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Lack of Leadership Leads to Societal Ills in North America

by John Brian Shannon | October 30, 2014

Putting the ‘cart before the horse’ leads to societal ills

Truism: Whenever and wherever the unemployment rate is low anywhere in the world, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness drops. Jobs prevent the depression that leads to drug abuse, crime, and eventually homelessness.

Because corporations in North America prefer a high-ish unemployment rate (to guarantee they get the choicest and hungriest applicants, and to ensure a large pool of seasonal labour, and as a device that works to continuously dampen calls for a higher minimum wage) we have the follow-on problems of depression, leading to drug abuse in some cases, which eventually leads to crime and later, homelessness for many of the working poor.

Which results in higher costs to society and it’s the taxpayers who must cover those costs, one way or another

To solve this utterly predictable set of problems, all levels of government should be working with corporations to ensure that corporate needs are met — but without destroying the lives of many people who would frankly, rather be working!

When everyone matters, society works better.

When everyone matters, society works better. Image courtesy of Dr. Paul Farmer

Nordic countries ask; What societal problems?

Sweden has mandatory job-sharing in those industries that can’t employ all of their workers. Except for retired people, students, those with chronic illness, or the very wealthy, everyone in the country works for *at least* 6 months of the year. Which neatly prevents such societal ills.

If you’ve ever visited Sweden, you’ll notice that nobody lives in dumpsters

Some industries in Sweden can’t use all of their available workers, so if you’re a worker in that particular industry it simply means that you’re ‘on work’ for 6 months and you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months of the year. The ‘alternate person’ steps in and does ‘your job’ for 6 months while you’re on mandatory time off. Both people get UI from Day 1 of their respective layoff dates.

It’s not like layoffs in North America. It’s more like, “Your scheduled time ‘off work’ is coming up, Anders. So have you arranged the dates for your temporary replacement? You have? Thank you.”

In Sweden, you ‘own’ your job, you’re responsible for it, and you want to perform well for the company that has given you the responsibility for making sure that ‘your job’ is done properly

Also, even though you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months, you’re still expected to be available to fill that position whenever the alternate worker is ill, or can’t make it to work for any other reason. You like that a lot, because their UI system doesn’t penalize you for kindly making yourself available to the company AND you get to keep the wages you earned that day.

If you’re ‘on work’ for your 6 months and suddenly want a day ‘off work’ to go buy a house, propose to your partner, or whatever, you just arrange it with the ‘alternate’ who shares your job — and you’re covered. They come in and do your work for you. You inform the company merely out of courtesy that this will be happening. It’s ‘your job’ after all — not the company’s job.

So, let’s say that you’re off work for 6 months and ‘Sven’ (the person doing your job) has a skiing accident and needs 10 days off work to recover, you not only get your regular UI payment, you also get the normal wages for each day that you replaced Sven.

In this hypothetical scenario, between ‘Anders’ and ‘Sven’ the job they share is totally covered, no matter what, 365 days of the year. Overtime wages? Unknown in Sweden. With one phone call the company simply adds another already trained worker to the project, until project completion. Then they send them back home, until called in to work (for temporary replacement purposes) or the company again calls him to help with additional workload, or timely project completion.

Everyone has a job, or is on UI for part of the year. Consequently, depression, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness are almost unknown in Sweden

Everyone has a job. Whether you are ‘off work’ for a time, or ‘on work’ for a time — you have a job, you have a place in society, you belong to a community. You may work 100 days per year, you may work 200 days per year, or any number of days between 100 to 365 days per year in Sweden. It depends how busy your particular industry is, that particular year.

The takeaway point is; If you live in Sweden — you’re a worker, you’re a valued person, you’re part of Sweden’s ongoing success, you belong.

When everyone matters — corporations work better, society works better, and the UN scores your country highly on the UN Happiness Index

Corporations like this employment policy, because more employees than they can afford to keep employed year ’round ‘own’ their particular position and over the course of a year, both workers communicate often, to make certain that every single working day of the year is ‘covered’ for the company.

The company doesn’t care which of the two workers are onsite on any given day, because both are eminently qualified and both feel that they ‘own the job’ and are responsible for it. Which is much better for the corporation when compared to only one person owning that job.

What happens in a Swedish company when an employee has time off due to illness, mandatory maternity leave, vacation times, or car trouble?

Nothing. The alternate worker is likely already on the premises doing the job. Utter, boring, Swedish efficiency!

The company knows that every work day of the year, each position in the company will be filled by the regular worker or the alternate worker — no matter what!

The inequality in North America is stunning. And there’s no good excuse for it. It’s merely a lack of leadership. Governments are kowtowing to uninspired, faceless, and unaccountable corporations that only care about the bottom line.

But hey, don’t blame the corporations! They’re in business to make a buck — not to solve social problems — that’s the government’s job.

