Petrocollapse

It's been several months now since the October Petrocollapse conference I attended in midtown New York City. A rather interesting event, though perhaps predictable, given the invited speakers. You can listen to the entire thing on their website; various reviews have gone up at least locally, and Kunstler's and Lundberg's papers are available online. I thought I'd add some of my notes and remarks on the meeting here. 

On Wednesday, October 5th, I had the opportunity to visit New York City for a special "Petrocollapse" conference put on by the New York City Peak Oil interest group, and particularly by Jenna Orkin who introduced the speakers. The meeting was held in a Unitarian church in the middle of Manhattan, and attended by several hundred people from as far away as California and Europe.

The conference had a number of prominent speakers, mostly falling into three categories: the optimists (most notably John Darnell of congressman Roscoe Bartlett's office), the pessimists (David Pimentel of Cornell, at least to some extent, and James Howard Kunstler), and the paranoid (Michael Ruppert). Unfortunately a large proportion of the audience seemed to have been drawn by Mr. Ruppert; more on his take on matters below.

Jenna Orkin started the day off with a short introduction on what "peak oil" is and why we were all there. Are we just going around with signs saying "the end is nigh", or are we starting to be taken seriously? The threat is, as the conference title suggested, one of collapse: a whole country in a state similar to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Is it avoidable, and what should we do?

Jan Lundberg: Petrocollapse

Jan Lundberg, formerly founder of the "Lundberg Report" (on petroleum market analysis) and founder of "Culture Change" and publisher of the "Auto Free Times" spoke next. Lundberg claims he has learned a lot more since leaving the petroleum industry. By "Petrocollapse" he means a breakdown of our whole society, but the general direction of things remains unclear. It is clear we are using 4 barrels of oil for every 1 barrel discovered, a situation that cannot maintain our oil dependence for long. The preference of oil companies to buy one another rather than spending their money on exploration is another indicator of a lack of new oil to be found, and in that light, the American "violent, illegal seizing of Middle East oil [in Iraq] makes sense".

What are the options? The government is offering no options other than coercion and social control. Lundberg claims it's too late for the US to recreate our infrastructure in a way that isn't oil-dependent and oil alternatives aren't ready yet, so we will be consigned to involuntary and sudden change when the decline starts.

Lundberg then veered from at least arguable facts to a more airy anti-growth utopianism. The "establishment", he claims, wants economic growth to continue. "I don't", he said. Somehow, he believe we will only get through the coming collapse with a new culture of cooperation and solidarity; that there is no alternative if we are to survive as a species. He seems convinced there will be a large die-off - perhaps 90% of human population will be lost. We will return to a dependence on nature, and real community-based tribal cultures. Humans are out of control, Lundberg claims, and the dominant culture of the west is guilty.

He pointed out several routes this might happen; "the veneer of civilization is thin"; if governing elites or general consensus don't start the population reduction, we'll kill one another off when the trucks stop rolling. Or else climate change will do it for us.

The problem with this sort of argument is it's very unlikely any beyond a tiny fraction of the population will agree to the sort of cooperative utopia Lundberg thinks is inevitable. He didn't elect to answer my question (all questions for this session were to be written on cards and selected by the speakers to answer) but here it is anyway: "what's to prevent a new "Genghis Khan" from using his tribal leadership to conquer the world through genocide and destruction?" Nothing obviously; it was unfortunate to see so many at the conference abandoning all hope of any influence on government action. Don't we live in a democracy?

Lundberg ended with a video on the effects of plastics in the ocean, lots of bad things happening out there.

David Pimentel: Ethanol

The thin and grey-haired Dr. Pimentel is a professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and is rather well-known as an opponent of ethanol biofuels. Pimentel started his talk talking about world population: 6.5 billion people in the world now, and of those, 3.7 billion are malnourished, according to his quote from a World Health Organization report. Malnourishment leads to increased disease and death; ironically disease and death afflict many westerners for the opposite reasons, due to an overabundence of food. Pimentel returned to the issue of malnourishment several times, questioning why we would use cropland for energy when there are people who need the crops as food, not fuel.

