Escape from Suburbia: Beyond the American Dream

Gregory Greene, director/writer of the acclaimed 2004 documentary End of Suburbia has released the first trailer of the 2007 sequel Escape from Suburbia.

[Update by Super G] YouTube video moved below the fold to improve page load times.

Suburbia, and all it promises, has become the American Dream. With brutal honesty and a touch of irony, The END of SUBURBIA explored the American Way of Life and its prospects as the planet enters the age of Peak Oil.

In ESCAPE From SUBURBIA director Greg Greene once again takes us “through the looking glass” on a journey of discovery – a sobering yet vital and ultimately positive exploration of what the second half of the Oil Age has in store for us.

Through personal stories and interviews we examine how declining world oil production has already begun to affect modern life in North America. Expert scientific opinion is balanced with “on the street” portraits from an emerging global movement of citizen’s groups who are confronting the challenges of Peak Oil in extraordinary ways.

The clock is ticking. ESCAPE From SUBURBIA asks the tough questions: Are we approaching Peak Oil now? What are the controversies surrounding our future energy options? Why are a growing number of specialists and citizens skeptical of these options? What are ordinary people across North America doing in their own communities to prepare for Peak Oil? And what will YOU do as energy prices skyrocket and the Oil Age draws to a close?

Previously on The Oil Drum

Peak Oil at the Movies: Oil Crash & Crude Impact

Looks very "same old" to me... pretty tame too. But I could be wrong. Not a very promising trailer.

yea it is a tame trailer. i hope the documentary is better.

yeah, but EoS1 was really not for the cognoscenti was to expose people to the idea. This one looks like it's taking the same tack...

there's a limit to effectiveness i think when the subject is "adjusted" for more popular appeal. Too often it fails both the subject and to appeal. I appreciated the first one, but wouldn't be my first choice for introducing the subject to anybody, too easy to dismiss because of too much bluster and not enough facts. If the facts don't keep their attention, nothing will substitute. A couple days ago, someone posted that they showed the first one to their writing class and that it for the most part came and went for them like the lamest hollywood filler.

On the contrary, as we've discussed on DrumBeat recently, facts alone are not enough, especially for the uninitiated. You've got to hit their emotions too, as much as my geeky self hates to admit that. I saw EOS again last fall after a break of a year, and I was actually impressed. It's a bit too long, but otherwise mostly well done. It is still my first choice for an intro to the subject for the average American. I've seen "imposed by nature" and I think it is less suitable for that purpose. Waiting to see the 2 or 3 new films with the word "crude" in their title (I can't keep them straight in my mind!).

You've got to hit their emotions too

Yes you do, but not the way this film sometimes falls into doing it--that is "jazz" it up a touch, make it pop out, "gotta raise your voice to be heard above the din of popular culture!" No, the emotion comes by staying true to the subject--the emotion will come through naturally, not pasting emotion on so it will go down more comfortably with the masses. I don't want to utterly rip it, it is decent--I just feel the subject deserves better and that a "still, small voice" is the one that will stand out against the 'pinion! I just think its a little off, and that its a shame. We are uncomfortable with emotion in this country--we either get none at all or an exaggerated, reason-blinding caricature.

there's a limit to effectiveness i think when the subject is "adjusted" for more popular appeal. the lamest hollywood filler.


The trailers sounds like catastrophe movies, doom and gloom caused by asteroids, dinosaurs, aliens, stupidity, evil, etc. One message in it is typical, tries to frighten the powerless individual, from memory:

You and you alone are responsible for figuring it out (then mention is made of the tooth fairy and Santa who will not be around to help!)

That is standard, be it in old fashioned detective novels, or cata. movies, etc. The viewer or reader is put in the position of spectactor, who should be engaged, thrilled, frightened, admiring, identify with some character, anticipate (figure out) outcomes and actions, etc. And perhaps even ‘put himself’ in another’s shoes - oh I would do this, do that...but in a fantasy world.

These are some of the usual, unstated, procedures of fiction.

Suburbia and peak oil are real life.

Presenting a slick and cynical image of it is parody, puts it on an unreal plane.

Telling people they as individuals are the only ones that can think or act is completely useless, reinforces the idea that people are powerless, because, on the whole, there is nothing they can do. They are locked into the conditions of their lives (work, car, a bedroom for each kid, meds to be paid for, etc.)

Overall, the wrong emotions - dramatic ones; cynicism; hollow laughter at the gargoyle mirror; self-criticism, and despair - are sad and ugly, or self-serving, as in: yeah we are horrible, but we are our kind of horrible!

Too oily to tell. Yuk, yuk.

Don't worry, the real life event will be more interesting than the movie.

Another recent documentary about suburbia, with a much different tone and focus: Subdivided: Isolation and Community in America

Subdivided is a documentary film about life in contemporary suburbia: a personal study of isolation and the struggle to find and maintain community in an era of careless development, the uninspired design of the modern subdivision, urban sprawl, and the invasion of the McMansion.

American life is more divisive than ever, and poorly designed neighborhoods further encourage isolation and separation. With no sense of place or belonging, is this the new American Dream?

I'm STILL waiting to see Oil Crash. I've been waiting like a whole year, it looks really good.

