Tag Archives: energy

(551) Bikenomics [Book review]

BikenomicsBikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy
Elly Blue. Microcosm Publishing, Portland, OR. 2013
191 pages, softcover/e-book, $16.95/$9.99 in Canada
ISBN 9781621060031

One of the delightful things about bicycling is the way that as a body of knowledge it feathers into almost any other topic so easily.  This power to cross connect bikes to other realms, namely macro- and microeconomics, community design, human health and well-being, environmental change, political and personal development is well demonstrated by Portland, Oregon resident Elly Blue in Bikenomics.  This is a book we urge suburban-poverty.com readers to buy, read and talk widely about.  Blue is onto something powerful and she backs up her standpoint with a strong array of arguments supported by citations and lived experience.  This is a fine book from a fine mind about a fine thing: that bikes might just save us.

Getting around is a huge topic on this blog and the propositions of suburban poverty are acknowledged and addressed in Blue’s book.  Bicycle economics could ease a lot of the strain on nearly all North Americans by improving their health, bolstering local economies, easing the external costs of fossil fuel use and just making us feel good.

A little more encouragement in the form of modest levels of public investment and we could be pedalling past some of the most serious dangers of economic systems based on oil, real estate bubbles, easy credit, debt mechanisms, fiat currencies and global conflict.  And why not?  Central bankers and their fellow travellers in high finance and government have had their turn at directing things under neoconservative and neoliberal thought regimes for a while now, with rather mixed results.

Blue establishes a pretty sound case for bicycle economics while working through the real and imagined difficulties that hold things back.  At family and individual level the costs of automobility are simply getting to be too much.  At community and national level the costs are mind boggling: from ugly wars in Central Asia to lethal air pollution, accidents, and public debt.  Public health issues from obesity to diabetes and too much sitting in cars and at desks can also be amended by bikenomic approaches.

Bikenomics reflects US experience in several cities and cites a couple of Canadian examples.  The latter included this Toronto study supporting the idea that bike infrastructure boosts human health.  Also close to Blue’s heart is the remarkably efficient way bike infrastructure lifts local entrepreneurs, especially smaller independent ones linked to each other instead of to corporate systems.  While we have a long way to go in Canada and the United States until we see the level of normalization of cycling accepted in the Netherlands or Denmark it looks like we are poised for something of a bicycle renaissance.

Elly Blue’s Bikenomics is almost impossible to argue against given North American reality in 2014; though no doubt those entrenched in the status quo will give it the old college try.  Bikenomics is ahead of the curve, yes, but we hope an alignment between the content of this little blue book and lived reality comes about quickly.

It kinda has to!

Elly Blue’s blog is here: takingthelane.com

Cycling Economies torontocycling.org report on bike lanes & local business
14-page .pdf file

See also: (327) Cyclonomics

(246) The right backyard?

The matrix of issues regarding suburbia and energy merge nicely in this item from the Guardian.  Residential suburbs in Texas find natural gas fracking operations crowding towards them.  Sometimes they are resisted, sometimes acccepted.  Fracking of course is the process of getting at natural gas and oil from so called tight formations of shale.  Water and chemicals are injected into drill holes at high pressure, and some expense, to bust up the shale and release the hydrocarbon goodies  The result is a lot of exclamatory language about the United States turning a corner to energy independence.  This talk is less tangible a thing than the risk to drinking water and earthquakes already asociated with fracking.  Fracking also requires extra allotments of steel piping and capital compared to past efforts at extracting fossil fuels conventionally.  If fracking crashes it will remove one of the last schemes for supporting suburbia as we have come to know it.  Economic growth expressed as a suburban/consumer/automotive undertaking requires constant new inputs of cheap energy, particularly so that the credit/financial component of it all will continue to function and interest continue to be paid on debt.

