Saturday, April 28, 2007

New Urbanism and Transit Oriented Development

From New Urbanism:

New Urbanism and Transit Oriented Development are the Solution
to Global Warming and Peak Oil

The debate about Global Warming and Peak Oil are over. The latest UN report confirms Global Warming is happening now, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and urges serious and immediate action to prevent global catastrophe. The urgent message is that we need to reduce our oil consumption by 70-80% as quickly as possible.

Positive changes have begun!

Awareness of the seriousness of the problem has spread rapidly around the planet. Global Warming and oil supply problems are now urgent topics of daily concern all around the world. Business leaders are asking for changes and new regulation. Governments are seeking solutions and ideas. Citizens want to participate in the changes, and everyone wants a bright future for their children and grandchildren. In America alone, more than 60% of the voters, the Supreme Court, over 400 cities, the US National Academy of Sciences, and numerous major US corporations all want change.

The solutions for reducing oil consumption are all around us. The research is complete and the results are in – it’s now time to quickly put the right solutions into widespread use across America, and around the world. At the same time, we need to stop investing in the systems that are at the root of the problem (sprawl, roads, cars, aviation).

Oil Replacements Are Not Economically Feasible

Creating a replacement for oil and continuing 'business as usual' is not possible. Biofuels have a very limited prospect, and compete directly with food production. It is questionable if biofuels even produce any net energy when all inputs of energy are added up: growing the crops (such as corn), harvesting, transporting, processing, and delivery.

The Real Solution is to Reduce Oil Demand

We need a replacement for cars. The transition away from cars can be accomplished by halting the growth of sprawl and roads, and greatly increasing the supply of trains and walkable communities connected to the trains - where people can live comfortably without dependence on a car. Walking and riding trains and bicycles are the replacement for cars. Communities need to be reconfigured to the scale and comfort of the pedestrian.

Compared to Europeans, Americans use 8 times more energy per person, per day. It can be stated that Europeans actually have a higher standard of living because they are not forced to spend countless stressful hours stuck in traffic daily. Their cities are dense, walkable, and beautiful, and they have extensive, state-of-the-art train systems going everywhere. Americans use 8 times more energy than Europeans because 90% of American communities are not walkable (sprawl), and we have not invested in a world-class national rail network the way Europeans have been for many years. We have invested our wealth in roads, cars, and sprawl – all of which waste huge amounts of energy, and are unsustainable.

With our new knowledge of the problems and solutions, we must now act quickly, and on a grand scale to redesign our communities and transportation systems to greatly reduce the need for driving and cars.

Our 10 solutions below help point the way for a better future.

Here is our proposal for reducing our oil use, and dealing with this emergency:


We are facing the most serious environmental crises in the history of the planet:
> Global Warming and climate change threaten the survival of the human race
> Peak Oil - World oil supplies are running out while our oil use is increasing rapidly
> Energy Security - Increasing global conflicts over the remaining oil -- "It's a fight to the last drop"
> Traffic congestion is rapidly paralyzing America and the rest of the world while wasting
millions of gallons of gas daily
> Out of control sprawl is devouring prime farmlands and pristine wilderness areas, and
creating the massive traffic congestion

While these situations seem impossible to solve, these 10 solutions solve all these problems at once:

10 SOLUTIONS that are feasible, sustainable, safe, and healthy:

1. An immediate and permanent moratorium on all new major road construction and expansions. (Every additional dollar spent building and widening roads digs us deeper into our dangerous oil / auto addiction, and increases global warming)

2. A huge increase in funding for Amtrak, and the rapid construction of a new nationwide train network. This should connect every city, town, and neighborhood with an efficient, state-of-the-art electric train network comparable to what is currently operating all across Europe and Japan. This should be built to transport both passengers and all the cargo now moved by very inefficient trucks. Trains are by far the most energy efficient form of transportation that greatly reduces global warming, saves lives, and encourages compact, walkable communities.

3. An immediate moratorium on the building of any additional sprawl. Sprawl is probably the single largest contributor to oil addiction and global warming due to it's very design (or lack thereof). Sprawl forces everyone to drive many miles daily for everything, which in turn requires constant road expansions, encouraging more cars and driving, and more sprawl. Its a vicious cycle consuming ever more oil, and spewing out more pollution, making global warming continually worse.

