August 1, 2014

Rhetorical Dichotomies and Urbanism

I’m finding the process of writing a script for a documentary film especially interesting in regard to the canon of invention. Much of the advice I’ve been reading — because I’m a total newb at this — says the most you can do early in the process (the research/pre-production phase) is create a general outline. Invention comes before outline. I’ve been doing research, i.e. reading to focus my idea. Previously described:

The Baby Boomers were children of the post-war suburbs and raised their own children in the sprawling communities at the edges of American cities. Owning an individual home outside of a city has long been an essential part of the American Dream. That dream is changing. The Millennial generation is changing it. Young people today are showing a strong preference for living in dense, walkable urban communities. And an increasing number of their empty-nest parents are following them.

I’m finding Charles Montgomery’s Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design to be especially helpful because I’ve created two useful dichotomies. “Useful” means rhetorically useful i.e. helping me say, persuasively, what it is I want to say. In an early chapter about the history of suburbia, he identifies two philosophies driving suburban sprawl.

  1. The school of separation: The good life can only be achieved by separating the functions of the city so people can avoid “the worst of its toxicity.”
  2. The school of speed: Freedom is a “matter of velocity — the idea being that the faster you can get away from the city , the freer you will become.”

So I am asserting two (kinda) opposite schools that appear to be guiding a return to cities.

  1. The school of mixed use: This is one of the guiding ideas of the Congress for the New Urbanism. The good life can be achieved by living in areas where many uses intermingle.
  2. The school of proximity: It is better to walk, ride a bicycle, or take public transit to nearby places in a mixed-use urban area.

The whole point of what I’ll call a “rhetorical dichotomy” is to create a model by which you can compare things. In this case, the things are various issues of urbanism and suburbanism. A rhetorical dichotomy ought not, it seems to me, be used to over-simplify an issue. I’ll try not to. The three issues I’ll be examining (until I change my mind) are:

  1. Energy use: How much energy does one consume to live a suburban lifestyle versus an urban lifestyle.
  2. Commute: How much time and expense is involved in commuting to work or traveling to other important destinations?
  3. Infrastructure support: What needs to be built, and what needs to be maintained, to support new urbanism versus suburbanism?

There are, of course, many more issues from which to choose. These interest me now. More to come…

[Cross-posted on Carbon Trace]

February 22, 2012

The Coming Storm

Living on sunshine, current and ancient:

Now, in the last hours of the cheap oil economy, the forty year miracle of the Sunbelt boom dwindles and a fear of approaching darkness grips the people there like a rumor of Satan. The long boom that took them from an agricultural backwater of barefoot peasantry to a miracle world of Sonic Drive-ins, perpetual air-conditioning, WalMarts, and creation museums is turning back in the other direction and they fear losing all that comfort, convenience, and spectacle. Since they don’t understand where it came from, they conclude that it was all a God-given endowment conferred upon them for their exceptional specialness as Americans, and so only the forces of evil could conspire to take it all away.

February 19, 2012

Our National Debate On Energy

Well, our debate really has nothing to do with energy:

A counterattack being planned by the Obama re-election team in Chicago is expected to point out, among other things, Mitt Romney’s actions to raise gas taxes when he was governor of Massachusetts. And Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill are eager to renew a nationwide discussion about tax subsidies to oil companies.

“House Republicans are very good at using every argument they can to shield oil companies from paying their fair share,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “They have been relentless and fearless protectors of oil company profits.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill say they are eager to criticize the president as gas prices rise, in part with a flurry of legislation aimed at increasing domestic production.

They also plan to use Mr. Obama’s decision to block the immediate construction ofKeystone XL, a 1,700-mile pipeline that would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast. A Republican bill was passed by the House on Thursday to expand offshore drilling and force a permit to be approved for the pipeline.

In an interview, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House whip, mocked Mr. Obama’s claim to want an “all of the above” energy policy.

“He says it in his State of the Union, and then a week later he kills Keystone,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I think energy is going to be one of the major issues in this election, and it’s going to peak in two months.”

February 3, 2012

Then Something Miraculous Happens

Even if we have 100 years of natural gas … then what?

Mr. Obama keeps telling nationwide audiences that “we have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.” That is just not true. If he believes it then he is either 1) getting treasonously bad advice from dishonest advisors or 2) not reading reports issued by his own agencies or 3) just making shit up. This was the same week, by the way, when the US Department of Energy dropped its estimate for the Marcellus shale gas play by 66 percent, while the estimate for all US shale basins went down 42 percent. The shale gas industry is another Ponzi bubble that is about to founder on a scarcity of investment capital. Just watch.

