Water and Sustainability In a Time of Uncertainty: Lessons for Tucson by Colette Altaffer, Neighborhood Infill Coalition

“Water and Sustainability In a Time of Uncertainty: Lessons for Tucson” was presented by Colette Altaffer, Neighborhood Infill Coalition to the Joint City/County Water Study Committee on October 22nd. It’s a very clear summary of what we should be aware of as we move forward. What is at stake? What are the risks? Are there opportunities for smart solutions to our challenges? Who is going to do the work of building a sustainable community?


My name is Colette Altaffer. I am here to speak on behalf of the Neighborhood Infill Coalition. We are a group of community advocates who focus on quality-of-life issues in neighborhoods.

As we were thinking about water and sustainability and our neighbors, the recent financial meltdown was never far from our minds.

We’d been reading about a report which the General Accounting Office delivered to Congress in 1994, in which it warned that the unregulated derivatives market could produce the type of economic meltdown that we have just experienced.

Congress, of course, ignored those warnings and allowed the markets to continue as if the party would never end – until it did.

And we were struck by the parallels between the financial meltdown and Tucson’s own political climate – from the undue influence exerted on our politicians by special interests, to government’s failure to act in a way that protects the interests of all its citizens.

From this financial fiasco, we chose three lessons that Tucson could learn from and applied them to water and sustainability.

The first lesson – is Practice the Precautionary Principle. We’ve probably all heard the term, Precautionary Principle and it is defined many ways, but one of the most succinct definitions describes it as, “caution practiced in the context of uncertainty.”

When it comes to water, uncertainty is one thing Tucson has in abundance.

During these past few months, you’ve helped our community learn a great deal about water, and wastewater treatment, and the infrastructure that makes our lives here possible. But you’ve also shown that Tucson’s water future is fraught with uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to troubling questions.

For example:

∑ We’re told that Tucson sits on top of 60 million acre feet of water, but how accurate is that number?

∑ How much of this water is off limits due to pollution and how much do we have to keep in the ground to avoid the severe infrastructure damage that comes with subsidence?

∑ How much further can we extend our sewer system without dramatically increasing the water deficit that it already operates at?

∑ How can we create greater density within the city’s core without expensive upgrades to the aging and undersized infrastructure that this increased population will need to rely on?

∑ How do we pay for the exorbitant costs of desalinization, when a disproportionate number of our citizens are living at or near the poverty level?

It is crucial that we answer these questions before we continue with “growth as usual”.

Which leads us to our second lesson. Don’t paint yourself into a corner.

Our democracy thrives on having choices, but having choices requires flexibility.

Flexibility only occurs when there is enough room to maneuver, so we need to ensure that the recommendations we make and the actions we take, provide us with enough “wiggle room” so that our choices aren’t limited to crises-based decisions.

If we continue down the path of “growth as usual” and blindly pursue a megalopolis that stretches from Mexico to Prescott, we may find that the ability to choose is no longer ours, and a Federal judge, or even nature, will make the choice for us.

Democracy also thrives on all voices being heard, and this leads us to our third lesson. We like to call this the “all hands on deck” approach.

For too long, we have tolerated our political system, where we elect our representatives and then they largely ignore us while the special interests get their way.

This has recently culminated in Town Halls and Growth Forums that are controlled by these special interests, who mute the voice of our citizens and then represent the outcome as “community consensus”.

This needs to change. We can no longer accept that a handful of people know what is best for Tucson, while ignoring the vast, untapped resource that is our citizens. In our citizens, we have available to us a wealth of knowledge, expertise, life experience and creative energy, and we need to utilize that resource.

Sustainability isn’t just about conserving resources. It is also about utilizing those resources more efficiently. Just as we can no longer afford to have water flowing off our yards and onto our driveways, we can no longer afford to marginalize the talents and energy of one of our greatest untapped resources – our citizens.

If we are going to turn this ship around, we need “all hands on deck”.

This process has provided us with the opportunity to step back from the “growth as usual” abyss and assess the uncertainties of our community’s water future.

As you draft your report, we hope that you will draw from the lessons of our current financial crises and ensure that you practice caution in the context of uncertainty, avoid painting yourselves into a corner, and involve the entire community in achieving Tucson’s sustainability.

David Suzuki: “One of the great speeches in history”

On October 30th, Dr. David Suzuki, reknowned Canadian scientist and educator, gave “one of the great speeches in history”  to the 20th Anniversary Roundtable on the Economy and the Environment.

Click on the following to watch a video of that speech:


Addressing the Health Effects of Climate Change Workshop

University Medical Center, 1501 North Campbell Avenue
November 15, 2008; 8:00AM – 5:00 PM

Register online at: www.healthandclimatechange.eventbrite.com

Keynote Speakers:
Andrew Comrie, PhD, Professor of Geography & Climatology, University of Arizona
Jeremy Hess, MD, MPH, Consultant, National Center for Environmental Health,
Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia

A Multidisciplinary Panel of Clinicians and Public Health Professionals and Elected Officials and
3 Workshops to address aspects of preparedness, opportunities, challenges & adaptive solutions for climate
related health problems.

Description: A continuing education program of speakers and workshops designed to bring together health professionals, public officials, and the public focused on awareness of and prevention of potential health impacts of global warming and climate change.

Expected Outcomes
 Health professionals and public officials will learn about research and planning for prevention and management of health
risks from climate change and begin to think about what needs to happen in Arizona and the region to prevent disasters and
also be prepared for adverse or catastrophic events.
 Participants will learn about opportunities to reduce the trends in climate change through personal and community action for
sustainability, including renewable energy, sustainable transportation, local food growth and distribution and other carbon
reduction and community climate adaptation activities.
 Participants will have an opportunity to network and sign up for follow-up discussions and action.
Sponsored for Continuing Medical Education by The University of Arizona College of Medicine at the Arizona Health Sciences Center which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The University of Arizona College of Medicine at the Arizona Health Sciences Center designates this educational activity for a maximum of 5.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)TM. Physicians should only claim credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Also sponsored for continuing education contact hours by the Arizona Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, by the Arizona Nurses Association and application made for CE credits by the Arizona Psychological Association.

Financially supported by Access Tucson, Arizona Academy of Family Physicians, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Arizona,Public Health Association, Sustainable Tucson, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pima County Medical Foundation, U of A College of Medicine-Outreach & Multicultural Affairs, U of A College of Nursing and U of A Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, Public Health Students for Global Health, Tucson City Council Members Glassman & Trasoff, the United Nations
Association of Southern Arizona

Call 520-325-3983 for more information Registration form on next page:

Register on line at www.healthandclimatechange.eventbrite.com

“Addressing the Health Effects of Climate Change”

Conference Registration Form
First Name ________________________ Last Name ____________________________
Address ________________________________________________________________
City, State, Zip ___________________________________________________________
Phone # (___)___________ Email Address ____________________________________
Professional Degrees ______________________________________________________
Field / Specialty __________________________________________________________
 I would like a vegetarian lunch.
Please check one:
 $25- Registration – no CE credits
 $50- Registration with CE credits
 $10- Students with ID

Please make checks payable and mail to:
NEST, Inc.
3653 N. Prince Village Place
Tucson, AZ 85719

Cancellation Policy:
Cancellations received before November 1st will be refunded in full. No refunds will be issued after November1st.
Persons with a disability may request reasonable accommodations, such as a sign language interpreter, by
contacting (B Warren 325-3983, bwarre01@pol.net). Requests should be made as early as possible to allow
time to arrange for the accommodations.
Special Accommodations needed?  Yes  No

November 15, 2008 – 7AM through 5 PM
Arizona Health Sciences Center – DuVal Auditorium

7:00- 8:00 On Site Registration, Coffee


Ana Marie Lopez, MD, MPH, Associate Dean for Outreach & Multicultural Affairs,
University of Arizona, College of Medicine
Moderator: Barbara H. Warren, MD, MPH, FACP

Professor Andrew C. Comrie, PhD, U of Arizona
*Frame scientific evidence to demonstrate the potential impact on communities.

Jeremy Hess, MD, MPH, US Center for Disease Control
*Link climate change to current and potential public and personal health risks

9:45- 10:15 Break

Panel Discussion with
Isela Luna. RN, PhD, Public Health, PCHD; Michelle McDonald, MD, Public Health, PCHD; Eve Shapiro, MD, Pediatrics; Sam Keim, MD, Emergency Medicine; and Lew Hamburger, PhD, Social Work
*Address the structural and organizational problems of the Public Health and health care infrastructures
*Discuss our challenges and next steps

TO ACTION Congresspersons from Arizona – Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva – TBA
*Address the role of government and citizens in achieving a sustainable future

11:30- 1 PM BOX LUNCH (Provided)


Strategies for Developing and Maintaining
* Personal and Community Resilience * Mental and Physical Health

Challenges and Responsibilities of Community Health Practitioners & Agencies
*Public Health Response – PCHD Chief Medical Officer, Michelle McDonald; Public Health RN, Isela Luna, PhD
*Medical Care Response – Community Based RN, Ann Rose Dichov, MSN
Pediatric Physician, Eve Shapiro, MD
Emergency Physician, Sam Keim, MD
*Emergency Management – Rural Metro Emergency Services, Les Caid
*Social and Behavioral Health Response – Community Mental Health Professional, Lew Hamburger

Climate Adaptation Planning: A Government & Community Responsibility- David Schaller, City of
Tucson, Office Conservation and Sustainable Development
Home and Workplace Actions to Reduce Carbon – Nicole Urban-Lopez, City of Tucson,
Office Conservation and Sustainable Development


WHAT DID WE LEARN AND WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Follow-up and Networking Strategies
Ana Marie Lopez, MD, MPH, Associate Dean for Outreach & Multicultural Affairs, U of A College of Medicine

Sustainability and environment leaders offer Obama their priorities

The Peak Oil Crisis: Memorandum for the President-Elect

by Tom Whipple, retired CIA analyst, columnist for the Falls Church (VA) News-Press, and editor of Peak Oil Review. Published November 6, 2008

The way things are shaping up, in less than three months you will be in charge of solving the direst set of crises since the ones faced by Lincoln back in 1861.

In every corner of the world economies are coming unglued. Our major financial institutions are approaching insolvency; unemployment is rising; public confidence in nearly every institution is collapsing; investments and savings are tanking; and to make matters worse, these forces seem to be simultaneously engulfing all the other nations of the world. There clearly are big changes just ahead and probably not for the better – at least not right away.

In sorting through the morass you soon will confront the old conundrum of the urgent vs. the important. From all directions crises are going to come at you. There are wars to settle; frozen finances and plunging markets; shortages and world adversaries seeking advantages. The list of the extremely urgent can only grow and grow for the world has become a populous, complex and interconnected place.

Beyond the obviously urgent, however, come the truly important – the problems that cannot be muddled through or solved quickly with borrowed money. Global warming and methane burps, the social security/Medicare shortfall, evaporation of retirement savings, depletion of easy-to-exploit oil deposits and perhaps a life threatening pandemic or two are examples of the truly important.

