Sacred Cows for Clunkers?

In the continued series of government-to-industry wealth transfers to prop up a system requiring paradigm change, the "Cash for Clunkers" program was extended this week, this time bailing out the car dealers and providing a shot in the arm to automakers and some folks looking for cheap cars. While the $3-4 billion targeted for this program pales in comparison to the trillions already destined for the financial, auto, housing, mortgage, etc. industries, it gives another in an unbroken line of transparent signals as to the strategy: get us back to where we were and things will be OK.

Tonights Campfire questions revolve around what type of strategies could break the cycle of myopic baby steps?

Some quick wide boundary thinking on the CARS program shows that, ceteris paribus, the marginal fuel economy improvement of the trade-ins will be far exceeded by the increased longevity of the fleet. Basically, by buying new cars en masse, we have extended our dependence, by some amount, on an oil based system of transport.

According to Hyundai:

The average age of a trade-in model is nearly 14 years, and the average odometer reading is more than 140,000 miles. The average "clunker" achieves about 16 miles per gallon according to EPA data, while the average new car sold under the program achieves more than 25 mpg.

I doubt that the efficiency upgrade will really be 9mpg, but lets assume that is right. I doubt the average odometer of all tradeins will be 140,000 but lets assume that too is correct. Lets assume that the program averages $4,000 which is 1,000,000 new cars on the road. Assuming they too eventually drive 140,000 miles, we have just extended our dependence on gasoline/oil transport by 140 billion miles which at 25 mpg (irrespective of the efficiency gain), is 5.60 billion gallons of gasoline. When we import 2/3 of our oil and pay for it with a currency that doesn't inspire quite the confidence it once did, this gimmick goes in the wrong direction. Too, the average MPG of a NEW car in 2012 will be 27 mpg, HIGHER than the average fuel economy of the new cars being sold in cash for clunkers program...

President Barack Obama, said Friday that the clunker program "has succeeded well beyond our expectations and all expectations." His administration and Congress, he said, were "doing everything possible to continue this program."

The game of life works best when the monopoly money used for exchange stays in line with the assets underpinning it. The game board has become very populated, and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is having its way with much of the prime assets and infrastructure that got us to this point. As such, we are now entering uncharted territory in our socioeconomic system. Many think that the increase in debt is just a wealth transfer from the future (our children) to today, which is bad enough. But as our horizons recede (i.e. focusing on one aspect of our problems is futile because the rest of landscape is moving backwards), we find that the credit crisis, or oil prices, or nuclear plants being shut down due to water shortages etc., are not isolated problems. They are linked to a society, whose capacity to outpace its debts via growth is no longer possible due to resource constraints, and further hamstrung by a wealth disparity causing its citizenry to seriously question policy for the first time in a generation (or longer).

Instead of Cash for Clunkers, and other 'benefit now-pay later' civic strategies, what kind of things might have a chance of working within our current system, that might steer us in a better direction?

Here are some potential alternatives a bit more aligned with a longer term, more durable energy future:

As the top graphic shows, bicycle transport is far and away more energy efficient than (even new) automobiles. A voluntary tradein of an old vehicle for a bicycle (perhaps with some added incentives) would be a radical, but positive direction.


Similarly, I remember the 'carpool' television commercials from the 1970s. I suspect we are headed that way again, once the economy stabilizes and we overtake the oil decline curve. To issue certificates for free rides (details beyond my purvey) might also be a step in positive direction.


Perhaps we could have some Presidential Council of Sustainability, or some such, at national and local levels, who would stingily hand out status badges, like high school sports Letters, which could be sewn on someones clothing - "My boyfriend has 11 Sustainability badges - how many does yours have?" etc. (Again, I haven't thought this through - but something along these lines?)


And for the existential and superstitious among us, perhaps some karmic media campaign of 'Sacrificing the Clunker' for pride and good planetary karma.

I suspect we are going to continue to fight our energy/equity/environmental battles with outdated tools - getting people cheap cars is one of such.


1. What might be some other creative policies to steer us away from the business as usual path?
2. What year will a mainstream US politician publicly question economic growth as the goal of our society**? (Bonus points if you can guess the politician)

**I am not anti-american, nor anti-cars, etc. About the only thing I am really 'anti', is World War III. The business as usual path, given our fiat debt pyramid, and depleting cheap resources, has reasonably high odds of leading to that event, which is why I am not in favor of continuing current goals, aspirations and policies. (As usual, I speak only for myself, not the rest of TOD staff.)

Next weeks Campfire topic - "Does the World Need More Women in Policy Roles?"

In general I agree with you, but be realistic. Most Americans simply have no understanding of the coming issues with energy scarcity. It would have been nice to see them offer a sliding scale of "cash for clunkers" based on fuel mileage. Buy a truck, get nothing. Buy a Toyota Yaris, we'll give you a wad of cash. By a purely electric car and *ding ding ding* you've hit the jackpot.

If the government really wants to use public funds, forget the cars and offer "Cash for Urban Living". Buy a house in an urban area and we'll cover your property taxes on your behalf for 10 years.

Indeed, to "address" the threshold effect ... no matter what you call a clunker, there will be some vehicle that is some insubstantial degree "too efficient to qualify" ... and to shift the average above 25mpg, which is pathetic ...

... but revise the "cash for clunkers" to be in terms of how big the efficiency upgrade is.

And then amp up complaints from people who do not have "clunkers" to trade in to launch a Connie Mae program for commuter transport, where people can finance part of a transport based on the energy saving from the existing average ... which would, for example, allow people to entirely finance electric bikes on Connie Mae finance.

And also work with Transport agencies to audit their energy performance and, for qualifying public transport, include weekly/monthly tickets in the same system.

'If the government really wants to use public funds, forget the cars and offer "Cash for Urban Living".'

I don't think they are using public funds. I think they know that their bonds are ultimately worthless so they keep on printing as much as possible while people still believe that they have worth. They aren't using tax dollars and no one in the future will be paying the tax to cover the bonds the government has defaulted on. "Obama Bonds" -- they should call them.

This is another reason that the cash subsidy should be in multiple tiers, with the tier based on the gallons of gas saved per hundred miles. Then the additional out-of-pocket savings on those vehicles that are driven for more miles will bias the program toward those vehicles.

Now, for the initial funding of $1b, and in the middle of a recession, it seems that people self-selected for more than the minimum fuel efficiency gains ... but if it is going to act as a long term pressure on manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles, fixed mpg thresholds will require far more frequent updating than tiers based on amount of saved fuel consumption.

I find it sad we have endless billions to throw away in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places we dont belong yet when it comes to a program that is clearly helping Main Street America, we have no money left. Go figure!


One thing that concerns me are "averages." We have a number of cars/trucks that are used for different purposes. If one assumes that all vehicles are driven equally, we have rotten gas mileage.

My 1990 Dodge 1 ton 4x4 pickup gets about 10 mpg...but it's a ranch truck that is seldom driven of the highway whereas my wife's 2004 Corolla gets good gas mileage (30's before ethanol) but is used far more extensively.

We don't live in an area with traffic congestion or stop and go driving (hell, it's the boondocks) so it is likely that my old truck gets gas mileage on a vehicle mile traveled that is equal or better than many high MPG city cars...maybe even Prius'..

So, where do you draw the line?


Well, it gets back to averages. A new truck for you or I is no big deal, but on AVERAGE society can't afford them. And that gets back to equity/population/democracy issues.

BTW -I have been away and will get to your Campfire submission in next few days.

A new truck for you or for me


When we import 70% and rising of our oil and pay for it with a currency that doesn't inspire quite the confidence it once did, this gimmick goes in the wrong direction.

US Imports of petroleum are contracting, not expanding:

My comment was future-looking, if lower nominal prices restrict oil development in NA vs ROW going forward.

Also, your graph shows imports not imports as % of consumption, which has gone down about 6% last 3 years.

As opposed to 5.8% for imports per se. These reductions admittedly aren't anything to write home about - ethanol, flat domestic production, demand destruction, refinery creep. Nevertheless they put a crimp on things. Am re-reading Stuart's Auto Efficiency Wedge piece, which has this apt comment:

To achieve higher than around 4%/year gains, it seems to me that it is likely market mechanisms would not suffice. The key to going faster would be retiring more old inefficient vehicles and replacing them with new highly efficient ones. Gas taxes would be one method, but I suspect that what might be a lot more politically acceptable is something like a government tax break for people who retire an inefficient vehicle and replace it with one that's at least X% more fuel-efficient (this would create more benefit than the current hybrid tax-break, since it would encourage retirement of bad vehicles, as well as purchase of good ones). However, I cannot currently estimate how cost-effective such a program would be.

Stuart should update that piece, as CAFE increases 8.9% in 2011. No matter to me if he publishes at or wherever - in that article he also bemoans all the commentators who fill up space with their nihilistic hand wringing, which is something I've had it up to here with as well.