Pimentel quickly got to the fundamental problem with bio-fuels: inefficiency. The solar energy captured by most crops is about 0.1%. For corn it's about 0.2%. Photovoltaics in contrast capture 20%, converting it directly into useful electricity. Biofuels have been important in the past of course - in 1850 we were 91% dependent on wood, and Pimentel showed the usual curves of successive energy resources displacing one another at ever higher levels: first wood, then coal, then oil.

Inefficiency wouldn't be so much of a problem except for that huge scale-up in our energy needs. Total energy usage now is about 100 quads (quadrillion Btu's) per year in the US which amounts to TWICE as much as total plant capture of solar energy in the same area; for nations with higher population densities or more polar climates the problem is that much worse.

Pimentel then turned to the ethanol question. In the US, ethanol is derived from corn; in Brazil sugar cane is the feedstock. In their published studies of the energy payback issue, they considered fourteen different sources of energy in the production of corn itself: machinery, diesel fuel, fertilizers, electricity for farms and energy use by farmers in their daily lives, etc, amounting to 810 liters of crude oil required per hectare of corn. Ethanol is produced from the corn in a fermentation process that requires heat, and then a purification process that has to go beyond normal distillation, at least for ethanol to be blended with gasoline which requires 99.5% purity. For vehicles that can run on ethanol alone, only 95% purity (achievable with simpler distillation) is required.

The total inputs to the process are 6600 kcal per liter of ethanol produced. The energy output from the ethanol is 5130 kcal/l, so less than the fossil fuels used to make it. "I wish it were positive", said Pimentel, as a professor of agriculture. He stated that the discrepancy between his slightly negative and a USDA slightly positive analysis is that the USDA left out many of the input terms, and also took credits for byproducts for which there would never be demand on the scale that we need ethanol to replace oil.

Other problems with large scale bio-energy production are excessive soil erosion and increased fertilizer run-off, already causing "dead zone" problems in the Gulf of Mexico for instance. Using corn for ethanol also already raises beef prices as it effectively increases the demand for and price of corn. The estimated cost of more expensive beef was about $1 billion/yr to consumers, in addition to the $3 billion/yr in ethanol/corn subsidies ($7.00/bushel of corn, of which farmers get 2 cents). Mmost of the money goes to big corporations such as ADM or Cargill.

Pimentel mentioned they have also looked at soybeans, which produces better byproducts for lifestock than corn, and they have examined the energy payback for switchgrass, wood, and sunflower oil for bio-diesel. The one case where they get a positive energy payback under typical US growing conditions is with soybeans for biodiesel, where the soy meal can be profitably used as a byproduct and thus brings a net credit. Total net production of soy biodiesel is 664 liters per hectare per year; the entire land are of the US would be needed to supply enough of this just for US trucking, not even including other vehicles.

Pimentel briefly covered the other options: coal could be converted to oil, but at a loss of about 50% of the original energy content; at least there would be no disturbance of agriculture in that case, though the pollution could be bad. For other energy sources Pimentel used for comparison a typcial 100,000-person US city, requiring 10,000 kWh per person per year of electric energy, or a billion kWh total. For this typical small city, supplying the electric energy with hydro power would take a lot of land area. Growing wood to burn for electricity would require even more land. The following estimates were part of the presentation:

Pimentel quickly dismissed hydrogen as very difficult to handle and likely not helpful. His data indicate the US could produce 46 quads per year (about half current energy use) using 17% of US land area with a mix of renewable options - that's much better than the bio-diesel and ethanol options, so he has some hope.

John Darnell - challenges of the transition to sustainability

John Darnell is the Environmental Projects Coordinator for Maryland (Republican) congressman Roscoe Bartlett. Congressman Bartlett has become well known in "peak oil" circles for talking about the issue on the floor of the house, and recently held a ground-breaking conference on the issue in his home district. To some extent, Darnell's talk was a recap of what Bartlett has talked about elsewhere, but it was very good to see it in person and in detail. Darnell's talk was backed up by real data, lots of figures, and good mathematical analysis and logic.

