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:

Bring on a Car Free Manhattan

A CarFree Light Rail Boulevard for 42nd Street © vision42 (

A CarFree Light Rail Boulevard for 42nd Street © vision42 (

My first visit to Manhattan appropriately enough was to attend on September 29th 2009, a memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, for the ecologically minded theologian Father Thomas Berry. The combination of the moving service and the novel but positive shock of experiencing Manhattan, inspired me with a vision of an island based car free community that would help actualize Berry’s concept of the Ecozoic Age. This would be based on an understanding that human beings realize that we all must serve as guardians of creation.

After a long night bus trip from Toronto, my wife Mary Lou and I after a delightful breakfast near where we arrived at Penn Station were positively impressed by Manhattan, , especially the preservation of so much of its historic pre-World War Two architecture. Since it was a Saturday, we did not see the worst of automotive congestion and pollution, contributing to our overall impression of delight. We didn’t have to consult maps how to get around, but simply asked directions, and people were always friendly and displayed great love for their city.

Mary Lou and I were able to easily walk to the Cathedral through much of Central Park. Along the way, across the road from the New York Times, we viewed a compelling exhibit prepared by the Columbia University of the threat of global warming. Its most memorable feature are satellite images of Africa’s Lake Chad disappearing over the last thirty years from the impacts of climate change brought on through irresponsible human actions.

In walking the streets of Manhattan the only negative thought which crossed our minds was that this is a community that suffers from a nature deficit disorder. Except for designated city parks, we could not see one glimpse of green, apart from one solitary tree that was a beacon of the presence of a rare roof garden. Outside of vestiges in parks, all Manhattan’s interior streams were buried underground in storm sewers long ago, so there is not the usual forested ravines that are features of most cities. Plazas lack greenery, streets lack trees. skyscrapers tower up right from the sidewalk, and apart from paved roads, there are no spaces between buildings.

6th Avenue from 49th - (from Wikimedia Commons)

6th Avenue from 49th - (from Wikimedia Commons)

The lack of greenery appears to be the reason that until we entered Central Park, we did not see a single bird. Even in Central Park moreover, it was not till we left the more manicured and monumental southern section, and entered the wilder “Rambles”, in the middle, did we start to see some avian activity. For the first time in our lives it became a big thing to see a modest flock of English Sparrows and Rock Doves, and to hear the call of a singular native species, the Grackle. The only time we wished we had brought our binoculars was when veering over the vista of Belvedere Castle to the Turtle Pond, I wondered if a few Black Ducks might be interspersed with the Mallards.

Central Park, itself cut up by periodic east west roads, some of which appear to have been closed during our visit through environmental activism, is itself illustrative of the warnings of conservation biologists about island ecology. With its legions of polite and dedicated blue volunteers in blue shirts doing necessary tasks such as controlling exotic invasive species like English Ivy, we could understand that the ecology of Central Park was vigilantly protected. Still however, the surrounded sea of cement does not bode well for an island of green, especially one cut up by motor lanes.

While raccoons thrive in Central Park and I saw two enormous ones at night on are way to our hotel from the Cathedral, overall species diversity is declining. New York’s only rabbit, the Eastern cottontail, has vanished from the park altogether. The last held out in the wilder northern section of the park. Another mammal species, the woodchuck, once common, has also vanished. Bad news about species loss in Manhattan seems to be kept back for lack of research. No one has ever done for instance, a bat count of Central Park.

The frustrations felt by the dedicated ecologists who protect Central Park are just another example of how Manhattan more than any other large urban community in the western hemisphere, has been mugged by the car. It is here where the first fatal car accident took part in the western hemisphere on September 13, 1899. The city was victim of a massive terrorist attack financed from the oil rich Middle East on our era’s day of infamy, September 11, 2001. Nowhere else do automobiles make as less rationale sense, in a place of high population densities and land prices, than in Manhattan. Here only twenty-three percent of households own a car.

The only practical way that Manhattan could have solve its peculiar nature deficit disorder, is to ban cars and turn some of the space they gobble up in the form of parking lots and roads into trees, gardens and wildlife habitat. Transitional measures such as light rail transit with dedicated lanes on wide streets, such has been proposed through the 42nd Street Light Rail corridor can greatly help in this transition, the reality is that in Manhattan. The change however, is simply a matter of basic justice. In Manhattan, the car free majority are simply the victims of a motorized minority. Nowhere else in the world could simply banning cars be achieved with less disruption and more sheer happiness.

