Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Southern Hemisphere Climate Changes

Paul Beckwith explains how declining Arctic sea ice is causing Australia to bake and Antarctic sea ice to grow. Animations used are Southern Hemisphere temperature anomalies, temperatures, jet steams, sea surface temperature and precipitation.

Renewable Energy To Boost Jobs

21 January 2014: The Renewable Energy Jobs Conference, organized by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), took place in connection with the World Future Energy Summit. The Conference discussed how the renewables sector has become a significant employer with potential for creating millions more jobs worldwide in coming years.

At the Conference, IRENA launched a report on job creation in the renewable energy sector, which indicates that wind power employment more than doubled over the past five years, and solar photovoltaic employment grew nearly 13 fold over the same period. In the report, titled 'Renewable Energy and Jobs,' IRENA explains it expects these growth trends to continue, and estimates that the 5.7 million people employed directly or indirectly by renewables in 2012 could nearly triple to 16.7 million by 2030. The report finds that while the bulk of renewables employment is concentrated in Brazil, China, the EU, India and the US, many other countries are also gaining ground. It notes that, with recent manufacturing price reductions, the employment landscape has also changed in recent years, with increases in installation, maintenance and repair employment opportunities rapidly outstripping jobs in the manufacturing sector.


Aside from its statistical analyses of the global jobs market for renewables, the report contains chapters on: renewable energy employment figures and trends; measuring employment from renewable energy; policy instruments in support of job creation in the renewable energy sector; renewable energy skills, occupations, education and training; job creation in the context of energy access; gender dimensions of renewable energy employment; and policy recommendations.


The conference on jobs, which took place on 21 January 2014, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), provided an opportunity for experts and policy makers to share knowledge, experiences and best practices on renewable energy job creation. In closing the Conference, Hugo Lucas, Director of IRENA's Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre, stressed the importance of more awareness, social support and active people to drive the renewable energy transition. More



 

Utilities Feeling Rooftop Solar Heat Start Fighting Back

If you wonder why America’s utilities are rattled by the explosive growth in rooftop solar -- and are pushing back -- William Walker has a story for you.

Ewa Beach Oahu.

A flip-flop wearing Walker stands in his driveway pointing to a ubiquitous neighborhood feature – solar panels on the roofs of five of six houses nearby. He lives in Ewa Beach, a development on the sultry leeward coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu built on land cleared of sugar cane fields.

Shade is scarce and residents here call their homes “hot boxes,” requiring almost round-the-clock air conditioning. Hawaii, which imports pricey oil to power its electricity grid, has the highest utility rates in the nation -- at 37 cents a kilowatt-hour, they’re more than double California and triple the national average.

With bills for 1,600 square foot houses like these running as high as $400 a month, solar is seen as less a green statement than an economic no-brainer given state and federal tax credits for as much as 65 percent of installation costs. Almost every day since Walker and his wife Mi Chong moved in last April, solar installers came rapping on the door, hawking a rooftop system.

They finally bought one: an 18-panel, $35,000 installation producing 5.9 kilowatts of power financed for $305 a month. It would be connected to the grid under a system known as net metering that essentially lets residents deduct the value of their solar-produced electricity from their power bill and even be paid for electricity in excess of that.

Paying for Itself

Walker estimates his bill would have dropped most months to an $18 service charge -- offsetting that $305 loan payment. Anticipating his power bills would continue to rise, he figured the system could pay for itself in as little as five years; his electricity after that would be free.

That is until his utility, a subsidiary of Honolulu-based Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., told the Walkers they couldn’t connect their system to the grid. They aren’t alone. Solar installers here estimate that hundreds if not thousands of the state’s residents are being put in solar limbo by a virtual moratorium on new connections in many parts of the company’s service area.

America's Power Machine

The reason, according to the Hawaiian Electric Co.: so many Hawaiians are stampeding to solar that circuits may become oversaturated, causing voltage spikes, damaging appliances, electronics and even the utility’s equipment. The company needs more time to study the matter.

The Walkers, who say they got no advance notice of the shutdown, are now paying both their power bill and their monthly rooftop loan. HECO, as the utility is known, recently told them they will eventually be allowed to join the grid without having to pay for expensive equipment upgrades. It still can’t say when.

‘Profit Motivation’

“Everyone is on board with getting solar and HECO has now put up a wall,” Walker said. “The only thing we can see is profit motivation.”

Spurred by a drop in panel prices, robust government subsidies and a technology that no longer appears experimental to mainstream America, rooftop photovoltaic solar is bursting out everywhere. About 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses added rooftop solar in the past two years alone – about 3 gigawatts of power and enough to replace four or five conventionally-sized coal plants.

