Archive for January, 2011

Tie together the following . . .

Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, the GFC, old regimes and a high youth population.

Screen shot 2011-01-31 at 11.31.44 AM

The first four are easy by geography. I have added Australia to the table for comparison. All the middle eastern countries are also all religious societies where the rule of law is also religious. What is likely less well known, or I haven’t heard much about recently, is how much stress the GFC has put on these governments, but I suspect it is significant. No merchant can see all their customers go broke and not feel some repercussion. All have incredibly “old” governments of between 21 and 31 years of age. And because religion so influences the daily lives of people in these countries with the traditional roles reinforced, all the countries have a high birth rate and low median age. All of the kids in these countries have never known any other government.

And you know how it is with kids, they rebel. They also have access to the internet, and see what is happening on the streets in Iran last year, and Tunisia this year, and they use it to organise on the street near their home. And old, corrupt regimes try to repress them. Hopefully, the government in Egypt won’t go too far, as Iran did, and use violence and fear to try to scare the republicans back into their box. But frankly, what else does the Eqyptian government know? It has been using fear of violence (or actual violence) to keep its people down for a long time. Hosni Mubarak isn’t necessarily an evil man, but he has been at a minimum cooperating with evil. How else do you explain the Muslim Brotherhood’s showing in the last election, where popular leaders were not even returned to parliament in their home electorates? And Egypt is also well known to have participated with elements of the US government in rendition and torture.

I suggest that perhaps the economic stress that has been felt by all in the world of buyers and sellers of things in the last couple years has been the straw that broke the back of the fear of acting out recently in the middle east. If the government that the young see as oppressing their freedoms socially and politically can no longer protect them from economic pain, then they begin to feel as if they have little to lose and will hit the streets without much additional provocation.

But the basic problem is the failure by the leaders of all these states to embrace the meaning of the word “republic” in the second half of all these theocratic republics. Trying to hand over power to your son in a republic doesn’t really do it. Neither does stealing from the national wealth and enriching yourself and your cronies. Torture and capricious punishment of the population is right out. Basically, you have to be willing to listen to dissent in the media and even on the streets without becoming a tyrant if you want to survive in a republic. If you want to do more than survive, you have to let go of fear and let the others participate in the republic, even when their ideas are shit. The bottom line is: If you aren’t ready to turn the government over to the other pack of idiots on occasion, without worrying about whether you will ever get it back again, then you aren’t really a democracy, or a republic for that matter.

A point on the floods

I note that 2010 has been reported to be the second hottest year on record after 2005, and that 9 of the top 10 hottest years on record start with a 2. I also note as we watch the floods in Victoria (a couple 1 in 200 yr events) immediately following the major floods in Queensland with their massive losses and areas covered that are bigger than many countries, which are proceeded by major floods in 2010 in the USA, Europe and Pakistan, that there is a direct tie-in to climate change.

Remember, climate change isn’t about the weather, to which I would include these individual events. But climate change is about shifts in weather patterns such as la nina and el nino, that do lead to localised weather events which are extreme. Remember that the heating of the planet by a couple degrees isn’t likely to be manifested as a uniform rise everywhere. It is far more likely to manifest itself like any system that more heat is added to, through the addition of more chaos. Think of a pot of boiling water that moves and mixes itself more and more rapidly until it boils. The previous example of this I noted that appear to be on the increase are cyclones (hurricanes).

Another effect of the rise in temperature is the carrying capacity of air to hold water. All gases can contain more water vapour as they rise in temperature. This larger mass of water is then available to be removed from the air in localised events (torrential rains) as have been tied to all of the flooding events identified above. Clearly, lots of additional water has been stored in the atmosphere in 2005 as compared to cooler years, and this year it has been triggered to fall in large amounts, through the otherwise normal patterns driven by the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) of la nina and el nino.

The patterns here in Australia tend to mean we have no “average” weather, but instead have periods of drought followed by periods of flood, with this years floods breaking what is about a 9 year drought most everywhere. The only difference in this year’s rains are the extreme volumes of them over almost the whole country. So, while I think the patterns are normal, I suggest that the volumes of rain that have caused the floods we have this year may be a local sign of a global problem of climate change.

This year’s idea

Not my idea, of course. I am not really the big idea kinda guy. Big ideas are why I hang around guys like my mate Sean and Steve. I’m more the “how the hell are we going to do that” kinda guy. But I read a good idea that you can find out more about here when I was catching up on what my professional organisation is up to this year.

They solicited ideas from about 100,000 people to get 7,000 ideas from which to choose, and then selected this one:

“Make it so people in developing communities can use agricultural waste they produce for energy for cooking and heating.”

A very good idea. So I am going to see what I can come up with this year to do that. I will start with some research on the places where the solution could be applied through the partners in the program, Engineers Without Borders. I will first try to see what kind of waste characterisation they have, along with the volumes of waste produced to assess them as a fuel source. Then I need some data on fuel requirements for, say 200 L of hot water per person per day. Then some pretreatment options and a process for conversion, design, sizing, economics and a bunch of other stuff. I will post what I find out as I go.

New Year’s Resolution’s

Probably, BP has spent enough time on the wall-o-shame, not because they have changed their ways in any demonstrable way, but rather that no one is much interested in the oil spill any more.

I am not really into arbitrary start or end points, but I’m talking to my buddy from Minnesota the other day, and I am reminded that I am a lame arse, and haven’t updated my blog since it got banned from the Company website. Well, sometime close to there. And then I did get kinda busy doing some billable work, but not so much that I couldn’t have a rant now and then, but then just never wrote anything. Maybe I was saving up energy for the big writing I did near the end of the year. Whatever.

It certainly wasn’t due to the fact that nothing annoying and deserving of even a lengthy rant have not occurred, even in Australia, where generally we have few complaints.

So, I am committed to writing regularly this year, and we will see how it goes. Perhaps nothing will come up that sets me off? Hmmmn, not likely. Probably I will also put up some techo crap on current subjects of interest, such as coal seam gas production (CSG), and underground coal gasification (UCG), and some opinion on whether either is a good idea. I will try to keep it as short as possible.

Also, I have read recently about an innovation in carbon capture and storage I need to investigate to find out if this change make CCS a possibility, or if it remains a pipe-dream and significant waste of government support.

Other topics chosen upon response required to comments.

Hulka out