Paying for Post-Peak Oil Mitigation

Apropos of yesterday's gas tax report and discussion, today we bring you Alan Drake's ideas on post-peak mitigation. Alan is an engineer, former accountant, and professional researcher based in New Orleans with best hopes for many. Alan would also like to thank the lovely and talented Wendi Berman for her editing skills and assistance.

Many proponents for public spending on Post-Peak Oil mitigation are attracted to gasoline and diesel taxes or more generic oil and/or carbon taxes. In an era of rapidly increasing oil (and all other energy) prices, passing such taxes will be politically difficult and take precious time.

I would like to propose an alternative tax for Phase I of Peak Oil mitigation that adheres to Sen. Russell Long’s famous dictum “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, let’s tax that fellow behind the tree!”

World Trade Organization (WTO) rules allow for a specific exemption that will allow the United States of America to impose a non-discriminatory tariff (it applies to all goods and taxable services, with a specific exemption for essential goods) if the funds raised are used to reduce our structural trade deficit, i.e. our oil consumption.

Specifically, the WTO allows nations with a structural balance of trade deficit (which the USA certainly has) to apply a non-discriminatory tariff if the funds from that tariff are used to reduce the structural trade deficit (which reducing oil use certainly would do). A separate section of the WTO treaty allows the importing nation to exempt “essential” goods.

In 2006, the USA imported $1.861 trillion in goods (and exported $1.023 trillion). This allows for significant revenues from a small percent tariff.

First, a few relevant points. Any trade practice is allowed until another WTO member nation sues and wins in a WTO tribunal. In my opinion, every nation in the world would welcome a determined effort by the United States to significantly reduce domestic oil consumption and none would sue, even if they had a credible case.

An effort to reduce imports and a determined effort to reduce oil consumption by the United States should have a beneficial effect (partially psychological) on the exchange rate for the US dollar. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that the US dollar would rise by the percent of the tariff, thereby eliminating any inflationary impact of this proposal.

The issue of NAFTA and other nations enjoying free trade treaties with the United States is more complex, and I do not have the background in international law to properly dissect this issue, but there is a possible accommodation.

Goods and services from Mexico, Canada and other affected free trade nations would also be charged the tariff, and the funds from that tariff could be used to reduce US oil consumption. However, the US could appropriate a percentage of tariff (perhaps half) from other funds and taxes back to these nations, with such rebates to be used specifically to reduce oil consumption in Mexico, Canada, etc. It is worth noting that reduced oil use by Mexico and Canada would benefit the USA by freeing up more oil for export.

As noted above, if nations fail to file suit, then the WTO takes no action. Such an arrangement should satisfy all parties in my opinion.

As a hypothetical, let me propose a 3% tariff on all imported goods and taxable services for 14 years, with the option to extend it for another ten years. $55.8 billion would be raised at 2006 import levels. The core proposals to reduce USA oil consumption are at


Specifically, I would use the monies for:

1) Incentives to freight railroads to electrify and otherwise expand capacity once electrified (most of the monies would come from the railroads directly).
2) 90% federal funding for new Urban Rail (the same percentage used to build the Interstate Highway system).
3) A variety of incentives for bicycling.
4) A handful of demonstration Electric Trolley Bus systems.
5) Creation of a Strategic Railcar Reserve that can rapidly expand rail capacity (both freight and Urban) in an oil emergency as a supplement to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
6) Convert residences and commercial buildings from oil heat to either ground loop heat pumps or solar space & water heating (solar space heating is likely to be supplemental).
7) Insulate, weatherize and convert governmental buildings and low income homes.
8) Additional measures (such as wind turbines and tankless natural gas hot water heaters) to save enough natural gas and electricity to offset the additional demand for these two energy sources from the steps above.

Well over half of the funds from the tariff would be used for new Urban Rail. A variety of conditions would be imposed to be eligible for federal funding, such as local sources of funding for continued operations and zoning that facilitates Transit Orientated Development.

New parking structures for automotive Park & Ride at Urban Rail stations would get only 40% federal funding if I had my way. Bicycle and scooter Park & Ride facilities would get 90% federal funding, as would bus transfer facilities.

This approach would clearly not be enough to fully mitigate the effects of post-Peak Oil, and time will clearly show that more must be done ! However, this tariff is large enough to allow the rapid ramp-up in capabilities and to show the benefits of doing more faster. This tariff could pay for Phase I.

Some Phase II funding options are gasoline taxes, carbon taxes, tolls on Interstate and US Highways, higher license tag fees for gas guzzlers; eliminating ethanol tax breaks for more effective measures; general taxes and reduced spending in other areas. All politically difficult issues, but the positive results from Phase I could provide the political will to do the difficult fund raising for an expanded Phase II.

And Phase II should expand into a much larger push for renewable and nuclear energy, increased conservation and the use of light hydrocarbons (natural gas, propane and butane) for transportation. There is only so much natural gas and propane/butane and that amount may be near Peak. A holistic policy would take natural gas freed from electrical generation by renewables, nuclear power, natural gas and propane/butane freed from home and water heating, ground loop heat pumps and solar hot water heaters--and use these light hydrocarbons for transportation. A mad race to conserve that’s significantly faster than depletion.

Phase II would also include a larger push for Urban Rail, electric trolley buses, bicycles, and transferring freight from heavy trucks to electrified rail.

A related matter is filling an expanded Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). With the volatile and ever higher prices for oil post-Peak Oil, it will be impossible to budget, or even afford, the planned doubling of the SPR to one and a half billion barrels. The only viable funding option for this essential project is a percentage tax on oil or oil products. Say, a 5% tariff on all imported oil and oil product imports, or a 3% excise tax on all crude oil produced in or imported into the USA and oil products imported into the USA. Or a 7.5% national sales tax on over-the-road gasoline and diesel sales (no tax on current excise taxes). The tax rate would vary with how comprehensive the tax base would be. And the tax rates proposed above could fill the SPR in about four years. Lower tax rates would, of course, take longer.

Such percentage taxes could be quickly converted to both crude oil for storage on the Gulf Coast and a network of regional product storage SPRs, such as the current heating oil SPR in the northeast. Regardless of oil prices, a steady flow of oil would go into the SPR. And this tax has the beauty of “the user pays.”

Caveats – I am not a lawyer with international law experience, although I have communicated with the WTO in Geneva and the central thrust of this proposal seems quite valid. The USA has structural balance of payments and trade deficits and reducing oil consumption will reduce those deficits.

Imported goods are clearly subject to tariffs, but services are questionable depending upon type and other variables. Common sense would say that foreign call centers serving US markets should be taxable, but taxing insurance provided by a Swiss company and exempting a US insurance company is more questionable.

Mexico exports crude oil to the US and imports refined petroleum products. Such trade should not be discouraged and exemptions or rebates need to be made for re-exported goods.

In addition, international trade will likely fall during a recession and the reduced economic activity post-Peak Oil. Thus the exact funding available is unclear.

Politics is the “Art of the Possible”

What truly needs to be done is not, IMHO, politically possible now.

An almost painless Phase I could accomplish a very good percentage of what needs to be done (or can be physically done) in the next few years and make a more painful Phase II politically possible.

Best Hopes for the Best Economic Policy, the Best Environmental Policy, the Best Energy Policy and the Best National Defense Policy (see above for all 4),
Alan Drake

I really think a gas tax is probably more doable than a tariff, in the sense of slim chance versus none. No politician taking corporate money is going to go anywhere near a tariff.

Alan - It seems to me that you are missing Phase 0; the establishment of a coherent, equitable and apolitical national energy policy with definable/measurable goals .

My first concern is the "bridge-to-nowhere" syndrome of pork barrel projects. I don't know about others but I do not trust the political system to distribute monies appropriately. My second concern is that it is, essentially, focused upon urban areas. While you're hot on urbanism, I'm not. I've posted about this before so I won't rehash it. My third concern follows from #2 and that is that I, as someone living in a rural area, would get squat while paying for projects I will never use. My fourth concern revolves around the retorfitting of buildings to make them more energy efficient. I see the .gov sucking up all the money alloted for this purpose. But, even were monies available for the private sector, it is likely that individuals ike myself who have rental properties would not participate if the cost was not fully paid for by the program. Were I required to pay for, say 50%, of the cost involved, then I would have to increase the rent to pay for it.

There's more but thata's a start.


Some good points !

*IF* the US $ climbs by 3% (I think quite probable, just due to increased confidence that we are FINALLY doing something), then this tariff will cost you nothing. If the US $ climbs by 3.5%, it will save you money.

Rural users, like China, France and Malawi, are competing with American Suburbia & Urban America for limited oil supplies. If they use less, then there is more left over for you. And non-Rural USA uses enough oil to skew global statistics.

If Fuel rationing comes to pass, rural users can make (in the future) the valid argument that "those people can very easily use non-oil transportation, we can't, so we should get more for essential travel",

Electrified freight main lines will likely be the first major project "completed", with branch lines after that. Passenger service will follow (I like self propelled electric single or multiple (2-5) car EMUs for local service and feeders to the nearest big city).

I have no need or interest for Interstate Highways. I burn the fuel that I do on streets paid for by property taxes, yet my fuel taxes go for supporting rural and suburban travel.

The only people that are going to increase the energy efficiency of public buildings (schools, libraries, fire stations, County Court House, etc.) are governments. The workmen that learn new techniques doing gov't buildings will then sell those new skills to their other customers. I see this as a cost effective and socially good way to "spread the word".

Since Gov't buildings are everywhere (schools are almost directly proportional to population), putting in, say, tankless gas/propane hot water heaters or solar hot water heaters in almost every school nation-wide will give the local plumber practical hands-on experience.

More later,


My third concern follows from #2 and that is that I, as someone living in a rural area, would get squat while paying for projects I will never use

Your argument is falacious, if valid it would mean that anyone could avoid taxation for common good uses merely by not being a direct recipient, for instance childless couples would not pay school taxes.

