Futurama: The future made visible.
Towards a sustainable environment.
Boston looks to Montreal for help in setting up bike-rental network.
Boston hopes within 60 days to have decided on setting up a network of bike-rental stations modelled on a slightly larger one in Montreal. The Canadian city's Public Bike System Co. operates a network of 300 stations in Montreal with a fleet of 3,000 rental bikes, under the name BIXI. The bikes can be obtained with the swipe of a prepaid card, and dropped off at a station close to the cyclist's destination. (Rental-bike photo courtesy of BIXI.)
Montrealers pay $78 (U.S.) for an annual pass offering unlimited trips or $5 (U.S.) per day. Shorter trips are encouraged by making the first 30 minutes' use free.
Paris was early in setting up a bike-rental system, but it has suffered from a great deal of vandalism. Washington, D.C. is the only U.S. city with a bike-rental network, a small one with 100 bikes and 12 stations. Seattle and Portland are giving thought to the idea, although a Portland experiment with bike rentals in the 1990s ended after extensive vandalism.
"Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, an avid cyclist, called the city 'a perfect venue' for the program, noting it recently added miles of bike lanes and hundreds of bike racks and launched a stolen-bike alert system using online social media networks. Leaders in [Boston suburbs] Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville say they're hoping to add the service to their communities to give it a broader, metropolitan-Boston reach. 'So many Somerville residents already commute to work by bike, so why not make it even easier for folks to make those small, midday trips by bike as well?' Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said."
New York might not be far behind. Powerful U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) takes to his bike most Sundays for a two-hour tour of different parts of NYC. And as every Yankee fan knows, Beantown is not allowed to be bigger or better at anything than the Big Apple.
* Slate: What's holding back commuter cyclists is lack of parking, and resulting fear of vandalism and theft. Many U.S. cities, notably New York, are now experimenting with laws requiring new office buildings and existing car parks to provide minimum parking for bicycles. Noteworthy stat: It's estimated that in England a bicycle is stolen every 71 seconds.
Norway's oil fund to commit 1% of assets to green investments.
Ahead of the U.N. Climate Change summit in Copenhagen in December, Norway has announced it will commit 1% of its massive petroleum fund to sustainable energy projects worldwide. That comes to $4 billion (U.S.) annually by the world's second-largest sovereign wealth fund, which boasts total assets of almost $400 billion (U.S.). The move is seen by some as a negotiating tactic for use at Copenhagen. China has proposed that affluent nations commit 1% of GDP to green projects in developing-world economies. That figure is largely ignored. But the concept of wealthy-nation subsidies for developing-world green projects has been widely embraced. Norway might be showing its preferred method of contributing. Its sovereign wealth fund has long been regarded as one of the most astutely-managed of its kind. That and its its enormous size will doubtless influence negotiations in the Danish capital.
Duelling experts on peak oil.
Energy consultant Michael Lynch had to know, given the passion of "peak oil" believers, that his dismissal of their long-standing alarms in this NYT op-ed would bring a quick, sharp retort. Lynch is former director for Asian energy and security at the Center for International Studies at M.I.T. I've excerpted him first, below, then the inevitable counterpunch:
"Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward in the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota. But that may not keep the Chicken Littles from convincing policymakers in Washington and elsewhere that oil, being finite, must increase in price. (That’s the logic that led the Carter administration to create the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, a $3 billion boondoggle that never produced a gallon of useable fuel.)
"This is not to say that we shouldn’t keep looking for other cost-effective, low-pollution energy sources — why not broaden our options? But we can’t let the false threat of disappearing oil lead the government to throw money away on harebrained renewable energy schemes or impose unnecessary and expensive conservation measures on a public already struggling through tough economic times."
In Henry Blodget's must-read, cheeky BusinessInsider.com, prominent peaker Chris Nelder takes on not only Lynch but co-"denialists" Daniel Yergin (The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power), which is like aiming a pie at Mount Rushmore; and the less prominent Raymond Learsy. Here's Nelder on Lynch, from an essay, "Don't Waste Your Time Reading the Peak-Oil Deniers":
"In April 2007, Lynch predicted that oil would gradually drop from the current $65 a barrel to the mid-to-low $40s in 2008. In reality, it climbed steadily to $147. I could go on for days pointing out the errors in Lynch’s long history of peak oil denial, but at this point I think his record speaks for itself, and it seems unsporting to continue.
