Friday, October 26, 2007

Beyond the Age of Petroleum

This past May, in an unheralded and almost unnoticed move, the Energy Department signaled a fundamental, near epochal shift in US and indeed world history: we are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency. The department stopped talking about "oil" in its projections of future petroleum availability and began speaking of "liquids." The global output of "liquids," the department indicated, would rise from 84 million barrels of oil equivalent (mboe) per day in 2005 to a projected 117.7 mboe in 2030--barely enough to satisfy anticipated world demand of 117.6 mboe. Aside from suggesting the degree to which oil companies have ceased being mere suppliers of petroleum and are now purveyors of a wide variety of liquid products--including synthetic fuels derived from natural gas, corn, coal and other substances--this change hints at something more fundamental: we have entered a new era of intensified energy competition and growing reliance on the use of force to protect overseas sources of petroleum.

To appreciate the nature of the change, it is useful to probe a bit deeper into the Energy Department's curious terminology. "Liquids," the department explains in its International Energy Outlook for 2007, encompasses "conventional" petroleum as well as "unconventional" liquids--notably tar sands (bitumen), oil shale, biofuels, coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids. Once a relatively insignificant component of the energy business, these fuels have come to assume much greater importance as the output of conventional petroleum has faltered. Indeed, the Energy Department projects that unconventional liquids production will jump from a mere 2.4 mboe per day in 2005 to 10.5 in 2030, a fourfold increase. But the real story is not the impressive growth in unconventional fuels but the stagnation in conventional oil output. Looked at from this perspective, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the switch from "oil" to "liquids" in the department's terminology is a not so subtle attempt to disguise the fact that worldwide oil production is at or near its peak capacity and that we can soon expect a downturn in the global availability of conventional petroleum.

Petroleum is, of course, a finite substance, and geologists have long warned of its ultimate disappearance. The extraction of oil, like that of other nonrenewable resources, will follow a parabolic curve over time. Production rises quickly at first and then gradually slows until approximately half the original supply has been exhausted; at that point, a peak in sustainable output is attained and production begins an irreversible decline until it becomes too expensive to lift what little remains. Most oil geologists believe we have already reached the midway point in the depletion of the world's original petroleum inheritance and so are nearing a peak in global output; the only real debate is over how close we have come to that point, with some experts claiming we are at the peak now and others saying it is still a few years or maybe a decade away. Until very recently, Energy Department analysts were firmly in the camp of those wild-eyed optimists who claimed that peak oil was so far in the future that we didn't really need to give it much thought. Putting aside the science of the matter, the promulgation of such a rose-colored view obviated any need to advocate improvements in automobile fuel efficiency or to accelerate progress on the development of alternative fuels. Given White House priorities, it is hardly surprising that this view prevailed in Washington.

In just the past six months, however, the signs of an imminent peak in conventional oil production have become impossible even for conservative industry analysts to ignore. These have come from the take-no-prisoners world of oil pricing and deal-making, on the one hand, and the analysis of international energy experts, on the other.

Most dramatic, perhaps, has been the spectacular rise in oil prices. The price of light, sweet crude crossed the longstanding psychological barrier of $80 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange for the first time in September, and has since risen to as high as $90.

Many reasons have been cited for the rise in crude prices, including unrest in Nigeria's oil-producing Delta region, pipeline sabotage in Mexico, increased hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico and fears of Turkish attacks on Kurdish guerrilla sanctuaries in Iraq. But the underlying reality is that most oil-producing countries are pumping at maximum capacity and finding it increasingly difficult to boost production in the face of rising international demand.

Even a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to boost production by 500,000 barrels per day failed to halt the upward momentum in prices. Concerned that an excessive rise in oil costs would trigger a worldwide recession and lower demand for their products, the OPEC countries agreed to increase their combined output at a meeting in Vienna on September 11. "We think that the market is a little bit high," explained Kuwait's acting oil minister, Mohammad al-Olaim. But the move did little to slow the rise in prices. Clearly, OPEC would have to undertake a much larger production increase to alter the market environment, and it is not at all clear that its members possess the capacity to do that--now or in the future.

A warning sign of another sort was provided by Kazakhstan's August decision to suspend development of the giant Kashagan oil region in its sector of the Caspian Sea, first initiated by a consortium of Western firms in the late '90s. Kashagan was said to be the most promising oil project since the discovery of oil in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay in the late '60s. But the enterprise has encountered enormous technical problems and has yet to produce a barrel of oil. Frustrated by a failure to see any economic benefits from the project, the Kazakh government has cited environmental risks and cost overruns to justify suspending operations and demanding a greater say in the project.

Like the dramatic rise in oil prices, the Kashagan episode is an indication of the oil industry's growing difficulties in its efforts to boost production in the face of rising demand. "All the oil companies are struggling to grow production," Peter Hitchens of Teather & Greenwood brokerage told the Wall Street Journal in July. "It's becoming more and more difficult to bring projects in on time and on budget."

That this industry debilitation is not a temporary problem but symptomatic of a long-term trend was confirmed in two important studies published this past summer by conservative industry organizations.

The first of these was released July 9 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), an affiliate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of major industrial powers. Titled Medium-Term Oil Market Report, it is a blunt assessment of the global supply-and-demand equation over the 2007-12 period. The news is not good.

Predicting that world economic activity will grow by an average of 4.5 percent per year during this period--much of it driven by unbridled growth in China, India and the Middle East--the report concludes that global oil demand will rise by 2.2 percent per year, pushing world oil consumption from approximately 86 million barrels per day in 2007 to 96 million in 2012. With luck and massive new investment, the oil industry will be able to increase output sufficiently to satisfy the higher level of demand anticipated for 2012--barely. Beyond that, however, there appears little likelihood that the industry will be able to sustain any increase in demand. "Oil look[s] extremely tight in five years' time," the agency declared.

Underlying the report's general conclusion are a number of specific concerns. Most notably, it points to a worrisome decline in the yield of older fields in non-OPEC countries and a corresponding need for increased output from the OPEC countries, most of which are located in conflict-prone areas of the Middle East and Africa. The numbers involved are staggering. At first blush, it would seem that the need for an extra 10 million barrels per day between now and 2012 would translate into an added 2 million barrels per day in each of the next five years--a conceivably attainable goal. But that doesn't take into account the decline of older fields.

