News! Gasoline prices are down! Down by a whole 10 percent and they have been falling for a month! Oh, yes!! Oil prices are down too!
(See End Note One.)
Now that gasoline prices are going down, all those settlement pattern Cassandras have been put in their place.
(See End Note Two.)
The recent drop in gasoline prices should squelch the gas price scare by the
Luddites. Now we can all relax and rev up the Autonomobile / Scattered Urban Development sector of the economy. This is, after all, what has pulled the economy out of every recession since World War II. Let’s hear it for one more ride on the Tiger of Mass OverConsumption.
“Riding the Tiger,” 2 June 2008.)
Oil Price Flux
Lower gas prices are, of course, due to the drop in oil prices. It turns out those recent peak oil prices were caused,
at least in part, by “speculation.” Perhaps oil prices are down because speculators fear they will be held accountable now that there is a little sunshine reaching the activities of
Switzerland-based Vitol and others. (See End Note
But oil-exporting Regions also
have had a hand in lowering the cost of oil. After telling the president of the largest consumer of imported oil –-
whose family has been “in oil” for three generations –- that OPEC was pumping all the oil they could, they somehow found a way to pump more oil.
They found a way to ship more oil when the price of gasoline caused a drop in consumption / demand. “Whoa! We want them to burn more, not less. Crank up the production!”
Warren Brown says OPEC is applying drug dealer strategies to maintain substance addiction in a great column titled “OPEC Plays Oil Junkies for Suckers.”
(See End Note Four.)
We called it “poaching the frogs” in "POACHED SQUARED ON THE
FOURTH," 3 July 2008.
However you cut it, citizens are the “Phrogs” – sophisticated Mass OverConsumers who are Running as Hard as They Can (RHTCs) with no time to consider the long-term impact of their collective actions.
Of course, the issue of Mass OverConsumption is fraught with complexities such as those we explore concerning refinery capacity investment in APPENDIX TWO of our 24 March column
“Good News, Bad
That column raises the question: Why did MainStream Media not tell citizen Phrogs what was happening until the water was near boiling? Citizen Phrogs could have read about what was happening at
Bacon’s Rebellion years ago. (See THE ESTATES MATRIX.)
Hold the Phone!
Regardless of the short-term oil price fluctuation – or the long term inevitability of higher energy costs – high gasoline prices are not
THE PROBLEM WITH
CARS. And, of course, lower gasoline prices will not solve the Mobility and Access Crisis, the Helter Skelter Crisis or help solve the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis. Even the
WaPo editors understand that. (See End Note Five.)
Gasoline prices are not the reason that dependence on Large, Private Vehicles for Mobility and Access is an economic, social and physical dead end for humans as documented in THE PROBLEM WITH CARS.
Asphalt Deserts, Here and There
One hot day of July we were in Tysons Corner and while making our third trek across a large parking lot, it hit us – humans have converted green, amenable landscapes into
The US of A has not only imported oil under OPEC conditions, we have imported deserts from Middle Eastern nation-states to accommodate the Autonomobiles that use the gasoline and oil we purchase from these sheikdoms and others.
Eleven years ago Jane Holtz Kay wrote a book titled
"Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America, and How We can Take It Back." Her goal was to energize citizens and inspire them to drive a stake through the heart of what Jim Bacon calls the Autocentric Society. It did not work. Perhaps that was because no one thinks all 5.86-billion acres of the US of A is covered with asphalt.
But what about Asphalt Deserts? At the scale of everyday human activity – especially for the 95 plus percent of the population that is urban and for the 85 percent plus of the population that live in New Urban Regions – what citizens face every day are Asphalt Deserts.
It is hard not to notice the emergence of the massive conspicuous consumption / pseudo-utopian urban agglomerations sprouting in the Middle East.
We note with irony that the OPEC sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf Region are taking the wealth transferred from the Autonomobile users and tax payers in US of A and other OPIC (Organization of the Petroleum Importing Countries) members and converting this money into, among other things, new urban agglomerations that do not look like deserts.
In the United Arab Emirates there are a number of breathtaking “developments.” The Palm Islands and other projects –
an indoor ski slope, mega malls for the petroleum mega-rich – have made Dubai “the poster child for conspicuous consumption.” Less than a hundred miles down the coast from Dubai in Abu Dhabi, construction is underway on “Masdar, the first car-free, zero-carbon, no-waste city” for 50,000 residents. No word on how many are citizens and how many are foreign workers.
WaPo regularly publishes advertising supplements touting “progress” in
Russia and other investment havens. A frequent supplement sponsor is Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sheikdom is headlined in the 7 May 2008
issue as a “Leading Force of the U.S. – Arab Economic
Forum.” In this supplement we were intrigued by an ad for / rendering of Al-Madinah KEC. According to the caption, “Al-Madinah is a Knowledge
Economic “City” (KEC), a ‘Smart City’ located in the most beloved city in the hearts of all
Muslins. Al-Madinah Al Munawarah, is the only place in the world that offers you a unique combonation (sic) of serenity and prosperity.”
Knowledge Economic City (from the Washington
What is overpowering about the graphic of
Al-Madina KEC is the combination of tall buildings and huge open spaces with trees, fountains and ponds. The rendering shows people on foot scattered across the entire expanse of tree covered plazas. The other thing that is striking is that there is
not a car in the illustration.
There is only one element that may be a roadway and it has no traffic. They must have a mega shared-vehicle system under all those buildings and plazas.
