26 September 2000
From Het Singel by Cityboek
Illustration ©2000 Cityboek Productions, used with permission
News at Carfree.com
Carfree Cities DistributionAfter a rather slow start, Carfree Cities is starting to enter distribution. Internet orders can best be placed with D.A. Salzmann - Books of Special Interest, where the book is in stock for prompt shipment ($29.95 plus $3.00 for surface shipment in the USA, plus California sales tax where applicable).
Unfortunately, the situation in Canada is still grim. The publisher and I are working to secure Canadian distribution. Until then, Canadians can probably best order the book from D.A. Salzmann, above.
News Releases from Carfree.comCarfree.com is starting to issue news releases relating to current events. Releases are also posted on ENN.com.
The Carfree ForumThe discussion forum has grown to 90 members, and the focus of discussion has shifted to tactical and strategic questions relating to implementing carfree cities as quickly as possible, particularly as regards influencing public opinion. The prior, mostly anecdotal, discussion has more or less petered out. Visit the Forum (without having to join).
Conference Hosted by the Carfree InstituteThis conference has been canceled due to logistics problems. We will try to bring you a conference on carfree cities as soon as resources permit. If you know of a funding source or sponsor, please send e-mail.
Internship at Carfree.comCarfree.com, based in Amsterdam, could use the help of a full- or part-time intern interested in learning a wide variety of skills while helping to promote the carfree city. Those interested should send e-mail.
CirculationThe circulation of Carfree Times has reached roughly 35,000 copies viewed in a year. Some 6000 people view each new issue in the first year following initial publication. All 15 issues are still on line. own page.
Quotes of the Quarter
Although European Car Free Day has been planned for some time now, the current discussions on fuel prices make Car Free Day 2000 particularly timely. Recent events have highlighted our over reliance on road transport as well our unsustainable dependence on one source of non-renewable energy.
The superpowers will fasten the grip on oil producing countries. The amount of oil they need has started to alarm them to an extent that they do not want to say how much. That means there is concern over the amount of oil existing in the world.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
With its fast-growing fleet of gas-guzzling SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and falling oil production, the United States is now dependent on imports for a record 57 percent of its oil, making it even more vulnerable to oil price hikes and supply disruptions than it was in 1973.
"OPEC Has World over a Barrel Again"
Oil Slick AwardIn 1999, Houston overtook Los Angeles as the US city with the worst air quality. In 1999, Houston had 52 days in which ground-level ozone was above the maximum set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Los Angeles had "only" 43 such days. Houston, you may recall, is in Texas, the state of which oilman George W. Bush is governor. Could there be a connection?
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission recently submitted a plan to bring the Houston metropolitan area into compliance with federal clean air standards. The plan includes speed limit reductions, restricts the hours when heavy equipment can be operated, and even regulates when homeowners can mow the lawn. A recent opinion poll suggests residents would welcome such ideas: 87% percent of those polled are concerned about the effects of air pollution on health; 64% favor more stringent tailpipe tests for private vehicles; and 51% support lowering all highway speed limits to 55 MPH. (Some highways now have 70 MPH limits.)
And a GreenieWe have a new award at Carfree.com: the Greenie. We'll give them out from time to time. The prize is... a lapsed bus transfer. It's the thought that counts.
BBC teletext news
It would be instructive to know just how many "top" managers at public transport companies have free cars and drive to work.
World News Notes & CommentCurrent events related to urban automobiles during the previous season.
European "Fuel Crisis"That's what CNN called what I call the recent relatively minor run-up in oil prices. Massive blockades followed; several European governments wobbled. I characterize the run-up as relatively minor because prices are still only about half the historical highs of the early 1980s, in real terms. Yet, as we saw in 1973 and again in 1979, any burble in the flow of oil is big trouble for governments.
Declaring an Emergency When None ExistsAccording to ENN, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said, "The price of oil at $38 is dangerously high." Richardson made the remark following a meeting with legislators from oil-dependent Northeastern states. On 18 September 2000, U.S. crude oil prices briefly soared above $37 a barrel, the highest since the Gulf War. The Clinton administration has taken the ill-advised decision to drain a million barrels a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Oil from the reserve has been sold only once before, during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Prices have since eased somewhat but remain relatively high and volatile.
ENN: "U.S. says oil at $38 is 'dangerously high'"
The average price paid for oil in the SPR is $27.14, not really so much less than the current market price. Some have calculated that the oil actually cost about $60.00 a barrel, given inflation, interest, and storage costs. Anyway, it looks like we got the price of oil down just in time for the election. Whew!