The U.S. set a single-quarter record with 31,000 residential rooftop installations in the three months through Sept. 30. Solar represented 72 percent of all power added in the U.S. in October.

Connection Slowdown

Utilities, seeing a threat to about $360 billion a year in power sales and a challenge to the hegemony of the conventional grid, are feeling the heat and fighting back. HECO, despite criticism from Hawaii’s solar industry, denies the moratorium is anything more than an honest effort to address the technical challenges of integrating the solar flooding onto its grid.

The slowdown comes in a state where 9 percent of the utility’s residential customers on Oahu are already generating most of their power from the sun and where connections have doubled yearly since 2008.

In California, where solar already powers the equivalent of 626,000 homes, utilities continue to aggressively push for grid fees that would add about $120 a year to rooftop users’ bills and, solar advocates say, slow down solar adoptions.

Similar skirmishes have broken out in as many as a dozen of the 43 states that have adopted net-metering policies as part of their push to promote renewable energy. In Colorado, Xcel Energy Inc. has proposed cutting the payments it makes for excess power generated by customers by about half, because it says higher payouts result in an unfair subsidy to solar users.

Arizona Protesters

It faces a fight from solar advocates who are circulating a petition that has attracted 30,000 signers.

In Arizona, 1,000 protesters last month swarmed the state capital while local and national solar advocates lobbied against an effort by utility Arizona Public Service to impose a $50 monthly fee on new solar adopters. Solar advocates said the charge would have crippled the state’s 10,000-worker solar industry and thwarted the desire of residents to have a choice in the power consumption.

State regulators, after two days of often contentious debate, voted to allow the state’s largest utility to charge customers about $4.90 a month for solar connections after Dec. 31 -- less than 10 percent of what it was asking for.

Falling Short

Don Brandt, chief executive officer of APS and its parent company Pinnacle West Capital Corp., panned the deal, saying that while it nods to the impact that net metering is having on utility operations and revenues, it “falls well short of protecting the interests of the 1 million residential customers who do not have solar panels.”

Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity Corp., said it was “crazy for a utility to charge for services they didn’t deliver.

‘‘Why not tax energy efficient homes, or small homes that consume less than average?’’ said Rive, whose company is the nation’s second-largest rooftop solar installer. ‘‘APS just doesn’t want to lose control.” More

 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Arctic Sea Ice Freefall is Mirror Image of Carbon Dioxide Ascent

The amount of Arctic sea ice has plummeted in recent decades—a bold manifestation of the rise in temperature resulting from the rapid increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

After staying below 300 parts per million (ppm) for some 800,000 years, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere skyrocketed as humans started burning more and more fossil fuels. In 2013, atmospheric CO2 averaged 396 ppm.

Carbon dioxide traps heat, reducing the amount escaping into space, thereby warming the globe. Together with other heat-trapping gases, the additional CO2 has so far raised the Earth’s temperature by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century. The extra heat is melting snow and ice around the world, including Arctic sea ice, changing the face of the planet as we know it.

For some 1,500 years the late summertime size of the North Pole’s ice cap fluctuated narrowly around 10 million square kilometers; in recent summers, ice covered half that area. The ice pack is expected to keep shrinking as temperatures continue to rise.

For more information on the changing climate and how to stabilize it, see World on the Edge, by Lester R. Brown at www.earth-policy.org.

 

 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

More Than Money: Put People And The Planet Alongside Profits

LONDON -- Ever since I took my first steps as an entrepreneur more than four decades ago, I have been motivated by the question of what business can do to make people's lives better. Coming up with an answer isn't always easy, and for most entrepreneurs, success follows a good amount of trial, error, and failure. One important source of inspiration is to look ahead at this world a decade or two from now. What kind of future do we envisage and what kind of products and services would we like to see? What are the roadblocks along the way?

As it turns out, our planet faces a broad range of enormous challenges. How can we feed an ever-growing global population? What can be done to lift the world's poor, still well over a billion people, to a higher standard of living and a better life? How can we turn the tide on climate change? And will we ever manage to overcome our divisions and put an end to violent conflict, from Syria to the Congo?

On a closer look, I feel that most of the big issues of our day are connected in some way or the other; and more often than not, they point to far greater systemic challenges. One of these is the way we have been treating our beautiful planet, destroying vulnerable ecosystems, wiping out biodiversity and depleting many of our ultimately limited natural assets. For instance, it doesn't require much wisdom to see the straight line that leads from a warming planet to desertification and soil erosion, to water stress and scarcity, and on to massive migration and abject poverty. Likewise, our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels has fueled unrest and armed conflict around the world.

