Good news and bad news...
(updated: Sep 19, 2007)
The good news is that people will be riding bikes everywhere in the future. The bad news is it will take total economic collapse to get people to start riding them. And it won't really be bikes as much as motorcycles and motor-scooters.
I guess that kinda why my attitude's been changing because I know now that there is nothing that you or I can do that will reverse the course that this country is on. It's like trying to steer the Titanic by pushing on it with your hand. I can write letters all day, speak out, have protests, but it's not going to amount to a hill of beans. Bikes will continue to be denigrated, marginalized, and treated like playthings. But I realize that I don't have to do anything. The problem will take care of itself. Let me explain.
Let's just agree with the people that say there is no way the US can function without all the automobiles, even though there was a time in the US we functioned quite well without them. Let's also agree that even the thought of doing anything differently is unquestionable - cars will never go away. Nobody is going to give up their Hemi's. Neither will we question the sustainability of the ever expanding malignant maze of suburbs, nail salons, fat food smorgasbords or cheap chinese junk stores. After all, the corporations need to hit their annual 10%+ growth targets. We just have to find a way to keep cars running, period. No alternative will be considered. So we keep ripping out trees, paving and growing, paving and growing.
Now realize that on this type of lifestyle rests a huge assumption - that we will always have access to essentially limitless amounts of cheap energy in some form. Let's also realize that the majority of this cheap energy comes in the form of crude oil, which is a finite resource that is now at its peak production. At the rate we're consuming it in the next few years supply is going to outstrip demand. We have no viable replacement for crude oil, and no plans to wean us off of it. Remember we have to keep all the cars running. That's non-negotiable.
At some point, the shit is gonna hit the fan. And who do you think is gonna come out on top? My money is on mother nature, not on arrogant humans that thought they could make infinite demands on a finite ecosystem. People will not change until they have no choice. Right now they think they have a choice because the politicians, corporations and media want you to think that everything is ok and to keep on consuming, and they will keep you behaving this way until the very end, when it will be a very rude awakening for the US.
Witness the 1/2 point rate cut by the Fed on Tuesday. That was a decision not made by economists but by liars and crooks. This is proof that they will do anything to bail out the rich and keep consumers consuming and piling up more debt. The media lies to you but you believe them because they tell you everything is going to be fine and you want to believe that. But the american dream is over. You can't keep avoiding the math. The lowly exponential function will slay you mercilessly. The longer the charade goes on, the worse it will be.
It's not like we can't see it coming. It's just the way we've chosen to run things. Greed rules above all, more is better, needs are replaced by wants. If you can imagine it, you can do it. A system based on perpetual growth. On ever increasing conspicuous consumption. On ever increasing speed. Just to function. If we lived on a planet as big as Jupiter our system would still eventually consume every square inch of the planet as fast as possible until all resources were exhausted. Doesn't matter how big or how much resources it had. We would eventually consume it all.
The US is not proactive. It is reactive. Nothing in our culture teaches us to be proactive. It's always, learn from our mistakes. But that doesn't mean shit, because most of the time it's never the same mistake twice. It's always something different. The impact on the environment is never factored in the financial models aside from maybe some government-forced cleanup costs. It's not considered because the cost is taken to be zero. It explains why stuff is so cheap at Wal-Mart. None of the future costs are factored in.
Let's take an example: building a new coal-fired power plant. Burning coal releases tons of CO2 into the atmosphere leading to global warming. There are ways to sequester the CO2 but these are costly and would make electricity more expensive. So let's say that you want to build a state-of-the-art 800 GW plant and you estimate that it will cost $1 billion to build. Let's say it operates for 50 years and generates $30 million in average annual profit. The Net Present Value (NPV) of this cash flow is about $300 million. Ok, so it would have to generate higher cash flows to make it a really worthwhile investment but let's just say the government subsidies make it feasible. Otherwise just stick the $1B in US treasuries and earn 5%.
So now let's say the government says that you have to clean up your pollution over 50 years by sequestering the CO2. Say this costs an extra $10 million annually. The NPV of that clean up is about $100 million over the life of the plant. Sound reasonable?
But now you have to charge more for electricity and as a result, people conserve a little more and your profit goes down, despite your being a monopoly utility. So you lobby and fight the regulations until you don't have to do full carbon sequestration until the technology becomes less expensive some number of indefinite years down the road. Besides, the population is growing and you have other coal plants to build to meet this demand and you need to make money so you can invest in more plants.
So you build more and more coal plants and stuff your pockets and bank account thinking that you did a great job while CO2 is being released into the atmosphere. But as a result you create runaway global warming. Well, you didn't cause it alone but you contributed to it. The planet is lost. So now what is the cost? It is infinite. So what fraction of that infinite amount do you have to pay? The financial calculations break down.
