A couple of years ago, I attended a "green living" show in Toronto. One of the exhibitors was General Motors, who were showing off a prototype for a hydrogen-powered SUV. I assume that it actually functioned. I'm pretty sure that it wasn't running at the time since there wasn't oxygen and water coming out of the tailpipe.
I took the opportunity to challenge the GM representative for the company's refusal to build more energy-efficient vehicles at a time in history when oil was about to go into decline. At the time, thousands of people were still driving off car lots with shiny new Escalades and Navigators. He replied that it wasn't General Motors job to tell consumers what to buy. Basically, they just made the vehicles available and let the market decide.
Do I feel sorry for GM today? Uh, no.
Yesterday, Michael Moore published a letter on his website that made a lot of sense. He proposed that if American automakers receive a government bailout, they should be forced to manufacture better products, and those products should be less dependent on oil.
"Transporting Americans is and should be one of the most important functions our government must address. And because we are facing a massive economic, energy and environmental crisis, the new president and Congress must do what Franklin Roosevelt did when he was faced with a crisis (and ordered the auto industry to stop building cars and instead build tanks and planes): The Big 3 are, from this point forward, to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail (a corresponding public works project across the country will build the rail lines and tracks). This will not only save jobs, but create millions of new ones."
I would go several steps further.
First of all, no more six-passenger, my-dick-is-bigger-than-yours behemoths. They've already built more than we will ever need. Even if the price of a barrel of oil IS less than 40 bucks. It won't stay in that range for long. Let's save some for the grand-kids to use someday.
If automakers are to receive financial aid, companies like GM need to be responsible for building an end-to-end transportation system, from the ground up. That means that if they develop an electric-powered vehicle, they need to also create partnerships with companies to build wind turbines and solar installations to power those vehicles. They also need to create programs to recycle their vehicles like Smart and Volkswagen have. No more off-loading the responsibility on someone else.
They should be required to develop rail and urban transit, with government leadership. Hell, why not? The government is going to own them before it's over, they should have some say in how things are done. Remember how GM bought up transit systems in the US decades ago, and then destroyed them? It's payback time.
I know, it's not likely that any of this will happen. Honestly, in the long run I think it would be better to let a couple of automakers bite the dust. The strongest will survive.
I just hope they don't come back with another Navigator.
I would like to preface this entry by saying that I drive a car. However,
I refuse to bullshit myself about the consequences of that decision.
A few days ago, I found myself killing some time at a mall, so I
wandered into a religious gift shop for entertainment. Some of you
may know that I worked at a multi-faith TV network for ten years, so
I've been exposed to more religions than one person should be
legally be allowed to endure. Not much of it makes any sense to me
in a reality-based world, but hey, if people need some fantasy to be
distracted from their own mortality, fine. I just wish they would stop
using it as an excuse to be in denial about behaviour that affects the
rest of the living things on this planet. Here's a good example:
It'sThe Driver's Prayer,
printed on the backside of this laminated card.
Now as far as I know, automobiles were invented after the Holy Bible
was assembled, so I have to assume that this is not an officially-
sanctioned verse directly from the mouth of god. And if there is a
supreme being that truly gives a damn about its creation, I doubt that
it would endorse such a prayer. The first couple of verses seem
harmless enough - a plea to an omnipotent entity, seeking the skill
and attentiveness that would prevent the maiming of small children
on the sidewalk. But it was the last verse that baked my noodle:Please make me feel this car I driveYou gave me to enjoy,and that its purpose is to serve mankindnot to destroy.
this is a spacerxxxxxxAmen.
By now we ought to be aware that everytime we start a car, some kid is
getting asthma, a polar bear is losing its habitat, or someone is being
maimed in Nigeria. Being responsible for any of the above doesn't seem
like Christian behaviour to me.
It's going to be very difficult for people to give up driving if they believe
that cars are a gift from god. Alternatively, they are going to be very
angry with god when god takes their gift of mobility away.
By now, no doubt, you've, heard that Buffalo, New York was under
two feet of snow over the weekend. Unfortunately, I hadn't heard
about this when I left Ontario for a trip to Massachusetts early on
Friday morning. When my friend Greg and I passed through US customs
20 miles north of the city, we declared that we were on our way to
Boston. The officer in the booth laughed at us. How could we have
known what was ahead of us? The sun was just about to be revealed,
and there wasn't a flake of snow in sight. Ten minutes later we
crossed the Niagara River into a Currier & Ives painting from
Hell. Trees bent to the ground in submission under the snow that
clung to their leaves. Hydro and cable lines stretched to within a
few feet of the streets. One driver in front of us spent most of his
time moving diagonally as we crawled through the grayness toward
Interstate-90, the highway that would take us east of the city. We
assumed that once we reached I-90, things would get better.
