Cities Are The Future  

Posted by Big Gav

A number of variants of peak oil doomer philosophy often aim to avoid the effects of industrial collapse by seeking to build sustainable societies of one sort or another which can continue to operate in the absence of readily available oil and gas.

This is sometimes termed "building lifeboats" (synonyms for lifeboat could include "arks", for those of a religious orientation, or "foundations" for those with a classic science fiction background). A slightly disrespectful cynic like myself may also term it "heading for the hills".

As the world grows more densely populated (at least for the next few decades), and as the proportion of the population living in large cities eclipses that of rural dwellers, this approach seems less and less viable to me - I would think it very unlikely that any small community would be susbtantially less affected by a genuine collapse than the rest of an industrialised country.

In my mind (leaving aside the question of how likely any collapse is due to peak oil, or any other head on collision with a Limit to Growth), it would seem that any attempt to build a sustainable society has to be aimed more broadly than just creating small intentional communities or eco villages.

The cover story of this week's New Scientist magazine is "Ecopolis", which makes the case that "Returning to our rural roots won't save the planet - cities have to become part of the solution to global environmental perils" (in many ways echoing Alex Steffan's essay on "The Post-Oil Megacity").

The editorial of the issue opines "Cities Are The Future" (unjustly taking a stick to a green strawman, but other than that the point is sound ):

Greens are prone to idealising the past. They instinctively look back to a pre-industrial pastoral idyll, or to the age of hunter-gatherers living in harmony with their environment. In this view, urbanisation and the rise of the megacity are the harbingers of doom. City dwellers, after all, make up only half of the world's population but consume three-quarters of its resources and generate three-quarters of its pollution. Further urbanisation can only accelerate environmental decline and threaten the long-term future of humankind.

Many of the environmental demons implicit in this analysis are real: urbanisation is responsible for some of our most destructive lifestyles and production systems. Yet, on a planet of approaching 7 billion people, cities have to become part of the solution to global environmental perils. More than that, they could be the key to finding the solution. Indeed without them there may be no solution. Urban living can, and increasingly will be, the green way.

Its a radical vision, and will need a radical change of approach. Sustainable living will require a new economic metabolism in which waste is reused, not excreted into the environment. This is not just about recycling old copies of mgazines like this one - it is about turning every waste stream into a feedstoc. Where can such a metabolism be developed, and where would it work best ? Not in the countryside, but in the city, where high population densities and economies of scale make the goal much more achievable.

Sounds like the editors have been reading "Cradle to Cradle".

The article goes on to talk about China's future green city of Dongtan, and an experimental new neighbourhood in the Spanish city of Valencia called "Sociopolis".
In a reversal of the rapacious development that has choked Spain's coastline with concrete over the past few decades, Valencia has started building a neighbourhood based around ancient market gardens and irrigation systems. Bulldozers have moved into an area of rundown farms and scrap yards that is to become Sociopolis, a "revolutionary" locality that mixes the high rise and hi-tech with traditional agriculture.

Sociopolis has taken its inspiration from the typical Valencian huerta, or market garden region, where small farms share irrigation systems to grow their fruit and vegetables. Irrigation channels dug by the Moorish inhabitants of the region more than 1,000 years ago are to be used to water Sociopolis and allow the residents to combine life in a tower block at up to 20 storeys with allotment-style gardening. The project will provide about 2,800 "affordable" homes in a country where house prices have left many young people out of the market.

Other projects mentioned in the Ecopolis article include the new Melbourne City Council building.
The building, known as Council House Two (CH2), will cost approximately A$50 million, and is due to be completed in 2005. Melbourne Lord Mayor John So has said of the project, “With CH2, we are striving to create a building that will return financial and environmental rewards for many years to come.” CH2 will break new ground in sustainable office development with features including: hanging gardens, shower towers and phase change material to cool the air, wind turbines, solar cells, and rainwater collectors on the roof. CH2 is aiming to be a zero net emissions building (climate neutral).

Energy Bulletin has a good set of links on cities for walking and cycling.
There aren't too many tools that are as ideal today as when they were invented, in just the same form as they were originally conceived. But the bicycle is one. Simple, cheap and accessible, absolutely no existing transportation solution could be better for reducing greenhouse gases, untangling snarled urban streets, and improving human health than getting more people on two wheels. But challenges are many and varied.