I would say that the only loonier thing I have heard lately is Alan's idea that the world should pay for US profligacy but the guy on CNN last night ( the one with the long dark solemn demeanor) topped that when he said with great indignation : "THEY are buying OUR American businesses with OUR dollars" .... boy now that really is unAmerican, next thing you know THEY will be complaining about fraudulent American mortgage securities the US sold them.

It is a sad reality, that I must be forced by Taxation, to educate someone elses idiots. The most fundamental flaw in our "Great Society", is the total failure of Parental responsibility. The number one priority of anyone choosing to have children is to provide food, shelter and education to their offspring. Not Tax my ass to death. The Parental failure of responsibility will come home to roost, now with the end of oil, and hopefully then, they will pay for their own spawn.


Those who truly care about the life they bring into this world certainly don't trust their education to the public sector.

I'm sure that more than 99% of the posters here have received education from the public sector. Bizarre to read the knee-jerk anti-government sentiments! Personally, I was educated in public sector up to my B.S. and M.S. in engineering, and I am certain that education was a good investment for me, and I believe it was a good investment for society.
My kids have had great educational experiences in public schools, benefiting from the many concerned and involved parents.
Where is the example of a functioning civilization without strong public education?
My experience has been that home-schooled kids are frequently socially mal-adjusted, as they do not benefit from a diversity of opinions, but instead are force-fed their parent's (often un-balanced) beliefs.

Where is the example of a functioning civilization without strong public education?

Uhhh. Detroit.
Without the private schools here kids would get no education.
The democratic process in the form of elected officials grinds away at the system.
Not a week goes by without scandal breaking concerning some sort of criminal activity by the school board, teachers union or other group.
Maybe you're from an area of the country that has not yet experienced the entropic backlash from the vibrancy a city like Detroit once had.
Wherever you have gained your "B.S." from, know that your community will soon be joining ours, it's just a matter of time.

RE: Detroit, TommyVee said "functioning civilization."

Okay, just kidding, but there are always going to be exceptions that prove the rule. I'm not sure many would hold Detroit up as a shining example, or even an average example of gov't working for the benefit of the people.

Food for thought, from the NYTimes in 2006:

A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.

Full article here:

I'm sure that more than 99% of the posters here have received education from the public sector. Bizarre to read the knee-jerk anti-government sentiments! Personally, I was educated in public sector up to my B.S. and M.S. in engineering, and I am certain that education was a good investment for me, and I believe it was a good investment for society.
My kids have had great educational experiences in public schools, benefiting from the many concerned and involved parents.

I went through public schools as well. As far as K-8 goes, I was more of an inmate than a student. I did learn, but that was a combo of parents supplementing with what was in effect home schooling (though it didn't have that name at the time), plus my own curiosity satisfied through frequent visits to the public library just a couple of blocks away; the public schools get no credit for that, they actually got in the way of my learning rather than being a help.

My experience has been that home-schooled kids are frequently socially mal-adjusted, as they do not benefit from a diversity of opinions, but instead are force-fed their parent's (often un-balanced) beliefs.

And my experience has been that public-schooled kids are frequently socially conformist, totally controlled by the opinions of their peers, and are force-fed their teacher's (often un-real) beliefs.

I don't think the answer is to scrap public schools altogether, but to reverse course and go back to the last point where they did work well. That last point was when public schools were much smaller and neighborhood based.

Judging from, for the most part , narrow responses above, the US educational system has been underfunded. Of course when a nation originates with it's aim as being that of the pursit for personal happiness, what can one expect. Citizenship becomes one where it produces an "every man for himself and devil take the hindmost" attitude. One might consider the USA as an fine example of the 'Tragedy of the Commons':

Judging from, for the most part , narrow responses above, the US educational system has been underfunded

You might think so, but when international comparisons are made on a per pupil expenditure basis, the US ranks very high. The problem is that we just don't get good results for the money.

The reason why is complex and does not lend itself to a simple answer. It is mostly a number of small things that tend to add up.

For example, sports is a bigger deal in US school systems than overseas, and a major drain on school system budgets. School childen in other countries may be equally engaged in sports like soccer(association football), but the activities tend more often to be organized outside of the umbrella of the school system.

Another example: In many other countries, there is a willingness to "track" children when they are still quite young, on the basis of academic performance and especially test scores. Those in the lower tier are shunted early into a vocational track, which sometimes ends up as an apprenticeship program at an employer (and thus possibly not as a school system expenditure at all). In contrast, in the US we are reluctant to track children, and want to keep them all together in the same classes and learning the same things for as long as possible. This is based more on ideology than on any real pedagogical rationale. We try to provide a lot of vocational training within a lot of general purpose secondary schools, rather than concentrating it in separate specialized facilities to which vocational students are sent. This is a very expensive and mostly ineffective way to do vocational training, but it keeps all the students together in the same school. Thus, our students go all the way through twelve grades and are still not prepared for skilled employment; they usually have to go on for an additional year or two at a community college in order to get sufficient training to be employed for anything more skilled than flipping hamburgers.

These are just two examples. By themselves, they are no way close to being a full explanation. But they are only examples, there are many other things like this, and taken together, they do add up.

I can tell you are a paddler. Kayaking is an education in personal responsibility.

I hear ya Todd, Maine is looking to get out of ISO new england just for that reason. We're paying much higher rates here to support a southern new england lifestyle no one even lives up here. We don't even come close.
I think Maine is on its way to becoming part of Canada. Some of the largest busnesses in Maine are owned by canadians. We recently finished a cross connect with a Nuke plant in New Brunswick.

Export Land Model for states, if we are net positive, why should we ship it out to delaware?


I seem to remember talk in the EU of imposing a tariff on the US and others who had done nothing practical to address CO2 under a similar aspect of the WTO free trade agreements. I don't remember the precise wording, but I would assume if the US imposed the tariff you talked about on the EU then that tariff would in turn be imposed on the US, etc.

Thus you can forget the idea of it not being inflationary and the US essentially being able to tax others to makeup for its lack of attention and action at home (which is what I think you imply).

Its up to the US to elect a strong and sane enough leader this time round to be able to shoulder its responsibilities rather than attempting to avoid the structural change needed. Nobody else is going to bale you out, and its pretty reprehensible to try to find a way to force them to.

A few EU nations may be running a structural trade deficit (UK ?) but very few. And this tariff is ONLY available for those nations with structural trade deficits according to WTO rules.

From the EU perspective, 1) It would be *GREAT* if the USA got serious doing something about oil use and GHG emissions (less competition for existing oil supplies for example) and 2) if the US $ rose from 0.68 euros to 0.70 euros, the tariff would have no effect,


I think you're missing the point. The issue wasn't on trade deficits, it was on another part of the agreements. I found this story talking about it.

As such all your proposal would do would be to create added impetus for global trade barriers - which would certainly harm the US and its interests.

Fundamentally you are trying to tax exporters to the US to pay for schemes which should be coming out of taxes on US citizens. That won't wash, others won't let the US get away with such a low trick and the upshot will be to hurt the US.

[Note: the global community can deliver the improvement in the US excess oil use / CO2 production by imposing such a tariff on US exports (producing a US recession) and keeping the money themselves. The US taxing global exporters to pay for their action is not an enticing case in comparison.]


All this would do is trigger a round of reciprocal rises in tariffs on US goods and services (Microsoft, EDS, Apple, Accenture, Intel, etc. would not be pleased).

In addition, your "oh, the US$ would rise in value also" is nonsensical.

Why not simply tax oil consumption? Ration by price.

Why not simply tax oil consumption?

Other than the specific case of filling the SPR, I do not think that it is a viable option in the near future. And even for filling he SPR, I doubt it.

I go back to Senator Long's dictum.


Hi Alan,

If you're checking back here, thanks for working on this topic.

re: "I do not think that it is a viable option in the near future..."

Why not?


Could you get the same results from a "tax on oil consumption" *if* it *was* "viable"?

The WTO treaty governs the actions of the global trading community, and I have found a valid clause that applies to our situtation.

the global community can deliver the improvement in the US excess oil use / CO2 production by imposing such a tariff on US exports is *NOT* according to the rules of the treaty.

BTW, I do NOT think that the current situation of the USA importing $3 and exporting $2 is sustainable long term. Especially as oil climbs in price. A controlled change seems to be in the enlightened self interest of all. And that is what I am proposing.


As I pointed out, the EU already has a case to impose tariffs on US exports using different provisions; and indeed have considered it already at a fairly senior level within the EU. Its basically under the rules that allow tariffs to ensure a level playing field is maintained and one country cannot gain an advantage by damaging the environment - eg IT IS LEGAL. My guess is they backed off to prevent a trade war - but in the world you suggest they would have no problem imposing that and other taxes.

There is no way you are going to find it possible to tax other countries to pay for what should be funded by the US itself.

Sorry, time to think again.

Your 'controlled change' has to be focused on the US taking responsibility for the US created problems with US funds; not trying to 'slope shoulder' them when the US has the financial means to deal with them.

The program I have proposed would take the USA from those that are not doing anything about GHG emissions to a leader in reduction (50% reduction in 30 years per Millennium Institute T21 modeling). So the USA would no longer be subject to that provision under WTO.

And yes, taxing that "fellow behind the tree" is very politically appealing. And that fellow will find 1) little alternative except to pay and 2) in his/her national interest to pay.

We have a MASSIVE trade deficit and you do not. That is the difference.

We will reduce this deficit NOT by reducing imports of French wine, Japanese cars or German machine tools (3% will make little difference before currency adjustments and none after) but by reducing our oil imports !


Too bad we spent 2+ TRILLION on Iraq and have nothing to show for it...that would have funded all of the above and then some.

This govt has known about PO for a looong time and has done Nothing about it. They never will until there are shortages and then it will be too late.

Unfortunately that is blood into the sand (unless McCain gets elected, then expect Phase II) and cannot be reversed.

I am looking forward.


Err, ONLY with McCain?

Well, guaranteed with McCain. "Stay the course till victory", "We will NEVER accept defeat", etc.

I see four more LONG and bloody years with McCain.