According to the report, the world actually needs an extra 5 million: 3 million to make up for the decline in older fields plus the 2 million in added requirements. This is a daunting and possibly insurmountable challenge, especially when one considers that almost all of the additional petroleum will have to come from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Kazakhstan and Venezuela--countries that do not inspire the sort of investor confidence that will be needed to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into new drilling rigs, pipelines and other essential infrastructure.

Similar causes for anxiety can be found in the second major study released last summer, Facing the Hard Truths About Energy, prepared by the National Petroleum Council, a major industry organization. Because it supposedly provided a "balanced" view of the nation's energy dilemma, the NPC report was widely praised on Capitol Hill and in the media; adding to its luster was the identity of its chief author, former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

Like the IEA report, the NPC study starts with the claim that, with the right mix of policies and higher investment, the industry is capable of satisfying US and international oil and natural gas demand. "Fortunately, the world is not running out of energy resources," the report bravely asserts. But obstacles to the development and delivery of these resources abound, so prudent policies and practices are urgently required. Although "there is no single, easy solution to the multiple challenges we face," the authors conclude, they are "confident that the prompt adoption of these strategies" will allow the United States to satisfy its long-term energy needs.

Read further into the report, however, and serious doubts emerge. Here again, worries arise from the growing difficulties of extracting oil and gas from less-favorable locations and the geopolitical risks associated with increased reliance on unfriendly and unstable suppliers. According to the NPC (using data acquired from the IEA), an estimated $20 trillion in new infrastructure will be needed over the next twenty-five years to ensure that sufficient energy is available to satisfy anticipated worldwide demand.

The report then states the obvious: "A stable and attractive investment climate will be necessary to attract adequate capital for evolution and expansion of the energy infrastructure." This is where any astute observer should begin to get truly alarmed, for, as the study notes, no such climate can be expected. As the center of gravity of world oil production shifts decisively to OPEC suppliers and state-centric energy producers like Russia, geopolitical rather than market factors will come to dominate the marketplace.

"These shifts pose profound implications for U.S. interests, strategies, and policy-making," the NPC report states. "Many of the expected changes could heighten risks to U.S. energy security in a world where U.S. influence is likely to decline as economic power shifts to other nations. In years to come, security threats to the world's main sources of oil and natural gas may worsen."
The implications are obvious: major investors are not likely to cough up the trillions of dollars needed to substantially boost production in the years ahead, suggesting that the global output of conventional petroleum will not reach the elevated levels predicted by the Energy Department but will soon begin an irreversible decline.

This conclusion leads to two obvious strategic impulses: first, the government will seek to ease the qualms of major energy investors by promising to protect their overseas investments through the deployment of American military forces; and second, the industry will seek to hedge its bets by shifting an ever-increasing share of its investment funds into the development of nonpetroleum liquids.

The New 'Washington Consensus'

The need for a vigorous US military role in protecting energy assets abroad has been a major theme in American foreign policy since 1945, when President Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and promised to protect the kingdom in return for privileged access to Saudi oil.

In the most famous expression of this linkage, President Carter affirmed in January 1980 that the unimpeded flow of Persian Gulf oil is among this country's vital interests and that to protect this interest, the United States will employ "any means necessary, including military force." This principle was later cited by President Reagan as the rationale for "reflagging" Kuwaiti oil tankers with the American ensign during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 and protecting them with US warships--a stance that led to sporadic clashes with Iran. The same principle was subsequently invoked by George H.W. Bush as a justification for the Gulf War of 1991.

In considering these past events, it is important to recognize that the use of military force to protect the flow of imported petroleum has generally enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Washington. Initially, this bipartisan outlook was largely focused on the Persian Gulf area, but since 1990, it has been extended to other areas as well. President Clinton eagerly pursued close military ties with the Caspian Sea oil states of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan after the breakup of the USSR in 1991, while George W. Bush has avidly sought an increased US military presence in Africa's oil-producing regions, going so far as to favor the establishment of a US Africa Command (Africom) in February.

One might imagine that the current debacle in Iraq would shake this consensus, but there is no evidence that this is so. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case: possibly fearful that the chaos in Iraq will spread to other countries in the Gulf region, senior figures in both parties are calling for a reinvigorated US military role in the protection of foreign energy deliveries.

Perhaps the most explicit expression of this elite consensus is an independent task force report, National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency, backed by many prominent Democrats and Republicans. It was released by the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), co-chaired by John Deutch, deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration, and James Schlesinger, defense secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in October 2006. The report warns of mounting perils to the safe flow of foreign oil. Concluding that the United States alone has the capacity to protect the global oil trade against the threat of violent obstruction, it argues the need for a strong US military presence in key producing areas and in the sea lanes that carry foreign oil to American shores.

An awareness of this new "Washington consensus" on the need to protect overseas oil supplies with American troops helps explain many recent developments in Washington. Most significant, it illuminates the strategic stance adopted by President Bush in justifying his determination to retain a potent US force in Iraq--and why the Democrats have found it so difficult to contest that stance.

Consider Bush's September 13 prime-time speech on Iraq. "If we were to be driven out of Iraq," he prophesied, "extremists of all strains would be emboldened.... Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply." And then came the kicker: "Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East." In other words, Iraq is no longer about democracy or WMDs or terrorism but about maintaining regional stability to ensure the safe flow of petroleum and keep the American economy on an even keel; it was almost as if he was speaking to the bipartisan crowd that backed the CFR report cited above.

It is very clear that the Democrats, or at least mainstream Democrats, are finding it exceedingly difficult to contest this argument head-on. In March, for example, Senator Hillary Clinton told the New York Times that Iraq is "right in the heart of the oil region" and so "it is directly in opposition to our interests" for it to become a failed state or a pawn of Iran. This means, she continued, that it will be necessary to keep some US troops in Iraq indefinitely, to provide logistical and training support to the Iraqi military. Senator Barack Obama has also spoken of the need to maintain a robust US military presence in Iraq and the surrounding area. Thus, while calling for the withdrawal of most US combat brigades from Iraq proper, he has championed an "over-the-horizon force that could prevent chaos in the wider region."

