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petrol + suburban realities « Previous | |Next »
May 23, 2008

Paul Krugman has an interesting column in The New York Times on ways to deal with rising petrol prices. He notes that we live in a world where high petrol prices and peak oil are increasingly a part of everyday life. From this perspective we can see that the outer suburban fringe of our capital cities have been built on the assumption of cheap realities and car transport. That assumption is increasingly unrealistic. Hence the title of his column--'stranded in suburbia.'

He says that:

Europeans who have achieved a high standard of living in spite of very high energy prices — gas in Germany costs more than $8 a gallon — have a lot to teach us about how to deal with that world. If Europe’s example is any guide, here are the two secrets of coping with expensive oil: own fuel-efficient cars, and don’t drive them too much.Notice that I said that cars should be fuel-efficient — not that people should do without cars altogether.

That means more fuel efficient cars and driving less. The latter requires us to rethink the way that we live in our cities.

What is needed, Krugman says, are more:

pleasant, middle-class neighborhoods consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping. It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.

Or Australia for that matter. Our cities are dominated, and choked, by cars with inadequate and run down public transport. All the car lobby wants is cheaper petrol and more freeways. State governments across the nation continue with outer suburban expansion, more free ways and minimal investment in public transport.

Last night on the ABC's Question and Answer programme Kevin Rudd, the Prime MInister, said his infrastructure fund would fix all this as he has a plan to invest in big infrastructure projects. There was little about the content--infrastructure appears to mean roads and ports to keep goods moving to sell to yet more minerals to China and India. Rudd was very flowery on making cities more sustainable as modes of life.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:42 AM | | Comments (15)


A combination of our lazy ways and willingness to elect lackwits to 'lead' us are now catching up with us.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence recently released a study of the likely price effects of the Govt's. carbon trading scheme on petrol expenditures (limited to Victoria, but still interesting). They estimated that poorer Victorians will pay an extra $938 annually because of the carbon trading scheme. How anybody can recommend any scheme having this sort of outcome without ensuring that more carbon-efficient and affordable alternatives are available is beyond belief.

(I would have inserted a link but I'm getting a message about an error in the template)

An english mate was telling me he was paying $9.50 a gallon USD. I am paying $4.00 USD a gallon atm.

Despite that Europe is still an oil based economy and their transportation system is predominantly oil based.

Even when slapped with massive taxes to artificially make oil expensive it is still the cheapest form of energy by a long shot which gives the greatest amount of kilojoules for the buck.

That is not going to change soon.

Rudd's performance on the ABC's Question and Answer show last night was quite impressive. It showed that he was on top of issues and had a working command of them.

Despite have tried very hard to incorporate "lackwits" into my routine vocabulary I have yet to succeed. I seem doomed to the default f...wits or dimwits, which are dull and boorish. Breeding perhaps. But then I do manage "frockwits" in some company. I'll keep trying.

Rudd talked about infrastructure in response to the oil question, but as Gary points out, he was vague on detail. Fair enough, since he seems to be talking big, as yet to be worked out projects. But that also means he's talking years into the future which doesn't help us figure out what we're supposed to be prepared for.

I think Cam is right about things not changing anytime soon, but like we were saying about solar panels, individuals can't do much of anything without some specifics on what to expect.

The cost of this is going to be unevenly distributed as well. All Gold Coasters will face the same costs as Gordon's poorer Victorians, because we just don't do public transport here.

I thought Rudd handled himself well too, although most of the questions were a bit Dorothy Dixer. I'm not sure his response to interruptions on the intervention issue were on the mark, but he pointed out a few times that he'd been to Melbourne and Adelaide that day and was stuffed, which struck me as a sensible way to head off too much criticism. He was also happy to be fuzzy on details like exactly when something happened or exactly how much something costs, which is far more human than the automaton with a database instead of a brain we're accustomed to.

It will be interesting to see how the show does in future with panels, which would probably be a bit more raucus. What did you think of the concept overall? What do you think of the way he handled the question of same sex marriage?

Ross Garnaut is talking about using the money earned from the sale of pollution permits in the emmision trading scheme to compensate poor households.That's a good reason to block the issuing of free permits to the coalfired power stations.

I'm sure you are right. But as Rudd points out we have to start planning for the new kind of world in terms of energy security. Australia is very vulnerable here.

I've made the adjustment---moved to living in the inner city and so can walk and catch a tram around the city. Suzanne bikes to work. We use one car on the weekends.

So I guess the Americans will need to move down to smaller cars.

Nan, I'd like to both of Krudd's hands ABOVE the desk.

Those alleged politicians we have elected over the years have known that oil was a finite resource. Have they encouraged alternatives? Have they encouraged research? A resounding NO to both questions. These people - alleged politicians - have made a burlesque of their high office by pretending to want to serve the public.

I agree. At least Rudd had the honesty to admit as much, though he just blamed the previous government and said he was dealing with it as a review.

Have they encouraged alternatives?

Rumpole, It would not have mattered, oil and petrol (even where it is dear) is still so cheap it wont replace the car/road structure of transportation.

tax the gas guzzlers. Don't you agree?

Cam, dead people driving a judge's car; a politician unaware that he owned a 50% share in a concreting company....ANYTHING is possible.

Nan, it should've been happening 30 years ago. But no one ever accused our politicians of being up to date with the exception of their pay rates.

in Australia car congestion is driving change as it takes too much time to travel to and from work. An hour in the traffic each way is becoming a burden. So people are moving closer to work.

A divide is opening up over car use. In the transport rich inner suburbs less than 50% of trips are done by car; in the transport deprived outer suburbs on the urban fringe 80% of travel is done by car.

More is happening here than different transport modes since two property markets are developing: a healthy inner core and weakening outer core. The increasing price of oil means that the battler suburbs on the urban fringe are becoming stranded in an oil dependent age, whilst those in the inner suburbs are walking, cycling or use public transport. The outer suburbs, are care dependent since a lot of the journeys are cross suburbs and that requires the car.

Rumpole, Politicians are impotent in this area. They can only reflect attitudes and the market; not make it. Actually forcing them to inject themselves in this manner is one of the worse aspects of democratic kneejerk populism.

Gary, Ranomatic (a fellow I worked with in DC) is seeing similar pressures in the US too.

btw it seems gas is having trouble breaking $4 a gallon. Probably for psychosomatic reasons. It is currently $3.97.