Monday, January 17, 2011

Progressive magazine The Nation launches Peak Oil video series

The Nation, a leading progressive publication, has taken a highly visible stand on peak oil.  On January 5, 2011, The Nation announced that it would post a series of videos about peak oil and climate change from its website. 

"The scientific community has long agreed that our dependence on fossil fuels inflicts massive damage on the environment and our health, while warming the globe in the process. But beyond the damage these fuels cause to us now, what will happen when the world's supply of oil runs out?

Peak Oil is the point at which petroleum production reaches its greatest rate just before going into perpetual decline. In “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate,” a new video series from The Nation and On The Earth productions, radio host Thom Hartmann explains that the world will reach peak oil within the next year if it hasn’t already. As a nation, the United States reached peak oil in 1974, after which it became a net oil importer.

Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, Nicole Foss, Richard Heinberg and the other scientists, researchers and writers interviewed throughout “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” describe the diminishing returns our world can expect as it deals with the consequences of peak oil even as it continues to pretend it doesn’t exist. These experts predict substantially increased transportation costs, decreased industrial production, unemployment, hunger and social chaos as the supplies of the fuels on which we rely dwindle and eventually disappear.

Chomsky urges us to anticipate the official response to peak oil based on how corporations, news organizations and other institutions have responded to global warming: obfuscation, spin and denial. James Howard Kunstler says that we cannot survive peak oil unless we “come up with a consensus about reality that is consistent with the way things really are.” This documentary series hopes to help build that consensus. Click here to watch the introductory video, and check back here for new videos each Wednesday."

Here's the first video, with Noam Chomsky, Richard Heinberg, Bill McKibben, Nicole Foss, Thom Hartmann, Dmitry Orlov, and Jim Kunstler.
The second video is all Richard Heinberg.  As he says, our economy is only designed to operate under continuous growth.  Without continuously increasing energy supplies, economic growth as we've known it won't be possible, especially under current economic and debt burdens.   And it's not just peak oil, it's all the nonrenewable resources on which we depend: coal, uranium, rare earth's peak everything.  As more of the original resource is used up, more and more energy and cash are required to extract the ever smaller amounts that are left behind. Politicians won't want to acknowledge the end of growth.  They'll stick to pleasant falsehoods about how business as usual can be extended indefinitely, as long as they can, so we can't depend on them.  Eventually we'll have to accept constraints and adopt serious lifestyle changes, and to get to that point, we'll need grassroots organizing: getting people to ask, what can we do as citizens?

For an iconic progressive media outlet like The Nation to acknowledge resource depletion is a major step forward.  Since financial and political elites have succeeded in putting the urgency of climate change in doubt for many Americans, we have to talk about sustainability in terms of climate change, fuel depletion, and economic transformation, all at the same time.  Even stunningly misled Americans will higher oil prices and oil shortages seriously.

Likely? No, certain.  Our
top sources for imported oil, by the way, are: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria.  Most of Canadian oil is inefficiently squeezed from oil sands.  Production from Cantarell, Mexico's major oil field, is dropping quickly, and will inevitably reduce what we can hope to import from what's currently our #2 import source.  You get the idea.

Let's help the Nation get this video series out.  Please visit their website, and forward links to your friends. 

I contacted The Nation with the following proposal.  After that is a big quote from Lindsay Curran's great article on how peak oil could save the Obama Presidency.


January 10, 2011

Re: The Nation’s new video series on peak oil and climate change

Dear -----
I am writing to heartily congratulate the Nation for its bold and farsighted new video series, in collaboration with Thom Hartmann, on peak oil and climate change. By forthrightly addressing fuel depletion, the Nation has leaped far ahead of the majority of environmental, sustainability and progressive organizations.

I would like to propose that the Nation capitalize on its leadership position by cosponsoring a series of NYC presentations, addressing the local implications of issues raised in the series. Look at how NYC was affected by slow snow removal after the recent blizzard. How would oil price spikes or shortages affect operation of municipal vehicles, trucks, or mass transit, to give just a few examples?...

