Peak Oil in Four Years? Mobility and Economic Vulnerabilities

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Last week, a report was put out by a Kuwaiti research institution (chart above) forecasting global peak oil production by 2014. This follows a report last month by a broad-based British industry group that also predicted a global “oil crunch,” or shortage of supply, by the same period.

Very few metro regions, cities or businesses are prepared for the impact of these potential global issues on their economies or finances, operating budgets and mobility.

I asked Richard Heinberg, author of numerous books about peak oil and other peaking resources (freshwater, fisheries, soil, etc.), if he agreed with the British industry report, which was partially backed by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group. Heinberg said that it appeared credible, and added that having a billionaire transportation industry CEO assert that we better get ready should make people at least take more notice.

Cities, households and the economy will be impacted, as will industries. Some industries will be hurt (agriculture, retail, petrochemicals) and some sectors could be positively impacted (smart growth planners, alternative transportation providers, “smart city” technology providers, alternative fuel producers, mixed-use and infill developers)

Whether it’s bonafide peaking of global oil supplies, or a short- to medium-term “oil crunch,” the initial result will be the same. Rapidly rising gas prices and price instability should become evident by 2013, or even earlier if there are any supply shocks because of natural disasters (hurricanes in Gulf), political events, war and terrorists acts.

So let’s assume that these two reports, Heinberg, and the CEOs of companies such as Total and Shell oil have been correct–we will be facing at least a temporary oil crunch that drives prices up to or near levels reached in 2008 when oil hit $147 a barrel. What will likely happen and how can regions, cities and business in particular prepare?

Mobility Choices

The most obvious area of impact of rising oil prices is transportation and mobility. During the gas price rises of 2006-2008, U.S. citizens turned to public transportation in record numbers. Light rail ridership was the biggest winner, as was an old and reliable form of gas-free transportation, the bicycle. The biggest losers: SUVs (RIP Hummer) and personal automotive use. Across the nation, people substantially reduced their driving for the first time in decades, particularly in metro areas that had other mobility options.

One of the smartest steps communities can take to prepare for oil price and supply volatility is to maintain public transit service levels. It is especially ill-advised to cut public transit systems to fund highway or automotive-based initiatives: a transit district in suburban San Francisco, for instance, is cutting public transit service to help pay for a $75 million road improvement project.

Getting light rail funded and built by 2014 or 2015 is not likely in areas without pending efforts, so metro areas should also investigate other means of mobility investments, including:

  • Bus Rapid Transit systems or routes
  • Pedestrian-cycling infrastructure
  • Multi-modal transportation hubs
  • Car-sharing programs for city employees, businesses and residents
  • Designated carpooling stops and incentives
  • Technologies enabling transit use, car-sharing and car pooling  

Alternative Transportation

The need for higher-mileage vehicles is a given, with climate change concerns and resource constraints. Hybrids are one solution, as are electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. One consideration for using electricity to power vehicles, however, is that it puts more demand on grid energy. In large parts of the country primarily using coal to make power (Eastern, Southeastern and upper Plains states) this causes more coal to be burned, exacerbating regional air pollution, global climate change, and coal mining’s nasty environmental impacts.

In terms of automobiles or light trucks, the ideal transportation technology is photo-voltaic charged plug-in hybrids. After up-front investments are completed, these vehicles can perform low carbon and pollutant-reduced service over many years, with minimal relative fuel costs.

Biofuels are a promising solution if they are not competing for food supplies, which is the challenge of using corn-based ethanol, for instance. Celluosic biofuels from crop or forest waste products are at least five years off in terms of mass production. Hydrogen fuel cell R&D has been de-emphasized by the current US Department of Energy administration, so don’t expect any big advances in that technology in this country during the next decade. 

Real Estate

The biggest winners during 2006-2008 were mixed-used developments near transit, with walkable shopping, jobs, entertainment, and other services. Apartments and townhouses are likely to fare much better than single-family houses unless the houses are in walkable communities served by transit and local amenities. Biggest losers: Exurban sprawl, where car dependency can be near 100% in some communities for jobs, shopping, school, entertainment and socializing. The higher gas prices go, the more isolating and bankrupting this type of living becomes: and the less anyone else will care to pay for it.