We were wrong.
The toll operator at the Interstate told us that we would be
getting off just up the road at Exit 49. There was one lane
available, packed with snow about three inches thick. Just as the sun
came out, traffic ahead of us rolled to a stop. We could see cars
ahead of us waiting on the off-ramp at Exit 49. We assumed that there
was some snow removal going on at the intersection, so we waited
patiently for the way to be cleared. I built a snowman along the side
of the highway. After 20 minutes or so, Greg mentioned once again
that he had seen some vehicles going past the exit and making their
way up the Interstate around the time we had stopped. This time I
paid attention to him. I couldn't see any kind of roadblock, so I
walked back to one of the trucks behind us and asked the driver if
the highway was open up ahead.
"Yup," he said.
"So we're just waiting for these people to get out of the way?" I asked.
I rolled my eyes and sighed for maximum effect. Then I went ahead
and asked about three drivers if they could slide over to let the big
trucks through. We jumped back in the car and we were off.
Now, it must have been an interesting sight: an eight-foot-long
Smart car leading a convoy of 18-wheelers through the snow at about
15 miles an hour. It was slow going, but at least we were moving
forward. After a few miles we could see traffic stopped in the
opposing westbound lanes. There had been some kind of accident, and
things were pretty backed up. We were expressing relief that it
wasn't happening on our side when it occurred to me that there was
two feet of snow between all of the vehicles. They couldn't move.
"Holy crap, they've been there all night
People were asleep in their cars. Truck drivers had abandoned
their front seats in favor of their sleepers. Here and there,
restless drivers with nothing else to do helped to push each otherout
of the snow, but found themselves with nowhere to go once they were
free. With their engines running for hours to keep them warm, some
had run out of gas. One man used a wooden box to clear a trail from
the westbound lanes to our side of the Interstate, seemingly
oblivious to the three-foot-deep ditch that separated us. Still, I
was impressed by his ambition. I stopped briefly and handed him a
bottle of juice and an apple from my cooler, and he mentioned
something about having to get his wife out of there. Another couple
was walking in our lane on their way to the service center several
miles ahead. They said that everyone had been tied up there since
three in the morning.
The trail of vehicles went on for about twelve miles. I suspect
that some people were stranded there most of the day. It was a very
instructive lesson about what can happen when complicated systems are
brought to their knees at the whims of nature, and how important it
is to be prepared for that eventuality. Sooner or later, you are
going to be affected by an ice storm, tornado, blackout, flood,
hurricane, or earth-quake, or any combination thereof. The complex
systems that usually bring us comfort don't serve us very well when
they breakdown, and in some cases may even threaten our well-being.
There's nothing wrong with having a few days supply of food, a
120-volt backup battery system, and a woodstove in the basement.
If Hurricane Katrina taught us anything, it's that we're all on
the roof now, the waters are rising, and the helicopters are not
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006, 09:56 pm
You can look to the news for signs that the global economy is
weakening. There are the obvious stories about the cost of gas, the
bursting housing bubble, the price of silver, and over-extended
"consumers*".*aka: people...who buy stuff
But it's the little stories on page A10 of the newspaper that are
the most telling. For example, earlier this year there was a report
about indebted SUV owners setting their vehicles on fire in order to
claim the insurance money so they could buy more efficient cars.
Some SUV owners burning more than gas
Last month, there was a story about a booklet that was issued to
laid off employees by Northwest Airlines management. It suggested
that they try some alternative shopping strategies.
Try dumpster-diving, airline tells workers
This week's big little-story is about home sellers invoking St.
Joseph to help them unload their over-valued houses.
Superstitions, statues reflect cooling housing market
Once people resort to hiring Jesus' non-heavenly father to get the
job done, you know things are getting bad. Next thing you know, we'll
see a report on CNN that collecting gold coins is all the rage. Of
course, by that time it will be too late . Most people won't be able to
afford that hobby - unless they're in the business of manufacturing
little statues of Joseph.
