Highway-Affiliated Pew Climate Report Favors “Clean” Cars Over Transit

Many transportation reformers were disappointed last week when the Pew Center on Global Climate Change released a report indicating that only clean car technology had a shot at significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report dismissed smart growth development strategies and transit as trivial contributors to a lower-carbon economy.

Cleaner fuels might reduce the smog but you're still left with this traffic jam. Image: ##http://www.boxoid.org/?p=86##Boxoid##
Cleaner fuels might reduce the smog but you're still left with this traffic jam. Image: ##http://www.boxoid.org/?p=86##Boxoid##

Pew has a well-earned reputation for integrity, commitment to hard-hitting research, and impact on policy debates. And the report, “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation,” does an excellent job of analyzing the potential of various vehicle technologies to reduce emissions. But when it comes to Pew’s conclusions on transit and smart growth, the report is skewed by major omissions and dubious assumptions.

I asked Pew project manager Nick Nigro why the acknowledgments specifically state, “This report is not a publication of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, or The National Academies.” It turns out the report was funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, a program of the Transportation Research Board that works in close collaboration with AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“They provided the funding,” Nigro told Streetsblog, “but it’s a Pew report. They were just a source of funding.”

The authors Pew enlisted, David Greene and Steven Plotkin, have unassailable credentials in fuel economy research and alternative fuels. But how much do they know about transit and smart growth? Their resumés are thin in those areas. So whom did they pull in to offer further depth of understanding? A longtime official from the Federal Highway Administration.

“The study would have been better and more balanced if, for example, Reid Ewing had been a third co-author,” said Deron Lovaas, transportation policy analyst for NRDC. “I wish that Pew had structured this differently. They structured it so that it’s very strong and aggressive in its vehicles and fuels focus and it’s lacking in its focus on other measures that affect travel activity and travel efficiency.”

The report finds that transit makes up such a low proportion of passenger-miles in this country that even doubling transit usage would represent a small improvement in emissions. It also asserts that transit is usually “only modestly more energy-efficient than personal vehicles.”

“Yeah it’s a very low percentage of current passenger miles,” Lovaas told Streetsblog. “That’s true. But hybrid electric vehicle sales also account for about that percentage of total vehicle sales, currently. Let’s be fair, this is a long slope to climb either for breakthrough technologies such as hybrid electric vehicle technology, or for transit systems that attract higher ridership.”

Indeed, the Pew study envisions a world where people are making vastly different vehicle choices than they are today (even in the age of the three-dollar-gallon) but rejects a future where transit is a more viable travel option. Even more strangely, the authors dismiss smart growth the same way, saying local control of land use regulation is an insurmountable barrier to instituting compact models of development.

Compact development means fewer vehicle miles traveled - a recipe for lower emissions. Image: ##http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/45970.html##NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation##
Compact development means fewer vehicle miles traveled - a recipe for lower emissions. Image: ##http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/45970.html##NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation##

“Homeowners living in low-density communities may be opposed to higher density zoning in or near their neighborhoods,” the authors write, and “the [National Research Council] notes that state and citywide policies for promoting compact development are quite limited, and they speculate that strong political resistance explains the scarcity of such efforts.”

The real estate market is telling a different story. “The Pew study is basically saying that people want to continue to drive – and drive and drive – and we can make them drive without having the emissions problem but they’re still going to want to drive. And that’s not necessarily what’s happening anymore,” said Chuck Kooshian, transportation policy analyst for the Center for Clean Air Policy. “How much more driving do you want to do?”

The question, as summed up by Steve Winkelman, who also specializes in transportation with CCAP, boils down to this: “Why is Brooklyn so expensive?”

“People are moving in to communities where they have accessibility, where you can get your dry cleaning and coffee on your way to work, instead of being in traffic,” Winkelman said. “People are voting with their feet.”

