I’m sure I heard that dogs can smell cancer in us – they just don’t know that the information might be useful to us.

There is  a tradition, though, when disaster looms, of warnings given by animals – who will even speak at times. C S Lewis drew on it in That Hideous Strength when, before an impending earthquake he writes:

One had heard his donkey, another her cat, say “as clear as clear”: “Go away. ” 

Paul Farley speculates that the disappearance of sparrows – once so familiar, ubiquitous, companionable – is a conscious withdrawal, as these old friends leave us to rattle off to hell in our handcarts all by ourselves. Of course, if we were still woken by dawn choruses, the unwonted quiet in the mornings, outside our bedroom windows, would be as clear an alarm as you could imagine. 

The poem is, For the House Sparrow, in Decline:

Your numbers fall and it’s tempting to think
you’re deserting our suburbs and estates
like your cousins at Pompeii; that when you return
to bathe in dust and build your nests again
in a roofless world where no one hears your cheeps,
only a starling’s modem mimicry
will remind you of how you once supplied
the incidental music of our lives.


Battery power

Whoever masters battery power will, in this age of the renewable and rechargeable, be the Getty, the Rockefeller of our age. 

You read a lot about developmental stuff – increasing capacity and efficiency – but less about supply, which is why I found this piece from …so interesting. Richard Jones over on his blog softmachines.org starts his piece asking:

How fast can electric cars take over from fossil fuelled vehicles? This partly depends on how quickly the world’s capacity for manufacturing batteries – especially the lithium-ion batteries that are currently the favoured technology for all-electric vehicles – can expand. The current world capacity for manufacturing the kind of batteries that power electric cars is 34 GWh, and, as has been widely publicised, Elon Musk plans to double this number, with Tesla’s giant battery factory currently under construction in Nevada. This joint venture with Japan’s Panasonic will bring another 35 GWh capacity on stream in the next few years. But, as a fascinating recent article in the FT makes clear (Electric cars: China’s battle for the battery market), Tesla isn’t the only player in this game. On the FT’s figures, by 2020, it’s expected that there will be a total of 174 GWh battery manufacturing capacity in the world – an increase of more than 500%. Of this, no less than 109 GWh will be in China.

Read the rest here.

Post script

Jotting these notes down, I heard about Scott Pruitt’s pronouncements on carbon dioxide and global warming and could only think of Bonhoeffer again, reflecting that:

‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgement simply need not be believed–in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical–and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. ‘(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison, 43)

Battery power

When the Stone Age ended

An average day in the stone age
An average day in the stone age

The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.

Watching the falling oil prices has been fascinating. Saudi Arabia has clearly been at the heart of the continued high production that is driving it, but it’s never been clear to me why they would want to, effectively, reduce their income and deplete a finite resource.

There are the various and machiavellian political theories of course – Syria and Russia loom large in these, but really? As a main driver of such a seismic shift in policy? I’ve never really been convinced.

An article in the Energy Post had a fresh and, I thought, much more convincing take on what Saudi is up to. The author, Elias Hinckley, a strategic advisor on energy finance and energy policy writes that:

“Saudi Arabia is seeing a new and massively changing energy landscape. The U.S. and China have agreed to bilateral carbon reduction targets.  2014 is now officially the hottest year recorded in human history, a record set almost impossibly without the presence of El Nino.  And on January 7 a report released in Nature lays bare the fossil fuel climate change equation by concluding that to achieve anything better than a 50/50 shot at keeping global warming under 2 degrees centigrade (the most widely accepted threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change) 82% of fossil reserves must remain in the ground.  That report puts hard numbers on the percentages of fossil fuels that must “stay in the ground” and calls for 38% of proven Mideast oil reserves to never to be pumped from the ground.  That 38% represents some 260 billion barrels of oil – worth tens of trillions of dollars – much of that not held in Saudi reserves.”

Renewables are gaining ground – they are growing cheaper and more efficient so that there is less need for oil. It won’t be so hard, in the near future to achieve consensus about leaving the oil in the ground.

As Sheik Yamani – a former Saudi Oil Minister said in 2000:

Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”

Saudi oil is accessible, cheap to pump and they have a lot of it. They have no other significant source of income so why not pump it out and sell it – even at a seriously discounted price – while they can sell it at all.

As Hinckley says:

‘The owner of the most valuable fossil fuel reserve on Earth just started discounting for a future without fossil fuels.  While they would never state this reasoning publicly, their actions speak on their behalf.  And that changes everything.’

Worth a read.

An average day in the petrol age




When the Stone Age ended