POSTED ON DECEMBER 5, 2012:
"Saudi America" and Climate Collapse
Helping forestall hell-world
How would we know when darkness, a grisly curtain, is about to descend over civilization?
Sometimes the dimming of the lights masquerades as a dry as dust report. Rarely do I read an article that sends a chill up my spine -- but one this past week by Michael Klare on Salon.com smash-mouthed me:
Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least. Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in "a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C." This should stop everyone in their tracks. Most scientists believe that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is about all the planet can accommodate without unimaginably catastrophic consequences: sea-level increases that will wipe out many coastal cities, persistent droughts that will destroy farmland on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their survival, the collapse of vital ecosystems, and far more. An increase of 3.6 degrees C essentially suggests the end of human civilization as we know it ...
The International Energy Agency (IEA) report, mind you, was not prepared by an organization tethered to any of the environmental nonprofits on the Hill, or one of the growing band of academic/public science centers that tracks and analyzes climate change. No, the IEA piece comes from a prestigious, business oriented confab headquartered in Paris that prepares energy analytics for the world energy community, power developers, the oil and gas industry, and policymakers everywhere. At first glance, the new report (to American eyes anyway) is celebratory. It begins by heralding the coming of a long-sought goal: U.S. energy independence, a prospect that American presidents have been lusting after for decades. Obviously, this breakout is spawned by the ascendance of the new gas/fracking revolution.
Unfortunately, our successful "independence" adventure is Faustian: it may foretell a disastrous slowdown in our blinkered attempts to create viable alternatives to fossil fuels in a world that needs them very badly. Increasingly, it looks like we'll need brand new, extremely low-cost energy technologies and brash new ways of storing and distributing power as well.
So are we doomed? I'm an optimist -- always -- but things appear to be evolving at a frightening pace: we're going to need resiliency, big dollops of imagination, taking a pass on our often reactionary sentimentality, and an all hands on deck approach, to prevail. And, get over it, the situation requires a huge federal government drive, but it also demands, wait for it ... an agile partnership with U.S. cities like T-Town and the folks who run them.
We are the territory that repeatedly sends James Mountain Inhofe to the U.S. Senate, where he is America's biggest elected "climate change is a hoax" exponent. But here is the paradox: we live and breathe in a place still animated by our electric entrepreneurial, scientific, and business heritage as an energy entrepôt. Our moniker as the ex-oil capital still has unassailable potential: we could become a singular redoubt for helping the country avoid what looks increasingly like a brutal, convulsive future. Nationally, clever local government efforts and stout, aggressive mayors could play hefty roles. A nearly maniacal, intensely focused push on climate change could be an employment-heavy, history-wrangling journey if Tulsans can summon the political will and craft the boundary busting partnerships needed to make the trip.
Work It Here
"Doing" PlaniTulsa is our best local response to climate tumult. But a "climate" thrust also means fostering local tech/new start energy partnerships, large reductions in fossil fuel use and unimagined incentives to get business, industry, and citizens to fund and actively support a much smarter street and highway system, and a re-imagined, frankly revolutionary bus system. The new path also means a savvy repositioning of T-Town's long standing core competencies: our legendary logistical, engineering, and business networks for "doing" energy, energy marketing, crafting this new century's wild catter technologies and fashioning next stage "land run" teams for managing this humongous effort.
In a couple of weeks, I'll take a look at five T-Town enterprises poised to provide breakaway, strategic leadership in the next wave of energy/climate sensitive technologies and services.
For now, I'll outline some key local public policies we now need to embrace with crazy intensity:
--Tulsa is in the middle of the first deep review of our zoning, subdivision regulations in nearly 40 years: the review needs to revisit the stipulations that govern the physical character of housing subdivisions, corporate facilities, government buildings, and everything in the built environment. The review needs to reflect our accelerating climate crisis -- and needs to address how we can incent everyone to do climate savvy construction and expansion: a failure to use this epic policy review to do so is bankrupt.
--City Hall needs to gallop to a bevy of next-step service technologies and capital projects: our water production/distribution system, our storm water regimes, and our electric gird need to be much more resilient. Start with Mayor Dewey Bartlett's call this summer (and last) for voluntary water rationing -- it's a signpost. We'll need savvier, climate-wise wrangling of these systems and a conscious green upgrade strategy. And it looks like our metro water utility, if board member James Cameron's comments in a recent Tulsa World piece are representative, might be open to a serious look at inventive consumer and industrial water/sewer rate strategies that will encourage Tulsans to make much savvier use of water -- this is a grand first step.
--Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is in use or being implemented in a dizzying variety of places, some larger and denser than Tulsa (Houston, Bogotá, Jakarta) and some about the same size or smaller (Edinburgh, Reno, Salt Lake City, Hartford, Conn.). BRT fuses fast headways, semi-dedicated lanes, intelligent routing and an ensemble of small & big bus (CNG & electric) vehicles to make "busing" compelling and vastly more accessible. BRT, when mashed up with a more diverse fleet, a more agile routing and scheduling strategy, and a dramatic increase in operating funds, could ignite a permanent bus ridership explosion that would otherwise be unimaginable, and one that is a grand match for Green Country. INCOG (the regional planning agency), the M