From Peak Oilers to Citizens for Sustainable Living

I want to add some balance to some of the supply-side conversations we have had here at TOD. I think Stuart has done some great analyses of potential depletion curves, physics and predictions of future supply. If we can sharpen up these analyses and get people to start taking a harder look at these numbers, we will continue to see prices rise to more appropriately value this extremely precious commodity.

But then what? Demand destruction can happen two ways: (A) loss of economic activity or (B) a shift toward a more sustainable economic system.

That is why I would like to start reframing the peak oil issue from one that focuses on the negative doom and gloom consequences of inaction into one that presents a positive vision of creating a sustainable society with healthier lifestyles for all citizens. However negative the consequences, we must focus on what we are for, not just what we are against.

Here's a brief summary of what I have collected that we as peak oilers (Citizens for sustainable living?) are for:

  1. Insist on complete transparency of the world's oil reserves and production on a well by well basis.
  2. Make national energy independence a national economic and security goal
  3. Create an energy efficiency ethic in society that abhors wasteful behaviors
  4. Raise fuel economy standards for passenger cars and trucks - encourage adoption of hybrids, electric plug-ins and other more sustainable automobile designs
  5. Re-institute the 55 mph speed limit for maximum efficiency
  6. Decrease traffic through better design, congestion pricing, more telecommuting, staggered start hours, off-peak commuting incentives carpooling, etc.
  7. Invest in building and maintaining mass transit systems to connect as many communities as possible.
  8. Invest in the national passenger and freight rail infrastructure
  9. Revise building codes for maxiumum energy efficiency
  10. Encourage walking, biking, line skating and all forms of self propelled transportation through clearly marked lanes and public awareness campaigns.
  11. Encourage local food production, urban green gardens, farmer markets.
  12. Generate as much local power as possible from solar, wind, biomass, hydro/tidal and other sustainable forms of energy

I invite others to post their own ideas, elaborate on those listed above, debate which are the most important.
OK, I'm going to be unpopular here.

13. Take many of the economists (Alan Greenspan, Steven Levitt, etc... with Lou Grinzo and others excepted), line them all up against a wall and ... [fill in your own fantasy here]. Just so people won't believe the nonsense they hear about "people respond to incentives" or "when prices go up, we'll find more oil". And so therefore the Hoi Polloi won't be deluded and we will have some chance of making good on your excellent points 1 through 12, peakguy. :)
Now really, don't you think that recommending summary execution should make you unpopular? It's pretty antisocial. Don't be a wingnut.

But consider: if peak oilers can't be more convincing than
economists (?! who ever believes economists?), then we have a credibility problem of our own to solve.

I was merely thinking that the Emperor Greenspan and the others would be required to strip thus having no clothes but you, Rick, have put out the terrible thought that someone would shoot them! How could you think such a thing?

Be more convincing than economists? Unfortunately, this is not a debate but rather a struggle for hearts and minds with respect to reality. I remember when I was an undergraduate at The University of Chicago, the winner would get the glass of wine and the cookies. It was all academic. Not this time!
It's also much harder to be convincing on an emotional level than a rational level. For example, consider the exercise of debating religion. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that some people are going to believe X.

Economics comes across on the rational and emotional levels. There's some equations so people think that it's a hard science, rather than a social science, but at the same time it (currently) rings strong endorsement for an unsustainable lifestyle which is pretty comfy. Most North Americans are likely comfort addicts. How well do you think you'll be at convincing an addict to give up their drug vs. their dealer convincing them to get some money for more.

I agree that trying to bring it up as a sustainable living concept seems much more appealing, but I'm afraid that it's only going to appeal to a small percentage of the population. Heck, I've got a vermicomposting bin, long hair, eat unprocessed food, and I still react with anger when someone calls me a hippy.

And then there's the scary question of how many people are really sustainable on this earth? If the answer is significantly less than 6 billion, the uphill battle for sustainability has just become an assault against a fort located on Mount Everest.

Dave, say no more. It's obviously post-traumatic stress. I'm trying to imagine myself in your shoes, held captive for four years on an academic island, surrounded by the ghetto on 3 sides and a freezing cold lake on the fourth. The indigenous peole are all right wing economists. The only escape is a stroll to the squash courts to watch nuclear chain reactions being sustained. Who wouldn't get a bit irritable?
Dave, this is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say.  Shoot everyone who disagrees with you or doesn't share your world view?  Why don't you try seeing what you can learn from economists instead?  I suspect that you could learn quite a bit.  And some economist could learn quite a bit
from you as well.  