While accelerated use of motorized vehicles in developing world cities is quelling traditional dependence on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles (NMVs), industrialized cities are pushing people to forego auto transport for pedal power. All over the world, bicycles are getting much-deserved reconsideration as a no-brainer solution to fundamental problems in transit, community, and the environment.

Mobjectivist notes that not everyone on a bike is necessarily good, as he takes a look at a Coward on Wheels (WHT also has some zen-like meditation on political psychology).
I occasionally reflect on G.W. Bush's one redeeming quality -- that he gets on his mountain bike and regularly takes it out for a spin. But as I continue to digest the significance of this seemingly autonomous act, I have begun to discount his motivation. First of all, you would think that Bush would, at least on occasion, take a road bike out for a ride around the block. Like me, most serious bikers keep both kinds of bikes around. But then we read about Bush's lack of motor control, leading to such incidents as crashing into a policeman on a Scottish golf link path. Which brings us to the secondary part of his motivation -- that of health and satisfying his competitive urges.

So why no road bike for Bush? Googling "George Bush" and "road bike", [stick a Kerry wig on Coulter, and keep the kids away] I get more hits for John Kerry and his road bike than for GWB having anything to do with one. In my opinion, I think his aversion has more to do with an aversion to crowds and fear for his life. In China, for example, Bush recently had a chance to take it on the open road but diplomatically declined.

While George's bike obsession has failed Mobjectivist's "good / not good" test, he has gained critical acclaim for declaring a portion of the Pacific Ocean a marine reserve.
President Bush did something for only the second time in his two-term presidency: he created a national monument. No, not with building blocks, but by invoking the 1906 National Antiquities Act and protecting over 139,000 square miles of largely uninhabitated islands, reefs, and atolls. Once under jurisdiction, the area would be protected by the strongest environmental laws available and actively monitored by state and federal agencies.

While not certain to happen, a ban on commercial fishing in the area would “create the largest no-take marine reserve in the nation, second in the world only to the Great Barrier Reef.” Currently, there are ships in the area that use the coral-damaging “bottomfishing” technique to troll for snappers and seabass. Such a ban would help alleviate stress on the reefs and wildlife.

Grist quips that there "must not be any oil there".
Well, slap our ass and call us Sally: George W. Bush, the prez formerly known as the earth's worst enemy, created the largest protected marine area in the world yesterday when he designated the 1,200-mile-long Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain and surrounding waters as a national monument. The region is home to some 7,000 marine species, at least a quarter of which are unique to the area. At nearly the size of California, the monument will be larger than all of the country's national parks combined. Fishing in the largely uninhabited islands will be phased out over the next five years, though some groups plan to fight a complete fishing ban. Enviros joined marine scientists in gushing over the move. Bush was allegedly inspired by a PBS documentary about the ocean region. Imagine what could happen if he saw An Inconvenient Truth!

While Dubya may have done the right thing with regards to part of one ocean (though the long term impact of his sabotaging of global warming mitigation impacts will probably undo this anyway), he has come in for some criticism over his mocking of a blind reporter.
Let me first say that Bush may not have known he was talking to a legally blind reporter when he engaged in this exchange:

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Peter. Are you going to ask that question with shades on?

Q I can take them off.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.

Q All right, I'll keep it, then.

THE PRESIDENT: For the viewers, there's no sun. (Laughter.)

Q I guess it depends on your perspective. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Touche. (Laughter.)

As Think Progress notes, "[Peter] Wallsten is legally blind. Wallsten tells us he has a rare genetic disorder called Stargardt's Disease. The disease is a form of macular degeneration that can be slowed "by wearing UV-protective sunglasses and avoiding exposure to bright light."

The point of this post is not that Bush intentionally taunted a blind man, but that his insistence on clowning with the press is undignified and highly inappropriate.

As Digby describes this (and other episodes):
There's an interesting simple psychology involved in such things. If someone can coerce those in a group to help him attack a single member they become his accomplices. For instance, getting everybody in the press corps to laugh at a reporter's baldness makes those reporters part of the president's gang. And, of course, it intimidates them. If they stray, they too will be subject to that kind of public humiliation. It's the evil fratboy theory of social relations, very primitive stuff.