Given this perspective, it is very hard for mainstream Democrats to challenge Bush when he says that an "enduring" US military presence is needed in Iraq or to change the Administration's current policy, barring a major military setback or some other unforeseen event. By the same token, it will be hard for the Democrats to avert a US attack on Iran if this can be portrayed as a necessary move to prevent Tehran from threatening the long-term safety of Persian Gulf oil supplies.

Nor can we anticipate a dramatic change in US policy in the Gulf region from the next administration, whether Democratic or Republican. If anything, we should expect an increase in the use of military force to protect the overseas flow of oil, as the threat level rises along with the need for new investment to avert even further reductions in global supplies.

The Rush to Alternative Liquids

Although determined to keep expanding the supply of conventional petroleum for as long as possible, government and industry officials are aware that at some point these efforts will prove increasingly ineffective. They also know that public pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions--thus slowing the accumulation of climate-changing greenhouse gases--and to avoid exposure to conflict in the Middle East is sure to increase in the years ahead. Accordingly, they are placing greater emphasis on the development of oil alternatives that can be procured at home or in neighboring Canada.

The new emphasis was first given national attention in Bush's latest State of the Union address. Stressing energy independence and the need to modernize fuel economy standards, he announced an ambitious plan to increase domestic production of ethanol and other biofuels. The Administration appears to favor several types of petroleum alternatives: ethanol derived from corn stover, switch grass and other nonfood crops (cellulosic ethanol); diesel derived largely from soybeans (biodiesel); and liquids derived from coal (coal-to-liquids), natural gas (gas-to-liquids) and oil shale. All of these methods are being tested in university laboratories and small-scale facilities, and will be applied in larger, commercial-sized ventures in coming years with support from various government agencies.

Michael T. Klare

The Nation

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mass. plant will make natural gas from coal

A Cambridge start-up that converts coal to clean-burning natural gas will take its cutting-edge process to the next step, building a $25 million demonstration plant near Fall River to ready their technology for full-scale commercial production.

GreatPoint Energy Inc., is scheduled today to unveil its plan to develop the project, which includes a research center, at the Brayton Point power station in Somerset, a coal-burning plant owned by Dominion, a Richmond, Va., utility and energy company. GreatPoint will create more than 100 jobs at its new facility after completion in about a year.

"This is where we are going to demonstrate our technology to the world," said Andrew Perlman, GreatPoint's chief executive. "This is going to be the most leading-edge gasification center anywhere."

The development of the demonstration plant and research center represents a milestone not only for the company, but also the state and its burgeoning alternative energy sector. GreatPoint is considered among the nation's most promising alternative energy firms, and recently raised $100 million from investors, one of the industry's biggest venture capital rounds ever.

For Massachusetts, GreatPoint's selection of Brayton Point over sites in three other states further solidifies its position as a leading center of alternative energy technology, an emerging sector that employs an estimated 14,000 in the state. It also indicates the sector is maturing, moving closer to commercial production that could mean even more growth for the sector and state employment.

"This isn't a few hippies in the backwoods," said Warren Leon, director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, which finances alternative energy projects. "GreatPoint is showing that creative new technologies are starting to hit the big time."

The demonstration plant will produce natural gas on a small scale as a way to test and refine the process for full-scale commercial production. Once the technology proves ready for commercial production, Massachusetts could reap another benefit too: lower energy costs. Massachusetts companies and residents pay among the highest natural gas rates in the country. Perlman said his firm's process can produce natural gas for about half the cost it now sells for.

"One of our major economic challenges is the high cost of natural gas," said state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles, "and this is potentially a game-changing technology."

GreatPoint uses a proprietary catalyst to convert coal, petroleum coke, a refining byproduct, and organic material, such as switch grass, into methane, a clean-burning natural gas that can be transported through existing pipelines and burned in existing equipment. The process prevents the release of carbon dioxide, a so-called greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, and captures other byproducts, such as sulfur, which can be reused by chemical makers.

The combination of environmental benefits and the ability to use the gas with existing equipment has attracted venture firms as well as traditional energy companies, such as AES Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Suncor Energy, Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, as investors. Coal is among the most plentiful, but also dirtiest energy sources, and solving the pollution problem is "one of the Holy Grails of the clean energy movements," said Jim Matheson, general partner at Flagship Ventures, a Cambridge venture capital firm that invests in alternative energy companies.
Flagship hasn't invested in GreatPoint.

"If you figure out a way to use coal cleanly, it's a huge opportunity," Matheson said. "Maybe they'll solve it, maybe they won't, but they're going after it in a very deliberate way."

GreatPoint was founded in 2005, and now employs about 45 in Cambridge and at a small pilot program near Chicago. The Chicago-area workforce will be consolidated into the new facility.
Perlman said the firm selected Massachusetts because of its access to engineering and technical talent at MIT and other universities, and the efforts of Governor Deval Patrick. During a meeting on energy this year, Patrick brought GreatPoint together with Dominion, one of the nation's biggest power generators. Dominion, which has a small investment in GreatPoint, is providing the site and technical support for the project, said Diane Leopold, a Dominion vice president.

"We don't believe coal is going to go away," said Leopold, "and we want to find a way to use coal that's extremely clean."

Source - Boston Globe.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Worldwide Shift from Incandescents to Compact Fluorescents

On February 20, 2007, Australia announced it would phase out the sale of inefficient incandescent light bulbs by 2010, replacing them with highly efficient compact fluorescent bulbs that use one fourth as much electricity. If the rest of the world joins Australia in this simple step to sharply cut carbon emissions, the worldwide drop in electricity use would permit the closing of more than 270 coal-fired (500 megawatt) power plants. For the United States, this bulb switch would facilitate shutting down 80 coal-fired plants.

The good news is that the world may be approaching a social tipping point in this shift to efficient light bulbs. On April 25, 2007, just two months after Australia’s announcement, the Canadian government announced it would phase out sales of incandescents by 2012. Mounting concerns about climate change are driving the bulb replacement movement.