Finally, an Asphalt Solution
Across the globe, brilliant minds are feverishly
seeking ways to avoid the reality that Fundamental Change is required to achieve a sustainable trajectory for civilization. One way to avoid reducing energy consumption to sustainable levels is to find new ways to capture and focus the
sun's vast – but widely distributed – flow of energy.
One “solution” to the “energy crisis” and a way to help achieve “energy independence” is suggested by researchers at Worchester Polytechnic: Use asphalt roads and parking lots as solar collectors. A brief review of the comments following the post at www.CleanTechnica.com provides a summary of the range of practical problems with this idea. One suspects many of these pesky realities can be over come but at what cost?
(See End Note Seven.)
Asphalt Desert energy harvesting shares the defect of every single ‘solution’ to energy independence that does not involve Fundamental Change
in human settlement patterns: Cost.
The cost of every alternative is far more than the cost of burning up Natural Capital to which Phrogs have become economically, socially and physically addicted.
Recall the trajectory of fast flight for the average citizen. How long since you have been able to book an SST to London? See
“The End of Flight As Knew
It,” 21 April 2008. And then catch up to date by reading “Struggling to Stay Aloft: Small-city Airports Threatened by Carriers’ Service
Reductions,” 20 August front page of WaPo Business and “Frequent Fliers’ Wings Are Being
Clipped,” 23 August front page of WaPo Business.
And do not count on going too far or fast on the
solar-powered technology of the Zephyr-6.
What humans need are strategies to create prosperous, safe and happy citizens with vastly less use of energy because whatever the technology, new energy sources on the horizon are going to cost far more than burning up Natural Capital, especially to achieve Mobility and Access.
canary in the minefield of dysfunctional
settlement patterns is transport. In this case
the canary is an airplane. it is clear that
Large, Private Vehicles that require Asphalt
Deserts to operate are right behind.
observation leads to the second fundamental
problem with the "Asphalt Solution":
The last thing humans need are vast areas of
empty asphalt sitting in the sun.
The canary in the minefield of dysfunctional settlement patterns is transport. In this case the canary is an airplane. It is clear that Large, Private Vehicles that require Asphalt Deserts to operate are right behind.
That observation leads to the second fundamental problem with the “Asphalt Solution”: the last thing humans need are vast areas of empty asphalt sitting in the sun.
Humans need a smaller ecological footprint, not bigger machines or more expensive technology. As we document in THE PROBLEM WITH CARS, the fatal shortcoming of the use of Large, Private Vehicles to achieve Mobility and Access is the disaggregation of human settlement pattern and the economic, social and physical dysfunction that this disaggregation causes.
Claude Lewenz in “How to Build a
Village” provides not just reasons to get out of Large, Private Vehicles but
describes the joys of doing it. Ecocity Builders is patterning with Bicycle City to create an alternative to the Asphalt Desert.
The list goes on. But before these efforts can get any traction, citizen Phrogs need to understand that the temperature is rising and the excuses and mirages of a techno fixes only make it seem like it is not as hot as it is.
A thousand years from now – if there are homo sapiens around with time to consider such things – they will wonder why the richest society to inhabit Earth built all these Asphalt Deserts that ended up disaggregating and destroying their society. Yes, just like we wonder why those silly folks on Easter Island build all those Big Eared Moas instead of achieving a sustainable trajectory for their society.
August 25, 2008
(1). Irwin, Neil,
“Commodity Prices Retreat: Declines for Oil, Food Help Consumers, But they Could Harm U.S.
Exporters," WaPo, 21 Aug 2008.
Oil prices being “down” may not be great news for long because ... well ... oil prices may be up again this week or next. They were up by over $5 a barrel on the day this story was printed (Thursday) and then down again about the same amount to close out last
Howard Kuntsler is wrong again. See “Good-Bye, Cheap Oil, So Long,
Suburbia”? Business Week, 24 April 2008. Also see
“Gas Prices and
Related,” 5 Aug 2008 on the Bacon's
Cho, David “A Few Speculators Dominate Vast Market for Oil Trading; Oil Trading Concentrated in Hands of a Few
Speculators,” WaPo, 21 August
"OPEC Plays Oil Junkies for
Suckers,” WaPo, 17 August 2008.
See 11 Aug 2008 WaPo editorial “Smart Growth: The good news about high gas
prices.” And in the spirit of “credit-where-credit-is-due and full disclosure” see: Eilperin, Juliet, “Fighting Global Warming Block by Block: Across U.S. Communities Rethink How they Operate and Grow” lays out the overarching principles.
The simple graphic showing 1980 to 2005 vehicle miles of travel and population sets the
Eilperin’s story has a climate change focus as the headline suggests, but she presents a simple explanation of why LOCATION, PATTERN AND DENSITY – in a phrase ‘human settlement patterns’ – are important. Eilperin underestimates the level of impact settlement patterns by a factor of 5 (yes, that is
500 percent) but it is a start and should be enough to make clear what the REAL problem is in fact settlement patterns. Also see the note on WaPo’s series “Oil Shock” in
“Gas Prices and
Related,” 5 August 2008 on BR Blog.
(6). Actually the US of A imports most of its oil from other places on the globe – including Canada, Mexico and Venezuela – but Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf sheikdoms set the context for petroleum wealth transfer
Here is the URL. Thanks to Larry Gross for posting the link on Bacon’s Rebellion Blog