Anyone Have a Spare Oil Tanker for Charter?The current oil crisis is at least in part a result of excessive market consolidation in the oil storage and tanker businesses. The result is that even if OPEC manages to pump a few more barrels of oil, they will be difficult or impossible to get to market. Oddly, the problem is a result of a rash of mergers that followed the collapse of the oil prices at the end of 1998.
"The most powerful force fueling oil's volatility, this week's ructions showed, is the black stuff's paramount importance in transport." The Economist goes on to say, "... governments have used such tools as energy taxes to make their economies more efficient and less reliant on oil. They have largely succeeded, except in transport - where, despite soaring petrol taxes, oil remains king...."
"Oil's Taxing Times" in The Economist
Whither Energy?"As for renewable sources, opinions differ on how much of the future energy burden they can bear. Some experts see their role limited to the 5% to 10% range, but others are more optimistic. A report published by Shell at the end of last year predicts that the share could increase to 50% by mid-century, and Italy's Environment Minister Willer Bordon is hoping for close to 100% clean energy by 2100. That may be wishful thinking, but if Europe and the rest of the industrialized world have any hope of developing a safe and reliable energy strategy in the long run, this is where they should focus their efforts."
"The Energy Crunch" in Time
Time goes on to warn of the possibility of natural gas crises that loom ahead. What's significant is that renewable energy is finally getting attention from the mainstream media.
There's an Elephant in the RoomWe won't go into all the sordid details here - the truckers' blockades that crippled many nations in Europe during the past few weeks still are not entirely relegated to the realm of history. They have, however, already shaken the EU and the governments of many EU nations to the core. Despite early promises not to lower fuel taxes in the face of protests, France promptly went ahead and did just that. Several other nations have followed, mostly in lesser degree. So far, the UK has held fast, but the Conservatives have smelled blood and promised a small fuel tax reduction "if elected."
What's odd here is that almost nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room. Everyone seems to have assumed that if lazy OPEC would just get off their collective butts and go open some more valves, oil prices would fall back to where they "belong" and everything would be just fine. So far, however, OPEC has actually been remarkably cooperative in bringing more oil onto the market in response to rising prices.
What's missing from the discussion is that OPEC is not far from its ultimate production capacity, at least given the infrastructure that is now in place. The oil companies, in the face of $10 oil a couple of years ago, did not make the necessary infrastructure investments in Saudi Arabia so that more oil could be pumped there as production declined from oil fields everywhere except in the Persian Gulf. (Remember that US oil production has been in decline for 30 years now, and that all fields outside of the Gulf will be at or beyond peak production this year.)
Furthermore, there has been virtually no mention of the widespread agreement among scientists that even if oil production could be increased, we actually must consume less, not more, oil in order to halt the progress of global warming before "too much" damage is done. High and increasing fuel taxes had been an essential component of efforts to reduce fuel consumption. Despite continuing increases in fuel consumption, higher taxes had been a sound part of the strategy to contain oil consumption.
It's almost as if there has been a conspiracy to keep the real issues out of the news. Even the politicians have mostly gone along with this, perhaps sensing that the next recession is only as far away as the first decline in oil output, and not wanting to scare the economy into a recession any earlier than necessary.
Even European citizens have become hopelessly dependent on private automobiles during the past couple of decades. That's why most of them supported a roll-back in fuel taxes - they're being pinched where it hurts by steadily increasing taxes and rising oil prices. This is a disturbing picture, one of massive denial by the large majority of Westerners. Denial is the most powerful psychological defense, but it is the weakest response to intruding reality.
Just whether or not we will have oil or natural gas shortages this winter is largely a matter of luck - if things go well and the weather stays reasonably warm, we'll probably get through all right. Let war break out in the Middle East, or a big refinery in the wrong place break down, or a large mass of cold Canadian air settle over the US Northeast and we could be in real trouble.
Current events reports based a wide variety of sources in the main-stream media.
Please return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt.
European Carfree Day800 European cities and towns held a carfree day on 22 September. (Well, the Dutch had theirs on the 24th, and World Carfree Day was on the 21st. Given this level of disorganization, it's obviously too soon to be speaking of a carfree "movement.") The following nations participated:
A poll was conducted in 6 European cities (Lille, Barcelona, Hamburg, Helsinki, Turin, Copenhagen) on Carfree Day, and, of the more than 1900 people polled, 81% thought that the carfree day was a good idea. Across the board, every demographic group in every city approved of the carfree day by at least a 2/3s majority.
