Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Transition Towns : Post Peak Oil Localism

by Helen Mon May 12th, 2008 at 03:01:23 PM EST

I've been playing Cassandra here for some time, saying that Peak Oil is going to have a massive impact on our way of life. Not just in the obvious things we expect, but almost certainly in ways we cannot yet appreciate. I've already addressed these ideas in a couple of diaries as well as  constant stream of comments.

Eastern Europe - Right-sized for the 21st Century

The Era of Globalisation is (almost) over

Indeed, the consequences of Peak Oil underpinned my diary London - Dying like a dinosaur where it seems obvious to me that, without cheap oil, most people cannot get to work and suppliers can't deliver their food. London cannot economically survive Peak Oil. It has been pointed out that right now most towns have about 3 or 4 days stocks of food and little opportunity to develop resilience.

So it now seems like I'm not the only person who is thinking that we need to move away from the cheap transport paradigm and create a new localised economic model.

Promoted by Migeru


Guardian - Natural Born Survivors

Aside from climate change, what underpins all this gloom is a belief that we have nearly reached, or already passed, peak oil - the point at which global demand for oil permanently outstrips dwindling supplies, causing prices to shoot up. And not just the price of oil, but the price of virtually everything else too, because our lives depend on ever-increasing amounts of cheap energy and synthetic petroleum byproducts.

The article mentions and then dismisses the American "head for the hills" loner survivalist mentality before talking about European co-operativist ventures, specifically the Transition Town movement. A group of towns which, recognising their exposure to Peak Oil difficulties, are trying to re-organise themselves to promote localism as an ongoing accumulative policy before it is too late.

Which is why we have put our hopes in a saner band of survivalists, who believe the answer is to work together.  The transition town" movement was started by an Englishman, Rob Hopkins, after a stint working as a teacher in Kinsale, Ireland. After learning about peak oil, Hopkins and his traumatised students spent several months trying to imagine what Kinsale would be like without oil, some years in the future - then worked backwards to create an "energy descent" plan that, on completion, was unanimously endorsed by the local authorities

.........................................

The key to effecting a smooth transition is rebuilding resilience and self-sufficiency at every scale - from the household to the wider community - all at once. To Hopkins and others, Cuba offers a great example of effective community-based survivalism at the national level. Many transition towns have been launched with screenings of The Power of Community, a short documentary showing what happened to Cuba after the breakdown of the Soviet Union led to oil supplies drying up, and the US embargo stopped many other crucial imports.

Faced with potential starvation or capitulation to the US, the Cubans gradually turned from heavy reliance on carbon-intensive agriculture: all kinds of urban spaces were cultivated, from window boxes to wasteland, and oxen were put back into use as there was no fuel to run tractors. The transition took several years, and for a while Cubans had to forgo the equivalent of a meal a day, but eventually even people in cities were producing half their annual fruit and vegetable needs.

Hopkins has started his own website Transition Culture which serves as a one stop reference site for all sorts of ideas and resources invovled in promoting localism. One of the things he notes is that the list of useful skills are what you might expect, survival skills are all very well, but it's actually things like sock darning that are actually crucial. He has a list of such unexpected ideas on the site.

I appreciate that many do not share my pessimism, but I do believe that if we plan for our present going bad, we can have a good future. But we have to plan now. So I don't think I'm being hopelessly pessimistic, I'm being optimistic about our ability to deal with it. But we have to start.

Display:
Interesting, although I do have to wonder, thinking about your London diary, why it is that London is thought to be smashed by overcrowding, while much larger, much more densely populated cities such as New York are less so.  I'm still not a believer in the Spontaneous Land Shortage theory of London's hyper housing market.  New York City's median price is still about $400-450,000.  London's is about $750,000.  It doesn't compute.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 03:28:31 PM EST
It's not that London is smashed by overcrowding so much as the population density for too great a circumference cannot be sustained by what agricultural land is available. Effectively, to find the necessary amount of land you have to go so far out you need cheap energy to bring the food in. That's never gonna work.

Besides which, without cheap oil, London cannot function as it has because too many of its employment niches depend upon it one way or another. So there will be a period of adjustment where many inhabitants of the South East become unemployed and cannot economically compete. What happens then depends on the extent to which government has planned for it.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 04:21:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Besides which, without cheap oil, London cannot function as it has because too many of its employment niches depend upon it one way or another. So there will be a period of adjustment where many inhabitants of the South East become unemployed and cannot economically compete. What happens then depends on the extent to which government has planned for it.

that was the nightmare scenario i would not be able to shake when living in london in the early seventies.

course being a 'cold war baby' and having seen having seen 'the war game' twice by the age of 20 my imagination was already in hyperdive...

the lines of trust could be called lines of power, they connect everyone with what they need to SURVIVE, and they're so thin and tenuous with the current setup.

thanks for the transition site tip.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 08:02:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen, I wonder about the possibility of water transport...the River Thames, all those mouldy old canals? You can move a lot of taters that way. They don't have to go by plane or lorry. Of course, that doesn't negate your other point about what the teeming zillions will do for employment....
by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 11:40:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The canals are indeed lovely, but not remotely practical for shipping large amounts. The locks on "narrow" canals allow a maximum 20 metre by 2 metre (ie about 30 tonnes) while the "broad" canals allow double the width and capacity.

They were made for horse drawn barges of course and you'd need a lot of horses for (say) Rhine style  barges of 1000 tonnes plus which shift a LOT of bulk goods particularly fuel.

That's not to say I don't advocate a canal style solution. I do.

Pownall's

Grand Contour Canal

 concept (denominated in white with red borders) is an interesting one

More recently, one of the most remarkable canal schemes ever was proposed as recently as WW2.  J.F. Pownall observed that there was a natural 'contour' down the spine of England, around the 300ft level.

In 1940 he put forward the idea that this could be used as a large (by British standards) ship canal. Pownall's Grand Contour Canal would have taken 300-ton continental-size barges from Teeside to Lancashire, Gloucester, London and Southampton, with no locks and just a boat lift at a few stopping points.

Such a concept could serve to move water from where it mainly falls (the North West) to where it's mainly needed (South and South East), and also as a transport artery for decent size barges connecting to the main navigable rivers.

Moreover, such a scheme could be "self funding" - indeed profitable - if the land within (say) 1000 metres of it were used for (say) eco development using a non-toxic development model.

ie the increased land rental values along the route would not all go to private landlords and developers but would be used to pay the cost of building and operation.

Any excess spoil (particularly rock)  could be used to build tidal lagoons on suitable West coast sites, and also a new Thames Barrage downstream of the existing one, with lots of power capacity.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 11:45:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess it stands to reason that the 19th century canal network would not have the capacity to feed 21st century London, though I wonder if anyone has done the network flow analysis? Thanks for the pointer to the mega canal project: sounds like a mega project that in fact makes sense. Which probably explains why it will never happen. Much better to build more airports and highways!
by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 03:18:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This one sent me off on a short google meander that came to tub-boats canals. Tub-boats were small unmanned 'containers' that could be more easily handled at lifts or inclines.

