Let’s GET It On!!!


This (geo)graphic is pulled from Robert Hefner’s not yet released book, The Grand Energy Transition (The GET).

I know it isn’t released, but if this guy isn’t completely daffy, then I will have to completely rework all of my assumptions about how to tackle global warming, alternative energy generation, and reducing dependence on foreign oil.  After listening to Saul Griffith calculate (or recalculate…) the globe’s energy requirements and the alternative energy requirements that must be met in order to avoid certain cataclysmic carbon thresholds, I figured that we were beyond the point of no return.  All of his calculations involved building or deploying so many or so much so fast, starting yesterday, that I saw no way to hit the mark before 2050.

Then comes this guy, “The Father of Deep Natural Gas”, in this Aspen Strategy Group forum.  I tell you what, his diagnosis of the situation, his estimate of the amount of Deep Natural Gas available in North America (and worldwide for that matter), his commentary on the politics of oil and why Official Washington has ignored natural gas, makes me very concerned that the Obama Administration is jumping to a cap and trade system before looking at this.  Especially given his commentary on what cap and trade would and would not be capable of solving.  And, given what he sees being achieved in merely 5 years, if the right resources were applied (e.g., STIMULUS PACKAGE!!!!), I think someone at the White House should be paying attention.

But, then again, perhaps this guy is a nut job.  However, I simply suspect that Hefner is right, and it is one of those things that Official Washington ignores because it is inconvenient.  Of course, “An Inconvenient Truth” has recently been deemed not-so-inconvenient.  So, I guess we are at an impasse.  If “An Inconvenient Truth” is not too inconvenient, then why should this be?

I hope Owen asks Dr. Chu what he thinks!

In Plain Sight…

all facilities

These (geo)graphics were provided by my friend Jeff Kerridge at Digital Globe.

So, according to Jeff’s reconnaissance package, “The Musudan-ri missile assembly building is (according to globalsecurity.org) capable of handling two Taepodong-2 class three stage launch vehicles, in addition to several vertical test cells in the high bay portion.”  Then, Wikipedia says:

Striking Anchorage in Alaska (one of the closest potential mainland US targets) could be difficult given that the distance from the launch site co-ordinates (see below) and Anchorage is 5,634 km[3]. However the range specified below details 4,500 km, meaning the missile would fall short by around 1,000km. It is only future variants (i.e. planned missile designs that are still on the drawing board), that could reach up to 9,000km therefore it is misleading to suggest that the Taepodong 2 that is due to be test-fired between April 4th and 8th 2009 has the ability to reach mainland US targets. Based on the size of the missile, the fuel composition, and the likely fuel capacity, it is estimated that a two stage variant would have a range of around 4,000 km (2,500 statute miles) and a three stage variant would be capable of reaching as far as 4,500 km (2,800 statute miles), giving it potentially the longest range in the North Korean missile arsenal.[1] The burn time of each stage is a little over 100 seconds, thus allowing the missile to burn for 5 or 6 minutes. Future highly speculative variants of the missile could be capable of a range of approximately 9,000 km (5,600 statute miles).[4] At maximum range, the Taepodong-2 is estimated to have a payload capacity of less than 500 kg.[2] Whether this would be large enough to carry a North Korean designednuclear warhead is currently unknown, as the full development status of the North Korean nuclear program is largely unknown. Early versions did not have the payload or range to launch a satellite into space.

No problem for Governor Palin, but I guess Japan has got to be unhappy.  I would love to be a fly on the wall at the next round of the Six-Party Talks.  Perhaps they are just pissed that we took Christopher Hill away from them!

launch pad

More from the reconnaissance package,

“An imagery review of the launch complex from previous DigitalGlobe imagery during late June, 2006 revealed similar activity at the launch pad and missile assembly building prior to the July 5, 2006 Paektusan/TaepoDong-2 missile launch.

According to Janes Defence Weekly, in 2006 the Paektusan-2 sat on the launch pad (within the launch tower) for approximately 20 days before being launched.”

I bet you can set your watch to this brief.

Stratfor on Afghanistan



This (geo)graphic was pulled from a Stratfor article entitled Part 6: The Obama Administration and South Asia (hint, link won’t work without subscription).

Hopefully Stratfor will consider this advertising, or at least falling under Fair Use!  Since I consider this blog my personal file system for things I don’t won’t to lose track of, I am including a healthy extract from this Stratfor article as its the best explanation of the challenge from a geostrategic perspective.  It would have been nice to have dealt with Afghanistan consistently since 2001.