Unfortunately Richardson has dropped out, but I read "between the lines" that they will "Declare Victory and Get Out".


Hillary will not leave. She will believe that such an action would paint her as "weak" and therefore she will not do it. Obama might but even that is not guaranteed after him waffling on the question of being out of Iraq by 2012.

Probably not Romney either if his energy policy is any guide.
He was on Hannity and Colmes tonight, here's the gist from an earlier post:

Drill in ANWAR
Drill everywhere else
More nukes
Clean coal
Renewables are cute but would only supply 5% of our needs

I guess that leaves only Kucinich or Paul.
And which of those has a snowballs chance in hell of winning a nomination?

The more I watch all these clowns in both parties, a Michael Bloomberg 3rd pary run is looking more attractive by the day.

The witch from hell is a guaranteed attack on Iran, she is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Likud party.

what are you smoking?

OK, one last time.

Other countries have probably more ethically and legally justifiable reasons to impose tariffs on the US, so no they won't have "no alternative" - they can tax the US in response and all that happens is trade barriers go up between the US and the rest of the world. That isolates the US, depresses the US economy, makes the global financial markets even more wary of US mismanagement than before, and generally will hurt the US more than anyone else.

Its classic cutting off your nose to spite your face.

You are not going to find funding for migration programmes anywhere else than in US pockets and US redeployment of US assets. Nobody else is there as a pot to be raided.

I think your issues with your worldview stem from a misunderstanding of the relative positions. That "fellow behind the tree" is an 800 pound gorilla quite capable of ripping your arms off and currently maintaining a firm grip on your genitalia (debt) ready to twist. Playing macho and threatening to steal his banana isn't a sensible or workable course of action. Get your own banana and keep your voice down.

Other countries have probably more ethically and legally justifiable reasons to impose tariffs..

If the USA goes from doing nothing about GW to a world leader in GHG emissions reductions (it helps to start as a large wasteful user :-), under what WTO provision can others apply tariffs to USA goods ?

AFAIK, large commercial a/c (Airbus & Boeing) are exempted from WTO.

I do not think that the USA buying $3 and selling $2 is sustainable.

Under my plan, this trade gap would be closed by reducing USA oil imports (a strong positive for the EU ! More black goo for you).

By other means, (collapse of the US $, you have had a small taste so far) much of the balancing of the trade deficit with come from imported manufactured goods and relatively less from reduced oil imports. And the treasuries of EU nations will suffer from the devalued holdings of US $.

Now, if the G8 wants to negotiate a mixed funding program for reducing US oil imports (i.e. Phase II), we can see.


You lost me here. A tariff on oil would be paid for by U.S. consumers. And how much does the U.S. export to oil producers that would be subject to retaliation?

'It is worth noting that reduced oil use by Mexico and Canada would benefit the USA by freeing up more oil for export to the USA.'

While this is of course true, it isn't the sort of thing you'd want to say in Mexico or Canada. The 'Continental Energy Policy' that is rapidly morphing into a 'Hemispherical Energy Policy' is running face first into the ELM tree. Jose gets to walk so Bubba can drive his F350. Gets worse if the truck is put together in Monterrey. We're all in this together except that the US is in a lot deeper, or a lot sooner depending upon how you like to see it.

Back in the late seventies the Canadian government proposed an export tax on oil in order that the windfall profits from oil would accrue to the federal government rather than the provinces or oil companies. NAFTA put an end to that sort of possibility. Since then, any attempt to put export taxes on - see softwood lumber - has been replaced by a 'we'll tax it in the US and give you the money rather than set a dangerous precedent' solution. With softwood the Canadians were still waiting for about four billion last I heard. Hard sell now.

Mexico has had plenty of violent political instability. Unless there is some massive elephant field in the room, whatever feeble glue that holds the place together will soon fail. It could be argued that it already has. I don't see Mexicans feeling that they have shared in the gain so why should they share in the pain? This is a country that expropriated the oil industry in the 30's and has no reason whatsoever to trust the US. While a government like the current one may countenance such a measure as opening up the industry to foreign companies, the majority of the populace probably disagrees. As the fence goes up - great PR George - and the car plants and tourist venues decline, the concept of sharing yanqui pain just won't resonate.

As The Great Chomsky puts it, the We Own The World excuse is just about done. The reality is that the other 96% of humanity aren't really all that concerned if the US falls on its ass. They probably never were, and trying to convince them now at gunpoint may be hopeless. When you weren't invited to the party, you don't care if they ran out of beer.

I think politically there are no good options for this stuff. We've got a quarter of the people in this country who believe that a supernatural intervention will protect them from what is coming and neoconservatives played them for a long time ... probably now to their dismay, as Huckabee goes about pretty much stating he'll institute a theocracy here if elected.

The overall concepts of reducing consumption and turning revenues that can be raised towards remediation is a fine one and it is good to see an this posting as an instance of how these principles might be applied in action, but these things getting instated are a function of the overall mood of the voters here reaching a point where they're willing to change. Envision what it takes to get a hardcore heroin addict off the street and into a halfway house and you'll know where my thinking is on this task; people here simple aren't going to change until they get picked up, slammed down, and the events that do that may only come after the horizon for remediation has passed.

War is inevitable, yes, even if Wexler's call for impeachment hearings have their intended affect of first removing Cheney, and then getting at Bush. We in the U.S. have enough resources that we could remediate if we went on a war footing very quickly and began producing as much wind (and perhaps Nanosolar) energy in conjunction with rail electrification. Most of the rest of the world does not. Azerbijan has a problem with Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey has a problem with Kurdistan. The Russians have a problem with the Chechens. The poor Armenians are troubled by all of their neighbors. And that is just the Caucasus region.

I think regional initiatives beginning at the state level, like our own Power Fund here in Iowa, are probably the best hope for initiating such things. I don't assume the United States will hold together over the long haul, and as someone noted yesterday, the collapse of the dollar is going to do much to marginalize the inside of the Beltway. Failed states lose influence and legitimacy very quickly and the vehicle of states' rights already exists here in the U.S. to help with the transition to survivable enclaves.

Thusly a concentration on the regions already politically able to take action in these matters is best. The southeast withers under drought, the southwest's decline is inevitable given the water issues they face; Mr. Totoneila Sir's Cascadia, the Great Lakes Compact, the New Vermont Republic, and perhaps the New Lakota Nation (first to declare!) are the probable long term vehicles of civilization in our low energy future.

I'm not suggesting we don't act at a federal level. That will be required. I am suggesting a presumptuous approach at the state or regional level, in which planning is done for how to use the resources that must be made available by the above described or similar means, so that when the masses become aware of the problem a preplanned solution is standing ready.

Protectionism, which is how this would be labeled, would not go down well in USA, or am I completely mistaken?

Such taxation would be quickly be nicknamed "taxing the poor" (oil products, Wall Mart cheap imported goods, etc) - accurate or not.

Nevertheless & imho, the most important thing is how the money is allocated, not how it is collected, although I do like taxing that which cuts oil wasting consumption.

How about also looking into options for taxation at smaller level (state? municipality/city?) if possible? I don't know how the structure is in USA, but this would seem more feasible in general.

Those things would be theoretically easier to pull through than federal level taxation - an issue which is politicized to death in about 0.1 nanoseconds by professional lobbyists. They would spin it to their advantage without any regard to truth, aim, motivation, real effects or potential benefits.

I think the energy/climate/peak oil mitigation efforts happening at city & state levels are a reminder of this: at federal level all one can hear is excuses and avoidance, but cities and states are already putting things into action and into legislation.

Progressive prattling about regressive tax drives me to distraction. We must tax distance - the distance people drive, and the distance goods travel. We must relocalize or we're doomed.

Oh, I do agree. I wasn't very clear in what I wrote, if you got a different impression.

It's just that I see very little possibility for federal level tax on imported goods going through. Esp. under scenario where US is going into a recession and almost everything that is cheap is manufactured outside US. Of course, I can be 100% wrong on this, and I hope I am.

So, putting that aside, I think it might be useful to look at other more realistic ways to tax (at lower level) and keep on thinking of ways to use the money gathered.

In all, I'm all for Alan's suggestions - anything that mitigates both by taxing and both by allocating the taxed money wisely. And I respect/value his inputs a lot! I'm constantly learning from his posts.

I'm just unsure of what is the chance of getting new blanket taxes through (esp. at federal level). Again, I could be wrong, but for the sake of discussion I post this.

I've grown very disillusioned at national level politics and the lobbyists who work at that: it's a dirty game and has it's own internal logic. Real needs or solutions often don't win: best lobbying and PR programs mostly do. Or so I gather.

The fuel tax proposal is to fund road improvements and maintenance. If we want to look at a fair share arrangement we should be looking at both distance and axle weight. From wikipedia:

According to a series of experiments carried out in the late 1950s, called the AASHO Road Test, it was empirically determined that the effective damage done to the road is roughly proportional to the 4th power of axle weight.[35] A typical tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 pounds with 8,000 pounds on the steer axle and 36,000 pounds on both of the tandem axle groups is expected to do 7,800 times more damage than a passenger vehicle with 2,000 pounds on each axle.

A fuel tax thus tends to favor the heavier vehicle even though it gets lower gas milage.

If the issue is carbon rather than transportation infrastructure, you might like this article.


"We must tax distance..."

Exactly. It would, of course, disproportionately NOT affect the poor, as we tend to live in urban areas anyway.

Tax distance and excess consumption. A luxury tax, if you will. Make the idiot with a three-hour commute from his exurban house to his job pay for his own stupidity.

Incentives are not the way to go here. It is too late. Punishment taxes are the way to motivate people.

Want fuel conservation? Tax the heck out of vehicles that get less than 25mpg.
Want localization? Tax interstate travel. Turn all highways into toll roads.
Want alternative fuels? Tax the heck out of current ones.

The secret is that the tax has to be punishment. If it is a small taxation, it will be regressive. If gas costs $25/gallon, that sucks for pretty much everyone.


