Monday, November 02, 2009


Shameless Plug
Transition Rogers Park Meeting
November 5 @6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Rogers Park Library on Clark Street

Why should you attend? Keep reading.

One of the issues I have with members of the Progressive set (I consider myself a Centrist) is their penchant for rosy scenarios. They are the ultimate optimists and I sometimes wonder how they deal with reality when it bites them in the fanny. When reality bites it is not necessarily the doings of radical, right-wing, knuckle dragging, Bible spouting, gun-toting, Rush Limbaugh worshipping Luddites. Sometimes an acorn falling on your head is just an acorn falling on your head. That's advice the Luddites should also heed, because they can be just as myopic as their Progressive cousins. Reality bites.

I bring this up because Progressives are fascinated by renewable energy resources. Luddites prefer to "drill, baby, drill." Both are right and both are wrong about what it will take to make it to the end of this century. If you think that is an oxymoron keep reading.

For some Progressives renewables will save the world from the Twin Terrors of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Invest in T. Boone Pickens' wind farm, install a multi-square mile photovoltaic farm, sink a tidal energy unit or two into the ocean current and Voila! We can maintain our current way of life we have all come to love and treasure. Perhaps that is the problem; no appreciation of the hard facts of reality. A deep seated conviction that we can have it all, or most of what we have now, if we would just swap out one energy source for another. Want to keep your car? Buy an electric one that you can plug into the charger in the home garage, or at a suitably equipped public parking facility. I actually engaged in a conversation with an individual who insisted that would solve the problem with cars. Is he right? Depends on whether or not we can scale up the generation of electricity to compensate for the loss of liquid fuels. Can we do that? Doubtful. Reality bites.

The Luddites are no better though. They see oil under every rock, every seabed, and under the Arctic ice. Throw in some coal and nuclear facilities and life will be great. If only those evil,leftwing, socialist-commy, Mao worshipping Progressives would quit hugging the trees, petting the owls, and move out of the way of real Americans whose jobs are vital to this nation, then things would improve. Not so fast cousin. Reality bites.

This matters in view of The Energy Bulletin article about the Transition Town Initiative, which leads off with an observation on the global scale of the energy problem:

Richard Heinberg has been fairly specific about the dimensions of the challenge. He estimates that due to fossil fuel depletion and decreasing exports we could easily see a 25-40% decline in available energy over the next two or three decades. He calculates that in but a very few nations probably no more than 25% of the energy currently being consumed could be replaced by alternative/renewable sources by 2030. So for fossil fuel importing nations like the U.S., says Heinberg, it would be prudent to anticipate and plan for at least a 25% decline in total energy by that time. That would certainly change the face of modern society!

But with the energy revolution green-shooting all over the planet, won’t alternative sources of energy quickly replace the oil we’re using? No, suggest scientists at Stanford Research Institute, who noted that the 83 million or so barrels of oil we’re burning every day to run the world adds up to just about one cubic mile of oil (CMO) per year. An enormous amount of energy is embedded in all that black liquid!

So what would it take to replace the oil we currently use? The SRI researchers say that to finally achieve that much energy output, every year for fifty years in a row we’d need to build the equivalent of four Three Gorges Dams (still the largest construction project in human history). Or bring 52 nuclear power plants online every year for fifty years. Or launch 104 coal-fired power plants every year for fifty years. Or, if you’d prefer a “cleaner” approach, we’d need to install 91 million solar panels or 33,000 wind turbines a year for fifty years in a row.

From this perspective we can say that certainly there will be alternatives to oil, but they are not likely to come on stream quickly enough or at large enough scale to maintain our current way of life. Gulp!

Most Progressives don't want to consider nuclear, or new coal plants. That puts renewables front and center on their energy menu for this country. The Luddites will "drill, baby, drill" while knocking together nuclear and coal plants. Both believe their way will save the American way of life. Wait a minute. What did Heinberg say? No more than 25% of current energy consumed can be replaced by renewables. Read that again -- No More Than 25%. If renewables won't save us, oil production is in terminal decline, and we can't/won't build new nuclear or coal plants to help out, where will we get the rest of the energy we need? Reality bites.