Landlocked by Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan, Afghanistan is destined to be poor and insulated. As a largely arid, resource-deficient no-man’s-land, the country lacks strategic value in and of itself and historically has served as a thoroughfare for invaders descending from the Central Asian steppes in search of the Indian subcontinent. Afghanistan stands out among the world’s countries in that it has no core region that defines itself as the Indus River Valley does for Pakistan or as the Zagros Mountains do for Iran. The region’s central mountain knot keeps most of its various ethnicities perched on the edges of the knot where water is available, but there are no meaningful barriers that separate them from each other. The result is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and tribes constantly competing for dominance, endlessly able to dislodge their neighbors and yet lacking the natural barriers that could give them real security in the long run. Any outsider, therefore, will find Afghanistan easy to conquer — as did the Russians in 1979 and the Americans in 2001 — but impossible to hold. Representing a battered mix of ethnicities, the Afghan people have been hardened by wars of their own making and those brought to them by outsiders. Territory changes hands often, and the people pledge their loyalties accordingly.


Afghanistan’s geographic features essentially deny the United States a successful military strategy. When the United States fights wars in Eurasia, it already expects to deal with critical disadvantages, such as having its forces far outnumbered and having to maintain long and vulnerable supply lines. From almost its very beginning, the United States has conducted expeditionary military operations overseas; since World War II, it has come to rely on its global maritime dominance and technological edge to impose its influence far beyond U.S. coastlines. In the present case of Afghanistan, however, all the strengths that the United States typically brings to a military operation are more or less nullified. With no real power base, the United States is fighting a stateless entity in a landlocked country with a scattered population. Such a dynamic prevents the United States from utilizing its naval prowess and complicates the use of advanced weapons systems, particularly when use  d against a guerrilla enemy dispersed throughout the countryside. The only way to fight in Afghanistan is to use brute force and significant numbers of boots on the ground in a war of occupation — precisely the sort of war that lies outside the U.S. comfort zone.


In other words, Afghanistan’s geography in many ways denies the United States any good policy options. Afghanistan historically has been a country exceedingly difficult for an outside power to pacify. At the very best, the United States can hope for a loose and shifting confederation of Afghan tribes and ethnic groups to try and govern the country and prevent transnational jihadist forces from taking root again. But for that strategy to work, the United States would first need to devote an immense amount of time and resources to long-term counterinsurgency and nation-building in a region extremely resistant to the sort of stability required for nation-building. Without the 9/11 connection, Afghanistan would continue to sit very low on the totem pole of U.S. strategic interests.

Maps as Arguments

Maps as Arguments

I was having a conversation with Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation about the power of maps in defining lines of peace and conflict in the realm of foreign affairs.  He had a couple great stories relating to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

At the time, I was specifically thinking about the power of planning documents such as RAND’s Arc proposal in shaping the negotiations over political and institutional issues, as such documents provide a clear vision of what might be possible if the parties come to agree on particular political/institutional terms.  But, I struggled for some useful language.  Recently I received a book review, published in Nature byJon Christensen, of Wood and Fels’ “The Nature of Maps” which had this great quote:

Maps are indeed arguments about our world, but the future also rides on maps. People use them to shape what we know and what becomes of the territory. As Wood and Fels argue so provocatively, “Pretending to be no more than scorekeepers, maps stand revealed as more like the ball, the very medium through which the game’s moves are made.”

Christensen is associate director of the Spatial History Project at Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West.  He writes a good book review.  Now I guess I have to buy the book.

No Train to Vegas

high speed rail

This (geo)graphic was generated by the Federal Railroad Administration.

This map conveys some genius on the part of the DoT folks.  $8Billion for high speed rail in the Stimulus Plan after idle conversation on the topic for the past 2 decades, which will establish enormous latent demand for more rail.  They will pay for Atlanta and Savannah to Jacksonville, and Orlando to Tampa and Miami.  But, they will not pay for Jacksonville to Orlando.  I wonder how long that will last.  And, Houston is connected to New Orleans, but not Dallas, Austin or San Antonio.

This is going to be interesting.

Let’s Just Blame the World’s Problems on Cartography


Today’s Washington Post had a nice little article on dead zones.  It made me go looking for a good map (see above for a bad map on the subject) of dead zones around the world.  I love this very disturbing quote from the article:

“Daniel Conley, a professor at Sweden’s Lund University, noted that it would take up to 60,000 rail cars of liquid oxygen annually to directly re-oxygenate the sea. Lime or aluminum could also be dumped to provoke chemical reactions that would reduce nutrients, but that would be expensive and could have unintended ecological effects.”

Nice.  What strikes me is how good maps can be at communicating the cataclysmic nature of a single dead zone (see my earlier blogpost on the subject of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone), yet how bad they are at communicating the global scale and scope of the problem.  I’m afraid red, orange and blue circles simply fail us.  The map above simply does not strike me as a 60,000 rail car bad situation.  And, having circles sized to represent the scale of the dead zones would simply show a bunch of blobs at a global scale.

I’m concerned that emerging global calamities simply cannot be conveyed cartographically, in a single global map.  I am happy to be wrong on this, but I haven’t seen it.  Unless we move to some other way of conveying the geographic extent, adjacency, and severity of such problems, it will be difficult to inspire collective action.