Word on the street is there's some hot blonde hunk in it.

dude, I've seen pictures... where's your truthiness?!

Yeah but he's a nut. Got all these emergency supplies stacked right there in his office.


that was the film maker's idea. I guess they wanted a "survivalist" so they had me pull out my emergency supplies and stack them on my desk.

I thought it was an idiotic thing to do but it was the first time I had been filmed for a movie so I didn't object.


I know. You'd complained about that before.
I was just ribbing you :-)

The Renewable Fuels Association publishes an annual industry outlook about the status of the ethanol industry. They just published the 2007 document. It has some inaccuracies that I caught but it is a good summary. Check it out.

It certainly is a slickly produced document, on par with the better products from the the various lobbying groups in DC (which is what it is.)

There are some very misleading statements in that document, but they play well towards the audience in Congress and the Senate. Note that party affiliation is of no concern here - e.g., look at Iowa's senators, one is among the most conservative of Republicans and the other a mainstream liberal Democrat but on this issue there is no meaningful difference between them. They have about 20 or so compatriots, from roughly the 10 states in which grain ethanol plays an increasingly important part of their respective economies.

Against such social structures there is little to be accomplished quickly. This is where where the creative works, such as the movie under production, comes in. Through the use of creative talents (film, video, photography, even music) larger swaths of the public can be challenged about the future, more effectively so than a specialist website such as TOD.


So, we have another documentary with that word. The word that all "responsible" sustainable intellectual types love to hate in the title, the Antichrist of enlightened ecological efficient living, the source of all evil upon the Earth, SUBURBIA.

Of course, we have been there, done that haven't we? Remember the 1960's, anyone, when even pop songs railed against the horror of suburbia?
Here's an example...
Pleasant Valley Sunday
The local rock group down the street
Is trying hard to learn their song
Serenade the weekend squire, who just came out to mow his lawn

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

See Mrs. Gray she's proud today because her roses are in bloom
Mr. Green he's so serene, He's got a t.v. in every room

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don't understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday...
But, 40 years later, Suburbia has not only survived, it has grown. HOW? Remember, the boomers were a generation raised in suburbia, and who professed in their formative years their hatred for it! How could it be that the generation who knew "suburbia" best, who were most indoctrinated by the youth culture and the intellectual establishment of the time to hate suburbia and all it stands for, then return to be the ultimate suburbanites? Does this make good sense?

Of course, we should first attempt to define this hated THING, this horrific hell that is suburbia....what are the facets of it that make it so horrific and detestable?

Dictionary dot com has only two short definitions:
1. A residential district located on the outskirts of a city.
hmmm, now that alone doesn't seem to explain what would make this "suburbia" the equal in many intellectuals minds to Dante's inferno does it?
"on the outskirts of a city". Should that define evil and hell on Earth? If so, why? Should it explain massive energy consumption and waste? Again, why?
We shall return, but let's look at the second definition:

2. Suburbanites considered as a cultural class.

Ahhh, now we may be getting somewhere. A "cultural class".

Is there something about this "cultural class" that is somehow adhorrent, that is somehow the embodiment of evil?

Interestingly, the trailer to the film "Escape From Suburbia" actually does tell us a little bit when you think of the "suburbanites" in those terms, as a "cultural class". You see their cars, the look of their clothes, the homes, the children's little cultural celebrations.

These are the things that will be, that MUST BE destroyed soon. Now of course, no one (ahem) wants to see them destroyed, it is just "REALITY" (a word that is gaining in importance in the explanation of the coming destruction of "suburbia", and remember, we are not only talking about the destruction of a place "on the outskirts of a city", but a "cultural class", those who embody the cultural traits, mores, and habits of "suburban" existence.

But what are those traits? What will point us to the targets, the inefficient, wasteful, detestable "suburbanite"?

There are actually a pretty tight little subset of totems (or taboos, depending on your point of view) that will guide us to the "suburbanites". These are some of the main traits they have in common, and that must be ended, so that we can clear the path to "reality":

1. They own their own homes. The fascination that "peak oil" interested people show with home mortgage finance has always interested, amused, and sometimes annoyed me. I would come to talk about energy. The board would be filled from top to bottom with home mortgage news, all bad of course. Interestingly, there is no direct causal link between energy prices and home ownership rates, mortgage rates or default rates. But the two are tightly linked in the mind of the "peak oil" crowd. Why? It took me awhile to understand that it is because home ownership is perceived as the foundation block of "suburbia". If home ownership is ended, then the cultural class of "suburbia" falls apart, or at least so the logic goes.

2. The "suburbanite" drives. Car ownership of at least some type makes suburbia as a cultural and geographical entity workable. Due to their locale, "on the outskirts", they must drive. The railroads actually made the first commuter suburbs possible, and for many years the suburban worker taking the train into and out of the city to work was an icon (think "Mr. Blandings Dream House") The car, with it's anytime anywhere ability, simply expanded the range of suburban living.

Interestingly, many of them do not have to drive far. We are talking about "suburbia", not the newly coined "exurbia", meaning that vague area even further beyond the outskirts, defined almost magically by Dictionary dot com as,
"a residential area outside of a city and beyond suburbia"
One must assume that the denizens of exurbia do indeed have to drive far, being almost in a realm beyond the beyond, as the song says "Where the streets have no name".