January 29, 2012

Full Of Gas

American politicians are full of gas, but unfortunately there’s less of it left in the earth:

The Energy Information Administration said the sharp downward revisions to its estimates were informed by more data. “Drilling in the Marcellus accelerated rapidly in 2010 and 2011, so that there is far more information available today than a year ago,” its report said. Jonathan Cogan, a spokesman for the agency, added that Pennsylvania had made far more data available than in previous years.

Under the agency’s new estimates, the Marcellus shale, which was previously thought to hold enough gas to meet the entire nation’s demand for 17 years at current consumption rates, contains instead a six-year supply. The report comes just five months after the United States Geological Survey released its own estimate of 84 trillion cubic feet for the Marcellus shale.

The estimates are important because they underpin policy decisions on energy subsidies and exports. Market analysts look to these estimates in making investment decisions. Historically, they have varied widely based on assumptions about the future of technology, coming regulations on drilling and the long-term price of gas.

November 16, 2011

Peak Oil is Real, But What Does it Mean?

Five misconceptions about peak oil:

So I think as far as peak oil goes, most of us can agree that just as it did in the U.S. in 1970, global oil production will inevitably decline. The points of contention are the timing, the steepness of the decline, the impact on the global economy, and the ability of other energy sources to fill the supply gap. Some believe it will be a non-event, and some people believe it will be catastrophic.

November 15, 2011

Clean Tech Problem

Not to mention the oil problem that all technologies have:

This isn’t exactly a new issue to the green movement, but it’s an under-examined one nonetheless: Rare earths like neodymium are integral to a number of cleantech innovations that are changing the way that we produce energy, drive, and so on. But they’re also, well, rare.

This Mother Jones report does a good job of giving an overview of how their scarcity presents a number of problems to revving the clean energy economy up to full speed. Read the whole thing, but here are the bullet points:

-First, as of now, China produces almost all of the world’s rare earth metals. But as its own domestic industry has boomed, it has kept more and more to itself, and costs have spiked as a result.
-Second, mining for rare earths is tricky, and dangerous. It has been known to create dreadful contamination — rare earths, as MoJo reports,”occur naturally with the radioactive elements thorium and uranium, which, if not stored securely, can leach into groundwater or escape into the air as dust.”
-Finally, improper mining procedures have led to birth defects and health woes in nearby communities.

November 14, 2011

It May Already Be Too Late to Change

It’s pedal-to-the-metal:

There are few signs that the urgently needed change in direction in global energy trends is underway. Although the recovery in the world economy since 2009 has been uneven, and future economic prospects remain uncertain, global primary energy demand rebounded by a remarkable 5% in 2010, pushing CO2 emissions to a new high. Subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption of fossil fuels jumped to over $400 billion. The number of people without access to electricity remained unacceptably high at 1.3 billion, around 20% of the world’s population. Despite the priority in many countries to increase energy efficiency, global energy intensity worsened for the second straight year. Against this unpromising background, events such as those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have cast doubts on the reliability of energy supply, while concerns about sovereign financial integrity have shifted the focus of government attention away from energy policy and limited their means of policy intervention, boding ill for agreed global climate change objectives.

November 12, 2011

You Could Be Like Us

But that would be bad if China and India tried to be us:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=678b7N0pIHE&w=500&h=284]

November 12, 2011

Missed Opportunity

No irony. No big Questions. No tragedy. Why Terra Nova sucks:

The set up to Terra Nova couldn’t be better because it speaks to exactly the problems we are about to face: What happens when the world begins running out of resources, and what happens if we are given a second chance?

The twist is, of course, that the people of 2149 are able to travel back in time to the Cretaceous period — into a world unspoiled by man but crawling with very dangerous beasties. It reminds me of the potential in the New World narratives in which Eurpeans discover the “howling wilderness.” Given a new start, they end up creating much of the same ol’ same ol’ with genocide thrown in.

Terra Nova, then, could explore what it means to get a second chance in terms of what we have or have not learned — especially regarding resource limits and over-population. That’s the promise of it anyway. It delivers something quite different — run-o-the-mill human snits punctuated by an occasional dinosaur feedings.

← Previous Posts