I wasn't so interested in vehicle distance as in the overall distances involved in our society. Shoes from China? Madness. Food from China? I don't even have words to describe how silly that is.

It is insane, and hopefully it's now starting, or will soon start, to come to an end.

I was thinking today that, even if one chooses to only drive to work (which I am not promoting), if they work inside their own city, say within 5 miles, that would be 2,500 miles of driving per year. If the same person does most of his shopping in that same area, but makes occasional trips outsdide the city (again, all by car), it seems reasonable to expect less than 5,000 miles of driving per year. That still isn't good, but I have read that the avg. car is used for 15-20K miles per year, which illustrates just how much driving we do. Even taking the low number, that's more than 40 miles a day, 7 days a week. I think America drives for fun, which partially explains all the bitching about gas prices. I don't see any way that this will be able to continue.


One of the things I noticed as I was listening to the conference about the release of the report that CSPAN radio broadcasts is that truckers are in favor of the fuel tax. There argument is that they are losing money from congestion, so it will cost them less in the long run if they can get more of the road for themselves and use their labor and equipment more efficiently. They did not mention that they wear out the road faster on a per gallon basis, but heck, that's them. I think that having the Teamsters on board is going to be a big plus for the fuel tax and I wonder if you have thought of any way to make your conversion of freight to rail attractive to them?


I don't think it is helpful to put out these fantasy ideas when there is NO chance of it happening. I know Alan is in love with rail but it will not happen in his lifetime. He just hasn't used logic in this. Urban Rail??? Where are the Trillions for that going to come from? This country is bankrupt and putting forth grandiose plans for more spending isn't going to happen.

Urban Rail is fantasy. Even Cuba didn't do it. More realistic would be Urban buses of some sort, using the EXISTING infrastructure, maybe powered by renewables. Detroit could build the buses!
That might happen, but trillions dumped on rail? NO.

Where did the trillions come from? Its on the order of $50b - $75b in 2007 dollars - a pittance for breaking our dependence on oil. It doesn't depend on any fantastic advances and it can be done incrementally based on existing infrastructure. Renewable powered buses in cities? Sure, but the long haul has to get off diesel and we have to get off coal.

$75B isn't going to "break" our dependence on oil. What's that, 1.5B a year for each state? Peanuts to be gobbled up by corrupt contractors and their lobbyists.

In the long haul doesn't matter right now. We are going to have a crises of biblical proportions in this country in a few yrs and telling the people that your soulution is to build millions of miles off light rail in the next 75yrs won't do it. You will need solutions that can be implemented soon. Buses can, and will put lots of 'mericans back to work. They will use a fraction of the oil cars use now. Other solutions are viable too, bicycles, electic scooters, carpooling, etc. But massive rail projects? We don't have 10-75yrs to wait for that.

Also think about how some cities aren't even suited for it. How about San Diego? Very hilly, canyons everywhere, light rail won't work very well if at all there. It took 5 yrs and billions of dollars to build ONE 10 mile extension of the Trolley there. You could spend hundreds of billions and 20 yrs and not make much progress there. Same goes for Los Angeles.

The first Light Rail line in San Diego was built before the feds decided to "Ration by Queue" and slow things down as much as possible. 13.5 miles, $86 million (1980/1 $). A Spartan operation but it shows what can be done.

The USA, with 1/3rd the population today, 3% to 4% of todays real GDP and without access to advanced technology, built subways in all of the largest cities and streetcars in 500 cities, towns and villages. In TWENTY YEARS (1897-1916).

Today, we just have to become as fast and as efficient as French bureaucrats.

Hopefully, not an impossible performance standard for Americans to meet.


I linked above, in the body of the article, to a list of Urban rail projects that could start physical construction within 12 to 36 months of funding.

A VERY good first step.

Best Hopes for Getting Started,


Ed Tennyson, a friend who I have collaborated with, managed the design and construction of the first San Diego Trolley Line, built in 1980-81 (planning and design back in 1979).

His resume is QUITE impressive.

Best Hopes for More Good Years from Ed T,


The first trolley line was constructed on existing right of way and infrastructure, not hard to do and cheap. It mostly carries tourists and shoppers who don't have cars, the poor as well. No one I know in 30yrs has ever taken it. Oh yeah, don't forget about the crime on it. how bout the crime on the NYC subway?

The second line San Diego built cost a LOT of money, took a looong time, and it mostly carries students to SDSU. Big deal.

You still can't tell me how this country is going to build and finance millions of miles of light rail and build it in 10 yrs.

The whole country is not as flat as New Orleans you know.

Which brings up another point. An objective look at N.O. says we should abandon the city to the ocean and rebuild on higher ground. It would be the smart thing to do just like planning for PO is the smart thing to do. Are we doing it. NO. Why not? Because govt can't make it happen. So why do we expect the govt to magically solve PO by building light rail?

Govt is not the solution. The solution will be local and diverse.

"millions of miles" of Light Rail are NOT required. A thousand or two miles would make a BIG difference !

The French (taking the month of August off) can build a new tram line in 3 to 4 years and at 20 to 25 million euros/km (to a fine aesthetic standard that one would expect of the French). The new Mayor of Lyon got two new tram lines in 3 years, 5 months.

On course these are the "Can Do, Just Get It Done" French and not "Can we figure out a way to NOT do it ? No ? Then lets delay it" Americans.

One secret of the French ?

Rubber tired oil burners are not sacrosanct and must ALWAYS have the priority !

There are many paved routes for Light Rail just waiting for the taking. Share some parts with rubber tires, kick them off and plant grass between the rails on others.

We call then roads, streets and highways.

Best Hopes for non-Oil Transportation,


USA is not france by a long shot. France is a small country, densly populated for hundreds of yrs and has been bldg rail for ~100yrs due to not having the oil for cars. The USA is giant, sparsley populated and up until 1970 was awash in oil.

You might as well tell the frenchies to move here and build our highway and road infrastructure from scratch. That's the kind of change would be required here. Not gonna happen without revolution.

And what about New Orleans and my comment on that? You seem happy to tell us how wrong we are about rail but its fine for New Orleans to be short-sighted about their future. Are we to build light rail there only to see it submerged in 20yrs?

MT has to get its act together a bit more for the working stiff. I wrote in Drumbeat of my inability while living in Portland OR to get from my digs at SE 23rd and Clinton to Interstate/Going at the wee wee hour of 8 AM for a job. This was ca. 5 miles, in the nation's model city for bus/rail. About 15 minutes travel by car according to Google Maps. Pathetic. Another job offer would've involved 2 miles of walking to and fro from the stop 210 blocks East of me. Businesses will have to provide shuttle buses for their commuting workforce I think.

And this is the truly horrible problem we face: ALL of the built environment that we have constructed in and around our cities since the 1930s or so has been planned and built around the assumption that people are going to drive rather than take MT or walk or bike - ALL of it. MT works great with Transit Oriented Development. Our horrible problem is that very little of our metropolitan built environment now IS TOD; almost all of it ISN'T. Trying to overlay MT on a built environment that hasn't been designed for it presents huge challenges. It isn't just a matter of finding the routes, the real challenge is making it work, which means getting the ridership. Which is darn near impossible when everyone is going to be living too far away from the nearest node, and when many or most of the places that they need to get to (especially places of employment) are going to be to far away from the nearest node on the other end.

Alan is quite right in talking about TOD at the same time he is talking about electrified MT; you really can't have one without the other. Unfortunately, this just raises the bar so impossibly higher. Now we are not just talking not just about the huge cost of building an electrified urban mass transit system, but also about a massive urban redevelopment program to bring places of employment, shopping and services on the one hand, and places of residence on the other, into close proximity with transit nodes. Given that we may quite possibly have just passed the tipping point and are starting the slide into long-term economic decline, that's setting the bar at a hight that is going to be difficult to clear with any conceivable revenue stream.

This is not meant as a criticism of Alan or his plan. As I've said before, I am entirely supportive of Alan and am cheering him on. But I'm also a realist, and unfortunately that has lead me to become rather pessimistic about these things. I think we will see some urban areas still put in electrified mass transit, and we'll see some that already have systems electrify theirs and expand their systems to some extent. I'm sure that where MT exists or goes in, employers, shopping, services, and housing will gravitate around it, even with little or no government financial help. While I have no doubt about any of that, I do have my doubts about the extent to which it will all take place. There will, I'm afraid, be all too many transitless cities that will end up with overcrowded slums located within walking/bicycle distance of industrial and commercial districts, surrounded by abanonded, looted, and torched suburban ruins. The US is going to end up looking a lot more like a 3rd world country than most of us would like to imagine.

We have, unfortunately, just made too many wrong decisions, and gone down too far down the wrong path, to avoid at this point the consequences of our decisions and turn around. The totally inadequate, sorry excuse of an energy bill just passed is my exhibit A for the case that what already has been done, and what our system will be capable of doing, is going to prove to be much too little, much too late.

A glass half empty or half full ?

Over 100 Urban Rail Projects that can start physical construction in 12 to 36 months, that serve transit needs @ $30/barrel.

A second wave can be selected as the first wave is built.

And then a third wave will appear as oil becomes terribly short ..

Is it enough ?

Will it save most of Suburbia ?

HE!! NO !!

But it can provide a viable nucleus to rebuild around.

We once did a massive and fast build-out of Urban Rail, with FAR fewer resources (including technology) from 1898 to 1916. We can do it again.

My view of what the future could be.

Best Hopes,


Light rail in the US is fraud, pure and simple.

The light rail line being built in Phoenix goes from one abandoned parking lot to another. It conveniently bypasses both the airport and the sports stadiums downtown, probably so the cities don't lose the parking garage revenue.

Businesses along the route have closed in massive numbers during construction.

Hard to see what it does other then to suck up federal funds into contractors and city officials pockets.

In EVERY case Light Rail has lower pax-mile costs (even at $20/barrel) than the buses in the same city, and higher ridership than the buses they replaced (US average about +40% first year, more later with TOD effects).

