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Is it Game Over for the Climate?

Our top climate scientist Dr. James Hansen of NASA says that it is conceivable that climate stability can be restored if we phase down carbon dioxide emissions from coal over the next few decades and leave unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands in the ground. Otherwise, “it is essentially game over” for the climate.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reached a new high of more than 30 billion tons in 2010 prompting Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency to say that the prospect is getting bleaker. Tragically, the United States and most governments continue business-as-usual with substantial numbers of citizens, politicians, and media in denial.

Dr. Hans Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says that it is crucial that emissions peak before 2020 to avoid climate catastrophe. This is our critical decade. This year the extent of Arctic sea ice reached a historic low point threatening the Arctic ecosystem and global climates. Sea level is expected to rise a meter or more this century flooding coastal cities, farms, and transportation arteries. Ecologist Peter Sale, author of “Our Dying Planet”, says that coral reefs will be the first entire ecosystem to disappear from earth in one human generation by 2100, destroyed primarily by ocean warming and acidification. Concern is growing that parts of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem may collapse due to drying, evidenced by the unusual droughts of 2005 and 2010, putting at risk much of life on the planet.

Extreme weather events are largely driven by global warming which causes global air and water circulation to strengthen resulting in dryer and hotter arid areas and wetter wet areas. The American Southwest is experiencing the hottest and driest event on record. Last year Russia lost more than a quarter of its crops due to extreme drought and wildfires and Pakistan suffered extensive flooding resulting in widespread migrations and crop losses. The epic Australian drought, fires, and flooding intensified by global warming have killed hundreds and cost billions. The extraordinary heatwave of 2003 in Europe killed 35,000.

How hot is too hot? Having warmed 0.8ºC already, the earth is on track to heat up to as much as 6.4ºC above the pre-industrial temperature by 2100. In 2010 194 countries adopted 2ºC. as a limit, but the climate is already half way between dangerous and catastrophic according to Dr. Schellnhuber. The meltdown of Greenland would occur between 1.5 – 2.5ºC and agricultural production is projected to fall sharply after a 2 – 3ºC rise. 2ºC may be beyond tipping points such as changes in monsoons, biomes, ocean currents, and climatic oscillations. Modeling studies at the National Center for Atmospheric Research indicate that there is only a one in three chance of keeping below 2ºC this century.

Can we get to a safe CO2 level to regain climate stability? Dr. Hansen’s paleoclimatic research informs us that a safe CO2 level for humanity is 350 ppm CO2 or lower. But there is now about 389 ppm in the atmosphere with yearly increases of more than 2 ppm. The probability of staying below 2ºC and returning to 350 ppm this century recedes as nations continue with business-as-usual policies. Dr. Schellnhuber who says that there is a “chance” to solve the problem and Dr. Hansen who says it is “conceivable” leave us with foreboding uncertainty. We must do everything in our personal lives to reduce carbon emissions, prepare for the effects of global warming, and demand immediate action from government.

Jackson Harper for October Crossroads

Are Electric Cars a Dead End?

Are electric cars a “dead end” as opined by James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Long Emergency”, or will automobiles continue the long arc of personal transportation in the United States? Kunstler sees suburbia and its reliance on cars diminishing as energy descent and resource shortages ensue. Aside from the 383 million gallons of increasingly expensive gasoline used every day to power the U.S. fleet of more than 200 million gasoline vehicles, it takes about 3800 gallons of oil to manufacture a car.

Nearly every auto manufacturer is planning to build electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid-electric (PHEV) cars. There is a two year waiting list for the electric Nissan Leaf, a five passenger car getting the EPA rating of 99 miles from a lithium-ion battery charged at home. The Leaf will be manufactured in Smyrna, TN, by early 2013. Price of the Nissan Leaf after the Federal Tax Credit is $27,770.

The 2012 plug-in hybrid-electric Chevrolet Volt with an electric range of 33 miles will be available nationwide in November at a price of $32,495 after the Federal Tax Credit. The 4 passenger Volt gets 33 miles on a charged battery but over 300 miles including the gasoline engine. Both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt received top marks for protecting passengers in a crash from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Will the auto industry be able to ramp up fast enough to counter energy descent? By 2020 global all-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric car penetration is expected to be 2-5% of global auto sales primarily in Europe and Asia where driving distances are less than in the United States.