Right at the top of the truly important list, and more urgent than you probably realize, is to start the transition of the U.S. economy from fossil fuels – oil, coal, and natural gas – to renewable forms of energy as quickly as possible. If this does not start happening soon, then much of the U.S. and world economy is likely to start grinding to a halt well within the eight years you would like to remain in office. Moreover, if we rush to burn off all the remaining fossil fuel, primarily coal, in the name of economic recovery and growth, the world is likely to end up in a couple of centuries – and here opinions differ – anywhere from an unpleasant place to live to being nearly devoid of the higher forms of life.

We have heard all sorts of talk about energy independence in recent months usually coupled with calls for more domestic drilling, “clean-coal” or more ethanol. Such talk is meaningless since we are almost certain to become energy independent in the next decade or so simply because we won’t be receiving most of the 12 million barrels of crude and oil products a day we are currently importing. They just won’t be for sale, at least not to us.

There clearly has to be some sort of powerful incentive to get your administration, the Congress and the rest of the world’s governments moving more quickly on the transition to a post fossil fuels world. At the minute, the only incentive on the horizon that seems able to get everybody’s attention is high gasoline prices and actual shortages. Earlier this year we were getting close to taking action when oil was pushing $150 a barrel and the campaigns could talk of little else. However the perturbations of the financial crisis intervened and gasoline went back down to last year’s prices.

Nothing stands still these days so by the time you are inaugurated it is a good bet that the OPEC cartel will have managed to cut production enough to start driving prices upwards again, perhaps not to $150, but perhaps enough to get people’s attention and raise fears of inflationary pressures .

Sometime during your first year in office, your new Secretary of Energy is likely to come by and lay out the problem for you – world oil production is going down – perhaps faster than imagined; world oil exports are dropping even faster; prices are rising; and new domestic supplies will never make up the difference. The bottom line will be that the country is going to have to get along with steadily decreasing amounts of oil each year for the foreseeable future and that much will have to change if the economy is to continue to function.

It may take some time before you appreciate all the consequences of oil depletion. They will be everywhere. Transportation costs will go much higher. The GDP will slide. Jobs will disappear, and shortages will develop. At some point there will be a general agreement that looking for more fossil fuels or that a large scale effort to convert coal to liquid fuel is hopeless. A massive overhaul of the U.S. economy including transportation, lifestyles, jobs, agriculture, and industrial production will be necessary if we are going to continue running a civilization with declining quantities of fossil fuel.

This national epiphany will be the beginning of the great transition that will dominate the U.S. government and the world for many decades. New governmental organizations, policies, and procedures will be necessary to effect the transition for it will involve nearly every aspect of modern life. Do not be tempted by the notion that the markets alone can deal with this transition. A few minutes’ reflection on what will be involved in forced reductions in the use of fossil fuels while still maintaining social order and some semblance of 20th century lifestyles will lead to the realization that this can only be accomplished by government coordination. We are no longer in the 19th century living on scattered self-sufficient farms. There are 300 million of us in the United States today, and we are totally, utterly, completely dependent on fossil fuels for our being.

The challenge just ahead is going to be the greatest since the Republic was founded. It will dwarf the challenges of the War Between the States, the Great Depression and World War II and will test your leadership to the utmost.

An opportunity in energy policy – a letter to the President-elect
by John Langhus and Steve Andrews

Dear President-elect Obama,

We believe that no other challenge we currently face will be adequately addressed unless we are successful in tackling our energy challenges. Based on recognition of the fundamental change that has taken place in global energy markets, critical elements of a new approach to energy policy are set out below.

1. Smart Energy Management is the Real Policy Challenge. American policy makers have long assumed unimpeded access to ever greater supplies of inexpensive energy. Energy policy has thus rarely played a prominent part in electoral politics (except temporarily, during transient shocks). The energy challenge we now face will change that. A tripling of energy prices since 2002 has not stemmed the decline rate in existing fields, nor brought on appreciable new supply. Worse, the recent tumbling of oil and gas prices means that many planned energy expansion projects will be mothballed or delayed, leading to higher prices and supply vulnerability down the road.

In painful fits and starts, the American public is becoming aware of the role of energy cost and availability in their daily lives. Leaders and policymakers must demonstrate an awareness of our new energy reality. From today forward, every policy maker should consider the availability and cost of energy in nearly every policy calculation. They must propose sensible changes that our government can make now, even as traditional forms of energy gradually become less accessible and dramatically more expensive.

A powerful start would feature an announcement that recognizes this fundamental shift, and proposes the following in response: In the newly elected administration, every political department and regulatory agency will assign a senior deputy to consider the energy implications of all policy decisions. The model would be budget accounting, but in energy terms. That is, government would be required to assume that energy will eventually be increasingly scarce, increasingly expensive, or both, and to plan accordingly. The approach offers the benefit of being proactive while easily unwound if and when our national energy situation improves. If we have any hope of effectively managing the energy paradigm shift, it must be coordinated wisely and comprehensively.

2. Government must lead the Energy Transition. Over the coming years we must prepare for the declining availability of refined liquid petroleum fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil in three general ways. First, we can reduce our total energy consumption through conservation and efficiency, beginning with a federal gasoline tax that incentivizes carpooling, highly fuel-efficient vehicles and all low or no carbon alternatives. Second, we can facilitate the development and adoption of renewable energy sources that provide more usable energy than is required to produce that energy in the first place. Third, we can ensure that we make responsible and effective use of domestic U.S. energy resources.

All three of these paths will require major investments in technology and infrastructure. Only the Federal Government can provide the leadership, R&D funding, and targeted incentives to private industry and individuals necessary to deliver us a responsible sustainable energy future.

3. Offshore Drilling – Move to the Real Debate. We do not know whether there are sufficient recoverable resources in “new” offshore locations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to make the environmental and other trade-offs worth the incremental amount of available energy. The US Minerals and Management Service estimates that total “technically recoverable” yet-to-be-discovered oil throughout the OCS may be as much as 85 billion barrels of oil. Of that amount, less than 20 billion barrels is estimated to be in areas covered by the former drilling moratorium.

In truth, no one has any reliable data. A wise and bold response to this fact would be for the federal government to sponsor a massive seismic data acquisition project for the OCS. Seismic data holds the promise of providing real information upon which informed decisions may be made. In any event, seismic data acquisition will take place before any exploration drilling occurs – modern exploration rarely occurs without the benefit of seismic data acquisition beforehand. The government would fund and manage the program via contractors, and it would focus on the most promising areas for potential hydrocarbon exploration. The government would thus also own the resulting data exclusively, allowing it later to recoup the cost of the acquisition by selling the data to interested companies if and when drilling commences. It would be a significant research project of obvious utility.

4. Windfall Profit Taxes/Energy Rebates send the wrong economic signals. These may be the most self-defeating policy proposals available to address our energy challenges. Taxes on “windfall” profits would reduce domestic production, while a credit (or rebate) to consumers would stimulate consumption.

Much wiser would be to place an effective floor on oil prices to protect investments in alternative energy. The value of past investments by the energy industry in very promising technologies has been decimated when the price of petroleum has fallen and rendered the alternatives uneconomical. This has been the single greatest barrier to the development of a viable alternative energy industry. Likewise, the domestic US oil industry was ravaged in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s, when increased foreign production reduced the price of oil to single digits per-barrel, with the related consequences of the SUV boom and the nearly complete abandonment of conservation and efficiency efforts. Many investors fear a similar outcome when the recent oil price boom finally hits bottom. An oil price floor could be enforced through a tariff on imported oil that falls to zero when the market price of oil is at or above $100. Tariff receipts could fund basic research into alternative energy technologies. The result would be predictability for domestic energy industry investments in new oil production, and for private capital investments in alternative technologies.

5. Revitalize US Rail Networks. In the decades before car ownership became widespread, US cities and towns had extensive rail, streetcar and trolley networks. Sensible energy policy will recognize that the unrestrained use of millions of barrels of oil per day in the U.S. for personal transportation, while worldwide demand grows and supply remains flat, is coming to an end. The technology exists to recreate these former local and regional rail networks to relieve pressure on the oil supply created by personal transportation. A similar effort with respect to heavy rail will likewise ease the burden created by the current movement of goods by truck. The best available evidence is that sustained oil prices beyond the $150/barrel level could render regional air travel forever unprofitable. In such case, regional rail networks will be essential to maintain the economic viability of thousands of small communities throughout the country. In order to enhance our rail system in spite of reduced liquid fuel availability, we should promote the development of electrified rail systems.

6. Reduce Subsidies for Biofuels and Ethanol. The declining availability of oil will create a critical need for alternative liquid fuels to power our road and airborne fleets. U.S. oil production provides roughly 15 calories of useful energy for every calorie spent on production. Corn ethanol production only supplies 1.3 calories of energy for every calorie invested. Corn ethanol’s enormous comparative disadvantage hasn’t changed substantially despite decades of development and subsidies. It isn’t up to the task at hand.

Biofuels – and corn ethanol specifically – currently contribute more to our energy and other problems than they solve. While the lobbies in favor of ethanol and related subsidies are strong and entrenched, government must gradually abandon these subsidies. A far better policy would be a massive increase in public investment in basic science research.

Government is notoriously poor at “picking winners” – requiring the adoption of certain energy technologies over others, for example. What government has consistently done very well over many decades is to support basic research into new technologies, then allow the marketplace to choose the favorites.

7. Energy is Economic and National Security. Political leaders of every party do increasingly understand the clear relationship between energy and national security. The best evidence suggests that access to foreign sources of oil is already coming under strain and that competition among oil importers will only grow more intense as time goes on. In this respect, the US finds itself far behind China in particular in terms of securing long-term access to the next generation of fossil fuel resources. To take an example close to home, the production of oil by Mexico is falling at an alarming pace. Mexico is our third or fourth (depending on the month) largest source of imported oil. Oil exports contribute more than a third of the Mexican federal government’s revenues. On current trends, Mexico will cease to export any oil at all by 2012. Such an event poses a risk to our energy security, to Mexico’s economic security, and poses stark national security challenges to both countries. The American people will enjoy neither economic nor national security until we have adopted a comprehensively new approach to our public and private use of energy.

We offer this policy brief in the hopes of initiating a true national conversation about energy.
John Langhus works in the oil industry and is the lead author of this policy paper. Steve Andrews is a co-founder of ASPO-USA.

The Climate for Change By Al Gore

November 9, 2008, published by the New York Times

The inspiring and transformative choice by the American people to elect Barack Obama as our 44th president lays the foundation for another fateful choice that he – and we – must make this January to begin an emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis.

The electrifying redemption of America’s revolutionary declaration that all human beings are born equal sets the stage for the renewal of United States leadership in a world that desperately needs to protect its primary endowment: the integrity and livability of the planet.

The world authority on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after 20 years of detailed study and four unanimous reports, now says that the evidence is “unequivocal.” To those who are still tempted to dismiss the increasingly urgent alarms from scientists around the world, ignore the melting of the north polar ice cap and all of the other apocalyptic warnings from the planet itself, and who roll their eyes at the very mention of this existential threat to the future of the human species, please wake up. Our children and grandchildren need you to hear and recognize the truth of our situation, before it is too late.

Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis.

Economists across the spectrum – including Martin Feldstein and Lawrence Summers – agree that large and rapid investments in a jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy in a quick and sustainable way. Many also agree that our economy will fall behind if we continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. Moreover, national security experts in both parties agree that we face a dangerous strategic vulnerability if the world suddenly loses access to Middle Eastern oil.

As Abraham Lincoln said during America’s darkest hour, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” In our present case, thinking anew requires discarding an outdated and fatally flawed definition of the problem we face.

Thirty-five years ago this past week, President Richard Nixon created Project Independence, which set a national goal that, within seven years, the United States would develop “the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources.” His statement came three weeks after the Arab oil embargo had sent prices skyrocketing and woke America to the dangers of dependence on foreign oil. And – not coincidentally – it came only three years after United States domestic oil production had peaked.

At the time, the United States imported less than a third of its oil from foreign countries. Yet today, after all six of the presidents succeeding Nixon repeated some version of his goal, our dependence has doubled from one-third to nearly two-thirds – and many feel that global oil production is at or near its peak.

Some still see this as a problem of domestic production. If we could only increase oil and coal production at home, they argue, then we wouldn’t have to rely on imports from the Middle East. Some have come up with even dirtier and more expensive new ways to extract the same old fuels, like coal liquids, oil shale, tar sands and “clean coal” technology.

But in every case, the resources in question are much too expensive or polluting, or, in the case of “clean coal,” too imaginary to make a difference in protecting either our national security or the global climate. Indeed, those who spend hundreds of millions promoting “clean coal” technology consistently omit the fact that there is little investment and not a single large-scale demonstration project in the United States for capturing and safely burying all of this pollution. If the coal industry can make good on this promise, then I’m all for it. But until that day comes, we simply cannot any longer base the strategy for human survival on a cynical and self-interested illusion.

Here’s what we can do – now: we can make an immediate and large strategic investment to put people to work replacing 19th-century energy technologies that depend on dangerous and expensive carbon-based fuels with 21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth.

What follows is a five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis – and create millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced.

First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid – $400 billion over 10 years – pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Third, we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings – and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

Of course, the best way – indeed the only way – to secure a global agreement to safeguard our future is by re-establishing the United States as the country with the moral and political authority to lead the world toward a solution.

Looking ahead, I have great hope that we will have the courage to embrace the changes necessary to save our economy, our planet and ultimately ourselves.

In an earlier transformative era in American history, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon within 10 years. Eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11 from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.

This year similarly saw the rise of young Americans, whose enthusiasm electrified Barack Obama’s campaign. There is little doubt that this same group of energized youth will play an essential role in this project to secure our national future, once again turning seemingly impossible goals into inspiring success.

Al Gore, the vice president from 1993 to 2001, was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He founded the Alliance for Climate Protection and, as a businessman, invests in alternative energy companies.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Environmental leaders offer their elevator pitches for Obama
November 5, 2008

Grist Magazine (Gristmill.org) asked a number of leaders in environment and sustainability issues to imagine they found themselves in an elevator with the president-elect — giving them one minute of his undivided attention. Here are their messages to Obama about how he should approach environment, energy, and climate policy:


Gavin Newsom.

Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco:
“Where the Bush Administration has failed in the last eight years, you must lead. In your first 100 days, begin implementing a detailed, achievable plan to establish America as the world’s leader in the fight against climate change. By investing in energy independence, you will rebuild the American economy and rid our dependence on foreign oil. Move from the common rhetoric of creating a green revolution in America to achieving results:

“You must:
Follow-through on your promise to invest $150 billion in clean-technology infrastructure, research, and development (and consider increasing this level of investment). Infrastructure should focus on modernizing our national power grid to make it more efficient and allow new renewable energy projects to feed into that grid. R&D funding should flow to our nation’s universities and scientific institutions to develop new energy-efficiency and renewable-energy technologies, such as ocean power, that can be further advanced through the marketplace.
Establish aggressive new national efficiency standards for buildings, cars, and appliances. We’ve done this in California over the past two decades and have witnessed no change in per capita energy usage amidst explosive economic growth.
Recognize the true price of greenhouse-gas pollution by creating an aggressive cap-and-trade system or carbon tax that will make renewable energy competitive with polluting fossil-fuel-burning technologies.
Organize a bilateral energy summit with China that establishes both countries as leaders in the developed and developing world toward growing national economies while reducing the environmental impact.
Ensure that clean-energy investment benefits all Americans by creating green-collar job requirements as a pre-condition to any federal funding of infrastructure, research, and development.
Support cities’ impressive climate protection efforts through technical assistance and resources for programs such as energy-efficiency retrofits in low-income housing.”


Bill McKibben.

Bill McKibben, author, climate activist, and member of Grist’s board of directors:
“Hey, congratulations, or condolences, or whatever’s appropriate. I know you’re focused on that financial meltdown, but it’s the meltdown meltdown that is going to define your two terms in office, Mr. Obama. How you deal with it may be the key to our economic recovery, but even more to the recovery of our stature in the world. We need a deal — but it’s a deal that has to reflect the new crucial piece of information about the planet. According to the scientists at NASA — your scientists, now — that world doesn’t work right above 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Now that you’re done with 270 electoral votes, that’s the number that’s got to focus your thinking.”


Vinod Khosla.

Vinod Khosla, Silicon Valley investor:
“Don’t focus on all things green. Instead look at the few things that can achieve 80 percent carbon reductions per mile driven in our transportation fleet and be low-cost enough to penetrate 80 percent of all transportation including in India and China. For electric power, go beyond current renewable fashion. Look at the technologies that can replace or clean up 80 percent of coal-based electric generation with 80 percent lower carbon kilowatt hours!”


Summer Rayne Oakes.

Summer Rayne Oakes, eco-activist and model:
“President Obama, we are faced with not only a challenge but an opportunity. You have millions of supporters who are urgently seeking a plan to get this country off of dirty energy and lift millions of hardworking people up by providing clean-energy, green-collar jobs. Bills like the Green Jobs Act need to be fully funded and appropriated; Congressman Edward Markey’s iCAP bill is a shining example of forward-thinking legislation; and even Republicans — including Colin Powell and T. Boone Pickens — are looking for change.

“President Obama, the plans and solutions are here — today. Now we need you to help us make them a reality. I say this not only as the sensible but hard-nosed activist that you see me as today, but as a young girl from Pennsylvania who has seen her single mother struggle in an ailing economy and the very land beneath her feet laid to waste by decades of coal mining. I do not forget where I grew up. I do not take the present for granted. And I sure as hell know that with this knowledge, we can look forward to the future with open eyes. I, too, share in your story of a better America and a better world, but we will not get there if we do not have leadership and force of will. So the question is now, will you be that leader … our leader?”


Gus Speth.

Gus Speth, dean at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies:
“Mr. President, the climate problem is more of a threat to the human future than even many environmentalists realize. You would be well-advised to create a cabinet-level position to lead your efforts nationally and internationally to address it. You should also move quickly to convene a White House meeting of top climate scientists and use that as a springboard to an address to the American people from the Oval Office. You can’t responsibly put this issue off or subsume it under an energy initiative. The most important thing you can accomplish early in your term is major federal climate legislation and a post-Kyoto Protocol international agreement, both aimed at dramatic greenhouse-gas emission reductions.”


Randall Swisher.

Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association:
“If you really want to make the New Energy Economy a reality, the most important step would be to establish long-term, stable policy in support of renewable energy. That means a long-term extension of the renewable-energy-production tax credit as well as the 25 percent federal renewable-electricity standard by 2025.

“Secondly, our best renewable energy resources — wind, solar, geothermal — tend to be found at a distance from where most people live. To get our renewable energy to electric customers, we will need a significant upgrade of the nation’s transmission infrastructure. But the cost of that investment is cheap compared to the value of all the clean, renewable energy that will be made available to help create new jobs, clean up our environment, and make a substantial down payment in the fight to curb global warming.

“Those two steps — stable long-term policy and transmission infrastructure — are the most important steps to move this country into a position for wind to be able to provide 20 percent of our nation’s electricity by 2030.”


Rick Piltz.

Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch:
“Mr. President-elect, I believe global climatic disruption poses two unprecedented challenges. We must dramatically cut emissions, and we have to prepare for potentially disastrous impacts that are already underway and are projected to intensify in the future. Mobilizing the country to take effective action will require great leadership from your administration and a restoration of integrity in dealing with the findings communicated by the science community. Only when the leadership communicates a clear understanding of the potential dangers will Americans support policies that will adequately reduce emissions and the actions needed to prepare for likely impacts. Couple this with putting in place an ongoing nationwide process to further assess the likely consequences of climate change and opportunities to reduce emissions, and incorporate this knowledge into all relevant spheres of activity. This process should engage citizens all across the country.”


Evon Peter.

Evon Peter, executive director of Native Movement:
“Barack, as you are aware, our world is in need of deep healing and a transformation of consciousness that will lead to tangible changes in policy and practice, shifting the fundamentally unsustainable and exploitative direction in which we are headed. This is not unlike the years leading up to the end of slavery as ideological forces conflicted and arguments over economics and political structure prevailed. Your presidency will require courageous decisions to face the truth in what is inequitable, unjust, and unsustainable if we are to make needed change happen. Many will vehemently challenge these decisions because they are terrified to face the truth in the situation humanity is facing. Your job is to stay true to principles that the world is in great need of receiving from its leaders. We are entering an era of truth over politics and love over violence as a means to our survival. I wish you blessings in keeping to a solid path and carrying this torch forward.”


Julian Dautremont-Smith.

Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education:
“Higher education has been a leader in helping America overcome many critical challenges and is uniquely positioned to enable the achievement of your goals related to energy, climate, and green jobs. Colleges and universities are eager to help — almost 600 of them have signed a commitment to eliminate their greenhouse-gas emissions and to provide education, research, and outreach to support the transition to sustainability — but they need financial support to meet their potential for leading the sustainability transformation. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 authorized funds to create a “University Sustainability Grants Program” at the Department of Education, but no funds have been allocated. With your help securing this and other federal support, colleges and universities can mobilize their intellectual resources to break America’s dependence on fossil fuels and create millions of new green jobs at the same time.”


David Foster.

David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance:
“Our energy, environmental, and economic problems are interdependent. So are the solutions. While there are many ways to stimulate the economy, we don’t need a 20th Century stimulus package. We need a “green recovery” — big, public investments in global warming solutions that put Americans back to work. China is building a coal-fired power plant a week. We need to build 500 megawatts of renewable power a week. Set a goal of creating 2 million new jobs in the next two years with global warming solutions. Then push federal spending down through the states and cities to create massive energy-efficiency programs for our building stock, expansion of mass-transit systems, and a modernized grid to bring our renewables to urban markets. With a green recovery underway and Americans headed back to work, you’ll be able to muster the political will to pass legislation that puts a price on carbon, stabilizes energy prices, and funds the long-term economic transition to a clean-energy economy.”


