We’ve moved!

For those of you who missed the last notification, we moved the Carfree Blog to the new Carbusters Online in November 2009. So check out http://carbusters.org for all the content from Carbusters Magazine plus the Carfree blog, and if you’d like to contribute, please contact us at editors@carbusters.org!

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Carbusters Team

New Carbusters Online!

"New Carbusters Online!"

Carbusters website has had a makeover!

We’re proud to announce the new and improved website offering you all the action from the magazine of the carfree world! Now you can easily browse through all back issues and test out its new features, including a donate feature offering you the chance to further support us http://carbusters.org/

The blog also moved to the new webpage. We hope you will like it!

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The Enclosed Habitat of Modern Man

© Andy Singer

Chris Coleman takes a biological point of view at the favourite habitat of the Homo Sapiens in the Post-Industrial Age.

Each species has its preferred habitat: tigers favouring plains full of grazing prey, or sloth a rich, broad-leaf forest canopy. We humans are no exception. However, we are – along with the rat – the most versatile animal going on earth, meaning that we can settle in all but the most extreme conditions. Though we may be capable of thriving in the Arctic tundra or thickest jungle, we have chosen (or the mechanisms of industrial capitalism) to settle in the cozy confines of the city.

Not unlike the bear lured in by easy food from waste bins in mountain towns, we couldn’t resist the temptations of gas heating coming to our home at the turn of a knob, or food provided in exchange for minted coins and paper notes. We have chosen the path of convenience first, creating a living environment of sterile, lifeless, climate-controlled what I’ll call “insulated boxes” (rooms) and transforming more and more wild nature into monocultural land and industrial parks.

Our Post-Industrial/Information Age has decidedly embraced these insulated boxes as home: work is done inside in front of computers and desks; purchasing our daily wares is done under ultra-bright lighting in shopping centres; and transport moves from point A to B in cars and buses. Every activity possible – even sports – seeks a controlled, air-conditioned cubed box bereft of all but human life. This is the very opposite of the spontaneity, and cooperation between a diverse range of species found in nature. The closest most city-dwellers come to nature is the park where grass, a few trees and bushes provide habitat for only squirrels, stray dogs and the occasional homeless man.

The city is clearly coiling in on its grey, concrete self, leaving the modern man sadly unaware of the miracles of the unfolding seasons. In the US, for example, the Spring’s dandelion is perceived as an obnoxious weed, not a wonderful herb used in salads, syrups and teas. Also, the city dweller is only dimly aware of the phases of the moon as the brightness of ubiquitous street lights even overpowers the magical glow of the full moon. Is it any wonder that the average citizen does little to stop the destruction of our natural forests, meadows and traditional farms when nature is so distant from their daily lives?

Sensing guilt and emptiness due to our separation from nature’s bountiful joys in the rigid grey-black cityscape, modern man over the 20th Century sought a compromise in the suburb. But poor planning led to unforeseen consequences: as the urban nucleus spread out, so did the city’s cultural and municipal services, to the point that the foundations of civic engagement such as the theatre, town hall and local pub became further apart and less accessible. Furthermore, public transport became less and less viable as urban density decreased dramatically during this exodus to the outskirts. Coinciding with the fall of the tram and train was the rise of the car, which soon clogged our streets. Where children once played ball games and neighbours shared stories is now under the reign of the car. Even children are stuck in these insulated boxes.

The habitat we’re creating for ourselves now seems to be in profound denial of what has been usual through the history of the Homo Sapiens: a sustainable interaction with nature. A mere 200 years ago, 97% of world population worked in a rural setting. Compare that with current figures where an average of 3% of citizens in developed nations work on farms (most of which are highly industrialised). Our habitat is simply not “natural” in both meanings of the word. Could this explain the alarming rate of depression  as seen in the U.S. where 30% are or have been diagnosed as depressed, not to mention the decline of ethics that define our era? There is not room in this article to analyse the solutions available, but the fact is clear that we aren’t satisfied, fulfilled humans in this artificial environment.  Its time we evolved our city into a more natural form where are parks are more wild, and transportation more self-propelled, and make the biologically rich small farmsteads of our villages economically viable again.

