Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Peak Oil

with 7 comments

Georgia Straight

Interesting contrast of views between Bill Rees of UBC and Mark Jaccard of SFU.

Last week at the NDP meeting someone was saying that the idea of “peak oil” had more resonance than “global warming” or “climate change”. I think that people are actually more worried now about the impacts of CO2 on our environment than our politicians want to acknowledge. After all, we seem to be doing very well out of the growing demand for our very expensive oil sands and our petro-dollar.

What is very significant is that the things we need to do, and our governments need to do, are pretty much the same as they have been for the last forty years. As our politics have shifted rightwards, governmnets have made all sorts of noises and set many targets, but have actually done very little.

I especially like this quote from Bill Rees

The automotive companies have enormous political clout because of the huge employment associated with them. And the fact they have continued to build totally market-stupid automobiles and are getting run out of the country is already panicking the politicians.

And really upsetting Buzz Hargrove come to that – faced with massive layoffs at Chrysler. But the Big Three have always preferred to persuade their customers to buy bigger, more expensive vehicles (“mini car mini profit” was a Ford maxim back in the sixties!). So I am afraid we can have no sympathy for the corporations, but hope those laid off can find new jobs in the booming service economy.

What was strange this week was the muted response to the Alberta government hiking oil royalties – something they should have done some time ago. The first step for both federal and provincial governments should be to start shifting from income and sales taxes into carbon taxes. They are awash with cash, so they can afford to experiment a bit, but sending the right signals is surely the obvious thing to do?

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2007 at 4:58 pm

7 Responses

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  1. This is always the tradeoff isn’t it?
    What a load of horseshit.
    Some “freedom” we have.

    I tend to imagine some ideas visually and one I had recently looks similiar to the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.
    It’s us (stupid humans) with the pillow this time, approaching a sickly planet earth. As we slowly smother it to death, we whisper softly that this is the best idea, the finest idea, the *only* way it can be, over and over we whisper ; “Jobs”, “Standard of Living”….
    Why can’t we imagine a society with a completely different approach? People go to work pumping out garbage that nobody *needs*, while 3/4’s of the rest of the world struggles to put a roof over its head.
    And to keep doing it confirms the insanity.
    Why is it not possible in the ever so “freedom” loving countries to *not participate* in the production of goods? Why do people get up every morning to go to factories to produce shit we don’t *need*?
    Because they don’t have a CHOICE.
    Sink or swim.
    We’re born into a society that denigrates and despises those who are jobless or “lazy” or “unproductive” as if somehow those value judgements can stand alone from that “useless shit” which is produced. Yeh – the world needs more plastic wrap.
    Any job is fine and “productive” we say; even if it means you’re pumping out plastic pencil holders…
    Who cares?
    I keep imagining that somehow, someday our freedom will extend to the possibility of saying *NO*; that we don’t want to work 50 hours a week making crap. That the general public will realize that the “returns” on their “investment” (the status quo, the daily grind, the workaday world) in this ridiculous way we live our lives, diminish daily, and all the while we go about raping our backyard – ie: the planet.
    Nothing but grief lies ahead.
    We did good. We got far. We enriched many, exploited more and wasted much.
    For all our success, we got landfills choked with plastic, declining fish stocks, decimated habitats, factory agriculture and a few hundred million pissed off economic “losers” who are none too pleased about their prospects when they see the ratio of winners to losers in the “global” economy.
    … and we just go about our business every day…
    I’m waiting to hear a political party step up and allow people to make a choice about where they want to be in the social spectrum. I’d like the opportunity to not work and produce shit (which I do now) and still be respected by the media, by my community and by my countrymen for making a choice to live on less.
    I’m not talking about handouts.
    I’m talking about signing away my “right” to drive and being rewarded for it. I’m talking about signing on the dotted line and being “alloted” a certain amount of energy use per week or month or year. I’m talking about working in the community, spending time making my neighbourhood a better place to be, or actually being “free” enough to spend time with my kids (were I to have any). I’m talking about making sacrifices that are binding, effective and meaningful in the long run; like getting an education free if you agree to live within certain means. (It’s a whole other issue, but in many ways pertinent that some of my tax money go towards supporting a university where many people use public funds in order to further their private aspirations…)

    It’s time the wealthy and consumptive got a taste of being on the wrong end of the “moral” meter.
    But that won’t happen.


