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 Energy and Equity

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PostSubject: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:10 pm

This paragraph from 1973 is in my opinion one of the greatest ever written:

Quote :
The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society's time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.

The whole book is here.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:16 pm

I am not persuaded by that paragraph. The car is an instrument not an end. The time I spend in the car is to get me from A to B. I don't do too much driving for the sake of driving. I go to meet someone, to see something, to deliver something, to get something. These things I could not do without my car. The paragraph blithely misses the point that the car is the method and not the result.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:19 pm

But that assumes that 4 hours on the road is only that. There is no credit given for the econimic benefits of the 4 hours on the road. ??
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:19 pm

The point of the paragraph (as I took it) was that western man spends 28% of his time around the costly and polluting transport industry while everyone else manages on 3-8%. And that was back in the day.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:29 pm

Very interesting. This makes the point that car transport time and costs used for work purposes are a just that, a cost. In the 19th century factory workers lived next to the factory, the teacher lived next to the school, the gard in the gard barracks and so on. Costs of transport, whether as part of the production process or "privatised" to the commuter, reduce the rate of profit. Likewise the time cost of travel is borne by the commuter, not the employer.

The enormous environmental and personal burden is another matter.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:31 pm

EvotingMachine0197 wrote:
But that assumes that 4 hours on the road is only that. There is no credit given for the econimic benefits of the 4 hours on the road. ??
Economic benefits to whom? To the driver? To the nation? To humanity?

And do you think those "benefits" are sustainable, year in year out?
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:38 pm

Whether the benefits are sustainable or not is the real question.
Likewise, one must ask is it sustainable to stop or drastically restrict car use.
The paragraph quoted does not address this main point. No doubt the whole book would be more enlightening.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:45 pm

soubresauts wrote:
EvotingMachine0197 wrote:
But that assumes that 4 hours on the road is only that. There is no credit given for the econimic benefits of the 4 hours on the road. ??
Economic benefits to whom? To the driver? To the nation? To humanity?

And do you think those "benefits" are sustainable, year in year out?

Oh lord, I'm not really sure. The first two anyway.

Can't transport be considered an overhead cost? If a 3% country is compared with a 28% country, would this not be evident in a GDP/capita comparison also? And in turn, is a high GDP/capita not good for a country economically ?
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:51 pm

Has anyone considered the alternative to the transport industry? There's a reason its so big: commuting is a no-brainer to most people. The alternative is to have increasingly dense urban centres with poorer access to vital resources (milk for example). Transport gives people more freedom to choose where tyey live and what quality of life to give their children. All this has to be added to the pro column for transport.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:16 pm

905 wrote:
Has anyone considered the alternative to the transport industry? There's a reason its so big: commuting is a no-brainer to most people. The alternative is to have increasingly dense urban centres with poorer access to vital resources (milk for example). Transport gives people more freedom to choose where tyey live and what quality of life to give their children. All this has to be added to the pro column for transport.

You have me confused over "access to milk". In low density suburbs in Dublin it can be 40 minute round trip walk for a pint of milk. In a tower block you can take the lift to a show at ground floor. It can't be denied that people are trading off the long drive for the larger house and garden, but most give the drive up after 2 or 3 years and change job, or move back to town. In other countries, people commute by rail.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:17 pm

EvotingMachine0197 wrote:
soubresauts wrote:
EvotingMachine0197 wrote:
But that assumes that 4 hours on the road is only that. There is no credit given for the econimic benefits of the 4 hours on the road. ??
Economic benefits to whom? To the driver? To the nation? To humanity?

And do you think those "benefits" are sustainable, year in year out?

Oh lord, I'm not really sure. The first two anyway.

Can't transport be considered an overhead cost? If a 3% country is compared with a 28% country, would this not be evident in a GDP/capita comparison also? And in turn, is a high GDP/capita not good for a country economically ?

Exactly my point - it is a cost, that reduces the profit made from whatever product the commuter is making.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:22 pm

I doubt that milk magically appeared in the shop, Cactus Flower, it had to be transported there. Most commuters I know never give up the house and garden and long drive, the whole point of the article is that they don't. Your point about living next to the place of work is unrealistic, people simply can't do that anymore.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:51 pm

905 wrote:
... The alternative is to have increasingly dense urban centres with poorer access to vital resources (milk for example). Transport gives people more freedom to choose where tyey live and what quality of life to give their children. All this has to be added to the pro column for transport.
I think you're missing the point. Nobody is against transport. What is at issue is types of transport, energy use, equity of that use, and sustainability.

Fifty years ago, Dublin was a much more compact city. Most households got their milk delivered early in the morning, in returnable glass bottles, carried on electric milk floats. It was equitable, energy-efficient, convenient, convivial. And many of the cows were near the city too.

Getting nostalgic now... Back then most of the land immediately outside Dublin city was rich, productive farmland, with a great tradition of agriculture going back hundreds, maybe thousands of years. For centuries past, huge amounts of food (not just cattle) were being exported through Dublin Port, to Britain and farther afield. And then... well, you know what happened.

And it was exactly fifty years ago that the FF Government closed down the Harcourt St--Bray railway line, ripped up the tracks and even sold off the land.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 5:34 pm

Nobody's defending the government's past record on railways! Yes terribly nostalgic, simply not realistic nowadays. The days of living next to a cow are gone, for now.

