Energy Disasters of the Future? Michael Klare

From the Nation:

On June 15, in their testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the chief executives of America’s leading oil companies argued that BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was an aberration—something that would not have occurred with proper corporate oversight and will not happen again once proper safeguards are put in place. This is fallacious, if not an outright lie. The Deep Horizon explosion was the inevitable result of a relentless effort to extract oil from ever deeper and more hazardous locations. In fact, as long as the industry continues its relentless, reckless pursuit of “extreme energy”—oil, natural gas, coal and uranium obtained from geologically, environmentally and politically unsafe areas—more such calamities are destined to occur.

link: The Coming Era of Energy Disasters | The Nation

I’m not sure sure about the other scenarios, but the Nigeria scenario seems pretty unlikely at this point. There, oil companies have gotten the hint: after violence directed at oil workers by militant indigenous organizations, those companies pulled out and the NIgerian government has nationalized most production last year. I haven’t studied the other two situations, however, and they are worth thinking about.

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HSR’s energy/emissions promise and peril

A new study from UCLA’s department of civil and environmental engineering undertakes a life-cycle assessment for HSR. Their conclusion is what we always conclude:

The energy and emission intensities of each mode were normalized per passenger kilometer traveled by using high and low occupancies to illustrate the range in modal environmental performance at potential ridership levels. While high-speed rail has the potential to be the lowest energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter, appropriate planning and continued investment would be needed to ensure sustained high occupancy. The time to environmental payback is discussed highlighting the ridership conditions where high-speed rail will or will not produce fewer environmental burdens than existing modes. Furthermore, environmental tradeoffs may occur. High-speed rail may lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per trip but can create more SO2 emissions (given the current electricity mix) leading to environmental acidification and human health issues. The significance of life-cycle inventorying is discussed as well as the potential of increasing occupancy on mass transit modes.

link: Life-cycle assessment of high-speed rail: the case of California

Being the cleanest mode per passenger hinges on getting a critical mass of people using it. The timeframe for payback on emissions invested in the colossal investment: about 70 years. I won’t see it, but my students might.

UC Berkeley’s economics and engineering programs have also weighed in:

“We found that the model that the rail authority relied upon to create average ridership projections was flawed at key decision-making junctures,” said study principal investigator Samer Madanat, director of ITS Berkeley and UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering. “This means that the forecast of ridership is unlikely to be very close to the ridership that would actually materialize if the system were built. As such, it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system in California will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls.”

link: 07.01.2010 – California high-speed rail ridership forecast not reliable, study finds

More than that. We do not know whether the benefits we’ve ascribed to the investment will actually materialize.

Perhaps we will be fortunate and the forecast will under-predict? That would be a bit of a coup, as it doesn’t happen very often.

Peter Gordon and I had an online conversation about the nature of the inaccuracies we generally have in transportation forecasts, particularly for entirely new services like intercity HSR. It strikes me that one of the groups that does this well are the freight shippers. They don’t, in general, tell about how they analyze their markets.

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TRUE Independence Day

From an announcement from Frank Popper:

The link below comes from TRUE Independence Day, a group formed
on Facebook less than two weeks ago by Frank Popper and Rebecca and Matthew Hersh,
a brother and sister who are neighbors of mine in Highland Park, New Jersey.

A response to the BP/Gulf crisis, TID asks its members not to
buy gas from any source on July 4. TID’s point is not to harm oil
companies or gas stations, which is impossible in a one-day
boycott anyway. Instead the point is make a vivid symbolic patriotic
gesture against American dependence on oil, its politics, and its
environmental and economic damage to our country.

We are all complicit in these matters. We should start grasping
our involvement and take measures to undo it. The July 4 action
represents a relatively easy and simple first step in that direction.

Our Facebook group has gathered over 1300 members in the last
ten days. The statement linked below appeared on our website,, two days ago. Please do everything
you can to help us before July 4: join our group, tell others about it,
write about it. And then don’t buy gas on July 4.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with me, Rebecca
or Matt. Thanks and best wishes,
Frank Popper
Rutgers and Princeton Universities,
732-932-4009, X689 (Rutgers office)

How is anybody supposed to understand WTH is going in energy?

I’ll admit that even though I had have some very good teachers (JR DeShazo from UCLA) and brilliant colleagues (Adam Rose and Donald Paul from the USC Energy Institute), I don’t understand large things about the economics of energy delivery. It’s not like water; it’s not like transport. I clearly need to do more reading.

What isn’t helping, or perhaps it is helping, is the fact that my home state has become the battleground for climate change and energy policy. Every day we have a new development, but I have yet to really understand what it means. I am not sure that the answer is to have municipalities getting into the energy business: I am also not sure that wouldn’t be a great idea. Here’s a write up from the NYT’s new Green blog:
Dollars and Daggers in California’s Energy Battles – Green Blog –

I know the attempt to dismantle AB32 is bad news:I doubt they’ll succeed on that. But the other proposition? I am confused.

Sustainability New Year’s Resolution: Tire Inflation

According to the US Department of Transportation, improperly inflated tires waste about 5 million gallons PER DAY. That’s 2 billion gallons per year; the GAO estimates a more conservative number: 1.2 billion gallons. Still, that’s a lot of gallons.

Digital pressure meters are cheap and easy to use. Here’s how to check and fill up your tires.

Properly inflated tires are something that drivers can do *now* to save the fuel *now* rather than waiting for any new alternative modes, destinations, or infrastructure.

Truck Idling and Particulates

When I gave my job talk at USC, I discussed some of my research on how to get truckers to to shut off their engines. My colleagues have since told me they thought this was a dog of topic–it wasn’t a “big enough question”– but I made it entertaining so they hired me anyway based on the strength of my other work.

Well, it’s not a dog of a topic. Getting truckers and rail companies to shut off would alleviate PM2.5 hotspots in many locations, including parts of rust belt Pennsylvania. My friend Sacha sent this to me, as she found it at the American Academy of Sciences:

It was very much like Sacha to send me this little reminder that my work, though often treated like it’s uninteresting because it doesn’t have sexy, newspaper-ready sound bites, attempts to demonstrate how important seemingly small changes can be in the real-life environments that poor people occupy. Since my job talk, I’ve been somewhat embarrassed by the research on truck idling that we did–I’ve made excuses, etc–but forget that. I was right and the naysayers were wrong, and this work deserves more respect than it got.

Schweitzer, L., Brodrick, C-J, , and S. Spivey. 2008. “Truck Driver Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors: An Exploratory Analysis.”  Transportation Research Part D. 13 (3): 141-150.