San Francisco gets peak oil
April 14, 2006 8:41 PM   Subscribe

San Francisco on Tuesday became the first major U.S. city to pass a resolution acknowledging the threats posed by peak oil. The resolution cites an influential study commissioned by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, known as the Hirsch Report, and proponents delivered copies of the The Oil Age Poster to elected officials in the run up to the vote.
posted by stbalbach (27 comments total)
 
SF also ranks well in the chart of cities best prepared for a major oil crisis. Note that preparedness is also on some country's agenda.
posted by NewBornHippy at 9:03 PM on April 14, 2006


The moment that struck me most in the fascinating documentary The Corporation is when a reformed CEO makes an analogy about the sustainability of modern society: he compares us to those early attempts at flight you sometimes see in ancient footage, the funny inventors with wings attached to their arms or working some kind of ridiculous contraption, trying to stay airborne. He says we're like the guy who jumps off a very tall cliff and flaps his pathetic wings on his way down, convinced he's actually flying... until he hits the ground. The oil reserves are our cliff.
posted by muckster at 9:17 PM on April 14, 2006


San Francisco also voted to not go to war in Iraq. Look how much good that did.

This action by SF has zero practical significance. Hasn't the City Council of SF got more important things to do, things where it might actually make a difference? Or are things in San Francisco so idyllic, so smoothly running and efficient, that the City Council doesn't need to be involved in it?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:20 PM on April 14, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste, the point is actually that doing something about peak oil is one of the most important actions to be taking right now, not the other way around.

Also - I'm sure they can multitask.
posted by odinsdream at 9:23 PM on April 14, 2006


Nothing like an idle gesture.

What a waste of time.
posted by bim at 9:34 PM on April 14, 2006


San Francisco is multi-tasking.
posted by Dunvegan at 9:35 PM on April 14, 2006


Steven is right. Regardless of whether you sympatize with the resolution or not, passing stuff like resolutions and "one-house" bills are politically meaningless. They are press release fodder only. Sort of like picking the state muffin and such.
posted by bim at 9:42 PM on April 14, 2006


I think there is an education component in passing these resolutions...raising the profile of certain key issues above the newsfeed static...that has value.

And it doesn't take much council time, actually.
posted by Dunvegan at 9:44 PM on April 14, 2006


I'd say that the biggest threat of the peak oil scenario is the potential international instability. Without major wars or other conflicts the price of oil should rise fairly steadily, spuring innovation until alternatives become viable. I'm not saying it will be easy or that govenment can't help. Just that the worst case scenario is a battle between nations over the last few drops of oil. So maybe government's efforts would be best spent trying to build some kind of risk sharing arrangements between producer nations and consumer nations.
posted by thrako at 9:51 PM on April 14, 2006


Yeah, I'd much rather San Francisco launched their own investigation into whether Barry Bonds used steroids or lied under oath. Waaaaay more important than trying to elevate the energy crisis above the noise.

/sarcasm

That said, I want some land with good sun and steady wind and then I can kiss the grid goodbye.
posted by fenriq at 10:40 PM on April 14, 2006


That said, I want some land with good sun and steady wind and then I can kiss the grid goodbye.

Untill the barbarians come. And come they will.
posted by delmoi at 10:54 PM on April 14, 2006


The link to the actual resolution was broken / not up yet, but here's a draft version of the resolution from March 13, 2006.
posted by salvia at 11:06 PM on April 14, 2006


There is no utopia in a world of six billion.
posted by sourwookie at 11:45 PM on April 14, 2006


...San Francisco also voted to not go to war in Iraq...zero practical significance...
...idle gesture...

SF doesn't control the U.S. military but it does control how buildings get built, land gets used, water gets supplied, police officers travel around... on and on. Don't you think the city should consider how rising fuel costs might affect any of that?

If oil costs quadrupled, would you want your condo developer to have had to install good insulation? Solar panels? What about food supply -- remember, it now costs 4 times as much to truck food in from the Central Valley -- should the city have thought about land or balconies for growing food locally? Where do you want the energy to come from to operate the city's 23 water pumping stations, bringing water in from Yosemite? Or would you appreciate it if on-building rainwater cachement meant no pumping was needed? Bike lanes and bike facilities -- built or not? Cop cars -- fuel efficient or not? ...
I'm not an expert on SF water supply, energy, or whatever, so these are just random ideas.
posted by salvia at 12:27 AM on April 15, 2006


That was a great link to that "Energy Map" -- and they send free ones to educators! Mahalo, mahalo!

Re: comments above ... there is nothing 'meaningless' in this SF resolution. Until a 'critical mass' of people understand the concept of peak oil -- and really understand the urgent need to address it NOW ... there will not be a politician alive who can get elected on a conservation-alternative energy platform.

Leaders follow the people, folks ... we can't afford to have an ignorant nation leading the leaders (anymore!).
posted by Surfurrus at 12:38 AM on April 15, 2006


Sourwookie, I'm note sure a utopia could ever exist given the classical interpretation of what it is, it's the unreachable, perfection. What's interesting is that americans are sensing the implications of a peaking of oil supply. It might explain the urge to nuke Iran.
posted by kuatto at 1:07 AM on April 15, 2006


Oil addiction is like hanging onto the undercarriage of a plane taking off: you can let go now and get bruised, or you can hang on and see how well you cope with that...
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:55 AM on April 15, 2006


> San Francisco gets peak oil

San Francisco does not get peak oil. They still think it's a bad thing.

posted by jfuller at 4:49 AM on April 15, 2006


Oy vey. As I said, I am not debating value of the interesting post by stbalbach or the merits of the peak oil situation. I'm just talking political reality.