In mid-March, a U.S. coalition of environmental groups—including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Coalition for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and the Earth Day Network—along with Philips Lighting launched an initiative to shift to the more-efficient bulbs in all of the country’s estimated 4 billion sockets by 2016.

In California, the most populous state, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine is proposing that his state phase out the sale of incandescent light bulbs by 2012, four years ahead of the coalition’s deadline. Levine calls his proposed law the “How Many Legislators Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb Act.” On the East Coast, the New Jersey legislature is on the verge of requiring state government buildings to replace all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents by 2010 as part of a broader statewide effort to promote the shift to more-efficient lighting. (See additional initiatives.)

The European Union, now numbering 27 countries, announced in March 2007 that it plans to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Part of this cut will be achieved by replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. In the United Kingdom, a nongovernmental group called Ban the Bulb has been vigorously pushing for a ban on incandescents since early 2006. Further east, Moscow is urging residents to switch to compact fluorescents. In New Zealand, Climate Change Minister, David Parker, has announced that his country may take similar measures to those adopted by Australia.

In April, Greenpeace urged the government of India to ban incandescents in order to cut carbon emissions. Since roughly 640 million of the 650 million bulbs sold each year in this fast-growing economy are incandescents, the potential for cutting carbon emissions, reducing air pollution, and saving consumers money is huge.

At the industry level, Philips, the world’s largest lighting manufacturer, has announced plans to discontinue marketing incandescents in Europe and the United States by 2016. More broadly, the European Lamp Companies Federation (the bulb manufacturers’ trade association) is supporting a rise in EU lighting efficiency standards that would lead to a phase-out of incandescent bulbs.

At the commercial level, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, announced a marketing campaign in November 2006 to boost its sales of compact fluorescents to 100 million by the end of 2007, more than doubling its annual sales. In the U.K., Currys, Britain’s largest electrical retail chain, has announced that it will discontinue selling incandescent light bulbs.

Switching light bulbs is an easy way of realizing large immediate gains in energy efficiency. A study for the U.S. government calculated that the gasoline equivalent of the energy saved over the lifetime of one 24 watt compact fluorescent bulb is sufficient to drive a Prius from New York to San Francisco. While a worldwide phase out of the inefficient incandescents would reduce world electricity use by more than 3 percent, shifting to more-efficient street lighting and replacing older fluorescent tubes with newer, more-efficient ones might double this reduction in power use.

Although highly efficient compact fluorescent bulbs have been around for a generation, they have until recently been on the fringe, used only by environmentally-minded consumers and typically sold in hardware stores, but not in supermarkets. One reason consumers lacked interest was that the new bulbs can cost five times as much as incandescents. Only the more knowledgeable consumers knew that a compact fluorescent bulb uses only one fourth as much electricity as an incandescent bulb, lasts 10 times as long, and easily saves $50 during its lifetime.

One disadvantage of compact fluorescents is that each bulb contains a small amount of mercury, roughly one fifth the amount in a watch battery. This mercury is only a small fraction of that released into the atmosphere by the additional coal burned to power an incandescent.

Mercury released by coal-fired power plants is the principal reason why 44 of the 50 states in the United States have issued mercury intake advisories limiting the consumption of fish from freshwater streams and lakes. Nonetheless, worn-out compact fluorescents, watch batteries, and other items that contain mercury still need to be recycled properly. Fortunately, this is possible, whereas the mercury spewing from coal smokestacks blankets the countryside, ending up in the water and food supply.

Shifting to the highly efficient bulbs sharply reduces monthly electricity bills and cuts carbon emissions, since each standard (13 watt) compact fluorescent over its lifetime reduces coal use by more than 210 pounds. Such a shift also substantially reduces air pollution, making it obviously attractive for fast-growing economies plagued with bad air like China and India.

In the United States, an ingenious website called (the name derives from the time it takes to change a light bulb), provides a running tally of compact fluorescents sold nationwide since January 1, 2007. As of early May, it totaled nearly 37 million bulbs, yielding a reduction in carbon emissions comparable to taking 260,000 cars off the road. Sponsored by Yahoo! and Nielson, the site also provides data on how many dollars are being saved and how much less coal is burned. Data are available on the website for each state, providing a convenient way of monitoring local progress in replacing incandescents.

The challenge for each of us, of course, is to shift to compact fluorescents in our own homes if we have not already. But far more important, we need to contact our elected representatives at the city, provincial, or state level and at the national level to introduce legislation to raise lighting efficiency standards, in effect phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs. Few things can cut carbon emissions faster than this simple step.

In a world facing almost daily new evidence of global warming and its consequences, there is a need for a quick decisive victory in the effort to cut carbon emissions and stabilize climate. If we can engineer a rapid phase-out of incandescent light bulbs it would provide just such a victory, generating momentum for even greater advances in climate stabilization.

# # #

Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.

Note: This shift to compact fluorescent light bulbs is one of a dozen or so measures to cut world carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 to be outlined in the forthcoming book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester R. Brown.
Copyright © 2007 Earth Policy Institute

Global Oil Output Has Already Peaked, Pickens Says

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- World oil output has already peaked, and prices that have surged to record highs above $90 a barrel are a sign of things to come, said investor Boone Pickens, chairman of Dallas-based BP Capital LLC.

Global production has peaked at 85 million barrels a day, Pickens, 79, said in an interview today at a Houston conference sponsored by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, a non-profit think tank. Oil will rise to $100 a barrel before falling to $80 again, he said. Earlier this week, he said crude would reach $100 by year's end.

``As this unfolds, you're going to have to find alternatives that are going to do the job that oil is doing,'' Pickens said.

``Everyone is going to have to come to grips with this in the next two or three years. People are going to have to figure it out.''

Peak oil is the theory that world production has reached or is about to reach its zenith, after which it will begin an unstoppable decline. Critics say it's impossible to know when petroleum output has peaked, given uncertainties estimating global reserves. Previous efforts to peg a date for peak output have been wrong, they say.

