the Oil Runs Out
A Report by Mac Lawrence
Can we get along without oil? We better learn
fast, because oil-at least cheap oil-is running out.
Oil is the reason we have an abundant food supply.
Oil allows us to live in comfort in cold climates and hot climates.
We wear clothes made out of oil. Oil runs our businesses, our communications
systems, our computers. Oil is the reason we can travel where and
when we want. The lifestyle and culture of virtually every country
on Earth is dependent on oil. A shortage of oil will impact everything
we do, everything we have, even everything we eat.
A review in the magazine New Scientist notes: "If
production rates fall while demand continues to rise, oil prices
are likely to spike or fluctuate wildly, raising the prospect of
economic chaos, problems with transporting food or other supplies,
and even war, as countries fight over what little oil is available."
Says James Mackenzie, an energy analyst at the World Resources Institute
in Washington, D.C.: "That's when all hell breaks loose."
So the fact that the world is running out of easily
available oil should be a major wake-up call. Yet we act as if this
reality did not exist. In the U.S. we're still buying bigger cars
and SUVs, still building monster homes which use oil to build and
to run, still serving huge helpings of food in restaurants, still
demanding out-of-season fruits and vegetables flown in from afar.
Fortunately, these are things that ordinary people can do something
about in their daily lives, but we have to start making those different
Ordinary people can also influence things on a larger
scale beyond personal actions. We can become informed and active
so that when we are told that it is imperative for our national
security to drill for more oil, we can stand up and say that it
makes no sense to do so.
When we tune into the PBS television program, the
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and hear Archer-Daniels-Midland ask, "Can
we drive forever on corn?" we can answer, "No, we cannot,"
because we know that it takes more oil-based energy to produce the
ethanol from corn than we get out of the ethanol, and it would take
more land than we have to grow the extra corn.
When we hear people say that technology can wring
enough oil out of existing fields to maintain production rates,
we can repeat the words of energy analyst David Pursell: "I
don't buy it. You've got to spend a ton of capital to get an extra
1 or 2 percent."
We can demand raising mileage standards on automobiles,
reclassifying SUVs as cars instead of trucks (so that they fall
under car mileage standards). Instead of continuing to give tax
credits to companies so they can buy Hummers practically for free,
we can subsidize the use of renewable energy sources such as solar
With less dependence on foreign oil, we can insist
on a foreign policy which doesn't support repressive regimes in
oil-rich countries. And whenever our government tries to build a
case for invading a country which has lots of oil, we can openly
question their reasons, knowing that asking such questions is the
patriotic thing to do.
For an in-depth view of the oil situation, we list
several new books on the subject. Meanwhile, here is some information
that might be helpful, and which may not be easy to find in the
How Many Years Do We Have?
The crunch point will come, experts say, not when
we run out of oil, but when demand outstrips production. How many
years until this happens is the subject of a fierce debate between
free-market economists and geologists. In their report, New Scientist
notes that "The economists argue that as the oil supply falters,
the price will go up and companies will find other means for meeting
demand." Geologists, however, counter that "economic theory
is knocking up against a physical limit: there is simply no more
cheap, accessible oil out there."
Many analysts predict that oil production will peak
in the next 5 to 15 years. Kenneth Deffeyes, a geophysicist at Princeton
University, believes that we have already passed the oil peak, and
that "the year 2000 may stand as a blip above the curve and
be in the Guinness Book of World records."
How Much Oil is There?
Geologists know which kinds of rocks are likely to
hold oil, where these reservoirs are all over the world, and how
big they are. Geologists also know that there aren't any more such
regions to be found anywhere. Though oil companies are secretive
about their holdings, people who study these things believe the
world started out with oil reserves of about 2 trillion barrels,
of which we have used some 900 billion.
The remaining 1.1 trillion barrels sounds like a lot
of oil still available for us to get, but the problem is that it
becomes harder and harder to extract it. Production for any given
well decreases as the pressure on the oil in the ground drops, and
injecting water to boost the pressure doesn't work forever.
Even if you go along with the optimistic views taken
by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and companies such
as Shell and Exxon, we're still up a creek. According to the New
Scientist article, the USGS includes in their estimates less accessible,
"dirtier" sources of oil; thinks that new fields will
be discovered; and comes up with an estimate that the world started
with 3 trillion barrels of oil. The USGS also believes that new
technology will allow more oil to be extracted. Even so, the USGS
estimate of when oil production will peak only stretches out to
the year 2037. So no matter what source one believes, there's not
a whole lot of time.
As previously noted, economists tell us that when
a resource becomes scarce, the price rises high enough so the market
responds by producing more of it. In a paper titled Net Energy,
Canadian research scientist Peter Salonius points out that this
is true for raw materials like minerals. We just dig deeper, use
ore of a lower grade that was formerly too expensive to refine,
or, ultimately, use more dilute sources like sea water to concentrate
But, says Salonius, it takes oil to get oil. "In
the 1950s, globally, we were able to produce 50 barrels of oil for
every barrel consumed in its discovery and production. By the 1990s,
globally, we were only able to produce 5 barrels of oil for every
barrel consumed in its discovery and production.