It's a vicious cycle, indeed. And it has been a major focus of my own advocacy over the last decades. But as much as I appreciate the seriousness of the situation, I don't dwell on gloom and doom. Challenges exist to be tackled head-on. I'd like to look at this web of interdependencies as a huge opportunity to drive progress and positive change -- through sensible policy, for sure, but especially through innovation and smart investments. As so often, entrepreneurs have a major role to play. The good news is that many are doing it already and at greater scale than ever before. It is one of the reasons why, last June, we launched the B Team, a global group of business leaders which aims to deliver a new way of doing business that prioritizes people and planet alongside profit -- a "Plan B" for businesses the world over.

Zooming in a little, one of the big questions in the coming years is how we can ensure access to safe, clean and sustainable energy for our and future generations. Access to energy is a foundation of ensuring sustainable lives for 7 billion people, and despite the huge size and incumbent nature of the energy sector, there is lots of room for improvement.

First and foremost, I see a huge amount of opportunity to use energy more efficiently than we currently are. This applies to more efficient cars and aircraft as much as it does to electronic devices. And it's of particular importance when it comes to buildings. As a recent report by the Carbon War Room pointed out, buildings are responsible for 40% of the total energy consumed globally, and one third of the world's carbon emissions. Not only is there a huge potential to reduce these emissions globally through greater energy efficiency (the equivalent of over 1.1 billion tons of CO2), but the financial savings of reduced energy use can be equally monumental: to the order of trillions of dollars globally.

Second, new and disruptive energy technologies (from advanced renewable fuels, to electric cars that leave their petrol-powered rivals behind, to more efficient, lower-cost solar cells and intelligent ways of heating and cooling buildings) need adequate financial backing. Many investors are still reluctant to grapple with what they see as risky early-stage concepts. But I am convinced that some of these innovations and concepts will succeed, and organizations like the Carbon War Room are already helping to get billion-dollar markets off the ground that could save billions of tons of carbon emissions. The challenge is for investors to create scenarios where they can back these sorts of efforts without throwing too much money down the drain. The MIT Technology Review recently pointed out that, in the US, private foundations can count investments in start-ups as charitable grants - even if they go on to deliver massive returns. The catch is that the start-ups have to clearly be too risky for normal investors, and have to clearly serve a philanthropic role. But ways need to be found to ensure that resources go into the right ideas from the right places.

This also means that the world needs to start a conversation about energy subsidies. Sceptics frequently argue that low-carbon renewable energy costs more than conventional fossil energy. However, as the International Monetary Fund pointed out back in March 2013, global energy subsidies are estimated to total about $1.9 trillion worldwide, or about 2.5% of global GDP. If these energy tax subsidies around the world were eliminated, global CO2 emissions could be reduced by over 4 billion tons (or 13%). For comparison, the whole world invested $244 billion into renewable energy in 2012; it would have likely been more, were it not for the unstable and uncertain subsidies and policies for renewables.

To be sure, each of these challenges for the energy sector still represents a huge mountain to climb. But the relentless optimist in me likes to think that the "clean revolution" is not a choice between saving our planet and growing our businesses. Both are two sides of the same coin. With the right mix of innovation, investment and sensible regulation, I see success well within reach. More

 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Time for Cayman to go green

Could the days of fossil fuels be over in Cayman? Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is looking to wean ten islands off those sources of energy.

“I am having people come to me and say we cannot afford to pay our mortgage and electrical bill this month. We have to decide – do we pay our light bill or our mortgage,” said Nicholas Robson of Cayman Institute.

Environment Minister Hon. Wayne Panton tells Cayman 27 he and Finance Minister Hon. Marco Archer will attend next month’s summit in the BVI.

Cayman 27′s Tammi Sulliman reports.

 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Time for the Cayman Islands to go green with alternative energy

Could the days of natural gas be over in Cayman? Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is looking to wean ten islands off the fossil fuel fix.

“I am having people come to me and say we cannot afford to pay our mortgage and electrical bill this month. We have to decide – do we pay our light bill or our mortgage,” said Nicholas Robson of Cayman Institute.

Environment Minister Wayne Panton tells Cayman 27 he and Finance Minister Hon. Marco Archer will attend next month’s (February) summit in the BVI. More

Cayman 27′s Tammi Sulliman reports.

 

The Cayman Islands have the opportunity to transition off of fossil fuels and on to alternative energy

The Cayman Islands have the opportunity to transition off of fossil fuels and on to alternative energy via the Ten Island Challenge. This is due to Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Carbon War Room, a charity founded by him and based in London.

The Ten Island Challenge was first mentioned at the Rio+20 Summit, held in June 2012 where Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, shared the stage with Sir Richard Branson and Jose Maria Figueres, President of the Carbon War Room, and threw down a challenge for Carbon War Room to work with ten Caribbean islands to accelerate their transition off fossil fuels. She heightened the challenge by adding that those ten islands should be signed on by 2014.

