i.e., the amount of energy that actually reaches the drive train of a vehicle, compared to the amount of energy consumed. Note that the peak efficiencies of 33-35% for spark-ignited engines and 41-45% for diesel engines are not representative of conversion efficiencies over the Federal Driving Schedules.)" Source: Gina V. Kaiper, U.S. Energy Flow—2000, February 2002, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,; page 5. (back)

7. According to the CIA - World Factbook 2002, the US population is 280,562,489 (July 2002 est.) and the Chinese population 1,284,303,705 (July 2002 est.). While I am using 2002 population figures and applying them to energy consumption in 2000, the result is slightly inexact but one can easily get the gist of the correlation. In 2000 the Chinese consumption of electricity was 1.206 trillion kWh; that of the United States, 3.613 trillion kWh. Source: CIA - The World Factbook 2002; (back)

8. Source: EIA-DOE; International Energy Outlook 2002 - Highlights; (back)