"When we arrive at the point where it requires
1 barrel to discover and produce 1 barrel, even if the price reaches
$500 a barrel, it will make no sense to look for new oil because
there will be no Net Energy produced in the endeavor."
Salonius calls petroleum "that convenient, concentrated,
finite, exhaustible, temporary" source of energy that runs
the world's economies. Accordingly, he notes that "the coming
all-important peak in global oil production signals the end of the
consumer economy because we have nothing to replace conventional
oil." We can't rely on coal "because petroleum provides
more than half of the energy used in coal extraction, so when there
will be no Net Energy gain in exploring for new deposits of petroleum,
then there will be no Net Energy production from coal mining activity....Net
Energy is required for the exploitation and production of all other
Foiled by Exponentials
Not only are we-the world-using a lot of oil, our
use of oil is growing. And that growth is what will do us in much
quicker than we might think, explains Dr. Evar Nering, a professor
emeritus of mathematics at Arizona State University. In a paper
titled "The Mirage of a Growing Fuel Supply," Nering says
the problem is "exponential function," something he notes
that we're all familiar with in the form of compound interest.
"I have heard public statements," Nering
says, "that use 'exponential' as though it describes a large
or sudden increase. But exponential growth does not have to be large,
and it is never sudden. Rather, it is inexorable.
"When I discussed the exponential function in
the first-semester calculus classes that I taught, I invariably
used consumption of a nonrenewable natural resource as an example.
I described the following hypothetical situation. We have a 100-year
supply of a resource, say oil-that is, the oil would last 100 years
if it were consumed at its current rate. But the oil is consumed
at a rate that grows by 5 percent each year. How long would it last
under these circumstances? This is an easy calculation; the answer
is about 36 years.
"Oh, but let's say we underestimated the supply,
and we actually have a 1,000-year supply. At the same annual 5 percent
growth rate in use, how long will this last? The answer is about
"Then let us say we make a striking discovery
of more oil yet-a bonanza-and we now have a 10,000-year supply.
At our same rate of growing use, how long would it last? Answer:
"The point of this analysis is that it really
doesn't matter what the estimates are. There is no way that a supply-side
attack on America's energy problem can work.
"Calculations also show that if consumption of
an energy resource is allowed to grow at a steady 5 percent annual
rate, a full doubling of the available supply will not be as effective
as reducing that growth rate by half-to 2.5 percent. Doubling the
size of the oil reserve will add at most 14 years to the life expectancy
of the resource if we continue to use it at the currently increasing
rate, no matter how large it is currently. On the other hand, halving
the growth of consumption will almost double the life expectancy
of the supply, no matter what it is."
What is the real growth rate of oil consumption, worldwide?
One historical figure has been 2 percent. Today that figure may
be way too low with the rapid industrialization of developing countries,
led by the two giants, China and India. China's use of oil is increasing
around 8 percent a year, for example. But whatever figure one uses,
Dr. Nering's mathematics apply.
Observes Nering: "This mathematical reality seems
to have escaped the politicians pushing to solve our energy problem
by simply increasing supply. Building more power plants and drilling
for more oil is exactly the wrong thing to do, because it will encourage
more use. If we want to avoid dire consequences, we need to find
the political will to reduce the growth in energy consumption to
zero-or even begin to consume less.
"I must emphasize that reducing the growth rate
is not what most people are talking about now when they advocate
conservation; the steps they recommend are just Band-Aids. If we
increase the gas mileage of our automobiles and then drive more
miles, for example, that will not reduce the growth rate.
"Reducing the growth of consumption means living
closer to where we work or play. It means telecommuting. It means
controlling population growth. It means shifting to renewable energy
"It is not, perhaps, necessary to cut our use
of oil, but it is essential that we cut the rate of increase at
which we consume it. To do otherwise is to leave our descendants
in an impoverished world."
Eating Fossil Fuels
The Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s revolutionized
agriculture. Before then, the energy to produce the food people
ate around the world-whether in the form of plants or animals-came
directly from the sun. Now, with the industrialization of agriculture,
more and more of the energy to feed the world comes from petroleum-natural
gas and oil to make the fertilizers and pesticides the new hybrid
plants require, and for irrigation.
According to Dale Allen Pfeiffer, a geologist and
science writer, "The Green Revolution increased the energy
flow to agriculture by an average of 50 times the energy input of
traditional agriculture. In extreme cases, energy consumption by
agriculture has increased 100-fold or more.
"In a very real sense we are literally eating
Using data from the year 1994, Pfeiffer notes that
in the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents were expended
annually to feed each American, not including additional energy
costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail out-
lets, and household cooking. Manufacturing inorganic fertilizer
alone takes almost a third of that energy. To produce one kilogram
of nitrogen for fertilizer, he says, requires the energy equivalent
of from 1.4 to 1.8 liters of diesel fuel. The Fertilizer Institute
reports that in the year June 30, 2001 to June 30, 2002, the U.S.
used 12 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer, which equates to some
96 million barrels of diesel fuel.
And the situation is worsening. Between 1945 and 1994,
energy input to agriculture increased four-fold while crop yields
only increased three-fold. Since then, energy input has continued
to increase without a corresponding increase in crop yield. Yet,
due to soil degradation, increased demands of pest management, and
increasing energy costs for irrigation, modern agriculture must
continue increasing its energy expenditures simply to maintain current
Pfeiffer gives some statistics to help sober us up.