I think that you'll be able to recognize the final breath for suburbia
when you read this headline:
Homeowners across America attempting to stay warm by burning pressure-treated fences
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006, 05:22 pm
During the last federal election in Canada, my local newspaper
asked readers to submit questions for our local candidates. Here
is my carefully-worded question, followed by their responses, and
my reviews of their answers. I think these are good examples of
why we shouldn't look to governments for solutions to the coming
energy crisis. - Barry
"Given that global oil extraction, North American natural gas
production, and provincial electricity generation will likely peak
within the next ten years and then decline by three to eight per cent
per year thereafter, what are your party's plans for encouraging the
reorganization of our local economy, local food supply and local
energy generation, all of which are dependent on vast fossil fuel
My view here is that we absolutely have to move to environmentally-
friendly and sustainable energy supplies. Which in our environment
would mean the promotion of fuels to support our industry and our
population that can be generated here at home while balancing at the
same time the need to support larger Canadian economy, which is rich
with natural resources. All of this with the objective of being self-sufficient
as a country.
My review: Phil gets points for supporting
"environmentally-friendly and sustainable energy supplies" but
doesn't give any indication of what those might be, except that they
should be used to keep growing the economy - a scenario which is
pretty much impossible under present conditions given anything
greater than a 2% annual decline in energy. And it is unlikely that
we can be self-sufficent in Canada if we are going to use as much
energy as we do now. Also, note that Phil makes no attempt to link
energy decline to relocalization. Conclusion: Phil is clueless
about energy depletion issues. Move on. Nothing to see here
GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE
The Canadian economy cannot afford to be so strongly linked to
the price of oil. The Green Party would take steps towards Canadian
independence on this by investing in renewable energy, giving
incentives for hybrid vehicle development and other technologies.
Once again, shifting subsidies and taxes so that it makes sense for
companies and individuals to do what's right for the environment, the
economy and society long term.
My review: Ok, 1 point for Adam for mentioning renewable energy.
However, my dog could have done that, so I also give one point to my
dog as well. Incentives for hybrid technology might do some good
(but, in my opinion, wouldn't make much of a dent when you consider
how many internal combustion engines there are out there in vehicles
that are less than 5 years old, thanks to the automakers flooding the
market with cheap SUVs for the last few years. Who can afford to
trade in an almost-new F-150 for a new hybrid, especially once gas
sticks at over a buck ten a litre and no one wants to buy big
pick-ups?) Other technologies? I can only assume he means hydrogen.
Adam gets an extra point for not saying it. That also means I don't
have to go down to his campaign office and wash his mouth out with
soap for using bad words like "hydrogen". Still, I'd like to hear
details about tax incentives for implementing renewable energy and
conservation. No answer to my question about relocalization.
LLOYD ST. AMAND
If the point of the question is that there are a limited number
of fossil fuels, then the point is valid. We need to look for
alternative sources of energy- for two reasons. On a very long-term
basis, given the great strides in the economies of China and India,
more and more energy is being required. More countries are truly
industrialized hence a greater need for energy. The long term
sustainability of energy based on oil and gas is just not there. On a
shorter-term basis, the omission of pollution into the atmosphere is
a growing concern. Global warming, climate change those are
realities. Those realities are reflected in the peculiar weather
patterns, which we have seen. As a society we need to look to
alternative sources of energy, wind power, solar power and for
instance renewable fuels such as ethanol to move our vehicles. The
federal government is proving significant incentives for the
research, development and production of wind power, solar power and
My review: No, the idea that fossil fuels are limited wasn't the
point of my question. Most grade-three students can figure out that
fossil fuels are limited. For some reason adults can't seem to grasp
the concept. After that strike, Lloyd goes on to surprise me. He
mentions China and India, so obviously he reads the Globe and Mail.
Then he mentions lack of sustainability. He's rounding second base
now! But wait! Now he heads off into left field with global
warming. Right out of the Book of Election Talking Points! All you
have to do is mention "environment" and you'll get the tree huggers'
vote, right? But wait again! He's headed back toward third base
with wind, solar and...ohhhh, ethanol. Lloyd gets nailed with
negative Energy-Return-On-Energy-Invested and he's out! I sure would
have liked to heard about those incentives for wind and solar though.
Back to the dugout Lloyd, where you can do some thinking about
ethanol and decide whether you prefer to eat or drive.
The NDP has a very clear environmental strategy that pulls for
strong government incentive to move into other types of fuels that
are not using up non-renewable resources. We've talked about
exploring alternative sources of energy, other countries have done it
a lot more than Canada. We have to look at it from the other end -
conserve energy and encourage people to make more efficient use of
current energy sources.