The new Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis is carrying as many as they can cram aboard in the peak direction, peak hours. Winter ridership falls because the diameter of the average Minnesotan expands in the winter :-) and fewer can cram aboard. They are working hard on a second line between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

I agree that Phoenix has been raped by some consultants and the specs are gold-plated (but still ugly).

The Southern end of the first line should do well serving the University of AZ. The question mark is the "L" serving the miniature downtown of Phoenix. The line goes by strip clubs and auto body shops today and is ripe for redevelopment into TOD if there is enough demand (and financing !) If it had been completed even 5 years ago, I would have been sure of TOD by today, but I am simply uncertain ATM.

The second, third & fourth lines will increase ridership (and TOD) on the first line. Systems work better than isolated lines.

However, too little too late for the Asphalt Wonderland. Post-Peak Oil Phoenix may shrink to 1 to 1.5 million people clustered around the various Light Rail stations.

Mixed Hopes for Phoenix,


Light rail will reduce oil usage less than 10%. See this page at Figure 1: Motorised Travel (passenger-kms per capita per annum) in 2003 where it compares many European countries for public transport use. In spite of gasoline prices more than double that of the United States at least 90% of passenger miles traveled on the ground in Europe are done by car.

Alan keeps calling for a big shift to light rail. But a close look at the actual data on European light rail usage does not justify the large role he advocates for light rail.

BS !

Have you heard of Transit Orientated Development ?

Urban Rail (all types) (or the lack of same) changes the Urban form dramatically. The savings from Urban Rail are primarily from changes in Urban form and less in direct substitution. Fewer VMT is more important than anything else.

Perhaps half or more of my miles traveled are by car vs streetcar & walking, but I burn only 5 gallons/month (and use the car only a few times a week).

And in an oil emergency, the Euros can drive half as much, double the use of non-oil transportation, because there is an alternative, unlike in the USA where it is, quite literally for many (most ?) Americans, "drive or starve".

Your metric is simply wrong.


Savings from urban form are not savings from urban rail.

The two are VERY closely linked !

Remove one (see post-WW II USA) and see downtowns die and sprawl expand "over the horizon". Add it back and TOD walkable communities "magically" appear !

There are very few examples of newly developed walkable communities in the USA without Urban Rail, and none with more than a few thousand people in them.

In France, after they add trams to smaller towns, density along the routes increases (the EU uses a walkshed of 500 m, 0.3 miles from the stations), so this impact is not just the USA.

That is why Electric Trolley Buses are not effective and Urban Rail is. They may burn no oil, and they attract a few more riders than diesel buses, but they do not affect the Urban form.

Best Hopes for Urban Rail and Transit Orientated Development,


Regarding Transit Oriented Development: I guess is my position isn't so much that you are wrong but rather that you haven't proved your case.

I understand that given higher density and mixed zoning that puts more stuff in walking distance and shorter driving distance people can drive less. Makes sense. I walk to the grocery store, drug store, post office, Radio Shack, and several other stores from a residential neighborhood (and I like it).

But I'm not convinced that adding rail thru such zoned areas is going to make much difference in reducing miles traveled in cars. Do people travel fewer miles on rail than they would in a car to do the same task?

Does this graph of country level comparisons of rail and bus use in Europe (Figure 1) hide details about individual city car, train, and bus use that causes light rail to look worse in its effects than it deserves? If so, what's the evidence for this?

Zoning can limit the TOD effect (although not eliminate it).

One case study is post-WW II USA, remove Urban Rail, let sprawl take over and downtowns die (which American cities had healthy downtowns in 1948 ? In 1970 ?)

A reversal would be the Washington DC area. In 1970, 4% of DC commuters took the bus. Today, over 40% do. Major sections of DC and Arlington are being revived. Per capita VMT has fallen from the ranks of non-Urban Rail peer cities to the VMT of Urban Rail Peer cities. Portland OR is another.

There are some specific examples of Light Rail NOT creating TOD (most of the Blue Line in LA, outside Long Beach has minimal if any TOD). But these are the exemption, not the rule.

TOD reduces the demand for VMT for services. The postal & UPS delivery, policing (can be done on bike or foot), pizza delivery, plumbers, delivery TO the grocery stores as well as people getting to the grocery store, barber, dry cleaners, vet, doctor, etc. Less asphalt for roads. Less snow to clear, fewer km of water and sewer lines to build & maintain. Fewer streets to light at night.

And in most of the EU nations, a majority or large minority of the people can get by (if inconvenient & time wasted) with non-oil transportation if they have to in an emergency. A non-oil alternative exists, even if they drive. Post Peak Oil, these non-oil transportation systems can be expanded since a solid foundation exists.

Best Hopes,


I support Alan's efforts, but I'm afraid I share a lot of your pessimism.

I do think that we can eventually get most of the freight moved off the highways and back on to the rails and boats. Enough collapsed bridges and pothole-strewn highways should do that, if diesel fuel prices aren't enough to make it happen. Trucks need to be limited to local short-haul jobs, and the combination of economic factors and deteriorating highways should do it. An economy in long-term recession and most people struggling with hard times should be enough to massively reduce the volume of Chinese junk that the trucks are presently hauling; thus, rail and maritime capacity should not be an insurmountable challenge.

I think we are going to see some big changes in passenger transportation in the near future, regardless of what people want or what the federal government does or doesn't do. As fuel prices soar in the the wild blue yonder, fewer and fewer airplanes will. Lacking good long-distance transportation options, people are going to have to just increasingly decide that traveling wasn't that important to them after all. Businesses will find ways to work around too-expensive and too-few flights, limiting long-distance travel to only the highest priority and most profitable trips. Vacation air travel will eventually become the preserve of only the very wealthy (as it once was). The airline industry will consolidate down to only one or two companies, and transform itself into a charter airline; their planes will only fly when they've lined up enough people (via computerized services like Priceline or Orbitz) wanting to go to a certain destination at a certain time and a sufficient price. We are probably already just about at Peak Regularly Scheduled Flights.

There will be some talk about ramping up and improving Amtrak service, but the debate and gridlock will go on and on, and whatever is done will pretty much be too little, too late. The one thing that could be done without too much political and financial friction would be to add more city-to-city routes during daytime hours. The Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee is the model I have in mind. Where these exist now, they are already competitive with air travel on a total cost and a total travel time (city center to city center) basis; more of these could provide a good replacement for the shorter air routes, and there is probably enough business traffic to support them. Where these already exist, it is no thanks to the federal government (with the single exception of the NE corridor); it is the states that have recognized the need and stepped in with the subsidies needed to make it happen. This is the pattern we are most likely to see in the fuuture, while the federal government continues to dither. With any luck, enough of a city-to-city network will evolve to make it just possible to board a train on one coast and proceed through a series of short hops and overnight hotel stays all the way to the other coast. It would be a journey of days, not hours; it would also be expensive, but not nearly so much so as an airplane flight.

As far as regional and local transport goes, state and local governments will struggle greatly to maintain the local road networks. It will not be too many more years, now, before they come to the conclusion that the money is no longer there to finance any new road construction, nor is the future demand any longer likely to be there to justify it. Scarce resources will be allocated entirely to maintenance of existing roadways; even that will be a struggle. As economic conditions continue to worsen, states and localities will try to defer expensive maintenance projects on the Interstates as long as they possibly can, in order to keep the local road system passable. This will help drive freight traffic back to the rails and ships, as I explained above.

It will be pretty much be up to each local community to decide how best to solve their passenger transportation problems. Some might still be able to swing the financing for the electrified rail systems that Alan is advocating; they'll probably have to find a way to do it without much or any federal help, though. Others may not be able to do much more than expand their bus systems, and hope that eventually they can find a way to go to rail; some never will.

Meanwhile, it will pretty much be up to each individual to cope with the changing reality. More people will be getting around on foot or on bicycle, whether their communities are pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly or not. People will be car pooling, regardless of what the federal government does, because that is one of the quickest and easiest ways for commuters to save money when they really have to. There will be a re-shuffle as people either change jobs or change residences to reduce their commuting distance. As motor fuel prices continue to go up, I expect that rationing is one of the few things that the federal government probably will do. This will be done more to reserve sufficient fuel inventories for the military than for any other reason. The combination of increasing motor fuel prices and rationing will drive more people into smaller fuel efficient cars, electric cars, or no cars at all. This WILL happen, regardless of what the federal government does.

This seems to me to be the most likely scenario. As the Federal govt withers away the states will gain in power as they once were. There might be 50 different solutions to the transportation problem. But they will have to be cheap. Expensive projects in a resource-contrained future won't make it. And converting a city like LA or San Diego to rail will be VERY expensive. Look for them to go the bus route like Cuba.

The climate in the Rockies has already determined those cities you named are pretty much toast and we aren't even sure if last summers arctic ice minimum signals the tipping point or if we have some other, seriously ugly stuff right around the corner.

I agree that buses, perhaps powered by renewables, are a good intermediate step, but our long haul rail has got to be freed from big oil and that can not happen soon enough.

I don't know why our culture always leads to a "my opinion" vs "your opinion" type of argument.
I read once that Americans have the lowest ability to see the point of view of others of any nation.
I see that right here.

No reason why we can't have buses AND rail.

In fact I suspect you are both right.

We are in or very quickly will be in a recession. Peak oil or not, many people will lose their jobs and not be driving to work.
A certain percentage of them will either be forced to stop using their cars.

In the meantime, the entire economy won't shut down (barring an attack on Iran to take our minds off of the recession) and battery technology will continue to improve. Likewise wind turbines will continue to be installed as well as other renewables etc.

We will either interate down through a cycle of recessions where more and more people stop using their cars and TAKE THE BUS!!! until we hit a point where it is possible to have a slow recovery with electric transportation (either hybrid buses/delivery vehicles/personal transport or else fully electric). During the recessionary period we will see the entrepeunerial spirit of this country come into full swing (hybrid mini-buses for local routes, companies running their own worker pick up services for workers, people will stay in guest houses during the week and commute back to the burbs on the weekend perhaps via BICYCLE!!! It takes, what 5 hours to cycle what would be an hour commute in heavy traffic today)
The recovery may take the length of time a regular recession does (though I somewhat doubt it) or else it may take a generation.