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An Einsteinian thought experiment about transport

Let’s remember how useful it can be to ask new questions, remembering how Albert Einstein asked himself questions that led to his discovery of the special and general theories of relativity.[1]
Are there not many questions we need to be asking about how to organise our transport — our systems and modes of transport? Our current system — globally — is massively destructive, killing millions every year, [2, 3] maiming tens of millions, [2, 3] and is a leading cause of catastrophic global warming. [4] That is just the start of the list: it also destroys space and natural life, kills tens of millions of animals every year, [5] pollutes air, water and land, requires gigantic money costs, etc. We ought to change our transport system. How?
Well, how can we think about transport? For example, what goals do we want to solve with transport? Simply put: where do we want transport to take us? Maybe there is an interesting physical relation to consider, and this brings us to a kind of Einsteinian thought experiment.
An Einsteinian thought experiment. Imagine, for example, a transport, like a jet-pack, that enables people to move in all directions at infinite speed. Then no one can move or even stand safely anywhere! One person on a jet pack — moving at infinite speed in any direction, prevents any other person from being safe wherever they may be.
That is to say, some people travelling fast and freely (e.g. by car) means that others are limited, in their ability to move or even stand anywhere! The Einsteinian thought-experiment leads to the idea that: One body moving more means other bodies must move less. I.e. when one body moves extremely fast in a range of directions, other bodies must limit their freedom of movement (speed / direction). There is a safety limit in terms of vector/speed.
This form or equation of the physical relation can describe the problems of cars, that combine (with roads) many vectors and high speed, and therefore, limit the speed/vector for other persons or bodies.
Let me try to apply this general relation to ordinary examples: A child playing in the street, is at danger when other objects/persons travel in that space at injurious speeds. The child’s range of movement (speed and vector), e.g. just bouncing a ball around, or painting on the pavement, is limited by these other moving bodies, to the extent that the child simply cannot play in the street safely. This is amazing: even extremely modest/limited movement by a child in the street is obviated (made impossible) by much more expansive (high speed/large vector range) movement by other objects. We see this historically in our societies, as children’s freedoms of movement have become extremely limited, by the spread of the car, for example, but really it is any high-speed/high-vector moving object (even a bicycle, I’m sad to have to say).
Gravity is an invisible force; and maybe what we’re working with in understanding the physical relationships of transport is also invisible, to some extent.
– The effective sphere for the imaginary jet pack I described is gigantic; as a result, the effective sphere for all other bodies (that are vulnerable to that jet-pack) shrinks to near-zero, or even zero (there is no safe place at all!).
– The effective sphere for a car-user is large — the car-user can move at high speeds along many vectors. As a result, the effective sphere for bodies that are vulnerable to the car, shrinks.
How can we use this physical relation understanding?
Movement is relative! One fast moving body means that other bodies must move slower or not at all — if they share space!
Vectors are important! If bodies don’t move in the same space (i.e. along the same vectors), then the relation is not so large. A mundane example: segregating bicycle traffic from pedestrians enables higher speed for bicyclists, and more speed/vector range for pedestrians.
We need to consider all movement in our world: it’s not just human beings who need to move around! Animals, birds, i.e. non-human life also needs to move around. And non-animate nature needs to move around too: water, for example, as considering the hydrological cycle confirms. Consider a situation where a human transport system destroyed the hydrological cycle (the movement/cycling of water through various stages and phases): it wouldn’t last long!
Walking is amazing! Perhaps the relational idea about movement helps us understand yet again (from a new standpoint) why walking is so amazingly good, and beneficial! Well, at the slower speeds of walking, one can preserve more vectors of movement. Walking down a city street, one can do a million things (and one preserves others’ freedoms also). Driving fast down that street, one cannot do much; and one limits others too. A city street only for walking (as transport) enables millions of activities — is “convivial”, lively, etc. A city street designed for moving at high speed, disables.
At a global level, we can see that new questions arise: what forms of movement (human, non-human, non-animate), are important, necessary, sacred?
Car-free is better:
(1) Given a certain amount of space, like a town of 10 km diameter, the freedom of movement is far greater without the car than with the car. The space is usable in more ways.
(2) When distances expand, and people wish to accomplish those distances rapidly, then the range of transport vectors should be limited. High-speed rail is an example of an extremely limited vector range (only the track), and so it can travel at high speeds, over large distances, without much impact on other people’s freedoms of movement. (Japan’s elevated high-speed rail tracks take it to another level!)
(3) In a sense, the car is our world’s real version of the imaginary jet-pack that I described above. It’s a technology for a person to “enjoy” transport at high speeds on a wide range of vectors. The results are there for everybody to see: the range (or freedom) of movement for others shrinks.
Cars have other wasteful/destructive qualities: among them, they have a very low density of passengers, relative to other forms of transport, like walking, cycling, buses and trains. One could have a car-free city of 50 km diameter, with high-speed motorised transport (bus, train), and be fairly safe, if the motorised transport forms were extremely segregated from other bodies.
References
[1] A nice summary of these processes of asking interesting questions by Albert Einstein is provided by the book from White and Gribbin, Albert Einstein, A life in science. (preview available here)
[2]  WHO (World Health Organization), Global status report on road safety, 2009, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241563840_eng.pdf
[3] WHO (World Health Organization), The global burden of disease: 2004 update, http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GBD_report_2004update_full.pdf
[4] “In 2004, transport was responsible for 23% of world energy-related GHG emissions with about three quarters coming from road vehicles. Over the past decade, transport’s GHG emissions have increased at a faster rate than any other energy using sector (high agreement, much evidence).” a quote from p. 325, of IPCC, 2007, “Transport and its infrastructure”, chapter 5 of the Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg3/ar4-wg3-chapter5.pdf
[5] One million animals killed every week globally was the figure cited in Natural Capitalism, the 1994 book by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. The book is available free here: http://www.natcap.org/

