(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
See Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence for crosspost links
On Thursday, djrekluse at the Daily Kos said:
Despite considerable tension and even aversion in green communities to the subject, we cannot talk about “going green” without making it a discussion about growth through various hierarchies of human development. Really, the subject of growth should come as second nature to “green” thinkers and communities-after all, a blade of grass must grow to two inches before it can grow to six; a tree must grow from acorn to sapling before it can someday become a mighty oak. In much the same way, our consciousness, our values, and our cultures must also move through several distinct stages of growth before we can even begin to even see the problem, let alone care enough to do anything about it.
In other words, “going green” really means “growing green,” and represents the crux of almost all the global issues we presently face: it’s not a problem of human imagination, technological innovation, or even political will-it’s a problem of human growth
This provides a frame for thinking about growing an energy independent transport system, and about the multiple ways that local, regional, and inter-regional rail systems can help in that growth.
djrekluse talks about the development of consciousness. Development, here, means the same as in genuine development economics – gaining new capacities – and not the same as in “property development”, where as long as the market value of the property increases after interest, material costs and, often last and least, wages and salaries, its called “development” … and whether capacities are created or destroyed in the process is of no real concern.
And I neither would, nor likely could, recapitulate djrekluse’s discussion in terms of human consciousness. I am just going to steal their levels (the colors are taken from the colors of the rainbow):
- Magic (“Magenta”)
- Power (“Red”)
- Mythic (“Amber”)
- Rational (“Orange”)
- Pluralistic (“Green”)
- Integral (“Teal/Turquoise”)
And according to djrekluse, “… by recent estimates, nearly 70% of the world is at an “amber” mythic stage or lower.” So if we want to get something done, we have to build a coalition across these levels.
But, what is it that we want to do?
A quintessentially rationalist question is, of course, what is the goal of all this. But if we climb up a level of consciousness, the question is, what is the range of goals we wish to serve – since above the capacity to find an answer to a question is the capacity to establish a setting within which a number of people can find the different answers to their different questions.
And if we climb up another level of consciousness, the question is, what system to we wish to live within? I would say a system where people have the opportunity to:
- meet their Basic Needs of breathable air, drinkable water, edible food, functional clothing and shelter, and effective care when they are sick;
- engage in productive work to contribute to the community;
- have a voice in the governance of their community;
- see their children have the same or better; and
- grow as persons.
This is my vision of the “good economy”. “The economy” is, of course, just a shorthand for the material support for social activity, and so it cannot be sensibly treated as an entirely independent black box inside society. So this is necessarily a particular vision of broader social goals – what support the economy ought to be providing. If your vision of the good economy is different, you’ll have to make your own adjustments of this discussion to fit that vision.
Climate chaos, of course, threatens all of this. It will deny drinkable water and edible food to millions, disrupt economies to deny clothing, shelter and health care to millions, destroy the jobs and careers of millions, threatens to provide the conditions for a rise in authoritarian regimes, and it will continue to get worse for multiple generations.
But its not the only thing that threatens much of this. Peak Oil will have much the same effects, especially in today’s high income nations that are so dependent on an energy-intensive technology, and especially in the United States which is the most resource intensive large economy in the world on a per-person basis.
Reactions to the coming Climate Chaos and to the coming slide down from Peak Oil can be in conflict or in coalition. In an energy dependent nation – and especially in an Energy Dependent nation that built its founding myths at a time when it was Energy Independent – they come into coalition in a strategy of pursuing Sustainable Energy Independence. Developing toward Sustainable Energy Independence – as people, as a technological society – is what I am calling Living Energy Independence.
And of course, we aren’t all the way to a good economy now, and are mostly falling backwards. Opportunities to meet Basic Needs are available to most, but not all, and the opportunities have been shrinking rather than rising. Fewer have the opportunities to engage in productive work, have a voice in the community, or see our children have as good or better as we ourselves. Even if there was a magic wand that would make some of that CO2 go away and create new supplies of petroleum in the ground to replace what has been burnt, we would be heading the wrong way.
And those who have been gaining from the push away from a Good Economy are very effective at the tactics at preventing coalitions from being formed to pursue a Good Economy. They have the resources to find out the magic incantations to use for those engaged in Magical Thinking, they have their hands on many of the levers of Power, they have skilled professionals at both exploiting existing Myths and creating new Myths, they have skilled professionals for both working out the rational way to pursue their own interests as well as for working out how to disrupt the process of finding rational ways of pursuing rival Community interests. They are very effective coalition builders among the select few, and effective coalition busters in the wider Community.