If the cost is infinite, then the answer to the problem of runaway global warming is to cap the overall amount of CO2 and then drive it to zero over time to prevent feedback from occurring. But since nobody can agree what to pay let alone at what level to cap greenhouse gases, the thing to do is just set a cap at some level which would avert runaway feedback and let the market determine the price by trading carbon credits. So if you are the coal plant owner and don't want to fully implement your carbon sequestration you can buy carbon credits from another company that is much more green and has extra credits to sell. That gives you an incentive to reduce your CO2 emissions. No exceptions, no forgiveness.
But let's go back to our situation with driving and oil. Now that our backs are up against the wall because we're not getting the oil we want at the price we want to pay (at any price in fact), we have to quickly do something. But it will take 30 years to change our infrastructure. We're way behind. We've spent all the money on a war. How's that alternative energy infrastructure gonna happen when oil prices are going through the roof and the government is broke? CO2 cap and trade goes out the window in a desperate effort to find any energy to keep our bloated infrastructure running. Global warming is now unstoppable. Trying to reverse it is too late. If everyone stopped driving and started riding bikes we might be able to stop it, but remember the rule: driving is non-negotiable. So there is only one conclusion: massive die-off. The world doesn't need us anyway. Cockroaches lasted longer than we did.
Yesterday I rode 45 miles on my bike. Nearly got killed on a two lane road with no shoulder when a jerk in an SUV decided he wanted to pass at least five cars and pulled into my lane despite knowing I was there and kept coming right at me. Didn't give a shit. Anyway, I'm still alive and still had a great ride and today I'm riding again.
But I can't see any of these people riding bikes. It's hopeless. They're gonna be marooned in the suburbs with only their belly fat to live on.
In cycling they say to drink before you are thirsty. That also can be applied to the world today: dig the well before you are thirsty.
Sometimes when you make a mistake, you don't get another chance. We've played our hand. It's the automobile or nothing. We reap what we sow and I have no sympathy because we are capable of acting proactively.
Just for kicks here's a simple calculation I did to give you an idea of just how many cars there are in the US. There are roughly 230 million cars in the US. If you were standing on the side of a highway and these cars went by you in a single lane, one car every second, you would be standing there for 7.3 years before the last car went by. And that assumes no growth in automobiles.
By 2030, cars in the US are expected to number 1 billion. With that number you would be standing there for 31.7 years before the last car drove by.
Unbelievable, isn't it?
So, once the SHTF, be glad you know how to bike, because it's going to be good times for cyclists. Less crowded roads, smaller vehicles, more respect, and better health. High gas prices are good for cyclists. It's the only way to slow the destruction.
So that's why I shouldn't worry about the insane build-out that I've been witnessing in every place I've ever lived. It's coming to an end. From now on I'm covering more riding, less ranting and doomsday predictions. I just had to get this out there, more out of frustration from living in Wilmington and not being able to ride my bike. Out of love for bikes and people not realizing the benefits until it's too late. Out of a society that can't envision a life not centered around the car. Out of a solution to all these problems right in front of us and yet brushed aside as un-viable. And also so you're not surprised when it starts happening. At least you'll know why. Maybe that's worse than not knowing. I don't know. Ignorance is no excuse. Just keep riding your bike. Enjoy it.
A few photos from my ride in Topsail:
People have no business living on barrier islands. I missed high tide because I forgot my camera the first time, but the house is completely surrounded by water at high tide.
Seeing this reminded me that nature can reclaim the planet from us with startling speed. The earth was inhabitable by humans only recently. We will be but a blight in the long history of the planet, likely one of the shortest lived species ever.
Trying to solve the problem by figuring out how to run all the cars without fossil fuel will be about as effective as these sandbags were here.
The shifting sands and rising ocean did these in, but declining oil will do the same for the suburbs.
"My grandfather rode a camel, my father drove a car. I drive a car and my son will drive a car. But my grandson will ride a camel." -- Tchad proverb
1. Sean- Earthwalker said...
Hey Sirbikes. I feel your pain. UNCW put on a film and discussion panel tonight. The film was called "The End of Suburbia." All about peak oil, consumerism, suburbs..etc. It's part of their "sustainability" series. I thought you might get a real kick out of it if you hadn't heard of it already. People might not want to listen now, but when they can't afford the gas to drive to work or the cost of a salad becomes 20 bucks because they had to ship it from southern cal or mexico...they'll start listening. By then however it might be too late. This film is a lot of doom and gloom, however it's mostly all true, which is sad. Also, I'm spearheading an environmental film festival to be put on through UNCW next spring. I was wondering if you guys and the cape fear cyclists would like to be a part of it. We've already got Cape Fear Biodiesel and Tidal Creek on board. We're trying to make it an environmental extravaganza with films/poetry readings/artwork/discussion panels and more. Anyway here's the link http://www.endofsuburbia.com Give a look. - Sean
Sep 18, 2007 @ 10:37 PM
2. Sir Bikes said...
I've seen parts of that film. And I've done a lot of reading on peak oil, namely at www.theoildrum.com. Peak Oil is now accepted as inevitable. But you still won't hear it talked about in the main stream media, because they are owned by big business, to which peak oil is a huge threat. So they will obfuscate and deny just like they did regarding global warming. Off the cliff we go.
Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:14 PM
3. MoreSatori said...
All this is a large part of why I don't think I'm going to have any kids. First, it will help (marginally) slow the population growth. Second, I don't think I want to bring in another life to this absurd pile of B.S. Chances are that any child I have might be part of that huge die-off and I don't want that. For those that have kids I think the best thing is to teach them how to farm, set up an off-the-grid house, and fend for themselves.
Sep 19, 2007 @ 12:03 PM
4. Sir Bikes said...
Hey I was thinking, should we start hording bike parts for when the time comes that it becomes very difficult to get anything, let alone food? Bikes and bike parts are going to become very highly sought commodities in the future. I am actually working on starting a bike/scooter company.
Sep 19, 2007 @ 1:47 PM
5. Sean- Earthwalker said...
I tried having a conversation with my boss about peak oil today. After that, I completely agree that we are going off the cliff. I wrote a short blog about it, we're so screwed.
Sep 19, 2007 @ 4:39 PM
6. Sir Bikes said...
Yeah, you can't debate people that are sleepwalking through life. We've been so conditioned by business and government that there will always be more, and things will always get better, and up until now that's been true, depending on your view of the world. But the bottom line is that all the growth and technology has been an outcome of cheap energy. But it takes energy to get energy, and if the energy inputs go up, the energy out is going to cost more, something people don't seem to get. We've had it easy with crude oil. Now that the easy oil is over, it's going to cost more to get energy from other sources. For deep water drilling rigs, it doesn't make economic sense unless oil stays above $80 per barrel. Oil companies won't bother if there's any chance that prices will drop. And the big fields are all in decline anyway so why should they spend $2 billion or more to extract oil from a small hard-to-reach deposit? Moreover if oil gets too expensive, then who can afford it anyway? At some point, they'll just leave it in the ground. I don't think people understand that.
The true costs are being distorted as well because environmental costs are not factored in as I pointed out and because of subsidies. The Canadian oil sands is a perfect example.
But if a politician ever stood up there and told the truth about oil, then they'd never get elected. Certainly your boss wouldn't vote for that person. So they only tell people what they want to hear. That things will get better, you will have more, etc.. I see some parallels between this country today and the fall of the Roman Empire.
The only way people like your boss (and the majority of people are like her) will get it is when they start seeing $10 for regular at the gas pumps. And the price of food skyrockets. But instead of making lifestyle adjustments they'll go into denial and blame it on the oil companies and the government and the next thing you know you have the United States' interpretation of Mexican tortilla riots.
Your boss probably voted for Bush. The US will get what it deserves for electing that asshole. Just make sure you get her address so when TSHTF you can send her a friendly reminder that you told her so.
And remember, we can avoid all of this. There's a proven solution readily available right now.
Sep 19, 2007 @ 10:02 PM
7. Sean-Earthwalker said...
I've got a plan, move back north, build a cabin and ride my bike into town. Hell, maybe even buy a horse. As for the rest of America, I suppose they'll get what they deserve. If you have cancer, you can't pretend it's not their because these "medical experts" say you do. After all, what do these experts really know? Instead you should pretend there is no problem and go on living as one normally would. Problem solved!
Sep 19, 2007 @ 10:25 PM
8. brado1 said...
E, i thought you were going to give up on the 'end of the world' rants! Man get up here to the mountains and just ride! plan a trip now!!! burn some gas and get up here, that's an order Chicken Little!
Sep 20, 2007 @ 9:58 PM
9. Sir Bikes said...
Yeah, yeah, I just said no more in the post. It's more riding now. My plan is to move to the mountains, grow my own food, and get off the grid.
You're not being told what's really going on. The truth is out there.
Sep 21, 2007 @ 8:56 AM
10. Justin said...
I think Wilmington's just a bad depiction of society. It's the worst of the worst. Geographically, the majority of the country isn't so wrapped up in itself and has got its act together. I'm not sure if this is good or bad news, though.
Sep 21, 2007 @ 11:35 PM
11. Sir Bikes said...
Nah, it's everywhere. Some states/cities are much better than others. Portland and Boulder to mind.
By not considering alternative transportation like cycling and walking in its planning process and then making it happen, Wilmington is throwing away its future and a ton of money.
Einstein said, "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." Adding roads and lanes only serves to make traffic worse in the long run. It is self-fulfilling as transportation departments make congestion relief the reason for building more new roads.
Sep 22, 2007 @ 10:29 PM
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