This article was originally published on the blog of Aaron Thomas: http://aaronkmthomas.blogspot.com/
thank you for allowing us to publish this interesting post.

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Germany: Conference “Science and Ethics”

© Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler

© Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler

Last week-end, I spent in Berlin at the Conference “Science and Ethics” which was a joint event of the German Physics Society (http://www.dpg-physik.de) and the German Scientists Association (http://www.vdw-ev.de/). http://vdw.dpg-tagungen.de/
Its topics were nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, energy and teaching of natural sciences.

My impression was that all other problems are solvable, except for the energy problem. The experts had to admit that they know no single solution which solves the problem. Therefore, they recommend a mixture. It seemed to be consensus that nuclear power plants must continue to be used because they are secure and cheap. (Uarg!) Saving energy was also recommended, but it sounded like “build cars from lighter materials and sometimes use the public transports instead of the car”.
There were arguments against each renewable energy source: wind energy is only efficient when the wind is fast enough, solar energy is used in larger scale only in Germany thanks to governemental subventions, geothermal drills
lead to earthquakes, insulation of buildings is good but advances too slowly. Agro fuel was considered catastrophic because it aggravates some other problems like water and food shortness. Argo fuel and other energies are recommended for local use only, e.g. when Brazil produces its own fuel based on sugar cane and the Sahara region produce solar energy for water desalination.
Consequently, Germany can not expect other countries to solve our energy and CO2 problems. Which leads us back to the topic of saving energy. Even a Mc Kinsey study says that the CO2 goals can only be achieved in an economically
reasonable way by cutting energy consumption. All alternatives are too expensive. Unfortunately, we need enormous cuts, not only “building lighter cars”. And this is nothing what politicians can communicate to the voters. Therefore,
scientists must do this. (Or activists!) Only one speaker emphasized that we can save a lot without suffering, because some dozens of years ago people in Germany had a comfortable life also and used much less energy.

