Less than 50 years of oil left, HSBC warns

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From a story by John Collins Rudolf on CNBC:

The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

“We’re confident that there are around 50 years of oil left,” Karen Ward, the bank’s senior global economist, said in an interview on CNBC.

The bank, the world’s second largest in assets, further cautioned that growth trends in developing countries like China could put as many as one billion more cars on the road by midcentury. “That’s tremendous pressure on oil to power all those resources,” Ms. Ward said.

Legislators ask Walker to apply for rail funds

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29, 2011
Governor Scott Walker
115 East, State Capitol
Madison, WI 53703

Dear Governor Walker:
We all want to create jobs and reduce the tax burden on Wisconsin citizens. We are writing to urge you to consider applying for $2.4 billion in high speed train money that is now available to restore train service to our Capital and Wisconsin. There are many reasons to do this.

This federal money will save Wisconsin state taxpayers from having to upgrade our freight lines and stretch the $60 million for rail upgrades in your capital budget.

As you know, this measure will help create at least 5,500 jobs as well as save the jobs at the Talgo Train Assembly Plant in Milwaukee.

Other states around us are competing for these federal funds. Our state Capital is also one of the only Capitals in the Midwest that does not have train service. In order to compete for high wage jobs, we need a high tech transportation system.

Also, you know that Wisconsin taxpayers pay more into the federal coffers than we receive back and applying for this money could help get our fair share of federal resources.

I hope you will support making Wisconsin “Open for Business” by expanding transportation choices and train infrastructure.

For more information, go to http://www.fra.dot.gov/roa/press_releases/fp_DOT%2029-11.shtml.

Thank you for your consideration.

Rep. Brett Hulsey
Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink
Rep. Kelda Roys
Rep. Chris Sinicki
Rep. Jon Richards
Rep. Fred Kessler
Rep. Terese Berceau
Rep. Sandy Pasch
Rep. Mark Pocan
Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa
Rep. Fred Clark

Sen. Mark Miller
Sen. Chris Larson
Sen. Dave Hansen

Engineering an Electrified Steel Interstate; Free presentation, March 24

Friday, March 18, 2011

Don’t miss this free public lecture on the UW Madison campus next Thursday:

Oil-Free Transportation Options for the 21st Century
by Alan S. Drake, transportation researcher and independent consultant

Thursday, March 24 at 6:00 PM
1800 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Drive, Madison, WI

Sponsored by: UW Energy Hub, WISPIRG, UW Energy Institute, Madison Peak Oil Group, ProRail, Western Dane Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment, and others.

Why is this important?
Construction of an Electrified Steel Interstate in the United States is an essential step towards building an affordable, reliable, sustainable transportation system an oil-constrained future. The national security, economic, and engineering reasons to do so are compelling:

1) If/when the United States is confronted by oil shortages again, such a system would play a vital role in moving food and other essential goods and services.

2) Costs of constructing, maintaining, and repairing highways for interstate trucking are approximately four times greater than the same kinds of costs for railways.

3) Fuel taxes and fees from freight trucking cover less than one-half the costs of highway wear and tear caused by these vehicles.

4) Railways can accommodate much heavier loads and operate at higher speeds than highways.

5) Semi-trucks on highways use more than four times as much energy per ton-mile of cargo as diesel-powered freight trains; and with double-stacked containers on rail, the energy use differential increases to nine times as much energy per ton-mile of cargo using trucks.

6) Electrification of freight railway service can provide a 60-67% reduction in energy use from diesel power pulling the same load, and use domestic electricity instead of imported oil.

The vision Drake and his colleagues offer leverages the synergies between electrified rail service with creation of the Smart Grid, distributed generation, greater usage of renewable electricity, and proven energy storage strategies. A comprehensive, modernized freight rail system – in conjunction with electrification and followed by expansion of higher-speed passenger rail service where appropriate – would employ currently-available technologies and be justified by quick pay-backs on investment.

In order for the Electrified Steel Interstate to become a reality, the electric utility industry will need to work closely with government and the rail industry to achieve a progressive electrification of the railways, synergistic use of common rights of way, provision of advanced signaling and control mechanisms, and mobilization of currently stranded renewable wind power.

For more information contact:
Arnold Harris (608) 798-4833 arnoldharris@tds.net
David Knuti (608) 234-7430 knutifam@yahoo.com
Hans Noeldner, facilitator, Madison Peak Oil Group
608-444-6190 hans_noeldner@charter.net

Mad Fast Trains

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

James Howard Kunstler: The old American dream is a nightmare

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

From an article by Kerry Trueman on Grist:

The Great Depression gave rise to hobos and Hoovervilles. The Roaring Nineties brought us what New York Times columnist David Brooks termed "bobos in paradise."

Now our current round of layoffs and foreclosures has unceremoniously transferred millions of folks from the "affluent" to the "afflicted" category, exiling them from Brooks's mythical exurban Eden.

But instead of setting up tents, these newly poor live in a perpetual state of nestlessness, couch-surfing, or flitting from one basement rec room to the next. And rather than revisiting Hooverville, they've given our national landscape the barely-lived in, already abandoned suburban ghost towns I call Kunstlervilles, in honor of my favorite peak oil prophet, James Howard Kunstler.