But for many suburbanites, the daily drive will be less than double digit miles, and in the low double digits both ways. This would not seem to be technically undoable almost without gasoline or Diesel, or with a very, very small volume of it, if the need be. But what seems most evil and unsettling is that they do own their own vehicles, as well as their own homes, and this has become culturally associated with the "suburban" evil.

3. They have children. While it is not always true, suburbanites often have children. The exact number is not specified, but again, it is part of the suburban heritage, and in many ways, was why the suburbs were born.

The number of children per person in suburbia has certainly declined since the baby boom days, with the growth of "empty nest" homes, gay and lesbian couples, single people, and retired persons but children are still there. This is part of the "peak oil" aware folks fascination with population. If people did not have children, they could live in tiny apartments with no yards, and no need for schools. People could be "compacted" into the type of worker neighborhoods dreamed of by the German and Soviet "modernist" and "Bauhaus" architects of the 1920's and '30's, childless, carless, propertyless, stripped of everything except work.

Opps. We accidentally arrived at a solution much too soon, didn't we?

The "dream" answer to suburbia! And the ultimate conundrum:

If we assume that "suburbia" is the ultimate evil, the great horror that must, REALITY dictates must be ended, then we must look at the something akin to the socialist reality of the 1930's style modernist neighborhoods as the solution, as the "good" opposing the evil. Is this true for technical reasons?
I cannot find any valid technical reason that households and transportation in the suburbs must be any less efficient than in the heart of the city, and in fact, with more roof area to capture sunlight, and more yard area to grow garden, it could even be more productive, but that is, as we have seen, all beside the point. We are not talking about a "place" per se, but about a "cultural class" that social reality must dictate is unsuitable to live on into the future. This is a specific kind of "reality", a social reality. But, those are the only kind that matter.

In the culture of the Ancient Egyptians, lives and resources were laid down to build the pyramids. We now know that the pyramids served no "practical" use in the procurement of resources such as food, shelter, or water. But the "social reality" was that resources would be spent on their construction.

In the Middle Ages, Europe would be blanketed with what historian Michael Wood called "A White Veil of Churches", the great cathedrals that stand to this day. Again, they were not "practically" useful in gaining resources for life, but in fact, the excess resources provided by human sacrifice and labor were laid down for them.

In certain ways this is true of the "suburbia" we know in America (and now, more so throughout the developed world), but these are a different type of cathedral, a "democratized" cathedral, horizontal, spread out and shared in by the millions.

This is why they seem to draw the rage of the intellectuals, they represent private ownership, private freedom of movement, private space, private dreams and dramas. They are not "social" or "communal" in the correct way.

It is now foretold that the new "reality" will end them, will return the denizens of the suburban culture to a more correct way of life, and turn the property over to (?), perhaps a new elite class, who will enjoy it in it's pristine state of nature, perhaps just return it to nature until a future generation with goals and dreams and aspirations for themselves and their families decide they wish to use the space in some other way, no one knows for sure.

But, first, the elite will be confronted with a problem: They will have to engage in the super struggle to dislocate the current citizens of "suburbia", those hated and evil people who do not understand that they are being defined as "socially" not fit to continue. We are told that the "reality" will remove them, but if the reference is to the "technical" or "scientific" reality, there is no proof that the removal of these people will be needed, despite the words and rage against them of sages like JHK or Richard Heinberg.

We must accept that the suburbanites will fight. This is not a discussion about taking just their car, or their home, or their freedom. It is about taking it all. Everything. About losing all they managed to defend in World Wars. About losing all they managed to defend in the Cold War. About losing when there is no real need to lose. About being told they must surrender when they have not even been given the opportunity to fight.

It is about giving up to a small elitist minority who have proven nothing. It is about accepting words and conjecture on faith alone. It is about accepting slavery.

Given that choice, not that it is a choice, they will throw their efforts behind the ethanol, the tar sands, nuclear power, coal to liquids, solar, wind, photo voltaic electric power, hybrid and electric cars, and all the so called "silver bb's".

Wouldn't you? Would you not fire silver bb's rather than to accept the utter destruction of all you have and all you are? Would you want to go down without even breaking the tools out of the box to see if they would work?
To lose is permitted, it happens. To die is permitted, we all will. But to go to the slavery pens of the socialist beehives without even using our talent, that would be a shame that our generation would not want to live with, would not want our children and their children to remember us for, as they lived as slaves without us even trying.

We are all in a position of choosing: The "peak oil" aware community is in a special position. We know more. I say that not to flatter, sometimes it would be better if we did not. But we do. We think because we are aware of the crucial time in which we live as it relates to energy, everyone is. We think that these things, these writings, the people, Hubbert, Campbell, Simmons, Heinberg, Kunstler and the other sages great and small in this fight (and it is a fight) are known to all. But I tell you what you already may know, to most people, this discussion is on the edge, always in danger of falling off the table. We think that everyone studies the options, bio fuel vs. grid based, tar sand and oil shale, nuclear applied to syn fuel, or to produce hydrogen, renewable applied to hydrogen, hydraulic vs. electric hybrid, PV, thin film vs. silicon, thermal solar, methane recapture, ethanol vs. bio-butanol, light rail and urban and suburban redesign for mass transit, on and on...but they do not. These are all vague and fascinating concepts to most, but there is little study of them, even in engineering and technical schools.

