NYC Energy Solutions: Thursday afternoon

First, I just want to say thanks to our guest bloggers who will be keeping you updated on the NYC Energy Solutions conference going on this weekend. We hope to keep those of you who could not attend updated.

Unfortunately, due to my real world obligations, I was only able to attend the afternoon sessions of the meeting, but I'll take up where Baloghblog left off in the previous post.

The first session I attended was on energy-efficient transportation, featuring Aaron Naparstek, Charlie Komanoff, Paul Steely White, and George Haikalis. All of them are involved in trying to make New York City more efficient for bikes and pedestrians, and less auto-oriented. As NYC residents know, we have a unique opportunity to drastically reduce the amount of car traffic in New York City, precisely because there are already so many other transit options available. The speakers presented several ideas for reducing car traffic in NYC, including congestion pricing, reducing the amount of garage space in the central business district, disallowing privileged on street (and sidewalk!) parking for police and diplomats, and making train-to-subway access less difficult. These speakers are also bicycle activists who are working hard to get more buffered bike lanes around the city so that biking is also a real commuting option.

Charlie Komanoff added a new angle to the panel by discussing the cost of CO2 emissions. He noted that in the past, efforts to reduce carbon emissions have been ineffective, since they ended up gaming the system (CAFE), being circuitous (renewable energy credits), or diluting the real goal (incentives for hybrids). Komanoff advocates a significant gas tax, to be phased in over a relatively long period, and which would include either a rebate of approximately $1400/yr to taxpayers or a shift out of regressive taxes while the populace is still transitioning to a lifestyle with gasoline at $6 or $7 a gallon.

After the transportation session was a session on permaculture. The first two speakers Andrew Jones and Andrew Philips mostly just described what permaculture is, and talked about their own backgrounds in getting interested in it. The last speaker, Keith Morris discussed some ways that New York City residents might start getting involved in permaculture, like advocating for green roofs, and agriculture in parks and empty lots. Another idea would be to publicize local agriculture by getting chefs and celebrities around the city to join a competition to see who could use the most local ingredients in an Iron Chef-style match.

The last talk I saw was by Matt Savinar. In fact, I don't need to give too much detail on that, since his notes for the talk are available here on his blog. The AlphaMaleProphetofDoom addressed 5 questions that he's often asked by readers, including "Why are people in so much denial", "How should we deal with our depression", "What's the most important determinant in how PO will play out", "How should our communities prepare", and "Should I be writing my elected officials".

Again, you can read his blog post, but I took the highlights of his message to be:

  1. The more money you have, the better off you'll be. Similarly, writing politicians is inefficient; instead, try to get the rich people to come over to your viewpoint.
  2. People are hardwired for survival, and all of their actions should be interpreted in this vein. Thus, people will always prefer the short-term solution, since this maximizes their changes of survival.
  3. In order not to stay constantly depressed, you need to divert your attention with other things. In his case, it's celebrity and sports scandals.
  4. The best way to help the community is to create jobs for 16-25 year old males. You can read more about this on his blog.
Matt seemed particularly worried that especially young people (under 35) are not sufficiently concerned about PO. I got the feeling that this affects his personal relationships, because it means that he and his peers bring different assumptions to their relationships, and can't always discuss the same issues (e.g. what's the use in talking about social security benefits and long term investments for retirement if the market is going to collapse between now and then).
I share Matt's concern for our generation since I'm 30. Talking seriously about peak oil can get very socially isolating. I've started using humor and sarcasm in mixed company as a way to blend in my PO messages to conversations and that seems to be somewhat more effective. I also find that talking to people one on one over lunch or coffee can be much more effective than sending out mass emails or ranting on discussion boards. They can see/hear that you're genuinely concerned about the issue and it's natural for someone to at least empathize with your concern. When I actually get into arguments with people, I don't dismiss their arguments about alternatives, oil companies, price fixing,etc, but instead I try to determine and then systematically call into question their assumptions. All we have to do is raise reasonable doubt to start the ball rolling. I unfortunately agree with Matt about money talking louder than politics. I'm going to start heading over to the richer part of my neighborhood and see how I can start to influence that group. I think the Greenmarket in the heart of that neighborhood will be a good starting point.
I don't know if this is the proper place to put this, but Michael C. Ruppert has put his speech on line at his web site - which he says is the most important speech of his life:

From the Wilderness

Ah, but he knows how to reach people on an emotional level, something that works well with the masses.  It is the same game TPTB play.
Perhaps. But the emotion he goes for is fear. And any screenwriter or political demogogue knows that's the easiest emotion to play. Likewise, I don't see Ruppert reaching a particularly wide audience. He preaches to the choir -- a choir in need of a very large dose of Paxil.  
Ruppert: Profound, pathalogical narcissism. Of course, in the end, he's right about everything. We're all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!! This man should not be allowed to speak to large crowds.
I share your concern about the future, Peak Guy even though I am far older than I care to admit. As far as taking care of oneself: if you are lucky enough to have at least some investable funds, your knowledge of Peak Oil can help, big time, because it is so clear that the Republicans will do nothing about either the oil or trade situations. It is open season on the dollar; gold and oil are heading up.

Normally these bets would be harder to press: when speculators get too greedy, smart policymakers (think Clinton's Treasury Secretary and previous ace currency trader, Robert Rubin) know when to intervene and make the thoughtless trader pay. Not so now. Bush believes in maximizing Big Oil's profits rather than transitioning to a sustainable world, doesn't know about gold, and could care less about the dollar. Right now the intuitive bets are far easier to profit from than they have ever been, or may ever be.

So while Social Security may be less dependable than it used to be, those who can learn about finance and take advantage of knowledge about Peak Oil, can sock some tidy profits away. You might as well do it while you can.

I want to temper my previous comment just a bit. I was writing from my own experience of many years in the markets. I do NOT want to encourage new traders (or anyone else) to bet more than they can afford to lose on risky positions. That would be the height of irresponsibility. And I did try to encourage, "people who can LEARN about finance [emphasis added]." Most of us traders (me included) have had some rather hard lessons along the way.

And while we are seeing a rare set of "one-way" markets now, as always, there will be backing and filling, even if broad trends are left intact -- and failing to see this can be costly. It is human nature to take profits after things have gone well, and for those caught leaning the wrong way, to get out when they get back to breakeven. Markets always behave like that and probably always will.

But my main point still stands. Rarely has the economic interest of the United States seemed so nakedly unprotected, or the general direction of such major markets seemed so clear.