Terry Kellogg.

Terry Kellogg, executive director of 1% For The Planet:
“If you look at the landscape of corporate environmental initiatives, the headlines are impressive. But we are a long way from seeing the kind of change that’s necessary. Despite all the noise, most of the big indicators are still moving in the wrong direction. You should incent companies to show what a new, truly sustainable paradigm looks like. Use today’s ‘best in class’ performers as a guide for setting tomorrow’s baseline. And don’t lose sight of the most important challenge and opportunity: getting the prices right. In getting this stuff done, leverage the wisdom and perspective of the nonprofit sector, and the cover and capacity of corporate leaders.”


Jim Moriarty.

Jim Moriarty, president of the Surfrider Foundation:
“Inspire us. Lead us. Challenge us. Your campaign was about these themes and now that you are President we need these more than ever. The United States and its citizens are beaten down. We’ve lost our luster around the world and we’ve lost our sense of optimism. Our environments are red-lining; they are under siege because we’ve lost our collective sense of stewardship. Please look beyond the lobbyists who will anchor us to our past, and challenge every single American to build a new future built on energy independence and environmental stewardship. Do these things with the spirit which compelled us to elect you … your sense of hope and optimism. The most important thing we need from you is your belief in what is possible. Remember that always.”


Michael Crow.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University:
“Renewable energy systems at every level of our economy and at every level of user will be the single most positive thing you can do to address our strategic failures in global economics, global warming, and global politics. This trifecta will renew America’s independence and allow us to focus on the most important issues of education and competitiveness.”


Jonathan Fink

Jonathan Fink, director of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University:
“You should view universities as intellectual resources — not just for new research ideas, but for new ideas on how to implement policy. Public universities in large cities have experience in translating research into policy — that’s where the big gap is.

“More specifically, your administration should view urban areas (where most Americans live) as the places where sustainable solutions need to be developed and implemented. The federal government lags way behind the cities and states in experimenting with new sustainability concepts. Direct your agency heads to figure out how best to address the social, environmental, and economic challenges associated with our country’s continuing trend toward urbanization.


Anna Lappe.

Anna Lappé, author and co-founder of the Small Planet Institute:

“President Obama, you have inspired millions by your call to all of us to become part of the change we want to see in the world. In your speeches, and in the very design of your campaign, you’ve asked us to commit to something greater and bigger than ourselves. After 9/11, we were told to shop. You have called us to act.

“One powerful way you could call upon young people across the country to engage in meaningful change would be to create a Food Corps, modeled after the Peace Corps, that would inspire and support a generation of young people to dedicate a year or two of their lives to engage with ending needless hunger in a country of plenty and the squandering of fossil fuels, water, soil, and other precious resources through chemical agriculture.

“A Food Corps would support young people spreading out into the country to spend time on farms, to teach children in school gardens, to work with emergency food service providers, to engage with food policy councils to transform local, state, and federal policies to support healthy, sustainable foods.

“A Food Corps would, as Wendell Berry would say, solve for pattern: At once, you would generate a compelling call for service and at the same time directly address one of the most painful legacies of previous administrations: 36 million Americans who are food insecure. At that same time, you’d be supporting the flourishing of sustainable, people-dependent, fossil-fuel independent farms and gardens that would be well suited to withstand the coming climate chaos. These organic, sustainable farms, we now know, will also play a vital part in climate-change solutions, because they decrease dependence on fossil fuels and sequester carbon in their soils.

“By creating a Food Corps, you’d be sending a signal to the rest of the world that the United States will no longer be known as the subsidizer of commodities that we dump to the decimation of local food systems globally, but that our country joins together with many others around the world who have embraced the idea that access to healthy food is a basic right of every citizen. May it be so in the new United States of America.”


Eric Schlosser.

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation:

“Mr. President, you ran one of the most dignified and inspiring campaigns in American history. Bravo. And by the way, how about appointing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to run the EPA? And, you know, Wendell Berry would make a great Secretary of Agriculture …”


Anya Fernald.

Anya Fernald, executive director of Slow Food Nation:

“You speak often about how America’s greatest asset is how open and ready Americans are to change, and how creative we as a people are at solving problems through ingenuity and grit. We saw that adaptability and willingness to change in the support your campaign received, and we’ll need to use that same asset if we’re going to make it through the upcoming recession. One area that needs change — and needs it fast — is our food system. The problems caused by the current food system are grave. The way America produces and consumes food is making us physically sick, it’s hurting the environment, and it’s breaking down our rural and urban communities. But changing it could be as simple as inspiring and supporting a rapid and entrepreneurial shift toward a different food system, with the core values of healthy communities, healthy people, and a renewed infrastructure that provides access to affordable, nutritious food for everyone. Inspire that change: fund it, speak about it, and prioritize it in your administration’s legislation, funding, and foreign policy. The benefits will be both immediate and long term, and will support broad, positive shift in individual health, environmental sustainability, quality of life, and economic viability of America’s cities, towns, and rural areas.”


Hank Herrera.

Hank Herrera, project manager for HOPE Collaborative Health for Oakland’s People and Environment:

“I would not say anything to the president-elect about energy and climate because these issues pale in comparison to his achievement in beginning to heal the horror of racism and oppression that has plagued this country and the world for millennia.”


Ann Cooper.

Ann Cooper, director of nutrion services for the Berkeley Unified School District and author of Lunch Lessons; and Kate Adamick, food-systems consultant and director of The Orfalea Fund’s s’Cool Food Initiative:

“Mr. President, our children are America’s most important resource, and food is the most important health, social justice, and national security issue facing them today. Our children deserve to be not just well-fed, but fed well. One way to ensure this is to serve every school child, regardless of income, a cooked-from-scratch meal made with local, sustainable whole foods each day.

This will require:
Increasing the federal reimbursement rate under the National School Lunch Act by at least $1.00 per child per day, and requiring that the additional funds be spent on fresh produce, whole grains, and sustainably raised meat and dairy products rather than on processed “foods”;
Investing in upgrading school kitchen infrastructure to provide cafeteria workers with the equipment they need to properly perform their jobs;

Kate Adamick.
Investing in culinary training to teach cafeteria workers the lost art of cooking meals from scratch, perhaps by following Michael Pollan’s suggestion of forgiving student loans for culinary school graduates who agree to spend two years working in school kitchens;
Raising the nutritional guidelines so that at least 80 percent of the products used in school meal preparation are fresh, whole, sustainably-grown foods, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables; and
Mandating cooking and gardening classes so that children have hands-on experiential learning opportunities in food-related environments so that they learn to appreciate the intrinsic connections between food, health, and the environment.

“With the CDC predicting that one-third of Caucasian and one-half of African American and Hispanic children are facing the likelihood of acquiring Type II Diabetes, we cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer. We must make our children’s health a national priority. Please, sir, for the sake of our children and our future, say ‘Yes we can.'”


Sam Fromartz, editor of ChewsWise and author of Organic, Inc.:

“Mr. President, the failure of the last eight years has stemmed from two things — an unbridled free market where the government should have intervened and setting the wrong kind of incentives where the government did intervene. That caused industry, finance, and agriculture to bring us down, not build us up. It’s now time to create markets that can work for the social good by getting rid of ethanol welfare and cutting farm subsidies, and by setting carbon caps or taxes. We also need to put money toward green jobs and promote greener agriculture so that we can begin to deal with global warming and recession, and put good food on people’s plates. Do that and you’ll have a lot of people at the table ready to dig in.”


Bob Scowcroft.

Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation:

“Mr. President, wow, good morning. Ah, er — well, if I may be so presumptuous — what did you have for breakfast this morning? For many, this is the only question that matters. As our president, we expect you to address global warming, particularly as it relates to hunger, as it is among the most pressing issues of our time. Renewable energy, emerging technologies, new efficiency standards, soil conservation, and a shift toward organic farming research will all play roles in creating our green future. Developing a new set of research priorities will be the realm of policy wonks and visionaries. We will support you. It will take time. However, we can move so much faster if we look to our family farmers for solutions. Imagine school lunch programs buying direct from organic farmers. What if cities established production alliances with surrounding producers nearby? Let’s challenge the USDA to recognize organic family farmers as the most precious of our natural resources. Mr. President, if you could name just one organic family farmer who grew just one item at every meal you consumed, the nation would follow. So, are you thinking about dinner yet?”


Bonnie Powell.

Bonnie Azab Powell, editor of Ethicurean.com and Edible San Francisco magazine:

“You said you read Michael Pollan’s New York Times Magazine essay on how you could reform food policy if elected — that’s about the best blueprint you could follow. To its many recommendations, I’d add these:
Start a Farm for America job corps program, like Teach for America, for people who want to learn how to farm, with apprenticeship match-ups, salary support, and low-interest loans. Find unused federal land that could be farmed by the program and the fresh, edible proceeds donated to area schools and food banks. This would double as an excellent economic stimulus package a lá the Works Progress Administration.
Appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who does not represent Big Food or Big Farma. Iowa organic farmer and activist Denise O’Brien, who narrowly missed being elected that state’s Ag Sec, would be an excellent pick.
Consider revamping how the USDA is structured: The agency in charge of regulating agriculture should not also be in charge of promoting its economic interests. And while you’re at it, perhaps institute a groundbreaking “no revolving door” policy at the USDA, FDA, and EPA: high-ranking officials cannot have held executive positions at the corporations they will be regulating and are banned from going to work for them for, say, three years after they finish serving in the government.
Educate yourself more thoroughly about ethanol and other biofuels: federal support and subsidies for them have extremely detrimental trickle-down effects.”


Gordon Jenkins, director of Eat-Ins.org and content coordinator for Slow Food Nation:

“You’ve already read Pollan’s article, so you know that you can’t deal with our climate, energy, and healthcare crises without addressing food and agriculture. The generation of young people that’s inheriting the food system is ready for green jobs in sustainable food production. Create policy and invest in programs to incubate new farmers and train us to grow and share food that is good for us, good for the planet, and good for our communities. We will follow your lead.”


Hope Shand.

Hope Shand, research director for the ETC Group:

“Mr. President-elect, congratulations. I’m ecstatic that change has come to America. Industrial biofuels may be popular in big farm states, but they have been a tragic boondoggle that can’t be remotely described as a socially or environmentally sustainable response to climate change. Industrial agrofuels are driving many of the world’s poorest farmers off their land, and they’ve been the single greatest factor contributing to soaring food prices — pushing millions of people in the global South from subsistence to hunger. Instead of dismantling perverse biofuel subsidies, our current energy policy dictates that by 2022, 44 percent of our biofuels must come from so-called “next generation” non-edible cellulosic feedstocks — all of it made possible by advanced biotechnologies that don’t yet exist.

“Some of your advisors will point to synthetic biology — the creation of designer organisms built from synthetic DNA — as the newest techno-fix. Many of the world’s largest agribusiness and energy corporations are investing in engineered microbes (“living chemical factories”) fueled by plant-derived sugars to produce transportation fuels, chemicals, textiles, drugs, and more. It may sound clean and green, but massive demand for agricultural feedstocks will deplete soil and water, destroy biodiversity, and devastate marginalized farm communities. Synthetic biology is moving full speed ahead with little debate about who will control the technology, how it will be regulated, and despite grave concerns surrounding the safety and security risks of designer organisms.