I was thinking about what the govts could do too.
Where I live (Japan) there`s now a very high suicide rate, especially among men in their 30s who get tired of looking futilely for a job. I also live in a city with a high suicide rate---it`s awful hearing the sirens.

The govt here doesn`t say anything about the underlying problem, which is energy availability.
They do provide funds for people to buy hybrid cars.
But I wish they would do more!
"Fly! Fly! Fly! Out to the countryside and work work work!" why don`t they accept it`s a real crisis, announce it, embrace it....come out into the open!Bicycles for free! Shack giveaways. Help to retrain for a post-peak economy.

Because here people are sensing this is a real serious crisis by themselves and jumping off high buildings when they lose all hope.

The govt keeps Q-U-I-E-T. No questioning the status quo, studying hard and white-collar jobs are The Only Path. (The suicides are mainly people who won`t do another type of job because they were raised to work white collar). I think the people in the govt are secretly very scared and don`t want to alarm people more than necessary.

But it`s not a good approach in my opinion.

It seems to me every culture has its own reactions to decline. In Japan and other Asian countries, suicide doesn't have the social stigma it does in America. It can be the honorable way out if someone has shamed himself. Do you think the suicides are more related to emotional depression (like Americans) or saving themselves from shame?

Have you seen this story about the herbivore men? It does make sense that unemployed or underemployed slackers won't be interested in getting married and starting families, but it's strange that they have no interest in dating or sex either.

They are young, earn little and spend little, and take a keen interest in fashion and personal appearance -- meet the "herbivore men" of Japan.

Hello pi,

I can't confirm if suicide has increased much in England, but I am sure that people feel that something big and bad is happening, even when they don't understand the future. I think it is widely believed that politicians have no interest or capability in leading us out of this. The jobs situation has worsened steadily over my lifetime

Based on my conversations with some from Newfoundland, apparently there is a rapidly growing succession movement up there. They have basically everything up there : oil, gas, hydro, low population densities.

Excellent non-linear reply, pi. I call it the law of unintended consequences.

The crash hasn't hit in Juneau, Alaska. Sure, tourism is down 15%, but tourist businesses ever could borrow much money, so they are plugging along. Lots of houses for sale, prices never fell much. The mall (yes we have TWO) storefronts half empty, lots of office space and boat condo for rent signs. Cleared developments stalled. Harbors are busy, but new and used boats don't sell. Lots of blue-collar pickups at the stores in the middle of the day. Government jobs still pay. City construction jobs still going.

Everyone seems to expect the rest of the country to pick back up before we stall. So they are using this time to catch up on lawn care or halibut fishing.

No one ever taught me the real difference between blue and white collar. I think the difference is that when business slows down, blue collar (hourly) take a big pay cut but white collar (salary) don't. Of course this only makes sense in routine short downturns. The lines are blurred up here. Lots of blue collar people earned six large working 70hrs+. Now the blue collar workers are working less but still working. Since most people here still have their job, it's just a recession.

A young friend, a real estate appraiser, bought a building lot cheap when few were available, intending to flip it. No buyers. So he bought a state surplus 40T excavator for 20K and did the dirt work. Still no buyer. Now he is building a three story garage/apartment, expecting to sell it when it is finished. I guess he wasn't listening when I gave him the talk.

Unemployment numbers down south look scary, particularly if you read Mish Shedlock. Are they true? Any personal knowledge? What keeps them off the streets?

It seems the U.S. is following the Japanese deflation path, so I am particularly interested eyewitness accounts of Japan. Seems the Japanese are particularly adroit at hiding their dirty laundry.

Cold Camel

Viewed from the other side of the world it really does appear that the USA is not governed by the political system but instead is governed by the corporations. That is to say the USA is a fascist state. You are ruled by POWER ADDICTS.

Speaking generally, the majority of addicts do not take resaponsibility for their condition until they have a few near death experinces.

TOD commentator, aangel once wrote. in regard to "conversation theory" that new conversations cannot arise until the the old conversations quite down. (of the top of my head)

The only way forward is for the total collapse of the current paradigm, so that is what will happen.

I'll even put a time frame on it. BEGIN 3 weeks, TOTAL CHAOS within a year. My timing has been spot on so many times in the past. Hope I'm wrong but your real economy is shrinking -5% according to KD.

Viewd from the other side of the world to the USA, My final sections of steel security fence and gates will be installed by the end of August and my urban micro-doomstead will be complete. I am not confident at all.

I don't know how you arrive at your timing, but I suspect that you are in the ball park.

I think in the US we sooner or later will have a new program to replace the present fascist/socialist system of plunder and control, which I term "lead for politicians and bureaucrats"; not a suggestion, just an observation.

Well, great change has been achieved my mass peacfull actions in the past (Ghandi-India), it would take LOTS of peacfull people, 100 million should be effective.

Lux, can you expand a bit on how you make the time-frame estimate, and what previous calls you got right, please? Interested. Just askin'.

Regards, RhG


That had better be one spanktastically nice bicycle. Start talking velomobiles for clunkers...I'll start listening :)

No kidding. At 4K/per, you could get a bike, panniers, clothing suitable for year-round riding, a cargo trailer, lights, a set of tools to let you do your own repairs, and still have money left over.

Some of the nicer velomobiles get up there in price though, but IIRC those are the ones they import from Europe. There is a place nearby where I can rent a cat-trike, and I have been meaning to do that just to try it out and see how I like it.

Velomobiles are the REALLY savvy choice. And not all of them are heavy, or even three-wheeled. For a real jaw-dropper, take a look at the Rotator Coyote, for example, made in the US of A:

"...You have to re-evaluate what one expects from a bike after you ride the Coyote. 30 mile per hour average speeds are common as well as prolonged sprints of 40-45 miles per hour...."

That's if you're younger and fitter than me, of course. But even we grey pedallers can up our average speeds phenomenally with such velos -- and stay out of the weather.

And the caption to this pic says: "Dean Pederson poses with his Rotator Coyote streamliner, which he rides in traffic almost daily."

Around where I live we have lots of hills. Usually nothing very steep, but finding something really flat is actually kind of hard. On an uphill, the velomobile doesn't really help much - it is just more mass to drag uphill (and I already have too much (m)ass to drag uphill as it is).

On downhill stretches I could see how it would help though.

But I really need to try a recumbent someday to see how I like it. To a degree it is academic - at least until I am in a position to get rid of a car and make some space in the garage.

If you're going uphill, eventually you'll have to go downhill as well. For the uphill stretches, perhaps a short-range battery pack and appropriate motor would be in order, and recharge it on the downhioll stretches. (these look out of date...)

I think the ones with a full enclosure are likely to get the most use. Weather proofing/resistant-ing is a biggie. I'd love to have one, but can't see spending like 7 grand on one (plus another $1k for some much desired electric assist on these asinine hills). I had the opportunity at one point to buy a tadpole trike for pretty damn cheap, but couldn't pull the trigger because I just don't think it would have had enough visual mass to not get me killed around the twisty roads and blind curves here. I just know I never would have taken it out for fear of getting squashed. They look insanely comfortable. What I do have, though, is a Sun EZ-1...a starkly upright (therefore also draggy and slower) but stupidly comfortable recumbent to which I've affixed caution tape which twirls around in the wind behind me. I also have a red backpack hanging off the seat for water and whatnot. Thusfar I'm still alive. I've also recently found out that a bicycle "computer" is a great motivator. At times when I'm climbing a hill and thinking "damn...I'm standing still - I'll never make it anywhere" I can now peer down at the speedometer and see that though it feels like I'm not making any forward progress, I'm still going about 5mph and that cheers me up a bit.

I think there could be some great creative ways to make this workable.. (cash back after purchase? Get TWO bikes for a clunker plus some cash back. E-bikes?...) but it would also have to tie into a program (a big one) to make Cycling a real option in towns and cities which are still biased heavily towards exclusively motor traffic.

BTW, I just met one of our city counselors testing out an ebike from a new local distributor, and he told me that the Police Dept also has two that their 'bike-mounties' are checking out. (LiPo's and Bionx Hubmotors, I believe) This Counselor is notorious for pulling his bike and a largish Aluminum trailer around town when engaged in his day job. As that top-quote says, 'Seeing adults on bikes I no longer despair for the future..'


Velomobiles are an excellent match between commuting ability, all-weather protection, and very energy efficient transportation. Many of them have an electric boost option (or one can add it themselves).

My concerns:

1) Very low riding compared to automobile and truck traffic. That's the same problem I have with recumbants in general. Once the traffic has been thinned out and slowed down, I might feel safer in one of these.