And they are effective system builders, provided “effective” is defined in terms of the interests of the Corporate Elite rather than the interests of the Broader Community. When we see a system decaying – a school system, a regulatory system, a transport system – and privately elected Corporate Governments have a hand in it, the working assumption is that they are not interested in seeing the system thrive. Of course, from not having an interest in seeing Community Systems thrive, they may well lack the capacity to build Thriving Community Systems.
Passenger and Freight Transport systems are one part of the Good Economy that touches on all levels. It is not unique in this – information systems are a similar example. So, no, I am not focusing on Good Transport because it is sufficient for a Good Economy, but because it is necessary for a Good Economy. We have a wide range of things we have to do to have a Good Economy – but we cannot build the systems we have to have in abstract sweeping terms. To get into the nitty gritty, its necessary to talk about something in particular.
So we have to have Good Transport to have a Good Economy.
Good Transport should:
- Bring things to people and bring people to places needed to meet Basic Needs;
- provide opportunities to perform useful work for the Community;
- allow people Choice in means of transport and Voice in the options available; and
- be sustainable to allow as good or better to be provided to our children.
I do not include a dot point on opportunities for personal growth, since in my view, if it does the above, then it will be supporting opportunities for personal growth.
In light of Climate Chaos and Peak Oil, Good Transport must be built as Sustainably Energy Independent transport. If it is unsustainable, it will conflict with meeting Basic Needs, and it will put opportunities to work for the community now in conflict with providing as good or better to our children.
And of course, if it is not Energy Independent, it is not genuinely sustainable. Climate Chaos is a global problem. If our “green” transport requires us to import energy from elsewhere, when we are blessed with roughly twice the world average biocapacity per person, then it is not really “green”. Our standard of living and the technology that it rests upon must be compatible with large numbers of other nations joining us, or else it is not a platform for global cooperation.
Energy Independence also reaches out beyond those pursuing a sustainable society. It also points to core national myths in the United States, many of them forged in the aftermath of bloody conflict – the fight for Independence, the Civil War, the rise of US to the wealthiest nation in the world and the rise of the Great American Middle Class to the center of US Society and Economy in the Great Depression and World War II.
Corporate Elites tap into these myths when their interests dictate opposition to a Sustainable Economy. But we cannot be distracted by guilt by association: they tap into these myths because these are the myths that are there. On the ground of Energy Independence, they may have material advantages, but we have the inside track. A United States dependent on outside resources and raising and maintaining a professional imperial military to try to guarantee our access to those resources – that simply does not fit the myth. The myth is personal independence, and that is in turn rooted in national independence.
Now, it is quite obviously a myth that American dependence on Automobiles provides personal independence. The automobile is, of course, a long enough chain of shackles for an entire chain gang. People are tied to the job to pay for it, the insurance and title and the gas that ties them to the world market for crude oil. They are tied up in traffic and limited to going where there is place to park. They live in residential communities that are tied to access roads to both earn and then fetch their daily bread.
But its a powerful myth, which establishes an important target for designing Good Transport: sustainable energy independent transport shouldn’t be crappy. People must be able to believe they made an independent choice to take 21st century transport instead of 20th century transport. And people must believe others will believe it.
The ride itself should offer amenities, the trip must be from where some people wish to start to where they wish to go, the schedule must offer sufficient frequency so that some people are saying, “this is how I go where I want to go when I want to go there”, rather than, “how in the hell do I go where I want to go when I want to go there?”
At the same time, we are looking to grow a Good Transport system. This is why there are “some people” rather than “all people” above. First, today’s transport system does not offer all of that to all people – whenever we are providing material support to social activity, we run into the fact that resources used for one purpose are not available to another. So a Good Transport system will be one that is good enough, often enough, that people see the shortfalls as problems to be fixed within the system, rather than the transport system itself being the problem.
Second, we will have to grow our society around the sustainable transport that is possible. We simply cannot impose legal restrictions forcing people to live in suburbs that can only be traversed by cars, if we can afford neither the gas into the cars nor the CO2 coming out the other side. So as we make sustainable energy independent transport available to more people, Peak Oil combined with whatever policies we might adopt to reduce the severity of climate chaos will be pushing more and more people to put themselves into a position to use that transport.
So, Why Trains?