Will the electric grid in the United States be able to handle millions of electric plug-in vehicles? While it is true that auto charging can be accomplished at night when electricity demand is low, about half the power now comes from coal-fired power plants which would produce additional climate-destabilizing carbon dioxide. However, as renewable energy sources such wind and solar come on line replacing dirty coal, CO2 emissions would be reduced. By 2020 California expects to produce 33% of its electricity from renewable sources, Europe 20%. Portland, OR, has dedicated an entire city block, “Electric Avenue”, for charging electric autos. This is one point on the proposed “plug-in corridor” from Vancouver, BC, to Bend, OR.

Dmitry Orlov, author of “Reinventing Collapse”, sees the electric car as too expensive for most. However, prices should fall with volume sales and efficiency improvements provided that cheap energy and resources are available. As an alternative to the car culture as we know it, electrified rail, electric bikes and low-speed, neighborhood electric vehicles would save us from much of automotive pollution, accidents, obesity, and ecosystem deterioration. Charging cars from solar panels installed on homes and in communities will reduce demand on centralized power sources.

Will the car culture fade away with energy descent and resource depletion or can we balance personal mobility, human numbers, and industry to live in harmony with nature? As for me, when the time comes I’ll sell the Prius at a premium and get an all-electric car charging it with grid power equal to that produced by the solar panels on the roof of my garage. In the meanwhile I’ll campaign for bike lanes and paths so that my neighbors and I can get to local stores and services using human power and a little electricity.

by Jackson Harper for September Crossroads

Globalization meets Localization

Before the onrush of globalization Ladakh on the western Himalayan Plateau was a harmonious Shangri-La of happy people according to linguist Helena Norbert-Hodge who began her work there in the 1970’s. She says that even though the climatic extremes are harsh, people were well housed, fed, and nurtured by each other. Old and young respected and worked together bringing up new generations and singing as they performed tasks without machines. Their unhurried and joyous lives were integrated with nature and the seasons.

Helena Norbert-Hodge, author of “Ancient Futures” saw the tranquil Ladakhi culture transformed by the incursion of globalization with its automobiles, consumer culture, competitiveness, and media images into urban blight with homelessness on the streets, unemployment, and abandonment of the Ladakhi way of living. Ladakhis began to see themselves as poor and inferior. They apologized for their roasted barley dishes. Young men sported bluejeans and dark sunglasses to look more western. Their role models were media idols more than family members and elders. Competition reigned over cooperation and cultural tolerance weakened.

Economic globalization is often more advantageous to developed than to developing countries by undercutting local food production with highly subsidized food from outside. In many instances local farmers no longer have markets and leave for city slums or try to emigrate. The resultant low-cost labor pool is then ripe for exploitation by multi-national interests. The end result is a compromised cultural fabric, environmental degradation, and lowered resilience of the developing country to economic, resource, and climatic shocks.

For decades happiness studies have shown that material wealth beyond a modest level does not increase happiness as shown by the peaking of happiness in the United States in 1956 despite subsequent GDP increases. But happiness is also a function of the quality of friendships and personal relationships, environmental quality, health, good governance, and access to education and culture. In poorer countries people are more content when income is more equitable according to the PEW Research Center.

For Ladakhis happiness is localization, retaining traditional cultural values. For over 30 years Helena Norbert-Hodge has worked to rebuild cultural pride among Ladakhis who have shown new interest in traditional methods of agriculture and healing. Farmers are now more aware of the issues with chemical agriculture and genetically modified crops. In addition she has encouraged the use of solar energy, small hydro energy, solar ovens, and greenhouses.

People around the world are waking up to the value if not the imperative of localization by participating in the Transition movement, Resilience Circles, and Simplicity Circles. Like the Ladakhis some in the corporate-dominated industrialized world see community self-reliance and resilience slipping away as they lose touch with neighbors and with nature. These are the very values we need to deal with energy descent, resource depletion, and global warming. As the limits to growth become more apparent. as fuel and food prices soar, as climatic crises begin to shatter expectations, and as economies and governments falter, we will begin to understand the value of working together in our communities to provide some relief and to plan for a better future.