This series would bring together leading national experts, along with a panel of local experts, to discuss fuel depletion and local impacts and responses. Events could focus on themes like transportation, job creation, urban revitalization, or food. I am currently organizing such an event with Dan Bedarz, PhD, on how to make public health and medical institutions more resilient to resource and financial constraints.

Here are some benefits to the Nation and the larger community:

(1) The Nation will promote its leadership within the national progressive community to NYC's concentrated population of progressive readers, thinkers and activists - all of whom are potential subscribers or website visitors.

(2) The Nation can build partnerships with NYC progressive networks, and should this initiative succeed and be replicated, within other major cities
(3) As the Nation’s own description states, the series hopes to build a reality-based consensus for a national response to peak oil. Co-sponsoring presentations would promote the series, and the Nation’s goals for its broader effect.

(4) Bringing fuel depletion into the national discussion will provide an opportunity for progressives and President Obama to regain the initiative, and influence the 2012 election.

As Lindsay Curran writes, by forthrightly addressing peak oil, President Obama can put out a tangible and compelling narrative around which to rally the people. International Energy Agency's 2010 World Energy Outlook, which officially admits world oil production peaked in 2006, will give Obama all the cover he needs. If he’s willing to present peak oil in full detail, Obama can turn the entire conservative narrative upside down. He can call for an emergency effort to prepare America for the end of cheap oil, and create domestic jobs in energy, transportation and manufacturing, as a matter of national security. Spreading this message widely in the progressive community can give the Obama Administration and other politicians the push they need. An aggressive effort to promote the Nation’s series could be pivotal.

The Nation should seize this opportunity to make the most of its farsighted progressive leadership, for its readers, the City, and the country. I would be glad to assist or advise the Nation on such a project. Please contact me at ....


Peak oil could save Obama's PresidencyThe increasingly common view is that America is a nation in decline. Peak oil blogger Lindsay Curran says Obama has an pportunity to address it forthrightly and turn things around, by putting out a compelling narrative around which to rally the people  When Obama keeps ignoring the elephant in the room—peak oil— he also fails to grasp a way out of the mess in which he and the nation is stuck. A vague and undirected "hope for change" has much less to offer than one with an identifiable target to aim for or a predicament to address, says Curran.  This is such an important point that I'll quote extensively from his article

"Fortunately, the International Energy Agency's 2010 World Energy Outlook gives cover to any top-tier politician or candidate who wishes to bring the issue to the table. Effectively he or she can take the approach that, "It's not my idea, it's the IEA's assessment."

How could peak oil play the hero in breaking political gridlock while motivating American enthusiasm? Well, nothing else is working, for one. So, what is there to lose with a Hail Mary pass?  Second, leveling with people after a long period of obfuscation and avoidance itself can help break long-festering tensions and restore trust.

Look at what's been been said by every American president of the last nearly 40 years—the old "fossil fuels are running out and we need an energy independent solution" refrain. In response to which, what has been done? Nothing. Nothing has been done...
Finally, exposing a true predicament while also offering a viable and optimistic strategy to address that predicament creates myriad opportunities for hope to morph into vision and vision into strategy....

But when Obama meets with these CEOs he should forget about job creation in the predictable areas. Forget the same-old same-old cars-and-highways paradigm. It isn't working and it has no real future in the wake of peak oil. Forget GM and Detroit unless they're diversifying and going into new projects such as rail cars, hybrid vehicles, and solar and wind parts for other infrastructure. Forget expanding oil and gas. These are sunset industries.

Instead, Obama should focus on sunrise areas. Here's my three-point plan:

1.Call for a full throttle effort to prepare America for a world beyond cheap oil. Present it as competition with China, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu has dubbed it, "America's Sputnik Moment." Lay out in stark and unforgiving terms just what's at stake if America grows any more inert. Call it a straight path to that spectral decline. By speaking boldly and directly about the implications of peak oil on American quality of life, the president can pose infrastructure renewal and build-out, particularly in rail, as a way to protect the home front. But the president must explicitly present all these improvements as a direct response to peak oil. He needs to tell the public that if we don't undertake this project, we're going to be twisting in the wind in 30 years. Guaranteed. Then he must use every ounce of the bully pulpit to drive it home. America dealt with the Civil War, and World Wars I and II, so we can deal with this, too. We have it in us. In fact, we almost need it.