My review: Holy cow! Lynn has my attention right from the
get-go. That first sentence just makes me want to surf over to the
NDP website and check out that strategy, honestly. In her answer, I
suspect that she is referring to European countries like Germany and
Denmark, which apparently get up to 18% of their electricity from
wind. Kudos to her for paying attention. And ten points for Lynn
for being the only candidate to have the courage to use the word
"conserve"! Too bad the voting public isn't ready to hear it.
Still, no outward awareness of why we need to relocalize, but I have
hope. In the last election, some people claimed that the NDP had a
better energy policy than the Green Party. I can believe it now.
Tue, Sep. 5th, 2006, 03:33 pm
Refuse to lose
I've been pondering peak oil preparations a lot lately - specifically financial preparations. Like most people, one of my personal concerns is personal debt. The last thing I want to do is enter The Long Emergency dragging any kind of liability behind me. Already a lot of people are now past the point of no return. North American "consumers" are more indebted than any time since the last Great Depression, with consumer credit in the US totalling almost 2.2 trillion dollars. How will 2.2 trillion in debt get paid off in a shrinking economy once we pass the peak of global oil production?
Today I stumbled over an article at Safehaven.com by Jas Jain entitled Peak Debt!
I am no expert on Peak Oil, but Peak Oil is not the urgent problem that the world faces, economically, or politically. The problems of the supply-demand of oil will play out over a longer period and its effects would be spread over a longer period of time than that of the Peak Debt, which are lot more immediate. As a matter of fact, it has been the rapidly rising debt (racing towards the peak), which in turn has "fueled" a worldwide construction boom, that has resulted in the high prices for oil over the past 4 years and not the realization of the problem of Peak Oil. During the coming global depression, within this decade, the price of crude oil should fall below $25 a barrel and there will be glut due to sharply falling demand. I realize that these are not the concerns that people have today as long as the American consumer keeps borrowing. But, for how long?
While I don't concur with the author's belief that the price of oil will fall quite as low as $25 a barrel, I do agree that debt is a more immediate concern than oil depletion. I've often said that the collapse of the housing bubble, and therefore the global economy in general, will put us into a hole, and it's peak oil, and the lack of economic growth, that will keep us from ever getting out of that hole.
So what's the ultimate strategy for preparing financially? Well, I'm not a financial advisor, so I can't give anyone advice. But I can tell you what I might have done if my circumstances were different.
The first step was to take stock of my existing living arrangement. I'm lucky to be living in a modest-sized, new home that has slightly-better-than-average energy efficiency. Although it's heated with natural gas, I have a high-efficiency woodburning fireplace insert as a backup. The layout of the house takes advantage of passive solar energy. The large yard already produces a couple hundred pounds of food annually, with more capacity being developed every year. I live on the edge of a small town, with rail service and two rivers, surrounded by an abundance of farmland. I think that the assets of my arrangement outweigh any foreseeable liabilities in a post-carbon world - assuming my crystal ball is working correctly. And upon consideration, my debt load is not unmanageable. For now.
If I evaluated my situation and came to the conclusion that I was living in the wrong place, I would have considered selling my home. Thanks to a real estate bubble that was inflated on cheap and easy credit, at this point in history my house will sell for more than it ever will again in my lifetime. Unfortunately, in an inflated real estate market, it would be difficult to find anything more suitable that I would be able to afford. Instead of trading up, I would store some furniture and household items and move into a small apartment, while waiting for the housing market to collapse. The income from the sale of the house would be invested in physical precious metals. Not stocks, but physical metals. Once the bubble bursts, the value of those metals will increase substantially, while house prices plummet, and I would be able to buy whatever I needed: property, tools and materials. Apparently, I'm not the only one thinking this way. Check out Peak Oil Solution Theory
by Tate Ulsaker.
Yes, it's a bold strategy. But the world we are about to experience is going to require some big changes in thinking - and calculated risks. As James Kunstler
predicts, there are going to be a lot of "economic losers" out there. Refuse to be one of them.
Okay, I admit that I'm not the most educated person in my tribe. Most of what I learned in high school was more like indoctrination than education. So I shouldn't be surprised that I had no idea what this odd object is. Hell, I can't even remember being aware of such a symbol before this past weekend. For those like me who don't know, it's called a fasces
, and apparently it's been around for a few centuries. For the past hundred years or so, it's been adopted as the symbol for fascism by guys like these:
So you can imagine my shock when someone pointed out that the fasces could be found on the seal of the State of Colorado.