Investors such as Pickens and analysts like Matthew Simmons of Houston investment bank Simmons & Co. International support the peak oil theory. Executives from companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. have downplayed the possibility.

``They talked like $50 was going to be difficult, and $60 and $70. We went through those like a knife through hot butter,'' Pickens said.

Last month, Pickens predicted that oil would reach $100 a barrel after falling to $78. Futures in New York dropped as low as $78.35 on Oct. 8, and touched a record high of $90.07 today.

Dividends, Buybacks

Pickens said the major oil companies should be doubling dividends and cutting buybacks.

``I think the repurchase of stock in the market is telling something,'' he said. ``It's telling the market that we can't grow.''

The companies will be manufacturing operations eventually, he said. ``The reserves will be gone and they're going to be refiners and processors,'' Pickens said.

He also said natural-gas prices may drop to $6.50 per million British thermal units in the spring of 2008 and that with a warm winter, prices could be low next year. They could go back up in 2009, he said.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean

At the start of the Academy Award-winning movie "American Beauty," a character videotapes a plastic grocery bag as it drifts into the air, an event he casts as a symbol of life's unpredictable currents, and declares the romantic moment as a "most beautiful thing."

To the eyes of an oceanographer, the image is pure catastrophe.
In reality, the rogue bag would float into a sewer, follow the storm drain to the ocean, then make its way to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists.

The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.

Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, said his group has been monitoring the Garbage Patch for 10 years.

"With the winds blowing in and the currents in the gyre going circular, it's the perfect environment for trapping," Eriksen said. "There's nothing we can do about it now, except do no more harm."

The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.

Ocean current patterns may keep the flotsam stashed in a part of the world few will ever see, but the majority of its content is generated onshore, according to a report from Greenpeace last year titled "Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans."

The report found that 80 percent of the oceans' litter originated on land. While ships drop the occasional load of shoes or hockey gloves into the waters (sometimes on purpose and illegally), the vast majority of sea garbage begins its journey as onshore trash.

That's what makes a potentially toxic swamp like the Garbage Patch entirely preventable, Parry said.

"At this point, cleaning it up isn't an option," Parry said. "It's just going to get bigger as our reliance on plastics continues. ... The long-term solution is to stop producing as much plastic products at home and change our consumption habits."

Parry said using canvas bags to cart groceries instead of using plastic bags is a good first step; buying foods that aren't wrapped in plastics is another.

After the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned the use of plastic grocery bags earlier this year with the problem of ocean debris in mind, a slew of state bills were written to limit bag production, said Sarah Christie, a legislative director with the California Coastal Commission.

But many of the bills failed after meeting strong opposition from plastics industry lobbyists, she said.

Meanwhile, the stew in the ocean continues to grow.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is particularly dangerous for birds and marine life, said Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group.

Sea turtles mistake clear plastic bags for jellyfish. Birds swoop down and swallow indigestible shards of plastic. The petroleum-based plastics take decades to break down, and as long as they float on the ocean's surface, they can appear as feeding grounds.

"These animals die because the plastic eventually fills their stomachs," Chabot said. "It doesn't pass, and they literally starve to death."

The Greenpeace report found that at least 267 marine species had suffered from some kind of ingestion or entanglement with marine debris.

Chabot said if environmentalists wanted to remove the ocean dump site, it would take a massive international effort that would cost billions.

But that is unlikely, he added, because no one country is likely to step forward and claim the issue as its own responsibility.

Instead, cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is left to the landlubbers.

"What we can do is ban plastic fast food packaging," Chabot said, "or require the substitution of biodegradable materials, increase recycling programs and improve enforcement of litter laws.

"Otherwise, this ever-growing floating continent of trash will be with us for the foreseeable future."

- Justin Berton

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Undeclared Oil War

While some debate whether the war in Iraq was or was not "about oil," another war, this one involving little but oil, has broken out between two of the world's most powerful nations.

For months China and Japan have been locked in a diplomatic battle over access to the big oil fields in Siberia. Japan, which depends entirely on imported oil, is desperately lobbying Moscow for a 2,300-mile pipeline from Siberia to coastal Japan. But fast-growing China, now the world's second-largest oil user, after the United States, sees Russian oil as vital for its own "energy security" and is pushing for a 1,400-mile pipeline south to Daqing.

The petro-rivalry has become so intense that Japan has offered to finance the $5 billion pipeline, invest $7 billion in development of Siberian oil fields and throw in an additional $2 billion for Russian "social projects" -- this despite the certainty that if Japan does win Russia's oil, relations between Tokyo and Beijing may sink to their lowest, potentially most dangerous, levels since World War II.

Asia's undeclared oil war is but the latest reminder that in a global economy dependent largely on a single fuel -- oil -- "energy security" means far more than hardening refineries and pipelines against terrorist attack. At its most basic level, energy security is the ability to keep the global machine humming -- that is, to produce enough fuels and electricity at affordable prices that every nation can keep its economy running, its people fed and its borders defended.

A failure of energy security means that the momentum of industrialization and modernity grinds to a halt. And by that measure, we are failing.

In the United States and Europe, new demand for electricity is outpacing the new supply of power and natural gas and raising the specter of more rolling blackouts. In the "emerging" economies, such as Brazil, India and especially China, energy demand is rising so fast it may double by 2020. And this only hints at the energy crisis facing the developing world, where nearly 2 billion people -- a third of the world's population -- have almost no access to electricity or liquid fuels and are thus condemned to a medieval existence that breeds despair, resentment and, ultimately, conflict.

In other words, we are on the cusp of a new kind of war -- between those who have enough energy and those who do not but are increasingly willing to go out and get it. While nations have always competed for oil, it seems more and more likely that the race for a piece of the last big reserves of oil and natural gas will be the dominant geopolitical theme of the 21st century.

Already we can see the outlines. China and Japan are scrapping over Siberia. In the Caspian Sea region, European, Russian, Chinese and American governments and oil companies are battling for a stake in the big oil fields of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In Africa, the United States is building a network of military bases and diplomatic missions whose main goal is to protect American access to oilfields in volatile places such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and tiny Sao Tome -- and, as important, to deny that access to China and other thirsty superpowers.