Helena Norbert-Hodge says it well: “As the price of energy escalates and as the global economy becomes even more destabilized, we will have no choice but to turn to each other. If we start now, instead of waiting for further collapse, we will have a better chance of building up more diversified and thriving local economies, and we will be happier for it.”

by Jackson Harper for August Crossroads

Solar Energy Reaches for the Sun

Remarkably, solar panels have become far less expensive than expected due to accelerating technological advances and the enormous production of solar cells from China. The cost per watt has dropped to $1.50 and is forecast to fall further. Since 2001 world solar cell (photo voltaic = PV) production has doubled every 2 years. This astounding growth rate could result in 1500 gigawatts (GW) of cumulative electrical power by 2020 according to Lester Brown”s “World on the Edge”. At maximum output that would be equivalent to 1500 nuclear power plants. Solar panels are used not only on homes, office buildings, and factories but as utilities suppling peaking power in urban areas particularly during the heat of the day. There are now 77 PV utility installations in the US in development or in operation.

Solar power is becoming competitive with natural gas, nuclear power, and later coal. Solar is already cheaper than natural gas peaker plants and is cheaper than new nuclear plants. Solar can be installed in 2 years versus 8 to 10 years for nuclear. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, solar power will be 50% cheaper in 5 years. It is forecast to be competitive with coal fired power plants in 6 years giving a huge boost to the solar industry. The Department of Energy expects solar costs to be cut 75% by 2020 through its SunShot Initiative. One promising innovation is the 3D solar cell with miniature towers which collect almost all of the suns rays raising the efficiency from 12% to 25%, predicted to be commercial by 2015.

Even though PV solar panels are best suited to peaker utilities and placement on buildings, CSP or concentrated solar power is coming into its own as a producer of baseload power. CSP uses reflectors to focus on vessels of fluid to make steam for turbines to generate electricity. Heat can be stored underground in molten salt above 1000 degrees F. to make steam for the turbines 8 hours following sunset thus providing baseload electricity for the evening hours. There are now 40 CSP plants in the US producing 3GW, enough to power about 600,000 homes. The Southwest could satisfy the energy needs of the US four times over. A consortium of European companies, Desertec Industrial Initiative plans to produce an astounding 300GW of power for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East using CSP.

Installations of rooftop solar hot water heaters are increasing around the world with more than 100 million in China, Germany, Austria, and Australia. Solar hot water is required for new homes in Hawaii, Spain, Portugal, and Israel. The payback time for installation costs is about 10 years.

Globally we could produce as much as 77% of our electricity from renewables by 2050 according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This would help stabilize economies, reduce pollution, and avoid catastrophic global warming. Germany plans to produce 38% of its energy from renewables by 2020 using feed-in tariffs to support fledgling renewable industries. Feed-in tariffs are being employed successfully in other European countries and are being considered by several US states.

Are you ready to install solar energy at your home? Prices for solar panels have plummeted and will continue to fall as new technologies, installation practices, and efficiencies are manifested. Producing part of your electrical power will make your family and your community more resilient and self-reliant in dealing with the energy, economic, climate, and environmental shocks of the 21st century.

by Jackson Harper for July Crossroads

What Next After $4 Gasoline?

Roller coaster gasoline prices have us all guessing what’s next. Now at almost $4 a gallon, will the price rise continue or back off to the $2-3 range of last year? A one dollar increase in gasoline prices means a lot to the pocketbooks of suburban commuters as well as to the nation’s economy which sank into the Great Recession helped along by rising pump prices in 2008.

Energy and financial analyst Nicole Foss sees high volatility in oil prices until the terminal decline in world oil production begins in a few years which would cause prices to skyrocket. The current price bubble is caused by speculators perceiving long term scarcity. She expects current gas prices to collapse to the lows of 2008 in the short run but ultimately exploding in a “moon shot” when demand far exceeds supply.