Darnell started out by trying to frame the problem in positive terms, thinking about how we could solve it. The "Problem" here is that long term growth of world economies is already exceeding the rate at which conventional oil resources can sustain that growth. The "Objective" of the analysis is to find a transition to sustainable energy economies before the resources we know how to use are depleted. The "Method" Darnell proposes is to rapidly reduce consumption now to buy time, save money, and provide for investment in a transition.

Darnell cited a book by John Howe - "The End of Fossil Energy and A Plan for Sustainability" that recommends a "five percent plan", reducing our use of fossil fuels by 5% per year, much more rapidly than the resource itself constrains us to. This may be doable with conservation measures and fostering of alternatives, or it may have to be enforced more strictly..

Darnell showed several interesting analytical graphs, one showing "energy saving options", with time/cost on one axis and the extent of savings on another. In the lower left were voluntary actions, followed by more organized volunteerism, monetary incentives, better policies, efficient technology retrofits (upgrading things we have already) and monetary incentives for new efficient technologies at the upper right.

A similar graph on policy choices showed short term private interest on the vertical axis, and long term public interest on the horizontal; the top (left and right) corresponded to free market solutions; items in the bottom right category are highly desirable for the public as a whole, but can only be obtained through government action. Darnell discussed taxation and other incentives the government can impose to make things happen.

As a specific example of this short-term/long-term private/public conflict, Darnell mentioned LED or compact fluorescent lighting: this is typical, up-front costs are high, but lead to long-term efficiency and savings.

Darnell talked briefly about the European goal of a 300 mpg car (1 L/100 km), supported by the automaker VW. That's the sort of action we may need. He went on to discuss alternatives and renewables; we need more than just efficiency in the face of finite fossil resources.

How do we get where we need to go? Darnell displayed an interesting graph symbolizing the vision of where we want to get to, and many possible converging paths to it. Similarly, many diverging paths lead from the present. But which of those present paths continues into one of those paths that leads to our ultimate vision? He suggested an approach he called "reverse engineering a vision of a sustainable future": what would we have to do just before we get to that point, can it be done today, or do we have a prior step needed, etc, working back from the solution.

He then returned to the Apollo 13 comparison - they had contingency plans, reduced their need for resources, relied on a reserve, and overcoming impossible odds, they survived! So maybe we can too...

Darnell did a great job addressing questions; he talked about the need for the big picture, that things like the Apollo Alliance etc. seemed good ideas; we need more public discourse. There's a need for real examples, and improvements in policy and our institutions. Darnell mentioned Ghandi's "salt march" - in one act, demonstrating both the problem and a solution. We can't do "all" the tech solutions that are out there, so we have to choose the best ones now.

James Howard Kunstler - Kunstler is the author of "The Long Emergency", and his talk was titled: "Who we are? Who we will become?" And it was literally a talk - no viewgraphs!

Kunstler's talk was basically a diatribe against modern America, put in the friendliest and most amusing possible tones. Our failure to face problems is, according to Kunstler "wondrous". We are afflicted with "supernatural" thinking, even at highest levels of discourse. But he blames it not on conspiracy, but cluelessness. Energy is only one of the imminent threats we face, and which we are blithely ignoring. Suburbia is doomed. And so on. The reality is that life is tragic, Kunstler repeated several times.

One nice theme was Kunstler's discussion of "the common good", i.e. "the future". And a specific down-to-earth project he strongly recommended: upgrade the US Passenger Railroad System. But he was almost uniformly negative on whether our political system had any hope of actually doing that or anything else useful.

