President Obama unveiled his “Blueprint for Energy Security” yesterday, including a plan to cut oil imports http://transitmiami.com/files/tag/by 1/3 over the coming decade.css. To say that the President’s plan is disappointing is an understatement. While paying lip service to all the typical rhetoric about our dependence on foreign oil, the President’s ‘blueprint’ for the future reads like an affirmation of the status quo - not only does it lack vision, it ignores the fact that the challenges facing our energy future are transportation related.
The point is the ups and downs in gas prices historically have tended to be temporary. But when you look at the long-term trends, there are going to be more ups in gas prices than downs in gas prices. And that’s because you’ve got countries like India and China that are growing at a rapid clip, and as 2 billion more people start consuming more goods — they want cars just like we’ve got cars; they want to use energy to make their lives a little easier just like we’ve got — it is absolutely certain that demand will go up a lot faster than supply. It’s just a fact.
The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity, our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out, and even before it runs out will get more and more expensive to extract from the ground.
Seventy percent of our petroleum consumption goes to transportation — 70 percent. And by the way, so does the second biggest chunk of most families’ budgets goes into transportation. And that’s why one of the best ways to make our economy less dependent on oil and save folks more money is to make our transportation sector more efficient.
We’ve also made historic investments in high-speed rail and mass transit, because part of making our transportation sector cleaner and more efficient involves offering all Americans, whether they are urban, suburban, or rural, the choice to be mobile without having to get in a car and pay for gas.
With all this rhetoric, you would think that the ‘blueprint for energy security’ would involve seriously expanding the transit capacity of our cities (where most of the population lives), but that’s not the case.
Now, meeting the goal of cutting our oil dependence depends largely on two things: first, finding and producing more oil at home; second, reducing our overall dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency.
Now, last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003. And for the first time in more than a decade, oil we importehttp://transitmiami.com/files/tag/d accounted for less than half of the liquid fuel we consumed. So that was a good trend. To keep reducing that reliance on imports, my administration is encouraging offshore oil exploration and production — as long as it’s safe and responsible.
If we are talking about seriously lowering dependence on foreign oil we should be lowering our dependence on all oil, foreign and domestic. Expanding US oil production is a cheap polical game that does not have a chance at impacting our dependence on oil or the price of oil at the pump. Maybe our production is up since 2003, but as the graph below from the US Department of Energy shows, US production peaked in the mid-1970’s.
US production has no chance of offsetting our annual oil appetite. Not even close. Our daily oil consumption is 18 million barrels per day, while our proven reserves of crude oil amount to about 19 billion barrels - that’s enough oil for about 1,000 days or 2.7 years at current rates of consumption! Considering the challenges associated with accessing the remaining domestic reserves, one has to question the benefits of draining every last drop of oil from US soil given how little is left. It simply is not worth the environmental cost. With these numbers - who is the president fooling?
We’re also exploring and assessing new frontiers for oil and gas development from Alaska to the Mid- and South Atlantic states, because producing more oil in America can help lower oil prices, can help create jobs, and can enhance our energy security, but we’ve got to do it in the right way.
Recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves –- perhaps a century’s worth of reserves, a hundred years worth of reserves -– in the shale under our feet. But just as is true in terms of us extracting oil from the ground, we’ve got to make sure that we’re extracting natural gas safely, without polluting our water supply.
Recent innovations in natural gas exploration you say? Hmmm… you wouldn’t be talking about the amazingly destructive process of extracting natural gas by injecting fissures in the earth with a high pressure toxic cocktail, only to dump the waste from the process into neighboring rivers, lakes and valleys? Yeah, I pass on that one too.
And that’s just the plan on the supply side of things - on the demand side the president points to biofuels and nuclear energy as big winners. Sigh…is he serious?
Mr. President we need solutions that will address the real problem: we have built our lives around the car. We live in cities that are designed for cars, and we rely on an economy that is run by cars (and trucks). We need to change how we live - we do not need gimmicks that dance around the problem. How about funding a massive transit expansion program that can really impact vehicle miles traveled in cities - after all, cities are less likely to reject federal money the way partisan governors have with high speed rail money.