Indeed, in the fallout from the housing crash, real estate held far more of its value in walkable cities than in the drivable suburbs. Study after study shows that public preferences are shifting toward smart growth-inspired, walkable communities, and you can tell by the housing prices in many places that that kind of development is far undersupplied.

So why the skepticism on Pew’s part that smart growth could be a key to a lower-carbon future? The report states, “The primary GHG benefit [from compact development] comes from reduced VMT rather than actual mode shifts.” Isn’t a reduction in travel a better solution than finding marginally cleaner ways to log the same number of miles? Especially given the other costs of driving that cleaner fuels don’t address – safety, land conservation, community cohesion – it makes more sense to look beyond the automobile.

Note: the Center for Clean Air Policy released their report yesterday on how smart growth can mitigate climate change and boost the economy. It’s a useful counterpoint to the Pew study. We’ll say more about the CCAP story in a bit. In the meantime, you can check it out for yourself.

  • MAT

    I certainly would not dispute Pew’s findings simply because I prefer transit and walkable communities. Their research sounds spot-on to me. We need to temper our enthusiasm for transit expansion and smart growth with a clear understanding of what the average American wants. That is to say – they want to be free to choose and they choose not to live like us.

    I find it troubling that most reports supporting transit and smart growth are written by authors residing in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington. The average American cannot relate to life in these areas. When Steve Winkelman asks, “Why is Brooklyn so expensive?”; most reply “Who cares?!!?!?” Brooklyn (nor Metro NYC) is not a microcosm for America. Most Americans live in small to mid-sized metros or rural areas. These are areas that cannot afford nor support the sort of transit service that can make a sizeable impact on regional travel patterns. And yes, I believe the average American does want to continue to drive, drive, drive for most of their trips. Remember, most Americans do not live in traffic-clogged, smog-filled areas where driving is always a stressful event. “We” live in places like Spokane, Colorado Springs, Des Moines, Toledo, Birmingham, and Rochester. A single streetcar line costs more than most US metro areas receive in annual federal transportation funding and few are willing to increase taxes on themselves to cover the operating costs (especially in already high-tax states).

    Further, smart growth typically requires a regional body dictating to its local municipalities how they can develop. Most Americans do not want their lifestyles being orchestrated for them from some centralized office. As wasteful as it is, most Americans want an acre (or more) of land, a two-car (or more) garage, and to be as far from the poor as possible. For a gauge on how likely smart growth policies are in the coming decade – how did “big government” fare in the 2010 elections?

    This is the reality we have to deal with and work around if we are to create the sort of communities we want our kids to be able to choose.

  • gecko

    Yeah, and it’s really easy to underestimate the extreme value of net-zero mobility.

  • butters

    “Most Americans live in small to mid-sized metros or rural areas.” As of the 2000 census, only 20% of the country lived in rural areas. More people live in the six largest metro areas (NYC/LA/Chi/Dallas/Phila/Houston) than live in all rural areas combined. Add in the metro areas as small as San Francisco and you get a third of the population of the country. Yes, most of those folks aren’t living in urban hellholes, but they’re living in communities that could easily be made healthier and more walkable by changes in parking/setback requirements, zoning, and transportation. Deregulate land use a bit in any decent suburb and watch density blow up. It’s not reasonable to look at contemporary ultra-regulated suburban land use and pretend that’s the inevitable result of American cultural preferences. Sprawl is the direct product of decades of regulation, not of unmediated individual choices, and those regulatory missteps can be corrected.

  • butters is on the money!

    The framing of suburban land-use by @butters as over-regulation is exactly what sustainability advocates should use with conservatives and especially the new Republican House.

    To address @MAT’s relevant concern, transit and bike advocates should also highlight small town success stories like Boulder and Santa Barbara. Sure, they’re a college town, but many college towns are dominated by vast parking lots and DUI drivers. By providing a high level of transit service and bike improvements, Boulder and Santa Barbara have significantly boosted each mode share. Santa Barbara has the highest transit mode share of any city area in California, and it’s not just the students; in fact, the densest areas of transit use aren’t near the colleges.