Demand is reduced as gasoline prices rise. Commuters buy smaller cars, hybrids, or all-electric cars. They work more at home, join car pools, take non-driving vacations, and move closer to work. At $4 a gallon U.S. consumers pay an extra $100 billion stressing an already weak economy. However, the demand drop in the United States is countered by demand increases in developing nations. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, sees oil prices fully justified by high demand and constrained supply.

Market analyst Peter Schiff talks of no end in sight for gasoline as it ultimately rises to $5, $6, $10… He foresees the dollar losing value and a decline in purchasing power as the Federal Reserve Board “prints” money to cover government expenditures in lieu of low tax receipts. As the dollar moves downward, oil goes up.

Hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham writes of a paradigm shift as most commodity prices move from their 100 year downward trend toward higher values as our industrial civilization nears the limits to growth. Not only is there just so much oil, but also iron, coal, copper, silver, palladium…

In spite of the lack of Peak Oil warnings from our government, many communities are taking action by getting ready for oil scarcity and high gasoline prices. There are now 90 Transition Towns, Cities, Counties, and States in the country and 377 worldwide all dedicated to making their communities more resilient and self-reliant in the face of the energy, economic, environmental, and climate shocks of the 21st century. I am especially proud of my local group, Transition Centreville / Clifton, the 89th in the United States which is now presenting monthly films, talks, and workshops to acquaint residents with local food, energy, and transportation issues.

What’s next after $4 gasoline? By 2015 world oil production will likely begin its final decline according to a number of forecasters. If energy analyst Dr. Robert L. Hirsch is correct, a 2% decline in oil availability per year would be very difficult for the U.S. to handle and a 4% decline per year would be catastrophic. With 2008 as a guide when oil reached $147 a barrel, we can expect higher food prices, higher transportation costs, and higher costs for imported goods. In other words spreading poverty and a lower standard of living. However, by acting now we can improve the quality of life for our communities with more public transportation, less auto and truck pollution, bike paths and lanes, and community gardens. It’s up to you and your community to get ready for oil shortages ahead.

by Jackson Harper for June Crossroads

Local Food Takes Off

Fresh! At the peak of ripeness and nutrition That’s what I crave from the fruits and vegetables in my garden, from farmers markets, and from local farms. And I am not alone. The number of farmers markets has more than doubled in the last decade to over 6000 nationwide. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription farming has grown rapidly in recent years with more than 4000 listed by Home gardening has vaulted ahead during the Great Recession with an upsurge in sales of seeds and plants according to Burpee CEO George Ball. And backyard chicken raising is becoming popular encouraging citizen efforts to ease poultry restrictions in suburbia.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are not only better tasting but more nutritious at full ripeness. To withstand the rigors of travel, farm produce shipped long distances must be picked early, often not ripening properly You know what some thick-skinned supermarket tomatoes taste like. Local farmers can grow more delicate, tastier varieties, even heirlooms, that would not survive bumpy long distance trucking.

Food had always been local at least until the early 20th century when industrialized farming and globalization, made possible by cheap oil, put food into the newly invented supermarkets after having been shipped across continents and oceans, Food was right out the back door for my grandparents and parents until cheap subsidized, poorer quality food appeared. Now most people in the United States have lost connection with the origins of their food, if not with nature itself.

The staggering impacts of oil depletion and climate change will move us back toward local food. This is not a matter of choice but of necessity according to Rob Hopkins, originator of the Transition Town movement. High priced gasoline and diesel fuel will make the Caesar salads from California very expensive. And every degree centigrade of temperature increase will reduce food production by 10% according to agricultural economist Lester Brown. During WWII our Victory Gardens filled our tables with 40% of the vegetables we ate. We can do it again with our home gardens, CSA’s, community gardens, and farmers markets to regain in part the self-reliance we once had.