Economics is all about the study of the production and distribution of SCARCE resources.  There are limits to its usefulness, but it can be quite useful in many contexts.  I don't understand why you become so indignant everytime an economist suggests that these things called "prices" might produce some changes in consumer and producer behavior.  

Sorry, bad joke....
I thought it was okay. The people here lack a sense of humour.
"Citizens for a Sustainable Society"

Applause!!!------standing up first.........And for your list of ways to decrease the impact of peak oil to our society.

I also appreciate reading the wealth of information that is provided by this site.


As for me, I provide 80% of my own food and 50% of my own energy from local sources. I hope to increase my local energy use to 70% when I finish my home biodiesel reactor and increase my energy conservation standards. And no, I don't "compost my own s**t".

A sustainable society is indeed possible if people wake up in time............

Mountain Firekeeper

> And no, I don't "compost my own s**t".

Honest question: Why not?

It seems like a nice complement to your personal sustainability project. You'd be decreasing your personal water consumption by about 35% and decrease the amount of off-site inputs for your garden.  These seem like good things to me.

Don't get me wrong. I can understand being squeamish, but an indepth look into composting toilets will likely prove eye-opening.

These issues are explored in depth in The Humanure Handbook, which you can read online if you'd like. I actually bought a copy of this book a couple of years ago and have made about $50 by bringing up the topic of composting toilets, then if someone seems dead-set against the idea, betting them that if they read the book they'll change their minds, lending them the book, and finally, collecting my winnings.  I've yet to lose a bet.

Hi there 'markincalgary'!

I was just responding (with humor I hope) to some harsh comments about personal sustainable living that was made a few days ago.

Actually, I have access to an abundance of livestock manure compost that works 'magic' on my large gardens!

We have a local water source and the septic leach field is used to nurture a portion of the woodland used for wildlife habitat and eventually for firewood.

Thanks for the info!

I'm not sure those would be good ideas.
  1. Lack of transparency is helping to drive prices higher, and push conservation and conversion.  One thing it's not doing is creating complacency, and complacency is a bad thing.
  2. Not sure if independence is necessary, but dependence which supports hostile nations or movements is a bad idea.
  3. That seems to be happening.
  4. Economy standards are the wrong target.  CAFE regulations did nothing to decrease petroleum consumption in the USA; only high prices did.  If you want to cut consumption, the best way is to make every opportunity for economy an opportunity for savings.  Taxes will do that nicely.
  5. That was a bad law, widely hated and evaded at every opportunity.  Bringing it back would damage the cause.  Why not let people with Insights or electric vehicles cruise at 75, while the guzzlers have to go slow?  Give people a choice.
  6. Decreasing traffic will mean people can cover more distance (and use more fuel) in their available time, meaning some of them will do it.  This is unlikely to yield as much benefit as projected, any more than road expansions yield the relief projected.
  7. Mass transit is unsuitable for suburban and exurban housing patterns.
  8. Infrastructure is insufficient; rail has the "last mile" problem even worse than the Internet.  It needs something like intermodal systems, perhaps like Blade Runner.
  9. Good idea.
  10. "All forms" might not all be compatible with each other or the type of land use.  Some modes (e.g. skating) might be best left for recreation.
  11. Good.
  12. Local power may not be the best investment; the economics of wind or hydro might be much better 100 miles away and justify investment in transmission.  Not everything is better done locally (think of a solar installation north of a mesa); all investments should justify themselves.
As for what we could do that we are not:
  • Promote cogeneration.  Infrastructure for DSM and micro-scheduling would do more to save fuel than rails, ties and ballast, and most of it is information systems.
  • "Make the invisible visible."  Mandate economy displays on all car instrument clusters.  Add timing information to traffic lights so drivers who aren't going to make them can coast instead of being hit by a yellow with no warning.
  • Make cars complain about bad driving habits.
  • Make driving habits which use excessive energy (especially ones which force other drivers to waste energy in traffic) into citable offenses.
I'm sure others will find their own faults in the above.
EP. You're out of control here. Take #8.
Invest in the national passenger and freight rail infrastructure
Europe has a great train system, I know, I've been on it. We can't do that here? Of course the infrastructure is insufficient -- we've been living the "American Dream" one person one car for so long... what in hell are you talking about? Last mile problem? Why is that solved in Europe but we can't do the same? Blade Runner? Great movie....
Urban densities are much higher in Europe. That makes mass transit much more viable. Unusually high density American cities tend to have semi-viable mass-transit also (eg San Francisco where I live).
In the spirit of peakguy's post, I am talking about a revitalized train system that gets me from Denver to San Fransicco or San Diego or wherever and when I get there, I can take a bus or cab or light rail to get where I need to go. I am also talking about building the infrastructure to support this. Maybe that means we wouldn't spend 35 million dollars a week fighting a phony war on terrorism in Iraq.
Trains are very important in a post Peak future. How do you think we used to get around without cars and planes from city to city. Trains can run on anything: diesel, electric, coal and in the future perhaps hydrogen, . Improving our rail infrastructure is a critical investment in a post PO future.
how do you justify #1?  i don't see any major pushes for conservation, at least not in the US or most EU nations.  most analysts who understand PO think oil is WAY too cheap (Simmons believes it should cost well over $100 right now).  and what kind of conversion is happening?  please describe the massive amounts of funding (federal or private) being dedicated to this conversion.