But when the corporations are the ones causing the social problems via their policy of keeping workers hungry for work through a policy of high unemployment, union-busting, threats to export jobs to Asia, downsizing threats and more — that’s when we need to look at a better model.

And in the case of Sweden and other Nordic countries a much better model already exists — not just for society, but for corporations as well.

As the West disengages from the Middle East, regional diplomacy must flourish

by John Brian Shannon | October 29, 2014

UN Diplomacy image courtesy of the United Nations.

Image courtesy of the United Nations.

The parents are leaving, but the kids are staying behind

‘The parents’ — meaning the U.S. and Europe (creators of the modern day Middle East via the Sykes-Picot agreement) are disengaging from the Middle East, albeit in very slow motion.

Israel, in particular, may be glad to see the United States go. In fact, some Israeli politicians can hardly wait, it seems.

Which all in all, can be a very good thing, as without the parents around the Middle East nations will be forced to ‘grow up’ and handle their own affairs instead of (call them what you will) former colonial powers handling their disputes for them.

“Netanyahu, and the even more hawkish ministers around him, seem to have decided that their short-term political futures rest on a platform that can be boiled down to this formula: “The whole world is against us. Only we can protect Israel from what’s coming.”

For an Israeli public traumatized by Hamas violence and anti-Semitism, and by fear that the chaos and brutality of the Arab world will one day sweep over them, this formula has its charms. But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster.” — The Atlantic

Very unsurprisingly, this is happening at exactly the same speed as the oil economy/petrodollar stranglehold on the world economy weakens.

As domestic oil and gas in the U.S. and Europe move to displace Middle East oil, as China’s economy outpaces the U.S. economy (2017 at the latest) and as renewable energy somewhat displaces petroleum — all of these will conspire to lower the overall importance of the petrodollar economy.

As that timeline unfolds, the relative importance of Saudi Arabia and other oil rich nations to the U.S. and Europe will diminish, hence Israel will become less important, and instead of being treated as ‘special nations’ the lot of them will increasingly be treated by the West in the same as any (non-oil rich) nation.

It’s is an ongoing process. It is a healthy process. And it should be seen as a positive process. No doubt, it could become a dangerous time for the Middle East region — if handled clumsily.

But as time goes by, the interests of all Middle Eastern nations should coincide and regional politics will become as they could and should have been — were it not for post-colonial powers imposing their views on the region for the past 100 years.

If the people of the Middle East (including Israel) are as good as they think they are, then this will become the blessing of all blessings for Arab and Israeli citizens alike.

Let’s see if they’re as good as they think they are. If they’re not, they will eventually blow each other off the face of the planet.

Either way, the U.S. and the EU are ‘leaving’ the region, and the people of the Middle East will have to find their own way forward. Let’s hope it’s peaceful.

My hope is that all nations in the region begin to include ‘diplomacy’ as a mandatory course in schools (K-12) and that governments there start to build Middle East-centric universities, ones that specialize in diplomatic education relative to the region so that as time rolls forward younger generations will be well-prepared to solve the unique, but very solvable problems of the region.

Natural Gas, Friend or Foe of the Environment?

Natural Gas, Friend or Foe of the Environment? | 24/10/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

While Natural Gas has been touted as the ‘bridge fuel towards a clean energy future‘ three major drawbacks have caused concern in recent months. The first is, of course, the negatives surrounding natural gas fracking which has been well covered by the media and I’m not going to repeat all that has been said on that account.

Rather, I will concentrate of the largely unreported issues of massive methane leaks escaping natural gas well heads, called ‘fugitive emissions’ and the practice of ‘flaring’ at natural gas wells.

Over a 100-year timeframe, methane is about 35 times as potent as a climate change-driving greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and over 20 years, it’s 84 times more potent.

Natural gas drilling could emit up to 1,000 times the methane previously thought, possibly significantly increasing the greenhouse gas footprint of the production of natural gas, the study shows. — Climate Central

There’s no doubt that natural gas has the capacity to be a cleaner fuel than coal and the various fuels that can be obtained from crude oil such as gasoline and diesel. But it isn’t.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is two-fold. Problem number one is methane leakage at natural gas wells, and problem number two is the ongoing practice of natural gas flaring at well heads, distribution centres and gas processing facilities.

Methane emissions from improperly sealed natural gas wellheads, combined with natural gas flaring near well heads, dramatically lowers the advantage of ‘clean’ natural gas as compared to ‘dirty’ coal and crude oil.

Natural gas as a means to produce electricity is being hailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the fuel that can act as a “bridge” between carbon-heavy coal and zero-carbon renewables, helping to reduce humans’ impact on the climate. 

The idea is that burning natural gas involves fewer greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal. The IPCC in its Working Group III report says natural gas as a bridge fuel will only be effective if few gases escape into the atmosphere during natural gas production and distribution. —

Natural gas has the potential to be 1 million times cleaner than coal or crude oil based fuels if gas industry best practices are employed. But the present situation is so bad that (low carbon) natural gas airborne emissions are almost on par with (high carbon) coal and crude oil airborne emissions — once you factor everything into the equation.