4. A major focus of federal, state, and local governments on New Urbanism, Smart Growth, and Transit Oriented Development - the revitalization and densification of all existing cities and towns across America into walkable, mixed-use communities, with pedestrians and bicycles given top priority over automobiles, and a serious focus on bicycles and trains as the major forms of transportation. Included would be millions of affordable housing units and high quality neighborhood schools located so all children can walk or bike to them.

5. The rapid tripling of minimum vehicle miles per gallon standards for all vehicles produced in America - accomplished by a quick and complete conversion of all automobile manufacturing facilities to the building of only hybrid, solar, and fully electric vehicles.

Government car purchases made each year should be switched to buying only hybrids and fully electric cars. It is estimated that the entire U.S. government purchases well over a million new vehicles each year - the sum total of Federal, State, & Local Government agencies, municipalities, counties, highway patrol, sheriff, police and fire departments, etc.

The real solution is to eventually stop making cars altogether by a phased retooling of the auto industry into manufacturing trains (much like during the second world war when they switched to building military equipment).

6. An immediate and permanent moratorium on all new airport construction and expansions, as well as an end to all aviation subsidies.

7. An immediate moratorium on the construction of any new coal fired or nuclear power generating plants. Contrary to industry proponents who say nuclear is a "clean energy" solution to global warming - nuclear power is far from clean. The waste it produces is the most toxic substance known to humankind, remaining deadly radioactive for many thousands of years, with no safe way to store or dispose of it, and no way of preventing it from being made into weapons.

8. The rapid construction of massive new solar and wind power generating capacity all across America, from large-scale installations to smaller neighborhood and roof-top units. Also, the immediate installation of new hydropower generating capacity in the form of coastal wave and tidal energy capture.

9. The rapid installation of full roof solar panels on every building in America.

10. The installation of hundreds of acres of organic farms throughout every city and town in America. In addition to this, the planting of millions of trees across America.

(James Howard Kunstler is a vocal advocate of new urbanism as a solution to peak oil.)


RobC said...

I agree with everything you've written, except for one important point. Your views on nuclear energy seem to be frozen in Greenpeace space.

First, nuclear waste is not "the most toxic substance known to humankind." And there are multiple ways to dispose of it. The failure to dispose of it properly has only to do with budget politics, not with technology. More to the point, nuclear energy has the best safety record and the best environmental record of any energy source available. If you could free yourself from Greenpeace-induced paralysis and look at the facts more objectively, your anti-nuclear feelings would be greatly mollified.

This is not a side-issue. The anti-nukes got us into this jam in the first place. They assured us that it was okay to keep burning fossil fuels because silver bullets were ready to solve all our energy problems. The silver bullets didn't and still don't exist and the result is pollution that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, damaged the environment irreversibly, and even changed the climate.

If we're going to solve the global-warming problem, it will require an energy policy that will work. Your suggestions, or ideas very much like them, are just the things the policy has to include. But what will not succeed is a policy that requires homes and businesses to shut down whenever the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. It's pretty clear that renewable energy has to be a major contributor. But look what nuclear gets us:

(1) An electricity source that doesn’t depend on wind or sunlight or the limited amount of energy storage available, and emits virtually no greenhouse gases. It could reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.

(2) An energy-efficient way to produce hydrogen, which could be used directly in automobiles and trucks or added to biofuels to make their production higher by a factor of three. Presently, transportation accounts for about 33% of greenhouse gases; all of that could be eliminated through conservation, electrification, and alternate fuels.

(3) A huge reduction in air pollution, lowered trade deficits, and freedom from Middle-East involvements.

My opinion is that if nuclear isn’t given maximum opportunity to grow, we won’t solve this problem.

papabear said...

First, I am not the author of this piece, so you may consider sending your comments to the people at New Urbanism.

Second, nuclear will not solve our dependence upon oil for agriculture and transportation.

Finally, we can solve the problem without resorting to nuclear if we are willing to downscale our lives and embrace a more simple, sustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately, for many Americans "the American way of life" is non-negotiable.

RobC said...

Papabear, thanks for answering. I didn't see the New Urbanism link before. I'm considering writing them, but from their website they don't appear to be open to alternative arguments.