Is anybody listening? People like this stuff! Motoring organizations condemned carfree day as a publicity stunt, but European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said that the car-free day could spark public pressure to ban automobiles from city centers on a more permanent basis. "In Spain and Italy the citizens are saying 'We want this once a week'," Wallström said at a rally in Brussels. "This is how this could continue, it could start an important process." The carfree day is becoming a mainstream event.
When Is a Carfree Day Not a Carfree Day?When it's held in Amsterdam, apparently. Last year, Amsterdam held a truly token carfree day. This year, the whole of the inner city was to be closed to all traffic except for public transport and residents leaving the city. Well, it seems that taxis are considered "public transport" for the purposes of this exercise. Given that, as a group, taxi drivers are the most reckless, aggressive, and inconsiderate road users, they should have been the first, not the last, to be banned. In fairness, it might be said that they were driving a bit slower today, but their presence kept the day from being a real carfree day. In my opinion, you don't have a carfree day unless you have pedestrians and bicyclists using the entire width of the street, without worrying about who might be bearing down on them. That we certainly did not achieve this year in Amsterdam on carfree day.
All that notwithstanding, the city center was unusually busy for a Sunday, especially in the absence of the special events that characterized last year's Carfree Sunday. The shopkeepers must have had an unusually good day, which is the best assurance there is of more carfree days in the future.
Observations from the saddle of my bike
And When No Day Is a Carfree DayThe USA and Canada celebrated carfree day in the breach. As far as is known, only Boulder, Colorado, sanctioned a carfree day. Other observances were highly informal, perhaps to the point of being technically illegal. Cyclists in Boston organized an informal event that drew some publicity, as did cyclists in San Francisco. An informal event was held in Toronto.
I don't suppose that, in the middle of an oil crisis, anyone would think of doing anything to reduce high levels of car use. Naw.
The Kyoto Accords, In TroubleThe following are the major sticking points at the Lyon conference on implementing the Kyoto accords:
This article is an excellent short summary of the major stumbling blocks at the climate summit.
Backpedaling in CanadaCanada has had a policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but despite this policy, greenhouse gas emissions actually rose by 13% during the period 1990-1998. The rate of growth slowed to 1% per annum in 1997, so there is some hope for a turn-around.
"Greenhouse gases still growing in Canada"
On Thin IceWorldwatch Institute recently reported at length about declining ice cover. The worst of the news is not that ice is melting, but that the rate at which it is melting is still increasing. The grim facts:
The worst is that ice melting itself can accelerate temperature rise - as snow/ice masses shrink, more solar energy is absorbed by the less reflective surfaces that replace the ice.
"Climate Change Has World Skating on Thin Ice"
Sustainable China?China will build 600 new cities in the next 10 years.
We wish China good fortune in the building of these cities and urge consideration of the carfree model.
Don't Point a Loaded Exhaust Pipe at AnyonePollution from cars kills more than 20,000 people a year in just 3 European countries studied by researchers at the University of Basel. In total, 6% of deaths in Austria, France, and Switzerland are due to air pollution.
That's considerably more people than are killed in car crashes in these countries. Of course, not all of the pollution is from cars, but a great deal of it is. It now appears that pollution from cars actually kills more people than collisions.
EU Says "No" to RailThe 1999 "Transport Infrastructure Needs Assessment" published by the EU for eastern Europe places excessive reliance on road-based transport infrastructure. While rail is included, closer examination of the proposals reveals that a shift to road transport will result if the policy recommendations are adopted. CarBusters is trying to fight this wrong-headed approach.
"Meet TINA and Her Mates"
This is so sad. Eastern Europe had a really extensive rail network just 10 years ago. Now they're busy tearing up branch lines as fast as they can. We can only hope that they are at least preserving the rights-of-way, for these lines will be needed again, and soon.
Pinching Where It HurtsUS public transport is getting a steadily smaller share of federal transport subsidies, with highway subsidies on the increase, according to a study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project.
"The Same Old Story"
It's not a coincidence that US oil imports are so high.
It's Your Nickel"A third of the UK's 23 million motorists have no idea what their cars cost them to run over a year." That's the conclusion of a recent study by Britain's Automobile Association. A further 53% estimate their costs of driving at about half their actual expenditures.