While you are at it, be a champion of cities. Promote smart growth planning as a basic policy of the federal government. Wherever federal dollars go to urban development, housing, or transportation they should be tied to policies that create walkable, pedestrian friendly urbanism. FHA and other banking policies currently discourage mixed-use developments, while military bases across the country are being planned and built under the same suburban paradigm that helped create the energy crisis in the first place - policies that can change with minimal cost to anyone and have a greater impact on our energy use.
We need that. We need you to dream big. We need you to summon that same spirit of unbridled optimism and that bold willingness to tackle tough challenges and see those challenges through that led previous generations to rise to greatness -– to save a democracy, to touch the moon, to connect the world with our own science and our own imagination.
Ditto, Mr. President - right back at you.
The government spends billions of dollars to support the energy industry, which allows it to make energy cheaper than it should cost on the open market. These subsidies—either in the form of tax breaks or direct funding—favor some types of energy over others, giving our country a skewed sense of what each gallon of gas or wind-powered electron costs. This is a look at where the government directed its subsidy dollars from 2002 to 2008.
Image Courtesy of The Environmental Law Institute
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill will most likely make its way to South Florida and directly affect South Floridians in one way or another. It’s easy to point the finger at BP, but the truth is that this oil company is simply providing a resource to satisfy a market demand. This is the essence of capitalism. Yes, they certainly share in the responsibility of the oil spill, but the biggest accomplice to the oil spill is the American lifestyle. I’m hoping this tragedy may be the long overdue wake up call for all Americans; we cannot have our cake and it eat too. We all share the blame for this oil spill.
As long as we have an economy and a lifestyle which is lubricated by cheap oil and a transportation system that depends on fossil fuels, we can only blame ourselves for this and future oil spills. Obama’s talking points on the oil spill generally focus on the need for alternative and renewable energy, yet he is mute on energy conservation, an increase of the gas tax, and the need to expand public transit. The administration is missing out on a golden opportunity here, particularly to increase the gas tax.
An increase of the gas tax and energy conservation work hand in hand. Let’s make gas more expensive and watch consumption plummet. Americans would then think twice about buying a house in the far exburbs or take that unnecessary trip by car just to pick up a gallon of milk at the store a mile away from their homes. Public transit would also look more appealing with higher gas prices.
I’d like to hear more rhetoric from Obama that focuses on allocating more dollars to public transit, particularly rail. The gulf oil spill dialogue should also encompass the development of more pedestrian and bike friendly communities with increased density. It’s so easy to point the finger at BP, but we all share culpability for this oil spill in one way or another. Conservation needs to be our focus, not alternative energy. We need a national strategy and policy that focuses on conservation. This, however, will require a sacrifice by all Americans. The question is are we up for this challenge and are we willing to spend the money to build a national public transit system which is less dependent on oil?
Tropical Paradise or Transportation Paradise?
Morro de Sao Paulo is a small village on the island of Tinhare in Bahia, Brazil which is located about 40 miles south of Salvador, Brazil’s third largest city. It is only accessible by a 2 hour boat ride or on a 25 minute puddle-jumper. It has a small population of about 3000 local residents which rely predominantly on tourism in order to fuel the local economy. Up until about 15 years ago, Morro de Sao Paulo was a fishing village.
The real beauty of Morro de Sao Paulo is not just the beaches, but the fact that no cars are allowed to enter the village center. To get around, your only real transportation option is your feet. In fact, during my 4 days in Morro de Sao Paulo, I saw only 4 bicycles, a couple of donkeys, and a tractor that collects garbage early in the morning. I saw my first car when I was on the way to the airport while riding on the back of a tractor-bus.
Getting around on two feet was not difficult, but rather pleasurable. The development of the village has grown naturally on a human-scale; meaning most distances within the village are no longer than a half-hour walk. The inaccessibility of Morro de Sao Paulo is certainly a major contributing factor to its organic growth.
Particularly inspiring is the manner in which supplies are transported within the village. Whether a refrigerator, cement bags, computers, alcohol bottles or food, all goods are transported within the community by wheelbarrow. It is astonishing to see the small supermarket in the village was fully stocked with first-rate amenities. Approximately 200 men wheelbarrow all the supplies from the arriving boats to the village. The car free village generates jobs by employing wheelbarrow operators that do not pollute.
