Sunday, October 21, 2007

Peak oil, and Pittsburgh's transportation revival

Hello Mark and everybody!
James Kunstler has long been writing about the effects that high energy costs would have on our society, and a recent article about restructuring our transportation system has some implications for Pittsburgh's (re)development.

I don't want to get into the issue of "Peak Oil" itself, but I do think that we will have to deal with substantial increases in energy prices over the next several decades, barring some radical change in our technological or economic trends. Kunstler has been predicting that increased fuel prices will shift our transportation system away from cars and trucks and towards boats and trains. Luckily for Pittsburgh, we are much better suited for train and ship traffic than we are for highway traffic. Correct me if you know of data showing otherwise, but it seems like Pittsburgh really lost out when America shifted towards using highways for long-distance shipping.

Anyway, if trucking becomes expensive, shippers may no longer send goods to the middle of the USA via west coast ports (California or Mexico), but instead will send boats through the Panama canal and then up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. With this in mind, we may want to think twice before we tear down all of our riverfront warehouses and piers for retail and recreation.

Enough with the introduction, here's Kunstler:
We have to move things and people differently. This is the sunset of Happy Motoring (including the entire US trucking system). Get used to it. Don't waste your society's remaining resources trying to prop up car-and-truck dependency. Moving things and people by water and rail is vastly more energy-efficient. Need something to do? Get involved in restoring public transit. Let's start with railroads, and let's make sure we electrify them so they will run on things other than fossil fuel or, if we have to run them partly on coal-fired power plants, at least scrub the emissions and sequester the CO2 at as few source-points as possible. We also have to prepare our society for moving people and things much more by water. This implies the rebuilding of infrastructure for our harbors, and also for our inland river and canal systems - including the towns associated with them. The great harbor towns, like Baltimore, Boston, and New York, can no longer devote their waterfronts to condo sites and bikeways. We actually have to put the piers and warehouses back in place (not to mention the sleazy accommodations for sailors). Right now, programs are underway to restore maritime shipping based on wind - yes, sailing ships. It's for real. Lots to do here. Put down your Ipod and get busy.

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