"Wheels of fortune"
It's a serious problem everywhere. Because so many of the costs of driving are periodic, most people are not really aware of them. They tend to think that the cost of driving is equal to the cost of fuel, tolls, and parking.
An Open Letter from Colin Campbell
A new energy crisis: When will we ever learn?The French fishermen led the revolt, but it soon spread across the Channel. Everyone is up in arms about the high price of fuel. Understandably they are confused and look for someone to blame, finding ready candidates in a greedy Chancellor or the OPEC sheiks. They are right to blame the Government: not for the high price of oil but for their record of denial and obfuscation in facing up to the reality of oil depletion. Had the people been better informed, they would have devoted their energies not into blockades but to finding viable long-term solutions.
The world is now entering a new oil crisis. The roots of it have been evident for a long time to those analysts who give due weight to the endowment of oil in nature, its distribution and above all its depletion. Others, with a blind faith in technology and market forces, have failed to read the signals.
Oil has to be found before it can be produced, meaning that there is an obvious relationship between discovery and production. It follows that the peak of discovery in the 1960s, which is now an historical fact, has to be followed by a corresponding peak of production. When the numbers are added up, the evidence indicates that such a peak for conventional oil will arrive around 2005, and about five years later for all hydrocarbons, assuming no radical change in demand.
Oil is most unevenly distributed for geological reasons, with about half the remaining conventional oil, lying in just five Middle East countries. Furthermore, the expropriations of the 1970s distorted the normal economic pattern of depletion. It forced the industry to explore and exploit the relatively difficult and expensive places like the North Sea or Alaska as fast as possible, leaving the principal OPEC countries with control of the relatively cheap and easy oil, found long ago. This predictably led to price volatility.
The oil industry has suffered throughout its history from "boom and bust", which is inherent in the very nature of finding and producing a liquid resource, concentrated by Nature into a few preferred places. The industry has accordingly always needed a degree of overall control that runs in the face of free market capitalism. Such control has been exercised variously by Standard Oil, the Texas Railroad Commission, the major oil companies and finally OPEC itself. Up until now, such regulation has sought to limit excess production to support price in an environment of surplus capacity. The fundamental nature of the regulation however changes at peak production when the need is to produce more not less. The Texas Railroad Commission ceased US pro-rationing when that country peaked in 1970. North Sea production is at peak now and set to fall at a high rate. The FSU peaked in 1988, and non-Gulf OPEC countries have also peaked. It means that the control of the supply of world oil rests squarely with the five Middle East countries.
This seems so obvious, yet it is not widely understood. Even the OPEC governments themselves fail to fully grasp the strength of the position that has been forced upon them. They have a misplaced fear that rising prices will encourage non-Middle East production, spurred by new technology and market forces. They fear that high prices will prompt a move to alternative fuels, including gas, coal and nuclear power, as well as energy savings and eventually renewable energy..
In reality, non Middle East production is inexorably set to decline through natural depletion. Production in the North Sea will halve in about ten years. Accordingly, the share of conventional oil production coming from the five Middle East countries is set to rise. It was 38% in 1973 at the time of the first oil shock, but had fallen to 18% in 1985, as already found new provinces in Alaska, the North Sea and elsewhere delivered flush production from giant fields. They are always found early in the exploration process. Share has been rising since 1985 to reach 30% to-day. This time, it is set to continue to rise because there are no major new conventional provinces ready to deliver, or indeed in sight. By 2010, it is likely that the Middle East will be asked to supply 50% given that demand can be held steady by rising prices.
The world has huge deposits of non-conventional oil in the form of heavy oil, bitumen, oil shale, polar and deepwater oil but production is perforce a slow and expensive business, carrying environmental costs. It cannot accordingly have any material impact on peak.
Spare capacity can mean many things. A shut-in Middle East well can be re-opened to provide an instant high rate of flow, but infill drilling, enhanced recovery techniques and exploration can deliver less, taking much investment, work and above all time. The OPEC producers have to run ever faster to stand still, as they desperately seek to offset the natural decline of their old fields, which hold most of their oil. 90% of the world’s oil comes from fields more than twenty years old, and 70% from fields more that thirty years old.
It transpires that there are very few shut-in wells anywhere. The world is just about out of operational spare capacity. An improvident draw on stocks has left them at a 24 year low.
OPEC has no good reason for raising production when its revenues increase by not doing so. The Western consuming countries also have no good reason to press OPEC to increase production. It would merely mean that the inevitable global peak becomes higher and the subsequent decline steeper. While increased production would solve a temporary price surge, it offers no long-term solution to the West.