The Carbon War Room took on that challenge and is currently working to bring ten islands onboard to become Smart Island Economies. Aruba was the first island to sign up and they now have St. Lucia, Grenada, and the British Virgin Islands committed, and are in conversations with others. Hopefully, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda will be the next islands to sign up.

The Cayman Island’s government has been invited to attend and hopefully will have a delegation traveling to the British Virgin Islands early next month. Bermuda has aslo been invited and we are awaiting their response. More

 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Operation Smart Island Economies

Operation Smart Island Economies aims to transition islands to 100% renewable energy by accelerating commercial investment.

The Carbon War Room's Mission


Islands face increasing challenges from their dependence on imported fossil fuels, which impacts the prices they pay for everything from electricity to food. This is further complicated by the added demand that tourism places on the island’s resources. Natural energy resources are abundant on islands. However, the systems required to use them have not been widely implemented and scaled.


This lack of implementation is the result of multi-market barriers that islands and technology providers encounter. These multi-market barriers include local permitting, long-term fossil fuel contracts, and other legislative barriers. What is missing is a scaled regional approach to these barriers.

The Carbon War Room seeks to bridge this gap by working with islands to identify these barriers and create a regional roadmap for making the necessary changes. This roadmap would detail solutions that can attract both private sector investment and aggregated demand for large-scale renewable energy systems. Learn more about our island selection criteria in the background section. More

 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Full interview of Professor Kevin Anderson on climate change

Full interview of Professor Kevin Anderson December 13 2013

 

It takes a country to raze a landfill

The George Town dump problem is so massive, its repercussions so dire and its solution so consequential, that it should not be delegated to a single government department or even ministry.

The Cayman Islands Landfill

No, fixing the landfill necessitates a coordinated effort that includes all elected members, not just those who occupy Cabinet seats, and should be conducted under the aegis of a key elected member, ideally Premier Alden McLaughlin himself who, after all, represents the district currently housing the landfill.

Importantly, bureaucratic borders and boundaries must be lowered or eliminated in order for this government to mount a unified effort to solve, once and for all, this decades-old problem. It makes no sense to us, for example, that the Department of Environmental Health (in Minister Osbourne Bodden’s portfolio) has jurisdiction while the Department of the Environment (in Minister Wayne Panton’s portfolio) has no substantive role to play.

In addition, in order to find and administer a remedy for the biggest single threat to the Cayman Islands’ environmental and public health, the government must immediately begin a process that is open, transparent and ensures the country is obtaining the proverbial “value for money.”

Further, any requests from the government for solutions should not contain any preconceived, political or parochial restrictions, such as focusing disproportionately on waste-to-energy technology or insisting that a new facility be kept out of a particular electoral district. This issue is too important for that kind of nonsense.

Notions such as turning billions of pounds of trash into millions of dollars for these islands are fanciful and should not substitute for serious research, deliberation and debate. The dump should not be thought of as a potential profit center or an alternative to the high cost of CUC bills. Being realistic, it will almost certainly cost every resident of this island a substantial levy to remediate. The days of dodging sanitation fees are about over.

(That is, unless the PPM reneges on its renunciation of the Dart Group’s offer to close and remediate the dump and create a modern, lined landfill in far east Bodden Town – for free. We believe that to be rather unlikely, given the necessary support of the four PPM members from Bodden Town to continue Mr. McLaughlin’s majority government. Alternatively, the government should consider allocating the nearly $50 million in the Environmental Protection Fund to resolving the landfill issues.)

If the government is seeking a template for procuring a workable solution to the landfill issues, it need look no further than the framework it is employing in the pursuit of a cruise dock in George Town.

Specifically, procuring a waste management project of this magnitude should have the blessing of the U.K., incorporate expert advice upfront and follow a timeline set out at the beginning of the process.

The government’s initial outline for finding a solution to the George Town landfill need contain only three criteria:

Assess and address the hazards currently posed by the landfill to human health, the environment and quality of life.

Create a new facility that eliminates the possibility of a new Mount Trashmore emerging in the future.

Follow the guidelines contained in the U.K.’s Framework for Fiscal Responsibility, most importantly, no new government borrowing.

Given the enormity and complexity of the waste management project, we believe the government will find those restrictions to be challenging enough, even without entertaining fairy-tale fantasies of turning trash into gold. More

Given that all districts of Grand Cayman utilize the landfill I do not understand how any district can object to it being in their district. Unless of course they want to stop using the George Town landfill and create their own? Editor.

 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

NSA Insiders reveal what went wrong.