“It’s time to resurrect the federal Office of Technology Assessment and get serious about steps to ensure public participation and transparency in how our government makes decisions about public funding for new technologies. Let’s take a cue from European states and adopt policies that rely on a precautionary approach to high-tech, high-risk science and technology.”


Timothy LaSalle.

Timothy LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute:

“One inexpensive technology that is available today to clean up our waterways, build soil instead of lose it, produce healthier food for all citizens (thereby reducing healthcare costs), and reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere by 40 percent — the largest single tool to fight global warming — is to simply pay all farmers for carbon, not corn. And it will mean we will just have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, because this technology is organic, regenerative agriculture.”


Zoe Bradbury.

Zoe Bradbury, Oregon coast farmer and Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow:

“It’s an incredible thing to have a president who recognizes the importance of sustainable agriculture and regional food systems — and most of all, a president who acknowledges the need to proactively foster a new generation of young farmers in America. Thank you for being that president, Mr. Obama. Your leadership on this front is going to be critical to the food security — and the national security — of this country in the coming years.

“We need you to cultivate an energized cadre of young farmers in this country — farmers who can put healthy, green, fair, clean food on the plates of every American. Farmers who can wean U.S. agriculture off of its oil addiction. Farmers who can steward land with the next seven generations in mind.

“We’re at a critical point: Farmers make up a scant 1 percent of the U.S. population, and at 55, the average American farmer is older than ever before. This at the same time that America’s young farmers are scarcer than any time in history. Remember, the equation is frighteningly simple: no farmers, no food.

“We need you to go to bat for young farmers so that we, in turn, can feed this country well. We need affordable, accessible farmland. We need equitable access to credit. We need vibrant, fair, stable markets. We need technical assistance and agricultural training programs. And at very core of it all, we need to restore honor to one of the world’s oldest, most essential professions.

“Your dinner depends on it.”


Roni Neff, research director for the Center for a Livable Future:

“Climate change is a top threat to public health, justice, and wellbeing. Missing from most lists of climate responses is food. Nearly one-third of global greenhouse-gas emissions come from current agriculture and forestry practices.

As you develop your climate agenda, here’s some low-hanging fruit:
Address hidden subsidies for meat and communicate an “eat less red meat” message.
Promote climate-friendly food production, labeling, access, and affordability.
Reevaluate the ethanol mandate.
Support good management that enables soil, forests, and plants to store vast quantities of carbon.
Support research and programs on agriculture for a climate-impacted future.
Establish a Food Agency to address these and other food-system challenges.

“The American people have given you a mandate to lead boldly. We are full of hope as you set the table for action.”

Sustainable Tucson’s December General Meeting

Sustainable Tucson’s next General Meeting
“Sustainability and the Economy: Three new options”
Sustainable Tucson is beginning a six-month series of general meeting programs on the current economic crisis and how we can respond.

Date: Tuesday December 9th
Time: 6:00 – 8:00pm
Place: Downtown Library – lower level meeting room

Joel Valdez Main Downtown Library, 101 N Stone Ave
Free Basement Parking

December’s general meeting will focus on some new ideas on how to stimulate our local economy. Joining us will be:
Dan Dorsey– from Sonoran Permaculture Guild. Co-founder of Tucson Traders. Did you know Tucson used to have its own local currency? Maybe its time to resurrect a modern version of this concept. Dan will give us some history and thoughts for the future of local currencies.

Ryan Anderson– from habitatmap.org. We’ll see how utilizing community mapping tools can strengthen our economic initiatives.

Frank Ballesteros– Chief Administration Officer- from PPEP Microbusiness and Housing Development Corporation. Micro-financing and small business loans can stimulate new businesses.

All meetings include time for discussion and a questions and answers period. Please join us an exciting evening of exploring new ideas to help our community.

Looking forward to seeing everyone there.

Sustainably, The ST Core team

A good current article on the economic crisis and what we could do about it by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist can be read here.

“Liquid Assets”

On November 13, 2008 KUAT is airing “The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry” documentary from 8:30-9:30pm, followed by a half-hour special edition of “Arizona Illustrated” with panelists Chuck Huckelberry, Jeff Biggs, Sharon Megdal and Kathy Jacobs.

Then at 10pm, another documentary on water called “Liquid Assets” which looks at America’s water infrastructure.

“The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry” and panel following

On November 13, 2008 KUAT is airing “The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry” documentary from 8:30-9:30pm, followed by a half-hour special edition of “Arizona Illustrated” with panelists Chuck Huckelberry, Jeff Biggs, Sharon Megdal and Kathy Jacobs.

Then at 10pm, another documentary on water called “Liquid Assets” which looks at America’s water infrastructure.

Tucson is ideal locale for a ‘Green New Deal’

Tucson is ideal locale for a ‘Green New Deal’
By David Schaller, published November 6, 2008
Tucson has not been immune to the great economic turmoil of the past year. In recent weeks, the crisis hit home as retail and home sales plunged, financial institutions were shaken, budgets cut and jobs lost.
The first thing to get thrown overboard in rough economic times – often even in good economic times – is the environment. Not so fast this time, many are saying.
Syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman and billionaire George Soros have recently joined a growing chorus calling for us to turn today’s grim conditions into a betterment opportunity through an urgent move to a new, green energy economy.
A “Green New Deal” in Tucson would capture local wealth, create jobs that cannot be outsourced, and address both climate uncertainties and declining oil reserves that lurk in the shadows and grow more apparent every day.
Here’s why we won’t be returning to business-as-usual policies and practices anytime soon and why the environment this time will be the asset it should have been all along.
The rapid evaporation of paper wealth and credit over the past months will not reappear. The mirage of derivative and housing-bubble wealth cannot be regained as if it was a dropped wallet on the street.
The downsizing under way will, for a decade or more, check further investment in capital-intensive, speculative, non-sustainable enterprises – everything from $10 billion nuclear plants to energy-inefficient cars and houses that no one wants to buy anymore.
Many forecast that there could be more than 10 million unemployed Americans by the first quarter of 2009. Government will likely respond with a WPA-type jobs program to get people back to work.
The question to address now is what kind of jobs we want to create. Just north of us in Colorado, national and international industry giants are creating more than 2,400 new high-skill jobs based solely around wind-energy manufacturing.
We can do the same here, quickly, with solar energy as our drawing card.
Let’s tell Washington that we want our economic-recovery program to be a sustainability jobs program and begin now to identify the crucial infrastructure needs that could easily be a part of such a future.
A skilled Tucson craftsman won’t likely object to getting paid a living wage for building energy-efficient homes, water-harvesting systems, modern transit nodes, electric vehicle recharging stations or solar arrays.
A local Realtor won’t mind selling an energy-efficient home, and our banks won’t mind lending money to qualified buyers whose houses are safer to finance because they have lower utility bills.
If we do this right, we can draw upon local wealth and keep it local, create thousands of green-collar jobs and do well by our environment. We will see our local ecological assets providing us the way out of this mess rather than being the convenient scapegoat that they often are.
An economic-recovery strategy that aims to create millions of jobs via a Green New Deal will have mutually reinforcing benefits of energy security, community wealth generation and resilience.
We no longer have to settle for a solution for some and hope for a trickle-down effect for the rest. The new, green-energy economy is truly an economy that lifts all the proverbial boats, even in the desert.
Write to the David Schaller at david.schaller@tucsonaz.gov.

“Economic incentive mechanisms for ecosystems”

Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Harvill Bldg., Room 111, University of Arizona campus

THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA Department of Geography & Regional Development is sponsoring a talk titled, “Economic incentive mechanisms for ecosystems: The emergence of market-based approaches for water-related ecosystem services” by Bruce Aylward, Ph.D.

The last decade has seen a profusion of interest in payments and markets for ecosystem services. While carbon markets have been the most newsworthy and the focus for much of the trading activity, water- related ecosystem services have seen considerable experimentation with a range of incentive mechanisms across a range of settings. In this presentation an effort is made to organize and illustrate these incentive mechanisms, derive initial lessons learned for strategy and design, and identify questions that remain unresolved.

Bruce Aylward is a Director at Ecosystem Economics LLC, a firm specializing in the application of economics to ecosystem management and restoration. From 2002 to 2007, Bruce led successful water acquisition and banking programs at the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC), in Bend, Oregon. Bruce is currently providing strategic advice and capacity-building on environmental water transactions to organizations and initiatives across the west. He is also working with various partners in the U.S. and abroad on the development and design of payment and market systems for ecosystem services. Bruce served as convening lead author on Freshwater Ecosystem Services for the policy track of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and wrote the economics chapter for FLOWS, a World Conservation Union (IUCN) guide on environmental flows now available in 8 languages. His other international experience includes work at the World Commission on Dams in Cape Town, South Africa, the International Institute for Environment and Development in London and Costa Rica, etc. Bruce is a resource and environmental economist with a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. and Ph.D. from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is an adjunct faculty member for the Water Resources Graduate Program and the Cascades campus Natural Resources Program at Oregon State University.

A Desire Named Streetcars: Alan Drake Interview

A Desire Named Streetcars: Alan Drake Interview

Click here for interview.

How should North Texas cities meet the public transportation needs of the near and distant future? This is an hour-long interview with engineer Alan Drake and Jay Kline, interim vice president of planning and development at Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART),. They both participated in a recent SMU Environmental Science and Greater Dallas Planning Council symposium called “Electrification of Transportation: Meeting Air Quality Standards, the Petroleum Challenge, and Public Transit Needs in the Metroplex.”

Alan Drake, an expert on past, present and future electrified rail transportation solutions, and Jay Kline were interviewed October 27, 2008 on the “Think” program, hosted by Krys Boyd on KERA 90.1 FM, Dallas.

As James Howard Kunstler noted some time ago, “Suburbia represents the biggest misallocation of resources in the history of the world,” and we have a front row seat to the ongoing auto, housing and finance meltdown that Mr. Kunstler has long warned us was coming. Unfortunately, because of what he has referred to as the “Psychology of Prior Investment,” massive amounts of capital are being spent trying, in effect, to bail out the dying auto-centric suburban way of life – based on the assumption that we can maintain an infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite fossil resource base, which is the implicit assumption behind the “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less (for transportation)” mantra.

Many panelists at the Dallas symposium argued for a different solution-“Rail Now, Rail Here, Pay Less.” Alan asks a very simple, but powerful question, “How did we arrange for transportation in years past, with little or no oil input, and why can’t we do it again?”


Electrification of transportation as a response to peaking of world oil production


The following article, originally published December 19, 2005, provides a good primer on the rational for electrification of transportation. Sustainable Tucson member, Bob Cook, proposed this overall strategy to the Pima Association of Governments for inclusion in the Greater Tucson Strategic Energy Plan in 2006 (read here.)