OPEC now finds itself in a dilemma as it begins to question its fundamental role. Is its traditional function of rationing production to support price giving way to a new policy of having to exert pressure on its members to increase production to meet the consuming nation’s demands and possibly threats, even military threats? It is ironic that Britain and the USA continue to bomb Iraq, whose oil they now desperately need.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand the simple concept of depletion. Think of a glass of beer. The first sip tastes good, but your brow creases when the glass is half empty and you realise that you have drunk more than remains. When the glass is empty, all you can do is ask for another unless it is closing time. It is the same with oil. Peak comes more or less at the midpoint of depletion, when the glass is half empty.
The reason why people don’t understand the situation better is that the public data on reserves is grossly unreliable, subject to lax definition and poor reporting practices. The industry has systematically under-reported the size of discoveries for good regulatory and commercial reasons. Accordingly, the reported reserves have appeared to grow over time, giving the misleading impression that more was being found than was the case. In fact, the world consumes four barrels of conventional oil for every one it finds. The upward revision is mistakenly attributed to advances in technology when it is simply in the reporting. Technology holds production as high as possible for as long as possible, which increases profit, but has little impact on the reserves themselves. A field contains what it contains because it was filled in the geological past.
BP wins the prize for the most oblique reference to the depletion of oil, its principal asset, when it changes its logo to a sunflower and says that BP stands for Beyond Petroleum.
The world faces an oil crisis. Oil production is at peak. We depend on it for transport and agriculture. World trade depends on transport. We are not running out of oil, but we are facing the natural peak of the fuel that has driven our economy and prosperity for most of the last Century. What should we do about it? The first step is to satisfy ourselves as to the facts, and then face them head on. The second step is to use intelligently the high oil supply we still have. It can help us over the transition, when as a matter of urgency and priority we need to find new ways of using less. We have only to look at our traffic choked streets to see how wasteful we are.
The message for government is clear. Get off your knees and stop begging OPEC for help. Face the situation squarely. Inform the people honestly so that they will support the measures to be taken, however draconian, and then get to work on a new direction. Think of 1940.
12 September 2000
Letter to the EditorDear Editor,
Under the title US Pedestrians and Cyclists at Risk, you write:
"The neglect of pedestrian and bicycling safety in the United States has made these modes dangerous ways of getting around."
From my recent trip to the US I'd say chronic obesity caused by lack of cycling and walking is far more dangerous to health than the risk of being run down by a car. It's no better here in Europe - the lifestyle-related problems of heart disease and cancer are still the biggest killers.
Please bear in mind before declaring cycling and walking dangerous that these statistics are per kilometre. We know car users make a lot of unnecessary journeys, and commute long distances to work. Compare per journey statistics, and things start to look very different.
And Let's Not Forget Why We're All Here
Some see things as they are and ask, why?
The oil "crisis" could go away, maybe even for several years. Some say 20 years, which seems breathtakingly optimistic to me. However long it takes, everybody now agrees that oil production will decline. The only question is when the decline begins.
I submit that it doesn't matter when the decline begins. Since it will be relatively soon, it seems sensible to plan now to deal with this revolution. For a revolution it will be. Since 1900, we have founded our increasingly global economy on road transport powered by inexpensive liquid fuels. Now the fuel that is the lifeblood of this economy is becoming scarce and expensive.
Even a small oil shortage is quite enough to force changes. People today regard $75 oil as a far-fetched proposition. If, however, world oil production runs about 5% below demand, for any reason, oil prices would probably reach that level instantly. And that is more or less the level of 1980, in real dollars. Oil prices are not now high.
As oil becomes more expensive and carbon taxes on fossil fuels rise, people will start changing their behavior. We will see a demand for small, fuel-efficient cars, just as we did around 1980. People will stop buying houses in the distant suburbs and look for something closer in. Public transport will improve rapidly as fuel prices rise and almost everyone is forced to drive less.
So, if all this is coming down the pike, however long it may take to get here, why not do something about it now? Let us now stop development in the outer suburbs. Let us promote infill. Let us rehabilitate our derelict inner cities. And let us restore some of these areas as carfree districts. I believe that carfree urban areas offer the least energy-intensive way of life. Even more important, they offer beauty and peace in our daily lives.
Hot New LinksEvery month, James Howard Kunstler roasts one of America's great Eyesores
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