Kunstler continued the theme in response to questions - he has no beef with "capitalism", believes there's no vast conspiracy. There will be hardship, difficulty, vicissitudes, and bloodshed. He asserted that George W. Bush is not a psychotic! Don't worry about conspiracy or greed; we'll have enough trouble with psychotics in the progressive community (a comment greeted with much laughter, and head-turning to see who he might be talking about).

Panel discusison This was on "Government response to Peak Oil"

Jason Meggs (co-founder of The Plan B Project) talked about policy barriers to positive action, and the specific experience he has had in the Bay Area protecting natural resources; also that there are logjams all over the place, for example environmental opposition to windmills, despite them being one of the most promising sources of new energy. The US "modus operandi" is "Wait until it breaks" - but doing so could be catastrophic in this case. Beggs suggested one likely action would be rationing which was in fact implemented in WWII.

Beggs talked about urbanization, parking issues and zoning codes, bicycle lanes, and so forth. And the possibility of improving our democratic process with "instant runoff voting", though it wasn't clear to me why he thought that would make much difference.

Jenna Orkin, one of the conference organizers, then spoke on "How they get away with it", mainly her experiences with the World Trade Center bombings and environmental aftereffects. Orkin claims that half of those at ground zero have debilitating respiratory illnesses. Lead and mercury, ultrafine particles, asbestos, much of which was covered up by the EPA under whitehouse pressure.

Apparently, in the face of disasters such as the 9-11 or the hurricane damage in New Orleans, safety standards for chemical and other contaminants are significantly lowered. The more people, the lower the environemntal safety standard? Although I suspect there's a valid reason behind the difference (the issue of chronic vs. short-term exposure, for instance?)

Orkin seemed outraged by what our government had been up to, but it wasn't clear she had that great an argument on the case. A perfect lead-in to the next speaker though: Michael Ruppert...

Michael Ruppert (Author: Crossing the Rubicon and founder of www.fromthewilderness.com). Several of the people I talked to at the conference seemed to have been drawn specifically by Ruppert; he apparently has quite a following - for many, including the organizers given the amount of time he was allotted, he seemed to be the highlight of the conference. Which is rather worrisome.

Ruppert got the conspiracy theories off to a quick start, quoting a Dutch economist: "It may not be profitable to slow decline" - specifically, the companies that run our economy may be very deliberately setting things up for a rapid collapse. He also repeatedly talked about "changing the way money works", which seems to involve setting up lots of local currencies, as a solution. That doesn't seem terribly practical though...

Ruppert talked a lot about the Hirsch report (Department of Energy sponsored) on peaking of world oil - which is indeed a rather alarming document, and should have been a good wake-up call to the country. The report discussed three scenarios of reaction to peak oil: 1 - waiting until the peak to do something, 2 - starting 10 years before peak, and 3 - starting 20 years before. Peak oil means a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than 2 decades, so starting 20 years ahead is the only way to avoid massive disruption.

Ruppert claimed that the report supported his theory that a government response IS planned, one of balancing supply through "massive demand destruction". "This will destroy the US economy."

As evidence, Ruppert posted a list of signs he claims would go along with such a plan that recognized peak oil - these include:

Ruppert claimed we were seeing many of these signs now. Even the first, on rationing - the International Energy Agency, owned by the OECD, he claims can impose rationing in the US by treaty, and has posted specific plans for doing so.

On coal and nuclear: nuclear is flawed (no argument from the audience, but is it so bad?) Synfuels are possible - Schweitzer of Montana had an editorial in the NY Times recently promoting this, but the environemntal damage will be monumental.

The focus of the federal government on "Critical Infrastructure" protection: it's clear what these are in the Patriot and Homeland Security act (mentioned many times). Suspending Davis Bacon act in Gulf Coast was a dangerous precedent. Our government is making corporate profits the priority, and starving the people. FEMA's primary role now is critical infrastructure protection, not humans. It'll be "every community for themselves". And so on.

Ruppert's laundry list may have some validity, but much of it is really hardly surprising; is it evidence of conspiracy? I think I have to side with Kunstler on this one.

