Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Offal Office (Final)

"At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favours, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations."--Obama

Says the man who received sizeable campaign contributions from BP. In fact, of all the oil companies who helped place Obama in the circuitous office, BP was the largest supporter. Of course new regulations will be drawn up, and some token fines and wagging fingers will be dished out, but it's all for the assuaging of the public's mood.

"When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problems there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency – Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General.

His charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog – not its partner."--Obama

What Obama should do is hire an overseer (not a bureaucrat or bloated bureacracy) with up-to-date experience, and a long and sustained history, of oceanographic success, as well as one in similar standing with pertinent geological expertise. That way, BP (and other oil companies) can't hoodwink the "independent" watchdogs with bafflegab and cynical good intentions.

Michael Bromwich is a lawyer. He will have to appoint experts in the requisite areas to hold BP accountable. SinceBromwich isn't an expert in these areas, his decisions on who to target, hire, and trust on these issues will be hit-or-miss.

And, as stated earlier, if the expert is studied enough to challenge BP on any indiscretions based on an authoritative understanding of the complexities involved, does anyone actually think BP will allow Obama to put the arm on them?

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels."--Obama

And that's all this hypocrite is doing now. Talk is needed, obviously, though when people simply talk about the oil problem, solutions (and there needs to be many, various, and complex solutions) are all over the map in effectiveness. I was no fan of Jimmy Carter, but at least he dared to invoke the challenge of conservation and preservation to a national audience in the face of rampant consumerism.

What was Obama's campaign talk regarding the energy crisis? Oh, yeah. The worst of the options: ethanol. Terrible energy returned on what is invested, displacement of food crops resulting (already) in famine in India and Mexico, and unscaleable.

"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America."--Obama

Unbelieveable. He actually taps China as an example. China, whose record on regulatory malfeasance is alarming and systemic. Remember the lead-poisoned baby toys? The tainted milk? Yes, the officials responsible were murdered, something that U.S. banking CEOs need not fret about. But if it weren't for public outcry tied to desperately needed export markets, the silence would have been deafening.

China's billion-plus are now the world's leading car purchasers. Coal emissions are choking their urban centres. Environmental degradation is rife.

But of course the greater irony would be hilarious if it weren't so sobering. Obama's regulation-without-results bureaucratic expansion doesn't allow a climate in which small businesses can effectively set up those needed, cutting-edge businesses.

"We cannot consign our children to this future."--Obama

The rhetoric worsens. Obama's already consigned America's children to a future of penury and hopelessness. The foundation was scooped long ago, but the current U.S. president has accelerated the financial nosedive. (Oil scarcity and financial hardship are intimately intertwined. I've talked a bit about it in other posts, but it's beyond the scope of this piece to go into greater depth here.)

"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny."--Obama

Stump rhetoric doesn't quite transform to the oval office. But here comes the meat-n'-potatoes:

"we have already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry.

As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient."--Obama

Unprecedented? I suppose if one confuses niche busyness and self-promotion with knowledge, seriousness, and long-range planning.

Wind turbines. Ha. Wind is a non-starter except for individuals in plains states or just off the ocean in Southern California, or for very small communities. Even here, there are many issues which make it problematic if not impossible for the long-term. As Spain is finding out, maintenance of the turbines is expensive, and needs (wait for it) increasing inputs of oil to run at all. Wind is sporadic, even in areas most amenable to its benefits. Massive areas are needed to build wind farms. It's simply not scaleable as even a minor replacement for oil.

Energy efficient windows. Again, a few drops from a barrel of oil. Efficient windows are very well and fine. Verna and I just installed our house with them last year. Our heating bill fell slightly. More important than energy efficient windows is turning the damn heat off when not around, wearing extra clothing in winter, being naturally more fit so circulation isn't slowed (thereby reducing personal heat), and a number of other mundane but effective options. This falls under the category of common sense. That an acting president is seriously floating these bromides in the face of Peak Oil is inane, and it misses the context in which the speech is given: namely, that oil, while Obama speaks, continues to blacken the ocean.