    November 5, 2007 at 1:54 am

  2. Hi Stephen Rees,

    Any relation to Bill rees or just a coincidence?

    I definitely agree with you that our economy needs to change to a more sustainable economy, but have not yet come to any clear idea of how it could be done. I would think anything that caused significant negative impacts on the economy (i.e. “growth” and employment) could have the unintended effect of moving people away from acceptance of sustainability. We all no what happened after the recession in the 1970’s – thatcherism and reagonomics.

    Also, might the uniform gas taxes have the effect of depleting the most easily accessible oil first? Then again that could be a good thing, because the oil that is really dificult to access is an inefficient source of energy anyway. The question was raised by my economics teacher, and frankly I think my economics teacher suffers from Fraser Institutitis – “an inability to conceptualise existence outside of supply and demand curves.”


    November 5, 2007 at 10:34 am

  3. No relation. It is actually a fairly common surname (118 of us in the region) – though not as prevalent here as Lee. That ignores other spellings, though this way is the most usual.

    I do not know what you mean by “uniform gas taxes”. A carbon tax as advocated by people like Marc Jaccard is one of the few effective ways of changing behaviour so that emissions of anthropogenic carbon dioxide can be reduced. So far all the federal and BC governments have done is set targets and fail, dismally, to even get us moving int he right direction.

    Stephen Rees

    November 5, 2007 at 12:12 pm

  4. Thanks for replying,

    probably not as common as Brown though!
    Makes sense, I didnt remember Bill having a brother, but I only new him through his children and summer home on gabriola island.

    By uniform I meant gas taxes that are the same regardless of the quality of oil/ease of accessing it. Its part of the economics marginal benefit/marginal cost framework. But upon further thought I think my proffesor argument a little merit. 1) the tar sands are wasteful way to extract energy anyway 2) most of the “easy to access” oil has already been depleted 3) any of the really difficult to access oil is a waste of energy, because of the amount of energy it takes to extract the oil is so high.

    Not to mention the shitty sprawlscapes cheap energy has created. Although I do worry about my city, Nanaimo, falling apart if gas prices were to skyrocket…you need to take a car just to get to the bloody bus stop. And what is considered sustainable development here in Nanaimo by our “dumb growth” council? An auto dependent, hellscape, consisting of a big box power centre surrounded by suburbs and some industrial – outside of the UCB of course!

    Its a “complete community,” nevermind that the Island highway goes through the middle. Its “mixed use,” nevermind that the zoning map looks consists of three blobs. Its “sustainable,” nevermind the council are idiots and wouldnt know sustainbility if it bit them on the ass. And worst of all, “it has been proven that large commercial/residential sprawl on both sides of the city promote infill.” Oh and one we will be hearing a lot of for the next while, “the First Nations made me do it, in the name of development” – these were some of the reasons council gave for allowing the extension of the UCB.

    I should be careful about being brainwashed by Fraser Institute loving economists…”unlivable strategy”…what nonsense.

    And when asked if people are rational or stupid, maybe I’ll choose the latter.

    Ryan Brown

    November 6, 2007 at 11:46 am

  5. There are very few options for powering vehicles that are as “energy dense” as gasoline and diesel. For that reason alone they will continue to be around for a while even while the price rises.

    If we had a carbon tax and the oil industry continued to use natural gas to extract petroleum from tar sands and oil shales then the tax would be higher on those fuels – they would have to pay carbon taxes on their energy inputs. Maybe we also need to consider royalties as a percentage of the oil price, rather than so much per unit of volume. And we must certainly end all the subsidies and sweet deals the industry has been getting from governments – something which also applies to the car manufacturers too.

    UCB? Sorry I do not recognise that abbreviation.

    “Oh, it’s so nice not to be in Nanaimo
    Not to ne in Nanaimo no more …”

    Stephen Rees

    November 6, 2007 at 1:53 pm

  6. UCB = urban containment boundary, perhaps?

    Ian King

    November 7, 2007 at 11:43 am

  7. yep, UCB=urban containment boundary=urban growth boundary, etc.

    Ryan Brown

    November 8, 2007 at 9:57 am

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