Less scrappy than crappy, the derelict condos and subdivisions of Kunstlerville were built for buyers who never materialized -- erected with marginally better building materials than a Hooverville, but doomed to house pigeons before a decorator ever had the chance to breeze in and decree, "Put a bird on it!"

Kunstler has long warned of the horrendous hangover we're going to wake up with after our "cheap oil fiesta," but he's not gloating as global instability and climate destabilization become the new not-so-normal. Unlike some dystopians, he's motivated less by the desire to say "I told you so" than by the hope that we might still manage to reinvent the American dream on a scale that better suits our current circumstances.

I caught up with Kunstler recently when a conference took me to his hometown of Saratoga Springs, and afterward followed up via email. (Our conversation has been edited for space and style.)

Q. In your 2005 book The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, you gave high-rises low marks, and declared that you're "not optimistic about our big cities." You maintain that towns and small cities are far better equipped to adapt to the post-cheap-oil future.

Now, we've got economist Edward Glaeser talking up skyscrapers in The Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier. David Owen made a similar case with Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability.

Do you find yourself swayed, even a little, by these defenders of urban density?

Official: Wisconsin can sit out rail plan; Twin Cities-Chicago line still in works

Monday, March 14, 2011

From an article by Frederick Melo in the Pioneer Press, Minneapolis/St. Paul:

Despite hot competition from other states, Minnesota is well-positioned to nab a chunk of federal funding for passenger rail projects recently rejected by Florida and Wisconsin, according to Dan Krom, a rail guru for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The recent Madison-toMilwaukee rail debacle "doesn't deter any of the work we're doing in terms of getting to Chicago," Krom told an advisory board to the Metropolitan Council on Thursday. About $810 million in federal funds would have gone to build a 70-mile rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, but Gov. Scott Walker rejected it.

Some members appeared incredulous. And once high-speed passenger rail lines are built to Chicago, or Rochester, or Duluth, how will annual operating costs be covered? Fare-box revenues are likely to capture only part of the price tag to keep the trains rolling, and state general funds are unlikely to make up the remainder.

"We have six or seven lines prepared for the state, but we don't have a funding source," said Krom, MnDOT's co-project manager for passenger rail.

Krom gave the group a general overview of the state's rail plans in light of recent developments since the November elections.

For Minnesota, Wisconsin's turn-back presents complications and opportunities. State officials had hoped to build a high-speed rail line from the Twin Cities to Chicago, which would likely have gone through both Madison and Milwaukee, and those passengers would have provided coveted revenue.

But state planners have other visions mapped out for the high-speed Chicago route, Krom said — 14 plans in total. By the summer, MnDOT will likely have those 14 potential corridors narrowed down to one preferred strategy. Amtrak — or another provider, if one were to materialize — could still proceed through Wisconsin. Planning on a Twin Cities-to-Milwaukee route is far enough along to move forward, he said.

"The original plan was to go down to Madison on its way to Milwaukee, but the corridor isn't dependent on that," he said. "It's not a project death knell by any means."

Road builders to see quick return on donations to Walker

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

From a commentary in The Capital Times by Rod Clark, who recently retired after almost 37 years with the state, 33 of them with DOT:

Anyone who followed Gov. Scott Walker’s election campaign last fall was aware that Wisconsin’s road builders were at the top of the list of his contributors. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that about 150 individual employees of road-building firms contributed $128,859 to Walker’s campaign, along with the $25,000 given by their state association to the Republican Governors’ Association, presumably to help cover the $5 million in anti-Barrett ads run by the RGA.

But what no one knew, or could even guess, until the governor unveiled his biennial budget on March 1 was how quickly and dramatically the road construction interests would see a return on their investments. Or how clearly this would highlight the governor’s true priorities.

In a budget that has drawn national attention for a proposed $834 million cut to K-12 education funding in Wisconsin, and that is being used to justify the need for significant teacher layoffs, salary reductions and an end to public sector collective bargaining, Walker has made his priorities clear for everyone to see. Walker has proposed making cuts to education at least $144 million greater than otherwise needed in order to increase funds for road construction. . . .

While claiming “Wisconsin is broke” -- a charge disputed by many -- Walker proposes in his budget to move the cost for public transit from the Transportation Fund into the General Fund, making the General Fund hole $107 million deeper and freeing up the same amount in the Transportation Fund.

At the same time, Walker’s proposal phases in a diversion of vehicle sales tax revenue out of the General Fund and into the Transportation Fund, eventually resulting in 50 percent of all vehicle sales tax going into the Transportation Fund. This amount starts at around $37 million in 2013 and grows to an estimated $200 million when completely phased in.

Further, Walker’s budget proposes bonding authority for another couple hundred million of road-building money, with the debt repayment coming from the General Fund instead of the Transportation Fund. The impact of this is as yet unknown.

Busting bus systems

Monday, March 07, 2011

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Even if you never use a bus and would never think of getting on a commuter train, the current bleak prospects for mass transit systems in Wisconsin should matter to you.