Hardest hit exurban areas are in sprawled inland Southern California, Florida and greater Phoenix. Said the March 17 New York Times of Phoenix: “The worst-off of these projects were built in marginal locations on the
outskirts of the metropolitan area, and stand completely empty months
and even years after completion.”

“We’ve got some see-through shopping centers,” said David Wetta, senior
vice president and managing director in the Phoenix office of the real
estate brokerage Marcus & Millichap.

The Economy

Jobs will need to have access to public transportation, car sharing and walkable or bikeable shopping, versus the isolated exurban corporate office park. Employers or regions that cannot offer these “table stakes” might as well get out of the game, or be prepared to pay ultra high prices or extra costs, whether they are trying to attract employees, companies or industries.

Reducing long-term fuel operating costs in government vehicle fleets can be accomplished with electric, natural-gas powered flex-fueled vehicles, and alternative fuels such as biodiesel, which became more economical than oil-based fuels in certain markets during 2006-2008.

Planning

Alachua County, Florida, is the first county in the nation to begin formally assessing how long range land use and transportation planning can be optimized to address peaking oil. A handful of US cities, including Denver, Oakland and Portland, Oregon have launched peak oil task forces. My colleague at the Post Carbon Institute, Daniel Lerch, has written Post Carbon Cities, the first primer for communities on preparing for peaking oil, and that should be first on any list for recommended reading for government officials.

“Since World War II, our energy ‘normal’ has been a cheap and stable supply of oil, and we built our economies, cities and suburbs on that assumption.” said Lerch. “That era ended in 2008, and the ‘new ‘normal’ is an increasingly expensive and volatile supply of oil. Those cities that recognize this and adjust their planning, infrastructure, and revenue assumptions accordingly are the ones that will succeed in the 21st century.”
 
Technology

A variety of information and communications technology advances are being deployed or tested that will be invaluable during the next oil crunch: examples include hand-held transit system alerts and dedicated websites for car-sharing, carpooling, and for group walking or biking to school (safety in numbers). Even Twitter is being used for tweets when people need to, say, share a cab to the city from an airport.

In 2008, when oil reached its historic high, Walkscore began to be used by people who were considering buying a home, renting an apartment, getting a new job or traveling in a different city. Now Walkscore has introduced maps of whole neighborhoods so people know which locations have what types of walkable destinations surrounding them on a district-wide basis.

It’s a brave new world out there when it comes to problems that will result from peaking oil. We can either continue to live in complete denial, or we can start the process of adaptation to the post-oil economy.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute
.

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Urban Resilience Planning for Dummies



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With all the efforts going into urban climate action plans
and carbon reduction, will many cities and suburbs be caught unprepared for other
sustainability crises, such as acute water or energy shortages?

In carbon reduction management, should efforts such as
focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency deserve the highest priority,
when a city such as San Francisco produces 78 percent of its greenhouse gases from
transportation and only 17 percent from buildings? 

These are questions that both policy makers and sustainability
planners need to consider as we move into an era of climate change compounded by either
diminishing resources and/or resources that are expected to continue to have extreme price volatility, such as gasoline.  

My last post reviewed the findings of a UK industry
study
, partially backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, forecasting a major “oil
crunch” by 2014-15 that could potentially mean shorter supplies and much higher prices
for gasoline. Because US cities do not use oil for electric
power generation (Honolulu is the only one that still does),
there should be much more focus in US cities on transportation and in other key
areas that will be more severely impacted by the high price of oil. Cities should look at everything from
citizen and business mobility options, to supplies such as asphalt for street paving, to regional food
security.

At no time has effective planning, land use and public
transit been so key to ensuring economic vitality, as well as equity (access
to jobs and services with transit), environmental sustainability, climate security
and health. That doesn’t mean that increasing renewable energy and energy
efficiency shouldn’t be part of every community’s planning, projects and
budgets. It does mean that cities will need to simultaneously prioritize action
plans for carbon reduction, peaking energy and peaking freshwater, which very
few are doing, outside of those involved in the Transition Town movement.

To help illustrate the complexities of what I’m getting at, consider the following example. Water use in California accounts for 20 percent of electrical power use. This energy is needed to move water supplies
from places with water to those largely without or to treat drinking water and wastewater.