When fracking came to suburban Texas: residents of Gardendale, a suburb near the hub of the west Texas oil industry, face having up to 300 wells in their backyards


(150) Let the sun shine

That’s a picture of Solar House 1, an MIT project built in, wait for it …1939!  As it happens, knowledge of how to optimize a building to make use of solar energy is downright ancient.  Among the ideas we need to get reacquainted with in a hurry has to do not with digital or analogue technology but simply with the way houses, entire neighbourhoods, are sited within a “solar envelope.”  We’ve come across the idea that cycling, walking and public transit can affect one’s quality of life positively.  After getting to a built structure you want it to be heated, cooled, and illuminated in ways that are equally cheap and sensible so that resources (especially money!) are not wasted, are kept available for other things.  Again, we find the actual physical mechanism of the suburbs a huge potential influence on the poverty found there!

The solar envelope: how to heat and cool cities without fossil fuels
Low Tech Magazine

(94) Demolition Man: UBC’s Bill Rees on sustainability

Bill Rees is a Canadian academic from the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.  Here he gives a deft and noteless lecture weighted with facts on the ground.  Rees is all over the changing context of urbanization, technology, consumption, sustainability, and energy.  Apparently what North Americans have come to think of as normal is really the single most anomalous moment in all of human history.  Cutesy ideas like green consumerism, hybrid SUVs, green architecture and biofuels don’t last long in front of scientist Rees.  Short term profit in the run-up to complete catastrophe have distorted our reality so much it looks like we can’t change in time.  None of this means wealth and happiness for humans, suburban or otherwise.  Boy, it gets depressing maintaining your own meta-blog some times.  No wonder people drink.

(92) KunstlerCast: Conversations With James Howard Kunstler [Book review]

Some say that if there is a future historical record much of this age, the internet age, will simply not be included in it. Digital material can develop serious shelf life and readability issues after just a few years.  That’s a worry because the internet, is now the home to much of the intellectual content we make use of.  In the particular case of podcasting a lot of wonderful material is found “out there” and nowhere else, particularly the alternative, non-mainstream, non-status quo voices.

The KunstlerCast, a weekly offering featuring James Howard Kunstler, is one such voice.  He’s an American public intellectual and social critic with a powerful angle on all things suburban.  The digital evaporation of the KunstlerCast’s sharpness, sarcasm and wise counsel would be more than just a personal thing for his audience, it would be something of a cultural tragedy.

Almost from its inception we’ve been listening to the KunstlerCast and loving it.  The dry humour and conversational enjoyability enhances a tasty demolition job on the American automotive/suburban complex, a version of which we built in this country.   Each week, host Duncan Crary sets up Jim Kunstler with a topical angle on where the hell life in North America is going with all its consumerism, its massive energy requirements, car dependence, cul-de-sac houses by the zillion, the ageing strip malls, its completely whacked economics and  increasingly questionable popular culture. It’s rarely ever pretty.

Now, there’s a book based on the podcasts. It may help bring the wit and wisdom out to a wider audience and preserve it for the future.  Both truly worthy things!

Buy this one, okay!  It’s only $16.95 in Canada, a bit less in the States.  You get eight side-bar loaded chapters on “the tragic comedy of urban sprawl.”  There’s also notes and an index and a set of quirky chapter headers by comic artist Ken Avidor.  The latter appear to have been created in an archaic style with a hollow cylinder held in the hand which transfers a sort of wet toner to paper allowing the artist to stain a picture onto the paper by themselves without a computer at all. Imagine that!  One more thing to recommend this three-hundred-and-twenty-page gem of Duncan Crary’s.  Exactly the type of thing one could read on a local light rail vehicle, or a Euro-styled high speed train, gawd, even a kinda-medium speed train would be a nice venue for appreciating this book.

The conversational tone and good naturedness of the KunstlerCast, on the air and on paper, often belie the serious nature of the topics at hand.  Above all, Kunstler calls for a renewed, and closer, relationship with reality in the great republic to our south.  Which has been acting like a demented, addicted rock star for decades now, squandering its wealth and talent on decadent insanities like brutalist city halls, starchitecture, wars in the Middle East and megamalls where there were once fields of corn.