The idea then came to me of standardised waterproof containers that could be joined together into longer 'barges', with a single motion and steering unit that could be attached front or back. The containers would be standardised also to suit the trucks that would be needed to transport goods from canalheads and stations.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 03:57:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... about rail?

How much energy do you really need to carry food around?

Mind you, there may be a national level concern with food self-sufficiency, if the transition from an oil-fed agriculture to a sustainable agriculture is delayed too long ... and fresh produce will be substantially more expensive in the city ...  but the idea that the UK will allow London to starve because the lorries take too much petrol seems to be drawing an awfully long bow.

National self-sufficiency is, of course, no laughing matter. A nation that is self-sufficient in its basic needs can, of course, provide have confidence in its ability to provide a Job Guarantee at a living wage ... one that must import some of its basic needs is exposed to a loss of real income from declining terms of trade.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 02:18:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BruceMcF:
the idea that the UK will allow London to starve because the lorries take too much petrol seems to be drawing an awfully long bow.

The UK will allow some, even most of London to starve. The army can handle the rest.

Probably we'll see lack of affordability and high prices first, leading to a 'natural' decline in consumption among the poor - which is where we are already.

Next there will be rationing and limited working time - probably four day or three day weeks instead of the current five to seven days.

At this point smart people will start growing things. Potentially this could lead to a stable plateau for a while, although there will be a lot of crime and desperation with a corresponding security crackdown, so London won't be a fun place to live in. It will be a good time to run yourself a black market operation, and London has a number of criminal communities which are ready and waiting to expand into this profitable new area.

While democracy is still working, voters will lurch to the far right, so there's a possibility that the next stage will be collectivisation - state-managed slave labour. Machine power is expensive, people power is cheap. So 'work' may mean some very feudal days of planting and harvesting at the local collective farm and not so much a nice useless PR and marketing job in an insulated office.

There's a smaller chance of self-organised semi-anarchies with locally devolved responsibilities. I think the Transition Town idea is good, but believing that it can happen without any political interference from London and the other bigger cities is naive. Remote locations like Lampeter will be fine. The West Country may be able to survive. But it's not going to happen anywhere in the South East.

It's also possible that London will be Katrinaed at some point, and that will be that. The Thames Barrier should keep the sea out for a while, but London has no chance at all of surviving the kind of heavy rain we saw last year, and I'm not convinced the insurance companies would have the money to pay out for a London weather disaster on that scale.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 05:57:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
It's also possible that London will be Katrinaed at some point, and that will be that. The Thames Barrier should keep the sea out for a while, but London has no chance at all of surviving the kind of heavy rain we saw last year, and I'm not convinced the insurance companies would have the money to pay out for a London weather disaster on that scale.

Ummm...I think you may be missing a couple of points here. Katrina was about storm surges, which is why we built the Barrier and that is good for a good few years yet.

Heavy rain like last summer, while extreme, is another issue entirely because the Thames goes tidal at Teddington, and any flooding therefore tends to take place above that eg the

Molesey Floods 1968

where heavy rains followed a soggy summer.

There had been many floods before and will be again and of course the mess will be worse in the future due to idiotic building on flood plains, but nothing apocalyptic.

I remember we had a Katrina without the rain in 1987 when I lived in London. It was a mess, but again nothing outrageous.

Turning to why I see London as pretty safe from a Katrina event (which was down mainly to storm surges), you have to remember that the Thames Barrier can be used to keep the tide out at any state of the tide.

ie if you think you have shedloads coming downstream, you can simply raise the Barrier 6 hours before high tide and let the temporary reservoir gradually fill up

There is anything up to seven metres of tidal range available downstream from Teddington to Woolwich. That's a lot of volume available to prevent flooding.

Also, you refer to last year's flood (maybe 5" of rain in a few hours).

As for extreme events in London itself, well the "once in 20,000 years"

 Hampstead Storm 1975

happened to the chattering classes not that long ago, and over a shorter time frame than last year's events, as I understand the rain amounts and duration.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 11:12:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't expect a storm surge to cause problems because of the barrier. But an extended storm over the South East - as opposed to the North East - would be a very different kind of problem, and London really doesn't have the drainage needed to cope with it.

What happened last year wasn't a bit of local flash flooding - Hampstead, etc - it was a massive dump of water over a wide area. There's no good reason why that couldn't have happened over London instead of Hull, and if it had done London would have flooded badly, barrier or no.

Given that weather is becoming more extreme, the chances of that happening aren't as small as they were fifty years ago.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 06:22:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I write near-future science fiction (a few publications at this point and hopefully when i graduate I'll have the time to pursue it more) and one of my key mileaus is a post-peak england where London has flooded. My understanding of it is that though the barrier is working now, if sea levels rise too much more it'll be outdated and need replacing.

In my stories the Severn Barrage has been built and the reliable energy it provides has led to the government moving temporarily to Bristol whilst the centre of London is flooded. There's a lot of anger from displaced Londoners in refugee camps and terrorism by angry UK citizens is a key theme. The story's out at the writers of the future contest at the moment, i'm hoping it'll place but if not I'd like to find a home for it.

I think SF has an important role to play in showing the world what a post-peak, post-global warming scenario would be like to live in. I'm sick of so many stories and scenarios that either destroy much of the world's population apocalyptic style or just ignore the problem.

I think there's a lot of room for a new style of fiction - trans-apocalyptic, where major changes are occurring but the story is set during the upheaval not long after it, and showing a balance of outcomes. Some places will do better, others far worse. Political struggles will shape countries' responses and eventually, we'll adapt in some shape or form. I think it's far more exciting to write about that adaption than to just write another world being destroyed.

by darrkespur on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 05:26:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most SF is about the present, of course. You can achieve a lot of different things by extrapolating current trends into the future or showing that a different world is not only possible, but inescapable. It all comes down to what we can do NOW to create the future we want to live in.

And when I'm writing my little SF stories, I always see them changing according to the changing circumstances of the present (which seems to influence the story in a way almost beyond my control).

Oh, and welcome to ET!

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 06:21:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
great, darkespur.

i think a diary excerpt, or a series of chapters-as-diaries would be welcome here, for variety. it's a while since agnes a paris went fictive on us...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 08:21:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All the little goods yards up and down the country that used to provide a railhead for local farmers to transport their goods have been allowed to decay or have been built upon. It would be quite a strain to a community to re-institute this.

