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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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/

Public Transport Can Compensate Job Losses in the Car Industry

© Andy Singer

© Andy Singer

Public transport is a significant provider of jobs. For instance, in Europe, public transport operators alone create one million direct jobs.  Every direct job in public transport is linked to four jobs in other sectors of the economy. Public transport creates 25% more jobs than the same investment in building roads or highways. At a meeting of the Policy Board of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) hosted by De Lijn from 13 to 16 October 2009 in Ghent, Belgium, worldwide leaders of the public transport sector called on governments to invest in the public transport sector.

“Public transport provides green local jobs. In many cities, the public transport network is one of the major employers, and such jobs cannot be delocalised,” said Alain Flausch, President of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP).

Public transport empowers the economy in general. In addition to the creation of sustainable, green and local jobs, public transport strongly supports the local economy by, among other things:

– Reducing congestion: congestion costs a minimum of 2% of the national GDP and between 2 and 8% in the European Union, which represents EUR 200bn.

– Alleviating the burden of energy costs: energy consumption for transport per inhabitant is four times lower in cities where the majority of trips are made by public transport and sustainable mobility. It helps economies to reduce their dependency on fossil fuel and improves their balance of payments.

– Reducing the cost of transport for the community: 50% less in terms of proportion of the urban GDP, in cities with a high share of public transport, walking and cycling; and

– Creating added value: every euro of value created from public transport is linked to a further value creation of EUR 4 in the total economy.

The magnitude of the current financial and economic turmoil shows that it is a systemic crisis calling for an in-depth change. This is the right moment to trigger a societal change and abandon the car-dependent lifestyle.

“It is time for a new mindset in the transport approach. A car-based economy is simply not sustainable. We call on governments to invest in the public transport sector as a sustainable lever of the economy,” said Hans Rat, Secretary General of UITP.

Brussels – October 20, 2009

www.uitp.org

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Taking Back the Streets one Bicycle at a Time

© Andy Singer

© Andy Singer

In Detroit, there are cars. And then there is something known as “non-motorized transportation.”

That means bicycles, y’all.

Believe it or not, people in the Car Capital of the World love their bikes. And there is a huge movement to create a culture here that is friendlier to two wheels than four.

One such project would develop about 400 miles of bicycle lanes throughout Detroit. All it would take is some paint, new signs and a little cash, said Scott Clein, who heads the Detroit office of Giffels-Webster Engineers.

The firm, along with other key partners, mapped out every one of those miles with the city’s cooperation and a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. Clein and a support staff spent 18 months on the project, studying Detroit and trying to connect its waterways, landmarks and neighborhoods.

These paths have the potential to draw the creative class – artists, singletons and young couples – to the city, Clein said. It also might improve our collective health (Detroit typically ranks as the Top 1or 2 on obesity lists).

“Bikes are all about freedom. It’s about access. And that’s what makes a city great,” Clein said.

Detroit has the room for cyclists, Clein argues. Its major roads, like Michigan Avenue, have a stunning nine lanes. That is because the city once had cable cars and modes of transportation that needed space. Plus, Detroit used to have more than 2 million residents filling its 140 square miles.

Today, the population is around 900,000. Traffic is minimal on some roadways. And there is a growing number of people across Detroit that want places to walk, bike, skate and blade across.

Plus, if Detroit wants to become the next Portland, it needs to be more feet friendly, Clein said.

The city adopted the NonMotoroized Master Plan a year ago. But putting it into effect takes money, something the city cannot spare.

There is hope at the grassroots level. Over the past weekend, an estimated 2,000 cyclists came to the city for the 8th annual Tour De Troit – nearly double the number that showed up last year. Its goal is in part is to raise funds for the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, which could link these key communities to the Detroit riverfront.

One great example already exists. The Dequindre Cut Greenway, an urban recreational path, officially opened in May. The 1.2-mile greenway, developed through a public, nonprofit and private partnership, offers a pedestrian link between the Riverfront, Eastern Market and many of the adjacent residential neighborhoods. Formerly a Grand Truck Railroad line, the Dequindre Cut is a below-street level path that features a 20-foot-wide paved pathway, which includes separate lanes for pedestrian and bicycle or rollerblading traffic.

I’m convinced the bike paths will happen. But if you’re on the fence, consider this: Each year, Metro Detroit’s commuters spend more than 50 hours sitting in traffic, wasting 34 gallons of gasoline per person.

Time to strap on a helmet and ride.