We who, whether we like it or not, know more, are left in a crucial role. To keep alive discussion of the art of energy, and the many art forms it takes. To educate, to help explain, and, whether we like or not, to help decide which fork in the road we will take.

The biggest decision, we will help make: Do we surrender, go back to pre-fuedal existence or to the Soviet reality beehive houses, with only the freedom to work left to us, or do we make the fight? Do we think a world in which humans have freedom of mobility, freedom of ownership, freedom of deciding at least some of their own destiny is worth fighting for?

The camps are already beginning to divide, even here. The ones who see the "neo primitivist" path, the return to the noble savage as not so bad....we can do without.....what? Piece at a time, we can do without almost everything, and consign the next generation to the same fate....nations and peoples have been slaves for generations in some cases.

Or we, knowing more, can help organize the fight, organize the solutions, spread and diffuse the options and technologies, help diversify to a new level of freedom and aesthetic creation greater than we even knew was possible in the days of oil slavery.

To some, this is to be considered a sacrilege to even say, that human creativity can succeed, and it marks me as one who will never be fit to understand the need, the "reality", to accept the slavery without a fight, to consign our generation to a dark and declining age. The camps really are splitting, and we each may soon have to go and find those of a like mind, those with whom we can communicate, those who understand that the heart of this "REALITY" is the choice we make, the road we choose to take.

It is said that YAHOO has become an acronym for "You Always Have Other Options". There are those who look forward with glee to the destruction of our age, when we walk clean and untainted by the horrific work of the technicians, scientists, industrialists, and leaders who have brought us to where we are today. That is their right.


Thank you
Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom
(But that refers to energy, and energy is not really what this is all about, is it? :-)

I can only talk about the 'suburbia' I grew up in - the forests, watersheds, fields, and many streams are gone. The roads went from gravel in some areas to 2 lane to 4 lane to in some cases 6 or 8 lane - and the amount of time it took to travel from let's say Vienna VA to the Fairfax City Courthouse remained essentially the same over that time.

Newer construction is remarkably shoddy, and the rules of how people can treat 'their' homes are as lost in utopian social planning as any Soviet fantasy ('preserve neighborhood values' - and interestingly, many of those same suburban inhabitants are considered 'values' voters - maybe not such a coincidence of terms?).

I do agree that someone like Kunstler hates what he defines as suburbia, but there is an awful lot to hate in what has occurred in America over the last two generations.

And that is the point of reality meeting the suburbs - where Fairfax Country was essentially self-sufficient in water from its own reserviors, at this point, it takes water from the Potomac - heavily chlorinated, of course - because it was more important to have growth than it was to wonder what that meant in a decade or two. And any opposition to this insane growth was simply swept aside.

Ironically, Washington DC was a fairly quick bus ride from where I grew up - certainly as fast as driving, and easy to use. The hatred of suburbia you describe is not something I can really understand, as the city was always nearby anyways - but my hatred of what happened in my life is not based on any cultural perspective like Kunstler's (his facts are fine, but his fascination with those 'others' and how they speak, for example, says a lot about him too), it is grounded in something else. And yes, I did move away, and yes, I do live somewhat differently.

And that would not have been possible in Fairfax. America will require massive changes before it can even begin to approach living in a way which actually includes the future, instead of ignoring it. In that sense, suburbia has always been about fleeing reality - the unshakable American faith remains that it is always easier to build something new than it is to maintain something old, much less repair problems as they arise.

Roger: Good rant. IMHO, there are 2 main problems with NA suburbia: 1. It isn't what it was- idyllic suburban life can only handle a certain density of cars, and that density has been far exceeded. Here in Toronto, there is traffic in some suburban areas as bad as downtown. Every suburban dweller I know hates traffic, and the object of their hate has followed them home. In terms of quality of experience, we are defintely "post-peak" suburbia 2. It costs a lot of money, and only a % of the costs are being borne by the suburban dwellers. You could make the argument that suburban dwellers are to a certain extent welfare bums (fight hyperbole with hyperbole).

Most people I know who live in cities own their own homes, have children, and drive. Even Jim Kunster owns a home and a pickup truck. No one want to lose what they have.

I have not heard any "elites" stating that current citizens of suburbia must be dislocated from their homes. No one with a shred of credibility or respectability has suggested that.

Even the most extreme powerdown scenarios describe the residents of suburbia voluntarily abandoning their homes because of fuel shortages. In the most extreme powerdown scenarios, there will be no one interested in taking suburban homes -- no new elite to enjoy the new pristine state of nature -- because there won't be enough gasoline to live there. The whole point of the Kunstler-style critique is that the suburbs will become worthless. Who will fight for a suburban house when no one wants a suburban house?

Personally, I think the above scenario is absurd. The suburbs aren't going to be abandoned. Households and transportation in the suburbs can be efficient enough to survive peak oil. To get there will take a lot of work and retrofitting, but it is well within our means.

I'm very interested in freedom of choice. I look at the existing system of real estate and transportation development in the U.S. and I see a system distorted by many government regulations, government support, and government subsidies. The system is also distorted by inertia and bias in the professions and in the financial system.