Renewable energy sources such as solar thermal generating
plants also require great amounts of water, competing for precious water
supplies that can be used for drinking water and growing or processing food.

So where do water, oil or grain shortages fit in your city’s or region’s sustainability plan? There
are no easy answers, and metro regions and cities will want to collectively consider
their own energy, water and food sources when trying to assess combined carbon reduction
goals and resource depletion risk factors.

I’ve developed some general urban resiliency rules of thumb for an upcoming chapter in the Post Carbon Institute’s Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises, which is coming out this summer from the University of California Press and Watershed Media:

  1. Planning: Enable the development of vibrant mixed-use communities and
    higher-density regional centers, that create a sense of place, allow for
    transportation choices (other than private automobiles), and protect
    regional agricultural, watershed, and wildlife habitat lands.
  2. Mobility: Invest in high-quality pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit
    infrastructure with easy access, shared connectivity and rich information
    sources, from signage to cell phone alerts.
  3. Built Environment: Design new buildings and associated
    landscaping–and retrofit existing buildings–for state-of-the-art energy (smart
    grid applications), and resource efficiency, integrated with mobility
    options.
  4. Economy: Support businesses in order to provide quality local jobs and to meet the needs of the new economy with renewable energy and other “green” technologies and services. Support local and regional economic decision-makers in adapting to the new world of rising prices, volatile energy supplies and national demographic shifts.
  5. Food:
    Develop regional organic food production, processing, and metro-area
    distribution networks.
  6. Resources: Drastically cut use of water, waste and materials, re-using them
    whenever possible.
  7. Management: Engage government, businesses and citizens together in
    resilience planning and implementation; track and communicate the
    successes, failures, and opportunities of this community-wide effort.

These categories are not
meant to be “checklist” items for sustainability or resilience planning, but
rather lay out the relevant areas that should comprise planning for integrated
metro area systems. Each metro area and every city should be looking at these
factors together, in order to model how well they are prepared to collaboratively
contend with risks such as:

 

1.      Changing
regional or local climate
:
extreme heat events, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events

2.      Prolonged
drought
, e.g. loss of mountain
snowpacks or aquifers providing water for residential, commercial, industrial and
agricultural use

3.      Oil crunches, including extreme price volatility; supply shocks from
wars, political events, terrorism, natural disasters

4.      Food security
risks
from high oil prices, drought,
energy-food competition (biofuels), large-scale contamination, etc.

Admittedly,
the overlapping and inextricable problems that cities face today can be
overwhelming, especially when budgets are tight or non-existent, and people’s
time is stretched to the breaking point.

Selective
problem solving, such as climate action planning if it is done in isolation from
resilience planning, however, may lend a false sense of security for cities on the brink
of an era that promises to be very different than anything ever experienced in
the past.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.   


 



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Preparing for 2014-15 “Oil Crunch” Forecast by UK Industry Group

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A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

“The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies…It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period,” says the report, “Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security,” funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, “there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent.”

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:

  • Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
  • Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
  • Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
  • Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
  • Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.

At the state and national government level, preparations for another “oil crunch” similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include: 

  • Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
  • Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers. 
  • Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)

Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, “Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking” (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called “peaking oil” or an “oil crunch,” many experts
see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million
barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, “some unforeseen
giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon.”

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China
(which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and
the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50
percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining
reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off
Brazil’s coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the
“drawdown” that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments
that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be
producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

“The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled,” says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy “ace in the hole,” oil sands deposits in
Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times
the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are
processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change
significantly, while also fouling the region’s water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

“Don’t let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did,” said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.

    

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The Next Decade’s Top Sustainability Trends


The top ten sustainability stories of the past
decade
was my last post.
What trends are likely the next ten years? One thing for sure, 2010 through
2019 will be one day be looked at as 1.) the turning point for addressing climate change
by using effective urban management strategies, or it will be remembered as 2.)
the time when we collectively fumbled the Big Blue Ball.