  • Sean H

    Any mention of cycling? I think that is an viable option for the last mile problem in suburbs. It costs little, and most Americans have fond memories learning how to ride a bike as a child.

  • jd

    I agree that this study has overlooked MANY issues. First, everything isn’t about carbon and global warming. That’s a huge problem, but hardly the only problem we face. The problems with cars go way beyond just the pollution they create. Those problems are:

    1) Cars are horribly inefficient. The average weight of a car in the US is ~4000 lbs (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/05/business/05weight.html). If the average number of occupants in each car is 1.6 (http://www.fta.dot.gov/planning/planning_environment_8520.html), and assume an average weight of 175 lbs per person and an average cargo of ~60 lbs per car (bags, groceries, etc. … just making this number up … can’t find any statistics on this), then that means the average car carries a total “cargo”
    1.6 x 175 + 60 = 340 lbs
    So that means the ratio of weight of the car to weight of its cargo is
    4000/340 = 11.7
    Let’s just round it down to 10 to be conservative. That’s insane, especially for day-to-day driving around. Sure, it’s great when you load the car up for a big move, but the average person is driving around with nothing in it save a bag or two, just wasting resources. Just from this ratio alone you can see that the car will never be efficient, at least not at it’s current size.

    Now consider a bike: it carries one person and say they have ~20 lbs of cargo. Say the bike weighs about 25 lbs. That means the bike’s ratio of weight to cargo is
    25/195 = 0.13
    Let’s round it up to 0.2 to be conservative. Now compare that to a car … you can see that inherently the bicycle is a much more efficient form of transit. Yes, yes: it can’t do all the things a car can do (carry enormous loads, protect you from the elements, etc.). But, unfortunately, that’s not how we use a car. Instead, we mostly use it for day-to-day tasks, most of which could easily be done on a bike, especially for those in dense urban/suburban areas (and especially with better urban planning in the future).

    So for this reason alone, the car will *always* be inefficient no matter how you power it. Now, if you start making cars really small (like Smart car or motorcycle size) such that it is starting to approach the weight of bicycle, and make the engine electric, now it will be a different story. But the idea that we will all keep driving 3000-4000 lb cars in the future for anything but one-off, non-routine uses is utterly insane. There is no future in something so wasteful.

    And that’s not even getting to the other problems with cars ….

    2) Because of point 1 above, cars have a tremendous amount of energy which leads to horrid accidents. And I’m not just talking about having to pry the occupants out of mangled steel, but the other users of our roads that cars disproportionately injure. It’s a simple physics issue: because cars weigh so much more and go so much faster than all other forms of personal transit, they have way more energy to release in an accident.

    3) Because of point 1 above, cars take a tremendous amount of natural resources to power (and yes, even if you have an electric car you still need to get the energy from somewhere) and — these are often neglected — build and maintain. Think about how much motor oil is tossed out everywhere. Or how many tires. Or how much plastic. Just think about all the energy that goes into producing all that, transporting it, and if you’re lucky, recycling it. What a waste. Again, the car is inefficient.

    4) Cars are massive contributors to the obesity epidemic. We simply need more exercise, and since most of us sit all day in front of computers (and that isn’t changing), the only way to build exercise reliably into your day is to use it to get places, ie walking or biking to/from work, errands, hobbies, etc. Cars take the one opportunity we have to get exercise and remove it. So we are fatter than ever and less happy than ever (since physical health leads to mental health). Sure, you can go to the gym … but guess what? It doesn’t work? Witness the fact that there are more gyms than ever and we are still fatter than ever. The reality is, exercise for the sake of exercise will never solve our problems. People only will get exercise regularly and at a sufficient level if they need it to get something done (get to work or the store) or, for those who are young, are playing a sport where adrenaline and developing a skill are the main drivers instead of just the exercise.