While the psychology of an ex-alcoholic from a pampered background holding a job way beyond his capabilities may be debatable, there is an interesting tie in with this post from Past Peak, on some reprehensible conduct by Genentech over a cheap drug that prevents macular degeneration.
You know all those stories where a guy invents an engine that runs on water and the oil companies bury the invention? Or somebody comes up with a dirt cheap cure for cancer and the drug companies buy her out? That kind of stuff doesn't happen in real life, though, right? Prepare to be outraged:
A major drug company is blocking access to a medicine that is cheaply and effectively saving thousands of people from going blind because it wants to launch a more expensive product on the market.

Ophthalmologists around the world, on their own initiative, are injecting tiny quantities of a colon cancer drug called Avastin into the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration, a common condition of older age that can lead to severely impaired eyesight and blindness. They report remarkable success at very low cost because one phial can be split and used for dozens of patients.

But Genentech, the company that invented Avastin, does not want it used in this way. Instead it is applying to license a fragment of Avastin, called Lucentis, which is packaged in the tiny quantities suitable for eyes at a higher cost. Speculation in the US suggests it could cost £1,000 per dose instead of less than £10. The company says Lucentis is specifically designed for eyes, with modifications over Avastin, and has been through 10 years of testing to prove it is safe.

Unless Avastin is approved in the UK by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) it will not be universally available within the NHS. But because Genentech declines to apply for a licence for this use of Avastin, Nice cannot consider it. In spite of the growing drugs bill of the NHS, it will appraise, and probably approve, Lucentis next year. [...]

New drugs for the condition are badly needed: those we have now only slow the progression to blindness. With Avastin, many patients get their sight back with just one or two injections.

The Netvocates story has continued at Deconsumption, with Steve coming up with a great theory about the reason behind the "New Coke" episode of years gone by (along with one commenter at Blanton's and Ashton's making me blush by referring to my post on Netvocates as "a thing of beauty. I'm so impressed with the way the Left Blogosphere is handling this: straight ahead" - I'll leave the issue of whether or not I'm of the left or right alone for now). Words Not Fists also has a couple of new posts on the topic.
whatever tempest in a teapot might erupt from all this, it did occur to me that there's a fairly time-honored and straightforward way to combat this type of thing without actually dredging-up the whole discussion about what constitutes trolling vs. open debate, and without castigating every poster who happens to question aloud how "perhaps a tightly regulated internet might actually be a good thing"....

Affected and/or angry bloggers should just go after the clients of NetVocates directly. After all, complaining and bad-mouthing is practically the raison d'etre for the weblog community. So it might be a practical tactic to try to identify one or more of NetVocates' clients, and then launch an honest inquiry into some of the upsetting issues those firms might be concerned enough about to warrant such fervent desires to "control" any "unexpected" eventualities as might happen at the weblog level.

For instance, Anonymousblogger uses Site Meter to monitor his webtraffic, and was able to retrieve a direct URL to the NetVocates page which accessed his site (see comments section to Anonymousbloggers post here for details). That's how he discovered that some of the hits were targeted to a post he wrote regarding the AMA's proposition of a so-called "fat tax" on soft drink and fast-food manufacturers. And more specifically, "Coke" came up as a search term, which might indicate Coca-Cola was their client for the particular data run (perhaps that isn't the case, but I've been told that in battle we should expect a certain amount of "collateral damage"). So let me tell you a little story about Coke.

Now I love brown sugar water as much as the rest of the world, but...well actually that's a lie, I don't really like it that much. Not anymore anyway.

You see about 10 years ago or so I was in Playa del Carmen down in Southern Mexico and I went to a little tienda and bought a bottle of Coke. I'm normally a pretty strict water/beer drinker but this was back when Playa del Carmen was little more than a hidden haven for the beach bums of the world and there were no big resorts or theme restaurants like they've covered the place with now, and there was no water-treatment either. So Coke sounded good.

But even more than that it tasted good. Really good. Strangely familiarly good, like I remembered it tasting when I was a kid. I chalked it up to the magic of Mexico and didn't think too much about it until about 6 months later when this buddy of mine (that I'd gone to Playa with) mentioned a business article he'd run across that said Coca-Cola's Mexican bottlers were going to switch to high-fructose corn syrup in their formulas, instead of pure cane sugar like they had been using.