In a memo to President Obama, former National Security Agency insiders William Binney, Thomas Drake, Edward Loomis and J. Kirk Wiebe explain how NSA leaders botched intelligence collection and analysis before 9/11, covered up the mistakes, and violated the constitutional rights of the American people, all while wasting billions of dollars and misleading the public.

January 7, 2014

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Former NSA Senior Executives/Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Input for Your Decisions on NSA

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Official Washington – from Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein to NSA Director Keith Alexander to former Vice President Dick Cheney to former FBI Director Robert Mueller – has been speaking from the same set of NSA talking points acquired recently via a Freedom of Information request. It is an artful list, much of it designed to mislead. Take this one, for example:

– NSA AND ITS PARTNERS MUST MAKE SURE WE CONNECT THE DOTS SO THAT THE NATION IS NEVER ATTACKED AGAIN LIKE I WAS ON 9/11

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 2, Senator Feinstein showed her hand when she said: “I will do everything I can to prevent this [NSA’s bulk] program from being canceled.” Declaring that 9/11 “can never be allowed to happen in the United States of America again,” Feinstein claimed that intelligence officials did not have enough information to prevent the terrorist attacks.

Mr. President, we trust you are aware that the lack-of-enough-intelligence argument is dead wrong. Feinstein’s next dubious premise – that bulk collection is needed to prevent another 9/11 – is unproven and highly unlikely (not to mention its implications for the privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment).

Given the closed circle surrounding you, we are allowing for the possibility that the smell from these rotting red herrings has not yet reached you – even though your own Review Group has found, for example, that NSA’s bulk collection has thwarted exactly zero terrorist plots.

The sadder reality, Mr. President, is that NSA itself had enough information to prevent 9/11, but chose to sit on it rather than share it with the FBI or CIA. We know; we were there. We were witness to the many bureaucratic indignities that made NSA at least as culpable for pre-9/11 failures as are other U.S. intelligence agencies.

We prepared this Memorandum in an effort to ensure that you have a fuller picture as you grapple with what to do about NSA. What follows is just the tip of an iceberg of essential background information – much of it hidden until now – that goes to the core of serious issues now front and center.

The drafting process sparked lively discussion of the relative merits of your Review Group’s recommendations. We have developed very specific comments on those recommendations. We look forward to an opportunity to bring them to your attention.

_________

Introduction

We write you with a sense of urgency looking toward your upcoming decisions regarding the activities of the National Security Agency. We the undersigned (William Binney, Thomas Drake, Edward Loomis, and Kirk Wiebe) worked with NSA for a total of 144 years, most of them at senior levels. Our mission required the highest technical skills to keep the country safe from foreign enemies, while protecting the privacy rights of U.S. citizens under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For us, the 21st Century arrived with serious management and technical shortcomings at NSA in meeting the huge challenges posed by the digital and Internet age and the huge problems accompanying the transition from a Cold War footing over 40 years to an increasingly complex world with many asymmetric threats.

NSA management’s reaction in this environment not only opened the door to the attacks of 9/11 but led to violation of what had been the “First Commandment” at NSA; namely, “Thou Shalt Not Eavesdrop on Americans Without a Court Warrant.” Under the circumstances, three of us (Binney, Loomis, and Wiebe) left; Drake had just come on board in hopes of playing a constructive role in addressing the challenges at NSA.

We all share an acute sense of regret for NSA’s demonstrable culpability for what happened on 9/11, and – for those of us working there before the terrorist attacks – a remorse for not having been able to stop them. We tried; but it is hard to escape a nagging regret that, somehow, we should have tried harder.

We were there; we know what happened. And we know how what happened has been successfully covered up – until now. Calamities like this tend to happen again if there is no accountability for what happened before. You need the unvarnished truth. The flood of revelations now in the public domain frees us to address facts and events formerly hidden behind a convenient, cover-up classification regime. We feel bound by the solemn oath we took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to make truths known to you that you may find as unconscionable as we do.

Why do we still care? Because we have consciences; because the oath we took has no expiration date; because we know – as few others do – how critically important it is for our country to have a well functioning, Constitution-abiding National Security Agency; and because we know how that ship can be steered back on course at that important place of work by improving its ability to find terrorists and other criminals in massive amounts of data, while protecting the right to privacy and citizen sovereignty.

Getting in the Door

It comes to us as no surprise that there is strong resistance on the part of the Establishment when it comes to giving us a hearing – a shunning of the very people who know what happened and how to take steps to prevent it from happening again.

Our predicament calls to mind that of our colleague veteran intelligence professionals, who were ignored by Official Washington and an obsequious media, when we knew that fraudulent (not mistaken) intelligence was being used to “justify” the launching of an aggressive war on Iraq 11 years ago. Establishment Washington barred the doors in 2002-2003. Just five years later our own clearances were taken away.

