Thursday, November 13, 2008

Someone Agrees!
The peak oil crisis: The first rule of holes
by Tom Whipple
Published Nov 13 2008 by Falls Church News-Press

America has dug itself into the deepest hole it has been in since 1860 when the dispute over slavery reached its zenith.

That hole took five years of war and 150 years of social discord before we could start climbing out. The current hole, reliance on fossil fuels for nearly everything, will also take many decades of hardships to work itself out.

For now however, digging our hole deeper continues everywhere. Oversized gas-guzzling automobiles continue to be built and sold by the millions. New generations of kerosene-guzzling airliners are being readied for the market. Houses and all sorts of buildings requiring excessive amounts of energy to be habitable continue to be built. Roads are being widened and lengthened. Our great national hole deepens every day.

Getting out of this hole will not be painless...

...At the top of the national agenda this week is what to do with the automobile industry which employs millions, is burning through billions each month, and will be utterly bankrupt by New Years. The Democrats in Congress and the President-elect seem inclined to overturn a decision by the Bush administration and loan many billions to the manufacturers on the grounds that we can't stand by and watch millions being thrown out of work. Implicit in this loan is the assumption that Detroit will be able to heal itself someday. If, as seems likely, car sales remain close to or less than current rates for the next 6 to 12 months, then Detroit soon will be bankrupt again and the U.S. taxpayers will owe foreign central banks another $25 or $50 billion dollars.

Another place where we are digging ourselves in deeper and deeper is road building. All indications are that there is going to be much less driving in the very near future, due to a combination of a contracting economy, lower incomes, more unemployment, fewer cars, and less gas. To build or widen another mile of highway in the face of this likelihood is absurd...

...Let's start with Detroit. If we are going to make a last and likely futile effort to bail them out, then they should simply stop building vehicles of ridiculously low efficiency right now. Take a holiday. No more SUV's, V-8 engines, large pickup trucks, RV's, recreational motor boats, ATV's etc. Should anyone still want or really need one of these dinosaurs anymore then they can readily buy them from massive current inventories that have already been built. The country should not put another ounce of resources or effort into building more of these devices which soon will only be fit for crushing.

What should Detroit do then with all the taxpayer money we are likely to be loaning them? Stop building large low efficiency vehicles; continue to build only the highest mileage vehicles they can currently produce. Redesign these vehicles for much better mileage with smaller more efficient motors. Start crash programs to build cars capable of 100 to 300 mpg -- probably some version of small plug-in hybrids. They are already out there. If Detroit can't design them fast enough, then they can license the designs from somebody - the Japanese, Chinese, entrepreneurs who already have them in the pipeline...

Of course, that presumes people can actually afford to go out and buy a new top of the line car, which I doubt. But Tom's head is in the right place, at least. He didn't think of re-tooling auto factories to produce passenger rail cars, streetcars, trams, trolleys, scooters and industrial tricycles and the like, but eventually somebody in the industry will - hopefully before European manufacturers make billions off of American buyers.

On a somewhat related note, Energy Bulletin also has this book review posted today. I haven't read it yet, but I do intend to download the free version. I recommend you also download it and read it.

Book Review: Preparing for Peak Oil: local authorities and the energy crisis
by Rob Hopkins

‘Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis’, prepared by the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre and the Post carbon Institute. 2008. 41 pages. Free download here.

The whole question of how to communicate peak oil to local government, and how to support and encourage their creative and rapid responses to it, is huge and very timely. ‘Preparing for Peak Oil’ is an excellent guidebook for anyone who wants to bring their local authority up to speed on energy depletion and climate change issues. It is clear, well presented, and achieves an excellent balance between presenting the hard facts about peak oil alongside some positive and inspiring examples of change, as well as some clear and well thought through thinking tools.

It begins with an overview of the peak oil issue, as well as the impacts of ‘peak everything’ on electricity and natural gas, doing a thorough job of undermining the unquestioned assumptions about the future of cheap energy supplies on which most local authorities appear to base their planning for the future. Having woven climate change into the peak oil discussion, it refuses to shy away from the key issues, and does so very skillfully. While some may favour a more softly softly approach, feeling that for now, it is just enough to raise awareness, the authors here address the impacts of peak oil on road and airport expansion and on food security head on.

The report pulls together what is happening at a government level with regards to peak oil responses (not a great deal, apart from Ireland and the state government of Queensland in Australia), and then what local governments are up to. The UK examples given (Woking, London) are actually more responses to climate change rather than peak oil, and although they are visionary responses to reducing the carbon impacts of energy generation, as the authors point out, some of them, especially London’s transport measures, are also good ‘peak-proofing’ measures (it has been argued by some that Woking’s shift to gas fired CHP, although clearly preferable from a climate perspective, does little to reduce vulnerability given the perilious state of the UK’s gas supplies).

There is then a large section on transport options, which argues for a huge increase in cycling provision and in public transport, and one can see the enthusiastic hand of David Strahan (one of the contributors and a big biogas enthusiast) in the section on biogas buses, with the inspiring story of Lille in France, where 120 buses now run on biogas made from local food waste.

The efforts of many towns and cities in the US to develop peak oil resolutions and action plans are relatively well known by now, (Oakland, San Francisco and so on), which were also documented at greater length in the more US-centric Post Carbon Cities report, produced also by Post Carbon last year. These are inspiring, and highlight how little is happening at that level in the UK, although Bristol City Council are now the first such authority to set up a Peak OIl Task Force, with others now set to follow.

The final section is, for me, the most useful. Daniel Lerch has created 5 principles for local authorities which anyone approaching their local council will find hugely useful. His 5 principles are;

1. Deal with transport and land use right away
2. Tackle private energy consumption
3. Attack the problems piece-by-piece and from many angles
4. Plan for fundamental changes.. and make fundamental changes happen
5. Build a sense of community

They would make a great backbone to any presentation to a local authority, and for the activist, they are the most useful part of this report.

I'll do a commentary on it as soon as I've read it all and pondered it a bit - can't promise when, but probably before the first of the year.


MH Media Online said...

I liked this article, and there's a lot of sense in it, especially the wakeup call to Detroit. I'll be very interested to see if that actually happens.

I actually live in Woking, so can comment on the "local power" thing. Yes, Woking was one of the early adopters of this type of power, and I think it's definitely the way to go. However, as a resident of Woking I'm also conscious that at no stage have I ever been offered an electricity supply from the local grid, which is something I'd really like to see addressed. I think part of the problem is that Woking as a town is just too big to come off grid: it may happen one day but probably not in my lifetime. As a pilot project though, I'd say it's been successful but whether anyone (I.e. the Council) has the money to give the project some serious backing I very much doubt.

Ahavah Gayle said...

You're right, money's the issue, and also time.

Most municipalities have not even started addressing these issues, and with the economy the way it is, frankly, it's probably too late to try and start now. A community who wants to make actual progress on this front will have to pretty much drop all other projects - and to get completely off the grid they would have to have started 15 years or more ago, and again made it their top priority.

I hope Detroit will wake up and realize there are a lot of options for them that they could pursue and any of those would be a far better use for any new investment or "bailout money" than what they're doing now, but I'm not holding my breath on that, either. People are just too emotionally invested in the status quo. Again, time is of the essence here. The more they delay changing over to new products, the less ability they will have to do so as their funds and the economic situation overall deteriorates.

The sad part is like Woking and other places that did get started because some people looked ahead and didn't like what they saw, there does not appear to have been any such persons in Detroit. This was all so very preventable. Detroiters (Detroitians?) trusted their leaders and got nothing.