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|#828 -- Life After Cheap Oil -- Apollo and Beyond, October 13, 2005|
By Tim Montague
A cleaner, brighter future for our children -- who doesn't want that?
Urban areas that are more livable, free of smog and congestion. High-
wage jobs in manufacturing, transportation and energy industries that
are greener and more sustainable than ever before -- sign me up!
More than 350 people from 39 states and five countries gathered in
in late September 2005 to learn how to prepare
for the end of cheap oil. That's right, arguably global oil
or soon will, meaning that oil will become,
increasingly scarce and expensive. No one knows whether peak- oil
predictions are right, but the 5-fold increase in the price of oil in
the last 5 years - - from $10 per barrel in 2000 to $50 per barrel in
2005 -- gives credence to the peak-oil theory. Expensive oil poses a
major challenge for the
oil. Rising oil prices will affect every aspect of life -- food,
drugs, transportation, suburban sprawl, the globalized economy (which
manifests itself as cheap goods shipped from
depend on cheap oil. And though we gripe about paying $3 a gallon for
gasoline at the pump, the true costs of an oil economy go much deeper
-- global warming, massive pollution of our air, food and water,
and foreign wars that are costing us upwards of $75 billion dollars
a year. All the costs of our oil- based economy are rising steadily.
Just as American consumers and industry made the transition from
whale-oil to petroleum over a century ago, an exciting -- if somewhat
daunting -- transition lies ahead. Today we derive 80% percent of our
energy from coal, oil and natural gas -- these fossil fuels'
overwhelmingly power our economy. We've built a comfortable lifestyle
on these cheap and abundant sources of energy but at tremendous cost
to the environment, public health and national security. Now that oil
production has arguably peaked, the question is not if we
will find a better way of powering our economy, but when -- and
what standard of living we can maintain without cheap oil.
An important step has been taken to get us off oil. The Apollo
-- a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and
urban leaders, now in its third year, is taking a stand for a cleaner-
energy economy intended to free us from foreign oil by 2015. This will
happen through greater energy efficiency, economic innovation and
reinvigorated manufacturing, transportation and energy industries. As
millions of high-wage manufacturing jobs have been funneled overseas
in recent years, labor realizes it must be more aggressive.
Environmentalists, faced with twenty years of negligible progress on
the biggest ecological challenges of our times global warming and
widespread declines of species and habitats -- realize that we need
strategic initiatives that can align labor, industry and the public
good. And the urban cores of our cities are sorely in need of
renovation, effective mass-transit, living- wage jobs, and a cleaner
environment. Apollo tackles all these problems simultaneously.
The Apollo Alliance is targeting policy change at local, regional and
national levels based on the dual planks of energy efficiency and
renewable power generation -- both of which translate into a high
tech, high-wage future for
calls for a $300 billion investment of private and public money over
ten years (much less than we are currently spending annually on
foreign wars). This will go towards clean energy, efficient
, and next- generation transportation that
includes electric-hybrid, flexible-fuel, biodiesel and fuel-
The plan is to create more than 3 million high-wage jobs, energy bill
savings of up to 15% and improvements in our trade balance of about
$200 billion; plus an added $1 trillion in GDP (Gross Domestic
Product) over ten years.
2828), that will use tax incentives and market-based assistance, along
with energy performance standards, to address three challenges to the
on foreign oil, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Clean energy is good for the environment and creates high-wage jobs.
Renewable energy production (wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels)
will increasingly create jobs and produce affordable electricity and
fuels. The solar industry produces 5.65 jobs per million dollars
invested, the wind energy industry 5.7 jobs, and the coal industry
According to the
potential of the ten windiest American cities we could reduce total
that with natural gas prices rising, wind- energy has become as cost
effective as traditional coal and gas sources in many parts of the
country; and wind generator manufactures are sold out through 2008.
"Four years into an economic recovery, workers across
be riding high. Instead, they're facing new demands to surrender
," reports the Los
Angeles Times. Apollo would transform the transportation industries
to produce much more fuel-efficient cars, trucks and planes and in the
process reinvigorate manufacturing jobs.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, reports that the Apollo
program is "being taken seriously by investors, as it begins to
attract significant venture capital." She cites the billion dollar
investment by Green Wave (funded by public employee pension funds in
Seven state governors have endorsed the
on the need for tax credits for renewable energy projects, federal
loan guarantees, urban renewal, and green building standards. In
collaboration with Local Governments for Sustainability, the
(WA) recently passed an ordinance requiring publicly funded buildings
to meet strict standards in accordance with gold LEED certification
for environmentally-friendly buildings.