I just searched the San Francisco Chronicle and can't find any mention of the resolution -- let alone a big one (like on the front page) to educate a "critical mass" -- in the last thirty days. Note that the first link in the original post was to...a press release! What a surprise.

The resolution was a "feel good" thing which made the local environmentalists happy. It was just a case of preaching to the choir. The state and local governments can pass LAWS to regulate how things are built etc. A non-binding resolution is just for show and to score some political points.

The oil companies made record profits in the last quarter of 2005. Prices are spiking again. Condi is picking fights with Venezuela from which we get a big chunk of our oil. And Bush continues to favor the oil companies over consumers. The oil lobby is no doubt is clapping its hands with glee. Passing a resolution in liberal San Francisco, which one poster claims is already well prepared, is...meaningless...in the grand scheme of things. It's just fiddling while Rome burns. Perhaps the environmentalists time would be better spent fighting the good fight in a different fashion.
posted by bim at 5:16 AM on April 15, 2006


The idea that San Francisco is one of the best prepared cities to weather an oil crisis strikes me as somewhat doubtful. The group that did this assessment focussed on urban density and the ability to get around walking or by using transit. But being able to walk around isn't the worry, really. Its where you get your electricity and how does your food get to the city, among other things. More to the point, San Francisco proper may be relatively dense but the Bay Area as a whole is the most extreme example of sprawled out commuter culture that I have ever had the misfortune to have to live in for a few months (I realize many US cities are worse, thankfully I have never had to live in Houston or LA).

The Oil Poster website is worth a visit. I got a free copy of the poster, hurray.
posted by bumpkin at 7:57 AM on April 15, 2006


bim, but even in terms of political reality, why isn't this a good first step? You call this a "feel good" thing, but this how cities get shaped -- abstract policy statements, followed by Requests for Proposals, followed by boring reports, followed by more abstract policy statements, followed by obtuse laws. I agree they need to keep going, but it's a start. From the draft resolution:

Resolved: The Commission supports the undertaking of a city-wide assessment study in order to inventory city activities and their corollary resource requirements... with the aim of developing a comprehensive city plan of action and response to Peak Oil, and further
Resolved: The Commission urges the Mayor to provide funding...


There are already environmentalists working in national energy politics. Why does a bad national situation mean SF shouldn't do anything? Doesn't that mean the city should? And cities do things that the feds can't. Local planning is why my parents drive to the grocery instead of walking. Local planning is how people get their water. And why is widespread press coverage needed? People don't care how their water gets pumped, just that they can pay their water bill.
posted by salvia at 10:04 AM on April 15, 2006


The oil battle is being fought on a level far beyond passing resolutions and making posters or even long term city planning-- not there's anything inherently wrong with these first steps. :)

That's my point.

Folks shouldn't be mislead into thinking that they're making big strides because of things like this.

Local activists time would be better spent in SACRAMENTO, perhaps. Affordable energy is an escalating problem for middle class families and especially the poor. Need is far outstripping funding for state and federal assistance programs.

California's electricity market has been a disaster area in recent years becuase of the way it was structured. That's a BIG issue with IMMEDIATE consequences.

Gasoline prices are skyrocketing (and California is home to many refineries). People want relief NOW. What if anything can the state do to help (taxes?)? What's the state doing in terms of lobbying Washington, DC or does Ahnuld have more important plans?

That's all I'm saying.
posted by bim at 10:53 AM on April 15, 2006


Big changes start with small steps. Establish precedence and the next step will be a little easier.
posted by stbalbach at 11:16 AM on April 15, 2006


As always, the SF Board of Supervisors misses the point. The real work is being done down the Penninsula, where VCs in 2005 increased investments in alternative energy technologies by a vast percentage over 2004, with every indication that 2006 will be another banner year.

If SF wanted to do something, it could shift the focus of housing and education policy from its vast welfare population to the thousands of cops, firemen, and other hard-working civil servants who now burn half a tank a day commuting in from Manteca, which is as about as close to San Francisco as they can find decent homes and schools.

(As an added social bonus, showing the welfare population the door would be the best thing SF ever did for them: there's nothing more cruel than to mire them in dependency in the single worst job market in the country for people with no education.)
posted by MattD at 5:51 PM on April 15, 2006


One can debate whether VCs do "real work" or is it the enterpreneurs who court them. The Clean Tech Open for example was organized by a few people I know here in San Francisco, working with the city government. The hard-working VCs were lured in with the promise of ROI.
posted by vacapinta at 6:11 PM on April 15, 2006


salvia writes "remember, it now costs 4 times as much to truck food in from the Central Valley -- should the city have thought about land or balconies for growing food locally?"

Instead of, like my city, passing laws that make it more difficult to grow food within city limits. Luckily now that rabbits have obtained "pet" status we can grow them for food within city limits even if the city is successful in banning livestock.
posted by Mitheral at 2:01 PM on April 18, 2006


Is this a good time to mention how Massachusetts is fighting tooth and nail to prevent wind farms?
posted by jscott at 1:38 AM on April 19, 2006


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