By Alan S. Drake, engineer and professional researcher based in New Orleans

The imminent peaking of global oil production and its potential impact is triggering concern at the highest levels of many countries, including the United States. Policymakers and the public in general are searching for timely and appropriate responses to “Peak Oil”, and this paper highlights an under-appreciated option.

U.S. DOE study

Recently, the US Department of Energy (DOE) commissioned a study on the prospect of peaking oil production, particularly with a view to evaluating possible responses and effects. This study resulted in a report, Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management [2], by Robert L. Hirsch (Project Leader), Roger Bezdek, and Robert Wendling, published in February 2005.

The report is available online at the following URL:
http://www.projectcensored.org/newsflash/The_Hirsch_Report_Proj_Cens.pdf [2]

As the DOE study authors note,
The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.

The DOE study authors make a number of very cogent points. For example,
Oil Peaking Could Cost the U.S. Economy Dearly Over the past century the development of the U.S. economy and lifestyle has been fundamentally shaped by the availability of abundant, low-cost oil. Oil scarcity and several-fold oil price increases due to world oil production peaking could have dramatic impacts. The decade after the onset of world oil peaking may resemble the period after the 1973-74 oil embargo, and the economic loss to the United States could be measured on a trillion-dollar scale. Aggressive, appropriately timed fuel efficiency and substitute fuel production could provide substantial mitigation. Oil Peaking Presents a Unique Challenge The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.

However, the authors’ conclusions with respect to energy alternatives for transportation seem quite narrow and limited.

For example, they emphasize that “The Problem is Liquid Fuels” and point out that “Under business-as-usual conditions, world oil demand will continue to grow, increasing approximately two percent per year for the next few decades. This growth will be driven primarily by the transportation sector.” Yet they also note that, because “The economic and physical lifetimes of existing transportation equipment are measured on decade time-scales”, the “turnover rates” are low, and, therefore, “rapid changeover in transportation end-use equipment is inherently impossible.” Thus, “Motor vehicles, aircraft, trains, and ships simply have no ready alternative to liquid fuels. Non-hydrocarbon based energy sources, such as solar, wind, photovoltaics, nuclear power, geothermal, fusion, etc. produce electricity, not liquid fuels, so their widespread use in transportation is at best decades away.”

In other words, the report gives short shrift to the possibility of electrifying transportation and no consideration at all is given to the effects of building more urban rail.

In the late summer/early fall of 2005, motor fuel shortages, mainly associated with Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, caused massive traffic jams at service stations. Similar scenes, comparable or worse than those in 1973 and 1979, may result from a sudden interruption of oil imports. Electrified transportation, where available, would supply an invaluable alternative. Switzerland survived a six-year complete oil embargo during World War II with electrified transportation.

Transportation electrification offers valuable response

My own view is that the electrification of transportation is a natural and highly efficient response to the problem of “Peaking of World Oil Production” (hereafter cited simply as “Peak Oil”). Furthermore, substantial oil substitution can be effected within 10 to 12 years by a combination of market forces, government action to facilitate the quick and efficient realization of these market forces, and transforming the means that government uses to promote and provide transportation. The DOE report completely overlooks this possibility.

The technology for electrification of transportation is extremely well proven and widely used (more so outside the US) and, from an energy BTU/joule point-of-view, highly efficient. Well-established modes of electrified transportation in use today provide many more freight ton-miles/BTU and passenger-miles per BTU than the competing rubber-tired, oil-burning transportation alternatives.

The ratio in energy efficiency is so great, especially when electrified rail is substituted for “18 wheeler” tractor trailers and single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs), that minimal, if any, expansion of the national electricity grid will be required to reduce U.S. national oil consumption by 10%, or about two million barrels per day.

Electrified transportation is also much more environmentally benign as well. Central power plants are more efficient thermodynamically and their emissions can be more easily controlled. Electric motors are dramatically more efficient than internal combustion engines.

There are three viable electrified modes available in the USA today: (1) urban rail – rapid/heavy rail, high-performance light rail transit (LRT), and streetcars, (2) electric trolleybuses, and (3) electrified inter-city railroad lines (predominantly freight, but with a passenger component).

The US could learn from the French “Grand Strategy” of using domestic nuclear and hydroelectric power to operate electrified inter-city transportation and urban rail. A majority of French towns of 250,000 or more are now getting at least one new tram line.

Orléans is one of a growing number of French cities to adopt an electric light rail tramway system as a major component of their public transport networks.
[Photo: N. Z. Adam, Mar. 2004]

In 1973, France emitted 89,563,000 metric tonnes of carbon from liquid fuels. In 2000, France emitted 58,626,000 tonnes of carbon from the same source, a 34.5% reduction. By contrast, the USA released 592,991,000 tonnes in 1973 and 607,204,000 tonnes in 2000, a 2.4% increase over the same time period. Further reductions are expected in French emissions and further increases are expected in the U.S. for 2005 totals.

Urban rail

The District of Columbia (i.e., the core of the Washington, DC urban area) provides a classic example of the partial transformation from private auto to electrified urban rail. In 1970, before the installation of a modern rail transit system, 4% of DC commuters used mass transportation, i.e., the city bus system. In 2000, in contrast, 38% used mass transportation, predominantly the Metro subway system. Today, that number may be over 40%. Further investments (a rail line to Dulles Airport, streetcar lines, and a Purple Line rail transit option are some of the major projects on the drawing board) and further oil price increases might be reasonably expected to increase that percentage significantly.

In Europe, Copenhagen is debating whether to go to a car-less inner city, allowing only delivery trucks, emergency vehicles and perhaps taxis. This suggests that the limits of “limited oil” urban living are quite high.

The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) is currently implementing severe restrictions on plans for new electrified urban rail. For example, federal matching has declined from 80% to a maximum of 50% and even less with respect to some projects (e.g., only 20% in Seattle). Meanwhile, the bar has been raised for evaluating which systems will receive any funding.

Despite this, and in part out of frustration with the “federal process” and its delays, cities like San Diego and Los Angeles have built LRT lines without federal dollars; Denver in November 2004 passed a referendum committing local funds to major rail system expansion; and Salt Lake City is likely to have a referendum imminently on whether to triple the region’s dedicated taxes in order to build out its 30-year plan in just ten years. In a more supportive environment, other cities would likely follow this example. Despite the bias of the FTA in favor of oil-burning “Bus Rapid Transit”, there is a large existing backlog of urban rail plans with local funding for multiple lines in a number of large cities, including Miami, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City, with single lines in many other cities. A ten-year crash program, building solely on existing “wish lists” with preliminary planning in place (some currently funded, some not), could transform well over a dozen cities, just as Washington, DC and San Francisco have been transformed since the 1973 Oil Embargo. And many more cities might well jump quickly on the bandwagon.

Two-car electric light rail transit train of Salt Lake City’s TRAX system not only substitutes versatile electric propulsion for petroleum dependency, but also provides far greater peak capacity than private motor vehicles in this major arterial.
[Photo: L. Henry, Nov. 2003]

Much, perhaps all, of such a crash program could be financed with existing federal motor fuel taxes. Currently, under the latest federal authorization, mass transit of all types gets 18% of federal motor fuel tax revenues. Giving 75% of the remainder to urban rail exclusively would finance much of what is needed.

The mere existence of urban rail creates its own ridership over time through Transit Oriented Development (TOD). This trend is likely to be tremendously accelerated in a “Peak Oil” environment. The sooner urban rail is in place (or even just under construction), the larger the TOD effect will be when the full effects of “Peak Oil” arrive.

A good example of TOD is the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon. A formerly largely unpopulated railroad freight yard and warehouse district, it is now served by streetcar and interurban-type light rail, has well over 10,000 residents, and is growing rapidly. The Pearl District has upscale incomes but low levels of vehicle ownership and very low levels of direct gasoline consumption. A peak build-out may house 50,000 people with associated businesses and nearby employment.

One secondary source of energy savings is based on the fact that TOD is more energy-efficient in providing services and moving goods. Postal workers can walk their routes, many police can walk or bicycle a beat, deliveries can be concentrated rather than spread out, and electric tramway (light rail) freight can even be used in some cases (e.g., Zürich and Dresden).

After World War II, many once-nice homes in older urban areas were boarded up and abandoned. Our nation and economy thrived despite this loss of housing capital. Therefore, there is no public policy imperative to support fuel-inefficient housing patterns “no matter what”. Economic forces should be allowed to work out, with all governmental promotion and bias in support of TOD. Government programs and policies that previously favored and subsidized suburban sprawl should be quickly phased out.

Just how much of the USA’s total transportation fuel used could be saved by a crash urban rail building program with an extremely supportive public policy (zoning, lending policies, gas taxes, etc.)?

Through an analysis based upon post-1973 experience in Washington, DC and the San Francisco Bay area, plus the impacts of much higher oil prices and supportive government policies, I think 5% is a reasonable goal in 12 years and 9% in 20 years. This implies a reduction in private automobile use by 8.3% and 15% respectively, with associated health, accident, and pollution benefits.

The residual automobile and SUV fleet could be simultaneously transformed with more fuel-efficient vehicles due to high oil prices, so the 5% and 9% savings in oil consumption from urban rail would be attained in addition to other oil consumption reductions due solely to higher prices.

The economic and social benefits from reduced automobile disabilities and deaths, plus reduced pollution, could well justify the investment in large scale electrified transportation on these grounds alone.

Electric trolleybuses

Several dozen U.S. cities once operated electric trolleybuses, but today only four currently remain (San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Dayton). However, the technology is very well-proven and a new opportunity is arising with the recent interest in hybrid buses (using fuel engines to charge batteries and run electric drive motors).

San Francisco Muni’s electric trolleybuses on the Stockton line negotiate steep hill with ease.
[Photo: L. Henry, Nov. 2003]

A careful choice of internal operating voltage in a hybrid bus, combined with twin trolley poles and overhead wiring, would create a part-time electric trolleybus that can operate either off of grid power or off of its own diesel-electric engines/battery combination. Classic trolleybuses, operating only off grid power and their electric motors, are also likely to see a revival in a “Peak Oil” world. They are somewhat lighter and much simpler and cheaper than hybrids.

Demand for public transportation is likely to increase dramatically in a “Peak Oil” world. Even with expanded urban rail, the number and size of city buses operating are likely to increase significantly.

Increased use of hybrid buses and trolleybuses can allow bus liquid fuel demand to decrease, even at elevated service levels. The better economics of trolleybuses will allow public transit agencies to operate more service, with more passengers, without major increases in public subsidies.

Electrified intercity rail

The rail systems of Japan and the continental European Union (EU) are largely electrified, with the Russians in the midst of massive electrification. The Trans-Siberian Railway, from Moscow to the Pacific, one-sixth of the circumference of the globe, was fully electrified in 2002.

Electrification provides a variety of operational advantages. Lower fuel costs, faster acceleration (which means quicker trips and closer headways), lower capital and maintenance costs, and locomotives with substantially longer service lives are among these advantages. The Vice-President for Engineering at a locomotive manufacturer has assured me that the current U.S. fleet of diesel-electric locomotives could be easily rebuilt as all-electric locomotives, and that he would welcome the business.