• The U.S. food system consumes ten times more
energy than it produces in food energy.
• Total U.S. energy consumption is more than
three times the amount of solar energy harvested as crop and forest
• The U.S. consumes 40 percent more energy annually
than the total amount of solar energy captured yearly by all U.S.
• Per capita use of fossil energy in North America
is five times the world average.
Pfeiffer is left with one, harsh observation: "Our
prosperity is built on the principle of exhausting the world's resources
as quickly as possible, without any thought to our neighbors, all
the other life on this planet, or our children."
For more information:
David Goodstein. Out of Gas: All You Need to Know
About the End of the Age of Oil. W.W. Norton. $21.95. Feb. 2004.
Stephen Leeb. The Oil Factor: How Oil Controls
the Economy and Your Financial Future. Warner Books. $24.95. Feb.
2004. ISBN: 0446533173
Larry Everest. Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and
the U.S. Global Agenda.
Common Courage Press. $29.95. Nov. 2003. ISBN: 156751247X
Lutz Kleveman. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil
in Central Asia. Atlantic Monthly Press. $24.00. Sept. 2003. ISBN:
Sharon Beder. Power Play: The Twentieth-Century
Struggle Over Electricity.
New Press. $25.95. Aug. 2003. ISBN: 156584808X
Richard Heinberg. The Party's Over.
New Society Publishers. $25.00. 2003. ISBN: 0-86571-482-7
For a sunnier view, please see the following
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Live Well with Less Oil
The Rocky Mountain Institute, cofounded by Amory Lovins, devotes
itself to researching and educating about how to solve the kinds
of problems discussed in the preceding articles. The following excerpts
from their website, www.rmi.org, show that there is a better and
more hopeful path.
Transportation burns nearly two-thirds of U.S. oil and is the key
to cutting oil dependence. The U.S. household fleet now averages
20 miles per gallon [mpg]. Improving that to an average of 23 mpg
could displace all of the oil the U.S. imported from Iraq and Kuwait
before the hostilities of July 1990. Increasing the vehicle fleet
average by another 10 mpg would displace all of the oil we import
from the Persian Gulf. (Did we put our kids in 0.5 miles-per-gallon
tanks and 17 feet/gallon aircraft carriers because we failed to
put them in 33-mpg cars?) America can do that and better. A dozen
automakers worldwide have demonstrated comfortable, fast cars two
to four times as efficient as today's new U.S. models, with improved
safety and competitive manufacturing cost.
Much of the nontransportation uses of oil can also
be saved. For example, the wasted energy leaking through U.S. windows
totals twice the output of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. "Superwindows"
can stop that loss while making most buildings cheaper to construct
(because heating and cooling equipment becomes smaller or unnecessary).
Overall, the United States could save most of its oil more cheaply
than drilling for more. By increasing production of biofuels from
farm and factory wastes and by creating more efficient land-use
patterns (building communities around people, not cars), we can,
if we wish, virtually eliminate oil use while making us all better
off and improving our quality of life.
Renewable technologies have also done remarkably well.
From 1979 to 1986 there was more net increase in U.S. energy supplies
from sun, wind, water and wood than from oil, gas, coal, and uranium.
Renewable sources now supply at least 7.6 percent of the nation's
total energy, and are the fastest-growing part. Besides the main
contributions, which come from biomass and older hydroelectric dams,
between one and two million solar buildings are now operating; and
there are more than 25,000 stand-alone solar-electric buildings
in the country. Wind-power has recently beaten the cost of new coal
plants, even ignoring coal's greater subsidies and pollution, and
is officially recognized as the cheapest generating technology in
Because devices now on the market can save four times
as much electricity as all U.S. nuclear plants make, at just five
percent of the cost of building and running them, it's cheaper to
write off any nuclear plant and provide customers with efficiency.
The City of Sacramento, California has done just that. The Sacramento
Municipal Utility District (SMUD) closed its Rancho Seco nuclear
plant, and is recreating itself as a utility based on photovoltaics
and energy efficiency. The result: more jobs, less pollution, stable
electric prices, and a more sustainable and prosperous community.
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By Sandra Mardigian
"When an activity raises threats
of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures
should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are
not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent
of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of
The Precautionary Principle, 1998 Wingspread
The Precautionary Principle was defined in a document
developed at the Wingspread Conference in Racine, Wisconsin, in
1998. The conference was attended by an international group of scientists,
government officials, lawyers, and labor and grassroots environmental
activists. Its purpose was to formalize and make more explicit the
precautionary concept adopted by the United Nations in 1992 in its
The Precautionary Principle document provides a platform
for making choices that begins with scrutinizing any possibilities
for harmful consequences. It asserts that before using a new technology,
process, or chemical, or starting a new activity, there is a duty
to take anticipatory action to prevent harm. It also declares that
the responsibility for proof of harmlessness is on the proponent,
rather than the public.