And the United States Senate.
While we're at it, let's put it in some other places too.
What the heck, why even bother trying to hide it. Let's put a couple where everyone will notice them!
Maybe I'm a bit paranoid.
But it seems to me that whoever decided it would be a good idea to use this particular object to symbolize a "democratic" government needs a good boot to the head
(Maybe it was the same person who designed that creepy logo for DARPA
, which has since been replaced by this
one). Then again, considering the current path of western democracy, the fasci is perfectly suitable. Decades from now, we'll probably learn that PR fim Hill & Knowlton
was somehow involved in making fascism palatable to the American public.
Or is this part of a conspiracy that has been going on for hundreds of years? Have you slept through it all your life?
Let me know when you wake up.
One of the most common questions that Greg and I are asked is,
"Where are the women in your documentary?" It's a reasonable
question, considering that most of the women appearing in The End
show up wearing an apron in one of the corny
propaganda films we that included. Not one of the interview clips
features a woman. There are a couple reasons for this.
First of all, a good number of our interviewees are people with
vast experience in the oil business. The fact that they have
accumulated so much experience means that they are elders. And being
elders, they got their start in the business at a time when it was
dominated by men. And as it turns out, at the time we shot the doc,
the most vocal individuals in the peak oil "movement" happened to be
When we pitched the idea for The End of Suburbia
few executive producers and documentary buyers, they weren't too
enthusiastic about a program that spent over an hour delivering bad
news without offering a big salvation package to neatly wrap it up at
the end. One network buyer suggested that we would have a difficult
time selling our documentary because the people who acquire
programming for the networks live
in suburbia, and certainly
they didn't want to hear that their lifestyle was in danger. The end
result was that The End of Suburbia
was funded by this thing
that I found in my wallet:
As such, we were limited by our budget (that budget being the credit-limit
on my card) and weren't able to travel to all the places we would have liked.
It would have been great to talk to new urbanist Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk,
but we just didn't have the funds to travel to Florida. Ironically, writer Jane
Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Dark Age Ahead
lived within an hour of us, but couldn't be reached while we were shooting.
Those who aren't satisfied with this explanation will hopefully be happy to
hear that Greg Greene's sequel Escape from Suburbia
more diversity than The End
ever could. When it comes to solutions
to our sustainability problems, it seems that there are more women than men
involved for some reason. Draw your own conclusions, but based on my
personal experience there seems to be a recurring theme: Let the men deal
with the problems, while the women come up with the solutions.
While we're on the subject of women and oil depletion, here's a thoughtful blog
entry that you might enjoy: Peak Oil for Women, and the Men who love them
Tue, Jun. 27th, 2006, 03:26 am
Director Greg Greene and I have had the opportunity to attend a number of screenings of The End of Suburbia
across North America to do Q&A, and sit on discussion panels with experts from the doc, such as Matthew Simmons, Richard Heinberg, Julian Darley and Mike Ruppert. This is still a challenge for me. I’ve always been shy, and I’m not a great speaker, which is why I produced a documentary in the first place. Let the experts and pictures tell the story. I’ve often said that I feel like an idiot savant, as I’m neither an expert on energy, nor suburbia. But I have had the pleasant opportunity to rub elbows with those who are, and they have been great teachers. And it’s surprising how much information I retain from hours of reading news stories and commentary.
Last month I was invited to a screening about an hour from where I live. It was organized by a small Post Carbon Institute
group that had recently formed. I shared the floor with a member of that group, and he was able to back me up with additional information every time I mentioned a news story, report or study. As I drove home, it occurred to me that the pressure for me to excel as a guest speaker is over. I think now I can stay home and save some fossil fuels. It seems that so many people are now peak oil experts that they are able to pick up the ball and run with it themselves. But maybe "experts" is the wrong term. Recently Jan Lundberg of Culture Change
wrote this about Matthew Simmons:He reminds us that the word "guru" only means leader or guide, not expert.
The peak oil meme is being virally marketed and there are now thousands of oil depletion "gurus" out there. You’re probably becoming one yourself without realizing it. When the time is right, people will seek you out for enlightenment, but there’s no reason to be intimidated. There’s plenty of room on the mountaintop for more gurus.