The diplomatic tussles only hint at what we'll see in the Middle East, where most of the world's remaining oil lies. For all the talk of big new oil discoveries in Russia and Africa -- and of how this gush of crude will "free" America and other big importers from the machinations of OPEC -- the geological facts speak otherwise. Even with the new Russian and African oil, worldwide oil production outside the Middle East is barely keeping pace with demand.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Russia and France clashed noisily with the United States over whose companies would have access to the oil in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Less well known is the way China has sought to build up its own oil alliances in the Middle East -- often over Washington's objections. In 2000 Chinese oil officials visited Iran, a country U.S. companies are forbidden to deal with; China also has a major interest in Iraqi oil.

But China's most controversial oil overture has been made to a country America once regarded as its most trusted oil ally: Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Beijing has been lobbying Riyadh for access to Saudi reserves, the largest in the world. In return, the Chinese have offered the Saudis a foothold in what will be the world's biggest energy market -- and, as a bonus, have thrown in offers of sophisticated Chinese weaponry, including ballistic missiles and other hardware, that the United States and Europe have refused to sell to the Saudis.

Granted, the United States, with its vast economic and military power, would probably win any direct "hot" war for oil. The far more worrisome scenario is that an escalating rivalry among other big consumers will spark new conflicts -- conflicts that might require U.S. intervention and could easily destabilize the world economy upon which American power ultimately rests.

As demand for oil becomes sharper, as global oil production continues to lag (and as producers such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria grow more unstable) the struggle to maintain access to adequate energy supplies, always a critical mission for any nation, will become even more challenging and uncertain and take up even more resources and political attention.

This escalation will not only drive up the risk of conflict but will make it harder for governments to focus on long-term energy challenges, such as avoiding climate change, developing alternative fuels and alleviating Third World energy poverty -- challenges that are themselves critical to long-term energy security but which, ironically, will be seen as distracting from the current campaign to keep the oil flowing.

This, ultimately, is the real energy-security dilemma. The more obvious it becomes that an oil-dominated energy economy is inherently insecure, the harder it becomes to move on to something beyond oil.

By Paul RobertsWashington Post

Monday, October 15, 2007

Private industry conference finds much less oil

A secretive gathering some of the world’s biggest oil companies has concluded the industry will discover far less oil than officially forecast, meaning global oil production may peak much sooner than many expect.

The Hedberg Research Conference on Understanding World Oil Resources was held by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in Colorado Springs last November to try to reconcile widely divergent estimates of likely future reserves additions. In an interview with, oil executive Ray Leonard said the majority view was that future oil discovery would amount to some 250 billion barrels, rather than the 650 billion barrels suggested by the United States Geological Survey. The Colorado meeting was attended by technical experts from all the supermajors along with some of the biggest state-owned oil companies such as Saudi Aramco. According to Mr Leonard, a vice president of the recently-formed Kuwait Energy Company, who presented a paper on Russian reserves as the former head of exploration for Yukos, the experts challenged the USGS’s regional assessments on the basis of their companies’ more detailed proprietary data. Mr Leonard says the majority opinion was that reserves growth from current fields might add around another 500 billion barrels, against the USGS estimate of 612 billion, and that non-conventional oil production would reach only 4-5 million barrels per day by 2015, also much lower than the most optimistic predictions.

Journalists were barred from the conference to allow open discussion of confidential information, although the Oil & Gas Journal later reported that the meeting had concluded oil production would peak between 2020 and 2040 at 90-100 million barrels per day. But Mr Leonard said that based on the range of numbers accepted by the majority of delegates at the conference, he expects output to plateau in five years’ time. “If there’s a world recession it could be a little longer, if United States invades another oil producing country it may happen a lot sooner. But it’s going to happen in around five years so we need to make some preparations”.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Flying Car About to Take Off?

In 1918, long before George Jetson commuted to Spacely Space Sprockets, the U.S. Patent Office issued Felix Longobardi the first patent for a vehicle capable of both driving on roads and flying through the air. But given all the impractical prototypes built since Longobardi's original whimsy, history suggests that any vehicle design combining these two modes of transport will be a commercial failure: aero-auto hybrids always seem to result in a compromise that serves both functions poorly.

Now a group of MIT alums believe that they are on their way toward overcoming this problem. Founded in 2006 and called Terrafugia, their startup, based in Woburn, MA, recently produced the first automated folding wing for a light sport aircraft.

(A light sport aircraft is a type of airplane deemed by the Federal Aviation Administration to be easier to fly and hence more accessible than regular private planes.) The wing, however, is just the first step toward an aero-auto hybrid that the company plans to call the Transition.

This summer, the group demonstrated its folding wing at the annual AirVenture aviation festival in Oshkosh, WI. With more than 650,000 attendees, the festival is the most important event in experimental-aircraft aviation.

"Going into this, we knew our two biggest design challenges to make it practical would be the wings and the power train," says Anna Mracek Dietrich, an engineer at Terrafugia and the company's chief operating officer. "By validating the durability of the wing's construction and engineering, we've checked one major design challenge off of the list, and now our focus is on the second."

Previous prototypes of road-drivable aircraft have featured manually folding or detachable wings. But to allow for a seamless and quick transformation from plane to car and back, the Terrafugia team has devised a system that allows the pilot to enfold or extend the wings by pushing a button in the cockpit. Dietrich says that at Oshkosh, the researchers opened and closed the wings more than 500 times--the equivalent of three to five years of typical use--and that they're more than pleased with the wings' durability.

The wing features off-the-shelf electric actuators, but Dietrich says that the team had to design from scratch the mechanical linkages between the actuators and the rest of the craft. The group also uses dual electromagnetic locks to hold the wings tightly to the fuselage when they're enfolded.

"We're building the rest of the first vehicle now," Dietrich says. "Our schedule calls for us to start flight testing by the end of 2008, and so far we're on track for that."