When Timeline reported on the development of the Precautionary
Principle document in 1998, the ink was barely dry and its application
untried. Today, a Web search on google.com turns up over 1,000 applications
in everything from health and medicine to lawmaking, wildlife conservation,
corporate disclosure, genetically modified foods, and global warming-in
locations from Australia to Zambia. Two notable current examples
The European Union (EU) and the Chemical Industry
The EU is getting ready to implement an initiative
based on the Precautionary Principle to regulate chemicals. Under
development for five years, the initiative will address workplace
exposures and environmental pollution.
Known as REACH (for Registration, Evaluation, and
Authorization of Chemicals), the EU initiative will require chemical
manufacturers and importers to report the quantity, uses, and potential
health risks of approximately 30,000 chemicals.
About 1,400 of these are known or suspected carcinogens
or reproductive toxicants, persist in the environment, or accumulate
in body tissues. The initiative will subject these 1,400 chemicals
to an authorization review similar to that used in the regulation
of pharmaceuticals. Approval of any use that could result in human
exposures will be predicated on a thorough assessment of safety,
and alternative products.
Interest in the EU initiative has spread to the scientific
community in the United States. In October, EU officials from the
REACH project visited the University of California at Berkeley to
share their experience and research. Two men who participated in
the conference, Michael P. Wilson, a researcher for the Center for
Occupational and Environmental Health at UC Berkeley's School of
Public Health, and James E. Cone, former chief of the Occupational
Health Branch of the California Department of Health Services, said
that more than 60,000 people die every year in the U.S. from preventable
diseases caused by exposure to chemicals and other agents in the
workplace. Spiraling workers' compensation costs for businesses
are another consequence of this substantial public health problem.
Wilson and Cone said there is no health or environmental
data on 43 percent of the 2,800 chemicals that are produced or imported
in the United States at the rate of one million tons each year.
Reasonably complete data exists on only seven percent. So, in total,
more than 90 percent of chemicals in commerce today have been introduced
without the assurance that they are safe.
Participants at the UC Berkeley meetings hope to advance
a Precautionary Principle- based initiative for the U.S. similar
to the European Union's REACH initiative. However, this has provoked
alarm in the chemical industry. The San Francisco Chronicle reported
in November that a leaked memo from a chemical industry lobbyist
recommended fighting increased regulation by hiring an "attack
dog" public relations firm to spy on "industry opponents,"
arrange protests, and recruit conservative talk show hosts. The
article states, "At issue is the precautionary principle, a
policy that maintains chemicals should not be approved for the market
unless they are proved safe....The chemical industry sees the principle
as a threat, and is marshalling resources to fight its increased
San Francisco and City Government
In 2003, San Francisco became the first city in the
nation formally to adopt the Precautionary Principle for decision-making.
Officials say the city's new ordinance challenges
traditional assumptions about risk management. In the past, the
question, if asked at all, has amounted to: "How much risk
of harm is allowable?" In San Francisco, decision-makers will
now be asking, "How little harm is possible?"-and looking
much more broadly at alternatives.
"We acknowledge that our world will never be free from risk,"
said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Department
of Environment. "However, a risk that is unnecessary, or not
thoughtfully chosen, is never acceptable....Besides human suffering,
billions of dollars have been spent to deal with the consequences
of these problems, including health care and health insurance, lost
economic productivity, absenteeism, lost wages, and cleanup.
"The Precautionary Principle ordinance presents
a historic opportunity to refocus environmental and other decision-making
on reducing harm. In doing so, we are sending a message to Washington
that the days of letting polluters and industries set our health
and environmental agenda may be over sooner than you think."
San Francisco's Precautionary Principle Ordinance
1. ANTICIPATORY ACTION:
There is a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm. Government,
business, and community groups, as well as the general public, share
2. RIGHT TO KNOW:
The community has a right to know complete and accurate information
on potential human health and environmental impacts associated with
the selection of products, services, operations, or plans. The burden
to supply this information lies with the proponent, not with the
3. ALTERNATIVES ASSESSMENT:
An obligation exists to examine a full range of alternatives and
select the alternative with the least potentially harmful impact
on human health and the environment, including the alternative of
4. FULL COST ACCOUNTING:
When evaluating potential alternatives, there is a duty to consider
all the reasonably foreseeable costs, including raw materials, manufacturing,
transportation, use, cleanup, eventual disposal, and health, even
if such costs are not reflected in the initial price. Short- and
long-term benefits and time thresholds should be considered when
5. PARTICIPATORY DECISION
PROCESS: Decisions applying the Precautionary Principle
must be transparent, participatory, and informed by the best available
Almost invariably, there are competing interests involved
in the process of decision-making in any city. Since San Francisco
is the first city to adopt the Precautionary Principle, it will
be interesting to observe how this pioneering effort unfolds.
White Paper: The Precautionary Principle and the
City and County of San Francisco (21 pages) describes the history
of the Precautionary Principle and the development of San Francisco's
policy, with discussion of the scientific, ethical, and economic
implications, including examples from existing precautionary policies.
It is available from SF Environment, 11 Grove Street, San Francisco,
CA. 94102. (415) 355-3700; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or free
download at: http://www.ci.sf.ca.us/sfenvironment/aboutus/policy/legislation.htm.
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Lawrence of Arabia Has a Lesson
on Iraq for the U.S.