Either way the problem of peak oil will be solved by people simply not driving gas powered vehicles in the same numbers or in actual miles per year anymore.

The only fly in the ointment is if we try to fight over the last remaining dregs of oil in Iran.

Whenever I cycle through the oil consumption issue I come away with a view of an urgent problem with a stuck US policy. The recent auto efficiency bill takes many more years to implement than is reasonable. Transportation studies seem to lead to do nothing or build more roads. The 2007 study by the Petroleum Institute hits most of the marks for oil use reduction. My dream is to bring a world class Energy Analysis Organization to my home New Orleans.


Hi Ben,

re: "My dream is to bring a world class Energy Analysis Organization to my home New Orleans."

Can you expand upon this?

Who's in the org, what does it do? And how are you planning to get it off the ground?

Arguing about rail is over: the argument ended on July 10, 1838, when the US Congress declared ALL RAILROADS to be "Post Roads", guarantors of Societal & Commercial Cohesion in the growing Union. So it was written, & so it was done.

Deniers must be encouraged to understand that this railway mode they abhor, -is a fact of life, a state of being, a strategic requisite. In the USA, most rail branchlines are now being taken over by private operators, or landbanked for future use. Rails To Trails will soon switch their name around, there is no substitute for the intrinsic energy efficiencies of the steel wheel rolling on parallel steel rails. Electric railways can take power directly from sun or wind or atomic or biomass or hydro; or any other energy concoction that can be made to heat a boiler or fire a diesel.

Iraq/Afghanistan is already at the $trillion mark; we will spend what it takes to rehab rail corridor, extend mainlines, and expand capacity of rail networks. Our allies, the Russians & the Chinese, are busy at railway expansion. Are they dumber than us? The USA road network is in a state of decay. That fact alone has brought railway back to conversation. Anti-rail is another name for ignorance.

Nervous energy on the part of the foes of rail would be better spent on researching their respective locales' legacy rail infrastructure footprint, as a means of being the calm one in the room when the emergency comes. When fuel allocation and trucking is impacted and supplies aren't always on the shelves, they can make like they came up with the idea of shifting distribution methodology back to rail based practice. Simple. Call it "Parallel Bar Therapy" as a memory aid. Over the next year or few, stuff will happen & you will know what to do. You will be extra good at it because you are pissed off at the idea.

Rail challenged ones, when heartburn strikes, take a walk on some dormant right-of-way, spend some time in the library or historical society getting familiar with the railway maps. Figure out which mall & Wal-Mart in your town or neighborhood might be easiest served using the old corridor that you are now aware of. "Situational Awareness..." Your children will think you are pretty cool, actually.

The Military moniker for railway is "Second Dimension Surface Transport Logistics Platform". It is explained in "Rail Transport & The Winning Of Wars", by James A Van Fleet. Your friendly library can find a copy, or get directly from Association of American Railroads in D.C. This little tome also alludes to the folly of depending on foreign oil, and suggests wisdom of railway as an apolitical method of recovery from natural disasters and -Attack-! Hmmm. The Oil Interregnum without railways? Unthinkable.

Hi tahoe,

I like the points you make here.

Could you possibly write these up for an article (assuming the TOD editors would approve)? A fuller review of the book you mentioned would be great.

re: "the idea of shifting distribution methodology back to rail based practice."

Here's the the currently the capacity to absorb such a shift?

Apparently not.

The argument that we need to build the capacity ahead of time is the one that needs to be made.

There are a variety of efforts underway to expand capacity, increase average train speed, remove bottlenecks and make deliveries more reliable.

A major crossing in Kansas City (served by 4 Class I RRs) built a 2 track grade separated crossing for E-W trains over N-S trains. Before, it was like a stop sign controled intersection. Similar efforts, on a larger scale underway in Chicago (see CREATE).

100% double track from LA to Chicago by BN-SF, and 75+% from LA to El Paso by UP. CP just bought a small RR with intentions of investing a billion plus upgrading it. CSX is spending almost $1 billion/year just on DC-Miami line.

They are building in response to demand, not in anticipation, but they are building.

Best Hopes for RR Capacity & Speed,


You have focused primarily on transportation related energy uses which will increase electricity use and perhaps be offset by your call for more wind. In any event, on a net basis, your plan appears to do virtually nothing to decrease the amount of fossil fuels, especially the most carbon intensive one, coal. The focus seems to be mostly on oil. While it is obviously critical that we find an alternative to oil, we must simultaneously cut electric usage, expand solar, wind, geothermal, wave, small hydro and all other possible sources that will cut our fossil fuel usage, especially coal.

In the mean time, especially if we end up with a strong democratic majority next year and a Democratic president, we should revisit other sources of revenues, like cutting subsidies to oil and coal, and taxing fossil fuels more heavily in general to help us transition to renewables.

If we look at the coal plants on the drawing boards in just the United States (never mind China and India), the increase in carbon from these plants would swamp transportation savings even if we all traded in our vehicles for bicycles.

If we need to prioritize, we need to focus on cutting the most deadly of all fossil fuels, coal.

Part of the money for your transportation priorities should come from a moratorium on new roads. We can also cut maintenance, and I would volunteer the highway that goes through my town. It has brought nothing but too many tourists and those who live up here and commute as much as 80 miles away. Let's make the road very inconvenient and save gas by discouraging such nonsense.

I am for better and more available mass transportation, especially rail. But I am even more supportive of planning efforts to make it less necessary for people to travel long distances in the first place. Let us support enterprise zones which emphasize living close to those zones.

...on a net basis, your plan appears to do virtually nothing to decrease the amount of fossil fuels, especially the most carbon intensive one, coal.

Transfering freight from heavy trucks to electrified rail trades 17 to 20 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of electricity.

A strong net carbon gain regardless of how the electricity is generated, but a perfect transfer in generated by renewables (near perfect if nuke).

If TOD effects are included, Urban Rail also has about a 20 to 1 ratio of oil to electricity.

I see zero environmental negatives, and many positives, with increased transportation bicycling and walking.

Best Hopes for Solving PO & GW together,


For private non commercial use gas should be priced on the type of vehicle being driven as well as taking account of the consumer driving it. If you have made an effort to purchase a 30 or 35 mpg car why should the blunt club of higher prices apply equally to you also?

If you have made the decision to buy a brand new Hummer you should pay five or ten times the current gas price.

Put computer chips on all pumping stations and vehicle gas tanks. Marry up consumer and vehicle details then price accordingly.

High income, brand new Hummer the surcharge is ten times the current price, thanks for depleting our resources faster.

High income, brand new 35mpg vehicle same low price for gas as everyone else, thanks for helping to spread our resource base further.

High income on say a brand new scooter or some other high mileage vehicle then you get a discount on the current price.

Big picture this or any taxation will not change anything, humanity will burn anything and everything.

Good Luck !!

As long as we are fantasizing, why not just take the direct approach. The Hummer and its ilk should simply be banned as unacceptable anti social responses to primitive needs which we can no longer indulge. It is illegal, I assume, to crap on the street. Then why shouldn't it be illegal to crap on the planet. Through what we like to think our market mechanisms, we ban things half way but still let the rich and the irresponsible do whatever they damn well please.

Do we have cap and trade on littering? Do we provide market incentives to discourage murder? Do we tax rapists? Of course not. Because these things are bad, immoral, and unacceptable, period.

All kidding (sort of) aside, if we are going to use the market, let us institute feebates, where at least the virtuous will be directly awarded for their behavior from the revenues garnered from those who are engaging in bad behavior. Oh, but what about freedom! See paragraph 2 above.

I say let the market handle it but with a guide from government legislation.
Tax large gasoline vehicles a carbon tax and use it to fund electrification of transport.

This should be three-pronged:
1. The Government itself uses a lot of gas in it's own fleet: have these converted to plug-ins or all electric vehicles. This will have the net benefit of creating economies-of-scale in batteries which will make the costs cheaper for the rest of us.
2. Upgrade any publicly owned mass transit systems to electric.
3. Loans to the utilities to upgrade the grid (so it doesn't collapse when everyone tries to heat their houses via space heaters when natgas declines as well as when everyone tries to plug in their hybrids)

In addition: there's nothing wrong with a tariff as long as it is aimed at the right target. The Chinese have their currency locked in to the dollar, the Euros, the Canadians and the Brits do NOT. Thus the devaluation the US is doing is falling squarely on the shoulders of our allies.
Instead it should be falling on the shoulders of the Chinese also.
Tariff on Chinese products.

de jure, Selecting Chinese products for tariffs alone is not allowed by WTO rules (it has to be a non-discriminatory tariff on all but essential goods).

de facto, a 3% tariff will improve the value of the US $, and if the euro, pound, Can $ fall by 3%, no impact ! Just fixed currencies will feel the effects.


Hi Alan,

What did you think about the rest of what this poster said?

Does the proposal work?

I suspect that it is rationing that will accomplish what you are getting at.

The US govt will take the first, very big slice of the pie for the military ("national defense" will be the rationale, just as it was for the "National System of Interstate and DEFENSE Highways") and other "essential government services" (including congresscritter's limos). State and local governments will get much smaller slices to assure that the police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances keep running.

People like you and I get what's left of that much diminished pie to share between all 300 million of us. I don't think that a Hummer is going to be getting more than a Prius, unless it is painted olive drab and has a US Army serial number on it.

There probably will be some sort of market mechanism for those who don't need their full ration to sell it to those who need more. That's where the Hummer owners will end up paying the multiples for their additional fuel.

The Long Transition, also known as Kunstler's Worst Nightmare, marches on.

Interest fades in the once-mighty V-8

By Bill Vlasic
The New York Times
Published: January 16, 2008, 6:07 AM PST

The V-8 engine, long a symbol of power for American car companies, is sputtering.