The technical challenge now before the team is to build a power train that uses one engine both in the air and on the ground and is capable of running on a tank of super unleaded gasoline--the kind that can be bought at any gas station. To make the transition between engine uses smooth, the team is devising a mechanism to transfer power from the propeller to the wheels and back as needed. The difficulty here, Dietrich says, is that the system has to be as simple, reliable, and lightweight as possible. (For the team, the weight of the vehicle is a constant concern, not only because the vehicle has to be relatively light in order to fly, but also because FAA regulations require it to be less than 1,320 pounds.)

"They're doing some interesting things," says Mitch LaBiche, an engineer at LaBiche Aerospace, a company based in Alvin, TX, that has assisted the military in the construction of a wide variety of flying vehicles, from the F-117 to the Apache AH-64 helicopter. LaBiche's company is now working to build a flying sports car called the FSC-1. "[The Transition] is a light sports aircraft, so they're going to have to work hard to meet the weight requirements," LaBiche says.

The greatest nontechnical challenge Terrafugia must face is meeting the regulatory requirements of both the FAA and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). To satisfy FAA regulations for the category of light sports aircraft, the Transition must have a maximum level speed of 138 miles per hour, a one- or two-person occupancy, and fixed landing gear, among other things. For the NHTSA, the Transition must be able to pass the same requirements that a regular car would.

"There are systems in place with both organizations to make working with them as painless as possible," Dietrich says. "It is still a lot to go through, but we've made inroads with both, especially the FAA."

The company plans to build and sell between 50 and 200 Transitions a year, most likely starting in 2009, and it's marketing the vehicle to the roughly 600,000 licensed pilots in the United States. The Transition will be comparable in size to a Cadillac Escalade but won't be nearly as heavy. Terrafugia plans to charge $148,000 per vehicle.

"Very interesting! I would love to have one," says Kenny Huffine, a pilot for a major commercial airline who flies recreationally. "My one concern, though, is about having a plane parked around other cars. If it were pushed or damaged, would that make it unflyable and dangerous?"

To the source ~

Friday, October 5, 2007

Beyond the Solar Panel

The government tests cars for gas mileage. Now it's testing roof tiles for wattage.

Homeowners have long been able to partially power their homes with sunlight, but it meant clumsily mounting photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof. Now the latest generation of PV panels look and act much like ordinary roofing tiles or shingles. And the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is evaluating nine of these commercial PV roofing products in hopes of providing an easy way for consumers to judge the panels' power potential.

"A lot of people are considering the use of PV products on their homes and businesses, and in order to make decisions on whether it's a worthwhile investment you need to predict their performance," says Hunter Fanney, head of NIST's Heat Transfer and Alternative Energy Systems Group in Gaithersburg, MD. "We are collecting detailed performance data to validate those models."

The roofing materials, which use various types of solar-to-electricity conversion, are being tested for 15 months. Fanney hopes to use the data to build a computer program and database with, among other things, average flat-surface solar radiation readings for neighborhoods across the United States (as measured by the weather service at the nearest airport). Punch in the performance characteristics of the roofing product you want to use, plus your location, roof orientation and slope, and other data, and -- bingo -- you'll know what kind of wattage you can expect from your roof.

According to Fanney, roofing tiles and shingles with embedded solar converters have been on the market for about three years. They look like regular roofing materials, keep out the sun and rain, and can be installed in much the same way. But by generating electricity, these tiles and shingles save consumers money.

Around 500 square feet of PV tiles can produce three kilowatts of electricity, according to Subhendu Guha, president and chief operating officer of United Solar Ovonic, a maker of PV shingles in Auburn Hills, MI -- and most roofs are several times that size. His company's version is dark blue and can blend with ordinary shingles of a similar shade. Or a builder might devote an entire sunny section to PV materials.

"A south-facing roof on a three-bedroom home could supply 20 to 30 percent of the home's electrical needs," says Paul Maycock, a consultant and head of PV Energy Systems in

Without subsidies and incentives, such as those in California, PV power costs about twice as much as utility power, says Thomas Leyden, vice president of east coast operations for PowerLight, a PV systems integrator in Berkeley, CA. That difference, however, is shrinking. "PV hardware prices have gone down tenfold in the last 15 years, thanks to new technologies, better manufacturing techniques, and more efficient use of materials," Leyden says. Prices are currently falling by about 5.5 percent yearly, he says, so they should come down another 50 percent in a little more than a decade -- and become fully competitive with utility power.

Maycock is even more optimistic, projecting that the installed price will fall from today's $8 or so per watt to $4 by 2014. That would make solar power "fully economic in the Sunbelt," he notes.

Meanwhile, Guha maintains that PV roofing is already economical at certain times of the day, in places where utilities charge extra for peak daytime usage. There, he says, it can be used to avoid paying those surcharges, a practice called "peak shaving."

Historically, the biggest market for residential PV roofing has been in Japan, which gets about half the sunlight that California does and the average residential user derives only a kilowatt. But government incentives, low mortgage interest rates, and high utility power rates have made residential PV popular there, says Maycock.

Source - MIT Technology Review

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Climate change disaster is upon us, warns UN

A record number of floods, droughts and storms around the world this year amount to a climate change "mega disaster", the United Nation's emergency relief coordinator, Sir John Holmes, has warned.

Sir John, a British diplomat who is also known as the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said dire predictions about the impact of global warming on humanity were already coming true.

"We are seeing the effects of climate change. Any year can be a freak but the pattern looks pretty clear to be honest. That's why we're trying ... to say, of course you've got to deal with mitigation of emissions, but this is here and now, this is with us already," he said.

As a measure of the worsening situation, Ocha, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - part of the UN secretariat that employs Sir John - has issued 13 emergency "flash" appeals so far this year. The number is three more than in 2005, which held the previous record.

Two years ago only half the international disasters dealt with by Ocha had anything to do with the climate; this year all but one of the 13 emergency appeals is climate-related. "And 2007 is not finished. We will certainly have more by the end of the year, I fear," added Sir John, who is in charge of channelling international relief efforts to disaster areas.

More appeals were likely in the coming weeks, as floods hit west Africa. "All these events on their own didn't have massive death tolls, but if you add all these little disasters together you get a mega disaster," he said.