Electrification of freight railway operations is widespread in Europe, including here in Germany, where an electric locomotive hauls a mixed freight through Cologne.
[Photo: Ian Leech, Sep. 2005]

The primary disadvantage in the USA is higher property taxes on electrified rail lines. This has outweighed the advantages of rail electrification so far in the U.S.

The US rail industry uses relatively little oil. This belies the rail industry’s relatively large role in US transportation and its extreme energy efficiency. Freight rail carries 27.8% of the ton-miles with 220,000 barrels/day while trucks carry 32.1% of the freight miles with 2.07 million barrels/day (all 2002 data). Light commercial trucks consume another 300,000 barrels/day. This makes railroads more than eight times more fuel-efficient, as well as more labor-efficient than trucking.

It is apparent that the major oil savings can come from a modal shift from trucking to rail for intercity shipments rather than just reducing rail’s oil consumption. A good, although limited, example is the cooperative endeavor between Norfolk Southern and Florida East Coast Railway. Trucks can load onto rail in Atlanta (via containers or roll-on trailers), and then be picked up for local delivery in Jacksonville, near Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, or Miami (or vice versa). There are major labor and energy savings with this intermodal service.

A higher level of service speed and reliability than is typical for U.S. rail is required to make such inter-modal transfers competitive today. Increased investment (and perhaps better management) will be required to make this type of service the dominant form of long-distance freight movement in a “Peak Oil” world. Electrification of freight rail is only a part of what is needed to develop this modal shift. Other measures, such as restoring double-track service (where one track was removed perhaps for economy of maintenance and/or reduced property taxes), improved signaling and scheduling, building modal transfer points, etc., are also needed.

In a crash program, such a transformation is possible within a decade or so. A net saving of one million barrels/day between rail electrification and modal shift seems possible. Such electrification and modal shift would also serve a national strategic role in case of an oil supply interruption by transporting essential goods with minimal oil consumption, thereby extending the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Semi-highspeed freight & passenger service

The following model for a workable and economic semi-high speed rail system has been developed based upon observations of EU and Japanese consumer behavior as well as an analysis of rail economics coupled with physics.

Electrified rail lines capable of top speeds of approximately 110 mph can attract a majority of traffic between city-pairs (both cities with urban rail) if they are within 175 to 250 miles. Such rail lines, unlike higher-speed lines, are also capable of carrying high-value, moderate-density freight as well. This type of freight is rarely shipped by rail today, but by express truck or air. Longer distances are better for freight, but will lose almost all of their passengers as distances lengthen.

Electric locomotive speeds Amtrak’s train no. 190 through Rhode Island in electrified Northeast Corridor.
[Photo: LRN file]

One could extend the existing Amtrak Northeast Corridor southward from Washington, DC to Richmond-Charlotte-Charleston-Jacksonville-Orlando-Ft. Lauderdale-Miami with Charlotte-Atlanta and Orlando-Tampa spurs. Such a service could provide highspeed and reliable freight service along the U.S. East Coast and service a number of viable city-pairs with passenger service, provided each city has a viable urban rail system. Urban rail appears to be an essential requirement for significant intercity rail travel.

A San Francisco/Sacramento-San Jose-Bakersfield-Los Angeles-San Diego route also appears quite viable. An intra-Texas connection might be viable (if all cities build urban rail) as might a New York City-Buffalo (or Philadelphia-Pittsburgh)-Cleveland-Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City line.

It would appear that significant portions of such semi-high speed electrified rail connections could be built within a dozen years and all within 20 years. This service would attract traffic that existing freight railroads do not service. The business model and structure required to build and operate these new semi-high-speed rail lines would, of course, need to be developed in further analysis and discussion.

Immediate potential for electrification

The bottom line is this: The potential for electrification in transportation appears to be far more immediate, well-proven, and readily available than non-transportation experts such as Robert Hirsch seem to acknowledge. Of all the policy responses noted in his report, electrification of transportation appears to have the potential for the quickest, the most permanent, and the most profound impact with the best ancillary benefits for human health, land use, pollution, and Global Warming.

The economic and social benefits of reduced automobile disabilities and deaths, coupled with reduced air pollution, may justify the investment in electrified transportation on these grounds alone. Alternative responses to “Peak Oil” have ancillary costs in areas where electrification of transportation has ancillary benefits. Thus the totality of the costs and benefits for electrification of transportation is overwhelmingly positive versus other alternatives.

Necessity may require that all alternatives to conventional petroleum are pursued, but the most beneficial alternative – electrification of transportation – should be pursued most aggressively. Existing urban rail plans could be built out within a few years with appropriate federal and local funding. New urban rail lines beyond those currently planned could be planned and built within a decade. Heavily used city bus lines could be converted to trolley buses within a few years.

The technology to electrify the major freight rail lines is quite well-known and only requires the decision to devote the capital to electrifying and less than a decade for widespread implementation. The creation of a network of semi-highspeed rail lines will take longer, but well within the time frame for alternative liquid fuels to be developed in large quantity.

On the whole, it seems clear that electrification of transportation ought to be the leading economic and policy response to the advent of “Peak Oil”.

This article was suggested by Jeffrey J. Brown, a frequent contributor to Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum. He writes:

I recommend that all of the various Peak Oil groups unite behind the following two proposals:

(A) Abolish the Payroll (Social Security + Medicare) Tax and replace it with a retail energy tax, primarily a gasoline tax.
www.energybulletin.net/13575.html [4]

(B) Electrification of Transportation as a Response to Peaking of World Oil Production
www.lightrailnow.org/features/f_lrt_2005-02.htm [1] [this article]

What we are proposing with these two ideas is to remake the US transportation system, based on the European model, in a crash emergency program. Note that these two ideas will be strongly endorsed by those concerned about Global Warming. These are concrete, specific and positive proposals for action on all fronts.

URL of original: http://www.lightrailnow.org/features/f_lrt_2005-02.htm [1]
Date of original publication: Dec 19 2005
Date of archival at EnergyBulletin.net: Mar 31 2006
Electricity Energy policy Transport
Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.
Source URL: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/14492

Reversal of Fortune: The economic crisis from an economist’s perspective

By Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor at Columbia University

Showing how ideology, special-interest pressure, and sheer incompetence have left the U.S. economy on life support, the author puts forth a clear, commonsense plan to reverse the Bush-era follies and regain America’s economic sanity.

published by Vanity Fair, November 2008

When the American economy enters a downturn, you often hear the experts debating whether it is likely to be V-shaped (short and sharp) or U-shaped (longer but milder). Today, the American economy may be entering a downturn that is best described as L-shaped. It is in a very low place indeed, and likely to remain there for some time to come.

Virtually all the indicators look grim. Inflation is running at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent, its highest level in 17 years. Unemployment stands at 6 percent; there has been no net job growth in the private sector for almost a year. Housing prices have fallen faster than at any time in memory-in Florida and California, by 30 percent or more. Banks are reporting record losses, only months after their executives walked off with record bonuses as their reward. President Bush inherited a $128 billion budget surplus from Bill Clinton; this year the federal government announced the second-largest budget deficit ever reported. During the eight years of the Bush administration, the national debt has increased by more than 65 percent, to nearly $10 trillion (to which the debts of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should now be added, according to the Congressional Budget Office). Meanwhile, we are saddled with the cost of two wars. The price tag for the one in Iraq alone will, by my estimate, ultimately exceed $3 trillion.

This tangled knot of problems will be difficult to unravel. Standard prescriptions call for raising interest rates when confronted with inflation, just as standard prescriptions call for lowering interest rates when confronted with an economic downturn. How do you do both at the same time? Not in the way that some politicians have proposed. With gasoline prices at all-time highs, John McCain has called for a rollback of gas taxes. But that would lead to more gas consumption, raise the price of gas further, increase our dependence on foreign oil, and expand our already massive trade deficit. The expanding deficit would in turn force the U.S. to continue borrowing gargantuan sums from abroad, making us even more indebted. At the same time, the higher imports of oil and petroleum-based products would lead to a weaker dollar, fueling inflationary pressures.

Millions of Americans are losing their homes. (Already, some 3.6 million have done so since the subprime-mortgage crisis began.) This social catastrophe has severe economic effects. The banks and other financial institutions that own these mortgages face stunning reverses; a few, such as Bear Stearns, have already gone belly-up. To prevent America’s $5.2 trillion home financiers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, from following suit, Congress authorized a blank check to cover their losses, but even that generosity failed to do the trick. Now the administration has taken over the two entities completely, a stunning feat for a supposedly market-oriented regime. These bailouts contribute to growing deficits in the short run, and to perverse incentives in the long run. Market economies work only when there is a system of accountability, but C.E.O.’s, investors, and creditors are walking away with billions, while American taxpayers are being asked to pick up the tab. (Freddie Mac’s chairman, Richard Syron, earned $14.5 million in 2007. Fannie Mae’s C.E.O., Daniel Mudd, earned $14.2 million that same year.) We’re looking at a new form of public-private partnership, one in which the public shoulders all the risk, and the private sector gets all the profit. While the Bush administration preaches responsibility, the words are addressed only to the less well-off. The administration talks about the impact of “moral hazard” on the poor “speculator” who borrowed money and bought a house beyond his ability to pay. But moral hazard somehow isn’t an issue when it comes to the high-stakes speculators in corporate boardrooms.

How Did We Get into This Mess?

A unique combination of ideology, special-interest pressure, populist politics, bad economics, and sheer incompetence has brought us to our present condition.

Ideology proclaimed that markets were always good and government always bad. While George W. Bush has done as much as he can to ensure that government lives up to that reputation-it is the one area where he has overperformed-the fact is that key problems facing our society cannot be addressed without an effective government, whether it’s maintaining national security or protecting the environment. Our economy rests on public investments in technology, such as the Internet. While Bush’s ideology led him to underestimate the importance of government, it also led him to underestimate the limitations of markets. We learned from the Depression that markets are not self-adjusting-at least, not in a time frame that matters to living people. Today everyone-even the president-accepts the need for macro-economic policy, for government to try to maintain the economy at near-full employment. But in a sleight of hand, free-market economists promoted the idea that, once the economy was restored to full employment, markets would always allocate resources efficiently. The best regulation, in their view, was no regulation at all, and if that didn’t sell, then “self-regulation” was almost as good.

The underlying idea was, on the face of it, absurd: that market failures come only in macro doses, in the form of the recessions and depressions that have periodically plagued capitalist economies for the past several hundred years. Isn’t it more reasonable to assume that these failures are just the tip of the iceberg? That beneath the surface lie a myriad of smaller but harder-to-assess inefficiencies? Let me venture an analogy from biology: A patient arrives at a hospital in serious condition. Now, it may be that the patient has simply fallen victim to one of those debilitating ailments that go around from time to time and can be cured by a massive dose of antibiotics. In this case we have a macro problem with a macro solution. But it could instead be that the patient is suffering from a decade of serious abuse-smoking, drinking, overeating, lack of exercise, a fondness for crystal meth-and that it has not only taken a catastrophic toll but also left him open to opportunistic infections of every kind. In other words, a buildup of micro problems has led to a macro problem, and no cure is possible without addressing the underlying issues. The American economy today is a patient of the second kind.