An Article by Michael Keane
That Iraq would become a troublesome source of guerrilla
tactics should come as no surprise to any student of T.E. Lawrence,
better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence is considered by many
strategists to be the father of guerrilla warfare. He articulated
a powerful treatise on the topic in his classic book, The Seven
Pillars of Wisdom.
During World War I, Lawrence's guerrilla victories
against the Turkish forces occupying the Arabian peninsula provided
a stunning contrast to the simultaneous slaughter occurring in the
trenches of Europe. Although Lawrence claimed that his vision of
warfare came to him as he lay dazed in a feverish state, he was
actually formalizing a form of war practiced by Arab tribes for
Lawrence's thesis was that a successful rebellion
required three elements. First the rebels must have an unassailable
base, not merely a physical base of operations but also a psychological
fortress in the mind of every soldier willing to die for his convictions.
Second, in what he called the "doctrine of acreage"
(what strategists now call the force-to-space ratio), Lawrence stated
that an insurgent victory required that the size of the occupying
force must be insufficient to pacify the contested area.
Finally, the guerrillas must have a friendly population.
Although the population need not be actively friendly, it must not
be hostile to the point of betraying the insurgents. This support
can be generated either from fear of retaliation or sympathy for
the guerrilla cause or both.
The application of Lawrence's theory to the current
military situation in Iraq is not comforting. First, the rebels
seem to possess an unassailable base in both physical and psychological
Within Iraq, hostile forces have demonstrated an ongoing
ability to launch numerous daily attacks....Externally, there is
a base of bordering states such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran
that are failing to stop volunteers from infiltrating Iraq. American
troops have found foreign passports on the bodies of enemy forces
killed. Perhaps more troubling, however, is the psychological "base"-the
mind of the enemy. When religious extremism is mixed with nationalistic
fervor, it cements to form the bricks of unshakable conviction.
As Lawrence himself noted, "An opinion can be argued with;
a conviction is best shot."
Then there is the force-to-space ratio of coalition
forces, which is clearly inadequate. The Americans have only about
130,000 soldiers in Iraq. To match the number of soldiers per inhabitant
as the United States has in Kosovo would require 526,000 troops
Finally, guerrilla victories can work to slowly undermine
U.S. credibility, while simultaneously building support and gaining
recruits for the insurgents. Over time, guerrilla tactics tend to
frustrate conventional troops, which are increasingly likely to
overreact by humiliating men and offending women and thereby alienating
the local population.
Though Iraqi guerrillas lack the necessary firepower
and manpower to forcibly remove the Americans, Lawrence would argue
that should not be their proper objective. Even while suffering
tactical defeats, the guerrillas could erode the will of the Americans
and thereby achieve a strategic victory. As Henry Kissinger succinctly
stated: "The guerrilla wins by not losing. The army loses by
After liberating the region from the Turks in World
War I, Britain ruled the newly formed country of Iraq under a mandate
from the League of Nations. The population's gratitude for having
been freed from 400 years of Ottoman oppression was short-lived.
There were uprisings and assassinations of British soldiers and
Lawrence was sent back to Baghdad to report on conditions
there. He wrote these haunting words: "The people of England
have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard
to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it
by a steady with-holding of information....Things have been far
worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and
inefficient than the public knows....We are today not far from a
Michael Keane is a lecturer at the University of Southern
California's Marshall School of Business and a fellow of the U.S.
Department of Defense's National Security Education Program. This
article first appeared in the Los Angles Times, and is reprinted
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Some Good News on the Corporate Front
By Joe Kresse
With all the news about corporate corruption-accounting
scandals, outright theft by senior officers, political contributions
made to get relaxation of environmental and other restrictions-one
might wonder whether there's any good news on the business front.
Thirty participants in a recent Silicon Valley Sustainability
Tour found that there is indeed some good news. Sponsored by the
Foundation for Global Community, the two-day tour visited a number
of different locations. Companies visited included Hewlett-Packard,
Roche, Hitachi, and IDEO (probably the largest industrial design
firm in the world). At each stop, officials from the host organization
showed us how they create business value through sustainability.
At IDEO, designers have developed information about
the energy required (and the CO2 emitted) to produce various materials
they use in designing products. They also determine what is involved
when materials are recycled and reused. Such information allows
them to implement more and more of the Natural Step principles (Timeline,
March 1995) in their designs. Several members of the Foundation
had visited IDEO two years ago, and the progress they have made
in integrating sustainability into their efforts is impressive.
Hewlett-Packard has an in-house sustainability network
with 550 members, and publishes a sustainability newsletter that
reaches 1,500 employees. Each product line has a steward whose job
is to minimize that product's ecological footprint by reducing packaging,
increasing recycled content and ease of recycling, and reducing
toxic materials in the product. When even such a simple thing as
the plastic emblem attached to HP printers was redesigned, the steward
made sure that it could be recycled. A team is currently working
on a "compostable" printer, where the plastic is made
from corn and is biodegradable.
Hewlett-Packard's sustainability efforts are reported
on the website hp.com/go/report. On it, HP reports that it now recycles
3 million pounds of old computers a month, including those made
by other companies. Its global corporate citizenship initiative
also helps bring communities in the developing world into the electronic
age in ways that are appropriate to the particular culture.