 

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1.     
Bikes Culture 2.0

Time period: 2010-2019

 

Around the world, bicycles are becoming a
potent talisman of our urban post-carbon future. The city of
Copenhagen is making noise to replace the Little Mermaid of Hans Christian
Andersen fame
with something two-wheeled. Copenhagen residents use bikes for 37 percent of
all their transit. But
bikes in Europe represent more than utility; riding a bicycle with the Velib’
bikeshare program in Paris now easily competes (42 million registered users)
with taking a spring walk along the Seine. Bikesharing abounds in dozens of
European cities as well as in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Chile. Look for North American burgs to continue their proliferation of bicycles-as-transit use
and bike lane expansion (NYC bicycle use is up 61% in two years).
Bikesharing on a large scale should follow new programs in Montreal,
Washington DC, and
Minneapolis.
Note to China: time to reclaim your status as the world’s “bicycle kingdom.” 

gestaltsmall.jpg

Indoor bicycle parking will be
common in commercial garages and offices
even in businesses like cafes, bars (Gastalt Haus in Fairfax, California, is pictured above), stores and restaurants. On public
transportation bicycles will be allowed access at any time. In short, bicycles
and their riders will become legit, which will influence fashion, the economies
and the design of cities in particular. As musician-turned-bike-rack designer David
Byrne observed in his surprise 2009 bestseller Bicycle
Diaries,
US metro areas in particular might have to be re-engineered
completely in some cases to accommodate this massive social transformation: 

I try to explore some of these
towns–Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta–by bike and it’s frustrating. The
various parts of town are often “connected”–if one can call it that–mainly by
freeways, massive awe-inspiring concrete ribbons that usually kill the
neighborhoods they pass through, and often the ones they are supposed to
connect as well.

 

2.     
Mexico City, Climate Change, and the Future of Cities

Time Period: November-December
2010

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Because “Nopenhagen” was a semi
bust, the Mexico City United Nations Climate Change conference is taking on
much bigger proportions than initially envisioned.
The UN COP15 Copenhagen conference resulted in no binding treaty status among
any of the 128 nations that attended for them to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s late fall gathering in Mexico City is likely to set
national binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions. If enacted, these
targets will set the stage the coming entire decade’s greenhouse gas reduction
strategies, including sub-national efforts at the regional and city level.
After disappointment in Copenhagen, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon lost no time in
preparing for Mexico City, calling on world leaders to sign a
legally binding carbon-emission reduction treaty
and to contribute to a multi-national fund for developing nations that will be
opened this month. Let’s hope such a fund adequately addresses sustainable
urban development in Asian cities, whose currently unregulated hyper-growth is
expected to contribute more than half the world’s greenhouse gas increases
between now and 2027.

 

3.     
The Rise of Cellulosic Biofuels

Time Period 2014-2019

 

Creating conventional biofuels
from corn, soybeans and palm oil as an alternative to petroleum-based gasoline
hit numerous roadblocks in the past decade. Carbon-sequestering rainforests in
Indonesia continue to be burned down for palm oil plantations; this unforeseen
consequence of biofuel demand caused the European Union to back off on large
orders of palm oil
.
Another big unintended consequence emerged when crude oil prices rose to record
levels in 2007-2008. Biofuels, including corn-based ethanol created competition
for agricultural land, resulting in an increase in the cost of food staples.
Global corn prices, which biofuels caused to increase an estimated 15% to 27%
in 2007
alone, were especially impacted.

19tortillas.650.jpg

 

Cellulosic biofuels, in contrast,
offer the promise by the middle of the decade of creating a viable energy
source (one of many that will be needed) from waste products, such as wood waste, grasses, corn stalks, and other
non-food products. The trick will be to balance land use with energy production
http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_rogers_biofuels.html
so that unintended consequences, particularly burning rainforests and urban
food price riots
(Mexico City in 2007 pictured above) will be a thing of the past. Backed by research funding from the Obama Administration’s
US Department of Energy (DOE), companies such as Mascoma Corporation
and Amyris Biotechnologies (with former Amyris founder Jay Keasling now at the helm of the DOE Joint Biosciences Energy Institute) are some
of the current leaders in the quest for a non-food biofuel.