2.Work with industry to create domestic manufacturing jobs in both energy and transportation but also in textiles, steel and consumer products. Dealing with distributed power, conservation efforts and transportation will bolster national security and connect our transport networks on land in order to be poised for the time when distance costing money will mean the real end to significant global trade. In the post peak economy (long before 2030) distance will cost money and we'll be so glad those folks are back to work and those goods are available here. Alternatively we could let ourselves become China's bitch, grateful for 20-cents-an-hour jobs making the products for the growing appetite of middle-class consumers in Shanghai. It's our choice.

3.Create a vocal culture of encouragement surrounding relocalized economies, so that regional areas remain vibrant by making and exporting specialty local goods both abroad and within the US. Encourage local farming, smaller scale production, smaller scale clean energy production and local transit solutions. Follow the American people's leadership on the desire to shop locally and lessen stress. Bring back Buy American! This isn't protectionism. It's survival. Revival.

Together, these three bold responses will create jobs, spur the right kind of growth, and lift the leaden eyes of a downcast population toward the vision of a new paradigm, one they sense and that more than a few long for. How are we going to pay for it? Let's figure it out.

And what's the alternative, besides the abyss? Should we embrace instead going full scale into dirtier oil, mountaintop removal in spades, more coal fired plants, and war, war, war? The other alternative is illusion, and with it, sure decline. If not now, when?

Spit it out, already!

As long as the president is afraid to say the words peak oil, he's got nothing to rally the nation around. Everything else we've heard so far from the White House or seen in the news is just too vague. But in contrast to something like global warming, an invisible and amorphous threat that's all too easy to deny or ignore, everybody can understand that oil is a finite resource. Obama got close to this in his Gulf oil spill speech, but then dropped the ball. It's time to pick it back up again and make a bee line for the basket.

We can't turn a finite resource into an infinite one, however much wishful thinking we apply to it. And however much business and other interested parties try to deny the reality of peak oil in order to achieve their own interests— short term personal profits, the long arc of American success be damned—there is no more time to waste.

Every driver understands the price at the gas pumps. Those prices are rising, and with it, so are food prices. The jobless are crying out for relief. All that pain needs an explanation. Peak oil is not a hard story to tell. And moreover, it's as true as the sunrise this morning.

Once Obama uses that bully pulpit to his advantage, lays out the case on peak oil, and invokes competition with China for conservation and clean energy solutions as crucial to reviving our national purpose and drive, he'll get somewhere. Then he must not let up.

And who doesn't love the prospect of solar panels? Who doesn't love the romance of the train, especially while surfing YouTube and reading your email, free from the burden of driving?

Look, ten years of green marketing has laid the groundwork. The people are ready. Now if the leader steps out in front and rides the tail wind, we'll maybe get somewhere.

The detractors can yell from the sidelines all they want. But the people will be relieved that at last America is not pussyfooting around any more. Fear of the diagnosis is the only thing in our way. First you cry, then you get on with it.

It's standard political messaging, President Obama. You start the conversation, you own it. Don't get stuck playing defense; make the other side respond to your bold initiatives. Then, they're playing on your quadrant and you're on top.

We can talk illegal immigrants and anchor babies in 2012. Or we can talk jobs now.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Making public health sustainable and resilient

NYC is a big place, with lots of stuff going on, and people talking all at once: a challenging place to advance new ideas at the best of times.   In an earlier post on this blog, I set out the theory that the larger discussion of preparing NYC for the future can be positively influenced by planting innovative ideas in very specialized networks and communities.

There are many such networks.   It's not just the upper echelons of the Bloomberg administration and Wall Street financiers.  Local networks include academic organizations, trade and professional associations, bloggers and online columnists with large readerships, and religious communities.  Don't forget civic organizations with diverse neighborhood links and participants.   John Michael Greer has encouraged sustainability activists to join fraternal organizations, like the Masonic Lodge, Kiwanis Club or Rotary, which used to be major players in American culture.

How to pick a network, and work through it to influence a larger community?  