"As far as I am aware, Lynch has not offered a detailed model of his own for oil reserves or production. I don’t know if that’s because he lacks the data and skills to do so, or simply because it would expose him to fact-based criticism. Instead he simply argues that the future will be like the past...His faith in a continually increasing supply of cheap oil on a finite planet is unflagging, and firmly rooted in the gospel of perfect markets and technological progress. I have never seen him print a single mea culpa for his long, wrong, predictive track record...
"Of course the problem is not that naysayers like Lynch spout nonsense, but that members of the media take him seriously. If we let outlier critics like Lynch lull us into a false sense of security about future oil supply, we won’t begin soon enough on the decades-long effort to leave oil before it leaves us–and we will pay for it dearly."
I've always thought it a poor idea to advance one's argument by counselling against reading the other fellow's. Nelder's attack on three deniers of peak-oil theory is at least as lacking in irrefutable evidence as the "denialists" he attacks.
That said, fossil fuels undeniably are finite. The planet's oil reserves may well have peaked. The problem here is that producing nations, and the occasional oil company, are notoriously secretive and quite often economic with the truth about the true extent of their reserves. Sometimes, as with Iraq, national authorities simply don't know; sometimes, as with Saudi Arabia, they exaggerate depletion rates or alternately boast of vast untapped reserves, whichever serves their purpose at a given time. So all calculations of remaining oil reserves are ballpark estimates.
It's impossible to see a long-term future for oil in its current widespread use, given not only that it's not inexhaustible, but that remaining reserves increasingly are in remote locations and controlled by hostile regimes given to abrupt expropriation (Russia, Venezuela) and kleptocracy (Kazakhstan, world's ninth-largest country, with control over the oilfields of the eastern Caspian Sea).
For what it's worth, I see oil at $200 (U.S.) within two years, as Western demand returns to pre-recession levels, and the industrial revolutions in the developing world (not just China and India) put upward pressure on demand. It's worth noting that oil producers in the Mideast and elsewhere are consuming increasing amounts of their output, a threat to their traditional role as pure exporters. Lynch is all wrong about conservation. It's not a scare tactic. It's a very real and responsible first big step in extending our oil addiction until alternative-energy development and widespread application kick in over the next two decades.
What peakers have to accept is that oil will continue to be a significant part of the energy mix for another generation. And denialists, if they have children and grandchildren, have to pray for their sake that we make rapid progress in replacing petroleum-based energy sources before they are, indeed, depleted.
The only sensible scenario is one in which we cut back on personal and institutional use of fossil fuels, because they imperil the plant by their CO2 emissions. That we accelerate, with government support as necessary, the perfection of alternative-energy sources, the construction and retrofitting of more energy-efficient homes and institutional buildings that exploit the the sun and other alternative energy. That we upgrade power grids and retrofit filling stations for plug-in cars. And that we continue the search for oil and natural gas, plus the R&D into using fossil fuels less wastefully, and that we contemplate restricting the use of fossil fuels to those increasing few (we hope) sectors where alternatives are least practical.
Only a holistic approach makes sense.
Matthew Simmons (Foreign Policy): "Oil spin: peak oil is for real.
* Walrus: Chris Turner's compelling profile of Dave Hughes, veteran Canadian hydrocarbon geologist, who's constantly on the road delivering his data-laden "Talk" on rapidly depleting fossil fuels. Step One, Hughes says with urgency, is to radically cut consumption.
Sea change: Gotta be green to qualify as EU president.
In his campaign for re-election to a second five-year term as European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso has unveiled a comprehensive plan for cutting the 27 EU nations' reliance on traditional fossil fuels and embracing alternative-energy sources. It's an interesting move, since Barroso is unopposed for re-election. And the stance he's taken runs against the laggard progress on alternative-fuel conversion among the nations for which he speaks.
"We need to start working now on a radical pathway to reaching a far more sustainable Europe by 2020, The next Commission needs to maintain the momentum toward a low emission economy, and in particular toward decarbonizing our electricity supply and the transport sector - all transport, including maritime transport and aviation, as well as the development of clean and electric cars. Decarbonizing electricity supply and transport will also bring additional benefits in terms of security of energy supply...One of the next great European projects is to give Europe a new European supergrid for electricity and gas.... so that we have secure and stable supplies of energy which meet our climate change goals."
Why this "greening" of Barroso?