 

telepresence.jpg

4.     
The marriage of ICT and Green Cities

Time Period: 2013-2019

Called “the great digital
underbelly” of new and retrofitted sustainable cities by Gordon Feller of Urban
Age
, green ICT (information and communications
technologies) holds promise for increasing the energy and resource efficiency of
most aspects of urban development. If these technologies can offset their
operating and production resource impacts (estimated to use 2-3 percent of
total industry energy used, but forecast to double by 2022),
the world could benefit from initial increased efficiencies in the 15-25
percent range
(pdf). A crowded field that includes IBM, Cisco,
General Electric, Siemens and others is positioning to implement new ICT for
sustainability in cities, demonstrating applications at the pilot project level.
Cities with pilot or operating projects in green ICT include Amsterdam, San
Francisco, Masdar City (United Arab Emirates), Seoul, London, Singapore,
Beijing, New Delhi, Mumbai,
Stockholm and Oslo. The following are Green Smart City applications and
examples of companies involved:

    • traffic congestion monitoring and pricing
      systems: IBM, Capita Group
    • water applications (leakage detection,
      purification): IBM, Siemens
    • building applications (sense-and-respond
      technologies to monitor temperature, light, humidity and occupancy): Johnson
      Controls, Siemens, IBM
    • intelligent public transportation and logistics:
      PwC, Samsung, Cisco
    • public shared offices with telepresence (pictured above): Cisco,
      Hewlett-Packard
    • home and office smart appliances that can tie in
      with smart grid energy applications: General Electric, AT&T, Whirlpool
    • smart grids: General Electric, Schneider
      Electric, SAP, Oracle, ABB
    • data centers for cities: Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco
    • carbon inventories and carbon accounting:
      Microsoft, Oracle

     

 

5.     
Implementation of Carbon Taxes

2010-2019

 

Exxon Mobil surprised many in
early 2009 when it called for a carbon tax as a way to address global climate
change. Whether the former denier of global climate change got religion remains
to be seen. Carbon taxes have been proposed for oil, natural gas and coal by
many as a way to adjust former so-called market “externalities,” or impacts
beyond classically defined air pollution, which now includes greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
A handful of nations have some form of carbon tax, mostly in Scandinavia. On
the sub-national level, British Columbia and the San Francisco Bay
Area

recently proposed some form of the tax. Costs for carbon taxes can be
passed on to consumers directly, or they could be levied on industry, which
would likely cause manufacturing and operating costs to be wholly or partially
passed onto consumers.

 

Currently, the costs of producing
and using fossil fuels do not take into account the vast damage these
activities do to the earth’s climate, which is gaining atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentrations at a rapid rate, endangering the stability of natural ecosystems, people’s health, and the economy.

 

6.     
The First Big Urban Climate Change Adaptation: Drought

2010-1019

 

A major effort at climate change
adaptation is underway in California as well as other urban areas that are
experiencing or are likely to feel the early effects from climate change.
Prolonged droughts consistent with the impacts of climate change are being seen
in Beijing, Southwestern North America (Mexico City/ LA, etc.) and urban areas in Southeast Australia.

maude barlow.jpg

 

As Maude Barlow (above) writes in her 2008
book Blue Covenant
,
cities are becoming hotspots not only for suffering from the effects of water
shortages, but in many cases urbanization may be actually creating or exacerbating the severity
of drought:

 

Massive urbanization causes the
hydrologic cycle to not function correctly because rain needs to fall back on
green stuff — vegetation and grass — so that the process can repeat itself.
Or we are sending huge amounts of water from large watersheds to megacities and
some of them are 10 to 20 million people, and if those cities are on the ocean,
some of that water gets dumped into the ocean. It is not returned to the cycle.

 

Adaptation strategies will focus
on preparing government, business and citizens for extreme heat events,
wildfires (including urban/suburban wildfires), disease, and large-scale
migration of populations from impacted areas. Some of the efforts will involve
education and community outreach, such as Chicago’s efforts to alert the elderly and handicapped to
imminent heat waves, or having people check on others that may be vulnerable
when conditions warrant. Other measures will require huge chunks of investments in
urban  public and private infrastructure
to prevent coastal flooding and to store dwindling seasonal water supplies,
while health care professionals are likely to be first responders to new climate
change-boosted disease outbreaks, such as dengue fever.
The military is also likely to be added to the mix of climate change adaptation
actors.