2) In hot weather, I can see heat and humidity building up fast inside those things, especially if you are pedaling and not relying 100% on an electric motor. These might be OK for someplace that is always cool and often wet (like the Pac NW?), not so good for the hotter parts of the country.

Nevertheless, they are a good addition to the mix, and will be a good option for some people.

Will, are these one off vehicles or a product that someone is manufacturing for sale?

They are all products - follow the links above. Most of the nicer ones are made in Europe however, but there are some people with designs here in the U.S.

There is a dealer in Toronto that imports:

I was up there for work last year and I wanted to drop by and try one, but unfortunately I didn't have time to drop in. My local shop doesn't carry these, but I should drop in and ask - they already carry all variety of recumbents, but they don't have a huge amount of space.

Edit: Here's another site with info on current models:

The most expensive models can run 10K$, but you really don't need to spend anywhere near that amount. If you are on a budget, there are kits that are available which knocks the price down a lot.

I so much agree with you. We have taken so many things for granted. Car per person for majority of people. Atleast 1 A/C running on most of the home/apt. In one of the Honda's commercial it said "Its the time to think about need v/s want". I just want to say we should not destroy something(nature) if we cannot create it.

We can not address anything in any “big way” because it just might hurt the economy.

We can't address healthcare because it would mean cutting off trillion$ to the economy (primarily to the upper 1 to 5% but I guess there is always some treacle down).

We can’t address military industrial complex (empire) because it would mean cutting off trillion$ to the economy.

We can’t address the collapse of the FIRE economy because it would mean cutting off trillion$ to the existing economy.

We can’t address Global Warming or Environmental devastation in general because it would mean cutting off trillion$ to the economy.

We can’t address Population or Growth in general because it would mean cutting off trillion$ to the economy.

We can’t address ANY of the constraints that the world faces because it would mean cutting off trillion$ to the economy.

Unless we can address all these issues in such a way that everyone makes trillions more than they made on the up side. Na Gunna Happem.

So we just have to all sit by and watch as the REAL economy slowly tanks (oh yes, and we should all try and profit from this BTW so that we might just get to live)

Then maybe if we are supremely lucky, Who ever is left standing can make some radical changes.

I am beginning to think Bernanke has whats best for humanity in mind as he accelerates the collapse.

Go Ben! Go Ben! Go Ben! Go Ben!

Then maybe if we are supremely lucky, Who ever is left standing can make some radical changes.

Yes, some just-in-case thinking about what comes after a collapse might mean the difference between a world with a future for humanity and one without it. For example, some musings on Question Everything regarding what wiser (sapient) society might be if we had to start over:

A Sapient Society and A Sapient Society - Reflections


[Edited: 12:29 PDT to fix links.]

As long as we are using individual transportation capsules with individual power systems, "driven" by individual citizens.... we are screwed.

We need to:

separate cargo transportation from human transportation.
separate inner city transport, from intra city.

Computers should be involved, capsules could be individual containers,
but the power system and the control systems must be public.

Cars suck. Buses really suck. Trains suck.

That is why the Cash for CLunkers sucks.

No real change.

computers suck

Computers suck energy. (there, fixed that for ya ;-))

They also save a lot of energy and material when applied well.

Aside from all these things that apparently 'bite', or 'blow' or whatever.. your conclusions are confusing to me.

Why separate Passengers from Freight? (Was that sarcanol that I missed?) The proposals to use trolley and subway trackage to handle predominantly people in the daytime, and proportionally more deliveries/freight during 'third shift' sounds like a really thorough use of expensive but valuable rail infrastructure, with the added advantages of letting loaded rollingstock transfer efficiently from International, Interstate and Intercity down to local use. Nothing sucks worse than having a heavy load and no wheels or tracks to move it over.

I agree, Computers and Electronics have some excellent advantages for system-control, communications, energy management. Even very simple computers could offer priceless advantages in this. I'm not sure why all power and control needs to be public. It seems that 'public roadways and traffic control' and 'private couriers and power retailers' can be a workable balance.. but I'd like to hear your reasons for doing it another way. Energy Supply co's are surely vulnerable to becoming power-abusers.. but we have more options for deriving our own energies now, so I think this can become both 'Private and Democratic'

If you need to say something 'sucks', please at least tell us why.. you come off as hopelessly adolescent otherwise. Back up your claims.


Passenger and freight traffic are somewhat incompatible with each other. Freight tends to be heavy and slower - passenger tends to want to be faster and lighter. High-speed trains need to have track with large radius turns, and they need a smooth and well maintained roadbed. But heavier freight trains are harder on rails, and as the condition degrades the maximum safe speed drops. And of course there are scheduling issues when you have faster and slower trains trying to share the same tracks.

Even if you give up on high-speed trains and limit yourself to just regular speed trains for passenger traffic, you still have the scheduling problems as freight can be even slower.

If you were to use subway tunnels to deliver freight during the middle of the night, you would leave no time for track maintenance.

You probably could mix parcel and mail freight with passenger rail, just as was done in the old days. Bulk materials and containers will and should still go on freight trains.

And of course there are scheduling issues when you have faster and slower trains trying to share the same tracks.

Even if you give up on high-speed trains and limit yourself to just regular speed trains for passenger traffic, you still have the scheduling problems as freight can be even slower.

It amazes me that we managed to mix high-priority passenger/mail/milk trains with low-priority general freight 50 years ago using just Tokens/Staffs, and manual block signalling, but we can't do the same nowadays even with remote sensing, GPS tracking, centralised signalling, Driver Alertness systems, radio/internet/WiFi connections, Radio Telemetry, and Positive Train Control...

The answer to question #2 depends on who qualifies as a mainstream U.S. politician. My hunch is that a handful of U.S. Reps have questioned the primacy of GDP growth. So I think this has already happened and indeed probably happened years ago. Although no U.S. Rep is really mainstream in the sense of representing a wide swath of Americans. So I guess it would have to be a Senator in a politically moderate part of the country. The year that such a politician publicly makes a distinction between quality of life and GDP growth... that would have to be a year when things have already gotten very bad. Even then, tho, the pressure will be to try to prop up an unsustainable economy in ever more unsustainable ways. I'm going to say 2014.

As for #1, I think that one of the other commenters pointed to location-efficient mortgages and instruments of that sort.

Todd: You say "it is likely that my old truck gets gas mileage on a vehicle mile traveled that is equal or better than many high MPG city cars". That's very unlikely, even when stop-and-go city driving is factored in. The hybrids actually get better mileage in stop-and-go than they do on the highway... probably about 5-6 times better than an old pickup truck does on the highway. And even non-hybrids like your corolla get better MPG in stop-and-go than an old pickup does on the highway. It certainly is good that you favor the corolla over the truck when you can.


Which is why I seldom drive the truck on the highway. It is probably driven 500 miles a year so that's about 50 gallons of gas.


1) Walkable housing for clunkers
2) Walkable jobs for clunkers

Bikes are wonderful things, but half the people in the US live in the suburbs and work a long way away, making bicycle commuting unrealistic. I saw one estimate that said the average commute is about 16 miles and 27 minutes. Convincing any significant number of people to do this during a New England winter (or a southern summer) is a pipe dream. Unfortunately, given the lack of good public transportation in and around most of our cities, even the entirely reasonable idea of biking to and from public transportation is unrealistic for the majority of suburbanites over a large portion of the year in any given location.

You want people walking and riding bikes and taking public transportation? Let them trade in their cars towards walkable housing and jobs. In other words start actually helping people get jobs in locations that are practical for a non-auto lifestyle. Pay their moving costs. Pay employers (positive and negative tax incentives, direct cash, whatever), to re-locate to (or help create) walkable areas and then to hire locally, thus providing incentive for people to locate accordingly. If you get the jobs to move to livable, walkable locations (or at least to locations directly served by quality, affordable public transit), then you can start to get people to move. At that point, they can trade in their cars towards moving expenses or housing expenses or public transportation passes.

Realistically, you would also have to have some plan that helps people sell their increasingly untenable suburban dwellings so that they could afford to actually pay for their new, walkable housing. As things evolve, the suburbs may be split between those communities that have a critical mass of walkable areas and public transportation to become walkable city/town destinations, and those that empty out as their occupants flee to places where they can find a more tenable situation (work, supplies, etc.). If this happens (and the long-term prospects seem more likely than not), it will put additional severe downward price pressure on all suburban real-estate, but especially anything that falls in the car-dependent category. When that happens, many people whose only remaining net worth is wrapped up in their suburban homes will need some way of unloading their albatross in order to relocate into more tenable situations. Basically, without serious help, it will become musical chairs, but with much nastier consequences for the millions unable to sell their property when the music stops and the DJ has left the building. Some kind of government program will be absolutely necessary to help people shake loose of their suburban anchor as painlessly as possible and make the transition from car-dependent living to something more in tune with future (hell, current!) resource constraints.