The result? Despite your hysterical rhetoric about "slavery pens of the socialist beehives," approximately 90-95% of new construction in the U.S. is conventional suburban product. Is that what the market wants? Not at all. At least one-third of the market -- one hundred million Americans -- aren't interested in the conventional suburban product. They want walkable, mixed use towns and neighborhoods, a mix of houses, townhouses and apartments, a mix of cars, transit and bicycling.

But the current U.S. real estate system isn't providing what they want. The current U.S. system is overwhelmingly slanted toward conventional suburban products. That is the real theft of choice. That is the real social engineering.

Suburbia developed, because - stating the obvious-, population rose, income rose, better living conditions could be paid for, economic and technological development took place.

The particular form it took was very energy dependent, movement to and from being practically free.

The social form it took rested on mediaval landscapes and a shoddy imitation of the upper classes, mostly British: the dirt, noise, insecurity, and mixed population of the city was seen as ugly and detestable, and each person who had money could be lord of their own little manor, with a little bit of ground, surrounded by greenery, and without serfs or slaves as neighbors one had to talk to.

Of course, the grand gardens, the hunting, the cottages far off, the great tree forest, the servants bowing in white aprons, the rustic villagers who paid tribute, were not on the books. Still some elements could be incorporated, largely because of the car.

It was no longer necessary to have a domain where all was available, one could travel, to the restaurant, to the market, to work, to the party, to the movies, to visit the slave mistress, and so on: with the car, the little domain had its natural extensions, its multiple pathways out.

Servants, such as maids and plumbers, would drive in and then vanish when their tasks were done. One salary was enough to feed 4 or 5 people in this scheme. So it was satisfactory.

The US had land and keen entrepreneurs to sell homes and cars, available resources permitted that. The energy glut saw to it that it was possible; the individualistic bent of US culture did the rest.

Without its possible travel paths, the social face must change. Will change.

Somehow you left out racism as a part of suburban culture. I grew up in the core of Grand Rapids and always attended school with Blacks. It wasn't until I started attending a suburban church that I discovered the deep seated misconceptions which suburbanites held about black people. These were mostly people who fled the central city following a race riot in 1966. Prior to the 60s the blacks had been redlined by realtors to a specific ghetto. New laws meant that blacks could live anywhere they could afford to live and there went the neighborhood as they say. I recall the shock and zoning battle that happened when a group of black professionals created a new housing development outside the ghetto. Those who fled to the suburbs actually feared doctors, lawyers, and school teachers just because they were black. These people couldn't concieve of the variety of personalities which all people have actually applied to blacks. As a white man who has attended school with blacks, served in the Navy with blacks, and worked with blacks I sincerely believe that racism is at the very core of suburban culture.

Racism has something to do with American suburbs? I am shocked, just shocked to hear that. Especially after attending the last school desegregated in Fairfax County (1969 - it was the black school, and it was renovated before the first white students appeared). I actually played with a couple of black kids that year - they were the last black kids I saw at any school I attended (we moved that year to another Northern Virginia suburb) until 1978 or so, when a pro football player actually bought a house in the adjacent subdivision.

The amount of 'unconscious' racism which most suburbanites have is roughly on par with their utter obliviousness to many basic realities, such as the fact that oil production peaks, and declines.

Ironically, the suburb I grew up in was full of military - but all officers, so you can guess what that meant. Being in charge is one thing, but having 'them' be your neighbors is something very, very different - and to be honest, they didn't really seem to be anywhere near as racist as the civilian neighbors.

Racism or classicm?

The poor, or the coloreds? It was understood that ‘slaves’ - poorly paid menial workers, laborers on day pay, female servants - need no longer be ‘owned’, such as living on a plantation, but could be sent to other territories, the periphery, and travel, or have their fruits of their labor transported.

The ‘slaves’ lived in their own poor districts. Today they live in China, Bangladesh, Mexico, etc.

Yes, racism, in the sense, we will be confortable with our own. (?)

At that time? Racism, no question. When reading about that time, I was shocked to discover that there were parts of the town where black people were forbidden to enter - and they knew that if they did, it would be a problem, possibly a large one. But at the same time, whites and blacks lived together, in separate worlds created by convention as much as anything else. But they did exist side by side, which is one of the things that racism in places like New England or Europe doesn't really include - blacks were at the bottom, and kept there, but they weren't the 'other.'

I grew up between the end of an old system in the South, and before the growth of whatever a 6 year old experiences in the U.S. today.

It is certainly true that class plays a larger role than race in America today than then, and that racism is no longer legally enforced through laws, which police and judges enforce as part of maintaining social order. (They often quoted the Bible as justification for those laws, by the way.)

In all honesty, America has changed, and these are memories of the past - but it played a major role in shaping the suburbs, a fact conveniently swept very far under the carpet when discussing suburbia - Kunstler may hate suburbia, but his writing about blacks seems to reflect attitudes which most white suburban homeowners share, and with which he seems to be very comfortable discussing in public. He is about 10 years older than I, and in my eyes, that fact is very obvious from his writing.