Apparently Ruppert has talked a lot with Cynthia McKinney in congress. That can't be good. Ruppert was back with more later - see below.

Panel: renewable energy the answer to our prayers - We took a break for lunch, after which was a panel on renewable energy.

The first speaker here was Michael Kane, listed as an investigative reporter at "fromthewilderness.com". Michael spoke with no viewgraphs; basically downplaying renewable energy as "too little, too late". The level of government spending on renewables is tiny; they're just a supplement to overconsumption, not intended to actually replace big oil.

In fact, "Big Oil is Big Renewables": Shell and BP have a large part of the solar energy market. Kane claimed renewables can't offer path to sustainability; what we need is a "massive evolution in human consciousness"!

Kane did get into specifics: Wind is the biggest winner so far, with wind farms of size around 100's of MW, on par with traditional power plants. But even the most optimistic projections see renewables as only 12% of global energy supply by 2020, maybe half that in the US - but the actual energy provided would be less again due to low capacity factors (though offshore wind may do better).

Kane talked about Europe, and specifically the German example, of how far they have gone, leading the world in installations. But his complaint was that wind energy requires "shadow stations"; reserve capacity 60-80% of total wind capacity. And you need more fossil fuel reserve capacity as wind comes online: Germany is expecting 48 GW of wind capacity by 2020, but it will only be responsible for replacing 2 GW of thermal power?

This is certainly an issue, but capacity is quite different from utilization and wind can certainly considerably cut down on the degree to which fossil fuels are consumed; I think Kane was greatly exaggerating the seriousness of the problem here - but there certainly is one related to renewables intermittency.

Kane went on with a litany of complaints about wind and other possible solutions. Won't wind turbines change wind patterns, and cause climate change that way? And what about repair of offshore wind turbines - only reparable in part of year?

His ultimate claim here was that we need conservation, and not just limited efficiency improvements, but radical reworking of the way we live. He is convinced there are no "technologic" solutions on offer to the problem, and cities are doomed once the trucks stop rolling in.

Kane recommends cultivating spiritual practice - we need to slow down and reflect. get up when sun rises, go down when it sets, return to the lives of indigenous natives (left unsaid - there were many many less of them than there are of us).

Pincas Jawetz spoke next - he is UN Correspondent for Culture Change. Jawetz struck a mostly positive note - we need renewable resources, but they are available simply from better use of energy from the sun. We do need to reduce how much we use, but then get the remainder from renewables. We simply won't be able to replace our entire present need and supply from fossil fuels, so we definitely need to reduce first.

Jawetz particularly emphasized the global warming problem - "Katrita" (Katrina and Rita) are a warning - they should have opened our eyes, that Earth cannot sustain us as we are now.

Even in Europe, the UK for instance, people are "addicted to mobility" - vehicle use is increasing, even with 70% of the cost of fuel a tax.

Jawetz suggested petrocollapse may start even sooner than we expect, sooner than oil numbers demonstrate. We will understand "Katrita" and melting ice caps are not natural.

On changing our culture, Jawetz pointed out a measure apparently used in Bhutan - "gross national happiness". If we can measure it, it might put us on a different path.

Michael Ruppert - again: "Government/Financial awareness of and response, part 2" - Ruppert started up again pretty much where he left off.

Key decision makers are aware of and planning for this crisis. Economic and business elites have been aware. Remedial action to save lives etc. will only happen at local level.

Ruppert claims that official understanding has been a distinct and clear part of top level thinking since 1977 - as of course is described in his book - "Crossing the Rubicon". Even though "peak oil" is rarely mentioned, it's exaclty what's being described. Most preparations, to avoid panic and political risk, are concealed in legislation such as the Patriot act, Homeland Security act, etc.

Ruppert sees the attacks of Sep 11, and all govt and foreign policy since then as evidence of government and financial concern about peak oil.