This becomes far more problematic in London where some the receiving goods yards have gone and the large transfer yards are out in the suburbs and some distance from population centres. Again, re-instituting such facilities may well be come an urgent requirement, but I think TBGs suggestions are more likely.

Fuedalism of some sort may well return, the landed gentry will expect the army to protect their wooded vistas from the threat of grubby peasants growing food.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 06:22:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
However, the question there is not "can't", but "won't".

Saying that London will starve because it will take too much energy to transport the food required is framing the problem as a problem of material resource constraints.

By contrast, when the scenario is elaborated, behind the elaborated scenario of decline to urban squalor is no binding material constraint, but rather a policy decision to not use the resources that are available to solving the problem.

I refuse to consider using the language in which a political decision to not do something that can be done ... like ensure that everyone in London has the guaranteed right to paid employment at a living wage and ensuring that everyone in London can meet their basic needs from the material resources at hand ... is talked about in the same terms as something that is not physically feasible, like expanding the material consumption of all nations around the world at an exponential rate indefinitely.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 03:12:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It depends what 'physically feasible' means.

Let's assume the UK suddenly grows a brain, and politicians start saying and doing appropriate things instead of stupid and inappropriate ones. (We're already far into the realms of science fiction here, but let's see how this plays out.)

What would the best possible policy choices be? The problems are:

  1. Getting resources into the UK. The UK is surprisingly self-sufficient - around 60-70% - but there's a global scramble for resources like rice, and of course for oil. People will have to eat less, and they'll have to use less oil because it's a global problem, not a national one. So it doesn't matter how many railheads you build - the limit is set by outside forces.

  2. Getting resources around the UK. Building an appropriate rail network would probably cost a few hundred billion. So that's not going to happen. Chris's canal scheme is going to cost tens of billions. If people are working less tax revenues go down and the country already can't afford the massive spending needed to retool the economy.

  3. Localisation is not the answer. It's possible to imagine a policy where the population of the big cities is dispersed to the countryside and given farming jobs, but we're already a long way towards feudalism with that.

So the core physical problem is that no matter how green you get, converting to a low-oil economy is going to be massively expensive. If you want to use roads, electric cars and trucks aren't cheap. If you want to use rail, electrification and new tracks aren't cheap. If you try to localise, London and the big cities starve. Allotments are at best a palliative. You can't feed a family of three or four from a tiny patch of ground. And even if you could, you certainly couldn't keep it secure.

So I think we're already past the point of no return. The changes should have been started in the 70s. We had fair warning, but in the 80s we chose to elect morons instead of people of clue.

It's probably going to take 10-20 years, and we'll see how things look after that. I'm not expecting much that's familiar to be left by then.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 06:38:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
Getting resources around the UK. Building an appropriate rail network would probably cost a few hundred billion. So that's not going to happen. Chris's canal scheme is going to cost tens of billions. If people are working less tax revenues go down and the country already can't afford the massive spending needed to retool the economy.

Funding with a conventional deficit base and tax base, it wouldn't happen, of course. But you are making the conventional assumption that the main source of taxation should be an individual's income.

That is one of the assumptions that we must change.

When you consider that the Jubilee Line extension cost £2bn and properties around the new stations gained in value by £17bn (an unearned windfall to owners from public expenditure) you realise that the capture of at least part of location rental values has to be part of a rational taxation/public funding system.

British Waterways have made huge money - mainly courtesy of National Lottery restorations - from selling off what was entirely derelict land near canals they had previously been busy trying to close and fill in.

The fact is that any canal restoration should be self funding many times over. People like living next to water. I remember going through Birmingham by boat in the mid 70's - it was like a cross between Mad Max and Waterworld. Now canals are at the heart of Birmingham's economy and amenity.

So I wouldn't look at any Canal scheme as a canal, more as a networked eco water park with additional transport and water transmission utility. It's possible to imagine new settlements growing up all along the route.

It would not actually "cost" tax payers a penny. It would in fact be a massive generator of UK wealth and could be funded  simply by selling forward to long term investors some of the future land rental revenues, using the sort of "asset-based" investment I have outlined here many times.

The other point is that the actual "cost" of long term government investment would probably be of the order of 1% to 1.5% in real terms based upon the current amount of capital swilling around.

Treasury credits (future land tax income) would be invested in railways as "Public Equity" - ie we keep the existing and new railways in public ownership and simply set an affordable "Capital Rental" which is then divided into "n'ths".

The cost of financing then comes right down (because no capital is repaid, and the rate is a fraction of arbitrary bank rates)to a level where the capture of location rentals would be capable of covering any shortfall in operating and finance costs.

Virtually any infrastructure is fundable: we have been brainwashed into thinking it is not.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 07:47:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Correction.

I went through Birmingham in the late 60's - with great difficulty....we had to shift old prams and other detritus from under the bridges, and that was in a boat that only drew 18"....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 07:54:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Suppose I own a property near one of these new canals.

I'm also now one of the mass-unemployed.  Or I have traded in my job with Exxon for one as night watch at the community allotments. I cannot fund a doubling in the price of the property I thought I'd already paid for.

How is the project funded then?  Do I have to be displaced?

by Sassafras on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 03:45:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Property prices don't come into it, because land goes into trust in exchange for "Units" and is not sold again.

If whoever it is can't pay a location rental value in cash, then he can pay in "Capital Rental" units - which he will have, won't he?

It's also quite possible communities might look to pooling arrangements - a Coop I know in Leicester has been doing this for 30 years - where those with above average income make a net transfer to those with below.

eg a community agrees that they will each share 10% of an agreed measure of income (eg net of housing) into a pool, and the resulting pot is then shared equally.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 06:16:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So either I pay my rent out of my savings, or rely on my neighbours to pay it for me?
by Sassafras on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 06:24:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly.

Firstly, you pay your mortgage out of your savings. Nothing new there. What your "Equity" currently actually consists of is a capitalised stash of accumulated location rental value and the value of the capital invested in the location.

But in this new model, you can't be repossessed while you have equity. The unfortunates you give in your example certainly will be, because they won't be able to pay the mortgage, and they won't be able to refinance either.

Secondly, maybe you need not be repossessed at all.

State benefits - and local council housing benefits in particular - both mean that your neighbours are (grudgingly, you work-shy so and so's....) paying for you.

Nothing new here in principle, but there is in practice.

What a Community Partnership Model would do is essentially give rise to payments eg a "Citizen's Dividend" based upon an equal share in a community pool of land rentals which are your right and not some means tested (and resented by those who see themselves funding it out of income) dole.

I believe that those who have exclusive rights of use over a Commons, like Land, should compensate those they exclude.

Don't you?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 03:03:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Same principle.  When the money runs out you lose your home.

Only, in this case, it isn't necessarily the mortgage per se that I can't afford, but the additional imposed charges for amenities I may not use personally or want in my neighbourhood.