'But Mr. Robinson had an idea to deal with the tension that was remarkably direct and effective. He went to the Post Office one day and bought post cards for every student who would be entering Archer that September. He had all the teachers write a welcoming note to each of their students identifying the class to which they had been assigned and where their rooms were located. On opening day, "things went smoothly," Mr. Robinson said. The sound of the children's shoes clicking furiously as they excitedly searched for their homerooms was music to his ears. He had almost forgotten the three security guards who were quietly dispatched to Archer for his protection in the event of any untoward negative community reaction. There was none and the guards left before day's end noting to Mr. Robinson that everything was peaceful and that he didn't need them anymore. So, one potentially volatile problem was defused and full integration was well on its way.' (Edited to add - the guards were there for his protection against white parents, just in case you can't understand that it was the whites who were a threat for the principal, not blacks. Welcome to American reality.)

That describes my first day of kindergarten, and this -
'The process was nearly complete. At the January 28, 1965, School Board meeting, a proposal was presented for complete integration effective at the start of the 1965-66 school year. Disposition of the five remaining all-Negro elementary schools was discussed. Only Louise Archer would function as an integrated general education school; the others would either be used as storage facilities or special education centers. At a meeting one night, I remember several white parents vehemently reacting to keeping Louise Archer. They wanted it to go the way of the other all-Negro buildings, away from the mainstream of general education.'
describes how my neighbors saw the school I was to attend.

If you read the whole story, you can see that 'desegregation' is part of the tapestry in which the suburbs exist in America - and the facts of which were erased as fast as possible, before anyone could actually see the white and black truth as plain as the hand before your face.

The suburbs, to a major extent, are about 'us,' and feeling safe among 'our' kind. Since then, America has developed new forms of desirable living, such as the gated community.

Oil Drum Readers

There is a policy option available that would almost immediately start to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and would do so without raising taxes, increasing the budget deficit, developing new fuels, building new refineries, drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, or replacing gas-guzzlers with hybrids. In addition, these policies would also put more money in most people’s pockets and reduce costs related to accidents, traffic congestion, local air pollution, and transportation infrastructure.

This combination of benefits can be achieved because the US transportation sector suffers from a market distortions that encourage excessive driving: unlimited-mileage per-year auto insurance.

Currently, car insurance is sold on an unlimited mileage, per-year basis. In their 2006 paper “The Accident Externality from Driving” (reviewed in the November 16, 2006 NY Times), Aaron S. Edlin of UC Berkeley and Pinar Karaca-Mandic of RAND show that drivers’ crash-related costs may be four or five times larger than what they are currently paying for liability and collision coverage. When accident costs are thus “externalized”, drivers receive an erroneously low price signal, creating a powerful incentive for all motorists to drive more than they would otherwise and resulting in subsidies from low-mileage drivers to high-mileage drivers.

William Vickery, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1996, proposed an alternative that bases premiums on miles driven in addition to existing rate factors. Within any rating class, the less you drive the more you save, so every driver enjoys an incentive to reduce those miles that provide the least benefit, while preserving the option of driving when the perceived benefit is great. Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimates that the introduction of per-mile auto insurance could reduce total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 15% of more, with corresponding reductions in gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions. And because a relatively small number of high-mileage drivers account for a large percentage of VMT, most drivers could expect to pay less for per-mile insurance than they do currently.

Insurance companies won’t voluntarily adopt the per-mile basis because any firm that did would bear all the costs of doing so, but its competitors would reap most of the benefits. Therefore, public policy measures requiring all insurance companies to offer per-mile insurance (at least as a consumer option) are needed to eliminate this market distortion.

The true beauty of this proposal is that, rather than merely transferring resources from one group in the economy to another, it would result in a net increase in consumer welfare by increasing the efficiency of the transportation sector.

So if i drove a car that got 50 miles per gallon 200 miles per week, (4 gallons) and you drove an SUV that got 20 miles per gallon 100 miles per week, (5 gallons) you could essentially use your insurance savings (since you drive only half the miles I do) to subsidize your fuel consumption, (since I get 2 1/2 times the gas mileage you do).

Who came up with this, the oil companies?

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

You miss the point: both drivers would have an incentive to drive less.

I drive a Diesel stick shift to work. I avoid driving in everyway possible, and on weekends, have found ways to lay on my azz and do nothing rather than be out driving around....but my employer takes it badly if I don't show up there....

This is one of the perceptions by "peak aware" folks that badly needs some adjusting, that folks are just out driving around for kicks and can knock off about half of it if they choose to (Stuart Staniford recently did a long article complete with charts showing that what makes the biggest difference is the efficiency of the vehicle, because most (not all, but most) folks cannot easily reduce driving for work. People in America DO WORK. There is real danger of people developing the misperception that Peakers must be an elitist group that does not have to.

We seem to keep coming up with these asinine "incentives" that very noticably always resist working at the one thing that changes things the most: The efficiency of the damm vehicle! Why is that the forbidden subject here?

It almost seems like a name change is in order: The heavy and inefficient vehicle protection league.

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

The efficiency of the damm vehicle!
For sure. The problem is efficiency multiplied by miles driven. From where we (or maybe I should say America) is now I suspect it is easier to double the average efficiency of new cars than half the mileage they are driven. Of course efficiency improvements only impact new vehicles whereas mileage reductions are fleet wide.