We are in the midst of micro-economic failure on a grand scale. Financial markets receive generous compensation-in the form of more than 30 percent of all corporate profits-presumably for performing two critical tasks: allocating savings and managing risk. But the financial markets have failed laughably at both. Hundreds of billions of dollars were allocated to home loans beyond Americans’ ability to pay. And rather than managing risk, the financial markets created more risk. The failure of our financial system to do what it is supposed to do matches in destructive grandeur the macro-economic failures of the Great Depression.

Economic theory-and historical experience-long ago proved the need for regulation of financial markets. But ever since the Reagan presidency, deregulation has been the prevailing religion. Never mind that the few times “free banking” has been tried-most recently in Pinochet’s Chile, under the influence of the doctrinaire free-market theorist Milton Friedman-the experiment has ended in disaster. Chile is still paying back the debts from its misadventure. With massive problems in 1987 (remember Black Friday, when stock markets plunged almost 25 percent), 1989 (the savings-and-loan debacle), 1997 (the East Asia financial crisis), 1998 (the bailout of Long Term Capital Management), and 2001-02 (the collapses of Enron and WorldCom), one might think there would be more skepticism about the wisdom of leaving markets to themselves.

The new populist rhetoric of the right-persuading taxpayers that ordinary people always know how to spend money better than the government does, and promising a new world without budget constraints, where every tax cut generates more revenue-hasn’t helped matters. Special interests took advantage of this seductive mixture of populism and free-market ideology. They also bent the rules to suit themselves. Corporations and the wealthy argued that lowering their tax rates would lead to more savings; they got the tax breaks, but America’s household savings rate not only didn’t rise, it dropped to levels not seen in 75 years. The Bush administration extolled the power of the free market, but it was more than willing to provide generous subsidies to farmers and erect tariffs to protect steelmakers. Lately, as we have seen, it seems willing to write blank checks to bail out its friends on Wall Street. In each of these cases there are clear winners. And in each there are clear losers-including the country as a whole.

What Is to Be Done?

As America attempts to work its way out of the present crisis, the danger is that we will listen to the same people on Wall Street and in the economic establishment who got us into it. For them, our current predicament is another opportunity: if they can shape the government response appropriately, they stand to gain, or at least stand to lose less, and they may be willing to sacrifice the well-being of the economy for their own benefit-just as they did in the past.

There are a number of economic tools at the country’s disposal. As noted, they can yield contradictory results. The sad truth is that we have reached the limits of monetary policy. Lowering interest rates will not stimulate the economy much-banks are not going to be willing to lend to strapped consumers, and consumers are not going to be willing to borrow as they see housing prices continue to fall. And raising interest rates, to combat inflation, won’t have the desired impact either, because the prices that are the main sources of our inflation-for food and energy-are determined in international markets; the chief consequence will be distress for ordinary people. The quandaries that we face mean that careful balancing is required. There is no quick and easy fix. But if we take decisive action today, we can shorten the length of the downturn and reduce its magnitude. If at the same time we think about what would be good for the economy in the long run, we can build a durable foundation for economic health.

To go back to that patient in the emergency room: we need to address the underlying causes. Most of the treatment options entail painful choices, but there are a few easy ones. On energy: conservation and research into new technologies will make us less dependent on foreign oil, reduce our trade imbalance, and help the environment. Expanding drilling into environmentally fragile areas, as some propose, would have a negligible effect on the price we pay for oil. Moreover, a policy of “drain America first” will make us more dependent on foreigners in the future. It is shortsighted in every dimension.

Our ethanol policy is also bad for the taxpayer, bad for the environment, bad for the world and our relations with other countries, and bad in terms of inflation. It is good only for the ethanol producers and American corn farmers. It should be scrapped. We currently subsidize corn-based ethanol by almost $1 a gallon, while imposing a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian sugar-based ethanol. It would be hard to invent a worse policy. The ethanol industry tries to sell itself as an infant, needing help to get on its feet, but it has been an infant for more than two decades, refusing to grow up. Our misguided biofuel policy is taking land used for food production and diverting it to energy production for cars; it is the single most important factor contributing to higher grain prices.

Our tax policies need to be changed. There is something deeply peculiar about having rich individuals who make their money speculating on real estate or stocks paying lower taxes than middle-class Americans, whose income is derived from wages and salaries; something peculiar and indeed offensive about having those whose income is derived from inherited stocks paying lower taxes than those who put in a 50-hour workweek. Skewing the tax rates in the other direction would provide better incentives where they count and would more effectively stimulate the economy, with more revenues and lower deficits.

We can have a financial system that is more stable-and even more dynamic-with stronger regulation. Self-regulation is an oxymoron. Financial markets produced loans and other products that were so complex and insidious that even their creators did not fully understand them; these products were so irresponsible that analysts called them “toxic.” Yet financial markets failed to create products that would enable ordinary households to face the risks they confront and stay in their homes. We need a financial-products safety commission and a financial-systems stability commission. And they can’t be run by Wall Street. The Federal Reserve Board shares too much of the mind-set of those it is supposed to regulate. It could and should have known that something was wrong. It had instruments at its disposal to let the air out of the bubble-or at least ensure that the bubble didn’t over-expand. But it chose to do nothing.

Throwing the poor out of their homes because they can’t pay their mortgages is not only tragic-it is pointless. All that happens is that the property deteriorates and the evicted people move somewhere else. The most coldhearted banker ought to understand the basic economics: banks lose money when they foreclose-the vacant homes typically sell for far less than they would if they were lived in and cared for. If banks won’t renegotiate, we should have an expedited special bankruptcy procedure, akin to what we do for corporations in Chapter 11, allowing people to keep their homes and re-structure their finances.

If this sounds too much like coddling the irresponsible, remember that there are two sides to every mortgage-the lender and the borrower. Both enter freely into the deal. One might say that both are, accordingly, equally responsible. But one side-the lender-is supposed to be financially sophisticated. In contrast, the borrowers in the subprime market consist mainly of people who are financially unsophisticated. For many, their home is their only asset, and when they lose it, they lose their life savings. Remember, too, that we already give big homeowner subsidies, through the tax system, to affluent families. With tax deductions, the government is paying in some states almost half of all mortgage interest and real-estate taxes. But many lower-income people, whose deductions are meaningless because their tax bill is too small, get no help. It makes much more sense to convert these tax deductions into cashable tax credits, so that the fraction of housing costs borne by the government for the poor and the rich is the same.

About these matters there should be no debate-but there will be. Already, those on Wall Street are arguing that we have to be careful not to “over-react.” Over-reaction, we are told, might stifle “innovation.” Well, some innovations ought to be stifled. Those toxic mortgages were certainly innovative. Other innovations were simply devices to circumvent regulations-regulations intended to prevent the kinds of problems from which our economy now suffers. Some of the innovations were designed to tart up the bottom line, moving liabilities off the balance sheet-charades designed to blur the information available to investors and regulators. They succeeded: the full extent of the exposure was not clear, and still isn’t. But there is a reason we need reliable accounting. Without good information it is hard to make good economic decisions. In short, some innovations come with very high price tags. Some can actually cause instability.

The free-market fundamentalists-who believe in the miracles of markets-have not been averse to accepting government bailouts. Indeed, they have demanded them, warning that unless they get what they want the whole system may crash. What politician wants to be blamed for the next Great Depression, simply because he stood on principle? I have been critical of weak anti-trust policies that allowed certain institutions to become so dominant that they are “too big to fail.” The harsh reality is that, given how far we’ve come, we will see more bailouts in the days ahead. Now that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in federal receivership, we must insist: not a dime of taxpayer money should be put at risk while shareholders and creditors, who failed to oversee management, are permitted to walk away with anything they please. To do otherwise would invite a recurrence. Moreover, while these institutions may be too big to fail, they’re not too big to be reorganized. And we need to remember why we’re bailing them out: in order to maintain a flow of money into mortgage markets. It’s outrageous that these institutions are responding to their near-monopoly position by raising fees and increasing the costs of mortgages, which will only worsen the housing crisis. They, and the financial markets, have shown little interest in measures that could help millions of existing and potential homeowners out of the bind they’re in.

The hardest puzzles will be in monetary policy (balancing the risks of inflation and the risk of a deeper downturn) and fiscal policy (balancing the risk of a deeper downturn and the risk of an exploding deficit). The standard analysis coming from financial markets these days is that inflation is the greatest threat, and therefore we need to raise interest rates and cut deficits, which will restore confidence and thereby restore the economy. This is the same bad economics that didn’t work in East Asia in 1997 and didn’t work in Russia and Brazil in 1998. Indeed, it is the same recipe prescribed by Herbert Hoover in 1929.

It is a recipe, moreover, that would be particularly hard on working people and the poor. Higher interest rates dampen inflation by cutting back so sharply on aggregate demand that the unemployment rate grows and wages fall. Eventually, prices fall, too. As noted, the cause of our inflation today is largely imported-it comes from global food and energy prices, which are hard to control. To curb inflation therefore means that the price of everything else needs to fall drastically to compensate, which means that unemployment would also have to rise drastically.

In addition, this is not the time to turn to the old-time fiscal religion. Confidence in the economy won’t be restored as long as growth is low, and growth will be low if investment is anemic, consumption weak, and public spending on the wane. Under these circumstances, to mindlessly cut taxes or reduce government expenditures would be folly.

But there are ways of thoughtfully shaping policy that can walk a fine line and help us get out of our current predicament. Spending money on needed investments-infrastructure, education, technology-will yield double dividends. It will increase incomes today while laying the foundations for future employment and economic growth. Investments in energy efficiency will pay triple dividends-yielding environmental benefits in addition to the short- and long-run economic benefits.

The federal government needs to give a hand to states and localities-their tax revenues are plummeting, and without help they will face costly cutbacks in investment and in basic human services. The poor will suffer today, and growth will suffer tomorrow. The big advantage of a program to make up for the shortfall in the revenues of states and localities is that it would provide money in the amounts needed: if the economy recovers quickly, the shortfall will be small; if the downturn is long, as I fear will be the case, the shortfall will be large.

These measures are the opposite of what the administration-along with the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain-has been urging. It has always believed that tax cuts, especially for the rich, are the solution to the economy’s ills. In fact, the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 set the stage for the current crisis. They did virtually nothing to stimulate the economy, and they left the burden of keeping the economy on life support to monetary policy alone. America’s problem today is not that households consume too little; on the contrary, with a savings rate barely above zero, it is clear we consume too much. But the administration hopes to encourage our spendthrift ways.

What has happened to the American economy was avoidable. It was not just that those who were entrusted to maintain the economy’s safety and soundness failed to do their job. There were also many who benefited handsomely by ensuring that what needed to be done did not get done. Now we face a choice: whether to let our response to the nation’s woes be shaped by those who got us here, or to seize the opportunity for fundamental reforms, striking a new balance between the market and government.