"The era of indulgence is over," said John A. Casesa, managing partner at the Casesa Shapiro Group, an investment firm in New York. "When oil goes to $100 a barrel, the romance of a V-8 under the hood diminishes pretty quickly."

Ford, the 50-year-old great-grandson of the company's founder, Henry Ford, said the passing of the V-8 era is somewhat bittersweet for baby boomers like him.

"We all grew up when the coolest guy on the block had the most cubic inches under the hood," he said. "That feeling dies hard."

Yes, but some of us grew up and found other ways to get good feelings before we were in our late 50s or early 60s. No feelings of bittersweetness here. I had a '63 VW in 1967. Besides, we don't need those cars now; we have Viagra.

"We all grew up when the coolest guy on the block had the most cubic inches under the hood," he said. "That feeling dies hard."

Tough shit.
The guys who call the shots on which cars are made all seem to share the same juvenile pleasure derived from stomping on the gas and burning rubber.
Fuel efficiency in autos MUST be mandated 'cause it will NEVER come from within.

BTW when and where I grew up the coolest guy on the block had the coolest car with the biggest motor but came back from 'Nam without any legs.
Kinda hard to pop the clutch without 'em.
I don't recall hearing of Fords' military service.
How many of our kids will suffer the same in oil wars just so I can drive a 'Hemi?

They can still have those cubic inches under the hood, they just won't be able to afford to drive them anywhere.

There will be lots of large muscle cars, etc. available at unimaginably low prices. They'll look impressive, permanently parked on the front lawn. Instead of garden gnomes, pink flamingoes, and gazing balls, people will be able to decorate their front lawns with big cars.

Waste of ground that could be better used planting potatoes, though.

I am almost libertarian in my thinking towards markets but I have to agree on this one issue: the market by itself will not take the steps unless it is forced to in America.
People consider 30MPG to be "good gas mileage".
They argue that a plug-in hybrid doesn't compare versus, say a diesel, since they are unable to get their heads around the concept of shortages.

It will have to be mandated that we forcibly reduce our gas usage.
If we do not, the market via a recession will do it for us.
There will be many ex F-150 drivers who could have been driving a prius or a smart car to work who will now be unemployed and taking the bus to get groceries.

Yet another grand collectivist proposal to have government take from some to give to others. Bah, humbug!

Making the price of oil increase beyond the market price certainly does have consequences. Someone will suffer, maybe even die for all Mr. Drake knows. Does not forcing up the price of oil now make life more difficult, particularly for those on the margin already? And how do you know that this grand scheme will not just waste resources that could otherwise have been used for something that might actually have worked better. If something needs subsidized, there is the likelyhood that it uses more resources than it saves or creates, so perhaps you are creating a worse problem; you just don't know. This is the beauty of the free market which requires no government force, and has the ability to discern, through the system of profit and bankruptcy, what works and what doesn't.

I should also point out that a strategy of decentralization rather than centralization gives us a better chance of mitigating the effect of the end of the oil age. Electrified rail is a centralized approach because it depends on the electricity being generated in a relatively few sites and then being distributed out from the center. If the electrical system fails as is suggested by Richard Duncan, then maybe it would have been better to focus on something more decentralized like steam engines. I am not proposing steam engines, but just pointing out that having independent subsystems is better in stressful times because a failure of one does not bring down the whole system at once. This really is the theme of my free market approach, decentralized solutions rather than putting all our eggs in one basket, and destroying freedom in the process.

If it makes sense for me to insulate my home, install solar panels, heat pumps, tankless hot water systems, etc. as you suggest, why should I first give the government my money, only for them to squander some of it into the hands of every bureaucrat who touches it, only to then give back to me what little is left? And if my neighbor can't afford to do these things, then maybe private charitable efforts would be a better than the plunder and control government approach.

Had state planning really worked, then wouldn't the Soviet Union have had the highest standard of living in the world instead of financially collapsing under the weight of central planning?

I suppose I am a cynic when it comes to all these proposals that some would impose upon us, "for our own good". I genuinely would like to see the human suffering from the end of the oil age mitigated. My own view is that the toll will unfortunately be great and that the wolf is already at the door. I think that people who do not take their lives into their own hands and instead rely upon the government to take care of them will be at the greatest risk. Placing the burden of more government on us all with the predictable questionable government results increases the suffering rather than mitigating it.

private charitable efforts

That will fail too!

If you are correct then nature would take her course, as she should.

However, I can point out that for years the Catholic Church (no personal affiliation) operated many hospitals around the USA and was quite charitable to those who could not afford to pay. Many doctors charged based on the ability to pay before the government, insurance companies, and drug companies (no pun intended) poisoned the system. In rural areas where people know one another often houses are rebuilt with the help of neighbors after a fire or similar disaster.

I also point out that the attempt by government to operate its own charity, the welfare system, has both deprived many of the means to be charitable, plus has generated resentment that destroy the charitable instinct in some of the population.


Catholic Church (no personal affiliation) operated many hospitals around the USA and was quite charitable to those who could not afford to pay

They did have there own agenda - and it ain't a nice one.

I was toying with the concept of social insurance - if you have a job you pay into a social system that then can then be used as a value added tax - ie, a guarantee of social services that can be provided to you when you lose your job. When you contribute then you get voting rights on how the money is distributed when you withdraw then you lost those rights.

Kept small enough it may work ad hoc.

I have done enough non profit work to know any system scaled to a certain point is subject to abuse. The structure - to a point - is irrelevant. Gov vs Non Profit - its all about the people who work within any given system. What would be needed is a generation of religiously minded people who can then be incorruptible in implementing solutions - Regardless of the structure.

New Orleans has several Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, most of them are African American. As the name implies, they alos have a good time as well as helping each other out :-)

Best Hopes for Bonding of the Members :-)



Had state planning really worked, then wouldn't the Soviet Union have had the highest standard of living in the world instead of financially collapsing under the weight of central planning?

If state planning really worked, wouldn't the social welfare states of Europe have higher quality of life, better health metrics at much lower cost, longer life expectancies, longer vacations, better retirement, and lower infant mortality than the corporate-dominated US system?
And Europe does have all of the above, indicating that state planning works (in a balanced mixed economy, unlike the Soviet Union).

Did you know that Los Angeles used to have a working public transit system? It moved a lot of people around town on small amounts of fuel. And then General Motors bought the transit system from the city and allowed it to go to pot, thus requiring all those Angelenos to buy and use cars to get from place to place.

This is what you get when you have a free market system. Henry above claims that the free market solves problems. The LA example is a clear case of how the free market actually causes problems instead. Same with the whole peak oil problem.

As long as we trust the Captains of Industry to act in our best interests we're going to continue to be their pawns.

The Los Angeles Basin once had 1,000 miles of rail lines criss-crossing farmland, towns and cities, carrying people and oranges, all propelled by electricity.

Best Hopes for a Return to the Future,


The reason is not that government will screw it up (it will and a market solution - if it could be sold would be better) it's that the market will NOT provide a solution that is acceptable right now.

People I talk to will no way no how consider buying a vehicle that will give them anything less than what they have now. They cannot possibly even begin to conceive of the concept that their choice is greatly reduced mobility and quality of ride (something like a plugin prius AT BEST) or else they will have NOTHING!!

The problem is that the market is the mass of people and they don't get it, so there is no demand for the only possible TECHNICAL solution.
This is a technical problem, not a marketing problem.

Unfortunately the only way seems to be to try to sell something like the Tesla roadster but that is way too expensive for most people. Thus they will do nothing and change will be forced on them.

I don't know about you but I do NOT consider it a better thing to spend the next 10-20 years going through a cycle of recessions and possibly wars until we as a nation get our heads out of our asses and realize that we cannot continue to consume petroleum at the break-neck speed we have been.
It's that simple, thus we are stuck with a sub-optimal solution which is: the market will not respond because people do not realize the need is great because they have not felt the pain of not having ends meet due to incredibly high gas prices. So we are faced with a recession or ELSE government intervention.

So which will it be?

Hi Henry,

Interesting to have these ideas articulated.

re: "Had state planning really worked,"

Well, the US highway system got built somehow.

IMVHO, anyone who makes the blanket case for projects on the civic/gov scale, has to take into account how we got in the mess in the first place.

If there had been no public road-building, then arguably, we'd be in a different position. There's a history of the political interference w. rail by the tire/car companies, is there not? (I don't know it, but I assume others do.)

re: "I think that people who do not take their lives into their own hands and instead rely upon the government to take care of them will be at the greatest risk."

This is really an unfair opposition of ideas.

People can "take their lives into their own hands" and *still* want a functioning, non-FF transportation system.

It's literally impossible for any individual, or family for that matter, to fulfill his/her survival needs alone.

re: But OK, let's look at some options.

What I wonder is:

Could corporate executives and/or business exercise leadership for this change?

If we don't do a bunch of things very quickly, we will have nothing at all.

Who's the "we" that can take "our lives" into our own hands? Is another way to ask this.

How do you think successful efforts *can* be carried out?


By whom?

Tax on gas (petrol) in the UK is over 70% of the price per litre at the pump. In US terms a gallon of unleaded now costs around $9.

According to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (now unfortunately our Prime Minister) the logic behind continually increasing tax on gas is to cut down its use, save the planet and all that good stuff.. He also promised that much of the increased tax take would go on investing in R&D and of course public transport systems.

To put it bluntly he lied.. I dread to think how much additional tax has poured into the Treasury's coffers over the past ten years but little of it has ended up going into R&D or new public transport systems.

In addition, this increase in tax has had little or no impact on petrol consumption.

So essentially it was a con and one that is right up there with the claim that carbon trading reduces emissions. In fact the only gainers are the carbon credit brokers in the City of London

As regards tax on fuel reducing the USA's balance of trade deficit then I'm afraid that hasn't worked here either. The UK's balance of trade deficit has reached record levels and there was a comment recently in one of the journals that in terms of deficit per capita it was now higher than the USA. However, there is one major difference between the USA and the UK..