Now, once again the voices of seasoned intelligence professionals are being muted, in favor of a closed group of officials with huge incentive to cover up their failure to keep America safe and their playing fast and loose with the Fourth Amendment.

Mr. President, we have given up hope that your palace guard will let us in. Our chances of reaching you seem far better via this Memorandum, the 28th of its kind issued since early 2003, prepared at the behest of the Steering Group of our Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). If this gets past your in-box protectors, we encourage you to pay more heed to it than your predecessor did to VIPS’ warnings in the months before the attack on Iraq.

In one limited sense, we are better off than our colleagues 11 years ago. This time, mainstream media have been unable to ignore the documentary evidence of rank dishonesty on the part of senior NSA and other intelligence officials. This time the media has come to us, seeking our views. This time we can comment rather freely on matters that until now were hidden under TOP SECRET stamps.

On December 26, for example, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy front-page article, quoting NSA’s former Senior Technical Director William Binney (undersigned) and former chief of NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center Edward Loomis (undersigned) warning that NSA is drowning in useless data lacking adequate privacy provisions, to the point where it cannot conduct effective terrorist-related surveillance and analysis.

A recently disclosed internal NSA briefing document corroborates the drowning, with the embarrassing admission, in bureaucratize, that NSA collection has been “outpacing” NSA’s ability to ingest, process, and store data – let alone analyze the take.

54 Now Down to Zero ‘Thwarts’

It is not difficult to connect NSA’s collect-everything approach with one principal finding of the Review Group you appointed to look into NSA programs; namely, that exactly zero terrorist plots have been prevented by NSA’s bulk trawling for telephone call records. One Review Group member, your former Chicago law professor colleague, Geoffrey Stone, has confessed to being “absolutely” surprised at the group’s finding of zero. Clearly, the statements of top NSA officials left Stone wholly unprepared for the truth. More


 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How the NSA Threatens National Security

Our choice isn't between a digital world where the agency can eavesdrop and one where it cannot; our choice is between a digital world that is vulnerable to any attacker and one that is secure for all users.

A scene from the McCarthy hearings

Secret NSA eavesdropping is still in the news. Details about once secret programscontinue to leak. The Director of National Intelligence has recently declassifiedadditional information, and the President's Review Group has just released its report and recommendations.

With all this going on, it's easy to become inured to the breadth and depth of the NSA's activities. But through the disclosures, we've learned an enormous amount about the agency's capabilities, how it is failing to protect us, and what we need to do to regain security in the Information Age.

First and foremost, the surveillance state is robust. It is robust politically, legally, and technically. I can name three different NSA programs to collect Gmail user data. These programs are based on three different technical eavesdropping capabilities. They rely on three different legal authorities. They involve collaborations with three different companies. And this is just Gmail. The same is true for cell phone call records, Internet chats, cell-phone location data.

Second, the NSA continues to lie about its capabilities. It hides behind tortured interpretations of words like "collect," "incidentally," "target," and "directed." It cloaks programs in multiple code names to obscure their full extent and capabilities. Officials testify that a particular surveillance activity is not done under one particular program or authority, conveniently omitting that it is done under some other program or authority.

Third, U.S. government surveillance is not just about the NSA. The Snowden documents have given us extraordinary details about the NSA's activities, but we now know that the CIA, NRO, FBI, DEA, and local police all engage in ubiquitous surveillance using the same sorts of eavesdropping tools, and that they regularlyshare information with each other.

The NSA's collect-everything mentality is largely a hold-over from the Cold War, when a voyeuristic interest in the Soviet Union was the norm. Still, it is unclear how effective targeted surveillance against "enemy" countries really is. Even when we learn actual secrets, as we did regarding Syria's use of chemical weapons earlier this year, we often can't do anything with the information.

Ubiquitous surveillance should have died with the fall of Communism, but it got a new—and even more dangerous—life with the intelligence community's post-9/11 "never again" terrorism mission. This quixotic goal of preventing something from happening forces us to try to know everything that does happen. This pushes the NSA to eavesdrop on online gaming worlds and on every cell phone in the world. But it's a fool's errand; there are simply too many ways to communicate.

We have no evidence that any of this surveillance makes us safer. NSA Director General Keith Alexander responded to these stories in June by claiming that he disrupted 54 terrorist plots. In October, he revised that number downward to 13, and then to "one or two." At this point, the only "plot" prevented was that of a San Diego man sending $8,500 to support a Somali militant group. We have beenrepeatedly told that these surveillance programs would have been able to stop 9/11, yet the NSA didn't detect the Boston bombings—even though one of the two terrorists was on the watch list and the other had a sloppy social media trail. Bulk collection of data and metadata is an ineffective counterterrorism tool.