As long as the jobs and houses are in the suburbs, people are driving cars... until the gas gets too short or too expensive, at which point it's likely to very quickly get Katy-bar-the-door, Hide-and-watch nasty.


Ultimately bicycles are seen as unrealistic because gasoline is still readily available and still sufficiently cheap that driving everywhere is still financially doable. Things haven't gotten sufficiently bad that the general population has had to question the status quo.

One thought that I have however is that as time goes on, I suspect that general road conditions will deteriorate as the funding won't be available to make repairs. I am starting to notice that some rural roads are getting to be kind of rough, and I don't expect much money for paving projects to be made available anytime soon. But without good quality paved roads, bicycle commuting becomes harder.

Unfortunately this is beyond the conception of the American public. It is like talking about the abolition of slavery in 1750 in the south. The New Urbanism people say 30% of the people would like a pedestrian orientated place to live, but most people in the US go around like the car is connected to their ass. Driving a car to them is natural like breathing air.

Perhaps we need a need different approach. I think a big reason the Republicans got popular in the 90's was because people like Rush Limbaugh made the Democrats and liberals out to be limp wristed soft pansies. But what is more limp wristed than a fat ass who won't walk or ride a bike? What kind of man needs a motor? And that goes for the women too. If an attitude like this got more fashionable maybe America would start losing its car addiction.

Rush Limbaugh .... a fat ass who won't walk or ride a bike?

You want to put this on a bicycle? Will the physics allow it, is my question.

Or, as his girlfriends describe the experience, "Whale Rider"

Unfortunately, it's not just regular people's net worth tied up in suburban housing, it's also the collateral behind the balance sheets of all those wonderful banks. If suburban house values drop from today's 50% off peak to, say, 90% off peak, our visions of building walkable housing and transit will be a distant pipedream.

Just wondering--Is your graphic is just something hypothetical that you made up, that has no real numbers behind it, except perhaps your impressions? Or is it taken from some published source? My impressions would be somewhat different--for example, current rail with typical loading is pretty poor in the US.

There are many such graphics all differing slightly based on assumptions - that one is from Richard Heinbergs Peak Oil presentations -I think he used raw data himself but will find out.
Here is another, that does not include bicycles:

Source: "Energy: A Guidebook" by Janet Ramage 1997

Nate and Gail,
the new turbo-prop Bombardier Q400 NextGen achieves a very good fuel efficiency;
3.1 litres per 100 km per passenger
which equals: 32.25 passenger km per litre
which is like one person traveling in a VW Lupo diesel 3L

A small hybrid car with a one-cylinder IC engine, could achieve
120 miles per US gallon or a little more.
[ 51 km per litre or a little more ].
A car like the one shown in the french magazine Science & Vie published on January 2009.

That chart would have to be a lot longer if it included bicycles.

A bicyclist at a moderate pace burns energy at the rough equivalent of 1000 miles per gallon.


Does the energy consumed by walking and bicycle riding include the fossil energy needed to make and transport the food? Because the ability to transport things by walking or bicycling is limited, more trips must be made or other means of transportation used distorting the comparison. Vehicles do more than just transporting people around.

I am guessing that unless the guys and gals using the other forms of transport don't eat it's a zero sum game (more or less)

I eat less than a lot of people who go everywhere by car.

does the figures for cars, coaches, trains etc include the fossil fuel cost of the food for the passengers?

After a certain point, a bicyclist will have to eat extra food to maintain body weight, but most of us could use the exercise. For a rough approximation you could say the first 20 mi of bicycling are free, and after that fuel for bicycling will be expensive because you need human grade food instead of combustible fuel.

If we assume BAU standards of hygiene, there's also the hot water for a shower after bicycling. How about a Campfire about cultural attitudes toward body odor?

This too quickly becomes a long string of strange hypothetical nitpicks, when cycling is already more efficient than even Walking. I would love to see an energy eval. of the Faired Cycles and Velomobiles, to see how much more gets shaved off when Wind Resistance is put into the mix.

Aside from competitive cyclists, I would really have to be shown exhaustive numbers to be convinced that there is even an issue with Diet and Washing. People's eating habits, their hygiene, all of this is very likely lost in the noise when you consider the consumption habits of auto drivers, and whatever correlating consumption ties in with such a material, energy and time-intensive system as our road-culture has become.

As far as cultural attitudes.. I've often remarked at how shocked my colleagues get when I'm shooting with a Steadicam, and get pretty sweaty and winded. They act like I'm a trauma patient.. to see someone actually breathing hard and sweating. 'Do you need anything?' 'Get him some water, quick!' Despite the cliche's production work can be very exhausting .. but hard sweat is still a little scary to people.


strikes me as unlikely. How did you come about this 20 mile figure? Do car drivers and train passengers not get washed everyday?.. i can cycle a lot further and funtion on 2500 cals a day... if i ride at 40kmh for 4-5 hours I may get up to 4500 cals... if I bimble around town at 20-25kph for 3 hours hardly dents the tank?

your inference of BAU standards of hygiene suggest to me that you are inadvertently saying that coach passengers and pilots still use just as much if not more hot water than say a cycle courier... he/she will only shower once a day the same as everyone else.

ok I'm dirty fffing crusty, but I don't ride 5 miles get off my bike shower and then do it all again 10 times a day..

If we assume BAU standards of hygiene, there's also the hot water for a shower after bicycling. How about a Campfire about cultural attitudes toward body odor?

A "cyclist uses more hot water" world strikes me as one where the non cyclists wash less rather than cyclists taking multiple showers? but yes you have a point thou it works against you..... I think?

as jokuhl says

This too quickly becomes a long string of strange hypothetical nitpicks,


Ah, but I could say that your assumption of a daily shower betrays your BAU thinking. Europeans go two or three days between showers with no ill effects except a few BO jokes from Americans. I can go two days with no problem. Other parts of the world bathe even less frequently than that. So yes, my scenario of non-cyclists saving water would mean that the non-cyclists shower less than once a day.

The part about food calories not being equivalent to combustible fuel calories is far from a hypothetical nitpick. I picked 20 miles assuming 2 hrs of cycling at 550 kcal/hr compared to 150 kcal/hr for sitting and that up to 800 kcal would be lost in the noise of our ample diets. Beyond that, you're talking about a non-trivial amount of additional food to maintain body weight, and human grade food is a much higher grade form of energy than fossil fuels. Food can contain up to 10 times the amount of its own energy in fossil fuel consumption, although much of that is wasted. I know it's still a trivial amount of energy compared to fuel for a car, but you know that providing for food has its own constraints separate from fossil fuel delivery.

Just for the record, I love bicycling. I think getting 20 miles a day of "free" energy out of it is a pretty good deal. We just need to know the limits of expecting higher daily mileage.

When I bike-commuted, I waited until I got to work to take my morning shower, so no difference in hot water usage. When I got home, I had a short rinse, about the same I would have had if I had gone to the gym to work out (driving there, wasting more gas).

I finally did a long distance coach tour (Toronto-NYC-Washington). I took the red-eye between Toronto-NYC -- wasn't as bad as I imagined it was going to be.

From the chart above, it looks like the energy efficiency wasn't as bad as we imagined it would be, either!

I used to "ride the dog" occasionally back in my college student poverty days, and I don't remember it being unpleasant. My wife used to ride it too, and her mother, and my grandmother, and lots of other people we knew. Long-distance coach used to just be a very common way of getting around the country for ordinary people who couldn't afford to fly (which used to be VERY expensive), were not coming from or going to someplace served by passenger rail (and by the 1950s, much of the nation wasn't), and either didn't have a car or didn't want to do the long road trip behind the wheel.

Here's another study that included embodied energy for each mode, and shows ranges of energy consumption based on loading:

Energy Use and Pollution of Travel Modes

In the comments there is some discussion of the efficiency of walking and biking when including energy associated with food production. As a broad generality, the various calculations find that walking is approximately five times more efficient than driving, and biking is about twice as efficient as walking (or ten times as efficient as driving).

I am not an economist nor am I a social scientist however, observing the situation in the U.S and the government responses so far it has become very apparent that the real program of the PTB is (are) 1. The U.S. dollar as currently constituted will be destroyed. 2. All debts owed to other nations will be declared null. I personally believe that that is the primary driver of the massive increase in the military budget for this year. Adding the off budget numbers to the announced budget we arrive at a figure of 850 billion plus out of a forecast tax receipts of 1,400 billion. 3. The PTB know that there is no way to ever resurrect the BAU scenario so all of these programs are to placate the unwashed until the PTB are ready. 4. Destruction of the U.S. economy will result in the destruction of most of the world economy but the U.S. has the largest most effective military in the history of the world and currently there is no nation or coalition of nations which could succesfully challenge our actions. I have of course no means of knowing any of this, so this is merely mu WAG as a possible outcome.