Small businesses are apparently busy making solar panels. I remember one of Obama's other thousand-and-one speeches given to convince the world what a wonderful job he's doing. He boasted about a single business owner who sounded hopeful about a solar panel start-up. This is the worst sort of anecdotal revelation. First, the entrepreneur was just beginning. Every business owner is hopeful when beginning. It's a prerequisite to counter all the hard work needed to generate momentum. Most businesses fail within the first year of start-up. Secondly, it was one anecdote. For every Arizona solar panel start-up, there are a thousand small organic farming start-ups squashed by the agribusiness behemoths who funded Obama, and who call the shots on subsidies, allowances, district rights, tax relief, and access to markets. The food industry is slightly more important than the energy efficient windows industry, but Obama's deflections will convince a few naive Greenies, I suppose.

Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, according to Obama. That is a lie. National stats just in that SUV sales have increased the last quarter now that gas prices have fallen slightly. By the way, though gas prices will escalate to $4, $5, $9 and more, the more troubling event will be gas shortages. This can happen even when (as has been the case for decades) gas prices are being kept artificially low. And even to mention "energy efficient" cars and trucks is to see just how dangerous is the direction of federal bureaucrats, whether in the U.S. or Canada. Transportation technology is always supposed to be the saviour, but there are very real world and existing technological solutions to much of our travelling needs, namely trains and buses. Bikes, walking, car pooling, cutting out needless jaunts, arranging (if possible) one's environment so that it doesn't require numerous long trips per day. I could go on, but the dirty little secret -- and where Obama already contradicts himself in this speech -- is that energy efficient windows aka energy reduction is just a smokescreen for business as usual with no guilty conscience. What difference does it make if you trot out your garbage to be recycled if the oil-fed plastic in the waste is off the chart? What difference does it make if you buy a car with greater gas mileage if you're just going to be the sole occupant of the vehicle for long drives in the country gazing at the scenery? One looks in vein for a greater vision in Obama's speech, but after the rhetoric has subsided, all that remains are facile good intentions.

"Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that will someday lead to entire new industries."--Obama

More lies. Not "will" someday lead, but "may" someday lead. And we've been hearing that talk for decades, too. The important temporal reality here is that "someday", even were it a given, is still too late. The time to act is not "now", as Obama says, but yesterday. I'm a betting man, and I'll give 10 to 1, against my desires, that after the oil eruption is off the news rolls, sweet dick will be done in any meaningful way, to address the comprehensive, expensive, massively transformative overhaul of energy infrastructure needed to effect any change.

Scientists and researchers have always been working on new energy options, on a scale possible to replace fossil fuels. What the politicians don't want to tell anyone, for fear of getting pitched out on their ears next election, is that all their hard work, ingenuity, and desire, haven't resulted in any meaningful replacement for oil. Whatever discoveries and avenues that have been followed -- hydrogen cells, waste products, carbon sequestration -- have proven to be incompatible with one or all of the following benefits that oil provides by way of price, adaptablility, safety, abundance, reliability, transportation smoothness and quickness, efficiency, storage, and most importantly of all, scale.

I'd go with ridiculously expensive and numerous nuclear plants for the next half-century while continuing to support resources for scientific exploration. Even if the glacial federal powers agreed on implementing the nuclear option, it would take 15-20 years for it to be finalized. And current economic resources, of course, make that far from a guaranteed outcome. The only promising long-term option I see at this point is ocean/wave generation. Research is still in relative infancy; who knows how it'll pan out.

The remainder of Obama's oil slick concentrates on more fluff and bluff. He concludes by exhorting his audience to pray. I knew Baby Jesus was behind one of those oil platforms.


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Jonah said...

Is there a reason all this oil has been spilled and gas prices havn't gone up? Is it just not enough oil to effect the economy?
I also heard that the US wasn't allowing ships from other countries like the UK to come in and help with the clean up?
Any validity to these questions?

Brian Palmu said...

Your first question requires a complex answer. To be brief, though, the oil bursting free so far amounts to a few days worth of total U.S. usage. It's not the missing oil that's the concern, but the environmental devastation. Furthermore, any rise in gas prices are at least two months behind any spike in oil prices, which are themselves manipulated by complex, temporal political situations, both national and international. Gas prices in the U.S. have been -- now and for the past half-century -- kept artificially low to stimulate suburban build-out and consumer growth.

As to your second question, it does have validity, but it's BP that are pressuring the gov't since they don't want "outsiders" interfering with their biased operations. (BP's "clean-up" is based on the same approach that caused the disaster -- money pinching and flaunting non-enforceable rules.)