Roche Palo Alto has its offices in a building 30 years
old, constructed in an era of cheap energy. A Swiss company, Roche
carries the consciousness of environmental limits that is more prevalent
in Europe than in the U.S. so there is significant management support
for reducing energy use. But even given all this, what the facilities
people have achieved is astounding. With the same level of operations,
their electrical and gas usage has dropped by about 50 percent over
the last ten years. Now, since half their water use is for irrigation,
they are looking at native and drought-tolerant plantings to further
reduce the amount of water they use. Hearing the Roche people talk
was inspiring. They referred to their efforts as being all about
the human spirit and about the world their children and grandchildren
At Hitachi Global Storage Solutions, we were shown
their "wildlife at work" program at their 300-acre site
in San Jose. On the site are a large plum orchard, a variety of
bird species, and a lake frequented by ducks and geese, its water
used for backup fire-suppression. The wildlife program consists
of seven different efforts, each "owned" by an employee
who is responsible for recruiting volunteers needed to make the
effort a success. The employees we talked with said that this aspect
of their jobs had reduced burnout and made their work much more
One recent activity this past fall was a plum harvest
organized by Hitachi in which 100 volunteers picked the fruit for
a local food bank. Just 50 trees provided 8,000 pounds of plums,
which was all the food bank could handle. Next year the company
will try to make arrangements with a food processor to dry some
of the fruit so that all of the crop can be used. On our visit,
we even had a chance to taste some "Hitachi plum jam."
What impressed all of us, and what we talked about
most at our debriefing session at the tour's end, was the approach
these people have taken. Rather than being over-whelmed by all the
things that must be done to achieve a sustainable economy, they
decided to do what they can, with what they have, where they are,
expressing the innate desire that humans have to connect with the
Earth and with each other.
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"It's not easy being green
. . . ...but that's what I wanna be."
-Kermit the Frog
by Walt Hays
We thought we had already achieved "greenness."
After all, the Foundation for Global Community (FGC), in addition
to doing the usual recycling, had installed an 18 kilowatt photovoltaic
system on our roof that reduced our electricity consumption by 56
percent, and had officially qualified as a participant in The Natural
Step. Then we learned, paraphrasing Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street,
that being green wasn't as easy as we thought. As everyone who commits
to sustainability comes to recognize, there is always more that
can be done-to use less, waste less, and pollute less.
Kim Faulkner of the FGC Accounting Department wondered
if we couldn't do a better job of walking our talk. Having read
in Timeline about how a local hardware store had achieved certification
as a "Green Business," Kim called the director of the
program to ask if FGC, as a nonprofit foundation, could qualify
for certification, and if so, how. The director answered "yes"
and sent her a 12-page checklist of requirements.
The requirements included an extensive list of suggested
actions, with mandatory minimums, in the categories of Solid Waste
Reduction and Recycling, Energy and Water Conservation, and Pollution
Prevention. It was immediately apparent that while we were doing
well, more could be done. Responding to the challenge, Kim began
meeting in the spring of 2003 with three FGC volunteers who had
worked on similar issues in the past-Tom Moutoux, Jack Kroll, and
Diji Christian. The four of them formulated recommendations to the
Foundation Trustees on how to comply, and Kim gathered and submitted
the necessary information.
Some of the actions taken were particularly illustrative
and enlightening. The City of Palo did a "solid waste audit,"
which included a one-time detailed inventory of the contents of
both recycling bins and garbage. Based on volume, FGC's recycling
rate was estimated at a respectable 69 percent. However, negative
findings included the facts that (1) the recycling cart for bottles
and cans contained contamination in the form of plastic food trays
and plastic with numbers not accepted; and (2) the garbage contained
several items that could have been avoided (e.g., paper cups and
plastic bags), and others that could have been recycled or otherwise
diverted (unused paper and folders, used paper, computer diskettes,
plant trimmings, compostable food, and a household battery).
Recommendations naturally included first educating
volunteers at FGC to be more conscious in usage and disposal. However,
the audit also suggested specific changes that turned out to save
money. Instead of renting a large dumpster for garbage and paying
for twice-weekly pickup, the audit advised trying a smaller dumpster
and once/week pickup, which when implemented resulted in annual
savings of $2,890. Another recommendation resulted in a switch from
using rolling cloth towels in the bathrooms to 75 percent post-consumer,
compostable, paper towels with no bleach, saving another $3,000/year.
The following are a sample of other steps taken:
• The FGC letterhead is "tree-free,"
consisting of 20 percent bamboo, 20 percent agricultural waste,
and the balance post-consumer waste paper.
• Cleaning is done by Emma's Eco-Clean, a worker-owned
women's cooperative that uses only nontoxic products.
• In the summer, air conditioning use is reduced
by using floor fans.
• Kitchen items are constantly analyzed to make
them more sustainable. Included are organic food and tea, ceramic
cups and plates, Splenda instead of Equal (because the latter is
made by Monsanto, which is pushing genetically modified food), and
even biodegradable spoons and forks made of non-GMO wheat.