Carfree Mahattan © vision42

Carfree Mahattan © vision42

If the wealthy who don’t like rubbing shoulders with others in public transit dislike this approach, perhaps they can follow the examples of the Robber Barons of the late 19th century and return to carriages. Rather than the “revolution” of tired ideologues, the real festival of the oppressed would be a parties in the streets when all of Manhattan is a car free zone.

Foes of automobiles love photographs and old post cards of cities before mass motorization became the norm in the 1920s. Nowhere else is this basic reality as vivid as in New York City, where for instance, the Easter Parade became a wildly popular tune about the wonders of walking along Fifth Avenue. Whatever complaints can be made about the muck of horse manure, this seemed to have less impact on the showy Easter Bonnets of the 1890s than car exhaust and street spray today. The city’s subway system, opened in 1904 at a time when transportation planning still did not envisage mass motoring, shows that alternatives were being developed rapidly for alternatives to the horse power that oil executives use now to justify their plunder of the planet.

The whole basis of he notoriety of Robert Moses, “the Power Broker” of the biography of Robert Caro, is his determination to make Manhattan accessible to motorists. For this obsession, Moses, in his words was prepared to break more than a “few eggs” to an omelette. Before he embarked on a crusade to make Manhattan safe for automobiles, Moses was no different than the other reformers of the Progressive era, who believed in more parks and subsidized housing.

Caro reveals how New York newspapers in the late 1940s were deluged with proposals calling for Manhattan to be designated as a car free zone. While today proposals for extensive areas of car free streets are denounced as un-American, a prominent New Yorker, Lewis Mumford, denounced by Moses as the epitome of the “long haired planner”, was urging such actions in the 1950s, long before they became widespread in Europe.

While Mumford and even his critics such as Jane Jacobs were unable to create a single car free zone, success in bringing rationality to Manhattan has come from the twenty years of patient work by Auto-Free New York. One of is leading lights is George Haikalis, President of the appropriately named, Institute for Rational Urban Mobility. Its biggest success was to persuade New York City this year, to take its first baby steps in rationality, through the pedestrianization of parts of Broadway Avenue in Times and Herald Square.

New York’s first car free initiatives were products of the vision of the New York’s Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, working in co-operation with Danish architect Jan Gehl, who helped developed the vast car free havens of central Copenhagen. Their first step is to be followed up in three days of August 2010 with the closure of Park Avenue. This was taken largely in response to the refusal of the New York State legislature to approve the New York City’s council’s plea for congestion pricing to reduce the impacts of automotive commuting on the city. That such steps were so long in coming epitomizes the grid lock of automotive totalitarianism that until recently dominated New York’s approach to transportation policy.

Banning cars in Manhattan would do more to reverse the threat of global warming that all the minutiae of international agreements such as the Kyoto Accords, whose provisions would likely not be enforceable in countries that are dictatorships. One of the benefits would be the message it would send to United Nations representatives in the city, that the biggest city in the world’s wealthiest nation, had freed itself from the illusion that automobiles are the basis for the pursuit of happiness.

"A systematic strategy to green the island" © vision42

"A systematic strategy to green the island" © vision42

Banning cars in Manhattan, more than complicated transportation alternatives however meritorious, needs to be combined with a systematic strategy to green the island. This is why Thomas Berry felt the notion of “sustainable” was inadequate, that our vision should be to be “regenerative”. Such an approach to greening would be powerful and realize the slogan of the popular song, “New York, New York,”, which promises if you can do in here, you “can do it anywhere.” It would have steps like roof gardens on every flat roof, living walls of green for skyscrapers and turning parking lots into gardens and wildlife habitat. Some of the reclaimed streets can be lined with constructed wetlands to purify water.

One of the most moving elements of Berry’s memorial service was the use of magnificent symbols of salmon, instead of the conventional images used on church banners. The flashing of the salmon through the vastness of the great Gothic Cathedral, brought alive Berry’s version of regeneration and successful ecological atonement for past human abuse of the planet. In her remarks Kenya’s Environment Minister, Wangari Maathai, said that it showed that “Even the fish praise him.” What more vivid regeneration of Berry’s vision could there be, than some stretch of Manhattan’s concrete jungle, such as the Henry Hudson Parkway, being dismantled, to serve as a new breeding ground for the restoration of the endangered Atlantic Salmon?

By Dr. John Bacher (PhD)- John Bacher is the author of Petrotyranny. It is book published by Dundurn Press and Science for Peace in 2001, which details the negative relationship between oil, war and dictatorship, and the positive synergies between peace, human rights and the protection of the environment.