please, describe how #3 is happening?

  1. you are right that lighter, low-drag hybrids and EV's can cruise closer to 60mph and still be near max efficiency (unlike high-drag, heavy SUV's which max out around 40-45mph), but allowing them to go to 75mph causes drastic reductions in fuel efficiency.  why should they be allowed to go that fast?  anyway, i hear about (and see) many more people voluntarily driving the speed limit in the US since gas prices spiked.

  2. this is a ridulous statement.  less traffic doesn't mean people will drive farther.  if i need to drive to work, i'm not going to go somewhere else just because there is no traffic.  there might be more vacations, scenic driving, etc. but overall that seems trivial compared to the MASSIVE loss of fuel efficiency in gridlock conditions (average speeds are often around 15mph in major metro areas during rush hour).  plus, all the losses from accel and decel during stop-and-go traffic is a major waste of fuel.  being able to cruise consistently around 60mph would reduce fuel consumption greatly.  
(Why are you allowed to use the "value" tag on a list element, and I'm not?  I call shenanigans!)

No conservation push?  I saw people slowing to 60-65 MPH on freeways; this occurred in the space of a week.  People did this to save fuel, and thus money.  Interest in hybrids is at an all-time high.  The timing of the energy bill, which was passed before things came to the public consciousness, was unfortunate; however, we can still expect the politicos to follow suit eventually.

  • Re 5:  Think customer choice.  The option to use carpool lanes is a strong incentive for people to buy hybrids.  If a high-economy vehicle such as an Insight allows people to cruise at 75 MPH rather than the 55 MPH (confined to the slow lane) they'd be allowed in an SUV, they are far more likely to buy the hybrid.  The choice is not between the Insight getting 65 MPG and the Insight getting 50 MPG, it is either an Insight getting 50 MPG or an Explorer getting 20.
  • Re 6:  People are not limited by the distance they can go, but the time they have.  Less traffic means people can cover more distance in the same time.  Suburbia and exurbia only exist because of the construction of roads which reduce commuting time to what people find acceptable.  Cut the congestion without other changes, and people will move farther away in search of lower crime and housing costs.
Another thing we can do to economize is to do something about the phenomena which drive sprawl.  Two of these are noise and crime.  If criminals were allowed little or no freedom of movement (home, work, and little else) neighborhoods would be safer.  If we outlawed aftermarket motorcycle exhausts, boomer cars and internal combustion lawn gear, people would find it much more comfortable to live closer together.  If those problems are not controlled, sprawl and its attendant energy-use patterns will continue.
i'm not even sure how that list happened.  i think there was some auto-format option that took over...

i agree on #5 that a hybrid getting 50mpg is much better than an SUV getting 15mpg.  unfotunately, you contradict yourself with #6.  if people are slowing down, they take more time to get where they want to go.  why are they doing this?  to save money of course.  but in #6 you claim that time is the main issue, and that they will sacrifice money by driving farther without traffic.  i don't think that's likely with gas over $3/gal.  maybe if gas prices collapse, but i find it hard to believe people will move even further away from their jobs when gas prices remain this high.  extra time is simply outweighed by monetary concerns for most at this point.  perhaps you would argue that they really wouldn't have to pay more if they could cruise at 60mph instead of fighting 15mph stop & go.  perhaps, but then i would say that you've violated your original argument that they would consume more fuel, because now they're getting better fuel economy and just driving's a wash...

so E-P are you suggesting some sort of concentration camp for the "criminals"?  home, work and little else...i'll leave the policing effort to you on that one ;D

if people are slowing down, they take more time to get where they want to go.
Not much; the difference between 60 MPH and 70 MPH over a 30-mile stretch is all of about 4 minutes.  But the differences get more and more significant as the distance increases, and it doesn't take much 15-MPH stop and go to make up the difference from a lot of 70 MPH cruising.  Eliminate the congestion and you free up time budget, and the savings from less fuel burned in traffic plus the freed time can make a move further into exurbia quite attractive.