    I think this is a hugely overlooked problem with cars. No matter how efficient they are, by their very definition they prevent you from getting any exercise.

    5) Cars have a dehumanizing and self-centering effect on people … just witness how every time somebody does something stupid accidentally in their car, everybody else lays on their horn. That would be the equivalent of accidentally bumping into somebody and having somebody scream at the top of their lungs at you about it. Now if somebody did that, we would think they were insane. But in a car, it’s okay. Because you can hide anonymously in a car, and because you can’t see others since they are also hidden, everybody else becomes an object that is in your way. Instead of showing empathy and understanding – the most important virtues in a civil society – people learn self-centeredness and arrogance from being in a car.

    6) Cars are horribly noisy which massively inhibits the livability of cities. Just step outside of any urban area, and the vast majority of sounds you hear are from cars. Now I’m not just talking about the jerks who drive crazy loud cars (and motorcycles, which are the worse) with the amped up mufflers … most noise from cars comes from the tires and the air whooshing over it. Even with an electric car, cars traveling at anything about 20 mph will still be just as loud as a combustion engine car.

    Further — and this is unfortunately the most overlooked problem with car noise — the noise from cars is also due to the over-used horns (see point 5 above), the useless alarms which I’ve never even heard of preventing a theft, and the over-powered obnoxious stereos. These things really take away from the livability of any city.

    7) Finally, cars beget cars. Cars lead to sprawl, which leads to less livable cities, which then requires more cars, etc., etc. It is a catch-22 that is unsustainable. And really, I totally disagree that people like driving. The idea of sitting there idly can be done in many other ways (what did humankind do before the car to get this fix?). It is insane to think that people really want to sit there alone in a car. Most people, if they really though about it, would much rather spend their time in other ways and in other places.

  • First, everything isn’t about carbon and global warming.

    Only if you give a rat’s arse about having a habitable planet.

    There really is no other issue (except human population, which can plausibly be classified as a sub-issue.)

    If you don’t understand this, you’re either not thinking straight or you’re (understandably, perhaps) evading the enormity and tragedy of the catastrophe.

  • jd

    Richard said: “Only if you give a rat’s arse about having a habitable planet.” Disagree. Carbon is one problem, but you solve it, and there are many other forms of pollution that are just as bad when you start thinking about the shear number of people and how much crap we use and how much waste we create. Global warming due to carbon, toxic pollutants in our water and air, etc. all are symptoms of the same bigger problem: we are not living sustainably on the planet. If you fixate on problem, you’ll find a hack that will solve it but by exacerbating, or at least not solving, the other problems, most of which can also render our planet inhabitable. Global warming is important, but if you make it all you are fighting for, you will solve it, and then all the other symptoms of the same higher problem will still be there.

    Here is another discussion of what I’m trying to say: http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/16-06/sb_carbon

  • Upon inspection the report appears very biased towards the authors'(very American) assumptions about the way things have to be–that Americans refuse to ride public transit (they don’t now, after all), they simply won’t bicycle for local trips (they don’t now, after all), they want to live in suburbia (they do now, after all) and they vastly prefer cars to any other form of transit. (They do now, after all.)

    They do mention the importance of lighter cars but don’t mention that bicycles are 1/100th of the weight. They do mention increasing auto efficiency but they don’t mention that the internal combustion engine is so fundamentally inefficient at converting gasoline into power that it needs to visit the dust heap of history as soon as possible. They do mention electric cars, but don’t mention how our electrical grid is going to handle a doubling of electricity demands over the next decade to meet the charging needs of all the Volts and Leafs soon to appear.

    And then the report further justifies their myopic focus by making a blanket statement that public transit is only modestly less energy intensive than the private car. I am so tired of hearing this. *It all depends on utilization.* Yes, if a bus only has three people on it, it is less energy efficient than a car. But once you get more than six or seven passengers, the bus wins. To say public transit is a bad idea because we design the system so poorly and subsidize gasoline and roads so much that the buses run around 90% empty implies either sloppy thinking or a paid agenda.