All types of transport have their pros and cons. Many would argue that the cons around automobiles outweigh the pros but we don't need a passage from the seventies to tell us that.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:40 pm

905 wrote:
Nobody's defending the government's past record on railways! Yes terribly nostalgic, simply not realistic nowadays. The days of living next to a cow are gone, for now.
For you, maybe. But not for half the world's population.

Quote :
All types of transport have their pros and cons. Many would argue that the cons around automobiles outweigh the pros but we don't need a passage from the seventies to tell us that.
Well, I haven't seen a critique of western energy use that's as carefully argued as Illich's. And I don't see many good efforts at a global solution, whereas Illich did point the way towards what seems the only way out.

In a nutshell, we have to slow down. It's not enough just to get everyone out of their cars and out of planes (cheap flights are the most obviously unsustainable thing...). We don't just need people to go by train; we need slow trains!

Illich showed that transport at a speed above bike speed (~40 km/h) begins to be "counter-productive" -- in terms of pollution, environmental destruction, deprivation of rights for the majority of people, and so on. M3/Tara is an Irish example.

High-speed trains are better than flights, but not by as much as you might think. They're very expensive to develop and build, require an awful lot of land, high-security measures, much more energy than slow trains, and the safety record is not great (see this, this, and this). And they're not really convivial: the landscape rushes by so fast you might as well be on a plane, everyone is on their mobile phone or laptop all the time, there's hardly enough time to eat a meal... Speed is key.

And here I note that Illich himself must have taken quite a few flights, but he was in demand, for a while anyway...
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:51 pm

Half the world's population is not the problem being discussed here. And I have easy access to milk-bearing cows should I want a dare. Illich may point all he wants but will anybody take notice? It's well known that cheap transport isn't sustainable, this is hardly a revelation. The train stuff is interesting though.

There is a certain cultural obsession with speed, which has to be addressed (indeed hammered in) before you expect people to take slow trains. Any broadband salesman will debate your point about speed not being economical, the faster the better is usually the motto.

And Illich could have travelled balloon so he has no excuse.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:49 pm

Lots of talk on trains but don't forget coaches. There should be nothing stopping the implementation of what Monbiot highlights below.


http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/12/05/life-coaching/
Quote :

far better scheme has been proposed by a visionary economist called Alan Storkey(Cool.

Storkey’s key innovation is to move the coach stations out of the city centres and onto the junctions of the motorways. One of the reasons why long coach journeys are so slow in the UK is that in order to create a system - which allows passengers to transfer from one coach to another - they must enter the towns along the way, travelling into the centre and out again. In the rush hour, you might as well walk.

Instead of dragging motorway transport into the cities, Storkey’s system drags city transport out to the motorways. Urban buses on their way out of town, he proposes, keep travelling to the nearest motorway junction, where they meet the coaches. By connecting urban public transport to the national network, Storkey’s proposal could revitalise both systems, as it provides more frequent and more viable bus services for the suburbs.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/31/heres-the-plan/
Quote :

6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City centre coach stations are shut down and moved to the junctions of the motorways. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways(3). Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.


With regard to the pint of milk, point 10 above shows how profligate supermarkets are in energy use
- "Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy(7). of the energy of a Tesco “state of the art” energy-saving store." -

So its not just how the person gets her/his point of milk but where it actually is. Serious cuts of emissions would come from delivery of food and drink, from out-of-town warehouses. You can have retail focused on smaller shops in town and city centres.

People already like to order such stuff online and its better than braving the weekly dual-carriageway supermarket 'zombie'-shop-fest.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Tue Apr 15, 2008 9:09 pm

Anybody want to talk about remote working? Obviously only works for certain people but it does for me. I can access the main office remotely and work from my bed if I want to. 905 I think you are too stuck in the now on this one. The old model of suburban sprawl is has its advantages, but the disadvantages are now outweighing them. For some reason, the Greens have it in for small towns and villages and are promoting large cities and letting ribbon development rip. Small towns and villages offer all the advantages of access on foot to services without the big cities long commutes.
The biggest sin of the suburbs, as was mentioned by another poster, is they are often built on the very best of our productive lands.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:19 pm

I love driving just for the sake of it and I hope it'll be sustainable into the future.

That was by way of a bump.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:33 pm

I wonder is that true, Cactus -- that the Greens have it in for small towns and villages.

Otherwise I agree with your points. I noticed some years ago that many Irish small towns and villages have a high quality of life.

I also agree with Pax, and Monbiot (whom I always agree with), about buses and coaches. Obviously we can't have trains everywhere, though I'd like to see all the old rail lines revived. The key is diesel engines (and modern diesel engines are very efficient and reliable). And low speeds. Slow trains and slow coaches, while allowing everyone who's fit enough to cycle anywhere they want in safety (as you could do in Ireland until the 1960s).

Audi, don't worry, you'll be able to drive around for some time to come, but expect it to become very expensive. And no, it's not sustainable, if you mean driving an expensive, sophisticated, imported car at speeds up to 200 km/h, burning huge amounts of fossil fuel. We've all been doing it, but remember, we're the privileged few in global terms.
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PostSubject: Re: Energy and Equity   Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:42 pm

Ah Cactus, you're a laugh a minute you are. Do you seriously think I like suburbs? I used to rant and rave about them back at p.ie. I'm not saying suburban advantages outweigh the negatives, I'm inclined to think 'what advantages?' They're a horrible way of living, I think, but most people have no choice.

Remote living is only for the few; I may be stuck in the now but then so is everyone else earning a crust out there.
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