Based on actions like the foregoing, together with
previous improvements like the photo- voltaic system, the Foundation
was officially certified as a Green Business in June, 2003. The
key volunteers continue to meet monthly to consider other steps.
But it all started with Kim Faulker, an accountant who truly understands
the triple bottom line of "planet, people and profits"-with
"savings" replacing "profits" in our case as
The Bay Area Green Business Program (www.abag.ca.gov/bayarea/enviro/gbus/gb.html)
states that such businesses, "practicing resource efficiency,
are assuming stewardship for the Earth and its resources, with the
goals of achieving a successful business operation, a healthy bottom
line, and sustenance of the environment and its inhabitants. A Green
Business not only conserves resources but educates employees and
customers about resource conservation."
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A Report by Mac Lawrence
With the help of some young friends, whose genes have
seemingly made them computer literate from birth, even an octogenarian
can access the Internet. And what a treasure trove it is. There's
every view you can think of out there, on any subject, from right
to left, progressive to conservative, reasoned to radical.
With the click of a mouse, one can read newspapers
from Saudi Arabia, Seattle, Japan, Madison, Wisconsin, India. There
is news often not covered in the local newspaper or TIME magazine,
and issues seen from different and enlightening viewpoints. To be
sure, NPR has great programs such as Terry Gross on Fresh Air interviewing
a nonembedded reporter in Iraq who tells what is really going on
there. But on even such outstanding programs as the NewsHour with
Jim Lehrer, there are often too many pro-administration people,
and politicians who argue with each other but seldom say what they
Here are typical items found on the Internet that
I would otherwise have missed.
The Truth Shall Make You Free
In an article, "In Asia, the Web is Routing Power
to the People," appearing on the International Herald Tribune
website, Clay Wescott notes that an investigation by the Philippine
Center for Investigative Journalism into President Joseph Estrada's
extravagance was posted on the Web when traditional media refused
to run the story. Less than a year later, "Estrada was forced
from office, in part by large demonstrations in Manila whose organizers
used cell phone text messaging, websites, and e-mail lists."
A follow-up study by the Center targeted the Philippine Bureau of
Internal Revenue, and has forced the investigation of 127 of its
employees for various offenses.
Wescott writes: "The new [online] players come
in many forms, from business forums and kinship circles to diaspora
associations, relief organizations, and women's networks. And their
impact is being felt on the national, regional, and global stage....Internet
efforts in Asia against corruption, which can cost up to one-sixth
of a country's gross domestic product, help in the fight against
Wescott reports that in India there are significant
developments underway to assure that as many people as possible
have computer access. These include lowering the costs of computers
and Internet connections, and developing software for accurate translation
of different Indian languages.
Hegemony and War
To those who believe that the human race needs to
come up with more creative solutions than war and violence, there
are websites like Common Dreams. Defining itself as having a "progressive"
bent, the site lists current articles they consider worth reading
from newspapers around the world. They also include articles from
a number of conservative and libertarian sources who don't think
the U.S. should try to be the world's hegemonic power.
In one such article, Richard Gwyn, writing in the
Toronto Star, explains the price he thinks Americans are paying
for "being a hyper-power, a global hegemony, a reborn Rome."
John Cooley, writing in the International Herald Tribune, asks whether
Syria will be next. Robert Scheer, on the website Workingforchange,
is one of an increasing number of people who wonders if Iraq is
another Vietnam. Jeremy Lovell, in an article on the Reuters website,
writes about the trend toward privatizing the military, noting that
mercenaries may well be the wave of the future.
It's not only land mines that kill people after the
fighting is over. The use of depleted uranium (DU) on the tips of
anti-tank shells, barely mentioned in the popular media, is covered
in depth on the Internet. DU has been linked to everything from
Gulf War syndrome to birth defects; the military believes there
is no merit to those claims.
Recently, the Internet had good news about another
nasty residual weapon. Agence France Press, in an article titled
"Global Campaign Launched to Ban Cluster Bombs," noted
that 80 NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) from around the world
are heading this new effort.
Cluster bombs leave unexploded bomblets lying around
for civilians to pick up. According to Thomas Frank in an earlier
Internet article published by the Associated Press, titled "Officials:
Hundreds of Iraqis Killed by Faulty Grenades," the bomblets
are as small as medicine bottles and are often draped with ribbons
which make them look like toys to children.
Cluster weapons-in the form of bombs, rockets, and
artillery shells-were also used extensively in Kuwait, Kosovo, Afghanistan.
In a 1,000-pound bomb, there are 200 to 300 bomblets that scatter
over several blocks. U.S. cluster weapons have only a single fuse,
which the Pentagon admits have a fail rate of from 5 to 20 percent,
though battlefield commanders are said to have reported failure
rates as high as 40 percent.
Steve Goose, executive director of Human Rights Watch's
arms division notes, "The situation [in Iraq] is particularly
grave. We estimate...tens of thousands of unexploded munitions have
been left behind." The AP article says, "Hundreds and
possibly thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed or maimed
by outdated, defective U.S. cluster weapons." No reports I've
seen tell of any U.S. troops killed in Iraq by grenade duds, but
a U.S. congressional report found that in the first Gulf War, they
were responsible for 22 U.S. troops killed and 58 injured.