If an average US car lasts for 15 years (off the top of my head) then a 5% fleet wide mileage reduction in a year is equivalent to a 75% efficiency improvement in the vehicles sold in one year. Although equivalent in magnitude this isn't a fair comparison as mileage reductions get progressively harder whereas vehicle efficiency improvements steadily improve the situation year on year as new efficient vehicles replace old inefficient ones.

In the UK the current media/government focus currently is on congestion and road pricing. In my opinion this totally misses the point - fuel burn. Instead of striving for infrastructure efficiency through scheduling we should be striving for vehicle efficiency and mileage reduction - the two factors that really effect fuel burn.

I agree that high fuel efficiency should be regulated. I have no doubt that Todd Littman holds this view as well. Frankly, I would stop SUV production and limit light truck sales to people who could prove a need if I was dictator in chief. Nonetheless, more efficient vehicles are likely to lead to more kilometres per vehicle unless the marginal cost of using the vehicle rises.

The point is that raising the cost of operating an automobile reduces driving. Currently it is expensive to own a vehicle and inexpensive to operate it. It doesn't make sense to leave it parked, or to arrange to share with a coworker or a neighbour. Your only marginal cost is fuel, some wear and tear (it's depreciating in value anyway), an occasional oil change, etc. Not much, compared to the purchase price.

The ratio of 'capital' to 'operating' cost needs to change, if you truly want behaviour to change, and fuel to be conserved.

By the way, the only motorized vehicle I ever owned was a motorcycle back in the 60's. Since then my wife and I worked many a year, raised a family and have been happily car ownership free. Sometimes we rent or hire a cab. We happily ride the bus, use bicycles, walk or arrange to share a car with a neighbour. It's just bs that people 'need' to own a car. People need to get organized.

Nonetheless, more efficient vehicles are likely to lead to more kilometres per vehicle unless the marginal cost of using the vehicle rises.
Does this "rebound effect" still apply as net energy supplies reduce? In my mind Jevon's Paradox breaks down once we are on the net available energy down slope. In this new regime efficiency doesn't increase usage (impossible due to constrained supply) but instead just mitigates some of the hardship that would otherwise be caused by reducing energy supply.

This is one of the perceptions by "peak aware" folks that badly needs some adjusting, that folks are just out driving around for kicks and can knock off about half of it if they choose to

Most miles traveled in the U.S. are for personal, social and recreational purposes. The National Household Transportation Survey (2001) is the most authoritative source. Here are the numbers:

Trip Purpose Person Miles of Travel (%)
To/from work 18.1
Work related business 8.1
Shopping 14.0
Family/personal business 17.3
School/church 5.9
Medical/dental 2.3
Vacation 2.7
Visit friends/relatives 11.6
Other social/recreational 16.2
Other 3.8
Total 100.0

Ok. Perhaps the rate per mile for insurance could be blended with some sort of discount for efficiency. I currently get a 10% discount from my insurance company because I drive a Prius. I still, think, however, that it is bascially unfair that I have to pay the same as the guy who drives 20,000 a year, everything else being equal. The more driving, the more chance of an accident. That should definitely be taken into account. Just about everything else is.

And if I drive a stickshift diesel (same as yours :-) that gets 30-31 mpg in the city and I burn 6 gallons/month, what should I pay for insurance ?

Best Hopes,


"Are we approaching Peak Oil now?"

We may be approaching Peak Oil (as measured by total liquids - C&C, NGLs, biofuels, refinery gains,) but we may have already passed peak production of crude oil & lease condensate (C&C).

The C&C production forecast graph has been updated to include the ramp ups to the forecast C&C production peaks for each of 120 new projects. These projects have been derived from Chris Skrebowski’s Feb 2007 megaprojects database and other internet sources. The forecast assumes that Saudi Arabia has no surplus production capacity.

The forecast shows a C&C production decline rate of -0.5%/year from May 2005 to Dec 2011.

Using the latest EIA data, the graph shows that there are three peaks, one of which might be the peak C&C production peak of all time.

Thanks for that Ace.

Most of us read the epic Westexas - Robert R exchanges. I read every post by both.

My problem is this:

USA oil consumption is still increasing. As RR states, the refineries have plenty of crude. According to Ace's graph, C&C production is flat, at best, for nearly two years.

My questions:

Is the gap being filled by "other sources" not counted in C&C; ethanol, tar sands,etc? (total liquids)

Or, is Westexas correct about the third world countries being priced out and the gap is closed from demand destruction?

My own conclusion:

Westexas is correct if our supply is being met, and the poorer countries are not.

RR is correct if the oil producers want a new price floor for crude. (To hell with those that can't afford it)

The price signal is swaying me toward the WT view.

Now, a rant that is germane to the thread:

I do not know anyone personally that has any grasp of PO, or energy for that matter. No one cares that pregnant women should not eat light tuna because of high Mercury levels.

Most that participate on TOD are educated, aware and/or rational. (I'm generalizing).

Some think scociety will gracefully power down, drive less, consume less, grow their own food, not buy cheap Chinese crap and refuse to drive the kids to ball practice. Remember, the American way of life is "Not negotionable", straight from the top of our government. Cheney said that, because that is the general attitude of most Americans.

Wrong-O. Suburbia will continue until the bitter end, then all bets to what happens is anyone's guess. My guess is chaos.