The only one of this year's emergency appeals not connected to the climate was an earthquake in Peru, in August. The others arose after an unprecedented string of catastrophic floods across much of Africa, south Asia and North Korea, and followed severe drought in southern Africa, Nicaragua's category-five hurricane, and extreme climate conditions in Bolivia, which brought both drought and floods.

The Ocha appeals represent the tip of an iceberg since they are launched only with the agreement of the affected country. India was badly affected by floods that hit the rest of the Asian region in July. But unlike its neighbour, Pakistan, India did not call on the UN for help.

Ocha believes that 66 million people were made homeless or were otherwise affected across south Asia. The lives of several million more people were turned upside down across Africa. Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia and Uganda experienced disastrous floods, and Swaziland and Lesotho declared emergencies because of severe drought that reduced harvests by half.

The latest appeal from Ocha was launched yesterday, to try to raise emergency relief funds for Ghana, where more than 400,000 people are reported to be homeless as a result of flooding. Appeals may also be started for Togo and Burkina Faso.

"The flooding in Africa just now is the worst anyone can remember," Sir John said, expressing frustration at how little media attention in the west was being devoted to what he terms creeping climatic catastrophe.

Flooding is likely to be common for a warming planet, and climate change has a double effect - causing an increase in the frequency of storms, while higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide curb the ability of plants to draw groundwater.

A climate-change summit is to be held in Bali in December, with the aim of agreeing the principles of a new international treaty to replace Kyoto, the accord that expires in 2012. But the talks face determined US opposition to mandatory emissions targets, and most climate negotiators doubt a real breakthrough can be achieved before the Bush government leaves office in 2009.

Sir John argues that whatever is done on greenhouse gas emissions, money has to be spent now on mitigating the impact that climate change is already having. "You can't actually stop disasters happening but you can do a lot to reduce their impact and reduce people's vulnerability to them by making sure people don't live on the coast or river plains, and that roads are raised and dams are in reasonable shape."

According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is leading research on the issue, global warming will disrupt and potentially devastate the lives of billions of people.
And, just as global warming starts to make itself felt, there are signs that "donor fatigue" has set in. Of about $338m (£166m) requested for Ocha's 13 flash appeals this year, only $114m has so far come from donors.

The Guardian

Bush Moves on Climate Change

White House officials say a series of developments has stirred President Bush's new push for international action to limit global warming.

Bush advisers say that he has been sensitive to the issue from the start of his presidency but that the media haven't given him credit for it. As a result, he has been at odds with the punditocracy over climate change since early in his first term.

White House officials say a big part of the media bias derived from Bush's rejection of the international Kyoto Protocol mandating actions to limit carbon emissions—a plan that many media observers endorsed. But Bush concluded that the protocol would have seriously damaged the U.S. economy and would have been unfair to American consumers. Bush believes that economic growth and a reduction of carbon emissions can go hand in hand.

It's only recently, however, that several additional factors have emerged, pushing him take a more active role on climate change. He started to do this very visibly last week when he convened a conference in Washington of the world's 16 biggest greenhouse gas emitters. At the conference, Bush called climate change one of the "great challenges of our time." This comment struck his critics as remarkable since he has barely mentioned the issue in recent months and has expressed doubt that scientists have proved that human activity is causing the global warming problem.

But as he approaches his eighth year in office, Bush has gotten more aggressive in trying to shape his legacy. He still calls for voluntary measures, not mandatory action. But he is confident that new technology can deliver improvements relatively painlessly. His thinking, aides say, was also shaped by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called for strong international action.

And Bush is heartened that public opinion may be turning around at home on nuclear power, which he supports as a clean energy source. He has told aides he is pleased that an American company has finally shown a serious interest in building a new nuclear power plant after many years of inaction.

Kenneth T. Walsh

Monday, October 1, 2007

New study finds sea change in Americans' views on Climate Change

A growing number of Americans consider global warming an important threat that calls for drastic action, and 40% say that a presidential candidate's position on the issue will strongly influence how they vote, according to a national survey conducted by Yale University, Gallup and the ClearVision Institute.

One of the most surprising findings was the growing sense of urgency, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and the study's principal investigator. Nearly half of Americans now believe that global warming is either already having dangerous impacts on people around the world or will in the next 10 years - a 20-percentage-point increase since 2004. These results indicate a sea change in public opinion.

'When do you think global warming will start to have dangerous impacts on people around the world - is it having dangerous impacts now, will it have dangerous impacts in 10 years, in 25 years, in 50 years, in 100 years, or will it never have dangerous impacts?'The survey's findings further include:

62% percent of respondents believe that life on earth will continue without major disruptions only if society takes immediate and drastic action to reduce global warming.

68% of Americans support a new international treaty requiring the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050. Yet, Leiserowitz notes, the United States has yet to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that would require the United States to cut its emissions 7 percent by the year 2012.

A surprising 40% of respondents say a presidential candidate's position on global warming will be either extremely important (16 percent) or very important (24 percent) when casting their ballots. With the presidential primaries and general election near, candidates should recognize that global warming has become an important issue for the electorate.

85% of those polled support requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon, even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more; and 82 percent support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year.

50% of respondents say they are personally worried - 15 percent say a 'great deal' - about global warming.Many Americans, however, believe that global warming is a very serious threat to other species, people and places far away, said Leiserowitz, but not so serious of a threat to themselves, their own families or local communities. Nonetheless, they do strongly support a number of national and international policies to address this problem:

The survey was conducted July 23-26, 2007, using telephone interviews with 1,011 adults, aged 18-plus. Respondents came from Gallup's household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. The final sample is considered to be representative of U.S. adults nationwide, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The Yale Project on Climate Change at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies supports public discourse and engagement with climate-change solutions.Gallup, Inc., headquartered in Washington, D.C., is one of the world's leading research companies focusing on studying human nature and behavior. The Gallup Poll has been monitoring U.S. public opinion since 1935, and Gallup now tracks public opinion in over 100 countries worldwide on an ongoing basis.

The ClearVision Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to applying entertainment education as a social-change strategy to address climate change through U.S. commercial television.References:Yale University, Gallup, ClearVision Institute: American Opinions on Global Warming [*.pdf].