The Most Important Graph in the World

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peak Oil, transit options and community health

Excerpt:

The presence of mass transit, whether local or long haul, simply makes towns and cities livable. That is going to become increasingly important, as we're in a time where a recent prophecy is going to come to pass.

I don't speak of any supernatural explanation of world events, but rather petroleum geologist Marion King Hubbert's 1956 pronouncement than U.S. oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970, with "the global peak coming about half a century from now". Hubbert was a tad optimistic [pessimistic, actually] about his predictions; the U.S. peak was in the spring of 1971 and the apparent global peak in May of 2005 might have been eclipsed by production in the winter of 2008.

Even if we did dodge the peak oil bullet for a full three years the fate of the world's five largest supergiant oil fields is certain. Ghawar, Saudi Arabia's four million barrel a day cash cow, is over 90% consumed and seawater forms an ever increasing percentage of the output as the field nears the time when it will "water out".

The nitrogen pressurized field of Cantarell in the Bay of Campeche has declined from its 2.2 million barrel a day peak to perhaps a third of that and the Mexican government will soon begin capping depleted wells. The Kuwaitis have responsibly managed Burgan and information is spotty on China's Da Qing, but these two fields, at million barrels a day each are geological resources rather than fossil fuel cornucopias and their life spans are not infinite. The [X] field of northern Iraq is largely untouched but due to above ground concerns there it may never be exploited. The condition of these five, once responsible 10% of the global total production, are a good proxy for what is happening with the rest.

This peak oil business is going to be as wrenching a change for us as the industrial revolution was for our ancestors three centuries ago. Many careers from the 20th century are going to fall by the wayside. Rising heating costs will make larger homes less desirable and that goes double for the distant, poorly constructed suburbs that sprang up everywhere during the last decade's bubble. . . .

There are a few bright spots out there and engineer, accountant, New Orleans resident, Katrina survivor, and rail electrification activist Alan Drake is the keeper of a happier vision of our future.

The United States has about 180,000 miles of rail and 36,000 of those miles are good candidates for double or triple tracking coupled with rail electrification. If we undertake this technologically simple duplication of systems already in use in Europe we'll cut our oil consumption by 10%, put millions back to work in new, peak oil proof
careers, and amazingly enough our economy ought to grow 25% during the process.

Word

Well said:

On the transportation side, I look at our history of investing in infrastructure.

We spent (and are spending) billions and billions of dollars creating the interstate-highway system, and increasing the size of our airports and ports.

There is this default assumption that we are going to keep growing those things bigger and bigger, off into whatever kind of future we imagine. I protest that sort of assumption—that everything we are doing is about getting bigger and bigger.

Ultimately, sustainability means coming to terms with natural biophysical limits.

So we have to get past this idea of planning around extrapolation of past trends.

That the future may be different than the past is the first thing that we need to come to terms with. This is where the idea of peak roads comes in: If we can say to ourselves, “We have as much road capacity today as we will ever need,” then we can start to ask what that means in terms of how we should actually start designing our cities.

This shouldn’t be thought of as a default “anti-roads” statement. But our numerical models show that we simply may not have enough fuel (and biofuel, and electric cars) to use more road capacity than what we have today.

If we can start to grapple with the fact that we can actually get better instead of getting bigger, then we have started on the path towards sustainability. And I think until we can really wrap our heads around that we are fighting an uphill battle.

Meanwhile, bad ideas continue to percolate in background

The sales job to justify the already made (but, thankfully, far from funded) decision to destroy great chunks of minority-dominated housing areas of Northeast Salem and a big piece of West Salem for the convenience of motorized, nearly all-white commuters in Polk County with a third bridge over the Willamette in Salem proceeds apace.

"EIS" -- for those of you who don't speak the weird dialect of proto-English called Transjargon -- means "environmental impact statement." Originally intended to force governments to consider the environmental costs of proposed actions, they have become a cottage industry for consultants and a way to obscure the actual effects in a blizzard of mind-numbing jargon and hopeful assumptions totally unjustified by experience in other settings. Rather than being open-minded assessments, they are typically run as psuedo-studies where the inputs are carefully controlled to obtain the desired output decision. Here's some very telling language from a memo from the team working on this one:
First, the Draft EIS will assume that the future demand (year 2031) for vehicle trips across the river is 8% less than otherwise forecast. Basing the project design on a reduced traffic volume anticipates a high degree of success in increasing non-auto travel across the river and also helps prevent the project from being overbuilt.
So, note -- the selection of an entirely arbitrary figure for reduced vehicle trips that fails to account for the universal worldwide experience that paving drives driving -- that when you build more capacity, driving increases.
In short, taking this approach will enable us to (1) demonstrate fairly and conservatively the independent need for highway improvements even assuming a significant increase in the use of non-auto modes in the peak hours of operation;
In other words, we know we need a third bridge because we decided that a long time ago --- all that remains is jiggering the assumptions as needed to show "the independent need for highway improvements."

Note the one thing that none of the models used in these studies include: The price of gasoline and the global carbon dioxide concentration (which will, as it increases, necessititate ever more difficult measures to ameliorate all the prior investments in "business as usual" by the Highway Department").

And that's the key here, and the reason that this project will likely be derailed by a lawsuit if it keeps going down the path it's on now: the project team has refused to consider the effect of this spectactular and wasteful greenhouse generating project on the state's climate emission reduction goals.

Since the federal government is tiptoeing up to the unpleasant realization that CO2 is actually a pollutant that puts the environment at risk, one of these auto-bridge projects (the Columbia River Crossing megabridge or this one in Salem) is likely to serve as a perfect test case to force the State Highway Department to stop ignoring the rapidly mounting evidence that emissions have to come down radically.

So, as you're enjoying your $5 million budget cuts in Salem in 2009/10, take a moment to appreciate the high-priced consulting you're helping buy, to design a project that can never be built.
Dear Task Force and Oversight Team:

As we continue to work on the Salem River Crossing Draft EIS, we want to keep you apprised of recent developments and schedule highlights.

1. The Draft EIS is currently in the impacts analysis phase, which will result in a series of detailed technical reports. Over the summer and into the fall, we will write the Draft EIS itself, with agency review taking place during the remainder of the year. We are hoping to publish the Draft EIS in January next year (2010).

2. We expect to have at least one meeting each with the Task Force and Oversight Team in late summer or early fall to give you a summary of the technical reports and a preview of the Draft EIS. In the mean time, please watch for periodic email updates on the progress of the Draft EIS. (These will go to the general public too.)

3. We have finalized the approach to transit/TSM/TDM in the Draft EIS and would like to share that with you. Please see the attached memo from Dan Fricke and Julie Warncke, as well as the two background memos with further details.

4. We have made some minor updates to the project web site (including updating the information on schedule and the transit/TSM/TDM approach). We are currently making some minor adjustments to the graphics of the alternatives and will post those within the next month.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. Thank you.

A distorted view of population declines

Prof. Bob Park of the U. of Maryland and former president of the professional physicists' group, the American Physical Society, makes a good point about the hysteria that growth-is-good advocates are trying to whip up about population stabilization and (horrors!) declines:
4. POPULATION: ARE THEY SURE THEY HAVE THE THEORY RIGHT?
Demographic experts warn that population decline in Russia could have serious economic consequences. It’s the same growth-is-good bullshit that always comes from the Chamber of Commerce. Russia's neighbors, Norway, Finland and Sweden, have the highest standards of living in the world and small populations. Afghanistan, on the other hand, which is not exactly a tourist Mecca, has a fertility rate above 7, the highest in the world.