    As JD says above, cars are heavy. They take a lot of energy to move around. The energy has to come from somewhere, whether it’s fossil fuels or alternatives. Far better not to move so much unnecessary weight. As JD says above, Americans are incredibly unhealthy because we don’t move our bodies enough. Better to design bodily movement (walking, biking) into people’s everyday lives as a primary form of transportation. As butters says above, people live in suburban sprawl because we have subsidized and encouraged it a hundred different ways. Better for people to live in walkable, bikeable communities along transit corridors. (An added benefit is that smaller houses and condos take less energy to heat and illuminate than McMansions, so that will help reduce energy consumption as well.)

    The authors seem intent on electrifying every current mile of American VMT. (They imply that Americans will simply refuse to accept any other alternative.) But there are alternatives. Instead of electrifying every traffic jam, continuing our obesity epidemic, and degrading our neighborhoods, why not do everything we can to lower VMT. Just as the nega-watt is the cheapest, easiest way to de-carbon our electricity consumption, its cousin, the nega-mile, is the cheapest, easiest way to reduce transportation’s carbon profile. And yes, this does mean the American way of life will have to change. Thankfully, this change–which will lead to greater health, less pollution, and stronger communities–can only be for the better.

  • garyg

    This piece simply fails to address the fundamental problem with mode-shifting that the Pew report describes. And the quote from NRDC’s Deron Lovaas shows that he doesn’t understand the problem either. It is irrelevant that hybrids have only a small share of total vehicle sales. The point is that it would take an enormous shift from autos to transit to reduce emissions by as much as just a small increase in the average fuel efficiency of automobiles. A 10% increase in the average fuel economy of automobiles would reduce the combined emissions from autos+transit by almost 10%. But it would take a doubling — a 100% increase — of transit’s share of combined travel to reduce combined emissions by less than 1%. You don’t need any particular expertise to understand this difference. It’s a matter of simple math.

  • JJJ

    @MAT

    “NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington. The average American cannot relate to life in these areas.”

    Completely, 100% wrong.

    You know how dense areas get dense? Because a lot of people live in them. You know how rural areas stay open? Because nobody lives there.

    New York City:
    Pop: 8,391,881

    Wyoming 563,626
    Vermont 625,741
    North Dakota 672,591
    Alaska 710,231
    South Dakota 814,180
    Delaware 897,934
    Montana 989,415

    And we’re not even close to NYC proper, never mind the urban areas like Newark around it!

    Throw in Los Angeles, 3,833,995 and Chicago, 2,853,114 and we can add another 10 states.

    The average american lives in a dense urban area, not farmsville wyoming.

  • garyg

    The average american lives in a dense urban area, not farmsville wyoming.

    The American population is certainly urbanizing. But the increasingly dominant form of urbanism in America is suburbs, not dense cities.

  • gecko

    Environmentally, stuff is happening quickly and silly discussions about any type of benefit from cars are like discussing the benefits of cigarettes and will be a distant memory quite soon.

    @climateprogress We are at a climate tipping point http://bit.ly/gkcvAF

    Do get a scientist to explain this to you and the implications and an expert in climate science to explain what we must do to avoid the very worst and yes, this is not off-topic as it directly affects the very-near future of transportation.

    Business as usual with cars is leading to a horrific future.

  • Sarah Clark Stuart

    I find it ironic that Mr. Lovaas took a jab at the report when the report’s Acknowledgments section lists a Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council as having reviewed the study. This report puts a spotlight on the disconnect between the environmental community and transportation/livable communities advocates. It’s well understood that it won’t be possible for the U.S. (or the rest of the world for that matter) to drive its way out of the global climate crisis. Making cars more efficient with alternative fuels is not enough (some efficiency critics argue that it makes it worse). Doing everything possible through engineering, education, and encouragement to convince Americans to get out of their cars for trips 2-4 miles or under and walk, bike or take transit instead is fundamental to any national GHG emission reduction strategy. To leave that element out of a report with this title (Reducing GHG Emissions from U.S. Transportation) is highly dissappointing. Why don’t our environmental colleagues get it?

