Thursday, July 31, 2008

What does 350 world look like?

Bill Fulton asks: So what’s the Carbon-Free Futurama? Can you really create a compelling alternative vision for the future that’s about walking and bicycling and golf cart type vehicles and so forth.

In Global Cooling from the Urban Land Institute the answer is compact development. More below.

But doesn't Bill McKibben's most important number on the planet gives us a hint? Its us in 1960. Kennedy on the campaign trail. The planets population at 3B. And consumption rates staying at the nutty levels of the 1950s after being amortized over the planet's population. Houses were a 900 sq ft with large families and people were just beginning to build 1200-1600 sq ft monster homes for the nuclear family.

But it this isn't as bad as it sounds at least for 1950. The cold war and resource predation was just round the corner. People lived in sustainable villages in the third world that were the preferred destination of Americans. Then came the resource wars between communist and capitalist proxies that drove these lifestyles out of existence and by the 70's connected them up with the new roads that symbolized development. That's not an eden we can go back to now.

But high gas prices are forcing a new relationship to the road and the role of cities. People are resourceful and adaptive. The Venezuelans and Saudis must see the benefit of forcing the established power structures to adapt to really high gas prices, $20-$50/- per gallon, so that people can use their resources to better ends. Compact development where all services are located within an 1/8 of a mile or a 1/4 mile are a type of city that used to exist on the Peninsula and were connected by the UP train now Caltrain. We need to move beyond resource consumption because the economics are taking us to a new level.

How resource intensive are we now? Californians consumed: 15.67 billion gallons of gasoline last year, about 1 percent less than in 2006. Demand during 2006 dropped to 15.83 billion gallons from 15.94 billion in 2005, the first decline in 14 years. Diesel fuel use fell 7.8 percent in April from a year earlier, the agency said. Consumption was down 4.7 percent from March.
The decrease "reflects both the impacts of higher diesel prices and the slowing economy, which is associated with less freight movement on California roads and highways," the agency said. California drivers used 1.257 billion gallons of gasoline in April, down 2.2 percent from a year earlier and the lowest for the month since 2001, California State Board of Equalization said. Consumption was down 52 million gallons, or 4 percent, from March.

Phillip Lagdon writes: Defenders of sprawl — and they have been legion — failed to see what was coming. Sprawl’s defenders insisted that no matter how many flaws might be ascribed to dispersed, low-density development, a large number of Americans like it, so it will just keep on growing. James Howard Kunstler was much more prescient. He repeatedly said and wrote, in his thundering cadence, that it doesn’t matter if people like it. If you can’t afford it any more, the energy-intensive style of life doesn’t have a future.

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