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#828 -- Life After Cheap Oil -- Apollo and Beyond, 13-Oct-2005

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#828 -- Life After Cheap Oil -- Apollo and Beyond, October 13, 2005

By Tim Montague

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
Yellow Springs, Ohio in late September 2005  to learn how to prepare
for the end of cheap oil.  That's right, arguably global  oil
production has peaked, 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  U.S.  where 36% of our energy comes from
oil.[1] 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 China  to Wal-Mart) -- all
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
Alliance -- 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 America's workforce. The Apollo Alliance
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
building and manufacturing, and next- generation transportation that
includes electric-hybrid, flexible-fuel, biodiesel and fuel-
cell  vehicles.
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.[2] 
The Alliance helped  create the New Apollo Energy Act of 2005  (H.R.
2828), that will use tax incentives and  market-based assistance, along
with energy  performance standards, to address three challenges to  the
U.S.:  creating clean energy manufacturing jobs, decreasing  dependence
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
3.96 jobs.[3] 
According to the  Alliance, if we  developed just 10% of the wind
potential of the  ten windiest American cities we could reduce  total
U.S.  carbon emissions by a third.[4] The Los Angeles Times  reports
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.[5] 
"Four years  into an economic recovery, workers across America should
be riding high. Instead, they're  facing new demands to surrender
hard-won benefits and agree to wage  concessions," reports the  Los
Angeles Times.[6] 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
California) in  energy efficiency and clean technology firms.[2] 
Seven state governors have endorsed the Alliance's platform  focusing
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
Alliance is  pushing energy-saving policies for urban areas. Seattle
(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.[7] 
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.[4] 
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  U.S.  auto industry -- and greatly
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
sequestration, 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
world  today.[9,10]
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
global poverty and inequitable resource  distribution, the loss of
biodiversity, 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
[1] 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.
[2] Katrina  Vanden Heuvel, "Sweet Victory: Governors Embrace  Apollo
Alliance," The Nation Online, July  20, 2005. Available here.
< pre>[3] Elisa Wood, "Jobs in the renewable energy economy," Renewable
Energy World online. February 5, 2005.  Available here.
< pre>[4] Apollo Alliance press kit. Available here.
< pre>[5] 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," Los  Angeles
Times, October 15,  2005. Available here.
< pre>[6] David Streitfeld, "U.S. Labor Is in Retreat as Global Forces
Squeeze Pay  and Benefits," Los Angeles  Times, October 18, 2005.
Available here.
< pre>[7] Amanda Griscom Little, "Shooting The Moon", The American Prospect
Online, September 18, 2005.  Available here.
< pre>[8] 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>[9] Robert Socolow, "Can We Bury Global Warming?", Scientific
American, July 2005, Vol. 293 Issue 1,  pp.49-55. Available here.
< pre>[10] 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.
Available here.


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