Visioning a "Sustainable Chicagoland"

Help develop a vision for a "Sustainable Chicagoland". What processes are needed? How can we help nourish them?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Discussion resources -
For the video The End of Suburbia

-- Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream and similar ones.
Assembled for Chicagoland Urban Permaculture, by Rael Bassan, 773-907-1465. raelearth@yahoo.com

THE PROBLEMS AND SOME SOLUTIONS: According to David Goodstein, author of "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil", the world will start to run out of cheap, conventionally produced oil much sooner than most people expect, most likely within this decade. ...It may be possible, with considerable difficulty to substitute other fossil fuels for the missing oil, but if we do that we may do irreparable damage to Earth's climate. And even then we would start to run out of all fossil fuels, including coal, probably within this century. Oil peak is the most pivotal challenge facing modern civilization. It is time to come together and acknowledge our collective vulnerability and begin working to change the structure of our culture and civilization in ways we've never attempted before.

This is the view of most geologists as well as a growing number of analysts from other fields. See Dry Dipstick, a peak oil metadirectory, for breaking news and commentary as well as other resources.
...the world will have to get by with less oil, and the only way that that can happen in the short run is if there is world economic slowdown. An oil-driven recession... Paul Krugman NYT 6/14/04

On the other hand, Rocky Mountain Institute's recently released "Winning the Oil Endgame", envisions our country free of fossil oil by 2050. RMI's plan proposes that at an average cost of $12 per barrel (in 2000 dollars), the US can save half its oil usage by increasing efficiency, and substitute biofuels and saved natural gas for the rest - without changed taxation or other federal regulations. RMI claims all this can be achieved solely by businesses seeking profit, together with the Pentagon accelerating the process to fight better and save money. Is this realistic?

Similarly focused, with greater political support, is the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, business, urban, and faith communities for supporting good jobs and energy independence. Their New Apollo Project proposes to invest $300 billion of federal money over 10 years in renewables and energy efficiency. This investment will be repaid with a 22% return through the creation of 3,300,000 jobs, $1.4 trillion increasein GDP, with $284B in net energy cost savings.

And there is also global warming - perhaps an even greater threat.
For that reason, James Lovelock, co-formulator of the Gaia Hypothesis, considers massive expansion of nuclear power the only way to mitigate the effects of global warming in time to avoid catastrophe. The worst case is a global climate hostile to human existence. He feels cultural inertia will prevent adequate alternative responses.

However, David Room, of the Post Carbon Institute, considers that "…initiatives to stave off an energy meltdown will be led from the local level -- where most energy consumption actually occurs. Every city and community will have different portfolios of solutions tailored to their circumstances and culture."

Richard Heinberg, in his recent book Powerdown, outlines four major options for industrial societies during the next decades:
Last One Standing: the path of competition. Using force to control remaining resources; Current US strategy
Waiting for a Magic Elixir: wishful thinking, possibly false hopes and denial; Depending on future technological solutions.
Building Lifeboats: the path of community solidarity and preservation; Creating flexible data rich enclaves that can survive a depletion fed civilization collapse. This is the insurance strategy for all immediate eventualities, including climatic catastrophe.
Powerdown: the path of co-operation, conservation and sharing; Learning to live in non-physical growth, low energy societies.
Useful guidebooks for this path include: Jim Merkel's RADICAL simplicity and David Holmgren's Permaculture.

Potential future technological solutions include: Widescale Biodiesel Production from Algae If all spark-ignition engines are gradually replaced with diesel, enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum fuels could be produced by growing algae in 15,000 square miles, or roughly 12.5 percent of the area of the Sonora desert.
And in the more miraculous realm, Rick Smalley imagines vast solar farms in the deserts. This energy would be transmitted across the nation by a new kind of conducting cable made of carbon nanotubes with the conductivity of copper and strength greater than steel, at one-sixth the weight. They could handle a million times more current than conventional cabling material.
Will these (and others) be available in time?

Some Recent Additions:

The proceedings of last November's "1st U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions" are now available. They include: Richard Heinberg on PowerDown, Pat Murphy on The Geopolitical Implications of Peak Oil, Charles Stevens on Agrarian Solutions to Peak Oil, Patricia Allison on Permaculture: A Philosophy of Sustainability, and David Blume's Alternative Fuels - Promise and Peril. He focuses on the potential of alcohol, and presents how utilization of multiple yields increase the corn growers profit from the existing $50/acre to $130/acre as dried distillers' grains (remaining after fermenting) serve as fertilizer and pre-emergent herbicide minimizing external inputs. The pre-emergent herbicide effect results from feeding seed-eating fungi and bacteria in the soil.
Instead of flushing energy rich processed sewage into the rivers and oceans, feeding it to cattails and rushes can provide 11,000 gallons of alcohol per acre.

Two recent reports laud the potential of alcohol. http://www.bio.org/ind/background/
1) "25 by 25: Agriculture's Role in Ensuring U.S. Energy Independence" by the Ag Energy Working Group of the Energy Future Coalition, shows how America's farmers can contribute 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States by 2025. August 2004
2) "Growing Energy: How Biofuels Can Help End America's Oil Dependence,
Cellulosic biofuels can add $5 billion annually to farm profits by 2025 if production commitments are made now.

1) For tapping into local initiatives follow the Greening Chicago Calendar http://bgb.org/calendar/
2) To help get the word out, attend the OilAwareness Meetup on the 2nd Wednesday at 7pm. http://oilawareness.meetup.com/44/
3) Sign on a list to get a better grasp of what some Chicagoans are doing about future problems and grassroots approaches to sustainability. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sustainable_living_chicago/
4) Help create mini-ecovillages in Chicago by talking and working with your neighbors, or moving closer to and working with more amenable folks.

posted by Rael  # 1:43 PM


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