What, if anything, will provide a dignified descent into a world of less energy? The uncomfortable answer is that it is up to us to work that out. The rest of the article discusses the Transition movement, its successes, and its difficulties. In a can-do, problem solving, get-it-done-yesterday culture, Transition seems to take a very long time. We don't do delays well anymore especially if we belong to the Internet/iPhone generation. We need to slow down and think about what lies ahead.

Hiding your head in the sand, rather than confronting change head on, is a sure recipe for getting your fanny blown off (an experience most of us can relate to). We also live in a diverse community, and insisting that we all march to a single drummer will not help us come to consensus for our future. Those of us willing to plan for a world in which energy is less abundant must step forward or risk being steam rollered by an implacable future that won't stop just because we wish it to.

Transition honors the diversity in our community and looks to engage the entire community in cultivating the solutions. It will not happen quickly and it will not happen easily. But it will happen if we all pull together. It's up to you because it's up to us.

See you at the meeting.


The North Coast said...

I might be considered part of the "Luddite" camp for my advocacy of nuclear as the only means of power generation that will give us a fighting chance at retaining any level of tech amenity going forward.

Coal is not even a consideration in my view. Not only is coal one of the dirtiest and most environmentally destructive means of energy generation ever to exist, but coal production will "peak" much earlier than previously projected. The 250 year supply is quickly becoming more like a 30 year supply as demand for the fuel increases, and production is expected to peak in less than 15 years.

Most nuke advocates are as blind as bats concerning our energy predicament. For one thing, nuclear, wind, and solar technologies may ultimately be very dependent upon oil for materials and processes needed to build the plants and manufacture their components. Secondly, there are thousands of necessary products, including medications, vaccines, and FOOD in the quantities necessary to feed our swollen populations, are dependent upon petrol, and it won't take much of a reduction in petrol supplies to cause our delicate and interdependent systems on which our lives are dependent to totter.

Steep reduction of energy use and the redesign of our systems and communities have to be the central concerns of any transition effort, and that will mean that we have to change our lives pretty drastically. It really means having and using much less of absolutely everything. There's really no way to make it fun or pleasant, but it will be the only way to retain any level of human civilization.

Kheris said...

Steep reduction of energy use and the redesign of our systems and communities have to be the central concerns of any transition effort, and that will mean that we have to change our lives pretty drastically. It really means having and using much less of absolutely everything. There's really no way to make it fun or pleasant, but it will be the only way to retain any level of human civilization.

That's precisely the problem. Very few people really want to confront the notion of an energy descent that will result in a radically different lifestyle. We have to really rethink what constitutes living well. Transition Town can help with that. But getting there requires more than navel gazing and ernest talk. And it will take time.

On the continuum of change very few are at the bleeding edge. Most are in the middle, waiting to see whether the advocates of change or the advocates of the status quo are winning. By the time they decide which way to turn it will be very late in the game. But someone has to start things moving and lead the way. Might as well be us.

The North Coast said...

I'd feel like we were accomplishing something if we could get more high density, multiuse zoning around transit hubs, and ween people off the fixation on single family houses.

The biggest part will be cultural change, and the NIMBYism I see in Rogers Park and Edgewater is not going to help. There is a huge fixation on parking, keeping SF homes, and maintaining low densities.

We need also need to change municipal policies that mandate subsidies for chain retail while destroying fine grained local shopping districts. How does it help the local economy or build local resilience to pay Target or somebody $4 million to build a store, or pay a failing airline $37 million to move their offices to a half-occupied mega-scraper? We are busting the city budget just to destroy what remains of our local economy.

There is also a lot of resistance to change on other levels. To most people, "normalcy" means shopping binges every month, and always the newest and latest of everything.

Kheris said...

So does this mean we'll be seeing you at the meeting?

The North Coast said...

YES, I am coming. I'm looking forward to meeting you and everyone else.

Couldn't come before because of work-related projects.

Moonglum said...

I had to miss this, how did it go? Are meeting minutes up on the web somewhere? I am very interested to learn what other people in Rogers Park think about easing the transition.

I DID make it to the 49th ward "participatory budgeting" meeting though, and I wonder if that would be a possible way to get more people thinking about these issues?