Food resilience is at the heart of the growing transition movement now with over 80 transition initiatives in the United States. Transition Colorado has scheduled events in permaculture, healing gardens, aquaponics, pruning & grafting, canning, living with deer, herb gardening, fruit tree culture, and chicken & goat raising. The ultimate realization of food relocalization is uncertain but we do know that the terminal decline of crude oil production will begin within a few years, that globalization and the long distance transport of food will hence decline, and that global food production has entered a fragile state indicated by high commodity prices especially corn and wheat. Industrial agriculture is unsustainable with its reliance on fossil fuels, fossil aquifers, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Value added food processing has led to poor diets and obesity.

Becoming more resilient and self-reliant in local food production can bring us fresher, riper, more nutritious, and greater varietal choice of seasonal fruits and vegetables. More of the money we spend on food will stay in the local economy. Less carbon will be put into the atmosphere by better care of local soils and fewer food transportation miles. We’ll get to know our farmers and how our food is produced. We’ll be closer to nature through our own gardening efforts at home and at community gardens. May relocalization bring us better lives, health, and happiness.
by Jackson Harper for May 2011 Crossroads

Egypt in Overshoot

When I explored the immense Libyan desert of sand and stone to the west of the Giza Pyramids by jeep and helicopter in the1950’s, Egypt’s population was not much more than 20 million. Now it has quadrupled to 84 million people densely packed in a thin strip surrounding the Nile River. Forty percent of the people live on less than $2 per day in this desert land. Unemployment is high especially for the young; Family planning efforts have reduced births from 5 per family to 3 in recent years, but the present 2% per year growth rate would double the population by 2050. Egypt is in overshoot, or living beyond its means, not only because of population growth but also increasing food, water, and energy deficits exacerbated by global warming, oil depletion, and environmental degradation.

Egypt fed itself fifty years ago but now must import 40% of its food. In 2005 I visited the Nile Delta, the seat of Egyptian agriculture for millennia. Today its 10,000 square miles of agricultural land where the Nile reaches the Mediterranean is being whittled away by housing, soil salinization, industrial pollution, and erosion. The Nile Delta will be steadily flooded by rising seas this century as a result of global warming resulting in the loss of agricultural land and the evacuation of millions of refugees.

Water in a desert land is vital but the water consumed by each Egyptian per year largely for food production has declined to only 450 cubic meters. Nile water is being impounded by countries upstream in part as a response to climate change. Nile water even in its decline is and always has been Egypt’s lifeline.

Now dependent on 60% of its grain from abroad, Egypt is subject to the vagaries of global grain production which suffered from extreme weather conditions in 2010 consistent with the effects of global warming. Unusual heat waves destroyed 40% of Russia’s wheat harvest and floods affected much of Australia’s grain crop. Commodity and food prices have been driven up close to the highs of the devastating food crisis of 2007-2008. Food price increases have been hard on Egypt’s poor who use about half of their meagre incomes for food. Bread prices have almost doubled since last year. Global grain stocks are so low that we are one poor harvest away from chaos according to agricultural economist Lester Brown.

Egypt’s oil production, which peaked in 1996, has continued to drop resulting in the end of oil exports in 2007. The bill for imported oil will not only get larger, but more unaffordable as world oil production declines and prices skyrocket. Oil is necessary for Egypt’s emerging industrialization and especially vital to its agriculture which requires 7-10 calories of oil for each calorie of food produced.

Living systems from cell cultures to human societies can exist in overshoot for a short while, but are ultimately subject to collapse and failure. Egypt is no longer self-sufficient in food or oil. It’s fresh water supply from the Nile continues to drop and its large population continues to expand. Will Egypt follow Somalia, Chad, and Sudan as another failed state? Egypt in overshoot is a lesson for all nations to study and heed. Egypt will be able to appeal to other nation states for help, but the world system, now itself in overshoot, has no other world to turn to. It’s up to us to steer away from collapse and head toward transition to a future livable planet.
by Jackson Harper for March 2011 Crossroads

Post Carbon Novels

In his novel “World Made by Hand” and its sequel “The Witch of Hebron” James Howard Kunstler gives a fascinating view of his conception of a small town in upstate New York trying to survive the aftermath of economic and governmental collapse. These novels put flesh and blood to his earlier non-fiction “The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century” offering an exciting adventure of post carbon times with Peak Oil and climate change unstated but thoughtfully portrayed in the background. These are compelling novels for those not attuned to slogging through the science and data of Peak Oil, global warming, and environmental degradation.

