Sustainability: February 2010 Archives

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A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

"The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies...It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period," says the report, "Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security," funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, "there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent."

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:
  • Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
  • Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
  • Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
  • Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
  • Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.
At the state and national government level, preparations for another "oil crunch" similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include: 
  • Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
  • Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers. 
  • Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)
Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, "Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking" (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called "peaking oil" or an "oil crunch," many experts see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, "some unforeseen giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon."

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China (which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50 percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off Brazil's coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the "drawdown" that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

"The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled," says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy "ace in the hole," oil sands deposits in Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change significantly, while also fouling the region's water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

"Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did," said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.



    
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Toledo, Ohio: The first green wave?

It's time for the United States and the Obama Administration to take a stand. Either this country will become a leader in sustainability technology, services and implementation, or it will languish forever behind the European Union, China, the Middle East, South Korea and other nations.

After a promising start by the Obama administration recognizing the importance of clean technologies, particularly clean energy and transportation, we are one year later paralyzed: Copenhagen was a qualified failure, Congress has abdicated passing climate change-related regulations, and the backdoor plan for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases is being challenged in Congress.

Part of the blame has to go to the White House. During President Obama's first 30 days, a raft of new programs under the Stimulus, about 11 percent of the $787 billion dollars, were announced that would benefit clean technology research and implementation.

By April the administration moved on to health care, leaving the green economy and climate change measures twisting in the wind. Instead of bolstering the effort with statistics, stories and demonstrations of why the world is already moving toward green as the biggest next-generation economic opportunity, the US green D-Day troops landed on the beach without air cover, supplies or a mission objective.

During late spring and summer last year, I spoke with numerous administration and Congressional officials. I proposed that the administration develop and release detailed figures on where green job growth was occurring. I also advised projecting those figures into a future of guaranteed clean technology dominance, with specific stories about where record numbers of new jobs were already being created:
  • Toledo, Ohio has 4 percent of its metro workforce (6,000 jobs!) engaged in clean technology production, at all levels including executive, research, marketing and labor. That's equivalent on the regional level to major industries that have picked up and left the Midwest and moved overseas.
  • California's green economy grew almost three times faster than the rest of its economy during 1995-2008. That job growth was in geographic regions all over the state, including wealthy urban coastal areas as well as in less prosperous and recession-ravaged inland regions.
  • The greater Boston metro area has become a hotbed for clean energy research and production through state programs and private sector collaboration, with MIT and Cambridge acting as important science and policy advancement centers.
  • Austin, Texas is a leading center for incubating renewable research, production and deployment, demonstrating public-private partnerships and academic collaboration, with the University of Texas.
Obviously, the officials did not understand that supporting "green jobs" means more than talking up the merits of each technology, which was their tact.

They told me, "We can gather and promote those statistics after the stimulus jobs are created." Or, "The White House staff is taking up every day with health care discussions--there is only one day per month for environmental discussions, so it's not enough time." (I couldn't believe at this day and age, they failed to frame the issues as "economic development" not "environmental" issues!)

The urgency of demonstrating how the clean technology economy is taking root in many Congressional districts and media markets is evident: people just need to see what these new opportunities are without having to understand the complex technologies themselves.

Only through such visceral stories, demonstrations and a few choice statistics will the American public public and media recognize that taking on the challenges of climate change and foreign oil dependency present untold opportunities for domestic jobs and market leadership.

Don't believe that this stuff is important? Let's look to China, which now leads the world market in solar and wind technologies. Or Europe, which just announced a Supergrid project, that will combine deployment and research capabilities from nine nations for a renewable energy grid across the Continent.

New green cities are being either planned, designed and built in China, South Korea, The Middle East and even India, based on new clean tech ecosystems combining renewable energy, with water and material conservation processes, along with information technologies. It's ironic that a US-based company like General Electric needs to base one of its largest clean technology research investment in Abu Dhabi, but that's the reality of our new economic era.

President Obama and Congress need to illustrate that we are falling behind in this race for the future of our national economy, planet and local livelihoods. They need to shine a solar spotlight on this new world that is emerging all around us, in our factories, universities and research laboratories to make them a recognized engine of our regional economies.

The president can look to a US city for inspiration. Seattle has set a goal of making itself North America's first carbon neutral city by 2030, which will require a Manhattan Project-type approach among local government, businesses, civic organizations and local experts. Only through well-researched shout-outs from the bully pulpit of the Presidency will such efforts capture and sustain the national imagination.

Our past has proven that once our nation is inspired, we all can move collectively toward a common goal: Let's use our existing and expected progress in sustainability to define a future of hope and economic regeneration.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.




 
 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Sustainability category from February 2010.

Sustainability: January 2010 is the previous archive.

Sustainability: March 2010 is the next archive.

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