Transit moves people to jobs, it eases congestion on city streets and freeways and it gives people another transportation option. That's important, especially now as drivers are faced with rising gasoline prices and roadwork that is shutting down lanes on freeways and major highways.

The Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker need to rethink their approach to transit and make sure that Wisconsin's systems remain healthy, especially for those who need it for work, school and shopping. Businesses such as Bucyrus International and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. rely on transit. New businesses and young professionals look to modern transit as the sign of a healthy and vibrant community.

What's in the works moves Wisconsin in the opposite direction and could damage transit systems across the state beyond repair.


• Walker's budget would slice transit aids in the first year of the biennium and provide no alternative dedicated local funding source to help meet already financially troubled systems.

• The budget shifts transit aids from the segregated and protected transportation fund to the general fund, where transit systems would have to compete with myriad services for scarce dollars. Walker argues that the gasoline tax that largely supplies the transportation fund is a user fee paid for by drivers and should be used only on those roads that drivers use.

But mass transit helps ease pressure on those roads and gives drivers other choices, as Steve Hiniker of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, points out. Buses are a vital form of transportation.

• Because Walker's budget-repair bill would eliminate most collective bargaining with public employees, federal aid, which is dependent on workers being able to bargain, would be jeopardized for mid-size transit systems such as Appleton's.

• A separate bill in the Legislature would kill regional transit authorities that were created in recent years to help regions strengthen and support local transit systems. Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), a co-sponsor of the bill, told us the RTAs were put together badly and he'd like to repeal them and start over with an honest policy debate. We'd prefer leaving them in place and making adjustments where needed so that regions can start now to build what they need.

• Walker's budget bill freezes local tax levy increases, meaning that even if a community wanted to spend more on transit, it couldn't.

Energy programs get Walker ax

Friday, March 04, 2011

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

If you like burning fossil fuels - hey, aren't those Koch brothers in the pipeline business? - then you'll love Gov. Walker's proposed budget.

The 1,345-pager takes a whack at scores of environmental efforts, from nixing the state Office of Energy Independence to actually encouraging state vehicles to use more gasoline.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. And with pump prices marching toward $4 a gallon, you wonder if any thought went into the long-term fiscal impacts.

But here's the skinny.

Walker wants to eliminate the Office of Energy Independence, which works to reduce the state's annual energy bill. Launched by Gov. Doyle in 2007, it has 10 staffers and an office at 201 W. Washington Ave.

Since Wisconsin has no coal, natural gas or oil reserves, its citizens send over $20 billion out of state every year to Wyoming, the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East evil-doers who hate America.

The OEI was designed to work with the biofuels industry, renewable energy markets and alternative energy researchers here at home.

Instead, Walker wants the Department of Administration to develop a "cost-effective, balanced, reliable, and environmentally-responsible energy strategy to promote economic growth." As in growth for the oil and gas guys?

The state has also been operating under a directive that by 2015 it reduce gasoline use by at least 50 percent from 2006 levels. Walker wants to eliminate the requirement and drop the reduction goal to 20 percent.

Earth 'will expire by 2050'

Thursday, March 03, 2011

From an article by Mark Townsend and Jason Burke posted on Guardian.co.uk:

Our planet is running out of room and resources. Modern man has plundered so much, a damning report claims this week, that outer space will have to be colonised.

Earth's population will be forced to colonise two planets within 50 years if natural resources continue to be exploited at the current rate, according to a report out this week.

A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to be released on Tuesday, warns that the human race is plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life.

In a damning condemnation of Western society's high consumption levels, it adds that the extra planets (the equivalent size of Earth) will be required by the year 2050 as existing resources are exhausted.

The report, based on scientific data from across the world, reveals that more than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the past three decades.

Using the image of the need for mankind to colonise space as a stark illustration of the problems facing Earth, the report warns that either consumption rates are dramatically and rapidly lowered or the planet will no longer be able to sustain its growing population.

Experts say that seas will become emptied of fish while forests - which absorb carbon dioxide emissions - are completely destroyed and freshwater supplies become scarce and polluted.

The report offers a vivid warning that either people curb their extravagant lifestyles or risk leaving the onus on scientists to locate another planet that can sustain human life. Since this is unlikely to happen, the only option is to cut consumption now.

Taxpayers pay for trucking subsidies

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

From an article by Luke Rosiak on Dr. Gridlock:

Moving freight via truck shifts far more of the costs onto taxpayers than does other modes of shipping, according to an analysis by the government's financial watchdog.

By investing in certain forms of infrastructure, the government essentially makes that form cheaper, thereby encouraging its use. But a smart investment, and the wisest use of taxpayer dollars, would encourage use of the most efficient mode.

"If government policy gives one mode a cost advantage over another, by, for example, not
recouping all the costs of that mode's use of infrastructure, then shipping prices and customers' use of freight modes can be distorted, reducing the overall efficiency of the nation's economy," the Government Accountability Office said.

The GAO's analysis of data across several government agencies found that costs associated with trucking that were not borne by the companies actually doing the shipping were "at least 6 times greater than rail costs and at least 9 times greater than waterways costs per million ton miles of freight transport. Most of these costs were external costs imposed on society."