Suddenly it clicked. That's why Coke sucks anymore, because it isn't the same as it used to be. And though I've done no research I have absolutely no doubt that the change-over occurred when Coke introduced the whole "New Coke" debacle. It never made sense for Coca-Cola to change a time-proven winning formula, and then to do it with such a patent loser as New Coke was. The move flew in the very face of billion-dollar corporatic sophistry. But it actually made total sense if the whole point was to flush the taste of real Coke off the minds (and shelves) of the American public. Then when "Classic" Coke was ushered back in amidst great fanfare, hardly a soul would notice that it tasted morbidly "different" from what they had drunk before, because they'd have no reference anymore to compare it to. If Coke had changed the formula in mid-stream however, people would have been returning the tepid new drink in droves, complaining that it was "tainted" or spoiled or whatever...

Now there are all sorts of reasons why Coca-Cola was driven to degrade their timeless product with manufactured sweeteners, but the point of this whole monologue is that I really don't have much of an opinion on a "fat tax" but I do have an opinion on Coke. And that is that I don't drink it anymore unless I have no other choice. And the same goes for the rest of Coca-Cola's product line, and the rest of the unnatural soft drinks industry as well.

So to segue back to task, I can't help but think of the theory that says "the observation of a process actually changes the process being observed". And so, while the lengthy monologue above probably won't serve one iota in threatening Coca-Cola's North American profits--and it most certainly isn't going to bring back any of the dozens of Columbian union organizers that the company is alleged to have had tortured and killed by death squads--nevertheless I wrote and posted it solely because NetVocates paid what I felt was a suspicious visit to my website one day....

I noticed a few weird new visitors in my logs as a result of the Netvocates flap - and I'm thinking this particular visitor is via a slightly less suspicious new monitoring portal that they've put in place now that their old site is tainted for anyone who can be bothered doing a Google search.

The IP address "" gets a negative respose in a reverse DNS lookup, so either they are well cloaked or they are just spoofing the IP address. Its quite possible this is a short term fix to hide the old "" site while they try and understand some basics of internet anonymity (of course, such things don't work if you want to evade the gaze of big brother unless you are willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to maintain your privacy, but for a mere blog trolling operation its not all that difficult).

Moving back to the topic of corporate misdeeds, I've had some (still unfinished) debates with some readers about my defence of capitalism as the basis for a sustainable society. While the topic needs at least one entire post just to address the issue of sustainable capitalism, I've no doubt proponents of other forms of economic organisation would point to this Coke story, or the earlier example of Genentech, (or even, to use my favourite example of a thoroughly bad company, locked in a dogfight with Halliburton, Exxon) and ask how I could defend this sort of thing happening.

Obviously I have no intention of doing any such thing, but I would point out that each of these examples are forms of corruption of the system (and Netvocates is just one vile example of a company that seems to be making a living by helping to corrupt the system).

Rather than throwing the system away, I would say that the system needs to be adjusted to discourage decay - as well as the obvious need to eliminate what are known to economists as "externalities", changes need to be made to make punishment of corporate wrongdoing more effective.

The book "The Corporation" examines this topic at some length and makes the point that many conservatives make about individual crimes - punishments need to be harsh enough to be an effective deterrent. The ultimate deterrent is, of course, the death penalty - and that is what should be applied in the case of particularly eggregious corporate behaviour. It would only take a few examples for shareholders to start demanding that companies don't operate unethically...

Moving back to the topic of blog surveillence, I saw a post on Cryptogon that made me laugh - noting that their mention of the forthcoming "Valiant Shield" exercise in the Pacific had prompted a flurry of attention from the air force (I can't begin to imagine what happens to the brains of clean cut young military snoops after months of investigating posts on tinfoil sites - and if any of you have come along to see what I'm saying about , I can assure you its simply idle observation of how the world works).

I remember some posts of mine prompting a few flurries like this last year (having the logs fill up with visitors from the Pentagon and various signals divisions is a little paranoia inducing I might add) - thankfully I now seem to be off the radar again - presumably they have a "don't waste your time on this" list of sites - or they've become a little more professional and appear as those totally blank entries with no country / organisation / referrer or anything else other than an unassigned IP address visible.