What I really don't see is how you feel comfortable marrying this capital rental idea, which you have promoted as the solution to overpriced housing, with a system that will increase the effective rental (the tax would affect household budgets in the same way as rent) due on a property and drive poorer residents out of desirable areas.

(And I am not going to allow you to obscure this principle by getting into a discussion as to how the shortfalls of this model can be rectified by your personal redesign of the benefits system.)

What I believe is that the capital value of a home has no effect on quality of life.  It doesn't matter much to me if my home is worth £10K or £100K if the running costs are the same. There is certainly a case to be made for taxing amenity-derived profits when somewhere is sold, but not before.

So you don't believe in private ownership of land.  I get it.  But combining that with exposure to something that's going to act like a free-market, non-protected rental system would give us the worst of both worlds.

by Sassafras on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 01:27:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sassafras:
Only, in this case, it isn't necessarily the mortgage per se that I can't afford, but the additional imposed charges for amenities I may not use personally or want in my neighbourhood.

If your land rental value doubles due to public investment - and whether or not you agree with it is nothing to do with this thread - and you have to give up some of that land rental value as a tax or levy, then what is wrong with that?

You are giving up some of your gains, I'm not advocating that you give up all of them. And I am outlining a mechanism whereby if you can't pay in cash you can pay in a few units of equity. Nor am I looking at taxing improvements on land, such as the buildings.

As I said, In Denmark a land tax was for a long time levied at 1% of land prices (now given a ceiling by a party representing the middle classes who prefer not to have their wealth taxed).

They've never exactly been chucking people out on the streets, and (even at only 1%)it covered up to 30% of the tax burden, so people had to pay that much less in income-based taxes.

Sassafras:

What I really don't see is how you feel comfortable marrying this capital rental idea, which you have promoted as the solution to overpriced housing, with a system that will increase the effective rental (the tax would affect household budgets in the same way as rent)

I feel comfortable precisely because this is not an additional tax but a replacement tax, shifting some of the burden from earned income to wealth.

So, sure they'd be paying some land rental tax, but much less on income taxes and/or property taxes levied on land and buildings.

Sassafras:

and drive poorer residents out of desirable areas.

Are you saying that the existing system is helping the poor to stay in desirable areas?

I am proposing a simple mechanism for affordable housing through keeping land in trust and allowing investment in the buildings on it.

Financing with Equity in a property investment vehicle (quasi REIT) wipes the floor with conventional debt-based finance.  If you're not repaying capital, and are paying a reasonable index-linked rate of return on the investment the result is a dramatic fall in financing costs: you can do the sums yourself.

It's then up to communities what level of location rental value is equitable, and what it should be used for.

Sassafras:

What I believe is that the capital value of a home has no effect on quality of life.  It doesn't matter much to me if my home is worth £10K or £100K if the running costs are the same.

Up to a point. The difference between the £10k house and an identical £100k house is £90k of land/location value, much of which comes about from public sector investment - whether you voted for it or not.

The balance of the higher value may come from the fact that it's in a nice place - which does have an effect on quality of life.

Sassafras:

So you don't believe in private ownership of land.  I get it.  But combining that with exposure to something that's going to act like a free-market, non-protected rental system would give us the worst of both worlds.

I believe in exclusive indefinite private use of land, but as I said, I believe that those who have such privileged access to a Commons should compensate those they exclude.

You still haven't answered this point: if you disagree with that principle, please tell me your reasons?

Finally, I disagree that the system would be "unprotected" since of course it would only be one aspect of a coherent fiscal system.

I could outline some ideas on other possibilities as well, but of course there would be little point if you then consider these ideas in isolation.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 05:10:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the moment, areas where house prices have risen steeply have a hotch-potch of residents and a broad income profile, depending on when the property was bought.

Someone on a fixed or low income who owns a house in a desirable area isn't currently driven out of that area by a tax on the theoretical value of their home.
The value of your home isn't "wealth" in the liquid sense.  You can't use it to pay for groceries, or to pay a tax imposed for living where, maybe, you were born.

Obviously the current system has its problems, but at least it doesn't actively and foreseeably drive out less wealthy people who already own homes in the area.

by Sassafras on Thu May 15th, 2008 at 02:49:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sassafras:
Obviously the current system has its problems, but at least it doesn't actively and foreseeably drive out less wealthy people who already own homes in the area.

Neither would the system I am proposing. Unearned gains in land rental values (and note I am talking here about the location value, not the value of the capital invested in the buildings) would be shared with the community, and if the occupier can't pay in cash, then he may pay in a small part of his "equity" increase.

And you still haven't answered my question.

If people have exclusive private use of a Commons why should they not compensate those they exclude?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu May 15th, 2008 at 07:23:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sassafras:
The value of your home isn't "wealth" in the liquid sense.  You can't use it to pay for groceries, or to pay a tax imposed for living where, maybe, you were born.
But under Chris' proposals you can, because the property can be "unitised" and 1% of the units used to pay off the land value tax.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 12th, 2008 at 09:41:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think, if I've followed your arguments correctly, that the key question will be:

What of value are we going to offer to those other places we would like or need to have transactions with?

That, for me, would be a goal of development: things--in the widest sense: an idea is a thing in this sense--that are of value to people elsewhere who have other things to offer--your basic value being established--

what could the UK offer?

I think we have the brains and still enough university structures to get into the renewable power build up--how much money are germans making from exporting renewable power technologies--or high-tech materials, that's--awesome!  The things they can do these days, and materials ever lighter, ever more careful of resources, ever more conscious that pollution is the part you can't use--the entropy dripping out and forming a pool--but cycles can be created etc....

I understand how internal consumption could work but, as TBG wrote, what about when you need to do business with people from overseas?

--ramp up renewables, bio-argiculture with NO added GMs, but a deep respect for the plants and a desire to learn and develop WITH our lively neighbours rather than against them...etc...

--build a high-value education system: that's up to (I think, in the first instance) academics of whatever discipline designing courses that offer...ach...many opportunities for cross-fertilisation, that cross-fertilisation is encouraged; and that those who do it best and to the highest levels--become the next generation of professors--

--all the arts--offer art to other people and don't complain if no one turns up to the gig!

heh...it's one of those nights.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 08:17:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The only company involved in the development of the London Underground that made any money was the one that wasn't forbidden to buy and develop property near where it built lines.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 03:33:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Getting resources around the UK. Building an appropriate rail network would probably cost a few hundred billion.

A few hundred billion Pound Stirling? Spread over, say, a decade, in a £1.2t+ economy?

On an investment that, in physical material terms, has a positive return on investment?

Don't abbreviate that to, "so that's not going to happen". Write it out: "while clearly an achievable target, the current elite is not going to try for it, and looking around, nobody is working on building a movement focused on the survival of the UK economy in the century ahead."