  • Deron Lovaas

    @garyg

    Just to clarify, I do understand the math. First of all, my quote was about one particular advanced technology — HEVs — not about average fuel economy. My main point, though, is that it it’s not very smart to dismiss the potential of mode-shifting – or other techniques that influence travel activity — as a strategy for saving fuel (oil) and reducing emissions given the scale of the challenge. Of course improvements in vehicle fuel economy are the single most effective strategy for doing so. But there are an array of other tools that sit in a hierarchy of effectiveness as well. If one is really interested in solving the problem then one must take deployment of a broad array of such strategies seriously.

    Deron

  • garyg

    My main point, though, is that it it’s not very smart to dismiss the potential of mode-shifting – or other techniques that influence travel activity — as a strategy for saving fuel (oil) and reducing emissions given the scale of the challenge.

    Given the numbers, how is mode-shifting a serious strategy for reducing emissions at all? Again, it would take a doubling of transit’s market share — a 100% increase — to reduce the combined emissions of autos+transit by something less than 1%. And even a doubling of transit’s share is extremely implausible, let alone a much larger gain. It has never occurred during the 60+ years since transit ridership peaked in the 1940s. It’s probably never occurred during the entire period that the American Public Transportation Association has been keeping records. Even during the period from 1998 to 2008, when the price of gasoline quadrupled from $1 to $4 per gallon, transit’s market share increased by only a fraction of one percent. I have no idea how you think any realistic policy could possibly induce an increase of 100%, let alone the much larger increase that would be required to produce any significant benefit in emissions reduction.

  • Deron Lovaas

    Mode-shifting is indeed further down the hierachy than FE increases. But it can be part of a package of strategies (including road pricing and land use changes, for example) that has a larger aggregate effect. And of course higher FE and load factors for BOTH autos and transit vehicles should on the agenda too. Also, trends aren’t destiny, which is a good thing indeed if you know anything about average FE trendlines.

  • garyg

    Sorry, Devon, but you’re still not analyzing the issue in any sort of serious quantitative way. Saying that mode-shifting “can be part of a package of strategies that has a larger aggregate effect” at reducing emissions is like saying that squirt guns can be part of a package of strategies for putting out forest fires. Yes, mode-shifting from autos to transit can reduce emissions. But under any remotely plausible projection, the benefit would be tiny.

  • Deron Lovaas

    Sorry, but I don’t have the luxury of dismissing the potential of non-technological means to reduce emissions so cavalierly. I will continue to analyze the effects of an array of strategies and advocate for their deployment through various policy vehicles (including aggressive FE improvements), and you will continue doing whatever you do. Best of luck.

  • LazyReader

    Automobiles continue to improve in terms of emissions and energy efficiency. Transit is getting far less efficient because they’re building more lines out to suburbs and rural areas in a hope to encourage density. But transit ridership has been losing share for over 100 years. Only a fraction of one percent of Americans live in downtown areas and only less than eight percent of them actually work there. Most of the anti car movement is based largley on the urban planning movement.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeUzMpkKBfE

  • Anon.

    Stop subsidizing roads, and mode-shifting happens immediately.

    The first mode-shifting which happens is from trucks to freight rail, which is actually a huge savings for many reasons….

  • Nathanael

    “Again, it would take a doubling of transit’s market share — a 100% increase — to reduce the combined emissions of autos+transit by something less than 1%.”

    Prediction: transit will at least double its market share within 20 years. This is a safe bet. It’s likely to happen earlier, and it’s likely to be more than double.

