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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Will Enrique Norten be the next Frank Gehry?

A Slate.com slide-show essay.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

U.S. Congress kills Energy Bill

[from NY Times]
The U.S.' appetite for electricity isn't getting better, so of course it makes sense to avoid cutting dependence on foreign oil:
"House members rejected an effort to incorporate a plan passed by the Senate to require utilities to use more renewable energy like wind and solar power to generate electricity."

Monday, July 18, 2005

i'm currently in the City of Calgary for a conference. I met Leon Krier this morning as he was also the keynote speaker after breakfast. he gave a powerful talk, using James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency as background, he wove together a discussion on regional urbanism, modernism vs. modernity, the role of climate and topography within the traditional city, and the impending transition to the future state of the traditional city as a radical and scary ride. In my mind, the revolution to the new city form will be a transformation that the word "radical" could never hope to describe - it will be forced upon us, and we must get our affairs in order immediately. Cities within a city - the move towards polycentric vs moncentric cities (which reflect the traditional model) - must be realized if we are to find any stability in the Long Emergency. (pictures to follow)


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Perhaps there is some promise

from the SF Gate, Nanotechnology could turn rooftops into a sea of power-generating stations.

The Era of Expensive Oil.

is upon us. grab your ankles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fighting a Losing Battle for more Oil

from the NY Times - "The Oil Uproar that Isn't"

Thursday, July 07, 2005

US Energy Policy

I posted this in another community in respose to a call for protest letters regarding the Bush White House energy policy.

(The policy can be summed up as follows:
More oil: YAY
More nuclear: YAY
Hydrogen cars: yay
More conservation: *crickets chirping*
More renewable energy: *more crickets*

No real shockers there.)

While I think the policy is sadly deficient in the last 2 categories, I had this to say about the first two:

More oil (i.e.: ANWR):
North America headed down the unsustainability path a long, long time ago. The horse left the glue factory about 100 years ago. It is significant and irreversable due to its staggering scale. In order to attempt to sustain itself, it has and will continue to rely on a reliable and affordable supply of oil. That is simple reality and even the most ambitious plans to move away from this system must include plans to support the system during the transition period. It is a complete catch-22. ANWR represents a potentially significant source of domestic oil and it should be exploited in conjuntion with the opening of several new refineries in the lower48 to accomodate this new capacity. North America at its current techological levels simply put would cease to exist without oil. No food, no transportation, no industrial capacity, no agriculture.. no anything.
Now, up until now, North America for the most part has outsourced its oil production and refining. There is, obviously, some domestic production.. but it pales in comparrison to how much is imported. Even here in Canada, the US's #1 supplier, we import oil. In doing so, North America has essentially become one giant NIMBY.. it wants the benefits of other countries' environmental destruction but doesn't want to take on that burden itself. It wants the oil, but doesn't want the true cost of that oil. I think that is unacceptable and hypocritical. I think that, similarily, garbage facilities should be located within the municipal boundaries of the city it serves.. the best way to encourage people to reduce what they consume is to make them see the cost of their choices. In this same way, ANWR is a more environmentally sound source of oil than it shifting that capacity demand to OPEC (who very likely doesn't have that capacity available anyway).
In combination with ANWR (and coastal drilling off Florida and anywhere else there is oil), not insignificant resources should be pouring into garbage-to-oil conversion technology. If this could be rolled out in any form of mass production scale.. just about everything changes. Landfills become simple staging areas (and old ones become mines). Garbage becomes a commodity, not a liability. The question becomes "how much waste can be produced and how quickly can be be converted".. "reduce" in the 3 R's (reuse and recycle being the others) goes away and "reuse and recycle" get a huge and unexpected boost. In effect, it would "change everything"... including, unfortunately, the relationship with the Middle East. If people think they hate the West now.. just wait until we stop buying the only thing they export.

Nuclear energy:
Simply put, if the US wants to move away from oil and into a hydrogen economy (which I think is a good goal to have, though I don't know how realistic it is) it would be impossible to do this without a significant reinvestment in nuclear energy. The sustainables (wind, solar, geothermal, etc) require exponentially increased land areas to generate he same quantity of energy that nuclear can produce. Yes, nuclear energy has its own set of problems. No question there. Long term storage can easily be accomodated in a facility like Yucca Mountain or other deep, geologically stable environments (in Ontario, there are several old mine shafts that would suit well to this use). The US energy demands are sufficiently high and spread out that it will always require a significant investment in one of the "big three" sources.. coal, natural gas, and nuclear. There should, I agree, be incentives to increase the production capacity from renewables. No doubt. I'd love to see solar panels on every house and every corporate building. Highways make great wind tunnels for turbine generators. But it is a pipe dream that North America could sustain itself on renewables.. even with the vast expanses of land it has, they wouldn't be enough. So, that leaves the Big 3. Advances in coal scrubbers have come a long, long way to the point where they are almost on par with natural gas in terms of emisions. Unfortunately, you still have to blow up a mountain to get at the coal... and there's the whole downside of "black lung". The advantage, though, is that there are significant domestic supplies and they aren't any real transportation or terrorist issues. Regardless, however, this is my last choice. Natural Gas is an attractive source.. but the problem is that it is somewhat difficult to extract, still requires lots of oil, and global known reserves of it are shrinking fast and what reserves there are are typically still held by countries that don't like the US very much. This leaves nuclear.. far outstrips the others in terms of energy/square foot of generation. Disposal and terrorist threat are both the highest.. however, the US will simply have to account for this increased threat by increasing security. There has yet to be an attack on a nuclear facility worldwide. While it would be foolish to think that this will continue, the fact remains that they aren't nearly as vulnerable a target as they might seem to be (especially given the recent changes to airlines). Vigiliance would, of course, be required.. but when the alternatives are 1) coal 2) shrinking supplies of natural gas 3) continued expansion of the oil economy 4) bulldozing 95% of America and "starting over" with different planning and a different philosophy ... there aren't really many options as I see them.
As for "this changes everything" technology for nuclear energy.. I think it lies in "walk away safe" nuclear reactors. "Meld down proof" is a pretty safe standard.

So overall I give the Bush (i.e. ExxonMobil et al) plan a score of about 50%. Some good points, some terrible points (in their omission).

The Future of Oil

If you, like I, am interested in the future of oil and the theory of "Peak Oil", I highly recommend Kevin Drum's recent series of posts at the Washington Monthly. It is one of the most balanced and non-hysterical summaries I've come across. (and everything included in there applies equally to the Canadian experience as well. We use a LOT of oil here).

To whet your palatte:
#Part 1: Oil production in the non-OPEC world is likely to peak within a few years and then begin an irreversible decline.

#Part 2: Oil peaking is caused by unavoidable geologic factors. It happens to all oil fields and can't be stopped just by spending more money.

#Part 3: There isn't much oil left elsewhere in the world to make up for the upcoming decline in non-OPEC supplies. A global peak, followed by a steady decline in production, is likely within the next ten years.

#Part 4: As bad as this is, there's something even worse that's happened already: the world has run out of spare pumping capacity. The result is likely to be steadily rising prices and frequent oil shocks, leading to increasing global instability and a turbulent economy held permanent hostage to terrorists, unstable dictatorships, resource wars, and natural disasters.

#Part 5: There are things we can do to manage the approaching oil peak, but we need start now and we need to address both supply and consumption.

Celebration - 10 Years Later

When I lived in Florida, I had the opportunity to visit the New Urbanist-styled community of Celebration. Originally started by Disney, it has since gone public. How is it doing? National Public Radio had a program on the community for its 10th anniversary.