Practically, Green parties have clout in Europe, as members of governing coalitions in many EU countries. And greens have been consistently doubtful of Barroso's environmental credentials. Second, it's become clear this decade that Europe's dependence on unreliable Russian natural gas imports is a strategic vulnerability.
Finally, there is indeed an economic stimulus effect for EU member states from the transformation Barroso is now promoting. It matches item for item what Obama campaigned on, and to which the U.S. president already has committed a hunk of his $787-billion (U.S.) stimulus funds. Putting aside Obama's popularity in Western Europe, this is less a Barroso effort to ride Obama's coattails than to head off a competitive threat to Europe from the U.S. There's a limited supply of researchers, money, engineers and entrepreneurs in the alternative-energy sector. Europe can't afford to slip behind in laying claim to them.
* NYT: Op-ed contributor poses question "Are we too late?" in fight against climate change. If so, we should get started planning worst-case scenarios. H.D.S. Greenway writes:
"When the world meets in Copenhagen to discuss climate change come December, I hope there will be more thought on what has to be done if climate change cannot be prevented. Where will we put the island peoples whose nations are inexorably disappearing? What can we invent that will keep crops growing in higher temperatures and less water? What can we plan now that will mitigate — and maybe even prevent — some of the worse horrors that we can now quite accurately predict?"
"Investment is seen shifting from capital-intensive energy generating technologies, such as solar and wind, to those associated with energy storage, transportation and efficiency. Bets are being placed on lithium-ion battery makers and startups in the smart grid sector that offer a range of possibilities from helping electric utilities operate systems more efficiently to enabling consumers to control energy use. Smart grid technologies aim to make the existing power grid more efficient and reliable."
* NYT: U.N. tries to quantify cost of curbing global heating, puts the figure at $170 billion (U.S.) per year over next few decades. European legislators calculate $140 billion (U.S.) Figures on this vary because of unknowable human-behaviour trends. If conservation is widely embraced, if the take-up of plug-in electric cars is high, if utilities switch from coal-burning plants and stop building new ones, the cost of saving the planet will drop considerably.
Wind turbines and hybrid cars could trigger rare-earth shortage.
"Gasoline-electric hybrid cars and other similar vehicles [will be] vulnerable to a supply crunch predicted by experts as China, the world's dominant rare earths producer, limits exports while global demand swells. Worldwide demand for rare earths, covering 15 entries on the periodic table of elements, is expected to exceed supply by some 40,000 tonnes annually in several years unless major new production sources are developed.
"Among the rare earths that would be most affected in a shortage is neodymium, the key component of an alloy used to make he high-power, lightweight magnets for electric motors of hybrid cars, such as the Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Fusion, as well as in generators for wind turbines. Close cousins terbium and dysprosium are added in smaller amounts to the alloy to preserve neodymium's magnetic properties at high temperatures. Yet another rare earth metal, lanthanum, is a major ingredient for hybrid car batteries."
Downloading is the eco-friendly method of buying music.
No surprise, really. A new study by Carnegie Mellon and Stanford researchers, financed by Microsoft and Intel, finds that downloading CDs is far less energy intensive than ordering them online for home delivery or picking one up at the mall - provided you drive to the mall. If you walk, the energy cost is about the same as downloading. Notice in the chart the huge portion of total energy cost accounted for by transportation.
A bit gratuitous of me, but I don't hear talk out of Ottawa about modernizing our antiquated power grid, financing sustainable-energy development, sprinkling a bit of the $48 billion (Cdn.) in our taxpayer-funded stimulus money on cities that want to emulate Montreal's bike-rental network (maybe now that Boston's interested, Ottawa will pay attention), or just cleaning up the Sydney Tar Ponds and the global eco-disgrace of Athabasca.
So we look to provinces and municipalities for innovation. Here's a marvelous example in the Toronto Transit Commission's "greening" of a traditional subway station:
Futurama is in tribute to GM's pavilion at the 1939-40 World's Fair, whose theme was "Building the World of Tomorrow." Arguably the last of the great world's fairs, the exhibition marked a time of North American confidence in the future as it emerged from the Depression. The 700-foot Trylon spire and adjoining Perisphere orb, as large as a city block, were embraced by New Yorkers as whimsical mascots. The spirit of optimism managed to eclipse fears of the growing conflict in Europe and the Pacific Rim.
For the purposes of this blog, the inception of the Great Recession in the U.S., the epicentre of the crisis, is taken as the start date for the global slump. The U.S. has been in recession since December 2007.