Written by penury:
1. The U.S. dollar as currently constituted will be destroyed.
2. All debts owed to other nations will be declared null.

Destroying the U.S. dollar involves the Fed printing money to pay off the debts, not defaulting on them.

You are giving TPTB way too much credit. My WAG is that the group think in the US resembles an amoeba that has split into two more or less identical halves. Neither of which has the ability to think in any rational way. They just move to the light.

"Bud" ... "ribbit" ... "wizer"

Money like liquid seeks its own level. Cash For Clunkers deprives non-profits from a major source of funding thus taxpayers must take up the slack caused by mismanaged auto companies again. Then we are promised the future will be better with vehicles like the Chevy Volt. Do we really want to fuel our golf cart type cars from our mountain tops? Coal powered power plants are at best 18% efficient whild being the biggest cause of global warming. Our mountains will eventually be replaced by mountains of dead batteries, before they can make energy from the wind. "Clean Diesels" are aproaching 40% efficency and are fueled by oil from a hole in the ground. But, we want "energy independance". What to do? Sit back and enjoy the ride. As long as government and corporations work together we'll be spinning our wheels.

I generally agree with your statement that even with exchanging oil fueled cars with electrics or plug in hybrids will not solve the problem of fossil fuel exploitation.

But this statement is wrong: Coal powered power plants are at best 18% efficient while being the biggest cause of global warming.

Steam cycle coal fired power plants are about 35 to 38% efficient, and after taking into account energy used to mine & transport the coal maybe 33 to 36% efficient. If the utilities could use more natural gas in combined cycle power plants, which are 60% efficient, then the environmental degradation is greatly reduced (less CO2, less mountaintop destruction, less mercury & sulpher in atmosphere). Problem with changing over to nat. gas for electric power is the cost of nat. gas going up four to ten times because of nat. gas demand triples in US from this switch.

US needs to greatly reduce number of road vehicles, road vehicle miles, and infrastructure related to road vehicles. The coming decline in cheap fossil fuel and material resources (metals, wood, helium, etc.) will force this upon us. Many will be hurt in the process because the guv'ment is run for the powers that control BAU.

The real efficiency should consider that a steam engine is someware in the high 20% efficiency range. Now consider that the utility company must make excess power to satisfy demand and send it out over power lines and the net result is 18% at the outlet. A car not being used can be turned off, while the steam engine continues to burn coal in case someone turns on a light bulb thus even more wasted energy.

Your estimates seem somewhat pessimistic. A conventional, sub-critical coal-fired power plant operates at 33 to 35 per cent efficiency (~10,000 BTU/kWh); a super-critical plant is 38 to 40 per cent efficient; and new, ultra-critical designs operate at greater than 45 per cent efficiency. T&D losses typically run in the range of 8 to 10 per cent. Also, coal, like nuclear, is generally used for baseload purposes, whereas hydro-electric and natural gas plants are load following.

With respect to the potential impact of plug-in hybrid vehicles and utility emissions, at least as it pertains to Texas, see: (subscription only).


Steam engines (reciprocating) were very inefficient and were replaced with steam turbines in the early 1900’s. The steam turbine was invented in 1884 by Charles Parsons and first used to power ships. The first turbine generator was placed in service in 1903 for Newport Electric at Newport, RI.

Higher steam pressures were made possible by advances in boiler design and materials. Early boilers were cast iron and low grade steel and were riveted. Specialty steels and welding allowed continuing increases to critical and super critical pressures.
Similarly, turbine blades are made of higher alloy metals and individual blades or “buckets” are now cast as a single “crystal”.
Electricity was the theme of several Worlds Fairs of the late 19th Century, notably Paris 1881, New Orleans 1883 and The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. These expositions displayed electrical generators and other equipment, electric motors, lights and streetcars. However, electricity was very expensive until the development of modern utility plants.

Fuel to electricity conversion efficiency increased from about 4% in 1900 to about 35% in the 1960’s.

See: Fig 16

Also: A Century of Innovation: Twenty Engineering Achievements That Transformed Our Lives

Electricity itself is a clean portable source of energy but how we rub the magnets together is what defeats us. One steps onto a NYC subway and is propelled by a coal fired steam engine. Every time energy transgresses energy is wasted. If the train was powered by a diesel directly the energy savings would be tremendous. But to burn coal, to boil water, then rub the magnets and send the electrons over miles to a motor in a train isn't efficient. When talking of efficency the power plant itself isn't 40% efficient. The best turbines in the world are only aproaching 40% efficency, hook up a generator then connect a motor and the efficency can never match that of a vehicle powered directly by the turbine.

The best turbines in the world are only aproaching 40% efficency...

I'm afraid you're a little behind the times: the Niederaussem plant in Germany and the Nordjyllands-værket 3 and Avedøre plants in Denmark have operating efficiencies of 46, 47 and 48 per cent respectively.


Combined cycle plants can use wasted heat but look at the problem this way. A coal power plant is up and running someware, all the area served has turned off all its air conditioners, refrigerators and lights, the power plant must provide excess power for all contingincies. Now everyone turns everything on. Any engine ability to produce power is dependant upon how much fuel it can safely turn to heat. 40% seems like the limit. But my argument is we need to rub the magnets together without fire, that's the rub.

I'm sorry, but 40 per cent is not the upper limit as you claim; I've just provided you with the names of three coal-fired power stations that all operate at greater than 45 per cent efficiency, day-in, day-out.

Also, electricity demand is predictable -- utilities all over the world forecast it hours and even days in advance with a high degree of accuracy. Even dramatic bumps, such as Britain's notorious tv pickups can be accommodated with relative ease.



The turbine itself is over 90% efficient. The boiler efficiency is probably somewhere in the low 80% range and the generator efficiency is 95%+. The overall efficiency is lower because of the Rankine cycle, which covers the extraction of work from steam by the turbine. The heat discarded at the condenser that pulls a vacuum on the turbine exhaust is the inefficient part of the process. So it is thermodynamics that is the problem.

When you see efficiencies in the 40% range this is for the overall plant/thermodynamic cycle, not just the turbine or "engine".

Combined cycle plants use combustion or gas turbines as a first stage. The higher temperature of the combustion turbine creats the higher process efficiency. The gas turbine exhausts into a boiler and the lower temperature end is a conventional Rankine cycle.

Yes but turbines are most efficient at their optimum power band generally very nearrow. The system must be virtually static. There have been some experimintation with diesels that use their wasted heat to produce steam then use it to add to flywheel HP yielding another 3 in efficency. But I have never seen efficiency beyond 40%, unless some type of cogeneration is used. 40% seems to be the number.

This would make a good guest topic, if one of you are interested/qualified...

But I have never seen efficiency beyond 40%, unless some type of cogeneration is used. 40% seems to be the number.

In case there's any doubt, the three plants I referenced above are all supercritical pulverized fuel power plants with steam temperatures in the range of 600C, operating at 300 bars of pressure.


Natural gas combined cycle is 60% efficient, so why would anyone want to use expensive diesel fuel at 40% efficiency? And most thermal plants use coal or nuclear, both of which are far cheaper than diesel.
I do not think it would be physically possible to build a diesel engine as large as a steam turbine. I think it would have to be several hundred thousand horsepower and would probably be as large as a ship.

Also, reciprocating engines are more expensive and have higher maintenance costs. The last time I saw a reciprocating power plant was in the late 1970's in Jonesboro, LA and it was using natural gas, which is a low engine wear causing fuel.

No diesels generally arn't as large as steam turbines but still remain more efficient. Most large ocean going ships are replacing their "large steam turbines" with diesels because of efficency considerations. Any engine that turns fuel directly to work is more efficient then steam. An ideal power plant would have many smaller CNG fired diesels that cycle on as demand warents. Each could be maintained or replaced at a fraction of the cost of a large steam turbine while the power plant remains on line. But again we are rubbing the magnets with fire. The goal is to do it without fire.

Large diesel (ship) engines are more efficient than steam turbines because ship boilers are limited to relatively low (below critical) pressure for safety and insurance reasons, as are most industrial boilers, especially those used in combined heat and power CHP) where the condensate is not in a closed loop. Makeup feed water for boilers must be completely demineralized or it will attack boiler tubes and the higher the presure and temperature the higher degree of treatment required. CHP plants loose a lot of condensate from the various uses and also there is the possibility of returning contaminated condensate.

One of the CHP facilities I worked at had a three boilers in the 1200 psi range and three 20 MW turbine generators. Electric utilities have power plants in the several hundred MW to 1000 MW range.

As for keeping turbines in the most efficient range, utility power plants tend to be utilized in the fashion they can be started and stopped. Nuclear is base load because it has to be somewhat constant. Next is coal. Peaking is done with hydro and NG combined cycle, which can be shut down and started up.