- The network would have to be small enough, and publicly accessible enough, so a handful of cultural activists could identify and contact their gatekeepers. 

- The network has to be sufficiently important to the operations of the larger community so discussions within it quickly diffuse into other powerful networks.

- The innovative material to be presented is critical enough to the interests of the network to be relevant to its gatekeepers, and just provocative enough to be interesting, without crossing into  red zones.

- If the material presents taboo topics or dire consequences, or violates any of countless subtle social norms, automatic shut-off circuits will be activated, resulting in both the material and the messenger being ignored. 

- If the material presents potential responses that offer hope, as well as the risks, and if the responses promised to mitigate other problems already acknowledged within the network, or advanced some elements of the network's agendas - then, the material might be taken up within the network. 

Applying the approach to NYC's health and medical community
One of the best people to do this is public health expert Dan Bednarz, whose articles appear frequently in Energy Bulletin.  As he explains, our current health care system will have to adapt to constraints, and he sets out ways of doing it.  I proposed introducing him to decision makers within this NYC network.  We came up with a draft proposal letter similar to this...

How can we make NYC health institutions both more sustainable and more resilient?

We are arranging NYC presentations by Dan Bednarz, PhD, in spring 2011, and are seeking multiple co-sponsors. The public health and medical communities have not yet been sufficiently engaged in the Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC 2030 groundbreaking effort to address climate change and sustainability. As a leading expert on these questions, Dr. Bednarz can stimulate your colleagues to enter the PlaNYC discussion.

He can tailor presentations for physicians and hospital executives about countering threats to the sustainability of current medical systems, or help public health administrators redesign systems to reduce dependence on government funding by increasing community participation and using trained volunteers to disseminate public health information.

As co-editor of Health after Oil, Dr. Bednarz coordinates research and discussions on how healthcare institutions can respond to the unprecedented challenges of rising population pressures, increasingly limited energy supplies, climate change, and the economic disruptions now impacting health care budgets at all levels. He advocates for sustainability strategies that incorporate cost cutting and preventive health care as well as traditional environmental concerns – making this a win-win approach for executives and administrators.

At the invitation of special editor Howie Frumkin, former head of the CDC Center for Environmental Health, Dr. Bednarz, Jeremy Hess, MD and Jessica Pierce, PhD, have submitted “The Health Care System and Petroleum Scarcity” to The American Journal of Public Health for its forthcoming focus issue on peaking petroleum,.

Because modern health care is fundamentally dependent on petroleum, particularly for transport of patients, staff, and supplies, and for pharmaceuticals feedstocks, it is vulnerable to price fluctuations, cost spikes, and scarcity of raw materials. The article will address how health systems can prepare for service disruptions and related sustainability challenges.

Starting March 2011, Dr. Bednarz will be teaching an online course on Sustainable Public Health Systems through Bristol Community College. It will cover how to create a viable 21st century public health system, to reconfigure systems and become more resilient to declining state and local tax bases by developing a new public policy context with a synergistic relationship between professionals and local communities.

Would your organization be interested in co-sponsoring a presentation by Dr. Bednarz on these themes? If so, do you have an easily accessible lecture hall in Manhattan at which this could take place? To raise these topics in the NYC medical and public health community, Dr. Bednarz is able to make such presentations without requiring an honorarium.

Dr. Bednarz can also collaborate on internships and research projects for graduate students in public health, in which interns inventory resilience and sustainability challenges in public health systems, design ecologically sustainable system responses, and build consortiums across health sciences and professions.


Next, I'll contact some local medical and public health schools, and see if I can find a graduate student to do an internship on this project.

Beyond Oil NYC's experiment in open source activism has room for you.  If you think this campaign makes sense, 
your assistance in distributing the message would be most helpful.  I do this stuff for my nonprofit day job all the time, so I can guide volunteers through each step.

Keep it manageable: think of the hospital or health care institution that serves your community.  Go to its website.  Find the contact information for its senior executives and community affairs contacts.  Customize the above letter and email it.  Follow up by phone to describe the project.  It's a great project for current or would-be graduate students, and those between jobs. Contact Beyond Oil NYC.