 

 

7.     
End of Cheap Oil/ Onset of Fossil Fuel Shortages

2012-2019

 

Besides fresh water, oil is the
most threatened increasingly imported resource in developed economies. Energy shortages
or supply disruptions are expected to continue to develop because of political
acts, terrorism, warfare and natural disasters. The issue is not that the
reserves are “running out,” but that getting at the remaining oil in a
cost-effective manner is becoming increasingly more difficult, as has been
outlined in multiple books by author Richard Heinberg (The Party’s Over, Peak Everything) and others. As former Shell Oil CEO Jeroen van der Veer said in a 2008 email to
employees
, “Shell estimates that after 2015, supplies of easy-to-access oil and
gas will no longer keep up with demand.” Add the coming impacts of global climate change regulations to the scarce oil
equation (see Trends numbers 2 and 5 in this post), and oil will continue to be
an unpredictable flashpoint for the world economy. In 2007-2008, rapidly rising oil
prices helped trigger
a deep world recession;
during the next decade oil may set off a chain of economic and civil events
that could be far more severe.

 

With market uncertainty for oil
prices and oil supplies, this new decade will witness the sunset of
exurban-style automotive dependant sprawl in the United States
and in many overseas copycat developments, particularly Asia. The overbuilt market
for large, totally car-dependent single family homes in outer suburbia is expected
by even some developers to not be viable for almost a decade, even if oil prices and supply stay relatively stable. A prolonged recurrence
of oil prices above $100-150 a barrel will drive a stake through the heart of
the exurban car-only model of real estate speculation, and will hit many other
elements (food, imported goods, oil-based products) of the Western economy.

 

8.     
Focus on Urban Agriculture and Foodsheds

Time Period: 2012-2019

cultivosorganoponicos.jpg

As fuel prices rise and unexpected energy shortages
occur, food prices will rise rapidly, especially for food that must be
transported long distances via airplanes, stored and processed. The alternative
is greater local and regional food production in and around cities. Existing
cities in Latin America (Havana, Cuba–pictured above–and Quito, Ecuador), Africa (Dar Es Salam, Tanzania; Kampala,
Uganda
) and Asia (Seoul, South Korea), have produced significant
quantities of produce or aquaculture within their city limits.
Cities in North America that have maintained or are building or rebuilding
strong regional food networks include Seattle, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia
and San Francisco. Some newly planned cities are being engineered to produce
significant amounts of food that can also be used as a potential energy source
or rich compost nutrient. Examples include Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (United
Arab Emirates) and a supposedly scalable community plan called NewVista that is expected to be prototyped in the
United States and in Asia: both are innovating the production of food from
algae and other low-energy input nutrient sources.

 

9.     
Resiliency planning: cities, towns, homes

Time Period: 2010-2019

Transition-Towns.jpg

 

Resiliency is about making a
system or one’s self stronger and more able to survive adversity. As the
previous items portend, there will no shortage of adversity during the coming
decade from climate change and energy supply instability. One of the major
social phenomena related to resiliency has been the emergence of the Transition
Town
movement,
which has grown from a few villages in the United Kingdom to Barcelona, Spain, Boulder,
Colorado, and Sydney, Australia. The founder
of the phenomena, Rob Hopkins, also a Post Carbon Institute Fellow,
has used his transition model of Totnes, United Kingdom, to devise a global organizational playbook. The purpose of transition thinking is to prepare people for potential
shortages in global energy supplies and food caused by peaking oil and climate
change. In contrast to earlier “off-the-grid” movements of the 1970s,
Transition Towns can be located in urban neighborhoods as well as in the distant
boonies, and they focus on community-scaled solutions in transportation,
health, economics and people’s livelihoods and personal skills. Tactics of
local groups vary widely, with events ranging from the familiar–clothing swaps
and art festivals to the seemingly more obscure–“unleashings,”–to
policy-laden activities, such as launching a long-term (15-20 years) “Energy Descent
Action Plan.” The emphasis is on understanding and using collective community
resources, including knowledge and skills, that people have in their own sphere
of influence, versus waiting for top-down government decrees.