The relevant cost is, of course, the economic cost, and therefore in reference to infrastructure required to maintain a national economy over the coming century, the only issue regards imports. The government is the monopoly issuer of vertical money, and can use that power to buy what is within the capacity of the domestic economy to produce ... and something on the order of 2% of the annual economy would certainly qualify.

And since the investment in rail has a positive return in terms of imported material consumed in construction versus imported material saved in use over its lifetime, the idea of an external material constraint is simply confused. The actions that are net savers of imported material are not constrained by required imports, they release constraints caused by required imports.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 09:29:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... while its obviously macroeconomically sustainable to build out an electric freight railway system over a decade on deficit finance alone, capturing a portion of the incremental benefit to property values in a time of rising, and as we start to hit the steeper part of the bell curve, exploding ... crude oil prices would "finance" a substantial portion of the investment.

So even if the decision is made to do it with one hand tied behind your back, deciding to play fantasy games in which it is the government budget deficit rather than productive capacity and the trade and current account deficits that is a limiting factor ...

... it can even be done with one hand tied behind your back, so it still remains primarily a failure of political will.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 10:26:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It worries me that both and you and Chris seem to be saying that the real value would come from a subsequent housing boom, which could be taxed, etc.

I'm not entirely convinced by that suggestion. You might as well argue that you'll create a bubble to pay for it.

It's also comparing apples and oranges. If I build my scheme in an area and house prices go up:

  1. The rise may not have been caused directly by my scheme, and it's very difficult to quantify the contribution my scheme has made to increasing value
  2. Taxing the rise in value or financing it in a different way would probably have created a different set of figures. You can't use the current set of accounting rules to say 'The rise in value has been...' and then use that as a base for 'Which means we've made $X billion profit'
  3. Public infrastructure is a security issue, not a profitability issue. In the same way that a house owner doesn't charge visitors or family for the right to use the bathroom, infrastructure is an amenity, not a source of profit. It may also turn out to have social benefits - in fact the Department of Transport uses a specific formula which estimates social benefits - and it may also promote trade. But we're talking about structural survival here, not profit. It's very hard to argue that a scheme like this will be inherently profitable when the rest of the economy will be spinning around in chaos and confusion.

Of course you don't have to tell investors that, and selling them a dog in the hope they won't be in a position to do anything about it later isn't an entirely bad strategy for something like this. But people will remember what happened to EuroTunnel, so it's possible they won't approach this from a position of gullible stupidity.

Also, the kind of huge projects we're talking about would be politically disastrous. It's not just the elites who are craven and stupid - the citizens are perfectly capable of being craven and stupid on their own, especially when they're likely to have their houses taken away with compulsory purchase orders.

None of this can happen until survival becomes part of the narrative. If there's mass unemployment - which is not impossible - you might as well Keynesianise yourself a solution using surplus labour, both for convenience and to make prices affordable by minimising private sector profiteering.

I think that's more likely to work than hoping a house price boom will save your economy.
 

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 06:44:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the idea here isn't to tax a bubble. If I understand it right, building a comprehensive railway system creates incredible real value near the stations. This, in turn, can be taxed to pay for the debt spending used to create the railroad.
by Egarwaen on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 07:45:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
You might as well argue that you'll create a bubble to pay for it.

ThatBritGuy:

I think that's more likely to work than hoping a house price boom will save your economy.

Not at all. Property bubbles are caused by deficit financing of land in private ownership.

Firstly, in the "sustainable" enterprise model I advocate there can be no "price" bubble, because the land itself is placed into the stewardship of a "Custodian".

In this model development is not a transaction: it's a service.

The deficit funding - credit created by credit intermediaries - that causes asset bubbles never takes place. Land owners invest their land - by trnsferring it to the Custodian - and either share equitably in any uplift in land rental values by keeping the units they receive in exchange, or sell the units pre-development.

I doubt whether many people would disagree with the principle of the sharing of unearned land value rental gains as one source of project funding.

Secondly, the sharing of unearned increases in "Commons" rental values is one funding mechanism. The use of (asset-based) "Equity" rather than (deficit-based but asset-backed)secured debt for long term funding is the other.

I believe that assets such as Eurotunnel may be re-financed - once complete (IMHO a government's role should be to shoulder some or all development risk - within a suitable development model) - with new forms of "Public Equity" in trusts or partnerships, rather than debt or conventional "shareholder value" Equity.

In the case of Eurotunnel, the mechanism would be to simply divide gross revenues into proportional units eg billionths which carry a rate of return of (say) 2% on Day One, which rises (or falls) thereafter with gross Eurotunnel revenues. So if gross revenues rise (with increased use) by 50% in 10 years, so do investors' returns.

If revenues only rise with inflation because traffic is flat (assuming fares rise with inflation), the result is still a "real" return of 2% which is acceptable for pension funds, and who actually sees the use of Eurotunnel declining in the medium and long term?

 

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 08:33:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Property bubbles are caused by deficit financing of land in private ownership.

Property bubbles are caused by speculation due to the belief that prices will continue to rise.  Easy credit affects only their scale.

You propose doing away with the current financial system.  But, how would your asset-backed finance model work in a situation where, as Bruce suggested, it's likely that property prices are collapsing everywhere else??

And do you envision forced displacement of those unable to afford the new property taxes?

You seem to be trying to have it both ways...you want the uplift in value so that you can tax it, but you claim you can also eliminate all risk of an asset price crash.  You can't. Mass unemployment makes property prices fall.  People don't like living near water if it becomes an open sewer.  Empty houses generate no rent.  Who bears the risk?

by Sassafras on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 05:49:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even high interest rates may not put a damper to speculative bubbles. According to J K Galbraith's account in The Great Crash 1929, interest rates in 1925-9 in the US were in the double digits, but since the stock market was appreciating faster than that you still got a bubble. You can have "easy credit" enough for a massive bubble even with interest rates above 12%.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 05:55:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sassafras:
You propose doing away with the current financial system.

Nope.

The financial system will do away with itself.

Firstly, intermediaries are unnecessary in a "Peer to Peer" directly connected world. The likes of www.zopa.com and www.prosper.com are just the start.

Secondly, if I am correct in my surmise that risk and revenue sharing models are optimal (and you clearly disagree, no doubt for good reason), then those who do not use them will be at a disadvantage to those who do. The proof of that pudding is in the eating.

Sassafras:

  But, how would your asset-backed finance model work in a situation where, as Bruce suggested, it's likely that property prices are collapsing everywhere else??

And do you envision forced displacement of those unable to afford the new property taxes?

Answered elsewhere. I see the Property relationship changing from "absolutes"(mutually exclusive and competitive freehold/leasehold) to a "Trustee" model.