One particular line of evidence Ruppert claimed was the use of oil pricing as a weapon against the Soviet Union. A 1977 CIA secret briefing paper: "Impending Soviet Oil Crisis" since declassified mentioned peak oil by name. Heinberg analysis of this -- CIA was wrong since Soviet oil did not peak. But what did happen was political dirty tricks; in the 1970's OPEC relaxed quotas so reserves were increased, forcing Soviets out of market. As Saudi Arabia did last week, reserves suddenly doubled. By 1989 the Soviet economy was in ruins thanks to this strategy. Russian production today is in a second final peak; it will irreversibly decline 2006-2010.

The Russians will cease exporting oil. 18 major production regions around the world are showing steep declines.

Since the CIA knew it was a problem for the US and Soviet Union, they must have known this was a problem for the whole world.

Another piece: in 1989 Dick Cheney gave a speech to London Petroleum Institute on the "pesky problem" of finding more oil. Cheney talked about the need to find and develop reserves equal to output, and that this was not happening for companies and for the world as a whole. Exxon-Mobil needs to secure 1.5 billion barrels/yr in discovery. We are seeing on average 2% annual demand growth; conservatively 3% natural decline in production - this means "Peak oil" in Cheney's words. By 2010 we would need an additional 50 million bpd. Where will it come from? Core areas in the existing oil companies are mature. There is a high cost in developing new areas. The end of the oil era is not here yet, but changes are afoot; transformations lie ahead.

A third piece of evidence: April 2001, from the Council on Foreign Relations, a month before the National Energy Policy report. CFR's report contained stark admissions that the scope of the problem was evident. These are the "strategic policy challenges for 21st century" - the "end of sustained surplus capacity in hydrocarbon fuels", and the beginning of capacity limitations. The report talked about the chance of an oil supply crisis. Our choices will affect other US policy objectives - relations with others, terrorism, etc.

Ruppert's main point: we are within weeks of a crash worse than 1929, and from this there will be no recovery. [It hasn't happened yet, over 12 weeks later!]

The recent devastating hurricanes are not separate from peak oil, rather they (with the price spikes in gasoline) reveal it in all its significance. These problems are pushing US and world collapse into overdrive. After the collapse there won't be enough energy available to rebuild the energy industry! Ruppert continued melodramatically on the problems from Katrina and Rita.

Another piece of evidence from 2001 - the National Energy Policy secret taskforce, led by Dick Cheney. The deepest, darkest secrets of 9-11 and govt awareness of peak oil are buried there (and from here we realize Ruppert believes 9-11 was part of a conspiracy too). 20 of 25 wells in the Caspian basin came up dry. Ruppert claims the secret task force discussed not just discovery but where the oil was and who owned it. In other words, who had to be dealt with or invaded to get it. Iraq, most notably.

The public report from the task force noted that 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since 1970's, with demand way up, yet we produce 39% less oil today than in 1970. And in 20 years from now we will import 2/3 of the oil we need.

Ruppert returned to the Hirsch report again, as another piece of evidence that the government is well aware. There is a plan to handle peak oil; it's being carried out right now. We won't like it.

Ruppert mentioned Roscoe Barlett: "I don't think it will have any net effect; we can only educate and warn the public. The government cannot solve it for us. But I salute him for trying."

Ruppert concluded with his 5 rules to help us survive:

Ruppert reiterated that he believes an economic crash is weeks away. The government plan is massive demand destruction to achieve broader global stability. And we in the US, vastly greater consumers of energy than anybody else, are "the only ones that need to be adjusted"...

"With every ounce of credibility" Ruppert urged us to take action - and stated that the only productive options are to take action in your local communities now. No-one, except neighbors and family will do anything to help you, this has been the real plan for years.

A long line of people then formed to ask questions. Most of which Ruppert dismissed with comments along the same lines as his talk: "it's a fantasy that anything will happen on national level. Look at all the protests of the Iraq war." He reiterated his conviction that collapse was weeks away, that we need to work on things locally, that each of us should find a place with low population density, arable land, water, wood. It's a matter of triage now, we can't save everybody. So said Ruppert...