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Evaluating Obama and Transportation Policy So Far


This piece recently appeared in Carbusters magazine. Here is an extended version of the article written by Susan Vaughan. You can follow her blog at: http://carfreetalk.blogspot.com/

As the most powerful person in the world, President Barack Hussein Obama has an unenviable task – saving humanity from its inclination to environmental self-destruction by transforming the way Americans travel. Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, does a good job of talking the talk about bicycling and walking as parts of this transformation. But have Obama and Congress started to walk the walk and really begun to change American transporation?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Obama signed into law the $787 billion stimulus bill early in his administration, $48.2 billion of which will go towards transportation. Most of that – $27.5 billion – is dedicated to highways and bridges. The rest gets distributed to various mass transit systems, with almost $10 billion for state and local public transportation – but only capital projects. To put this in context, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency alone has an annual operating budget of $700 million to $800 million, is expected to have operating expenses of $1 billion in five years, and was so strapped for funds this year that it cut bus service and raised fares.

(Here is a story on SamTrans, the public transportation system in San Mateo County, and the way that agency used its share of stimulus funds.)

Buried in the ARRA is the $1 billion Cash for Clunkers program in which car owners with vehicles that get 18 mpg or fewer can exchange their gas guzzlers for $4,500 towards the purchase of a new vehicle that gets at least 22 mpg. Some environmentalists, however, see this program as a handout to Detroit and auto dealerships, but not a serious way to tackle foreign oil dependence, global climate change, or any one of the other dire problems associated with car dependence.

(September 7, 2009: Congress increased the amount of stimulus money dedicated to Cash for Clunkers by $2 billion this past summer — for a grand total of $3 billion. Many people saw this program as primarily a way to move merchandise, and one muckraker seriously criticized the program for adding to the nation’s solid and toxic waste dilemmas.)

CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy)

In mid-May, the Obama administration announced new automobile fuel economy standards calling for improvements of 5 percent a year – standards that will require that cars achieve 39 mpg and light trucks 30 mpg by 2016, 40 percent more efficient than cars are now. The new CAFÉ standards underscore the irrelevancy of the Cash for Clunkers program, but have their own weaknesses: sport utility vehicles, or SUVs, those humongous gas guzzlers long the favorites of families, have always been classified as ‘light trucks’. These new mandates also leave the American fleet at 2 mpg lower than the European fleet.

California Waiver

In June, the Obama administration reversed Bush administration policy by granting waivers long sought by California and 13 other states to set auto emission standards higher than national ones. Those emission standards will be higher for about two years – when the new national CAFÉ standards start to kick in.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act

This bill, which passed the House of Representatives in June, addresses greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources, but it overrides the United States Clean Air Act by permitting the construction of new coal-fired power plants for up to a decade with no additional emission reduction requirements.

And as to those mobile sources that are to be regulated? According to Auto Glass and Insurance Industry News, if the bill passes, the US Secretary of Energy would have to create a large-scale plug-in program and assist car manufacturers financially in their transition to producing electric vehicles.

The US Senate will take up review of this bill in September. The Center for Biological Diversity has come out in strong opposition to the bill. Here the Center for Public Integrity breaks down the dollar dance of industry and lawmakers now going on in Washington, DC over this bill.

The Surface Transportation Bill

The House of Representatives is now working on a half trillion-dollar reauthorization of the 2005 transportation act. Currently the bill seeks to set aside nearly $100 billion for public transit. However, in June the Obama administration announced its wish for an 18-month postponement. Jim Oberstar, D-Minnesota, chairman of the House transportation committee and an avid bicyclist, does not want to postpone the bill, but Jeff Mapes, staff writer for The Oregonian, and author of the just-published book, Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities, surmises that Congress will have to raise taxes in order to pay for this bill and that perhaps the Obama administration just is not ready for it.

“I do think Obama is interested in change,” says Mapes. “But it’s politically difficult to do … . One can argue that the 18-month delay will give his transportation department time to craft a plan.”

GM and Chrysler

Obama appointed a ‘car czar’ to tackle the collapse of two of the Big Three car companies – GM and Chrysler. Under this czar, Steven Rattner, American taxpayers have become majority owners of General Motors and are likely to end up contributing $50 billion for its transformation into a leaner manufacturer of smaller, more fuel efficient cars with fewer dealerships. Meantime, Chrysler got $6.6 billion from the federal government to finance its exit from bankruptcy and its sale to Fiat. Many more billions in taxpayer dollars are likely to be funneled to suppliers and the GMAC, GM’s former finance arm. In addition, now that Americans are majority owners of GM, congressman and women are making efforts to keep dealerships in their own districts open. (Rattner has announced his resignation.)