In “World Made by Hand” there is little or no electricity or media following nuclear explosions in Washington DC and Los Angeles. People exist by farming, hunting, and fishing. Transportation is by foot, horse, and boat. The residents of Union Grove and a nearby plantation are beset by a gang of scavengers and a strange religious group. Kunstler sets the stage for interactions between these competitive and sometimes cooperative survivors.

Peak Oiler Kurt Cobb’s novel “Prelude” is an introduction to Peak Oil for those who are not familiar with its daily happenings. The reader follows in the footsteps of oil analyst Cassie Young as she surreptitiously uncovers the secrets of the unreported huge oil depletion of one of the world’s top oil producing nations. What will she do knowing that the true state of recoverable oil would soon cause catastrophic worldwide economic hardship?

“Ultimatum” by Matthew Glass is a West Wing novel about the sparing between the United States and China over greenhouse gas emissions. It is 2032 and China is the world’s leading industrial power with twice the emissions of the U.S. which is planning to relocate 30 million people due to rising seas and climate change. Both countries face increasingly serious challenges if an agreement is not reached but there is a hangup over Taiwan which leads to a nuclear exchange. The outcome of this Matthew Glass novel is frighteningly conceivable.

“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi is a sci-fi novel said to be for young adults. The setting is the Gulf coast of the U.S. during salvage operations in the post industrial era. It is a scene of dire poverty where children are used to enter the crawl spaces of beached oil tankers to rip out valuable copper wire and other metals. There are echoes of Star Wars as the hero Nailer, perhaps 14 or 15 years old, rescues a wealthy young heiress and is forced to kill his murderous, drug ridden father. “Half-men”, genetically engineered subservient beings with canine and feline genes, populate the novel along with remarkable electronically controlled sailing ships owned by wealthy salvage operators.

Douglas Coupland’s “Player One” takes place in the Toronto airport lounge during violent worldwide economic collapse as oil prices go from $250 a barrel to $900 over a 5 hour period. As chaos reigns outside, four strangers talk about humanity, culture, and religion. The characters are a beautiful autistic young woman, an alcoholic bartender, a thieving preacher, and a divorced mother on an internet date. Player One is a fifth member who is relating the story. Coupland provides a vehicle, though improbable, for exploring the meaning of life and life after death.

Difficult and dangerous times are often crucibles of great novels. Perhaps the Great American Post Carbon novel is in the making. Enjoy!

by Jackson Harper for Feb 2011 Crossroads

Bikes on the Move

On my first visit to Copenhagen in 1955 I fell in love with everything Danish and am easily persuaded to return from time to time to enjoy the Tivoli – the 19th century-styled amusement park and garden, the Stroget – Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street, and the very civility and human scale of the place including the thousands of cyclists. On our last trip we biked around Aero Island past its farms and villages and windmills. Biking in Copenhagen is primarily for transportation for more than half its residents and bike infrastructure is supremely well designed. Bike paths are separated from roadways and sidewalks which makes biking safe and enjoyable. Bike superhighways are being built with 4 meter wide bike lanes on both sides of a main thoroughfare, Noerrebrogade, Europe’s busiest biking street, which only allows buses in an effort to reduce auto congestion in downtown Copenhagen.

In Japan with its seamless transportation system, the traveler can go from the high speed Shinkansen trains to a local train and on alighting to a multi-story bike garage to retrieve her bike and pedal home. The Netherlands also has integrated the bicycle into its transportation network as people in Amsterdam make more trips by bike than auto in a country with more bikes than people. By contrast only about 1% of trips in the United States are by bike.

Biking in Hanoi, Vietnam, is a very different scene. Bikes and motor bikes make up most all of the street traffic since there are few cars and trucks. Bikes carry entire families, chickens, egg cartons, waste paper … you name it. Crossing a street full of moving bikes seems daunting at first, but the mass of bikes behaves like a school of fish, deftly flowing past you as you move slowly across the street. China, however, has the most bikes at 430 million. In 2009 China produced 76 million bikes and 23 million electric bikes.