  • garyg

    Stop subsidizing roads, and mode-shifting happens immediately.

    Road subsidies: 1 cent per passenger-mile
    Transit subsidies: 70 cents per passenger-mile.

    Subsidies already overwhelmingly favor transit.

    Prediction: transit will at least double its market share within 20 years. This is a safe bet.

    Your “safe bet” has never happened. Transit ridership peaked in the 1940s, declined dramatically over the next 40 years or so, and has been stuck at about a 1% market share since then. It would have fallen further, but immigration has been propping it up. Immigration rates are now falling.

    Even if by some miracle transit’s market share did double to 2%, it would have a negligible effect on emissions.

  • LazyReader

    In Europe, gas and oil prices are artificially inflated due to heavy taxes and various other fees and taxes on cars. Still their driving habits are really not all that different from the United States. America, the perception is that were addicted to our cars and driving accounts for 85 percent of our travel. Those “Green” Europeans, drive for 79 percent. 8 to 10 dollars per gallon gas has done little to diminish Europes driving habits, nor has the tens of billions spent on high-speed rail or other transit systems.

  • Peak Oil, the Export Land Model, EROEI (energy returned on energy invested), our lack of upkeep of our existing infrastructure (electrical grid, bridges, etc.) and our rather dire debt-driven economic state mean that unless you are very wealthy (earn more than $200K right now) and can keep that job, in ten years you will be unlikely to afford to own or drive a car. If you are near retirement, the odds of social security and/or your pension paying out anywhere near what you were promised are low enough to make car ownership unlikely as well.

    This also means that the US will not have the resources to maintain nearly as extensive a network of roads. If things fall apart too quickly, there indeed may be no high speed rail, but a great deal of VMT will turn into rail miles regardless–they will just be slower miles. Since before the auto ago people traveled back and forth across the country by rail all the time, there will still be some mobility, just less.

    This is the century of declining energy supply. Eventually human beings may be clever enough to reverse this, but at the moment there is nothing on the horizon that is able to do anything beyond cushion the decline. The only good news is that Americans squander so much energy through waste and laziness, we can cut our energy usage in half without feeling it much. Cutting it in half again–which we will do–that we will feel.

    Rather than argue to continue a way of life that is impossible to sustain–geologically, environmentally, or financially–read the writing on the wall and position yourself and your family as best you can. Real estate with access to mass transit will maintain some kind of value while far flung suburbs will be largely abandoned. Being able to walk or bike to acquire one’s basic needs will be very, very handy. Investing in an electric bike, a vegetable garden, ceiling fans (to reduce/replace air conditioning) and insulation/weatherstripping while you have the funds/income to do so is a good idea.

    It is sad that it will take the worst repercussions of our greed/lack of foresight in the financial realm to prevent the worst repercussions of our greed/lack of foresight in the environmental realm. And that is an optimistic reading of the likely outcome of all this mess.

  • LazyReader

    Yes I did cut and paste. As I loved collages when I was a child. But I do walk where I have to go a lot and seldom drive. I’m not really concerned about peak oil. Alberta, Canada alone has several times more tar sand oil than the middle east has liquid petroleum. And Colorado alone has more oil shale than Alberta has tar sands. Unconventional petroleum supplies are far far larger than current petroleum supplies. And liquids derived from genetically modified algae hold promise to develop a useful “organic” substitute over numerous petroleum products if not all of them. As for the supposed population disaster, family sizes have dropped in the last 30-40 years as have growth rates (from 2.2 percent in the sixties to 1.2 percent in the eighties and ninties). Aging and Population decline in Europe and Japan have prompted leaders to offer incentives for more children, not the other way around, so eventually population will fizzle to sustained levels, not by mass die offs or other irrational things like that. And no, I didn’t cut and paste any of this.

  • LazyReader

    Does anyone know the gas mileage of Al Gore’s limosuine? Or James Cameron’s helicopter? Bono’s private jet?

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