 

10.  Sustainability Movie/ Novel /Art/ Song

       Time Period
2010-2019

 

 

marvingaye_whatsgoingon.jpg

There has yet to be a significant
work of popular art that I am aware of that captures the modern systemic
aspirations of sustainability. In terms of modern life, some works have focused
on environmental destruction, (Marvin Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me”), the terror
of abrupt climate change (the unsuccessful 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow), the international political subterfuge behind
oil (2005′s Syriana with George Clooney, one of my personal favorite films), and the destruction of natural
systems (Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book The Lorax) or cultural/species depletion (James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar), but no novel, song, painting or movie has come
close to depicting a fictional world of what holistic sustainability solutions
might look like, even feel like. Any suggestions of existing or planned works
that would fit the bill?

Odds are that breakthrough art successfully depicting sustainability will feature or draw upon urban culture in some fashion. After all, cities have gone from being perceived as the opposite of what the “environmental movement” has been trying to save, to the epicenter of this new revolution that is launching in a city or neighborhood near you.

 

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute
.

 

 


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The New Los Angeles: Bus, Bike, or Boogie down the Sidewalk

Whoever thinks of Los Angeles as a car-only city hasn’t been there since gas prices started their stratospheric ascent last year.

Yesterday I visited LA’s Century City and West Hollywood for meetings, and was shocked to see pedestrians everywhere, dozens of buses (the Big Blue Bus on the Westside and the red and orange Metro Bus Rapid Transit lines), as well as cyclists in bike lanes zipping up and down Santa Monica Boulevard.

The numbers from my old pals at the Bureau of Census American Community Survey support what I experienced: from 2004 to 2006 LA commuter use of public transit increased from 9.5 percent of city residents to 11 percent, which is a 14 percent total increase! Walking increased from 3.1 percent of the city’s resident commuters in 2004 to 3.4 percent in 2006. The upshot: only 67 percent drove alone to work in 2006 compared to 70 percent that did so in 2004.

Mayor Antonio Vaillaraigosa urged LA residents this week to ride public transit at least once a week to help clear up the city’s notorious traffic gridlock. Meanhwile, the head of the Sacramento-based California Bicycle Coalition estimated this week that bike ridership in Los Angeles County has increased 25 percent from 2007 to this year.

I was meeting separately with the Los Angeles Business Council and the City of West Hollywood to explore ways in which the LA area can get greener. We discussed many initiatives the city started or is planning, including its city-wide green building ordinance and a major solar power bond for business and residents backed by the behemoth Department of Water and Power, as well as a city sustainability summit at UCLA in November.

But I’m most excited about the visible change in LA that I witnessed and eavesdropped on: Hollywood business types were talking next to me at cafes about cycling and how the city needs more bike lanes, on Santa Monica Boulevard cyberkids were texting about where they were walking next, and for once no one ever asked me if I needed a ride down the block.

Blue sky, nice ocean breeze and people are getting out of their cars in Los Angeles, even editorials in the Los Angeles Times about the importance of eating local food: 

The times they are a changin’.

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Shell: “Oil Supply Will Struggle to Keep Pace” and “Environmental (CO2) Stresses are Increasing”

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Shell released this month two new scenarios about the future of energy and global climate change, and they are quite sobering. To the credit of Shell’s scenario team, they did not pull any punches, nor did its executives water down the results.

The global oil giant, based in The Netherlands, has been developing scenarios since the late 1970s as a way of informing its medium to long-term business strategy. Peter Schwartz, who now heads the scenario consultancy Global Business Network, was credited as the main innovator behind scenario planning, which takes a future launch point and asks: ”What if?”

Schwartz and Doug Randall were the authors of a prescient 2003 scenario on the potential political, security and economic impacts of global climate change that was commissioned by the US Department of Defense. 

Shell’s two new scenarios “Blueprints” and “Scramble” represent two differing visions of the next 50 years. Both project that, “by 2015, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth” and that, “remaining within desirable levels of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will become increasingly difficult.” 

Each scenario also sets the expectation for the increased growth of coal as an energy source in providing both dirty and carbon sequestered power for electricity generation. 

From this point, the two scenarios diverge.

Scramble offers up a world where nations refuse to agree on climate change mitigation treaties and efforts, instead focusing on getting energy to meet their economic needs without minding future political, environmental, climatic and corresponding economic consequences.