Help Iceland Help Iran Help the Rest of Us

Iran Geothermal potential map

This (geo)graphic was posted on Younes Noorollahi’s website.

As I continue to read about Iran’s putative quest for nuclear weapons amid their claims that nuclear simply offers a reliable civilian energy source, Google, as always, sent me in an interesting direction.  Iran, and interestingly also Afghanistan, sits atop considerable geothermal potential.

It turns out that Younes attended the United Nations University Geothermal Training Program in Iceland.  I spent my summer vacation in Iceland and was stunned by the power (forgive the pun) of their use of geothermal.  Perhaps Younes is onto something.  Iran has an Office of Modern Energies and appears to already recognize the potential in geothermal.

If we were to have a robust dialog with Iran regarding their energy needs, I would hope that it would encompass geothermal.  God knows that Iceland needs some new economic opportunities.  Perhaps we could help Iceland help Iran help the rest of us not have to worry about nuclear proliferation when there are clearly already one too many global crises.  The Himalyan Geothermal Belt already generates some serious Megawatts.  This could definitely change the landscape and dialog with Iran, as well as Afghanistan.

Tell Al Gore that Food Matters!

Food Matters

This (geo)graphic was pulled directly off the cover of Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters”.  It is of an unknown spatial reference system.

For those of you who found Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” very insightful, but less than actionable, you will like Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters”.  It does a good job of describing the impacts of our food consumption on our Planet (Earth), from global warming to transmogrified landscapes due to the ever growing demand for meat, and other animal-derived food products.  I think many (including myself) never think about how the supply chain behind animal-derived product consumption has completely reshaped the Earth over the past half century.  Not to mention how it has reshaped the labor markets associated with food production (see Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” for more on that topic).

As for “Food Matters”, there is a nice FORA.TV Video Podcast with Bittman talking about the origins of his book (did I mention that I have become addicted to FORA.TV?).  He references a UN report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” which addresses the impacts of our animal-derived food chain on the Earth, a report which is very interesting.  But, his summary zingers in the Podcast (and the book) really drive home the point.  He really makes you ask yourself why you are eating so many animal products (remember, milk and eggs are also products of animals – which are kept no more humanely than those primarily raised to be slaughtered for their meat, and which have a huge impact on the Earth).  And, whether we could reduce the amount of animal products by 10 or 20% percent – which would have a massive impact on greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately, Bittman did not focus his point on overpopulation, which I still see as the major challenge.  The number of domesticated animals impacting the Earth is directly tied to the number of people consuming animal products in their daily meals.  While Bittman is correct that we (us First Worlders) all could consume less and live more healthy lives, as we succeed at bringing people worldwide out of poverty, their tastes will begin to mimic ours – only ballooning the existing population of domesticated animals (the US processes 10 billion animals a year).

So, I am happy to follow Bittman’s cookbook.  But, if everyone on Earth ate that well, our planet would collapse from ecological devastation and accellerated global warming.

Give a Hoot! Don’t Pollute!


Increasingly, I am convinced that I am suffering from a learning disability that keeps me from knowing what is actually going on in the world around me.  This time, I somehow missed that there is a giant vortex of garbage (primarily plastic debris), bigger than the United States, swirling around in the Pacific.  Actually, it is two huge, linked garbage patches comprised of some 3.5 million tons of debris!  Occupying the North Pacific Gyre, it kills some 1million seabirds annually and some 100,000 sea mammals, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.  46,000 pieces of floating plastic per square mile.

I particularly like this list of debris captured in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, from an inflatable dingy:

  •  a drum of hazardous chemicals;
  •  an inflated volleyball, half covered in gooseneck barnacles;
  •  a plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook;
  •  a cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV;
  •  an inflated truck tire mounted on a steel rim;
  •  numerous plastic, and some glass, fishing floats;
  •  a gallon bleach bottle that was so brittle it crumbled in our hands; and
  •  a menacing medusa of tangled net lines and hawsers that we hung from the A-frame of our catamaran and named Polly P, for the polypropylene lines that made up its bulk.

And, given that plankton is one of the biggest building blocks of life on Earth, serving as the basis of our global food chain, I particularly like the notion that there is more plastic in the Pacific Ocean than plankton.

Even better, read this!

“Sadly, marine researcher Charles Moore at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach says there’s no practical fix for the problem. He has been studying the massive patch for the past 10 years, and said the debris is to the point where it would be nearly impossible to extract.”

It is to the point that there is http://www.greatgarbagepatch.org/.  You don’t even want to think about how this is getting back into your own foodchain.

And, I thought that all I had to solve for my children and their children was Global Warming!

I wonder which Agency has covered this in their briefing books for President Obama?  Somehow, I suspect that a swirl of plastic garbage 30 meters deep and 1500 miles wide has escaped everyone in Washington, D.C.

God help us.