Peak-hour tolls could perhaps keep people from adding themselves to congested roadways.  Adaptive cruise control could smooth out the traffic so that it goes 25 MPH smoothly instead of 15 MPH jerkily.  The problem is to keep the solutions from removing people's incentive to make more of the problem.

so E-P are you suggesting some sort of concentration camp for the "criminals"?  home, work and little else...i'll leave the policing effort to you on that one ;D
We already have them; they're called "prisons" for parole violators.  Enforcement is done with things like electronic tethers and parole officers.

If the crime-prone find themselves with few alternatives except to sit at home, work or go back to prison, more of them will work instead of making trouble.  The fewer of them make trouble for the law-abiding, the more liveable cities are.  The more liveable cities are, the less pressure people feel to move to suburbia and exurbia.  This translates into much lower energy requirements for a decent standard of living.

1) Regarding lack of transparancy, depending on just what the numbers are, they could be keeping the prices down. For instance, lets suppose that 2007 oil production is going to be 86.5mbpd and that it will never go higher than that. Once one person looks at the well by well numbers and extrapolates the decline rates to find out that we've got one year of increased production and then definitively oil production will only go down hill, how do you think that will affect prices? I could see oil becoming 10x more valuable over night as everyone trys to store up some of this black gold.

2) A goal of every nation should be to be fully sustainable within it's rights. No country wants to have to import food. Similarly with the degree of importance that energy relates to economy, no country should have to import energy. But since most energy today is from use once sources, if you don't have any left, the sources get transported. And dependence on this occurs. Instead, the government should pay for the oil/lng shipments and use them to build renewable energy sources in country. Most heads of state agree that needing to import food for people is a bad thing, but I don't see why they think that it's ok to import food for the economy.

3) Are you sure? SUV's are still being sold. When car dealers junk unsold SUV's because the local teens keep covering them in paint and smashing their windows, then I might say that we're developing a energy ethic. When I read a blog of a friend of a friend who brags about the fact that his two cars both get less than 10 mpg, and that so long as he can afford it it's his right to drive them like the muscle cars they are (and get even worse mileage), we don't have much of an energy ethic going on.

4) I disagree. Part of it is that you're piling regressive "solutions" on top of each other. Taxes on consumption are going to hit the poor hardest. Not forcing manufacturers to increase the MPG means that low MPG beasts will continue to be made and this will help fight against point 3. Furthermore, since the rich will be demanding a lot of oil this will help raise gas prices still further to hurt the poor more. Eventually it will become a status symbol to drive a low MPG vehicle and drive it everywhere. Instead if CAFE standards are raise dramatically (and in a meaningful way; don't allow one to sell Hummers just because they also sell a few high MPG cars, have the CAFE standards apply to each model), then each year as standards get higher, horse power goes down, and people get used to the newer (read: progress) cars being more economical in every way. Knowing that newer == economical will help make an ethic of wise energy use.

5) Policing the some go 55, some go 75 would be problematic. However, setting the max at 55, and strongly policing that, while it would cause great upset initially would eventually start helping the ethic of energy use.

6)I agree that this could be problematic in the Jevon's paradox sense. On the one hand it ostensibly allows better fuel useage as there's less slowing/speeding up to avoid other cars. But as you point out, it could cause more people to drive since there's open lanes, and it could cause people to want to go faster for the same reason.

7) I disagree. Either with large parking lot park and rides (or even better, park and rides with lots of structures for locking up your bikes (SF had some boxes that would fully enclose (and obscure if there's a bike in there) a bike, so one could even leave equipment on it for the full day. One can bike 1-3 miles from the bus stop home without it being too much of an inconvenience. But the infrastructure has to be there.

8) Well, Rail is only lacking the last mile if you discounted part 7. With good mass transit, you could take that after the city to city trains.