Why trains? First is the simple facts of energy efficiency. According to Strickland’s computations (NB. I currently have trouble with this link), describing fuel efficiency in terms of gallons per hundred passenger miles (gphpm), and converting electricity to gallon-equivalents, typical fuel efficiencies are:
- 0.17 gphpm, Rail
- 0.43 gphpm, Trolleybus
- 1.28 gphpm, Diesel bus
- 1.33 gphpm, scooter / light motorcycle
- 1.39 gphpm, Toyota Prius
- 4.76 gphpm, Ford Explorer
So we score a massive win if we get someone out of a Ford Explorer and into a hybrid sedan, light motorcycle or scooter, or diesel bus. But for Energy Independence, cutting fuel consumption by 2/3 is the average we have to hit today, while at the same time cutting all other uses of petroleum by 2/3 as well.
In local transport, it is the electric trolley bus and local rail that saves much more than 2/3, meaning that getting some share of trips into that transport gets us a larger share of the way to Energy Independence.
And that is just the direct energy savings. Rail also provides far more transport capacity per “lane mile”. The more people depend on car transport, the harder it is to build Living Energy Independent shelter, because the roads and parking lots push buildings apart. The more people rely on rail transport, the easier it is to build Living Energy Independent shelter.
Third, as noted in Sunday Train: 21st Century Steel Interstate, the energy efficiencies apply to freight as well as passenger transport. Combining the energy efficiency savings of rail with the energy efficiency savings of electric transport, an electric long haul Rapid Freight system can easily save over nine tenths of the energy presently used for long-haul freight transport.
And remember that we are trying to grow good transport. For many types of rail systems, its entirely possible to improve an existing rail corridor now, and launch services now, using diesel locomotives, and then upgrade the system to use electric locomotives after the overhead catenary has been installed. Both steps represent progress toward Good Transport, so at the same time that corridor is being electrified, a new corridor can be improved to take the existing diesel trains. Each time the strategy is repeated, the share of electric rail trips rises.
Many high frequency corridors will be upgraded to EMU trains with the electric engines distributed throughout the trains. Still, all we need to convert the locomotive hauled trains to electricity is an electric locomotive. So no matter where we reach the limit of that strategy, we never end up “throwing away” perfectly good passenger cars.
But Only Using Trains Is Impossible
None of the above implies or suggests a rail-only transport system. “One size fits all” can never be truly energy efficient, so Living Energy Independence requires abandoning “one size fits all”.
So we must abandon Auto-Dependent transport, but that does not mean abandoning the automobile. There will still be large numbers of transport tasks that to move one or a few people along infrequently used routes or for unscheduled trips. So while a Good Transport system will have no need for the Interstate Expressway Highway system, we will still need small vehicles for city streets and country highways. The cars might be electric rather than gas powered. Some might be specialized for “last mile”, home to station and station to home trips rather than going everywhere. And a larger share of cars might be shared among a much larger group of people in a neighborhood or town center rather than sitting parked 95% of the time waiting on a single person.
But there will still be something we recognize as a car. We had carriages serving a similar role before the age of fossil fuels, and the initial rise of rail in the Age of Coal led to a growth in their use, not a decline. And while there may be an increased reliance in horse drawn transport in some rural areas, we cannot build our urban transport systems on the miserable conditions that so many horses suffered under in 19th century cities. So electric or internal combustion or some mix of the two, we will continue to use horseless carriages.
And one of the common tasks for cars in a Good Transport system will be to get to the train and get from the train to where someone needs to go. Indeed, with a sufficient number of shared cars at the major destination stations, for many people, the private automobile will only really need to be able to get to the local station or stop. But just as the Oak Tree must first become an Oak Sapling, first we reach the point where substantial numbers of people are independent of cars for substantial numbers of trips. When double digit percentages of people can do most of their regular trips to work, grocery store, school and social gatherings without requiring a horseless carriage, the niche has been established within which broad shared use can grow. Witness New York and Cabs.
The most energy efficient vehicle in the world is of course the bicycle. It is the only form of transport more energy efficient than walking. And a train service is one of the transport cyclists best friends. Once our bike is equipped for quick trips to the grocery store (if you have a family, an Xtracycle extension or bike trailer might be needed) and we can either commute by bike or pedal-and-ride, we are set for local trips. What we need is a way to turn a trip longer than we can make on our bike into a couple of local trips. And the train is perfect for that.
Indeed, even if there is no place to store the bike on the train for the trip, we can get a folding bike and bolsa bag to sling it over our shoulder and bring it along anyway. And when going to walkable destinations, all that is required is secure bike parking at the origin station.