Under Scramble:

  • nations will only focus on getting more energy supply rather than curbing demand because “it is too unpopular for politicians to undertake.”
  • Developing nations get hit with food shortages as a result of first generation (ethanol from corn) biofuel production.
  • Coal production doubles by 2025 and dirty fuel sources such as oil sands and shale are heavily tapped, despite the exponential extra greenhouse gas emissions that result. 
  • Greenhouse levels subsequently rise to a level on a path to being “well above 550 ppmv” (what some scientists call a climatic “point of no return”) and the world hits an economic slowdown by 2020. Only then are major actions taken, but at much greater cost than if they had been taken earlier. 

The more hopeful scenario, Blueprints, presents an emerging network of government, business and NGO coalitions from the local level up to the international level that collectively reduce global energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

This passage from Blueprints was especially relevant:

In the early part of the 21st century, progressive cities across the globe share good practices in efficient infrastructure development, congestion management and integrated heat and power supply. A number of cities invest in green energy as sources for their own needs and energy efficiency…In an increasingly transparent world, high-profile local actors soon influence the national stage…Perceptions begin to shift about the dilemma that continued economic growth contributes to climate change…In addition, successful regions in the developing world stimulate their local economy by attracting investments in clean facilities made possible by the clean development provisions of the international treaties that replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. (p. 27)

I’ve seen evidence of this emerging approach through our firm Common Current’s recent work with nations and the State of California that is based on my book How Green is Your City? In How Green is Your City? I describe how some cities such as Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; New York; Chicago; and Seattle are setting the agenda for the future of our nation in their climate change mitigation policies and practices.

Now other nations are trying to develop policy based on international urban best practices. In Korea last month I met with national and local leaders on plans for developing potential green city metrics and approaches. The trip was sponsored by the US Department of State. Next month I will be meeting with European Union officials from the Environment Agency and the EU agency for Sustainability and Information Technology, ACIDD, in Brussels and Paris, where I will be presenting on U.S. city metrics and approaches.

Shell in its Blueprints scenario credits the EU as the key enabler of future international green energy systems through its CO2 pricing mechanism and carbon emissions trading scheme, which it speculates will be adopted by other countries, including the U.S. and even China. “This trading regime gives a new boost to new industries emerging around clean alternative and renewable fuels.”

Blueprints depicts an international network of zero emission vehicles, wind and solar power and electric transport, even in developing nations. It suggests that 60% of global electricity will be generated by non fossil-fuel sources by 2050. Moderated consumption of oil, meanwhile, allows “most nations to reach a plateau of oil production without the (oil) shocks that they would have otherwise experienced.”

The scenario concludes:

By 2055, the U.S. and the EU are using an average of 33% less energy per capita than today. Chinese energy use has also peaked….in Blueprints, in a critical mass of countries, people support national leaders who promise not only energy security but also a sustainable future. Initial pain has reduced uncertainty and prepared the way for long-term gain. (p.36)

 

 

 

 

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Oil Crisis or Peak Oil Preparedness: My “Smart City” NPR Interview

Surprising how little record oil and gas prices have been covered in the media, unless you count daily financial reporters covering the slumping dollar, crude supplies and inventories, the equivalent of a shell game.

I went past a gas station in San Francisco today that had regular unleaded for $4.19 a gallon, and it was a station that is typically one of the city’s least expensive. Can you imagine the impact that will have on regular working people? Now imagine that figure doubled and you begin to get my drift.

Luckily, there’s at least one national NPR show that is willing to investigate what an oil crisis or peaking oil might mean to the economies of our cities. This morning, I was interviewed for a 25-minute segment by host Carol Coletta of Smart City Radio

The show will be online and on air by Saturday.

We discussed which cities are best prepared–and worst prepared–for an oil crisis based upon Common Current’s new report “Major US City Preparedness for an Oil Crisis,” which we released this month.

Strange days: last time I was in the media related to this subject in March 2006 (oil was about $60 a barrel) The New York Times had an exclusive and ran a column on the study I put together, and all the wires followed. Now with oil at $105 a barrel after hitting its all-time inflation-adjusted high of $111 a few weeks back, there is little coverage of what these price levels or further price rises may mean to our auto-centered economy, let alone our lives.

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