10) I think all forms should be recommended, but not all mixed. There should be bike lanes (or actually allow bikes to use a full lane, and stiff penalties for any car who tries to split lanes with a biker, and very stiff penalties for coming in contact with a biker), and use the sidewalks for pedestrians and skaters. Generally when people are skating for a decent distance they're not going full tilt, which allows them decent maneuverability to avoid walking pedestrians. However, the bike/car issue is where the biggest problem will occur. In theory bikes already do get a whole lane, but most areas have laws stating that bikes must stay to the extreme right of the lane, thus allowing cars to split the lane with them. And eventually someone finds out that the side of their car/passenger mirror is not where they thought it was. Or they swerve a bit because of the cell phone. And then they get a $150 ticket for swerving and no criminal liability for the bicyclist that they've just sent to the hospital. Heck, the damage is probably small enough that their insurance won't even go up.

  1. When car dealers junk unsold SUV's because the local teens keep covering them in paint and smashing their windows...
    ... then the eco-terrorists will have won. ;-)

  2. Not forcing manufacturers to increase the MPG means that low MPG beasts will continue to be made and this will help fight against point 3.
    Low-MPG beasts are necessary for some purposes, which is why the "light truck" exemption was written into the CAFE regulations.  We know what THAT led to.  You can achieve better results by giving people incentives to buy the most economical vehicle which serves their needs (and discourages them from re-defining "needs" to include such things), and using such vehicles for only those trips which require them.  Price fuel high and let the market sort it out; individual initiative will find more solutions than government fiat.

  3. Policing the some go 55, some go 75 would be problematic. However, setting the max at 55, and strongly policing that, while it would cause great upset initially would eventually start helping the ethic of energy use.
    Forcing everyone to go 55, whether they have the ethic or not, punishes the thrifty along with the wastrels.  You were the one complaining about low-MPG vehicles; why would you forego such a great opportunity to persuade people to either not buy them or leave them at home?

If I buy an electric car that will cruise at 75 MPH, there's no reason to hold me down to the double-nickle in order to save petroleum.  The people who do such things ought to be rewarded in appropriate ways, and that's one.
... then the eco-terrorists will have won. ;-)

Eh, it seems like no matter what happens some kind of terrorists win.

Yes, low mileage (or rather high horse power) machines are needed in some instances. However over the last few decades mileage hasn't gone up that much, but horse power has gone up plenty. We don't need a pickup truck which can pull a transport truck trailer; that's what transport trucks are for. If it there were going to be an exception for light trucks, there should be one style per manufacturer which gets the exception, and the horsepower should probably be limited to not be much higher than the vehicles were in the 70's when they were still fine for the light truck uses.

But ultimately, whatever legal instruments one uses, there's always going to be some exploitation. It's sad, but at this point, I think the best thing would be to first do a quick ramp up of public transportation and then incrementally increase the gas tax each month on an announced schedule. Sure, it will be regressive, but only regressive for the poor who still think they "need" a car. Heck, why isn't public transportation free? Get the funds to run it from property and gas taxes.

It's hard to really not think of a car as a necessity, which I think is why I probably went on the bit about CAFE standards.

Regarding the policing of the new vehicles, it would be too hard for someone to know if the engine is gas or electric before the vehicles pulled over. Sure, some models might be quite distinguishable. Perhaps make one apply for a permit where they get some electronic transponder which enables them to drive at higher speeds on the free way. But then the people who value their privacy won't be able to drive more quickly with their more efficient vehicles.

There's a simple way to handle the identification stuff:  different color of license plate (something that can be detected by a laser scanner, even).  You don't need per-vehicle ID, you just need to make sure that the license plates aren't issued for ineligible vehicles.

Public transportation is no solution for suburbia, exurbia and rural areas.  There is a minimum population density required to make buses effective, and most of the USA doesn't have it.  This isn't going to make trains effective, either; if you have single-family homes on 1/2 acre lots with 50% overhead for access roads and 1.5 workers per household, you're only going to have 1280 workers per square mile.  I don't know how many people you need to serve to make a train station worthwhile, but I doubt that you're going to get enough people within what Americans would consider acceptable walking or cycling distance.

Energy costs cannot change past patterns of development; the automobile did not erase New York's brownstones, and $5/gallon gasoline will not erase the ranch houses on one-acre lots.  What will happen is that new development and redevelopment will change its location and character.  When it becomes cost-effective to pay for enough police to control crime, people will come back to cities like Detroit; they will redevelop the abandoned blocks even if they have to turn them into fenced and gated communities.  Charter schools will get around the dysfunctional districts full of children raised in contempt of learning.  When it becomes worthwhile to do that, people will turn back from suburbia and exurbia to the cities.

Or they might just buy enough batteries to run cars without gasoline.  Either way, life goes on.

Isn't driving a blunt car waaaay fast a waste of energy no matter whether it is powered by gasoline or by electricity from an oil- or gas-fired plant?  I could see special consideration for truly streamlined vehicles that maintain good mileage at higher speeds.