This book should matter to our readers because we cannot understand or alleviate suburban poverty until we know the structure of suburbia as well as the economics that exist there.  The KunstlerCast helps out with this understanding.  Crary has included a subsection of Chapter 6 called Concentrating Poverty where many of suburban-poverty.com’s lines of thought are expounded on.

The conversational tone is so welcome. This is like talking with friends, intellectual cousins.  When I was reading KunstlerCast it felt a bit like David Byrne’s 2009 book Bicycle Diairies wherein the artist relates his explorations on two wheels of some of the world’s major cities.  No sooner had this thought occurred to me than I came across a line in which Crary makes a reference to the Talking Heads song Nothing But Flowers.

I don’t know about you but I love little moments of cross connection like that one.  They are like the feeling one gets in the public places that Kunstler and Crary advocate, the healthy, walkable, finely detailed, organic, cohesive, localized and self-respecting communities that have become too hard to find and which we need to rediscover.  I bet if we could make that rediscovery suburban poverty would stop growing, might even be the part of the now we lose.

For more on the book & podcast click here.

(88) Fuel poverty

Fuel poverty is a relatively new phrase, one belonging squarely to the era of global recession, roller coaster energy prices, energy-related financial speculation and certainly the drawing down of easy-to-get sources of fossil fuels.  We’ll probably be getting used to it.  The UK seems to have acknowledged it more fully than Canada or the United States.  When pay freezes, it seems the body soon follows.
Fuel poverty affects a quarter of UK’s households as bills soar and pay freezes

(68) Escape from suburbia [DVD]

Escape From Suburbia: Beyond The American Dream dates from 2007 but we reference it here as quite a nice piece of background material.  The topic is peak oil and suburbia.  Escape is the follow up to The End of Suburbia and focuses on possible solutions.  Nothing much has really changed since either movie came out except that all our money was emailed up to some giant orbiting death star and we burned another 400 million barrels of oil.  Neither commodity is coming back any time soon.
The people seen in Escape are undertaking a handful of possible responses to the withdrawal of cheap energy from suburbia.  Some are optimistic, some are pessimistic, some are getting the hell out while they figure they still can.  Some are staying put, some are intellectualizing, others are angry.  The critique of the energy and consumer future begun in End of Suburbia turns toward suburban poverty with the compelling destruction of a large community garden in south central Los Angeles.  Implicit the whole time is that suburban poverty will be coming to a cul-de-sac near you sooner rather than later and that it won’t be pretty.
In 2007 suburban poverty was still somewhat behind the curtain …it ain’t now.
What will it all look like in 2017?

Canadians will enjoy scenes filmed in and around the Greater Toronto Area and words from David Suzuki and Kathryn Holloway.
James Howard Kunstler, a suburban-poverty.com favourite for years now, warns us not to ask him (or anyone for that matter) for solutions and hope but to find them within ourselves.  JHK would make a better social worker than he thinks he would.

(50) Saving suburbia

The Oil Drum blog is good daily reading for anyone concerned about our global energy future.  Even the comments from the readership are so smart it’s scary.  Suburbia draws on energy resources for the commuting and consuming it is dependent upon.  The fact those energy resources are more expensive and harder to get at calls into question the very viability of the entire complex of things that go with suburbia.  If the energy available to suburbia declined what would happen to the poor there?  We think they’d have plenty of company as what is left of the middle class gets demoted by the energy and financial dysfunction to come.  There may still be reason to argue about when exactly the energy dysfunction will really go big but we don’t see how a person in touch with reality even moderately can believe in a techno-utopian future suite of fixes that will allow us to prance past the energy issue.  Jeff Vail has been writing about practical responses to the energy issues of suburbia for some time now.  He wrote about resilient suburbia for the Oil Drum in 2008.  In 2010 he gave an address called Rescuing Suburbia at an ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) conference.  Links below.
Rescuing Suburbia video & powerpoint slides 2010
A Resilient Suburbia?
4-part series 2008