Are we reaching ‘peak car’?

Source: Globe & Mail, Oct 22, 2011

Anyone who has been stuck in big-city gridlock lately may find this hard to believe, but millions of Westerners are giving up their cars.

Experts say our love affair with the automobile is ending, and that could change much more than how we get around – it presents both an opportunity and an imperative to rethink how we build cities, how governments budget and even the contours of the political landscape.

The most detailed picture of the trend comes from the United States, where the distance driven by Americans per capita each year flatlined at the turn of the century and has been dropping for six years. By last spring, Americans were driving the same distance as they had in 1998.

The data are similar in Europe, Australia and Japan. And, although Canada doesn't keep national statistics on individual driving habits, Australian researcher Jeff Kenworthy has found that driving in the nation's five largest cities, combined, declined by 1.7 per cent per capita from 1995 to 2006.

If developed countries are reaching “peak car,” as some transportation experts are calling it, it's not just a product of high unemployment or skyrocketing fuel prices, as the pattern began to show up years before the 2008 financial crisis.

Nor is it primarily a matter of people feeling guilted into reducing their car use for the sake of the climate and the environment – the threat of separating people from their wheels (or taxing their fuel use) has long been one of the green movement's biggest stumbling blocks.



IEA Predicts 'Dire Future'

Source: WSJ, Oct 19, 2011


PARIS—The world is headed for a "dire future" where high energy prices drag on economic growth and global average temperatures rise by more than 3.5 Celsius unless there are significant innovations to lower the cost of clean energy and carbon-capture technology, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.

Speaking at the conclusion of a two-day meeting with international energy ministers and business leaders in Paris, senior officials from the agency painted a gloomy picture of the world's current trajectory.

The meeting concluded that growth in energy demand will be powered largely by coal and the only hope of restraining the rise in global temperatures to safe levels is to hope that the creation of cheaper technologies to capture carbon dioxide "might eventually allow it to be used in a more environmentally benign manner."

The meeting, which was attended for the first time by ministers from a large number of emerging economies, was a clear acknowledgment of how economic realities conflict with the goal of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

"Twenty percent of the world's population does not have access to reliable energy," said Martin Ferguson, Australia's Minister of Resources and Energy who was chairing the IEA meeting. These developing countries "are going to continue to grow their economy and hence their demand for energy."

This means that "coal will continue to be the world's fastest growing energy source for some time," with its consumption rising by two-thirds under the current trajectory, he said. "It's not for us to deny them, but to invent clean technology at the lowest possible cost," and share it with them, he said, adding that investment in carbon capture and storage and renewable energy is important.

Current clean energy technologies are insufficient to meet carbon-reduction targets, so in the nearer term improving energy efficiency is the most important action to take, the IEA said in a statement concluding the meeting.

"The scale and breadth of the energy challenge is enormous," the IEA said. "Unless much stronger action is taken ... energy related CO2 emissions would rise to a level consistent with a long-term global temperature increase of more than 3.5 Celsius, with dangerous consequences for the global environment and human welfare."

The door may already be closing on the opportunity to prevent average global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius, said the IEA's Chief Economist, Fatih Birol, on Tuesday.

Growing dependence on fossil fuels will also be economically damaging, the IEA said. "Persistently high levels of spending on energy imports would impose a drag on economic growth in many countries," it said. "The risk of serious energy-supply disruptions would continue to mount."

High oil prices this year have contributed to the economic slowdown many countries are currently experiencing, said the head of the IEA's oil markets division, David Fyfe.


The worsening oil crisis and views of a German military think tank

Source: todayszaman.com

DURHAM-- The global economic crisis shows no sign of significantly abating, with extremely sluggish growth and sometimes economic contraction occurring across Europe and the US in particular.

While the problem of credit remains the main focus of economists, there is also another factor to consider that many seem to have overlooked. The world is running out of affordable oil. The International Energy Agency stated in its 2010 report that the world saw an “all-time peak” in the production of conventional crude oil in 2006. While it delivered an optimistic scenario with respect to the discovery and utilisation of unconventional oil sources, such as tar sands and deep-ocean oil, there are still some problems when it comes to the ability to supply the global economy with these sorts of fuels.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, has stated several times that “the age of cheap oil is over.” Our global economy has depended on cheap oil in order to function well and in order for long-distance supply chains to remain viable. However, the dynamics of supply and demand could result in a situation where oil prices are highly volatile, swinging from very high prices to very cheap prices in short periods of time. Such dynamics have been described by Dr Colin J. Campbell, a retired petroleum geologist and analyst, as the “bumpy plateau.” When the physical limits of oil production have been reached, any increase in oil demand as a result of investment in economic growth causes rapid price increases until these prices start to make global trade expensive. As a result, demand for oil falls because of the inability of companies to afford energy expenses and this drives down the price -- sometimes very dramatically. Can the world survive such a volatile future?



