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Iran Confirms Threat to Cut Off Oil Exports to Europe

If escalating war of words continues, the global economic recovery will be threatened

1 min read
Iran Confirms Threat to Cut Off Oil Exports to Europe

The New York Times has just reported Iran's official confirmation that it is threatening to cut oil exports to six European countries. Earlier rumors of such a threat sent oil prices to a six-month high. Why is this important? Because, as the authors of a recent Nature article said (and as I myself have said in this space), "It seems clear that it wasn't just the 'credit crunch' that triggered the 2008 recession, but the rarely-talked-about 'oil price  crunch' as well." Near-term, if the Iranian crisis spins out of control, the effect could be plunge the advanced industrial countries back into recession; long-term, permanently high oil prices would severely limit growth prospects.

A positive element in the current picture is Iran's declared willingness to resume nuclear negotiations with six counterparties (the so-=called P5 + 1), but pessimists worry that once again it may be just playing for time--talking to ease international pressure, only to resume suspect activities as soon as the pressure is off. Meanwhile, tensions between Iran and Israel have been sharply rising, as a handful of top Iranian nuclear scientsts have been assassinated, its enrichment facility was infected by the immensely ingenious Stuxnet virus, and its major missile test facility mysteriously blew up, killing the country's top rocket scientist. Earlier this week there were reports of assassination attempts on Israelis in three foreign countries, one of the attacks closely resembling from a procedural point of view two assassinations of Iranian scientists and engineers in Tehran.

The most recent round of escalation began with the release by the International Atomic Energy Agency of a report in November, finding that Iran had a full-fledged nuclear warhead development program up until 2003 and very likely has continued with some elements of that program.

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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