Peter Barnes goes down the Trust/Stewardship road here and makes a good case IMHO, far better than I could

Capitalism 3.0

but IMHO Trust Law just does not cut it as a legal model, although lawyers will love it.

In a Trust/ Stewardship model we would no longer see land transactions. Occupiers may change, Investors may change, Managers/service providers may change, but the land remains in trust.

Sassafras:

You seem to be trying to have it both ways...you want the uplift in value so that you can tax it, but you claim you can also eliminate all risk of an asset price crash.

Not quite. I say that if assets are in trust they no longer have a price, but they do have a use value.

Asset price bubbles are caused by a combination of largely worthless credit created by credit institutions and private property in the Commons of land.

Development uplift in land rental values is conferred by the Community through:

(a) zoning, planning permission; and

(b) by public investment in say transport and amenity.

This gives rise to windfall gains. I don't say these should all be taxed away. I suggest that the Danish approach of maybe a 1% tax on land values is reasonable.

This then enables other - less progressive - taxes to be cut.

A deficit-based financial system is unsustainable and ours is now slowly collapsing to the extent that we will soon be needing an alternative.

My proposal is for an asset-based alternative through a combination of:

(a) risk sharing - through mutualised credit;

(b) revenue sharing - through "co-ownership" by investors and users of investment.

What is your proposal for fixing the system?

Consensual models don't need anyone's permission. If they work people will use them: and if others see them working, they will do it themselves.

I observe partnership models coming into pretty pervasive use precisely because it appears they do work.

We'll have to see if I'm right, won't we?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 05:04:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It worries me is that both and you and Chris seem to be saying that the real value would come from a subsequent housing boom, which could be taxed

Taxing the differential in value between property with access to the viable transport corridor and property relying on the obsolete motor-road long-haul transport system does not require a housing boom. Its a wealth tax, and in this particular case it is assessed on those properties that are having their value maintained by access to a viable transport system.

It may well be that a larger part of that differential will be due to the collapse in value of properties that are dependent on the obsolete transport system. That does not eliminate the opportunity to tax the properties whose values have been preserved by the establishment of a modern post-cheap-oil transport system ... indeed, since its an action required to preserve what those property holders already have, the clamor to be included in a dedicated transport corridor will only grow louder.

In a material-expansion economy, its most often assessed on new development, but in a sustainable economy, real wealth is taxed when real material is expended in preserving that wealth.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 03:14:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're still assuming that something something called 'profit' will still exist, and that it's going to be possible to tax it.

I'm expecting a survival economy to be post-financial. If only those with access to a transport corridor can get food, you won't be taxing those properties, you'll be trying to work out how to billet a vagrant population inside them in ways which don't lead to rioting or mass starvation.

Now try to find transport corridors near population centres which aren't likely to flood.

'Tax' stops being a useful concept around about there.

Even if you accept the premise, it won't be the transport corridors which will be valuable, it will be the properties in farming areas where food will be plentiful and relatively accessible.

Since those usually have very low population densities compared to cities - which will make it much easier to be self-sufficient - you'll see some very interesting politics in the tension between the two.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 06:48:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have the report on our local transition town meeting

Lampeter Transition

The meeting was immensely successful. Rob Hopkins gave us a brilliant exposition of the present energy situation and presented us with compelling arguments as to why we should act now. He also introduced us to the concept of Transition Towns and everything he said chimed well with an audience who, here in West Wales, have the privilege of living in a beautiful countryside with communities still operating at the human scale as they have done for many generations. So when he talked about the two towns where some of these ideas are being implemented on a practical level, Kinsale in County Cork, Ireland and Totnes in South Devon there were many points of potential harmony with the places we live in. Perhaps the key messages for us are: just get stuck in, communicate, work with others, initiate and pursue do-able jobs which contribute to the overall objectives of the community.

The bottom has some interesting rail stuff

Lampeter Transition

WESTERN WALES STRATEGIC RAIL LINK

The suggested route is based on existing lines (some upgraded), plus relaying a previous route and three sections that were proposed, surveyed and authorised by parliament, but never built. Actions

  • Upgrade Briton Ferry - Llandeilo (Swansea `cut-off') possibly with a Swansea Parkway station .
  • Possible link from (1) to Swansea Central.
  • New line, Llandeilo - Lampeter. Surveyed & authorised 1886 & 1908, but never built owing to competition from already existing route via Carmarthen (now closed).
  • Re-lay Lampeter - Aberystwyth. Tunnel under Southgate (authorised 1898, but not built.) to replace longer original route just south of Aberystwyth (now blocked by buildings).
  • Passing loop at Rhydypennau (with Park&Ride station?) to allow half-hourly meshing with Cambrian.
  • Dyfi Jct.- Porthmadoc. Upgrade to operate fast trains between community services (ERTMS)
  • Develop high power-weight ratio tilting-train rolling stock for this (and similar) routes, using bio-fuel or local renewably generated electricity. Gradients up to 2.5%, curves to 60m(10ch).
  • Work with Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Railways to develop fast Narrow Gauge trams/trains.
  • Work with Welsh Highland Rly. to extend from Caernarfon to Menai Bridge or Bangor.
  • Investigate possible SG route Harlech - Trawsfynydd (similar to Meirionethshire Rly route 1862)
  • If 10 feasible, upgrade Trawsfynydd - Llandudno inc. poss. realignment south of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Target delivery date 2025. 49 miles of Standard Gauge single track to build Llandeilo-Aberystwyth.



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 04:05:30 PM EST
Wow, great stuff. Here I am, believing I'm ahead of the game by just thinking about it and you're actually doing it. Excellent.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 04:10:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
they've been doing it for about a year and a half now, but their meetings usually take place when i'm working


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 05:17:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Contrary to whatever its government propagandists might say, Cuba is actually an extreme example of the need for a different approach to global warming and peak oil. At the time of the end of Soviet aid it was importing some two thirds of its food supply. A half dozen years later that had dropped to about half, partly through efforts like the ones you highlight, but partly by simply cutting food intake to the point of mass malnutrition. Furthermore, a good quarter of the population lives in greater Havana, and plenty more in other cities - i.e. are dependent for their food on mechanized transport within the country.  To sum up, if the Cubans really had been confronted with a world without fossil fuels or some sort of energy substitute for them, that mass malnutrition would have been turned into mass starvation.

If we want to avoid that fate we need to work on shifting our society to wean it of its fossil fuel dependence while preserving the technological advances of the past two centuries. Among other things that will lead to more expensive transport particularly at the individual level (i.e. cars) and the 'last mile' of freight transport. The proliferation of large densely populated cities was a product of an era where transport was far more expensive than it is now, and where the 'last mile' was dependent on animal power. As such they're actually ideally suited to those constraints.  