A typical natural gas drilling rig. Credit: EPA

A typical natural gas drilling rig. Photo Credit: EPA

Why not properly seal the well heads?

Cost. Many gas drilling and extraction companies would like to hermetically seal their well heads to lower the death and injury rates of their workers due to raw gas exposure, to enhance overall gas recovery, decrease the waste of an incredibly useful fuel — and to lower emission levels thereby enhancing the reputation of gas as a 21st-century clean energy solution.

The reason companies won’t spend the extra ($100,000 on average) per well head (to fully encase the pipe in concrete slurry) is that shareholders don’t want lowered dividends. Nor do companies want to become less competitive as compared to the ones that don’t seal their well heads. To put this in some kind of perspective within the gas industry, some gas drilling/extraction operators have hundreds of well heads, while others only have tens of well heads.

At the end of it all, it turns out that improperly sealed natural gas wells and natural gas flaring are negating almost all of the benefits of super clean, natural gas — as compared to coal and crude oil sourced fuels.

Feel free to facepalm now.

Why not stop flaring at natural gas well heads?

Every natural gas well head must deal with pressure variables and with the normally-occurring contaminants found in natural gas. This is done onsite in a process known as flaring which is an incredibly toxic way of dealing with the problem of temporary pressure spikes and natural gas contaminants.

Flares burn off excess methane at an oil and gas field. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Flaring burns off untreated methane at oil and gas refineries, landfills, and other industrial plants. Flares are used to control release of methane into the atmosphere but recovery options are also available that capture methane for use as fuel. Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Contaminants in raw natural gas

Raw natural gas typically consists primarily of methane (CH4), the shortest and lightest hydrocarbon molecule. It also contains varying amounts of:

The raw natural gas must be purified to meet the quality standards specified by the major pipeline transmission and distribution companies. Those quality standards vary from pipeline to pipeline and are usually a function of a pipeline system’s design and the markets that it serves. In general, the standards specify that the natural gas:

  • Be within a specific range of heating value (caloric value). For example, in the United States, it should be about 1035 ± 5% BTU per cubic foot of gas at 1 atmosphere and 60°F (41 MJ ± 5% per cubic metre of gas at 1 atmosphere and 15.6°C).
  • Be delivered at or above a specified hydrocarbon dew point temperature (below which some of the hydrocarbons in the gas might condense at pipeline pressure forming liquid slugs that could damage the pipeline).
  • Dew-point adjustment serves the reduction of the concentration of water and heavy hydrocarbons in natural gas to such an extent that no condensation occurs during the ensuing transport in the pipelines
  • Be free of particulate solids and liquid water to prevent erosion, corrosion or other damage to the pipeline.
  • Be dehydrated of water vapor sufficiently to prevent the formation of methane hydrates within the gas processing plant or subsequently within the sales gas transmission pipeline. A typical water content specification in the U.S. is that gas must contain no more than seven pounds of water per million standard cubic feet (MMSCF) of gas.
  • Contain no more than trace amounts of components such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, mercaptans, and nitrogen. The most common specification for hydrogen sulfide content is 0.25 grain H2S per 100 cubic feet of gas, or approximately 4 ppm. Specifications for CO2 typically limit the content to no more than two or three percent.Maintain mercury at less than detectable limits (approximately 0.001 ppb by volume) primarily to avoid damaging equipment in the gas processing plant or the pipeline transmission system from mercury amalgamation and embrittlement of aluminum and other metals — (from Wikipedia)

All of these contaminants are burned off during flaring. The problem is that it is a very incomplete burning cycle, one that is millions of times dirtier than the exhaust that exits your car’s tailpipe. Indeed historically, there have been many cases where people — or even large numbers of cattle or other livestock — living downwind of flaring stacks have died from breathing the partially burned gas.

Legislation is the obvious solution, but how?

If one state legislates against fugitive emissions from well heads and against the practice of natural gas flaring — all of the gas wells in that state will simply be capped and all gas-related economic and energy activity will cease within that state. That’s how competitive the gas industry is.

In North America, if the United States legislates against fugitive emissions and natural gas flaring, the flight of capital and natural gas companies to Canada would result in a huge economic boom for Canada and a dramatic loss for the United States. The reverse is also true.

The Only Solution is a Continental Solution

Therefore, there can only be one solution to the problem — and that is a continental solution to fugitive emissions and to natural gas flaring — whether this is done under the auspices of an amendment to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or as a standalone convention, it is high-time for such legislation to be passed.

It doesn’t need to be a policy masterpiece nor does it need to be technically perfect. It needs to stipulate one uniform standard that applies to all natural gas drilling/extraction/refining and transportation systems in North America.

Above all else, it needs to be done. Now.