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Posts from the peak oil Category


Commentary: Drive a Car in the City? Time to Embrace Bike Infrastructure

Though I bicycle, walk and take transit for half my trips, the other half, which usually involve shuttling children in carpools, for now necessitate driving a car. So there are days when I am on the streets of San Francisco behind a windshield, sometimes for hours, negotiating city streets. I know exactly how complex urban driving is and how aggravating congested traffic can be. And I grew up soundly in the midst of our car culture.

The American Dream...

As a teen, I adored “Thunder Road.” From Bruce Springsteen to Madison Avenue, our society glorified the status, freedom, power, identity, safety, protection and even redemption that cars offered. Cars were our Iron Man suit extending our physical abilities to unprecedented levels. We could eat, sleep, and live in them. Anyone over the age of 16—especially anyone male—without a car was a loser of the first degree, to be scoffed at and ridiculed. Given this heritage of the last sixty years, it’s not surprising that we Americans are now resistant to trading in our all-powerful motorized conveyances for a bicycle or a seat on the train.

Though times are clearly changing and an energy-scarce future means the internal combustion engine, with its extravagant inefficiency, will fade away, some people will continue driving no matter what. Especially people who are 55 or older, who have a substantial income, and who have a decent nest egg saved for retirement—some of them may indeed never ride a bicycle or take public transit.

...and the American reality. Flickr photo: cbcastro

So how to convince well-to-do, aging urbanites who will drive until their car keys are pulled from their infirm hands that it is in their best interest to support the creation of good, safe bicycle infrastructure that allows people ages 8 – 80 to bike confidently and without fear, especially when at times this infrastructure will come at the expense of car parking or a lane of car travel? Such reallocations of space strike a chill in many a car driver’s heart. There will be traffic nightmares! The economy will collapse! If more space is given to bicycles, before you can say “Harvey Milk,” crazy liberal cities like San Francisco will outlaw cars altogether.

Or so the protestations go. But the truth is that even car drivers should welcome and support bicycle infrastructure. Here are six reasons why, drawing heavily from the theory of Other People.

1) Congestion is mostly caused by Other People in cars and will only grow the more Other People keep driving. When you drive in a city, what holds you up, slows you down, wastes your time, keeps you from where you want to go, are Other People. These Other People are sometimes on foot or bicycle, but mostly these Other People are in cars, though as car drivers we may not want to admit it.

What we have to understand is that Other People in cars take up an enormous amount of space. Other People in cars are, in fact, the biggest hogs on the road by a factor of at least ten. In addition, as the cost of gasoline and other energy increases, people are growing more interested in urban living, so population density and congestion will continually increase in most cities until complete gridlock is reached and no car driver can get anywhere except perhaps in the dead of night. It has been proven worldwide that car infrastructure induces driving and bicycle infrastructure induces bicycling. If you want to have room to drive, inducing Other People to travel by foot, public transit, or bikes means a lot more room for your car. On space issues alone, as a driver you want as many Other People as possible not in cars. In addition, as the ranks of bicyclists are swelled by ordinary Other People who are more risk averse than the early-adopter cyclists (who had to be aggressive and even daredevils to cycle on car-dominated streets) bicycle traffic will grow more orderly, predictable, law-abiding, and calm.

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Jon Stewart’s Stinging Rebuke of Presidential Promises to Get off Oil

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future

Jon Stewart fired one of his more brilliant salvos last night, synthesizing 40 years of political posturing around energy independence and America's addiction to foreign oil in just under eight minutes of pointed satire. Using President Obama's Oval Office speech on Tuesday, where he urged a new energy future, Stewart skewered his rhetoric by playing clips from the past seven presidents, dating to Nixon, as they also pledged to get us off oil.

As he so often does, Stewart offers purer critique of the issue with a few short video clips and montages than the whole of the punditocracy blabbering on in other media.

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil are numbered," said President Obama. "Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny."

"I believe I can fly…" Stewart breaks in, very off key, before continuing, "On non-petroleum based technology… or giant magnets or hamsters running simultaneously.. some other type of energy source we haven't …"

Of course, Obama's call to arms is virtually identical to one given by George W. Bush in 2006, and Clinton in 2000, Pappy Bush in 1988 and on down the line to 1974, when Nixon exclaimed, "We will break the back of the energy crisis. We will lay the foundation for our future capacity to meet America's energy needs from America's own resources."

All the presidents also lay out technology fixes, alternative fuels (love Carter's "gasahol"), and aggressive timelines that become somewhat less aggressive with each successive president.


Commentary: Keep Drilling, Stop Driving, Use Oil Wisely

Deep_Horizon_Fire.jpgBP's Deepwater Horizon. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard.

(Editor's note: This is an Op-Ed from Jason Henderson, Geography Professor at San Francisco State University, who is writing a book on the politics of mobility in cities. He grew up in New Orleans where he spent much time in the coastal wetlands of Louisiana while also observing the activity of the oil and gas industry. He has never owned a car.)

For almost a century my native Louisiana has been expendable when it comes to America's voracious appetite for oil. Now after over a week of national media attention, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is suddenly big enough to bring President Obama down for a disaster tour this past Sunday.

