Thursday, December 07, 2006

Large print giveth and the fine print taketh away

The petition to promote cycling in Canada is now up over 2000 signatures!

In all honesty, the video that Bike Refugee has up in this post pretty much brings a tear to my eye (at least during the parts where Dar Williams is singing.

A co-worker forwarded me this photo. I have no idea where it came from but it made me laugh.

These are the only two photos from yesterday morning's ride which are at all worth posting. This is the Danforth at around 5:45 a.m. Sometimes it's worth it to be up and on the road this early because you get these big four lane streets all to yourself. Sometimes I wait-out a red light (the ones I stop for) by doing figure eights all over the place.

This is at the intersection of Taunton Road and Stevenson in Oshawa. I'm on Taunton for about 1 km during my commute and it's a typical Durham (I refer to Durham as Mordor in my head a lot these days) nightmare - four lanes of doom. Stevenson is a quiet road that is fairly relaxing to be on. However, right at the corner they're going to put in another auto dealership. Yep. That's what Durham needs. More cars. Not only are there no bike lanes in Durham, there aren't even any bike parking posts, but they can't get car dealerships in fast enough.

I've mentioned Lester Brown's Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble before, but here's a quick thing I found interesting: in Chapter 9 Feeding 7 Billion Well Brown writes this -

One of the questions I am most often asked on a speaking tour is, “How many people can the earth support?” I answer with another question: “At what level of food consumption?” At the U.S. level of 800 kilograms per person per year for food and feed, the 2-billion-ton annual world harvest of grain would support 2.5 billion people. At the Italian level of consumption of close to 400 kilograms per year, the current harvest would support 5 billion people. At the nearly 200 kilograms of grain consumed per year by the average Indian, it would support a population of 10 billion.

I think we North Americans generally know that our diets are off the scale (when I worked in Japan, my students who had travelled to the U.S. said that they were shocked by the serving sizes presented to them in restaurants), but wow, 400 kilograms per year more than Italians? Yikes!

And finally, Thomas Homer Dixon has an article in the International Herald Tribune called The End of Ingenuity. In the big debate over whether or not peak oil is happening, and how much fossil-fuel energy actually is left to this planet, Dixon says we should stop being distracted by gasoline prices (i.e. gas prices go down, so we have lots of oil, gas prices go up, get the horses out because the party is over).
Instead, he says we should look at EROI, which is the amount of energy you have to PUT IN to something to get energy OUT of it.

For a modern coal mine, for instance, we divide the useful energy in the coal that the mine produces by the total of all the energy needed to dig the coal from the ground and prepare it for burning - including the energy in the diesel fuel that powers the jackhammers, shovels and off-road dump trucks, the energy in the electricity that runs the machines that crush and sort the coal, as well as all the energy needed to build and maintain these machines.

So the nightmare is when the EROI ratio is 1/1 - you get no more energy out of something than you put into it. From the 1970's to today, EROI has fallen from about 25/1 to 15/1. The EROI of the Alberta Oil Sands is about 4/1.

Oil is ending. But that's okay. Oil is for sissies anyway.


Snakebite said...

If I were Canadian, I'd be signing. Way to go!

Curt said...

EROI is really the crux of the matter, thanks for pointing that out.

In the world of neoliberal economic policy there is this implicit sort of assumption that we can elevate the world's impoverished and disenfranchised to the standard of living we enjoy here in the Jolly West. The motives for doing so are far from pure, but that's the justification. This leads to ideas about the terror of overpopulation until one realizes, as you've aptly hinted at, that a Sudanese family of 8 consumes less than a single American in some circumstances.

Clearly elevation of living standard is not a bad thing in and of itself, but the Earth cannot provide for it as a means, which implies that the issue is one of imbalance. It's not that they consume too little so much as that we consume too much.

Well, consumption in this regard is a moral issue and moral issues are issues of the self. This is why socialist revolutions have failed, at least partially---because the battleground for change is in the self...things like redistribution or ownership of the production means cannot be imposed from the top down. They have to be a part of the personal ethic. That's why I am always glad to visit and to link to sites like this one, because you guys are exercising personal responsibility as a method instead of as an ideal.

Kim Warnke, Green Party of Alberta,Canada said...

hey Tuco, thanks for letting me know about your petition....I signed it and I'm forwarding it to the Green Lists, hope you don't mind! Kim in Calgary