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Brutal Facts

Climate Change and Peak Oil consequences are going to impact before we can re-tool.

The crisis may be as far away as 26 years. It could happen tomorrow. Most likely, it will crash on us in three to six years. Action this morning will mitigate some consequences; action this afternoon will mitigate fewer consequences. The Internet as take 37 years to reach its current level of access; re-tooling sustainable transportation will likely take 50 years.

We can build great and lasting cities. Please consider and ask others to consider the following taken from the book,"Good to Great."  It is an abridged conversation between the author Jim Collins and Admiral Jim Stockdale (imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton” from 1965 to 1973). This book is a profound insight into the making of great organizations:

Collins: In preparation, I read In Love and War, the book Stockdale and his wife had written in alternating chapters, chronicling their experiences during those eight years.

As I moved through the book, I found myself getting depressed. It seemed so bleak – the uncertainty of his fate, the brutality of his captors, and so forth. And then, it dawned on me: “I am getting depressed reading this and I know the end of the story! I know he gets out, reunites with his family, and becomes a national hero. How on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”

Stockdale: I never lost faith. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life.”

Collins: Who did not make it out?

Stockdale: Oh that’s easy. The optimists.

Collins: The optimists? I don’t understand.

Stockdale: The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

After a long pause, Stockdale stopped and turned to face Collins:

Stockdale: This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

We cannot afford to be optimistic;  that energy on which life depends will be available from oil or that the use of oil will not affect climate balance. We cannot hope that more of what is not working will suddenly start working. We cannot be optimistic that we have time before action is required.

We must face the Brutal Facts of our current reality:

  1. Oil prices are unstable. Any one of many actions can instantly disrupt our oil based economy, force massive lay-offs and preempt farmers’ ability to plant and harvest food:
    1. Terrorist attacks on multiple pipelines or specific facilities.
    2. Iran or Venezuela oil embargo.
    3. Further civil deterioration in Iraq.
    4. A Hurricane or other natural disaster.
    5. Speculation.
  2. No subsidies. Taxes that subsidize light rail and buses will disappear as increasing oil prices drive workers out of work.
  1. Neither bio-fuel cars nor hybrids will solve congestion problems. Typical worker loses 43 hours, a workweek, per year to congestion.
  1. Automobiles are unsafe. Cars kill 14 of every 100,000 Americans each year.
  1. Car accidents cost Americans about $150 billion each year.
  1. Personal mobility is essential to our economies and cannot be replaced by mass transit. Approximately 97% of trips in the US and 80% of trips in Europe are by car. Cars are the right answer; they are just the wrong mass and randomness of behavior for repetitive travel.
  1. Costly and relatively dense train systems in New York and Washington DC have not solved their congestion or oil dependence problems.
  1. Light rail projects planned will not match the capacity of New York, Washington DC; they will not solve congestion or oil problems.
  1. Productivity gains in manufacturing’s shift from Mass Production to Just-in-Time, focusing on the quality of the process can be applied to Mass Transportation.
  1. Two wars in 16 years. Troops are deployed and being killed as we spend capital dollars to expand highways and our dependence on foreign oil. Personally, I think these expenditures are obscene; the cost of war should be part of every environmental impact statement; $.30 should be added to the price of every gallon of gasoline to pay for wars that protect access to foreign oil. This is not soft thinking; I volunteered and went to Iraq because I believe contributing to world liberty is our best defense.
  2. Peak Oil. By all estimates (OPEC, IEA, EIA, PB, EXXON, ...), the maximum rate at which oil can be extract from the earth has peaked or will peak within 26 years. At Peak Oil, oil prices are expected to triple each year (they tripled in the last 6 years). Farmers and truckers are most at risk from unstable oil prices. But everyone is at risk; we cannot eat food that could not be planted, harvested and delivered. Please watch the documentary at:
  3. After Peak Oil, oil based economies and populations will be forced to decrease 5-15% every year; death on a biblical scale, downward sloping curves (above).
  4. Re-tooling. It will take longer than 26 years to re-tool transportation to be independent of oil. Failure to act in advance of Peak Oil will exacerbate hardships.
  5. Global Warming (adapted from NOAA, Sterns Review and Impacts of Climate Change on Washington's Economy
    1. Forest fire loses will increase by 50% by 2020.
    2. West Nile virus, asthma and other health costs will rise.
    3. Snowfall loses will affect lakes, streams and water supplies.
    4. Farmers will have longer growing seasons but will face reduced water supplies, increased demand, changes in pests, weeds, and crop diseases.
    5. Higher temperatures will affect dairy production.
  6. Regulations intended to protect the public good have institutionalized oil addiction, pollution and the path to war.
  7. We must deregulate, open opportunities for innovation.

Optimism that market forces can compensate for required foresight and action is a terribly dangerous gamble. It accounts for our current discomfort and commitment of troops.

The good news is that we can act in advance of events. There is an incredible $billion a day profit to be harvested by preempting current waste. And there is a great model to follow; nearly all other organisms on earth live within a solar budget; there is enough energy in sunshine.