As the chief economist of the World Economic Forum said of the results of Competitiveness League Table announced in Nov or Dec when the USA was top again... "The US gets its leadership position through a winning combination of highly sophisticated and innovative companies that lead the world in research and development and operate in very efficient and large markets. This is buttressed by an excellent university system that works closely with business, a very flexible labour market, a unique ability to attract talent and a financial sector that supplies the needed capital for risky innovation ventures. These strengths allow the US to overcome weaknesses related to its macroeconomic imbalances"

In other words our American cousins will innovate their way out of this problem. On the other hand because the UK does not have a financial sector that is interested in supplying capital for risky innovation venture and in fact avoids it like the plague and, has a Govt that would much prefer everyone else develops technology so we Brits (or Scots) can buy what we want when we need it then we'll probably have to wait until the USA or someone comes up with the solution..

How do you get a Green Card anyway ? :-)

Good points.
Don't count on innovation, apparently it peaked in 1873. (pdf warning)

Hello Scotsman,

re: "To put it bluntly he lied."

So, it was a matter of corruption then? Not the result of a bad plan?

Is there or was there any way to hold him accountable?

re: "a very flexible labour market, a unique ability to attract talent"

Being talented might get you a green card, not sure.

You might consider French lessons.


Be good to add a mention of teleworking for reducing the need to transport in the first place.
Some other ideas,

Growing hemp to make composites for the light rail, material for insulation and oil for human consumption.
Installation of heat recovery ventilation in retrofitted properties.
More car sharing, 4 people in an SUV is just as good as a hybrid.
Large scale CSP projects with technlogy sharing with Australia, North Africa and Middle East.
Utility scale storage, NaS, flow batteries,
More cycling and a better diet is also the best health policy (BHEEEP?)
Comunity scale compostion / waste digestion
Use of low hear tidal pumped storage
Fund development of carbon nanotube technology, specificaly for low temperature super conductors, wind & marine current turbine blades, solar thermal absorbers
Coal gasification technology to co fire with waste / biomass and act as a more flexible power unit.

Question is how do we afford it? or can we afford not to.

If Alan had a male assistant would he be handsome and talented or lovely and talented?

Handsome and talented, with photographic evidence to prove it :-)


The Americans would just use the tarriff to buy more oil, and REALLY price the poor nations out of the market. Great idea.

A tariff is just a form of sales tax. It is a tax on the exporter only to the extent that the cost can not be passed on to the purchaser. In the case of oil, an increasingly scarce resource in a very tight market, it would all be passed on to the purchaser. Plus, if we bought less, the producer could always sell more to someone else. Therefore, the producer has no incentive to retaliate.
Why are you proposing a 3% additional tariff on all imported goods? This multiplies the possibility that some nation will feel harmed and want to retaliate. Why not just add a much larger tariff, say 25%, to energy products?


What do you think of this idea?

Politics is the "Art of the Possible"

In my judgment it would be a stretch (but possible) to tax oil at some point in the stream in order to fill the SPR. Beyond that, I see little hope ATM.

Thus my alternative tax.

Great policy choice, years of struggle and likely failure to enact it. We do not have time to pursue the best source of funding, we need ANY source of funding and start building !

Best Hopes for Reality Based Plans,


A well thought out post, thanks! I agree totally that oil coming into the US needs to be taxed. I especially like the idea of working the tax into the existing WTO agreements.

In 1999 I predicted by 2010 the price of gas will be $10 a gallon. This means oil well over $400 a barrel. I still believe we will see prices that high by the end of 2010.

When fuel is in short supply I see 3 possible limits to the amount of fuel used: a) shortages b) price or c) rationing. I suspect it will be difficult to impose rationing until life gets very difficult. Shortages are usually the result of government interference (eg imposing price limits). This is conceivable, but I feel what will limit consumption will be price.

My feeling is it will take drastic action to reduce or change our energy consumption. As long as our economy stays strong the price will have to be very, very high before it has a significant impact on fuel consumption (probably more than $400/barrel; perhaps much higher). Rather than have all this money leave the US we should impose very high taxes on amounts over, say, $150/barrel. Keep in mind 2 things: a) it will be much easier to impose a high tax now (eg 50% tax on oil over $200 will be much easer to impose before the price hits $200); b) if consumption is price limited, that limit won't change with taxes--if the price limit is $450 then either all of that can go overseas (no tax) or half of it can be kept here (50% tax). Unfortunately I doubt people will react soon enough, and once the price hits $200 (or whatever) imposing the tax will be very difficult. Thus this idea of gradually bringing in taxes is great!


I agree completely.
To drive a car wherever you want to whenever you want to and to take a road-trip half way across the country is what it means to be an American to most.

Nobody I talk to even considers the possibility of shortages and those who are a little more awake nit-pick the only two solutions we have:
Electric vehicles and electrified rail.

So they will need to be made poor to appreciate that having any kind of personal transport at all is a luxury.

Personally I hope I keep my job long enough for plug-in hybrids to be available en-masse but I'm not sure we will all make it.

Alan, you and I agree on electrification of rail. Where we disagree is on efficiency and taxes.

You want to tax, I want efficiency. In the following graph you can see that 80% of petroleum goes to climate change (waste) while 20% is useful. Instead of taxing waste, why not reward efficiency. If we stop moving a ton to move a person, it is not hard to conceive of how we might improve efficiency instead of adding taxes.

Your logic is TERRIBLY flawed.

There is NO connection between taxes to help pay for capital improvements to mitigate Peak Oil and your very flawed analysis and made-up "parasitic mass" as a made up problem. BART in San Francisco uses aluminum body cars, but they are the only one. Everyone else considers them a mistake.

PRTs, the very few in operation, have very high costs per pax-mile. They are useless gadgetbahn# and your promotion of them is distracting from REAL solutions !


# for more than 0.05% of travel (and 0.05% may be high)

How is your Mall of America jPod coming along ? Ready to cut ribbons as you promised ?

Hi Alan

That it costs less to move less is physics:

KineticEnergy = .5 * mass * velocity squared

Every time you Start-Stop, you have to apply power to reestablish moving. Acceleration and velocity squared are too complex for people to easily grasp.

Parasitic Energy Consumption simplifies and approximates the relative waste. Divide the moving mass by the mass you wish to move. The exponentials and constants cancel and you end with a formula people can do pretty much in their head.

PEC equals moving mass divided by the mass you wish to move times the number of Start-Stops.

It is definitely not precise, there are momentum loses at every turn, rolling loses, wind resistance, ect.... But the relative inefficiency become much more vivid.

Moving a ton to move a person in stop and go traffic is wasteful. Moving half empty buses and trains is wasteful.

I love trains. Providing feeder networks to trains is going to be a major effort for the next 5 years.

Your logic is TERRIBLY flawed.

There is NO connection between taxes to help pay for capital improvements to mitigate Peak Oil and your very flawed analysis and made-up "parasitic mass" as a made up problem. BART in San Francisco uses aluminum body cars, but they are the only one. Everyone else considers them a mistake.

PRTs, the very few in operation, have very high costs per pax-mile. They are useless gadgetbahn# and your promotion of them is distracting from REAL solutions !


# for more than 0.05% of travel (and 0.05% may be high)

How is your Mall of America jPod coming along ? Ready to cut ribbons as you promised ?


While I admire your work and persistance in promoting light rail and other worthwhile projects for the future of the US, I fear that there is a major point that you and most commentators on this thread are missing.

Namely: Does the Corporatocracy that controls the US political system wish to keep a 200 to 250 million person middle class in existance in the US?

Most posters probably think that some form of high efficiency, low energy modified form of BAU is the ultimate goal for the future; the megarich controlling class may well have a different view.

Since globalisation moved into full swing, the National identity and former loyalty of many multinational companies has largely disappeared. McGreed Inc. is only interested in short term profits.

During the past 20 to 30 years, much of the truly useful, productive activity in society has moved from the former "First World" nations to the "Developing" nations, leaving the FW to specialise in designing plastic toys and financial scams. Business costs can be lowered by reducing the need for large numbers of middle class citizens in high cost nations, and employing super-keen, low-cost workers in impoverished nations.

The real question for these companies is: Can we make more profit from US middleclass consumers, or from upwardly mobile Chindians, Brazillians, etc. If the answer is Chindians etc, then all your plans and ambitions for sensible advancement projects in US are futile. Your nation's whole rhetoric of "Democracy, free markets, anti-socialism, entrepreneurship" is meaningless in the face of the corrupt forces that control your society.

I am sure that for the US, 50 million middle class scientists/farmers/doctors/teachers/engineers/etc would be adequate, with 250 million peasants/serfs/slaves to serve the 1% ruling class, at far less cost than the present arrangement.

While your tariff schemes appear reasonable to ordinary people, I fear that they would have no appeal to those who currently run the system.

Best hopes for a sane future


One need not even put such a dark, conspiratorial take on it. The simple fact is that the US does not have the resource base (or carrying capacity, if you will), to sustainably support an economy that is more than 25% of the present per capita GDP, at best. Over the next century (and probably mostly within the next half-century), we WILL be declining down to that level, one way or another. If we're lucky, we might just manage a soft landing there; worst case, we keep right on declining to something much worse that that even.

The future of the USA is to become equivalent to what are today third world countries. The vast majority of Americans will be living lives that are not much better off than the typical third-worlder today. That is getting around via a different direction to pretty much the same thing you are saying.

I think it could be a credible to assume that at least a significant number of movers and shakers in the corporatocracy (A.K.A. "TPTB") are aware of this scenario and the high probability of it coming to pass in the long-run. If one begins with the premise that they do know this and are acting in a manner consistent with that planning assumption, then a lot of things do start to fall into place. The indifference and inaction when it comes to doing things that might perpetuate the affluent lifestyles of the middle-class majority for the long term becomes quite understandable. So, in that sense, there is something to what you are asserting.


Very interesting.

re: "The simple fact is that the US does not have the resource base (or carrying capacity, if you will), to sustainably support an economy that is more than 25% of the present per capita GDP, at best."

This is a pivotal fact.

The issue is: could different arrangements preserve the best parts and remodel the rest?