NSA-level surveillance is like the Maginot Line was in the years before World War II: ineffective and wasteful.

Not only is ubiquitous surveillance ineffective, it is extraordinarily costly. I don't mean just the budgets, which will continue to skyrocket. Or the diplomatic costs, as country after country learns of our surveillance programs against their citizens. I'm also talking about the cost to our society. It breaks so much of what our society has built. It breaks our political systems, as Congress is unable to provide anymeaningful oversight and citizens are kept in the dark about what government does. It breaks our legal systems, as laws are ignored or reinterpreted, and people are unable to challenge government actions in court. It breaks our commercial systems, as U.S. computer products and services are no longer trusted worldwide. It breaks our technical systems, as the very protocols of the Internet become untrusted. And it breaks our social systems; the loss of privacy, freedom, and liberty is much more damaging to our society than the occasional act of random violence.

And finally, these systems are susceptible to abuse. This is not just a hypothetical problem. Recent history illustrates many episodes where this information was, or would have been, abused: Hoover and his FBI spying, McCarthy, Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, anti-war Vietnam protesters, and—more recently—the Occupy movement. Outside the U.S., there are even more extreme examples. Building the surveillance state makes it too easy for people and organizations to slip over the line into abuse.

It's not just domestic abuse we have to worry about; it's the rest of the world, too. The more we choose to eavesdrop on the Internet and other communications technologies, the less we are secure from eavesdropping by others. Our choice isn't between a digital world where the NSA can eavesdrop and one where the NSA is prevented from eavesdropping; it's between a digital world that is vulnerable to all attackers, and one that is secure for all users.

Fixing this problem is going to be hard. We are long past the point where simple legal interventions can help. The bill in Congress to limit NSA surveillance won't actually do much to limit NSA surveillance. Maybe the NSA will figure out an interpretation of the law that will allow it to do what it wants anyway. Maybe it'll do it another way, using another justification. Maybe the FBI will do it and give it a copy. And when asked, it'll lie about it.

NSA-level surveillance is like the Maginot Line was in the years before World War II: ineffective and wasteful. We need to openly disclose what surveillance we have been doing, and the known insecurities that make it possible. We need to work toward security, even if other countries like China continue to use the Internet as a giant surveillance platform. We need to build a coalition of free-world nations dedicated to a secure global Internet, and we need to continually push back against bad actors—both state and non-state—that work against that goal.

Securing the Internet requires both laws and technology. It requires Internet technology that secures data wherever it is and however it travels. It requires broad laws that put security ahead of both domestic and international surveillance. It requires additional technology to enforce those laws, and a worldwide enforcement regime to deal with bad actors. It's not easy, and has all the problems that other international issues have: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon non-proliferation; small arms trafficking; human trafficking; money laundering; intellectual property. Global information security and anti-surveillance needs to join those difficult global problems, so we can start making progress. More

 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Waste not, want not

Those last dregs of uneaten chowder may look like rubbish, but in Massachusetts such waste is increasingly seen as an opportunity. From July 2014 all companies and institutions in the state that produce more than 1 tonne a week of organic waste—including food, plants and manure—will be banned from sending the stuff to landfills.

Stopping the rot

Instead, the state’s biggest wasters (ie, big restaurants, universities and manufacturers rather than households) will need to get creative, donating edible food to charities and using the rest as compost or fodder for anaerobic-digestion facilities, which turn organic waste into energy. Massachusetts creates nearly 1.4m tonnes of organic waste each year. This plan aims to divert at least a third of it away from landfills by the end of the decade.

The Massachusetts ban is the most ambitious example of a new trend. Connecticut and Vermont will also enact laws to divert food waste from landfills in 2014. The rationale is plain: in small and densely populated states, landfill capacity is limited and disposal costs are high: $60-90 a tonne in Massachusetts, compared with a national average of about $45. Decomposing food waste also generates methane, a greenhouse gas. But this biogas can be captured and turned into energy through the process of anaerobic digestion, and then be sold into the electricity grid.

The technology of anaerobic digestion has been around for a while. Although the industry has been taking off in Europe—especially in Germany and Sweden—it has been slow to grow in America, where vast stretches of cheap land have long meant that there is plenty of landfill capacity and little incentive to build costly waste-recycling plants. But rising electricity prices, dwindling landfill space and some voluntary recycling goals are encouraging states to embrace the potential of biogas.

To help the industry along, Massachusetts has made millions of dollars in low-interest loans and grants available to build new anaerobic digesters. “We believe this will end up saving money,” says Ken Kimmell, the commissioner of the state’s department of environmental protection.