Or, perhaps we should limit single-occupant vehicles to 55, doubles to 60, triples to 65, etc.  Greyhound buses, of course, could go about 250 mph :-)


If someone wants to pay for enough batteries to drive a blunt vehicle through the air at 75 MPH, and e.g. enough wind turbines and solar panels to charge them, why should we tell them they can't?
In today's world, what is the
likelihood that electricity
comes from wind or solar?
Rising at something like 30% per year?
30% of what, a few percent?

And is the idea of sustainable
living to learn to live on less
energy, or to find alternate
sources of energy and use them
just as inefficiently as before?

30% a year doubles every 2.6 years.

The Earth is literally bathed in energy.  A square meter of land in mid-Kansas receives 1550 kWh of sunlight in an average year, and a fair amount of wind besides; at that rate the roof of an 1800 ft^2 ranch house receives 259 MEGAWATT hours of solar energy alone.  That's equivalent to:

  • 1 kW continuous electrical power, plus
  • 65 million BTU of natural gas for space heat and hot water, plus
  • 1000 gallons of gasoline.
And you'd still have 196 megawatt-hours left over!

We have no shortage of energy, just fossil energy.  There is no need to conserve the sun and the wind.

That would be great in a Tom
Swift book, but in the real
world all that wind and solar
energy requires a significant
investment of fossil energy to
actually harvest.  When we start
using wind and solar energy to
build wind and solar, then we
can consider spending energy on
inefficient vehicles.
Many types of energy are fungible.  You can't tell if the aluminum in a wind-turbine blade was refined with wind, hydro, nuclear or coal power; to the extent that the next blade displaces energy from coal anywhere in the world, it is doing exactly what you demand.

Wind farms pay back their invested energy in much less than a year.  If wind farms were to devote all their energy to making more wind farms, they would grow somewhere between 240% and 1300% per year.

If and when.
I have a different perspective towards conservation. Starting to conserve now will hurt us later. Not because of Jevon's paradox but because we will be grabbing the low hanging fruit too early. When we reach peak oil we will need to have some easy ways to reduce consuption available until we can make the transition to sustainable forms of energy. By all means develop alternative forms of energy now, they reduce the percentage of energy derived from oil, lessing the impact of depletion later. Having mass transit available, particularly if it isn't used yet, would also ease the transition.
But if we start conserving now, it might be possible to flatten out the peak. I mean, we're either there, or near it (IMHO—don't flame me, OK?), so conservation now will help us stretch out our time at the top of the peak.
I agree with Ianqui. The more we conserve now, the easier it will be to make futher cuts later rather than a wholesale fall off a cliff that would result in a very way of reducing demand - economic stagnation.
I think it's a great idea to move towards a positive approach.

Since this is a global issue, consider a more global approach. This list looks very American-centric--certainly points 2, 4, and 5 lean that way. And that implicitly assumes an effort to keep what exists now--point 4, 5, and 6 sound like efforts to maintain the US car culture. They are all good ideas, and all need to be done, but they are just a start, and will take a long time to get traction.

Don't confuse energy independence with sustainability. Being sustainable may make you energy independent, but being energy independent (say, by drilling ANWAR and digging all the uranium and burning all the coal) won't make you sustainable.

I'm amazed at how consistently press reports blame excessive demand for oil on China and India's thirst. Yes, they are asking for more oil at the margins. But America is the base load, and a far, far larger consumer than anyone else. The US has a moral obligation to cut consumption far more than any other country--and has far less of a sense of responsibility to the world. There's a lot of denial to work on.

amen, rick.  delusion runs deep in the States.

the distinction between sustainable living and energy independence is also well stated.  over at Post Carbon we have many groups working on the transition to a sustainable way of life.  

Yes indeed.
The US has a moral obligation to cut consumption far more than any other country--and has far less of a sense of responsibility to the world. There's a lot of denial to work on.
Absolutely right. With not quite 4% of the world's population, the US uses about 24% of the world's oil (20.7/mbd) and emits about the same percentage of CO2 worldwide. And with an unrelenting sense of entitlement to all that consumption. Whoa to anyone who interferes with that! There is indeed a lot of denial to work on.
ANWR is interesting. Should will drill and produce it ASAP? Matt Simmons and the other republicans think so. What do you folks think?

They're planning to quietly clear the lease sale in the next few weeks.

I could not agree more with the spirit of this effort.  And I'm gratified that upthread Dave has exempted me from being nekked in public; Dave and I have never met, but trust me on this point--his judgment is sound.