Andrea Herrmann

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Motor Mania

For the pleasure, an old cartoon from Disney studios. Goofy stars as a Jekyll and Hyde character, Mr. Walker/Mr. Wheeler. When he’s a pedestrian he’s mild-mannered and rational; when he’s a driver he’s mad and bad. Enjoy and don’t forget to have a look at our You Tube channel.

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Peak Oil and the ARRP

© Susan VaughanMini Peak Oil Library

On Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, the New York Times published a story about new global oil finds, with the title: Oil Industry Sets a Brisk Pace of New Discoveries. That would make September 24 seem an inauspicious day for members of San Francisco’s Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force to present their final report to members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

In fact, the total number of barrels estimated to have been found equals only about 10 billion (globally people consume about 84 million per day, around 22 million in the U.S. alone). And that 10 billion, said task force chair Jeanne Rosenmeier, pales in comparison to past discoveries; discoveries of new oil fields peaked in 1962, and oil analysts acknowledge that in order to extract the oil found recently in the Gulf of Mexico, the price of a barrel of oil would have to be $60 or more — on September 25, 2009, according to MSNBC, the price of a barrel of oil was $66 on the New York Mercantile Exchange — as new discoveries are no longer the “light sweet crude” that has been so easy or inexpensive to extract for decades.

Peak Oil is defined as the point at which demand and supply meet, the amount of oil extracted from the surface of the Earth begins an inexorable path downward, and the price of a barrel of oil (and therefore a gallon of gasoline) begins an inexorable path upward. It is anyone’s guess when that moment will arrive globally (it arrived in the United States in 1970). Predictions range from 2010 to 2013 to a plateau starting around 2020. But no serious analysts are doubting that it is on the near horizon or that humanity needs to make preparations to transition from ways of life now dependent on oil — which has been inexpensive to extract from the surface of the Earth since 1859, when oil was first tapped on industrial levels, up until now – to ways of life independent of cheap energy.

A few years ago, an energy analyst with the United States Department of Energy, Robert Hirsch, produced a report famous in peak oil circles, The Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigations, and Risk Managment. Still, few elected officials or bureaucrats are talking about the inevitable arrival of expensive oil (and natural gas), and what it means for the survival of our species let alone the western lifestyle. Thanks, then, to San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi who sponsored the creation of San Francisco’s task force.

As the task force report explains, the arrival of peak oil (and natural gas) means much more than just more expensive gasoline, as so much of the 20th century’s “green revolution” and the vast increases in food production have been based on fertilizers made from natural gas, and soils tilled with gasoline-run tractors and gasoline-run harvesters. This realization — and the fact that this fossil fuel-based “green revolution” is in large part responsible for the exponential increase in the human population — should stir fear in the hearts of all able-minded adults. What’s to happen when one of the most basic necessities of humankind — food — becomes prohibitively expensive for the 6.4 to 7 billion people currently on the planet because of the increasing cost of oil?

© Susan Vaughan

© Susan Vaughan

New England’s Lowell Mills, Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution

There’s no doubt in my own mind that the arrival of peak oil will mean, at the very least, the end of the Industrial Revolution based on fossil fuels (let’s hope we do not step up our coal mining) and very likely the end of the Industrial Revolution period (“renewable” sources of energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal now provide Americans with less than one percent of all our energy needs), and that we’re going to have to figure out how to go back to more local and regional production models for everything from food to clothing.

© Susan Vaughan

TIGER: Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery

© Susan Vaughan

In the meantime, I’d like to see local officials beginning a conversation with state and national officials — and getting some of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money (H.R. 1, the stimulus package passed by Congress, and signed by President Obama, in early 2009) dedicated to preparations for peak oil and not just thrown willy nilly at “shovel ready projects” — as appears to have happened along Geary Boulevard in San Francisco where, a few years from now, this artery is scheduled to be transformed by Bus Rapid Transit anyway.

© Susan Vaughan

And on an individual level, I’m rededicating myself to gardening, as the report recommends that San Francisco step up its local food production.

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Thank you to Susan Vaughan for allowing us to publish this interesting post. It was published at first on Carfree-Talk: http://carfreetalk.blogspot.com/