GM and Chrysler “were both clearly failing enterprises and the bailouts were done just to … prevent massive numbers of unemployed [from hitting] the claims lines all at once,” says James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere and other books about transportation. “I doubt that they will survive in any recognizable form … Personally, I think the whole Happy Motoring paradigm is in its death throes (though most Americans don’t realize it),” he adds.

Does Obama realize it? That is hard to say. If he does, politically he may not be in a position to say so — and he certainly has not been heard calling for gasoline taxes along the lines of what Europeans pay.

There was no room in the Carbusters edition for a section on …

Rail???

This topic deserves some deep research, but for now I’ll say this: Obama seems to be bumping up the funding for passenger rail a wee bit, and he has ambitious plans for high-speed rail. Some critics say it’s really more important to just fix up the system we now have — improve and expand the tracks (and perhaps get Amtrak onto separate tracks too so that it is not constantly playing second fiddle to freight trains up at the pass just west of Denver …). And if you look at the maps for projected high-speed rail lines, there are strange disconnects all over the nation — HSR from San Antonio to Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth with no connections to Houston; HSR all around Chicago and through the Midwest, with no connections to New York or Washington, DC. There could be some logic to this, but it’s beyond me.

Here’s a high-speed rail plan that makes sense: Los Angeles to San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

Susan Vaughan

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Total and Chevron Fuel Human Rights Abuse in Burma

“We can no longer do farming around our village because we don’t have existing land [anymore],” said one villager whose land was confiscated by Total and Chevron’s security forces. - ©  ERI© ERI

EarthRights International (ERI) released two reports today linking oil giants Total and Chevron to forced labor, killings, high-level corruption and authoritarianism in military-ruled Burma (Myanmar). For the first time, ERI reveals that the military regime is hiding multi-billion dollar revenues from natural gas sales in two offshore banks in Singapore.

Based primarily on over two years of research, the first report, entitled Total Impact: The Human Rights, Environmental, and Financial Impacts of Total and Chevron’s Yadana Gas Project in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar) explains that Total and Chevron’s Yadana gas project has generated US$4.83 billion dollars for the Burmese regime. The 110-page report explains how the regime would have excluded at least US$4.80 billion dollars of that revenue from the country’s national budget.

As a result of this revenue, Total and Chevron are a “leading external factor contributing to the regime’s intransigence” and a primary reason why international and domestic pressure on the SPDC has to date been ineffective, according to ERI.

“Total and Chevron claim abuses have stopped in connection to their project but it’s simply untrue,” said ERI Program Coordinator Naing Htoo, another principal author of the reports and coordinator of ERI’s investigations in Burma. “Forced labor, killings and other abuses are being committed by Total and Chevron’s security forces while the companies mislead and lie to the international community about their impacts.”

Focusing on the many misrepresentations of the Yadana Project is another new report from ERI, entitled Getting it Wrong: Flawed “Corporate Social Responsibility” and Misrepresentations Surrounding Total and Chevron’s Yadana Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar). Based on seven years of research, this 84-page report describes Total and Chevron’s public relations endeavors, including impact assessments commissioned by the companies since 2002. ERI presents evidence proving that Total lied to the public when it claimed that the International Labour Organization (ILO) certified that the company eradicated forced labor in its project area. The ILO made no such statements and has publicly disavowed the claim as untrue and inaccurate.

You can read more and find the two reports at: http://www.earthrights.org/content/view/693/114/

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September 22 is World Carfree Day!

World Carfree Day Wiki

World Carfree Day Wiki

As you know, every September 22, people from around the world get together in the streets and neighbourhoods to celebrate World Carfree Day and to remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated societies.

World Carfree Day, promoted and supported by the World Carfree Network, is intended to advance the economic, social and environmental benefits of self-propelled or mass transportation. It is meant to promote more sustainable ways of transportation and new ways of building and thinking the urbanism of our cities, allowing streets to be a living space, rather than only a transit space.

With the global economy in freefall, carmakers are facing turbulent times and people around the world are re-evaluating their relationship with the car. So now is the perfect timing to try out the alternatives, spread the carfree word, join or start a World Carfree Day in your area! It is also time to push for a new use of car factories that could be used to build public transportation, providing employment and allowing us to build a better urban environment.

Before the 10th anniversary of World Carfree Day next year, let the 2009 edition be a showcase for how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars 365 days a year!

World Carfree Network invites organisations and individuals everywhere to share information. You can add your event online at: http://editthis.info/wcd/Main_Page

And join the World Carfree Day Page on Facebook

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