Also, a thermal plant usually has multiple turbines. They can be started up and shut down as needed to keep in optimum range.

The holy grail of electrical generation science is avoiding thermo-mechanical conversion. As for "rubbing magnets together", that part is highly efficient. It is the thermal cycle that is inefficient. Photovoltaic and thermocouple are not even close efficiency wise. Fuel cells are high efficiency but will not "burn" anything but hydrogen. It is in producing the hydrogen that we loose all the efficiency.

Fuel cells are high efficiency but will not "burn" anything but hydrogen. It is in producing the hydrogen that we loose all the efficiency.

Hi Paul,

What are your thoughts on this:


I had not checked on the progress of direct fuel cells for a couple of years, but apparently there are some commercial demonstration units that can use methane.

Here is a link discussing fuel cells and also there is a chart of steam and gas ceramic turbine and diesel engine efficiencies at various sizes (Fig. 3).

According to Fig. 3, diesel is more efficient than steam turbine until utility size(100 MW). However, I have never seen a diesel generator used in the U.S. except for emergency power.

High end, "on spec" (i.e. well maintained) hydroelectric power plants can have turbines that are 98.7% efficient and generators that are 98.8% efficient. Reality is 0.98 x 0.98 are considered good #s.


Come on, kids, don't get lost at the first fork,

Alan Blinder wrote a NYT column, and the US had their clunkers plan two weeks (days?) later. Germany spends $7 billion on their -big success-Klunkers over some three months, so the US, which has over 3 times as many people and -my estimate- over 5 times as many cars, responds with a 6-month, $1 billion program. Not the, let's say, $25 billion that would have put it on line with Germany.

What does that tell us? In this case, that nobody in Congress thought about the plan for more than 2 seconds. Hey, if they had, it'd probably have been $1 trillion for pure voter attraction. They did bring it down from the original $4 billion. No better proof than that that they had not a clue. But all it did was predictably short-circuit the scheme after 4 days, instead of the two weeks Obama's $4 billion would have provided. Not that Capitol Hill had any predictions going, mind you, they had nothing at all going. So it worked in Germany, you say? Can you see that from Alaska, too?

Talking seriously about the merits of the plan is an obsolete waste of time and proud adult beverages. It's funny as well, that's true. They went and slashed the extra 2 billion for this weekend out of some environmental protection scheme. If you're looking for jokes, clunkers is great. If you're looking to seriously discuss something, you've just been punked by Washington.

As I said yesterday in It's a good idea, but it's wrong, there could easily be 100 million eligible vehicles in the US. Even with the added $2 billion, no more than 750.000 of them would be covered. 60% of US passenger vehicles are more than 7 years old. That's 150 million cars.

A dirty joke. That's what I called it. Wait till after the weekend, when a million or so or ten times as many people get to hear the program's halted while their desperately cheerful dealers have promised them $4500 in free money.

You know what Obama's line will be? "Nobody could have foreseen this!"

You know what Obama's line will be? "Nobody could have foreseen this!"

I suspect that line might be used for many future situations....

So Ilargi, what can be done about our financial/social/energy situation, when, and by whom?

Not Ilargi, but while all these problems will ultimately be solved, why do you keep implying that they have to be solved in a way that will be liked?

Not Nate, but isn't that part of point of this discourse? To center discussion on the fact there may not be likeable, solvable answers to these problems?

This is a different tack than saying "we're screwed" (presumably what Ilargi is implying). General folks quickly tire of people that keep saying "we're screwed" without offering an alternative, likeable or not.

1) some other alternatives:
A smart jitney transport system as described in the book "Plan C".
Electric bicycles.
Educate people to check the pressure of the tyres and to clean/replace the air filtre more often.
Use fuel-efficient tyres.
Educate people for driving more efficiently; this can save more than 10% fuel in many cases.

2) I guess in 2012.

I guess my somewhat joking response is that for nearly 100 years we have had a cash for clunkers program. You hand over your hard-earned cash, and you get a clunker in return.

My other car is a Rolls.

The W.H. is trying to solve every problem in America by doing a little something for everything, including cash for clunkers. I suppose as long as this country can continue to borrow money from the future, any kind of program is possible to try to get back to the falsified notion of returning to BAU.

How about, '5K for Working from Home'. To qualify you must be able to prove you've been commuting at least 20 miles each way. Then you must have a note from your employer saying you will now work from home. The govt. will save from reduced wear and tear on the roads, reduced oil imported, reduced freeway congestion, reduced number of astma patients... Oh, but of course that would hurt auto sales.

Hmm, how about '1K for learning about Peak Oil'? To qualify you must have a moniker at TOD, have read at least two books on the subject from an approved list and pass an online quiz. But the W.H. doesn't want people to know the predicament we are in...

Then, maybe we could have 'Dollars for Stupification'. To qualify you must have no interest, idea of or education about: Peak oil, debt pyramid, Oldavai Theory, King Hubbert, Matthew Simmons 'Twilight in the Desert', carbon sequestration, carbon trading, climate change, Permian extinction, capacity limits, depletion, conservation, electric trains, bell curves, drawbacks to ethanol, etc. But most people wouldn't even understand the question, so never mind.

Just go back to something easily understood. Cash for Clunkers people get.

This probably means governments will screw up cap-and-trade.

Maybe even low paid workers could afford 20 km/L or 60 mpg cars if they didn't need airbags, ABS brakes, CD players and so on. If only high mileage cars were eligible that would sort out the needy from the greedy. To those stuck with clunkers or nothing give frequent traveller points or prizes for using public transport (transit).

Low paid workers could afford 60mpg cars if they didn't want them with 400 horsepower engines and didn't want them styled like a box, or large parachute, or heavy as a ocean liner (and capable carrying as many people)...

Disregarding the question of whether it should even be, I do agree there should have been a hard and high cut-off for fuel mileage, at least 30+ mpg considering current product lineup. 35+ mpg would be better but leave few models available - fine though, as you point out, weeding out need from greed. It makes no sense to base the eligibility on 5+ and 10+ the previous vehicle.

what type of strategies could break the cycle of myopic baby steps? ... what kind of things might have a chance of working within our current system, that might steer us in a better direction?

Here's a radical idea: the free market. Get the government to stop trying to dictate behaviour. Eliminate all subsidies and free giveaways, eliminate obvious anticompetitive barriers like the $10,000 per vehicle/engine/year CNG licence requirement, and just set the rules by which people can sell and buy from behind John Rawls's "veil of ignorance".

Stop subsidising auto manufacturers and energy companies, including farmers. Stop subsidising house buyers. Let "too-big-to-fail" companies fail. And let the market deal with it.

Slogan: "Yes, we can get out of your way."

On second thoughts, never mind. That'll never happen in the USA in the 21st century.

I don't think I've seen any graphs showing vehicle mileage / efficiency that include the use of air-conditioning. There is a dramatic drop in engine efficiency and no-one seems to be taking that in account. If we are heading into more efficient transportation why arent car manufactures required to report these figures? Even the option of not having air-condition in a car is often limited. Perhaps there should be incentives for those who buy cars without one?

In general I agree that incentives (positive or negative) can help steer public opinion and consumer trends. The question is how effective this can be taking into consideration time limits. One thing is for certain, we cant expect people to dramatically change their lifestyle, such as move away from burbs and into walking distances from their work, its just not practical thinking. Dramatic changes only come after dramatic events (i.e. 9/11) and so perhaps it is a the plan to bring dramatic shifts sooner rather than later, since todays forecasts are stronger and more certain than tomorrows, ie. today the US is the leader in many fields - who knows about tomorrow? That perhaps explains bullish attitudes, in politics, economics, etc.

The new EPA mileage test used since 2008 include air conditioning use. They reflect real world driving and actually the estimates are more pessimistic compared to my actual results.

1. What might be some other creative policies to steer us away from the business as usual path?

1. Continue encouraging the descent of the world into an economic depression to ultimately deprive 83% of the population of their jobs and present consumptive lifestyles.

2. Implement short and long term policies to reduce population to 1/6 of its present level. In the U.S. this includes elimination of Social Security and a disastrous implementation of socialized medicine.

3. Increase military spending to protect elites and government from any chaos.

4. Construct plug-in series hybrid vehicles for the survivors.

Having fewer people with a higher standard of living is better than having more people with a lower standard of living.

This approach may be too similar to BAU to qualify as an answer.

Your comment;
" The business as usual path, given our fiat debt pyramid, and depleting cheap resources, has reasonably high odds of leading to that event, which is why I am not in favor of continuing current goals, aspirations and policies. (As usual, I speak only for myself, not the rest of TOD staff.)"

Considering that only a few months ago a good number of commentators were suggesting that the US and perhaps the world economy was going to go from a severe recession into a deflationary depression, perhaps one that would be the end of the economy and society as we know it.

