Continuing my pointless “I got the day off” wikileaks search for info on U.S. investment in Brazil’s oil industry, I found this classified cable on August 2005 meetings between Brazilian and U.S. trade representatives. Of particular note is the section on trade liberalization — specifically, a comment made by a mining magnate that was present:

Roger Agnelli of mining giant CVRD observed that Brazil and the U.S. have complementary economies that would stand to gain substantially from integration.

I wondered why he would even be there, so I looked up Agnelli and it turns out that in addition to the iron-ore business CVRD (now known as Vale), he also sat on the board of Petrobas, Brazil’s state-assisted oil company, and on Anadarko’s Global Advisory Board. Master Caution followers of the last few hours (all zero of you) will remember that Anadarko was one of the companies present at the 2008 meeting between U.S. oil companies and the Ambassador to Brazil that kicked off my interest in this subject in the first place.

That 2008 meeting, which took place just days after the price of oil topped $100 for the first time, also took place in a time of exciting oil discovery off the Atlantic Coast of Brazil. Two weeks later, Petrobas would announce the discovery of another enormous natural gas and oil condensate field nearby in the Atlantic, and energy pundits would wonder aloud in the coming months whether Brazil’s reserves would create a petroleum-independent Western Hemisphere.

“Pre-salt oil is like a pretty woman on a dance floor full of men,” Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, put it bluntly. “Everybody wants a go.”

Flash forward to January 1, 2011, and newly sworn in Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff calls the oil and gas reserves off her Atlantic coast Brazil’s “passport to the future.”

I’m still having trouble connecting the dots here. I kind of feel like the U.S. government, in the form of vehicles like the U.S. Commercial Service and others, went down to Brazil over the course of the 2000s and pushed for more open trade policies because major U.S. oil companies told them to. My eyes hurt and I need more coffee and I’m not sure the story goes any further than that, nor am I sure that it’s all that interesting. U.S. companies meddling in South American politics for the benefit of energy companies: big deal, right? Still, it’s an interesting research project and it’s keeping my mind active while I wait to hear back about grad school applications.

More soon. Any help/comments/direction would be much appreciated.

“Brazil Cost”?

January 17, 2011

In my last post I noted how due to a surplus of free time I had begun sifting through the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and found an interesting item about a 2008 meeting between major U.S. oil executives and the Ambassador to Brazil, in which the oil companies saw a “positive” environment for petroleum-related investments in Brazil.

I just want to see if anything came of it and what factors led up to it. So I’ve started searching, and just now found this. Check out point 8, about halfway down, titled “Brazil Cost.” This cable is from 2003 and apparently at that time the idea of investing in Brazil wasn’t quite as rosy (this was during negotiations and campaigning for the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a debate that still goes on today throughout the Western Hemisphere).

Although developed country protectionism is always cited as a major problem undermining Brazil’s competitiveness, so are internal problems sometimes called the “Brazil cost,” i.e., high costs associated with Brazil’s tax structure, outdated social security system, labor code, poor education, and, in general, bureaucratic obstacles to commerce. While the GOB is committed to social security and tax reform, it seems to lack faith it can lower the “Brazil cost” sufficiently in the near term to guarantee Brazilian competitiveness in the free trade environment an FTAA agreement would create.

So what happened between 2003 and 2008? Was the “Brazil cost” lowered significantly enough to where U.S. oil companies believed the Brazilian investment picture was “positive”? Or does this just point to a difference between the outlook in Brazil for oil companies vs. trade generally?

So I had the day off today and I opted to read the paper for the first time in awhile this morning, and this story about an ex-Swiss banker giving information to WikiLeaks inspired me to take a look through those Cablegate memos that caused such a stir in the last few months.

I started by looking through some cables that had come out at the time of various events like the first Gulf War. Then I just started chronologically reading different bits of this or that from a year picked at random (2004) and found a hilarious example of gossipy celeb-worship on the part of the U.S. diplomatic corps. All the while I noted the increased frequency of dispatches coming from Brazil, as I tried to remember news stories from 2004 that would warrant so much information coming from the U.S. embassy there. There was, of course, the Aristide situation, which Brazil helped to deal with from a U.S. diplomatic standpoint.

But then I found this, from 2008: a cable from Rio de Janeiro given the subject heading “U.S. OIL COMPANIES ON INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN BRAZIL.” It comes from a roundtable discussion Organized by the U.S. Commercial Service between then-Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel and top-level executives from Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Devon Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and Hess Corporation. The meeting took place on January 8, 2008, six days after the price of petroleum hit $100 a barrel for the first time.