There are some valuable lessons to learn from Morro de Sao Paulo. This tight knit community has shown that with a little hard work and planning, a car free community is possible and desirable, as can be evidenced by the thousands of tourists that visit this remote village every year. The community’s low reliance on motor-vehicles, combined with a transportation infrastructure which is predominantly reliant on human power will allow it to adapt more easily to an oil starved future. As our cities become more densely populated, perhaps we will need to turn to working examples such as Morro de Sao Paulo. This small village illustrates that with an emphasis on human power we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Gas Price Equivalents in The Netherlands
New York Times columnist and foreign policy expert Thomas Friedman has written another gem about our oil addiction. He’s long advocated for higher gas and oil prices over the long term to force us to drive less and live more sustainably.
Here are a couple snippets from his most recent column, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety, titled Truth or Consequences:
Cynical ideas, like the McCain-Clinton summertime gas-tax holiday, would only make the problem (America’s oil addiction) worse, and reckless initiatives like the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep offer to subsidize gasoline for three years for people who buy its gas guzzlers are the moral equivalent of tobacco companies offering discounter cigarettes to teenagers…
…What our mythical candidate would be proposing, argues the energy economist Phillip J. Verleger Jr., is a “price floor” for gasoline: $4 a gallon for regular unleaded, which is still half the going rate in Europe today. Washington would declare that it would never let the price fall below that level. If it does, it would increase the federal gas tax on a monthly basis to make up the difference between the pump price and the market price.
Photo: Paul Garland’s Flickr
Three Great articles I highly recommend.
- A Fountain on Every Corner (New York Times)
An entire generation of Americans has grown up thinking public faucets equal filth, and the only water fit to drink comes in plastic, factory sealed. It’s time to change that perception with public fountains in the city’s busiest quadrants, pristine bubblers that celebrate the virtues of our public water supply, remind us of our connection to upstate watersheds and reinforce our commitment to clean water for all.
- After Bingeing on Oil, the Country Has a Hangover (Washington Post)
Oil fueled our ambitions and dreams. The more we drank, the happier we felt, the bolder we acted. We believed in the eternity of oil, the everlasting cheapness of it; we looked askance at anyone who questioned our faith.
In all of this, we had enablers, politicians who supported our habit, told us not to worry, that there was more cheap oil to be found somewhere — in another country, perhaps, if not our own. They said they would fix whatever needed fixing.
- Getting on board with Amtrak’s needs (Boston Globe)
It is one thing to meet with an Amtrak worker for a photo-op. It is another to get on board for the rail service America needs for a green economy, less urban congestion, and a more civilized future. Obama says, ‘‘Detroit won’t find a better partner than me in the White House.’’ In the past, that has also meant making a pariah out of Amtrak. Nothing would symbolize a break from this past more than a whistlestop tour in the presidential campaign, to promote trains themselves.
The following article below is a reprint from NPR.org on April 1, 2008:
Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint
Atlanta resident Malaika Taylor used to live the typical suburban life — the kind that helps make America the world’s top contributor to climate change. But four years ago, fed up with commuting, Taylor and her 11-year old daughter, Maya, moved from the suburbs to the city.
And their “carbon footprint” shrank.
“There are some weekends when I don’t even use my car,” says Taylor.
The Taylors live in Atlantic Station, a new community in mid-town Atlanta designed to put jobs, homes and shopping all in one place, close to public transportation. Developments like Atlantic Station are springing up around the country, and proponents say they help cut car pollution, including the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.
Atlantic Station: A Climate Change Model
On a typical morning, Taylor walks her daughter to the bus stop and then keeps going 10 minutes to her job as a property manager at an apartment complex.
“I have to admit, if it’s raining or really cold, I drive,” she says.
Her mile-long commute is unusual in Atlanta, where the federal government estimates the average resident drives 32 miles each day. Early surveys show the people who live and work in Atlantic Station drive about a third that much, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We don’t often think of a development as a way to solve environmental problems. But this is really a unique example of kind of growing your way into better environmental quality,” says Geoff Anderson, who helped steer the Atlantic Station project through the regulatory process for the EPA. Anderson now heads Smart Growth America, an environmentally friendly development advocate.
At first, the EPA supported Atlantic Station as a way to help Atlanta fight its unhealthy smog problem. Anderson says now the agency sees the community as a model of how America can fight climate change.
“The two biggest things we do from a carbon perspective are, we heat our houses or cool them, or we drive. And when you combine that, that’s going to add up to a big chunk of your personal carbon footprint,” Anderson says.