On the other hand, trying to shift backwards in time to a pre technological age would be just as much of a disaster as sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring climate change and resource constraints - in both scenarios we'll have mass starvation and the violence that comes with it leading to even more death. Which is  the main reason why I find the extreme environentalists no more appealing than the Exxon funded global warming denying cornucopians.

by MarekNYC on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 04:17:06 AM EST
Why can't you solve the problem with electric cars and trucks, with trains for inter-city distances?
by asdf on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 02:39:16 PM EST
I think the issue underlying it is that, all of these things are possible if the political will exists to position ourselves before things get out of control.

But politicians are rather backward looking and tend to prefer solving yesterday's problems rather than tomorrow's. So they will keep promising the electorate that they need make no lifestyle sacrifice in this electoral cycle, because to say otherwise will involve enduring an election losing shitstorm from the denialists.

And so nothing will be done, nothing will be put in place until long past the time when it might have been easy and planned. I imagine the crisis will not be gradual, but like the recession, the oil price hike or the house price drops, it may well be predicted and all the precursor situations may be tracked, but the onset of the consequences will happen within a year.

At that point only will the politicians accept that they  will face a starvation crisis with an infrastructure that would take several years to re-orientate towards usefulness.

To me, this seems obvious, but it seems to be hard for others to accept. So I don't know what I'm not seeing.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat May 3rd, 2008 at 03:38:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... is the follow-on conclusion, "plan A won't work, therefore do nothing."

Nothing that you say sounds at all unlikely, and is a good sketch of where the analysis needs to start. But then for some reason, once people have put in the work to get to the start of the analysis, it seems like there is a tendency for some people to treat it like the conclusion and throw up their hands.

What has to be done is to have pilot projects that show how to address the problems that finally become clear to people once the crisis breaks, and well-developed plans on where to go from there. Its the people who have done the forward research and planning and development to address the crises who will have the greatest opportunity to effect the most progressive change.

And, yes, it might be handier in times like these if we lived in societies that were organized into smarter, more forward looking systems ... but on the other hand, if those smarter, more forward looking systems took it in their heads to do something really stupid, we'd still be stuck.

So its possible that being stuck in human societies, organized using past-bound institutions with no more intelligence than an amoeba, is not in fact the worst possible scenario. Sure it can be frustrating when we look ahead and see a problem coming and the society that we inhabit keeps charging blindly ahead, but that's the nature of the beast, and wishing it were different will do nothing constructive.

And of course it won't be one crisis, but a series of crises ... that's also the nature of the beast. Shifting from one energy economy to another one has always, in the past, been accompanied by wrenching social change, so I don't see anything in history to suggest that this time will be different on that score.
 

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 10:49:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What I don't see there is the follow-on conclusion, "plan A won't work, therefore do nothing." What has to be done is to have pilot projects that show how to address the problems that finally become clear to people once the crisis breaks, and well-developed plans on where to go from there.

I might be offended that you missed the entire point of the diary. What you're advocating is exactly what the Transition Town concept is attempting. I diaried it in order to bring attention to the fact that, although I am often accused of the very hopeless dystopianism you describe, I am thinking about ways of doing this and was pretty excited to discover this concept and wanted to share.

I have been disappointed by the extent to which people on this thread are talking about governments not doing this, as if it was just their job and not ours as well to prepare for the probable high transport cost future. We can talk about possible options for huge infrastructure re-orientation projects as much as we like. As you and I both agree, if the political will isn't there it won't happen. Equally you and I both agree the political will isn't there and there's no light in the sky to suggest a new dawn is coming.

To accept that reality does not imply resignation and navel gazing and I have been genuinely puzzled that people are dismissing my concerns in such terms. I am merely accepting that localism and demonstrations of concept, as you recommend, will have to do for now.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 11:32:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... it is so urgent to bring to light the strategy of accepting the necessity of failure in:
I think the issue underlying it is that, all of these things are possible if the political will exists to position ourselves before things get out of control.

Characterizing the crisis conditions and series of crises that will unfold in terms of what its not ... controllable ... "before things get out of control".

And ignoring completely what it is, which is an opportunity to get things moving.

So, yes, I disagree entirely with the thrust of this statement. Its neither here nor there whether all these things are possible if the political will exists to position ourselves before things get out of control.

The important thing is that all these things are possible to accomplish once things start to get out of control, provided a political movement has been established to set forward real solutions to the problems that will lie at the heart of the coming crises.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 11:48:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then here I disagree with you. the point at which things are demonstrably out of control will be entirely too late to do anything.

Major infrastructure projects, however urgent, take years to plan and execute. It will take london less than two years to starve.

Yet forgive me if I read you incorrectly, but you counsel we do little or nothing till then. Well, you can take your chances with the mob. Me, I'm doing as much as I can to get myself clear.

TBG is right, transition towns won't work in the south east, but Wales  & NW England is ripe for it, particularly ceebs country. Other countries are even better placed. But TTs represent hope and I advertise them in the hope that those who see them might feel energised to make a difference in their own lives. It's all we can do.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 12:18:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you counsel we do little or nothing till then

My counsel is to do everything described in the diary and in addition develop plans ready to respond to the crises that we see coming as they arrive and in addition working on building the coalition that can bring those plans and local successes on the ground to public attention as the crises hit.

I have said nothing out of line with that, so if you are reading a critique of writing off London as "too hard" as a counsel of doing little or nothing, you are reading that in.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 03:20:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
GREAT diary--LONG overdue.

But as someone who lives surrounded by a sea of high-grade cropland, I would like to point out that transporting food is the LEAST of the problems.

The BIG problem is all the fossil fuels it now requires to grow the food in the first place.  But, you sputter, agriculture existed LONG before anyone ever discovered oil.  And that is true.  Farming probably CAN still be done the way it was done from the dawn of time until about 1940.  Just one little problem--those methods provide yields of about 1/8 of current methods.  And you think there are shortages of grains now?

It should also be noted that those methods also required about 60% of the population be engaged in agriculture.  THIS is going to be fun to watch.  I want the popcorn concession.  I am just saying that reorganizing agriculture to get along without liquid fuels makes peak oil or peak water look like simple matters indeed.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 06:01:58 PM EST
I certainly agree that this is  real issue. However I'm not sure it is quite as insurmountable as you imagine.

That said, it is not the most urgent of problems. You might say it's item L on the agenda. As you can see from some of the discussions here, it's getting to agree on where A is that's a problem.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 05:58:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ya Think?

Maybe.  But since most of the urbanites I know cannot grow food using modern methods, I shudder thinking about what would happen if they had to plow with a horse.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 09:32:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is where I got one of my more bizarre investment ideas; namely buying into heavy horse studs.

I've begun to put out feelers in the UK about heavy horse working and learning how to use them myself. Probably not this year but it's on my urgent to-do list within the next 3 years.