I think that one of the guiding principles of good energy policy should be to use the simplest, most flexible mechanism(s) possible to achieve the desired goals.  To me, that means (in part) using the minimum number of legal and regulatory interventions, and keeping those you do use as broad as possible.  The recent Bush proposed rules change about increasing CAFE standards very modestly, and indexing them to vehicle weight is a terrific example of getting it wrong, IMO--if GM is reworking aan SUV and they can't quite make the MPG rating for its weight class, they suddenly have an incentive to make the vehicle heavier so it has an easier MPG target.  

I've mentioned before that I think we need a new gasoline tax with a pre-announced schedule of increases, to encourage people to think longer term and move to more efficient vehicles.  I would also want to use part of that revenue stream for building renewable energy facilities, like wind farms.  We're right at the beginning of a transition of our transportation energy from oil to electricity, so improving our electricity generation capacity and the grid overall are key components of an effort to move away from oil.  (Plus, natural gas will be the next fossil fuel to peak, making winter heating demand move to electricity, also.)

Investing in mass transit is a good thing, and I would love to see Americans use it more often.

I would add a major effort to educate the public about the realities of our energy situation and the personal benefits to them in the short run as well as the longer term of conserving.  For example, show people how they can get 20 to 30% better mileage from their existing car, and save $X per week, just by changing their driving style, and you get their attention in a hurry.  If they do the right thing for selfish reasons, that's fine, as long as we find a way to get them to do the right thing.

I'm convinced that people are basically lemmings and won't care about any of these things until they have no choice but to care. Look at the mentality of the typical SUV owner and you'll see what I mean.

So I think things have to get bad before people will want change. Human history clearly shows that we always try to go the easy route, then we end up with a mess that needs to be cleaned up down the road. We may have intelligence, but that doesn't make the average person very smart.

Maybe I sound a little elitist, I'm really not. I simply don't have any faith in humanity. For thousands of years the forward thinking ones among us have had to drag the rest of society along kicking and screaming. Look at Galileo. Most people from his time couldn't accept his POV. He was considered a threat to TPTB and was persecuted for it. He questioned things that people had long believed to be true. Sure society eventually learned that he was correct, but it took far too long. So how can I have any faith in humanity to deal with a problem of even greater magnitude now? This is far more in our interests to "get right", yet only now do you see hints that a greater number of people are taking this seriously.

I'm with you, bud.  I try not to drive, but when I do get out on the road with my Prius, what do I see?  Six to ten Hummer H2s in an hour.  That's our world in a nutshell.

Let's face it, it is a fringe activity to conserve gasoline.  We are like the vegetarians or physical fitness enthusiasts.  We can make lists all day, but they are going to be for us.

The status quo will continute unless (not "until") something upsets it.

Now, we might have some pretty graphs that say something will happen, and that people will have to adjust, but we can't be sure.  We might end up (oh, no) like Mac users - sure we have a better way, but waiting DECADES for the world to join us.

burn Vegetable oil in yur cars!!!!

I converted my 82 MB 300d to run on recycled Vegetable oil that cost 5 cents a gallon to filter.

Why aren't more people doing this!?!?!?!?

If everyone did that, there would be a shortage of recycled vegetable oil, and it would become more costly than gasoline. It's a matter of scale.
I think rising fuel prices will effectively kill airline transportation in future. That leaves a tremendous gap in transportation globally. What replaces it? Dirigibles? Ocean liners? Sailing ships?

Rising fuel prices will eventually force many US trucking companies to hang it up as well. This alone, due to the number of companies and people involved, and the lack of any viable alternative, is extremely problematic in terms of transition. Ship point to point and then use EV for distribution in cities? Switch to truck-trains like in Australia, with hubs outside the city proper? All the rail spurs to suburban and rural locations have been pulled up and salvaged. All that is left is big city to big city basically.

I do think the suburban layout can be worked using EV and local light rail. It works with buses already in many cities - just punt the buses and replace with light rail. Then use EV to get to the train station, which is nearby. For trips under 120 miles, 12VDC lead acid batteries will work fine - you don't need anything fancy, just something cheap people can afford. Gas prices will do the rest.

One of the biggest problems facing the US is that it is a system totally designed for personal vehicle transportation. So how do you make this work to your advantage? How do we use the interstate highway system rather than let it fall into disuse?

If we go for building new infrastructure, the cost and time line makes success more problematic. So how do we rethink things and use what we have already built?

