What Might Cities Look Like in a World Without Oil?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’re stepping back and taking a look at the big picture. Over at network member Worldchanging, Sarah Kuck writes about the ideas of environmental scientist and sustainability activist Peter Newman. Newman gave a talk in Seattle the other night promoting his forthcoming book, Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change:

after.jpgHope for the future: A river in Seoul, South Korea, that was covered over by a freeway in the 1970s and restored in 2005. Photo by StephaneR via Flickr.

Picturing a future where we do nothing resulted in some frightening scenarios: ones where we are barely getting by and injustice is running rampant. But, as Newman explained, picturing a future in which we respond to the challenge by building resilient cities results in images of a flexible and supportive, flourishing society.

In order to build the new resilient city of the future, Newman said that “we need to stop building extra urban road capacity and urban scatter; we need to start building electric renewable cities with much greater localism in the economy and infrastructure.”

Newman will be speaking at NYU on Jan. 26th.

Also: The Bus Bench on buses gone wild in LA, no love for a tunnel from Seattle Transit Blog, and 51 bright ideas for the new president from The Sustainable Cities Blog.

Another hot network item over the last couple of days has been the
"make your own laser bike lane" device. It was featured, among many
other places, on Greater Greater Washington. Click through and see what you think.

  • OK, where do I get one of those laser bike lane thingies? That’s genius.

    Though I hope someone’s planning a super-powerful forward-facing version to zap cars parked in the “bike lane” into small piles of easily traversed ash.

  • anonymous

    PRT, yo. You don’t need to worry about batteries for electric vehicles because you can get electric from the tracks.

    Or simply bring back the trolley and electrify it.

  • Ian Turner

    PRT has been totally discredited. We’re talking about real cities, not fantasy ones.

  • Without oil, cities will be depopulated.

    The top story of the year is that global crude oil production peaked in 2008.

    The media, governments, world leaders, and public should focus on this issue.

    Global crude oil production had been rising briskly until 2004, then plateaued for four years. Because oil producers were extracting at maximum effort to profit from high oil prices, this plateau is a clear indication of Peak Oil.

    Then in August and September of 2008 while oil prices were still very high, global crude oil production fell nearly one million barrels per day, clear evidence of Peak Oil (See Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly,” December 2008, page 1) http://www.peakoil.nl/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/2008_december_oilwatch_monthly.pdf.

    Peak Oil is now.

    Credit for accurate Peak Oil predictions (within a few years) goes to the following (projected year for peak given in parentheses):

    * Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

    * Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008)

    * Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst; Samuel Foucher, oil analyst; and Stuart Staniford, Physicist [Wikipedia Oil Megaprojects] (2008)

    * Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

    * T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

    * U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

    * Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell geologist (2005)

    * Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

    * Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

    * Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

    * Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

    * Fredrik Robelius, Oil analyst and author of “Giant Oil Fields” (2008 to 2018)

    Oil production will now begin to decline terminally.

    Within a year or two, it is likely that oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand. OPEC cuts could exacerbate the gap between supply and demand and drive prices even higher.

    Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

    Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

    “By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame.”

    With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

    Documented here:
    http://www.peakoilassociates.com/POAnalysis.html
    http://survivingpeakoil.blogspot.com/

  • I generally accept the peak oil scenario, and have followed much of what has been written on the subject — but I remain unconvinced that suburbs and exurbs will be any better off than cities, since they will face the same challenges.

  • @ Mark Walker,

    I agree with you.

    After the last power black out, the people living in rural areas will find that surviving will become increasing difficult without all of the goods from the “outside” (food, canning jars, fencing, roofing, hay, straw, seed, animal feed, plastic tarps, fertilizer, clothes, fabric, medicine, hardware, saws, wood stoves, etc.).

    The survivors will be the very few who live in areas with good rain and soil and who prepared intelligently for a life without oil.

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