Now, after a lot of short term spending Obama and his administration seem to have prevented a deflationary spiral, and although many banks and companies have collapsed, there are good indications that the recession is ending. This doesn't mean rampant growth, but it does mean that the economy will still function and be able to respond to the changes needed in a post-peak oil world. You may recall Gail predicting a collapse in oil use by 2012 because the economy has totally collapsed and we would not be able to build renewable energy, expand the electric grid and replace ICE vehicles with PHEV and EV's.

Now accepting that the world has depleting cheap natural resources and cheap energy, that doesn't mean we are going to eventually have WWIII over resources. Japan proved a society with very few resources can do better by trade with resource rich countries than trying to take by war. We are not running out of resources or energy just "cheap" resources and "cheap" energy. In fact expensive energy, especially expensive oil will be the best thing that occurs to the US economy after the initial price shock, how else is the US going to transition to a world without oil? No oil doesn't mean no energy.

What year will a mainstream US politician publicly question economic growth as the goal of our society**? (Bonus points if you can guess the politician)
Probably after the majority of TOD readers question that we can only have economic growth by growth in resource consumption or growth in population.
The thing about BAU is that things keep changing, change is the usual state, change allows adaptation, total economic destruction doesn't allow any further change. More than 80% of the jobs people have now didn't exist 100 years ago.

The situation is too big for me to handle.
By abrogating my resposibility I become a child.

The spokes of my cheap bicycle fell out.
I am tottering on the edge of buying a top of the range recumbant.
This will create penis envy in my friends who drive Humoungous 4 wheel drives.
I will smile.

God gives life. God will take it away.


Next weeks Campfire topic - "Does the World Need More Women in Policy Roles?"

Yes. Nuns past child bearing age.

What year will a mainstream US politician publicly question economic growth as the goal of our society**? (Bonus points if you can guess the politician)

Umm, the same year the Pope publicly declares herself to be a rational secular humanist and an atheist and decides to give away all of the Catholic Church's assets to the world's poor?

Mass transit passes for clunkers. $4k gets about 10 years of passes if you use $1's worth each day. And it feeds a system that's last on the list of transportation funding.

What year will a mainstream US politician publicly question economic growth as the goal of our society**? (Bonus points if you can guess the politician)

The last year they hold public office. Bonus - Ex-Mayor of Burlinigton Nate Hagans.

The kash for klunks program is such a blatant attempt to forcibly implement what ‘the market’ - an illusory construct itself - is normally supposed to do (create a lot of waste, thrash, produce and sell new) I’m surprised there were not stronger, and effective, voices against it.

At heart, this points to the fact that ‘free market’ ideology is, depending on pov, sugary pap, or cynical crap which serves exploitation, or any number of other formulations, and that nobody truly believes it anyway. (Except for Austrian economists, some die-hard paleo-conservative Republicans, anarchists, etc. all of them thin on the ground in the US.)

The heart of politics in the US has been gutted.

All this reminds me powerfully of the USSR, where ‘communism’ had the exact same reputation and function - upheld by the domineering class and very varied in its manifestations of the ground, it was anything goes as long as we coat it up this and that way...

One difference is that in the USSR state organisation and investment did purport to be for the good of all, the advancement of all (while preserving the privileges of the ruling classes, and indulging in malinvestment, creating deadly pollution, etc. the list might be very long, let’s not even think about the arms race) but this is explicitly not the case in the US. (Yes, set in different historical periods. )

Bail-outs of cronies (some banks, part of Wall Street, insurance ...) and of industries that provide voters to play a role in the ersatz democracy (automobiles..) coupled with moves that are very ambiguous, such as 'helping' ppl to keep a roof over their heads but at the same time stimulating ‘the housing market’; providing health care to more to feed extra hapless bodies into Big Medecine/Pharma by taxation, extra debt, more squeezing of the poor, makes for a very uncomfortable, schizophrenic, disastrous and ultimately deadly mix.

These are not rational responses to present US problems.

Earnest Lux wrote: The only way forward is for the total collapse of the current paradigm, so that is what will happen.

No amount of tinkering with clunkers will make a whit of difference.

System re-set. Either consciously implemented and managed as best as possible -those legendary soft landings- or it will happen as a series of ricochet reactions, all of them leading to more chaos. (see also souperman above.)

Yes, like souperman mentioned further up, its a bit like the classic risk game of jumbling towers, where players remove a block each turn until it collapses. We're at the point of the game where the mere touch of a block could cause total collapse. Governments dare not make any significant structural changes and by default try and preserve the "status quo" (ie. BAU).

The effective result is that there will be no top-down leadership to take us through the changes that need to be made. Which means that top-down dependent ideas are essentially a waste of time, negating many of the technical ideas discussed on TOD.

The way we're going to meet the combined force of economic failure, climate chaos and energy depletion is by systemic collapse. The rapid reduction of our entire economic and social system down to the lowest common denominator or level of complexity that allows survival in our altered world. Then we build upon what we're left with.

We'd probably be better off discussing what we will be left with and how to improve things from there. Rather than attempting to define top-down solutions that are unlikely to be implemented, unlikely to be achievable or probably turned into white elephants by the ongoing collapse.

All attempts to solve The Problem by techno-fixes to improve machine efficiency and attempts to persuade the people to save energy by buying/using more fuel-efficient machines will be undermined by the Jeavons principle/paradox: improvements in machine energy efficiency will result in more, no less, consumption of the energy resource. This is well understood by mainstream economists. It is most readily understood in industrial/commercial applications, where better energy efficiency allows lower pricing therefore more machine use to satisfy higher sales demand; but it also applies to consumer behavior. One of my sons is a social psychologist who tells me he has been doing research (questionnaire responses, not actual measurement) on this, and has been surprised by how clear-cut the results are. Those with the most fuel-efficient cars will burn much more, not less, total fuel/time unit.

What we must have is a culture shift. The best exemplar/promoter of The Better Way I know of is Sharon Astyk. Also see Ivan Illich's little mid-70s book Energy and Equity -- "any speed over 15 mph destroys community and creates social and economic inequity." (My paraphrase, probably not the exact words.)

Jevon's applies only to a point however. As resources become more scarce, prices will climb which will offset any temptation to drive more.

There is the second point - driving more means more hours sitting in a car seat, and for something like daily commuting, the time is largely wasted. If you get a car with double the fuel efficiency, it doesn't mean that you will move further out and take a 2 hour commute instead of a 1 hour commute. In fact, the anecdotal stories I hear involve people wanting shorter commutes and wanting to move closer to work.

The current transportation paradigm is not sustainable and will not be fixed by the use of personal
motorized vehicles, regardless of their efficiency. Start by returning to an era after the train and before the widespread use of the automobile. I am currently reading Sherlock Holmes where they seemed to get along fine combining trains supplemented by bikes and horse drawn vehicles,

But really. What we really need is cash for babies to include cash for vasectomies and tubal ligations. Further, we should pay people a thousand dollars for every thousand miles they drive less than 10,000.

What we are doing is grossly pathetic and criminal considering the trillions we are spending on the banks.

This whole program is like a whale giving birth to a mouse.

There is no hope. This program is the last straw. What little hope I had has vanished.

Cash for Vasos and Tubals...gets my vote...I'd say that would be worth paying for the operations and $100K per participant who had the procedure after two children, and $250K for those who have it after one child, and $500K for those who have it before having any children....maybe $25K for those having it after having 4 children, and NADA for those having it after having five or more children.

As far as using horsies like 'back in the day'...there was a story that at one time pundits predicted that London would be buried alive in horse crap if the then-current trends in horse ridership/usage continued for another 'x' years. The horseless carriages fixed that problem.

Everything has costs and consequences, and all problems ultimately are magnified by too much population.

As a sidebar to next week's topic, would you find any meat ..(err, Protein?) in the question ..

"Would our Government be able to 'think' and act better if it were structured to include Left-brain and Right-Brain components, like we as individual humans have?"

I do think about the model that Jefferson brought from the First Nations with their council of Women as a more fully human approach to the question of running a society, but I also see that our current Political Culture draws in Men AND Women who have many similar strengths and backgrounds, and wonder what are the complementary traits that are underrepresented there? What besides Gender might balance out this game?

I also wonder about modelling a government structure that institutionally is required to include fully voting representatives from a range of societal positions, to ensure possibly a full rich>poor spectrum, (not just claims of daddy at the factory and being 'of the real people', etc..) Reps from a range of Trades and Occupations, including Homeless people, a Rep. for Children, a rep for Seniors, a rep for people in the Mental Health System, and People with Disabilities.

Just spitballing, trying to make your topic more complicated.. thank me later!