One of the things I noted in bulgaria was that most people are only one-generation from using horses, the majority of them know how to bridle a horse, many know how to plough with them.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 10:58:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a friend who breeds Percherons--an extremely beautiful black work horse.  His stud is HUGE  Many of his offspring actually work--we have Amish in the neighborhood.

If you get into this business, you might be interested to know that he breeds for a gentle demeanor.  And his horses are big ol' sweeties.  His argument is that anything so big is dangerous--big AND nasty can be fatal.  

You will certainly discover the old truth about farming with horses.  They are wonderful creatures but they have enormous appetites.  When you calculate your yields--make sure you subtract the costs of your horse feed.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 02:40:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some of ET's contributors (most notably DeAnander) have been claiming that permaculture has higher yield per hectare than extensive, industrial agriculture. Now you claim that the yields of traditional agriculture are 1/8 of those of green-revolution agriculture. It is possible that you're both right but are referring to different yields: yield per hectare as opposed to yield per person, for instance.

Talking about yield as a single number is misleading anyway: if you want to be quantitative about it the least detail you need is

(food) <- (land area) + (tools) + (water) + (fertilizer) + (labour) + (energy)

Different modes of production will have different inputs and different amounts of the various inputs on the right-hand-side for a given amount of output on the left-hand side. And each of those ratios gives you a "yield".

So, are we comparing apples to apples?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 09:45:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Extensive, industrial agriculture has very high yields per worker. Much more than 8 times that of green revolution agriculture, which is already much more efficient than traditional agriculture has practised in much of the world ; more likely, 20 to 100 times (!). In a wheat plain, a farmer with the latest hi-tech machinery and fertilisers can cultivate 200 hectares by himself, with much higher yields per hectare than traditional agriculture... at the cost of long term sustainability, obviously.

I suppose permaculture may have better yields per hectare than intensive mechanised agriculture, but it's obviously much more work intensive : it could suffice to feed the world, but would require much more people working in agriculture.

Traditional agriculture is very far from permaculture, too. Horticulture is traditionnally practised on the land closest to habitations, in relatively small gardens ;  I think few societies ever practised traditional permaculture in a wider scale ; also, modern permaculture, informed by much more advanced science and agronomics, can be much more productive than traditional permaculture.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 11:00:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
at the cost of long term sustainability just means that the "fertilizer" and "energy" inputs are much larger. So it is not really comparable because land area or number of workers are not the only factors that are changing. Other things are also changing.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 11:11:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It also means that at some point the land stops being able to grow things and turns into dust.

So for an accurate model you need a sustainability factor - otherwise you get high yield for a decade or three, followed by no yield at all for much longer.

The limiting factor won't be energy or fertiliser, it will be irrigation and water - and that's going to be a problem not just in Africa and Asia, but across a wide swathe of Europe.

There's currently plenty of elasticity in urban water use in Europe. But at some point drought is going to make some areas uninhabitable. When that happens you'll have an interesting refugee problem.

The US is going to have an even worse time of it, because so much water use isn't just unsustainable, it's insanely close to the edge of practical viability with absolutely no resilience.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 11:45:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"The US is going to have an even worse time of it, because so much water use isn't just unsustainable, it's insanely close to the edge of practical viability with absolutely no resilience."

Speaking as a USA defender (sort of), I think you have it backwards here. The American use of resources is extremely wasteful, but a result of that is that there is lots of room for improvement. As one improves efficiency, there is a "hardening of demand" in the sense that there is less room for reduced demand as the price of the resource rises. For example, Americans could easily buy smaller cars, do more telecommuting, move closer to work,  take the bus, etc. to reduce the use of oil, but since Europeans have already done those things they have less room to adjust to an increase in the price of, in this case, oil. The same argument applies to water, etc.

Also I notice in this discussion a sort of technology denial that I think it unhealthy. I'm as pessimistic as anybody, but there are some pretty obvious technological things that can be done to stem the short term problems. Perhaps the biggest question I have is why there is so much enthusiasm for trains. Please understand that I love trains, to the point of spending my weekends providing volunteer labor on an historic railroad. But I just can't get into the idea of replacing cars with trains. What's wrong with cars? (Other than: They kill people, old and young people are deprived of transportation, they require roads, etc.) From an economic viewpoint and an energy consumption viewpoint, I would argue that railroads do not offer any particularly attractive answers to the problem of passenger transportation. I would love to see an analysis that shows why passenger trains are a transportation solution in any but the highest density corridors.

by asdf on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 12:10:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If I remember correctly, High Speed Trains are comparable to a well filled up car in terms of energy consumption. Low speed trains, such as commuter trains or slower intercity trains, are much more efficient energy wise. Am I wrong ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 12:17:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Trains are generally pretty efficient, but you have to take into account whether they will be filled to capacity along their whole route. If not, it reduces their total efficiency. You have the same problem in the case of cars: It's not really fair to calculate the energy efficiency based on some theoretical "five people in a Prius" or "499 people in a 500 passenger train" scenario.

Also, cars are getting a lot better. My car gets 72 MPG, and when my wife and I go on vacation in it we are getting economy that is comparable to a train. And we can go where we want, when we want.

The  overall analysis is pretty tough. For commuting in a busy corridor, trains make sense. As the housing density decreases, or the distances between destinations increases, it gets harder to justify a train. Although, as a train enthusiast, I will be traveling between Chicago and La Junta, Colorado in a week or so--because it's cheap and fun!  :-)


http://www.trainweb.org/amtrakpix/travelogues/22102A/photosection/SouthwestChiefA.html

by asdf on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 12:32:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has anyone got figures ? After all, passenger trains may come in various size - and the efficiency of the smaller ones may have room for improvements because of low development in the last fifty years when coaches replaced them.

How efficient are the most efficient slower passenger trains ? Dodo?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 12:51:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
asdf:
The American use of resources is extremely wasteful, but a result of that is that there is lots of room for improvement. As one improves efficiency, there is a "hardening of demand" in the sense that there is less room for reduced demand as the price of the resource rises.

True, but we're talking about entire cities which are completely unsustainable and already skirting the limits of survivability. Efficiency is irrelevant - once you're out of a resource, it's gone, and the area you were living in is no longer habitable.

The limits are political. When you have corrupt politicians and low-information voters, you have a combination which is incapable of doing the right thing.  

As I said before, the most important resource is water, and some US cities - and also some European ones - are running out of it rapidly.

When a city runs out of water, it dies and the people have to move elsewhere. We haven't seen that happen yet, but it's not just not science fiction - it's unavoidable. It's looking likely that it will happen across a number of locations within a short period - more than a year, less than a decade - and you'll have people waking up and realising that without water their homes are worthless.

It'll be an anti-Katrina - no spectacular destruction, just dying cities full of thirsty refugees.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 06:36:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]