States are sensibly beginning to see rubbish as a resource, not merely a burden. Yet America creates 35m tonnes of food waste a year. It is good to divert this rubbish from landfills, but it would be better still to stop creating so much of the stuff in the first place. More

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Beijing in $130bn global assets spree as it builds energy security

CHINESE state-owned oil and gas companies such as China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) have outlaid more than $130 billion since 2007 to snap up assets across the globe in their ongoing quest for energy security.

Some of their biggest buys include shale assets in western Canada and the US, oilfields in Egypt, Iraq and Africa, stakes in Australian liquefied natural gas joint ventures, and a share in some of the most challenging energy projects in the world: the Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea, the Yamal LNG project in northwest Siberia, and the "presalt" deepwater fields off the coast of Brazil.

Chinese companies accounted for 21 per cent of all oil and gas mergers and acquisitions in the first nine months of 2013, spending $US18.6bn ($20.8bn) out of a total $US90.8bn market, according to data released recently by US oil industry information and advisory firms PLS and Derrick Petroleum Services.

Cumulative figures by PLS/Derrick show that since 2007, CNPC and other state-owned entities such as China Petrochemical (Sinopec), China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Sinochem Group invested $US129bn in oil industry mergers and acquisitions.

Since those figures were released, CNPC has made further investments in Latin America and the Middle East. In November, it agreed to pay $US2.6bn for the Peruvian oil assets of Brazil's state-owned Petrobras, while in the same month its listed arm PetroChina said it would buy 25 per cent of Iraq's West Quran 1 gasfield from ExxonMobil. The deal price was not announced, but analysts estimate the stake could be worth more than $US1bn.

The previous month, PetroChina agreed to join CNOOC in a consortium led by Royal Dutch Shell and Total that won the right to join Petrobras in developing the Libra field, located in deep water off the Brazilian coast. The field, part of what is known as Brazil's "presalt" oil and gas reserves, potentially can produce up to one million barrels a day.

CNPC made the single biggest international buy of 2013, agreeing in September to spend $US5bn for ConocoPhillips' 8.4 per cent stake in the massive Kashagan project in Kazakhstan's part of the Caspian Sea.

Kashagan, regarded as one of the biggest oil and gas finds of the past 40 years, has so far proved an expensive undertaking for its international investors. After a five-year delay, it finally began producing in September, but a series of leaks from its main gas pipeline forced its shutdown. A decision on resuming production is expected this month.

Earlier last year, CNPC also committed to pay about $US4.2bn for a 20 per cent stake in Italian oil producer Eni's Mozambique offshore gas project known as Area 4, part of the wider Rovuma gasfield.

Last year, CNOOC made what remains the single biggest acquisition by a Chinese company, paying $US15.1bn for 100 per cent of Canadian company Nexen, which has extensive shale and oil sands assets in western Canada and interests in the Gulf of Mexico. The Nexen deal closed in February last year, after approvals by Canadian and US regulators.

Also in February, Sinopec agreed to pay $US1.02bn for half of Chesapeake Energy's Oklahoma shale field known as the Mississippi Lime, while a month earlier Sinochem said it would buy a 40 per cent stake in Pioneer Natural Resources' Wolfcamp shale field in Texas for $US1.7bn.

In August, Sinopec agreed to buy 33 per cent of US producer Apache's oil and gas assets in Egypt for $US3.1bn.

The $US130bn cumulative figure since 2007 does not include the value of oil purchase agreements and investments that CNPC struck during 2013 with Russian state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft, and with the privately owned Russian gas producer Novatek.

In June, Rosneft agreed to supply CNPC with oil worth up to $US270bn over a 25-year term from 2018. The deal includes a $US70bn prepayment to Rosneft. In October, the two companies agreed to work on a joint venture that would develop oil and gas reserves in eastern Siberia.

CNPC and Gazprom struck a deal in September covering gas supplies to China. The final terms have yet to be decided.

In June, CNPC agreed to join Novatek and France's Total in the Yamal LNG development in Siberia, committing to a 20 per cent stake. The value was not disclosed but is estimated to be $US800 million-plus. In October, CNPC followed up by signing a 15-year deal with Novatek to take 3 million tonnes a year of LNG. Yamal is expected to begin production at the end of 2016.

Novatek plans to ship the gas to China via the Northern Sea Route, which runs along the top of Russia in Arctic waters. The route, which is shorter than the conventional journey from Europe, is open for about six months a year, and requires special ice-proof tankers and icebreaker support.

China, the world's biggest energy consumer, imports about 10.5 million barrels of oil a day, or about 60 per cent of its crude oil requirement. While much of that comes from the Middle East, part of China's quest for a diversified energy supply involves bringing in more oil and gas via pipelines from Central Asia, Russia and Myanmar, and more LNG from Australia, Russia, Canada and the US. More