Paris has had success with its bike sharing program with some 20,000 bikes available for short tern rental from 1250 stations around the city. Lyon, Barcelona, London, Milan, Berlin, Rome, Buenos Aires and many other cities have bike sharing. In the United States the first bike sharing program is in Washington DC which is planning for 1000 bikes positioned at 100 kiosks. Bike sharing efforts are also underway in Portland, San Francisco, Denver, and Boston. The Twin Cities in Minnesota have an extensive Bike Walk network linking residential and downtown areas with bike lanes and walking trails.

Turning an auto-oriented city into an integrated biking and walking city takes dedicated activists like Mia Birk, the former Bicycle Program Manager for Portland, Oregon. In her book “Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet” Mia tells of her successful 6 year effort to get support for bike paths, lanes, and racks in Portland. For years she pulled around a bike trailer and projector speaking to civic groups, service organizations, and business alliances to convince them of the benefits of biking.

Biking gets you away from our sedentary car-centered culture with its connection to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and osteoporosis. Biking on well-designed bike paths and lanes gets you to your destination relaxed and energized. A bargain for cities and citizens, biking is a low cost answer to Peak Oil and higher gasoline prices. Biking also lowers your carbon footprint helping to combat global warming. You can help improve biking in your area by working with your local biking organization, city, or county.

by Jackson Harper for January 2011 Crossroads

Is your neighborhood ready for peak oil?

Walking in the evenings with my wife and our hound dog in our neighborhood my thoughts turn to how my neighbors will fare in the aftermath of peak oil which the International Energy Agency just announced occurred in 2006. World crude oil production has been on an undulating plateau for the past five years. The next shoe to drop will be the beginning of the terminal decline in oil production. Many analysts have forecast that the decline will start in the next 2 to 5 years. We could likely handle an oil production decline of 2% a year, though it would be very difficult, but 4% a year or higher would be catastrophic according to Dr. Robert L. Hirsch in his new book, “The Impending World Energy Mess”.

Transportation could become a big problem for my neighbors as fuel prices rise and rationing waits in the wings. There are no buses for them and commuter rail is 9 miles away. Will some residents move closer to their work or buy hybrid or electric cars? Cycling to grocery stores and services 6 to 7 miles distant is possible with electric bikes if bike lanes were to be built. Fuel fees would increase the costs of home services such as trash removal, plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical, home health, mail and parcel delivery, and food delivery.

Food resilience for a few of my neighbors is already evident in their vegetable gardens which produce enough surplus tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, and peppers for canning, freezing, and dehydrating for winter use. One neighbor keeps chickens for fresh eggs. Some neighbors have extensive lawns which could easily be turned back into the corn fields they once were two generations ago. Existing ponds and the possibility of others on the rolling terrain could produce fish such as tilapia which is a low calorie, low carbohydrate, and low saturated fat protein source. Water is pumped from aquifers at each home from depths of 140 to 800 feet. Emergency water could be carried from nearby streams and lakes for boiling and treatment before use.

Electricity could be generated from solar panels on neighbor’s rooftops and from ground mounts on the large lawns for alternative household power. Woodlots consisting of native hardwoods already supply firewood for backup winter heating for some neighbors.

Size up your neighborhood for the effects of peak oil which will change all of our lives. If you and your neighbors live within walking or biking distance of your job, grocery stores, shopping, and public transit, count yourself fortunate. Growing some of your food in your yard or in a community garden will increase your food security. A three month emergency food and water supply which can be rotated with your regular meals provides extra insurance. Backup electrical power from solar panels and heating with wood or heat pumps will give you added flexibility. Work with your neighbors to make your community more resilient to energy, economic, and environmental shocks.

In talking with my neighbors on our evening walks, I know that some of them are aware of the lifestyle changes coming and that others are uninformed or physically unable to participate in the transition which will bring us all closer together in our daily lives. At this point no one knows how severe the terminal oil decline will be or exactly when it will begin, but we do know that it’s on the way and that we can work together to soften the consequences.

by Jackson Harper for December Crossroads