Without our oil imports, I suspect that the problem would take care of itself in short order, one way or another. Without oil imports, we can't possibly have enough motor fuel to keep all of the automobiles running to anywhere near the extent that they are now. We can keep all of them running a small fraction of the VMT they are now, or we can keep a small fraction running the same VMT they are now (and the majority of automobiles not running any VMT at all, i.e., sitting idle); most likely, we will end up with some intermediate mix, with a very few people still driving vehicles pretty much as intensively as ever, a very large number having to make drastic cutbacks, and some substantial number having to give up on owning automobiles altogether.

Without oil imports, there is no choice - this MUST happen.

The thing is: this WILL happen. We know from the ELM model that exports must dwindle at a far more rapid rate than overall global depletion. Add to this the fact that EROI for new wells is declining, resulting in less net energy to be exported. Add to this the fact that new oil is going to be increasingly expensive to find and develop, and that a global economy in trouble is not going to be able to supply ever-increasing amounts of investment capital. The writing is certainly on the wall: except for a continuing trickle from Canada, the US cannot expect to see oil imports continuing for much more than a decade, or two decades at the most. One can imagine geopolitical scenarios that could result in the day of zero imports happening much sooner than that.

This being the case, I am not particularly concerned about how to convince people to change their behavior. Soon enough, events will transpire in such a manner as to force people to change, whether they want to or not.

The really important questions we need to be considering are:

1) How will people cope, and what will people have to do, once US oil imports are down to zero, or very nearly so?

and 2) What can we do between now and then to prepare and strategically position the nation and its communities so that when the day of zero imports arrives (and actually a good while before that, as supplies are likely to tighten long before imports disappear), people will have better rather than worse transport options?

I anticipate that as motor fuel supplies become increasingly tight, more and more people are going to have to relocate closer to their jobs, or to mass transit nodes if available. What at first will be a trickle (and in fact might have already started, the dismantling of entire neighborhoods in places like Flint being exhibit A) will eventually expand into a flood tide. There needs to be a massive re-arrangement of the US population to minimize commuting distances. It will be a wrenching transformation of the entire nation, the built environment, and patterns of settlement, but there is no alternative, it must happen.

Once the major population shifts have mostly run their course, we will then have a situation where metropolitan populations are more concentrated, and electrified mass transit will be highly feasible and necessary. Most of what is needed does not exist today. (Although to a large extent, it used to.) It would be nice if we could anticipate and start building it out now, so that it would be there when the motor fuel for most people becomes unobtainable. It would be nice, but it isn't likely to happen, at least not to anything close to an adequate extent. Most likely, we are going to need to have masses of people needing to get to work with no means of fueling an automobile before work will even get started on the necessary urban mass transit buildout. Of course, building the systems will take years, and the time is likely to be stretched out even futher given the likelihood that the economy will be stagnant at best and investment capital hard to come by.

So what will people do during the transition time, when neither driving to work nor taking some form of electrified rail transport is available?

Those who can might walk or bike, but these are not the universal panaceas that some make them out to be. Bad weather can be a challenge, and not everyone is fit and healthy enough for it.

Carpooling will certainly become increasingly popular, at least in the earlier stages of the transition. In the later stages, even a full automobile might cost too much per passenger to be an affordable option.

That leaves the humble bus, from small jitneys and shuttle services up to the largest urban commuter motor coaches. The bus as the primary transition vehicle does have several advantages. First, there are already a lot of them out there in service. It would be a pretty simple matter to retool idle auto manufacturing plants to turn out even more buses. Buses are highly flexible when it comes to routing and scheduling. They could be powered by a variety of energy options, including NG/biogas from landfills/CTG, or petrodiesel/biodiesel. IMHO, buses are one of the few justifiable uses of biodiesel, and we can probably grow enough oilseeds for these and the few other essential uses without diverting too much cropland from food production. Finally, as the chart at the top of this article demonstrates, buses are clearly more energy efficient than automobiles, and are only slightly less energy efficient than passener rail.

Thus, it seems to me that the most important thing we could be doing is to preserve and expand urban bus services, and our domestic capacity to manufacture more buses in the future. Electrified passenger rail is a longer-term project; build it out where we can, but understand that we'll still need buses to close the gaps for a long while, yet.

Buses have to be part of the solution because the expensive part, the highway system, is already in place. Also, the routes can be changed at any time with minimal cost, and they can serve low population density areas.

It is essential that we maintain the highway system. Before paved roads: "In 1900 it cost less to ship freight by railroad from the West Coast to the East than to transport it 15 miles by wagon".

As much as I love streetcars they cost about $1,000,000 each (recent New Orleans) and track and wiring is perhaps $25 million per mile or more. We will need many thousands and we have no manufacturing facility that can build that many.

Streetcar/trolley systems are needed in business districts to relieve congestion and because of expensive parking. They are also needed along the most heavily traveled routes.

Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology by David E. Nye, gives a good description of the extensive electric railway system that existed in early 20th Century.

Government grants for bus manufacturing facilities would have been a much better use of money that Cash for Clunkers. In a few years the government will be bailing out millions of defaulted car loans because owners will have turned in the keys because they can't afford gasoline. Or maybe we will have a repeat of the Atlanta fuel shortage of 2008, except it will be nationwide and not temporary.

The long term total cost/year of a single track rail for pax & freight should be lower than for a highway (those new New Orleans streetcars will last centuries, improved models of the 1923 ones that I used yesterday).

Buses and heavy trucks tear up roads at good rate.

I saw how New Orleans built their streetcars. It was more primitive than any bus manufacturing plant in the world.


There must be hundreds of smaller cities and thousands of large towns scattered across the country. Many of these are not going to be getting passenger rail service of any variety for a very, very long time. Linking the major metro areas into a network of inter-urban passenger rail links is going to be the first priority, and only those smaller cities and towns that are fortunate to be right along such routes are likely to be served anytime soon. All of the rest will HAVE to be served by long distance motor coach to connect them to the nearest large city with rail service. Either that, or they will slowly wither and die, along with the automobile.

Once governments and businesses finally realize that we are in long emergency mode, and once the economy starts its long decline, scarce resources will be dedicated to putting in new passenger rail lines only where clearly warranted. It won't take too long before they start looking at ridership on bus lines as a guide for determining where to put in passenger rail. Thus, many people are not going to be able to switch directly from driving a car to riding a train; they will have to ride a bus for years - and maybe decades - before train service is finally implemented.

We could have chosen to take the fast track thirty years ago, but didn't, so now we have no choice but to continue on the slow track.

Many areas of the US had inter-urban passenger rail by the 1920's, only to be abandoned as automobiles became commonplace. Streetcar lines were in a large number of cities, many of them as small as 25,000. The first electric street railways began in the early 1890's, so it took about 25 years to develop the network. Streetcars were a miracle to people who were used to walking or riding a horse, or worse, hauling goods by wagon through the mud.

Today's highway system probably cost many times what an electrified rail system would; however, as long as we can afford to maintain highways we may as well use them. Their demise will be declining road tax revenues as vehicle mileage declines. We had better have the next transportation system ready when that happens.

We may eventually see something like the interurban network once again. The key word, though, is "eventually". It won't happen overnight, it will take quite a while. It was one thing to build it out in the midst of a booming economy, quite another to build it out in the midst of a declining one.

Some of those highways might make good road beds for rail lines. The right-of-way is already there and all of the engineering and ground moving has already been done, so when we won't need all of those lanes any more, it is a sure bet that some lanes will be closed off and rails laid down upon them.

Thank you Nate for being sane.

I don't understand it, we are in daflation. Putting more into debt is completely wrong, a lot of these new car buyers will wind up in real trouble when the next deleveragaing leg takes place.

Here we see the government putting its citizens into debt slavery. Shameful.

One thing would be to trade clunkers for shares in US government owned land and natural resources. Conditions; shares could only be sold back to the government, shared property cannot be developed without shares losing all value, keeping undeveloped would earn guaranteed interest.

I bet next year will be the year America wakes up. Dennis Kucinich will likely be the first or him and Ron Paul. Senator Bernie Sanders is also beginning to wake up ..

2. What year will a mainstream US politician publicly question economic growth as the goal of our society**? (Bonus points if you can guess the politician)

RFK - '68 election


And we all know what happened to him, don't we?

Here is a nice comment on the Cash For Clunkers program (h/t Cafe Hayek):

Imagine you’re a member of Congress. You’re a fan of the Cash for Clunkers program. You discover that the $1 billion that Congress budgeted for the program has been spent in FOUR DAYS. The program is now out of money. What do you do?

A. Realize that $4500 per clunker was too big a subsidy and that you can achieve the same effects with a much smaller amount.

B. Worry that maybe there is some fraud in the program and that some of the cash isn’t going to clunkers

C. Increase the budget by $2 billion

The correct answer for clunkheads is C, of course. That’s the wise choice when you are spending other people’s money. What fun that must be!