The founders of the Apollo Alliance asked Americans, "What's the most
important issue right now?" Seventy-two percent said economic distress
and loss of manufacturing jobs. And 72 percent said they would
strongly support a plan that would aggressively develop a green
economy and be an engine for 1 to 3 million new manufacturing jobs.
Even if Apollo creates just a million jobs that would be a big boost
to an economy that has lost 2 million in the last three years.
But is Apollo enough? Let's assume the Apollo Alliance is successful
and by 2015 we have weaned ourselves from the grip of foreign and
domestic oil. We've greened the economy, created high- wage
manufacturing jobs -- even saved the
improved our overall energy efficiency. What then? Green-house-gas-
free alternative energy will be meeting perhaps 40% percent of our
energy needs at best. We will still be relying on coal-burning power
plants -- currently meeting 23% of our energy needs but slated to rise
to 40% in the coming decades -- and natural gas, pumping massive
quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention the sulfur,
mercury, and other toxicants released from coal.
Still, if 'clean' coal technology were widely applied in the U.S. we
could reduce net green-house gas emissions. Also known as carbon
, this involves using 20 to 50% of the energy we derive
from coal to capture and store the CO2 that is released when coal is
burned. This is an expensive prospect and not everyone may be able to
afford to capture coal's CO2 and toxic emissions. The developing
countries, especially India and China, are planning to double their
current greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal in the next fifty
years. They are not planning for large- scale carbon capture and
storage of which there are very few commercial examples in all the
Even if we manage to avert catastrophic global warming -- and are
able to maintain some semblance of our current living standards --
what then? We will still have to grapple with the bigger issues of
, and the fact that endless economic growth is impossible
on a finite planet. The oil problem that Apollo is tackling is the low
hanging fruit -- an important step, no doubt, but one that doesn't
answer the bigger question: How do we reconcile a world with 7 billion
people all clamoring for a western lifestyle? Even environmentalists
aren't talking much about this because it forces us to look at our
false premise of endless economic growth. It's heresy to question
perpetual growth, but -- sooner rather than later -- we must have that
 Ben Crystall, "Clean energy special: The big clean-up", New
Scientist September 3, 2005, Vol. 187 No 2515 pp. 30-31. Available
here. To meet Kyoto Protocol targets the U.S. would need to reduce
its annual carbon emissions by about 540 million tonnes between 2008
and 2012, equivalent to shutting 90 coal-fired power plants each year.
The study suggested that meeting the target could cost the economy 4.2
per cent of its GDP by 2010 -- around $400 billion.
 Katrina Vanden Heuvel, "Sweet Victory: Governors Embrace Apollo
Alliance," The Nation Online, July 20, 2005. Available here.
< pre> Elisa Wood, "Jobs in the renewable energy economy," Renewable
Energy World online. February 5, 2005. Available here.
< pre> Apollo Alliance press kit. Available here.
< pre> Nicholas Riccardi, "Windfall? No, but Savings Ahead; The soaring
costs of coal and gas-fired power plants will allow wind-energy
customers to pocket other benefits of their investment,"
Times, October 15, 2005. Available here.
< pre> David Streitfeld, "
Squeeze Pay and Benefits,"
< pre> Amanda Griscom Little, "Shooting The Moon", The American Prospect
Online, September 18, 2005. Available here.
< pre> Jennie Stephens and Bob Van Der Zwaan "The Case for Carbon Capture
and Storage," Issues in Science & Technology, Fall 2005, Vol. 22 Issue
1, pp. 69-76. Available here.
< pre> Robert Socolow, "Can We Bury Global Warming?", Scientific
American, July 2005, Vol. 293 Issue 1, pp.49-55. Available here.
< pre> Bennett Daviss, "Clean energy special: A greener goal for coal,"
New Scientist September 3, 2005, Vol. 187 No 2515 pp. 38-40. Available
here; and Virginia Phillips, "Clean energy special: Eastern
promise," New Scientist September 3, 2005, Vol. 187 No 2515 pp. 41- 43.