As far as "Valiant Shield" goes, I do remember some tinfoil speculation last year about it being a harbinger of war with China and/or Iran - hopefully its just a form of sabre rattling to keep the Chinese alarmed though (or even an entirely innocent oiling of the military wheels).

While I'm babbling away about internet surveillence again, I noticed a comment on Bruce Schneier's blog that took me back 20 years - a guy suggesting sticking what he called ""spook" strings to attract the attention of "nosy-neighbor" programs" in each post. This took me back beause (a) he used a whole lot of strings that were more in vogue back then and (b) some crazy people actually used to do this on Usenet.

I'll resist the temptation to post some random piece of prose that contains a more modern set of spook rustling words into it - though I'm curious as to what will turn up in the logs tonight after this post anyway.

A few links to close with - one from the SMH on "Our flying footprint", another on Thawing icy plains a threat as rot sets in" and one from The Age on our dwindling oil reserves "Think tank: urgency picks up for alternatives".
Australia's dwindling crude oil reserves will run out within seven years at current production rates, if there are no new discoveries.

Likely further finds will only delay the inevitable: the nation's fleet of 13,920,105 vehicles will become increasingly reliant on oil imports, unless and until alternative fuels fill the breach.

The decline of the nation's oil reserves has been long predicted. But a combination of other international factors has highlighted the need for alternative fuel sources: climate change concerns, sky-high fuel prices, a reliance on imports, and discussion about when the world will have used more oil than is left underground.

These issues have attracted wildly diverging opinion, with most saying crude oil will remain plentiful for decades, while others believe the moment of "peak oil" has passed. (Global oil reserves totalled 1.2 trillion litres last year, according to BP. The International Energy Agency's estimated global demand of 84.9 million barrels a day.)

With Australia more reliant than most on oil-based transport, our fuel debate is spurring research, prompting a policy rethink and opening potential markets as alternatives become more viable.

Today, petrol and diesel account for two-thirds of Australian fuel demands. Both are made by distilling crude oil.


Anonymous   says 8:11 PM

The adress you posted was in the 192.168 range, which we all know is reserved for internal networks. If you got an incoming connection from that, either someone connected from behind the same NAT as you (unlikely) or there is some sort of spoofing going on... but I don't quite see how that could work, I mean, to see your site they have to supply an address your webserver could ship the page to.

Well - it certainly wasn't from my network (my own hits don't appear as 192.x - don't forget its Blogger / SiteMeter that get the request) - as you say, it must be some sort of spoofing - but I don't know how to do it.

That said, while reverse DNS couldn't find the site, it did exist - when I followed back I didn't get a 404.

So there is some sort of trickery happening that I should try to understand one day.

Actually another theory just came to mind which would explain this - the request came from within Google's network.

Which would mean that its either nothing to do with Netvocates (but is curious nonetheless), or something quite unsettling is going on.

Maybe I should dig up those old stories about the Carlyle group investing in Google and come up with a conspiracy theory (I actually like Google though).

Anonymous   says 6:14 PM

Yes, that explains it. It's not spoofing, the request may have come from behind a NAT at blogger/siteMeter - rather, a direct visit to your site which didn't go through any NAT.

192.168 is a small range, class C (only 65535 IP's avaliable). My guess is that an employee at blogger/sitemeter/google visiting your site. Perhaps interested in peak oil, perhaps just interested in some spike in traffic to your site or something... nothing sinister either way.

Actually, while this theory is a perfectly valid one (assuming Google / Blogger has an office in New Hampshire and use Comcast as their ISP), I think it is actually Netvocates.

Other bloggers have commented on the same URL pattern appearing and noted that Netvocates use Comcast in New Hampshire (although they could have got this from my post I guess - in which case I'm indirectly quoting myself).

And my alternate theory about the 192.x address is as follows - Netvocates download the page content to their server (which is why I saw my page marked up their "arrca" server the first time I followed back a referral from them, highlighting the words they were interested in, which other people have also noted.

The downloaded page (now on their web server) still contains the SiteMeter instrumentation - so it logs the accessing IP address - in this case, on their local network, not the internet.

Eventually they'll learn to plug this extra hint and slowly subside into invisibility - and only tinfoil types will complain about paid trolls hanunting blog comments and forums (with the occasional bit of pattern matching used to show similarities between trolls on different blogs)...

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