Nuclear can't solve any of our problems by itself, but neither can anything else. But any practical solution that provides for a national transportation system will involve electrification and alternative fuels. Electrification is an obvious place where nuclear can contribute. But also, nuclear can provide hydrogen in an efficient way: while electrolysis is under 30% efficient, thermochemical production runs over 45%. But it gets better: the leftover heat can generate electricity so the hydrogen generation is almost 100% efficient. You get electricity and hydrogen at the same time!

One of your earlier blogs covered the futility of relying on hydrogen as a fuel. The article is probably correct; the author concludes that biofuels are the only likely solution. But there isn't enough land anywhere to produce the amount of biomass needed to generate the biofuels needed, even assuming aggressive conservation. But if hydrogen is added to the biomass, the biofuel output triples. That way, biofuel can be a practical fuel.

I think Americans are the same as everyone else when it comes to affluent lifestyles. In every country I'm familiar with, people live as affluently as they can afford, even rich people in very poor countries. The difference between Americans, and Canadians and Australians, is that their economies allow most residents to live at a level others would live at if they could. For example, when wealthy Asians migrate to North America they don't even consider finding compact apartments like they're used to. Instead, they buy the biggest houses they can afford and fill them with appliances and furniture and fill their driveways with cars. I think the impulse toward affluent lifestyles is a human trait, not an American one.

The point of this is that, if people have to choose between affluence and habitat, they'll decide as they always have. If the typical person, anywhere in the world, is notified that he'll have to ride buses and trains and give up vacation trips as the price of giving up fossil fuels, we'll never beat this problem.

papabear said...

A quick response--from The End of the Age of Oil:

In recent years, the debate over nuclear power has revived, with proponents maintaining that we can find environmentally sound and politically acceptable ways to deal with the waste and security hazards. But even assuming that to be true, the potential is limited. To produce enough nuclear power to equal the power we currently get from fossil fuels, you would have to build 10,000 of the largest possible nuclear power plants. That’s a huge, probably nonviable initiative, and at that burn rate, our known reserves of uranium would last only for 10 or 20 years. As things stand today, the only possible substitutes for our fossil-fuel dependency are light from the sun and nuclear energy.

I believe Kunstler and others have cited that figure, but I have not confirmed it by making the calculations myself. At current consumption rates, we're not only running up against peak oil, but peak natural gas, peak goal, and peak uranium, though the projected time for each is not the same.

(Their solution? The ultimate solution to our energy problem would be to master the power of controlled thermonuclear fusion, which we’ve been talking about doing for more than half a century. The solution has been 25 years away for the past 50 years, and it is still 25 years away. Beyond those sobering statistics, there are at least five or six schemes for harnessing fusion energy that I know of. One of them, called the spheromak, is studied here at Caltech in an experimental program run by Professor of Applied Physics Paul Bellan and his research group.)

In response to your last point:
The point of this is that, if people have to choose between affluence and habitat, they'll decide as they always have. If the typical person, anywhere in the world, is notified that he'll have to ride buses and trains and give up vacation trips as the price of giving up fossil fuels, we'll never beat this problem.

Yes, ultimately this is a moral problem, and it seems that most people will not change their lifestyles until they are forced to do so. By that time, it may be too late for a peaceful transition.

RobC said...

I can't speak to the estimate of 10,000 nukes to replace fossil fuels. Whatever the number is, certainly a rapid conversion would exceed our construction capacity. Hence the need to employ all possible energy alternatives and to conserve more than anyone really wants. The low nuclear fuel reserves that are cited all assume that we will continue our present policy of discarding fuel when less than 1% of its energy has been extracted. Well, it's true. Nuclear won't work unless we begin recycling the spent fuel. But if we do, then there are centuries' worth of energy, giving us time to implement other energy sources like fusion.

I think people can be persuaded to scale down their lifestyles. People think stuff will make them happy, but the Simpler Living movement has found many converts: people who find that less stuff brings more freedom. This is a big deal, and deserves a lot more attention than it gets. On the other hand, there's a limit to what people will accept. If we construct an energy policy that shuts down businesses whenever the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing so people have to stay home in their cold, dark houses, the policy purely won't be accepted.

papabear said...

peak goal should be peak coal

As for demands of electricity--how much electricity is really necessary for a flourishing local economy and community and strong domestic economies? Very little, if one looks at the Amish or previous historical periods.

People are overly reliant on the convenience afforded by electricity, but they can survive without it, so long as there is a sufficient time to adjust, and even live well.