Friday, May 25, 2012

Can we build a New world in 150yrs?

I am basically re-posting this article from Grist but I narrowed it down to critical components.   

Me: So what the article below brings up is the real question, at some point in the very near future we will have to admit that the pastoral, 19th century version of America will change.  It already has but allof us have memories of how it was when we were young and they are often fond memories.  I believe with smart planning all the good things can be preserved; green spaces, hunting, fishing, wildlife, camping, community and independence.  It will take tremendous effort and coordination and investment, the alternative is to stick our head's in the sand and hope its all fixed by someone else.  I grew up loving horsepower and dirt roads, I am not taking this lightly, if anything I'm involved because not enough other pragmatists are.  See the well articulated points from Grist:


"...As Nelder says, our entire $6 trillion infrastructure was built around the assumption of cheap oil. It is utterly unsuited to a world of peak oil and climate pressure. Forgive me as I quote him at length:

In this context, the current debate over energy subsidies seems entirely misbegotten. What’s the point in arguing over some $4 billion per year in oil industry subsidies (which I have long opposed) when we’re already on the hook for $1.6 trillion per year to remain with our current transportation regime? …
This context also demonstrates why the US High Speed Rail Association’s newly-updated $600 billion price tag for a system that would cover all our major metropolitan cities is decidedly cheap. The $40 billion or so we’ve spent on Amtrak is peanuts. Who wouldn’t think it makes sense to spend a bit more than one-third of our existing annual transportation commitment to permanently retire a substantial portion of our unsustainable air and road traffic?
Instead of incremental spending on an effectively dead transportation regime, we should be thinking about one that can survive the challenges ahead, and deliver more economic benefits than costs. ( Me: I disagree somewhat here, America is neither willing nor ready to move away from personal transportation, but electric cars can and will replace 'once and done' gas burning cars.)  We should be setting an ambitious target, like replacing all commercial passenger air flights with high speed rail for trips under 1,000 miles, replacing 90 percent of our city street traffic with light rail, and moving all long-haul freight traffic to rail. Even if the cost of all that rail infrastructure were in the range of $3 trillion, it would be a fantastic investment.

… Would you rather spend another $32 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain our outmoded, unscalable, aged, unhealthy system, plus another $2.8 trillion in lost productivity due to delays and gridlock, only to wind up out of gas? Or would you rather spend $25 trillion to repair our existing infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever? 
I can’t say it better than that. I’ll just add that while Nelder focuses on transportation, the same basic political-economy framework applies to electricity. We built our houses and industries on the assumption of cheap electricity; those practices, codes, and regulations are still embedded in our construction and manufacturing sectors. We built our power transmission lines on the assumption of large, remote power plants. Coal has plenty of lobbying muscle in its own right, but it’s nothing compared to the heavy lifting that utillites, heavy industry, and construction & manufacturing industries do for it.
The simple fact is that modern industrial society was built by, around, and for fossil fuels. The assumption of cheap, concentrated sources of energy is embedded into all of our institutions and practices. Maintaining our status quo industrial infrastructure — a cost that absolutely dwarfs direct subsidies to fossil fuels — is an investment in fossil-fuel dominance. And we pay it every year, even as we pay the rising costs it imposes on us.
Viewed in this light, fossil fuels and renewables are not really “competing” on some common “playing field.” Fossil fuels built the field; it is designed for their game. Renewables don’t just have to produce energy at competitive prices, they must bring along with them new applications, new infrastructure, new institutions and practices. To switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is not like going from Coke to Pepsi; it is to build a new world.
Comparisons of direct subsidies capture only the tip of a giant iceburg — most of fossil fuels’ big advantages are invisible, beneath the surface, and entirely taken for granted." Grist

Me: The thing is the change they and I are advocating is so huge, incremental and foundation shaking that today's power brokers are resisting it when they should be embracing it.  We have the opportunity to enrich human experience, and create unprecedented economic activity.  With a 95% fossil fuel economy today even if we launched a 'Manhattan project' on transportation and energy infrastructure today the changes would take decades,this would coincide nicely with $12gal gasoline and wars over energy resources.  So let's start building a new world today and hope we get it done in time.

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