Jeremy Rifkin: The Third Industrial Revolution

Source: www.climate-one.org

The world is doomed to repeat four-year cycles of booms followed by crashes if we don’t get off oil, Jeremy Rifkin warned a Climate One audience in San Francisco on October 3. The solution, what he calls the Third Industrial Revolution, is the “Energy Internet,” a nervous system linking millions of small renewable energy producers.

For Rifkin, author of the new The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy and Changing the World, a seminal event occurred in July 2008, when the price of oil hit $147 a barrel. “Prices for everything on the supply chain went through the roof, from food to petrochemicals. Purchasing power plummeted all over the world that month. An entire economic engine of the Industrial Revolution shut down,” he said.

“That was the great economic earthquake,” he went on. “The collapse of the financial markets 60 days later was the aftershock. Our world leaders are still dealing with the aftershock, and have not gone to the nub of the crisis."

The reason this is happening now, Rifkin said, is that the “world is made out of and moved by fossil fuels.” We have reached peak oil per capita and global peak oil production, he said, citing the International Energy Agency’s finding that peak oil production probably occurred in 2006, at 70 million barrels per day.

"Every time we try to re-grow the economy at the same growth rate we were growing before July 2008, the price of oil goes up, all of the other prices goes up, purchasing power goes down, and it collapses.” This is a wall we can’t go beyond under the current energy regime, he said. “We’re in this wild gyration of four-year cycles, where we’re going to try to re-grow, collapse, re-grow, collapse.”



Oil’s physical strength defies slowdown woes

Source: Globe & Mail, Oct 7, 2011

The physical oil market continues to show a remarkable strength even if futures prices are lagging amid worries about the impact of an economic slowdown on demand.

The latest signal of supply and demand tightness comes from Asia and the Middle East. On the one hand, the cost of Oman-Dubai crude, the regional benchmark, in the spot market has surged significantly above their price for delivery later on the year and into early 2012. The downward slope of the curve, known as backwardation, is an indication of immediate tightness. On the other, the premium that Saudi Arabia charges to Asian refiners for its main crude stream has jumped to an all-time high.

As Edward Morse, the veteran oil watcher at Citigroup in New York, put it earlier this week, “the dire macro outlook continues to weight on the oil complex … but there remains very little in the way of weakness visible in the oil market itself”.



Mobilisation pour l'agriculture urbaine

Source: La Presse, 4 octobre 2011

Vous aimeriez cultiver des légumes avec les voisins, dans le petit lopin de terre inutilisé au coin de la rue? Installer des plants d'aubergine en sacs sur une placette bétonnée? Planter des choux sur le terre-plein d'une avenue? Aménager des fossés dignes de Carrot City (l'exposition)? Estimez-vous que la Ville devrait subventionner de tels projets?

Désireux de provoquer une réflexion collective et une vision cohérente de l'agriculture en ville, le Groupe de travail en agriculture urbaine (GTAU) et l'un de ses membres, le Centre d'écologie urbaine de Montréal, ont lancé, mercredi, une semaine de mobilisation intensive en faveur d'une consultation publique. Jusqu'au 4 octobre, les citoyens seront invités à signer une pétition dans certains marchés publics et certaines stations de métro.

Les organisateurs ont déjà recueilli 8000 signatures en sept semaines, et visent un total de 15 000 d'ici le 8 novembre. «Si 15 000 citoyens signent avant cette date, la Ville de Montréal sera dans l'obligation de tenir une consultation, en vertu du droit d'initiative», explique Pierre Chevalier, de la Ville de Montréal, faisant référence à ce nouvel outil à la portée des citoyens de Montréal depuis janvier 2010.



The rise and gall of e-bikers

Source: Globe & Mail, Oct 1, 2011

In the old days, there were cars, motorcycles and bicycles but commuting has become a more varied experience and there are new hybrid forms of transportation.

One of the more prevalent is the e-bike. It’s a mysterious entity and, in an effort to spread understanding, Road Sage answers a few of the more pressing questions.

What exactly is an e-bike?

E-bikes are alternative forms of transportation that provide all the benefits of bicycling – zero emissions and freedom from gridlock – without the troubling exercise. The “e” in e-bike stands for “electric.” Instead of pedalling, riders are carried along by a small electric motor that’s been slapped on the body of a real bicycle. Imagine biking around your town and city without the actual biking. Thanks to e-bikes this dream is now a reality.

Note: the experience is totally different than riding a moped or scooter. Those are powered by gasoline. E-bikes are powered by electricity.