The British Defense Ministry reports that Britain
fired some 2,000 artillery cluster weapons in Iraq, all of which
were equipped with Israeli-made grenades with secondary fuses. These
are claimed to have a dud rate of 2 percent. A 2000 Pentagon report
noted that it would take $11 to $12 billion to reduce the dud rate
in the billion or so cluster weapons the U.S. has stockpiled; according
to the AP, the project was given a low priority and little funding.
Brzezinski on Paranoia
More and more articles on the Internet disagree with
U.S. policy, including a recent piece by Zbigniew Brzezinski. It
appeared on the website of the International Herald Tribune, and
was titled, "To Lead, U.S. Must Give Up Paranoid Policies."
The author, who was National Security Advisor under President Carter,
begins with the question: "Paradoxically, American power worldwide
is at its historic zenith while its global political standing is
at its nadir. Why?"
Brzezinkski talks about the problems with several
U.S. approaches, including: the central preoccupation of the U.S.
with the war on terrorism; the attitude that "he who is not
with us is against us," which Brzezinkski calls "paranoiac;"
and the failure of U.S. intelligence, which he says is the most
significant such failure in our history, one "which contributed
to extremist demagoguery that emphasizes worst-case scenarios, stimulates
fear, and induces a very simple, dichotomous view of world reality."
Brzezinkski then uses the bulk of his article to outline the healing
actions he feels the U.S. should take.
The Internet is also a useful tool to recall who said
what in the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and to
see how the statements changed during and after the war. On May
29, 2003, the website Counterpunch published a typical list, starting
with this by Senator Joseph Lieberman on Sept 4, 2002: "Every
day Saddam remains in power with chemical weapons, biological weapons,
and the development of nuclear weapons is a day of danger for the
United States." There are similar statements by Senators Joseph
Biden and Hillary Clinton, as well as by President Bush and other
members of the administration.
Some of the statements are classics, such as press
secretary Ari Fleischer's comment on December 2, 2002: "If
he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is
once again misleading the world," and Donald Rumsfeld's comment
on March 30, 2003: "We know where they are. They are in the
area around Tikrit and Baghdad." Little more than a month later,
on May 4, Rumsfeld is quoted as saying: "I never believed that
we'd just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country."
Even more interesting are some of the statements key
players made before the administration made public their plan to
attack Iraq. John Pilger, on the Mirror.co.uk website, quotes Secretary
of State Colin Powell as having said in Cairo on February 24, 2001:
"He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability
with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project
conventional power against his neighbors." Pilger notes that
three months later Powell added that Saddam Hussein had not been
able to "build his military back up or to develop weapons of
mass destruction" for "the last 10 years." America,
Powell said, has been successful in keeping him "in a box."
Pilger includes similar quotes from Condoleezza Rice, including
this: "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military
forces have not been rebuilt."
Shoot the Messenger
The media probably doesn't like to criticize itself
in print, but it has taken a beating on the Internet for what various
observers feel is a multitude of shortcomings. Some attack the media
for unquestioningly regurgitating the stories put out by the administration.
Others blame the media when it reports the disasters resulting from
the war. For example, in the Christian Science Monitor (which also
appears on the Internet), Ann Scott Tyson authored an article, "Media
Caught in Iraq's War of Preconceptions." In it, the author
notes: "The stream of bad news is heightening tensions between
an American media that feels duty-bound to report U.S. losses in
the headlines, and a Bush administration and Pentagon prone to castigating
the negative coverage as one-sided."
In the Washington Post, Diane Abu-Jaber, in an article
titled, "The War, As Told to Us," notes how our news programming
has been instrumental in the marketing of this war. Her particular
slant is how Arabs are systematically portrayed as an essentially
Words of Wisdom
It's great to be able to buttress one's position by
quoting famous people who can make the same point, often with greater
eloquence. Here are two such quotes gleaned from the Internet on
the undesirability of going to war. This from General Douglas MacArthur:
"The powers in charge keep us in a perpetual state of fear,
keep us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor with the cry
of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible
evil to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing
the exorbitant sums demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters
seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real."
And this from James Madison: "Of all the enemies
of liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises
and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies.
From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts, and taxes
are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination
of the few. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of
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Our Earth is But a Small
by Stephen Vincent Benet
Our Earth is but a small
in the great Universe,
yet of it we can make,
if we choose,
a planet unvexed by war,
untroubled by hunger or fear,
undivided by senseless distinctions
of race, color or theory.
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TIMELINE (ISSN 1061-2734) is published bimonthly
by the Foundation for Global Community 222 High Street, Palo Alto,
Managing Editors: Kay Hays, Mac Lawrence
Editorial Board: : Jim Burch, Don Burns, Diane Gordon, Walter Hays,Sandra
Mardigian, Jackie Mathes, Susan Stansbury.
Art Director (print edition): Sue Lyttle
Desktop Publishing: Diane Gordon
Electronic Edition: Timeline Team
print edition of Timeline with photographs and artwork is available
for a subscription price of $15 per year (six issues). This
is pretty much what it costs us to produce and mail Timeline since
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But we do have overhead costs for our building, computers, etc.
So if you feel Timeline and the other work our Foundation does are
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Palo Alto, California