Panel discussion - local solutions, moderated by Jan Lundberg.

David Room, director of North American operations for the Post Carbon Institute spoke first. His theme was "relocalization". We can seriously reduce the amount of transport by reconfiguring our economy so production is much closer to consumption. Local manufacturing, instead of 6000 mile supply chains for goods needed on daily basis.

That means local food, and perhaps continuing Ruppert's theme, local money. There are lots of experiments in this. If we are going to change, this is one place we can do it. We need to understand what works locally before it's too late.

Room talked a bit about "energy farms" with a diversity of sources and storage.

Albert Bates, president of Global Eco Village Network talked about his concept of "Ecovillages". an idea that formed with the collapse of former Soviet Union. At that time the people suffered with long gas lines, and sometimes none at a station; people would wait in hopes of a truck, there were long lines for bread, food.

So 1991-94, in Denmark, Germany, Russia, Scotland, they formed this global eco village network, providing local solutions in communities around the world. There are 600 ecovillages in Brazil! The US is way behind.

Bates discussed specific strategies for peak oil: "Building Lifeboats" - Emergency preparation, handling the most urgent needs: water, food, health, shelter, security, mobility. We need alternatives for everything!

Aresh Javadi, co-founder of "More Gardens" talked about gardens they have set up in the Bronx. He had a great cloth banner -"envision a greener tomorrow". Water, food, waste, energy: can it all be produced locally?

Aaron Naparstek, who writes on transportation and energy for NY Magazine, spoke next. His main topic was traffic reforms around Brooklyn, ideas from Europe, applied to New York. Infrastructure to support bicycles was the first topic - the detailed thought that goes into highway projects should be applied to bike lanes in cities too. Montreal for example, has safe, secure, dry bike parking - why not here?

Naparstek talked about pedestrian traffic as well; things could be a lot safer. We can also improve downtown traffic with upgraded light rail systems, or perhaps congestion charging as has been tried in the city of London. There the extra 5 pounds to drive in the city has reduced traffic 30% and raised a lot of money, which is to be used for pedestrian and mass transit improvements. Naparstek pointed out that pedestrians outnumber cars 6:1 in Times Square, but 60% of the space goes to cars. Autos replacing trains on the East River bridges has greatly reduced capacity of the bridges.

A last thought on a way to do things better - Naparstek suggested a free bike program, funded by the city - "Library bike"s, available to all local residents. Why not?

We then heard from Dan Miner, Senior VP for Long Island City Business Development Corp. Miner discussed preparing NYC for a coming energy crisis. If we're going to communicate to the people of NYC, how would we do it? What are most likely early aspects to hit, what can we do that'll be fairly easy to put into practice? What might we be able to convince political and decision makers on?

We need to tie the message to the ability to manage it - Miner was optimistic we could work with local elected officials. Senior elected officials may know, but not be helping us. But a lot of local elected officials have no idea. Environmental professionals have no idea about any of this. How do we break the news?

Transportation is a key area - communicating the issue of higher oil prices, shortages, could get through. There are a lot of local NYC transportation advocates. There is a lot we can do without spending much money: simple policy modifications can reduce fuel use.

Miner mentioned existing bills before the NYC council - in particular 374, an emergency energy contingency plan. This can be amended to include how to deal with price spikes, shortages of transportation and heating fuels. And there may be a new city energy office to help implement. We need civic, business, etc. leaders convinced of the necessity.


And, at that point, I had to leave, slightly before the end of the meeting. It was a very interesting day; many different perspectives on the problem. I think it was unfortunate that Ruppert was given as much attention; perhaps people will notice his dire warnings haven't come about just yet, and consider that perhaps we do have some real solutions that could work. Congressman Bartlett's side of things gives a lot of reason to hope. Anyway, I'm glad I was able to get something out of the day in the city!
Created: 2006-01-05 05:10:14 by Arthur Smith
Modified: 2006-01-05 05:12:18 by Arthur Smith