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Just do it. Walk.

Mixed use path in Copenhagen

Congratulations! If you live in Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Portland, Oregon, you are in one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. If you’re a bicycle commuter in one of these lovely towns, or others where bicycling is popular, you may glow with a little inner smugness. If you are one of many who drive to work or to run your errands, or who live where bicycling just doesn’t seem practical, you are not alone. Still, you may be feeling a little peer pressure. You may have a bicycling colleague who bounces into the office with healthy, rosy, rain-misted cheeks. You may see shoppers in the aisles of your local stores carrying handy bike baskets and dangling bike helmets conspicuously, buying healthy bananas and energy bars. Their presence makes you and your car in the parking lot, even if it’s a fuel-efficient hybrid, feel guilty, like every step you take is leaving a giant, sooty, carbon footprint. Maybe you should give up the car, get the bike out of the cellar and become One of Them. My advice? Resist.

I’m a bicycle commuter myself, but I’m the first to admit, it’s a tough transition. First, there’s the stuff. Maybe you already have a bike messenger-style bag in the closet somewhere, but if you normally have a briefcase or purse in hand, where are you going to put it? How professional is it to walk into a corporate meeting with a bike pannier slung over your shoulder? And it’s raining again. Do you have a weatherproof jacket?

Rain pants? Overshoes? Water-resistant gloves? I’ve seen people on bikes with umbrellas, but it doesn’t look easy, and then how are you going to answer your mobile phone? Or more relevantly, use the brakes?

No, if you want to be part of the new, green world of change and maybe drop a kilo or so, your task is not to step out of your solid, 4-wheels-on-the-pavement vehicle and throw your leg over a wobbly 10-speed that pitches your head forward and your ass in the air. Instead, your mission this: just walk. Many of the amenities that make a city a great place to bicycle, will work for pedestrians, too, like traffic-calming landscaping or the Rails to Trails paths that are for walkers or bicyclists. A 2007 survey in the United States found that when non-bicyclists were asked if they would like to bicycle more, 67% said no, there were too many cars or hills or it seemed generally unsafe. By contrast, people who walked at least 10 minutes a week were twice as likely as bikers to say it was very easy to walk where they lived. It’s true, as long as there’s a sidewalk, it’s pretty easy. If it is a wide, evenly paved, unobstructed sidewalk it’s very easy. Add some pedestrian-friendly trees to provide distance from the traffic and an attractive environment along the way with small views, inviting architecture, welcoming homes or storefronts and it is downright pleasant.

Just do it. Walk.

So start small. Pick an easy walking destination. If it’s raining, drive to work, but if its not, walk from your house to the bus stop and then from the bus stop to your workplace. If you have a few errands to run, park in one place and walk to the rest, starting with the store where you’ll have the smallest and lightest purchases. If you’re going to a dense area of a city, be part of the new frugality of 2009. Instead of driving directly into the parking garage of the museum, theatre or department store, find a free or inexpensive parking spot at the fringe of the downtown area, and walk to your destination. Above all, don’t make yourself miserable. If you have heavy packages or your kids don’t look like they’re going to cooperate, then drive this time and walk when you’re just picking up a few things or you find yourself kid-free for a few hours. After a while, destinations that are a bit farther away may seem attractive, but too time-consuming to walk to. These are the places to consider for a trial bike trip, but only on the next dry, sunny opportunity, and only if you think the traffic and hills will not be overwhelming. If it seems doable, try it out, maybe a few times, because while its true that you never forget how to ride a bike, you definitely forget the feeling. Getting on a bike after years with your feet on the ground or the gas pedal can be a freaky, unstable experience. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

Walking is the entry drug for car-free transportation and there’s no need to step up to the cocaine of bicycling. Ever. Walking can be a life-long option and bicycling may not be. By walking, you can go just about anywhere; on bike, nearly everywhere; and in a car, only where there is a legal roadway. Although bicycling can deliver you at your destination awake and energized, you may also finish your journey soaking wet, lightly sprinkled with drops of mud, sweaty, and absolutely inappropriately attired. Walking means you can wear your normal clothes (although you may want to bring a change of shoes), carry your normal bag or briefcase, travel at your own pace, rather than that dictated by traffic and your gearing system, and look like a regular person when you arrive. There will be downsides. You’ll find out your shoes are too hard or your umbrella is too flimsy. As I said, don’t make yourself unhappy. Do it when it pleases you. Do it when you have time. But just do it. Just walk.

Chris Tachibana

Chris Tachibana is a science writer at

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