Regular city buses, as noted above, are on their own not much more energy efficient than current auto technology. However, when they leverage existing rail services, they can provide the first and last few miles of substantially longer trips, so when they make it possible or more convenient for larger numbers of people to use a train service, that is a substantial benefit.
And buses do not sit parked 95% of the time. We can far better afford the material cost of investing in more energy efficient battery-supported internal combustion and internal combustion-supported electric vehicles when that material is providing transport for 75% of each day rather than 5%.
Finally, the most successful bus routes can be provided with overhead catenary and upgraded to trolley buses, providing the investment in a specific route that supports development based upon the availability of that route.
So there is no notion here that cars and bikes and buses are all going to be replaced by trains. Trains will provide the backbone of the system because they can move large numbers of people with high energy, space, and material efficiency. But that system will create a wide range of transport niches, into which will grow a wide range of transport choices.
Wait A Minute: Isn’t the Sunday Train about High Speed Rail?
Just as “one size fits all” does not work for mode of transport, it does not work for transport task. Local transport, regional transport, and inter-regional transport all have their distinctive requirements, and efficiency requires designing to meet those requirements.
When we get to specific routes and specific train technology, there are various local light rail and heavy rail options for local transport, various light rail and heavy rail options for regional transport, and various classes of conventional and higher speed rail services for inter-regional transport. There are various ways to share or segregate passenger and freight rail infrastructure.
Each type of rail system can act as the backbone of a transport system with a wide range of complementary services of other types. They each share similar advantages in energy, space and material efficiency when moving relatively larger numbers of people (and goods) from point A to point B. They each share similar advantages in reduced time lost for a stop so better ability to connect points A and B, B and C, and C and D while also connecting points A and D.
But there are also distinctive challenges for each type of task, distinctive problems to solve, distinctive institutional barriers to overcome. So it would be silly to try to design a rail service that provides trunk service between major metropolitan areas, transport connecting local areas within major metropolitan areas, transport within local areas within major metropolitan areas, transport into and out of smaller regional cities, transport connecting smaller regional cities with their hinterlands and each other and and local transport within smaller cities and in the countryside.
Yet there are some people who have built their myths of rail (both positive and negative) around some specific type of train serving some specific type of transport task, either well or poorly, and so when someone says “train”, they pigeonhole it into some specific transport task.
Higher Speed Rail can be a useful tool in developing people’s consciousness, because of the occasional need for a specific inter-regional journey by a relatively large number of people contained in that area.
But if we take the steps to reduce the severity of the economic crises we face in the next two generations, the majority of passenger miles by train will be on a wide variety of type of conventional rail, not on Higher Speed Rail.
Indeed, if it was necessary to choose between local transport efficiency with rail and complementary transport services, and Higher Speed Rail, its hard to see why Higher Speed Rail would win. Indeed, the propaganda against Higher Speed Rail, financed in part by the Petroleum Industry, includes precisely this false choice.
However, there is no such need. Well chosen Higher Speed Rail routes can generate operating surpluses. So there is no reason for Higher Speed Rail to fight with local public transport or with conventional inter-urban rail for operating subsidies.
On the side of the farebox, filling a seat for thirty miles to leave it empty for three hundred is not appealing to a Higher Speed Rail operator, so the fare structure will always be focused on inter-regional transport. And since a cross-platform transfer is the most convenient of all train transfer, a well designed Higher Speed Rail system will generate more new local rail trips than it diverts with express service between neighboring stations.
And most critically, the passenger capacity of a pair of express urban tracks is substantially greater than the capacity of an eight lane lane Expressway. So where an Expressway destroys a Boulevard, the rail versions can fit comfortably together in less space than either. Passing into and out of the station shared with the Higher Speed Rail, Higher Speed Rail, regional rail, and local rail can all share common infrastructure. And that material efficiency means that well designed improvements for Higher Speed Rail can also improve regional and local rail services.
So, yes, the above all applies to Higher Speed Rail, and also to Regional Rail, and also to Local Rail. They all have their own parts to play in the pursuit of a Good Transport system for a Good Economy.
Plus, when talking addressing people at the Magic, Power and Myth levels of consciousness for transport (and of course, each of us are at different stages for different areas of discourse), the Higher Speed Trains are real cool, seem very powerful, and America-By-God really ought to be able to get our trains to run that fast if we try. That’s why, no matter how much sense it makes to roll out 110mph and 125mph as rapidly as possible, it really does make sense to set out to build two or three Express HSR corridors as soon as practicable.