No one can say when the gushing river of oil will stop. But as we watch and ponder this sorry state of affairs, environmentalists will demand loudly that Obama retract his earlier proposal to loosen offshore drilling policy. Perhaps they are right, but like other Americans, most of those same people will likely keep on driving. So I take this moment to urge environmentalists to reflect upon their relationship between oil and driving. We need oil and are lucky as a civilization to be endowed with oil, but most people are squandering this precious resource by driving. We need to use oil more wisely.

I see incredible value in oil. It is one of the most utilitarian natural resources known to humans. Oil stores tremendous amounts of energy, it is very easy to transport long distances by pipeline, rail, ship, and by truck, and it can sit for a long time without degrading. It can be refined and distilled easily and its petroleum by-products are used in plastics and pharmaceuticals, and are part of the food system.

Wind turbines and solar panels are made from polymers that come from oil. The new alternative energy future promoted by environmentalists will be made from oil. Growing plants to drive cars also requires oil. Oil will be needed to build new high speed rail lines, bicycle networks, light rail systems, electric buses, and new ways of organizing work and shopping through compact urban development. In sum, we'll need to keep drilling for oil so that we can shift to a more sustainable energy path that significantly reduces our overall dependence on oil.

As many environmentalists point out, we do not need to keep drilling everywhere. We do not need to keep searching further offshore, or push into remote, wild areas, or burn toxic tar sands. We need to conserve. We need to reduce per-capita consumption. But most importantly, we need to stop driving everywhere for everything so that oil can be used more intelligently and judiciously.

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16 Cities That Are Leading the Way in the Climate Change Fight

Long before Congress started to take the threat of climate change seriously, American mayors were already recognizing the need to decrease fossil-fuel consumption, promote efficiency, and generally create more livable places.

rkv30qh.jpgScott Smith of Mesa, AZ, the 1000th U.S. mayor to endorse emissions-reduction targets. (Photo: East Valley Trib)
Scott Smith, the mayor of Mesa, Arizona, recently became the 1,000th city chief to sign on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement [PDF], first ratified in 2005 as a way for localities to commit to meet the Kyoto emissions reduction targets that the Bush administration declined to endorse.

Smith's move prompted a report in this weekend's New York Times, which hailed city-level sustainability efforts such as those showcased on Capitol Hill back in July. While the nation has long been more urban than rural -- in fact, an estimated two-thirds of Americans now live in the nation's 100 biggest cities -- the Times cast some doubt on prior portrayals of cities as proportionally significant energy consumers:

“Cities occupy two percent of the world’s land mass yet contribute more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions,” begins the Clinton Initiative’s online explication of its C-40 program, which unites large cities across the globe in a commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. ...

But other researchers — including David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London — have challenged those numbers, claiming that they are at best exaggerated and in reality unknowable.

Writing in the March 2009 issue of the United Nations Human Settlements Program’s flagship magazine, Urban World, Mr. Satterthwaite and his colleague David Dodman, drawing on the most recent figures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, estimate that cities contribute somewhere between 30 and 41 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

What was mentioned but not discussed by the Times is the Conference of Mayors' report [PDF] on 16 cities that have adopted innovative strategies to cut pollution. The entire report is worth a read (though New Yorkers, San Franciscans and Portland-ites may be disappointed to find their hometowns not listed), not least because most mayors single out land use and transportation planning as central elements of their policy-making on environment and energy.
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Bridging the Local-National Message Divide: The Climate Bill is the Answer

Pine_Street_pedestrians2.jpgUrban areas have a lot to contribute to the congressional climate change debate. (Photo: SDOT Blog)

This week, I was fortunate to attend the Open Cities conference
in Washington (along with fellow Streetsbloggers Elana Schor and Aaron
Naparstek), on the ways in which new media is shaping urban policy.

The takeaway, for me at least, was a clear sense that technology
is dramatically changing the lay of the land for local urbanists.
Better data (and access to data) are helping to identify potential
targets for planning improvements and easier navigation of cities and
transit systems. Blogs and social network technologies have allowed
urbanists to better communicate with each other, inform the public, and
influence local governments.

Rare is the big American city that lacks a vibrant urban blogospheric community.

there was an odd disconnect at this conference whenever a national
policy figure took the podium. Speakers came across as detached and
awkward where the web’s potential was concerned (Adolfo Carrion) or
warm and interested but fundamentally unsure of the best opportunities
for engagement (Raphel Bostic).

Whereas New York City
Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s talk to the gathering
was invigorating because it was clear to all involved how speaker and
audience could help each other be effective in achieving common goals,
speeches from federal figures landed with the hard thump of

However promising the speakers’ expressed
goals were, it was less than obvious to all involved how the web might
support or influence policy, and how the federal government might
deliver tangible results.

I thought of this disconnect as I sat in a meeting
on climate policy last night with Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D). In that
discussion, it quickly became clear that the messages that are
resonating with voters are not related to the economic consequences of
warming or the moral case for reducing emissions. The messages carrying
the day have very little to do with climate at all.

works with the American people? A focus on ending dependence on oil and
on generating clean energy jobs. Those are the priorities that convince
voters to support the passage of a climate bill even after being
confronted by an opposition message on the cost, real or exaggerated,
of proposed plans.

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