High oil prices will kill air travel? Not as long as the US administration consider it something good to have. Already airlines aren't fully passsing on the high costs of fuel and are selling tickets for less than it actually costs to fly, knowing that every few years the US will bail them out to the tune of billions, just so we can keep the skies full.

I'd like to see the administration take a hardline stance that if a company at any time from this point on, sells tickets which enable people to fly for less than the cost of the trip is ineligible for any bankruptcy protection.

It would be quite the shock to the consumer when US air fares started being comparable to Canadian Air Fare (it costs less for me to fly to the UK or anywhere in the US than to fly from the center of Canada to either coast), and there will be a lot less volume. People will have to adjust to the fact that some flights only run once every 2-3 days instead of 2x daily, to keep flights full with the lessened demand. But that's just the cost of doing business, and moving people thru the air is a costly business.


#2 is very important - it needs to be understood this has a high priority. The federal energy department should have the prestige of the defense department, and the good administration and much higher funding levels to match, and other government localities should make it a priority too (many already are).

#7, #8, and #10 could make a big difference too. A good part of the increase in energy spending should go to mass transit, rail, and local walkability infrastructure, to make a significant dent in our transportation energy problem.

Of the others, I don't think most will actually be helpful as government-imposed solutions; these are the sort of things that work best by working WITH the market, rather than against it. Make sure energy prices stay high; tax fossil energy use heavily, and we should make quick progress an all the efficiency-related measures, and it will encourage alternative energy sources too.

The one other thing not on your list that's needed: very heavy investment in R&D and demonstration projects for energy alternatives. The piddling 1 GW levels of wind and solar today need to be magnified a thousand times at least to make a significant switch away from fossil fuels possible.

1. Reform real estate development practices to allow walkable, mixed use developments that are more easily served by transit. Approximately one-third of the market would like to live in such neighborhoods, but new development is hindered by government and industry obstacles. We need reform to allow greater freedom of choice in neighborhood types and the transportation modes that are available in them. Areas that need reform include zoning, land use codes and regulations, financing, insurance, tax policy, treatment of environmental externalities, and government subsidies and locational decisions.

2. Reform gas taxes so that driving is not subsidized, and institute congestion charges in more places. The inflation-adjusted federal gas tax is now lower than its 1959 peak, in spite of three separate increases over the past 20 years. Gas taxes only cover 35% of all federal, state and local expenditures on highways, while 61% are covered by vehicle taxes, property taxes, income taxes and bonds. That doesn't begin to account for expenditures on police and emergency services, and the costs of pollution and other externalities. Therefore, people who drive more are subsidized by those who drive less. Gas taxes in the U.S. usually don't cover municipal street expenditures, so people who mostly use highways are subsidized by people who mostly use urban streets.

The spatial inequities are huge. The American landscape is the result of a century of state and federal highway investments directed to suburban and rural areas, consistently shortchanging urban areas. The money went to gold-plated highway projects serving rural areas and sprawl on the metropolitan fringes. Also, state and local formulas for distributing highway funds are often biased. Therefore, many urban areas contribute significantly more in tax receipts than they receive in state highway fund allocations or local transfers.

Amen LA. Urban, regional planning needs to redesign out living environment to better conserve energy and create more dense living areas.
RE airlines

Sure, the government will bail them out, and their pension funds will be trashed and the taxpayer will pick up the bill. But every time this happens, the dollar is devalued as the Fed prints more money to cover it.

The government bailing out these big companies is creating a pension fund insurance crisis already.  

To say that the government will bail out airlines forever is not valid. If they persist in doing this for US airlines and automobile companies, then the resulting inflation will tip over quite a few precarious financial apple carts. Then we will see true demand destruction...

A motion to advance a positive agenda, rather than simply standing in opposition to the status quo, is always in order.  Well done.

Rather than commenting on the particulars of your proposal, I wanted to point out that what you are doing here is trying to reframe the debate around energy and sustainability.

In that context, I highly, highly recommend that you read George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant.  The author is a linguist and cognitive scientist who is interested in how the way people think influences politics.  It's a short, easy read, and makes some very critical points about what is required to change public perception and generate political will.

Also, Lakoff runs a thinktank called the Rockridge Institute, which works on the reframing problem.  A good bit of the contents of his book are available for free on the website.

That's exactly what I'm proposing. We need to provide the world with a solid plan B rather than going to war with each other over the remaining resources. I will pick up that book. We can't just sell fear and hope people change. Good marketing requires setting a problem that you have already solved for the consumer. It won't be easy, but together, we can work toward a more sustainable future!