According to the cable, the executives called the climate for investing in Brazilian oil “positive,” and Ambassador Sobel offers to advocate for them to the Brazilian government and state-controlled petroleum entities. I decided to look back through the earlier cables from Brazil, and see if I could trace any of the activity from prior years and connect it to the favorable situation (as seen by the oil executives) in 2008.

After about an hour of hard reading and googling, I found this site, CableGateGame. The amount of information contained in the WikiLeaks cables is immense and daunting, and CableGate can help with summaries of complicated texts, but it suffers from an awkward format. It’s still hard to know where to start.

I’m going to keep searching through CableGate and WikiLeaks and see if I can turn anything up that would explain/illuminate the meeting between major American oil executives and the government of Brazil. Questions I have include: just how “positive” is the investment climate in Brazil? What changes have taken place in the last decade to bring this situation about? How much oil is in Brazil? How will it be gathered and who benefits the most from a favorable oil trade with Brazil? I have others, but that’s my starting point. I’ll try to keep updating as info comes in and I welcome any help from whoever out there sees this.

Happy hunting,

JD

Leave it to the Buffalo News.

Residents of a several-block area of the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood started noticing something odd appearing on their streets, and around their homes, early Thursday afternoon:

Pink-streaked snow.

Pink champagne it wasn’t, but the mystery grew.

What was it, and where did it come from?

“It’s just weird. You’ve got pink snow,” said Phyllis Wesley from her Orlando Street home.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said mail carrier Mark Reed before continuing his rounds on Peabody Street. “It’s very colorful.”

The state health department said there was no immediate risk that they were aware of.

Still.

I started a Post-Carbon Buffalo group on facebook. Anyone on facebook can join, but I’m looking for people who are willing to research specific topics related to peak oil and post-carbon communities and report back to the group about their findings and initiatives that can be pushed for by the group.

To join, go here. If you’d like to be an officer, send me an e-mail, contact me on facebook, or reply to this thread.

I’d like to see this become the first step in a longer process of preparing Buffalo for the inevitable: the peak and depletion of finite, fossil fuel resources – namely, oil and natural gas. I hope to get to the point of actual meetings with officers and defined action plans by the end of the summer. Any suggestions or pledges of solidarity can be posted here or on the facebook club wall.

In other local news, Andrew Galarneau’s Buffalo Buffet has a recent post that links to a Buffalo News guide to local farmer’s markets. Andrew is a staff writer for the News and the staff advisor for Generation, the UB weekly magazine I wrote for when I still wrote for tangible publications. He is – in my biased opinion – one of the most underrated, underutilized local writers, and his site is a great source of recipes and reviews and generally good food talk. Key caption (underneath a pic of mustard greens at a local market):

Half the price of supermarket greens, and they didn’t come from three time zones away.

Think about that the next time you head to Tops or the neighborhood gouge-mart.

I’ll end today on two sources of inspiration I caught on the same front page of the New York Times last week. The first may not be seen as good news to all readers, but it at least gave me some hope that someone, somewhere at the Times is as worried about alerting the public to the oil story as I am. The Times ran a piece last Wednesday that sounded the death knell for the ex-urbs and future destruction (read: “development”) of the nation’s rural hinterlands, specifically in the far flung subdivisions of Denver – quaintly named after the farms they’ve paved over and salted. The Times story doesn’t specifically address peak oil, but it contains some great description of what the death of the suburbs looks like. It’s going down, folks. Peak oil commentators have been writing and blogging and desperately screeding for the past five years that this way of life – suburbia – we Americans view as our birthright will soon come to an end. In Denver, at least, people are starting to realize that it already has.

The Denver story should be particularly enlightening to citizens of the Queen City. Denver is a city of about 600,000 with around 3 million in the total metro area. The city has an expanding light rail system and, as the Times piece highlights, suburban residents are starting to head back downtown because their commutes have become unaffordable. Most of Denver’s population growth is relatively recent, as the city has benefited from the tech boom and all the other fossil-fuel based developments that have made the far West habitable. It’s unclear how an already-big city could conceivably handle the influx of millions of suburban refugees – assuming they don’t decide to stick it out and cling to whatever scraps of modern life are left to them out there where the buses don’t run.