When going to and from work (a short commute) and seeing the flow of traffic, I often think of the scene in the movie "Titanic" where the ship's architect is walking about the ship--in wonderment that the passengers are unaware that the ship will soon be on the bottom of the Atlantic. It's kind of funny how it's physics trumps denial.

When you look at the numbers--flat to declining production; oil prices in a record high trading range; declining oil exports--intellectually one understands what is going on, but when faced the reality of it all, I think that even those of us who are "peakists" are in some degree of denial about Peak Oil.

I may be reading too much into this phenomenon, but one of the things that really concerns me are widespread and constant reports of copper wire theft. Isn't it really odd that metal scavenging is going on in such a "robust and healthy" economy?

It really, really makes you wonder about what will happen when the really tough times hit, especially given the massive propaganda effort that is pushing the energy abundance myth. But as I said, it's funny how physics trumps denial.

Watching the traffic in a high-density area from a 3rd story (or higher) elevation is a very strange experience -- especially if you can still hear all of the racket. When you are caught up in it day-to-day, you sort of become immune to it. But if you can pull yourself out of it and observe it like you're a visitor from another planet, it becomes a very odd experience.

I keep thinking of the 1989 quake in California, where freeways collapsed killing many people. One minute everyone was truckin' on down the road, a few minutes later it was all over and double-decker highways had collapsed--killing and trapping many people. In some areas, they didn't even try to rebuild the damaged highway--they just built a new one off to the side. Almost 20 years later, there is still evidence of the quake-- the damaged freeways--in the Oakland area.

"The worst continued to worse."

I think that this was John Kenneth Galbraith's description of the Great Depression.

From the Housing Bubble Blog:

The Toledo Blade from Ohio. “Lucas County records show buyers are landing deals. A newer McMansion, four bedrooms, five baths, nearly 5,000 square feet, in the upscale Country Walk development in Sylvania Township was appraised at $575,000 for a sheriff’s sale a year ago.”

“It was acquired by the lender and was resold seven months later for $315,000, or $260,000 below the appraisal, according to the Lucas County auditor’s office.”

So, this McMansion went from an appraised value of about $115 per square foot to a sales price of $63 per square foot.

Note that the original sales price was almost certainly in excess of $575,000.

For the past year, there have been numerous articles about the energy problems in poor countries (sorry I don't have links). Many countries in Africa, Central America, Malaysia/Indonesia, and parts of India have had serious shortages and problems related to cost.

Of course, our media never reports them, but there have even been fuel and electricity riots in India--one of the countries considered to be a "real up and comer." Indonesia, as a whole, has had serious energy problems and riots. Once they became a net importer, all of the fuel subsidies became a big problem.

In Nicaragua, electricity got so scarce and expensive that they were doing rotating blackouts and providing poor areas with only 2 hours of electricity per day.

Then we have Nigeria, where poor people are willing to risk their lives, via explosions, to tap into a pipeline for fuel.

So yes, there is evidence that Westexas is right on the money.

WSJ article on forced energy conservation in Africa:

Hi Sandor,

My C&C chart includes Canadian tar sands production as the EIA includes it in their definition of C&C. I assume that Canada tar sands will grow at 14%/yr from about 1.2 Mb/d now. For more info:

Although C&C is forecast to decline, the liquids production from NGL and GTL is forecast to increase by a favourable 4%/yr to Dec 2011.

A weighted average of the C&C decline rate and the NGL/GTL increase rate gives an approximate decline rate of -0.1%/yr for total liquids. In 2007Q4,the chart below shows that an unfavourable demand supply gap could cause oil price shocks.

EIA Short Term Energy Outlook Mar 2007

The EIA has just released their latest Short Term Energy Outlook and this link gives forecast total liquids supply and demand

For 2007Q2 EIA forecast world demand has dropped to 84.8 Mb/d. EIA’s 2007Q2 supply is 84.9 Mb/d and my forecast supply is 85.5 Mb/d. So there should be enough oil to meet demand in 2007Q2 – no price shocks. 2007Q3 should also have no price shocks.

2007Q4 becomes interesting. EIA forecasts demand at 88.6 Mb/d and supply at 87.2 Mb/d for a gap of 1.4 Mb/d. Thus this gap of 1.4 Mb/d would have to be met by stock draws or demand destruction. (I think that EIA assumes that Saudi Arabia is drawing on its “surplus capacity” as EIA forecasts OPEC-11 production to increase from 33.1 Mb/d in 2007Q1 to an optimistic 34.9 Mb/d in 2007Q4.)

My forecasts for 2007Q4: World demand is 87.0 Mb/d and supply is 85.4 Mb/d for a similar gap of 1.6 Mb/d which would be met by stock draws or demand destruction.

The worst 2007Q4 scenario is using EIA forecast demand of 88.6 Mb/d and my forecast supply of 85.4 Mb/d. This gives a massive gap of 3.2 Mb/d! (This assumes that Saudi Arabia has no surplus production capacity of about 2 Mb/d).

Conclusion: Even if there are no supply disruptions through to the end of 2007Q3, severe oil price shocks over $US70/barrel could easily occur in 2007Q4. Also given that the world focuses on demand of total liquids rather than C&C demand, I don’t think that there will be a serious response to peak oil reality until these price shocks occur.