A Smaller Impact
Reducing her carbon footprint was not Taylor’s intent when she moved. She just wanted her life back.
But living in the city has cut the small family’s impact on global warming to about half the national average for a family of two.
When they lived in the suburbs, Taylor filled up her gas tank three or four times every two weeks. Now she fills up once in two weeks.
Her other energy bills shrank, too.
In the winter, her gas bill to heat her suburban house was almost $200. Now she uses electricity to heat and cool their compact, two-bedroom loft. That bill tops out around $80, about 20 percent less than the average bill for an Atlanta household.
Apartments often have lower energy costs because of shared walls and smaller spaces. Americans send more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, or about a fifth of the nation’s total emissions. If lots of Americans lived like the Taylors, then the nation’s greenhouse-gas pollution could drop by hundreds of millions of tons.
Of course, the move didn’t come without tradeoffs.
“I can’t afford to buy a house in the city. It took me four garage sales to get rid of enough stuff to fit into my apartment. I thought I purged, and it still wasn’t enough, and I had to purge again,” says Taylor.
Gaining a Life
On one recent rainy afternoon, Taylor drives to pick up Maya at the bus stop. It takes them almost no time and hardly any gas or greenhouse gas emissions.
What’s more, when it’s time to take a trip to the grocery store, it takes only two minutes to get there, and she’s is back home within 15 minutes.
“That’s hands down one of the biggest perks about living here. The convenience, convenience, convenience,” Taylor says.
It’s only 4:20 p.m. Maya has already made a big dent in her homework. And Malaika has a few hours to kill.
“Maybe I’ll work out. Maybe we’ll play a game. It makes a huge difference just in the quality of our life,” Taylor says. “We get to spend a lot more time together. I think she’s happier. I’m happier. It makes life a lot better.”
If Senators Clinton and McCain have their way, this summer Americans might be duped into thinking that a “gas-tax holiday” will help alleviate the financial strains of filling up. The gas tax holiday undermines the principles of supply and demand and is little more than a cheap political gimmick. If imposed, the holiday would only save the average American consumer $30 throughout the course of the summer.
The gas-tax holiday continues the flawed mentality that the rise in oil prices is a temporary matter. FYI- oil prices nudged past $125 a barrel today, the fourth day this week of record highs. America needs to realize that there isn’t going to be a “quick fix” to this critical problem. The era of whizzing around carefree in gas powered vehicles is coming to a close and we must now turn our focus to more sustainable forms of making the most out of our available land. This shift will not be easy. It’s not that simple to turn back 6 decades of automotive mindset and policy in a country whose infrastructure largely revolves around oil.
As James Howard Kunstler put it in this week’s Businessweek:
It’s not that we’re driving the wrong cars. It’s that we’re driving cars of any size, incessantly.
To view the Gas Tax petition, visit Gas Tax Scam…
Remember the debacle which erupted in
The plan came to a halt two years later when a federal judge sided with environmentalists and ruled that the project’s potential environmental impacts hadn’t been adequately studied. Under deadline pressure, commissioners moved the Scripps Florida headquarters to a smaller, urban site at
‘s MacArthur campus in Jupiter. Florida Atlantic University
Somehow, the voice of reason prevails over absurd westward development, even if it was for a monumental institution; this project had absolutely no reason to pave over thousands of acres of farmland.
More than four years after the county bought the 1,919-acre property with a sprawling Scripps
science campus in mind, commissioners are taking steps to usher in a new reality: suburban home development. Florida
Suburban home development? How is this environmentally friendly? Well, it isn’t but they have some ideas which are actually worse:
County administrators want to use about 100 acres for a landfill, set aside land for water marshes and environmental improvements and package the rest for home builders.
Energy and oil is the dominant theme this week, however the articles about the Everglades and affordable housing in Miami are very troubling.
- NY Times: Efforts to save the everglades are faltering
- Newsday: Gas prices affecting community, car use
- NY Times: Rising demand for oil provokes new energy crisis
- KITV Honolulu: Gas prices have reached $5 per gallon in parts of Cali
- Miami Herald: Housing crunch (lack of affordable housing) hitting low-income residents hard
- NY Times: High gas prices and long commutes having an impact on the sprawl market
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