Buffalo, on the other hand, is a city of just under 300,000 with another 800,000 in the metro area. The city was built with streetcar and heavy rail transit in mind and it has the capacity to accommodate a much larger population – about twice current levels at the city’s all-time peak – than the one currently shuffling down its empty streets. If Buffalo begins to revive its mass transit system – not the Metro, but its original, multi-lined, sensible passenger rail system – we can maintain a thriving citizenry and a good quality of life long after the overweight parking lots like Phoenix and Houston crumble into a patchwork of satellite villages.

Of course, everything will have to get smaller as fossil fuels deplete, and a significant population will need to work and live in the rural outlying areas if we’re going to feed ourselves in the coming decades. But it is a bit heartening to think that Buffalo could at least withstand the initial crunch, when gas prices and short-term necessity force people into their urban centers. We need to act today, though, to make sure that: a) our transportation system can accommodate large amounts of city-dwellers that can’t afford cars, and b) that we are still connected to the outlying farmland that will feed and employ us in the years to come.

The second bit of news that brightened my Wednesday was this article about the state of Florida’s land deal with U.S. Sugar:

The dream of a restored Everglades, with water flowing from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, moved a giant step closer to reality on Tuesday when the nation’s largest sugarcane producer agreed to sell all of its assets to the state and go out of business.

Under the proposed deal, Florida will pay $1.75 billion for United States Sugar, which would have six years to continue farming before turning over 187,000 acres north of Everglades National Park, along with two sugar refineries, 200 miles of railroad and other assets.

Many have made the point that U.S. Sugar probably would have gone out of business and left the Everglades anyways if it weren’t for the massive government subsidies the industry enjoys. Also, the deal gives U.S. Sugar six years’ of rent-free, possibly even tax-free business operation before they have to pull stumps. That said, this story warmed my heart. It’s easy to see a world without modern conveniences as a kind of societal hell, but the Everglades, and the hope for their return to wild, pre-industrial conditions, are one of the images that will send me on my way – no matter how bad things get – with a merry heart and a mouth full of song.

The End of Suburbia

June 23, 2008

Take an hour and check this out while it’s still available.

Baby Steps

June 21, 2008

I haven’t posted in a while. I took a break. In the previous weeks I’d read an alarming amount of alarming research on peak oil and its implications for American society. I don’t need to read anymore, at least not arguments for peak oil’s urgency as an issue; trust me, I’m alarmed.

So I took a few days to read Stephen Colbert’s new(ish) book and take stock of my priorities looking forward into the Long Emergency. I’ve worked, I’ve researched related issues like permaculture and public transportation, and, most importantly in my mind, I’ve taken a few small steps toward self-sufficiency and personal sustainability.

Step #1: I put in my two weeks’ notice at the restaurant I work for in Allentown, for a few reasons. Their business platform will be one of the least sustainable if U.S. freight costs become too expensive for goods to travel long distances by truck; well over half our produce comes from a 20-hour drive away or more. Further, the restaurant operates a meat-based menu on a scale that is sometimes scary, even for a meat-lover like myself. The amount of fossil fuel energy it takes to produce the animals we serve as meat each night is enormous when compared to the amount it takes to grow and serve crops, even forgetting transport costs. (For the record, I think animal products will and should still be a part of our diets in the coming years, but at a healthier, once-or-twice-a-week level.) Now I work at a co-op market on Elmwood. As much as I’ll miss the heat and excitement of a restaurant kitchen, if I’m going to work an hourly job it might as well be something I can support on a personal level, regardless of whether I work there.

Step #2: I bought plants. I live in an apartment that gets maybe two to three hours of direct sunlight, and that confined to a 2″ x 3′ strip of floor in the center of my living room. There is no yard, unless you count the alley that stretches between my windows and those of the apartments down the hall. (Are you watching Colbert, Lady Who Has Loud Sex? I’m sure it’s hilarious.) But a couple of potted herbs are the first steps in the process of growing more of what I need close to home.

Step #3: I put some money down on a used bike. No sentence in the language more accurately states, “I graduated with a liberal arts degree” than the previous. But the bike will help me get around, it will help me exercise, and it will keep me from smoking too much — my next project. I can’t keep going on about the environment and sustainability and local economies while paying nearly the price of a movie ticket to kill myself with tobacco grown in North Carolina every day. I’m a hypocrite, but everyone has limits.

What are you doing to prepare yourself and your community for the future?