I would like to address the supply side scenario for energy production based on assumptions of economic growth requiring an increase in the use of energy.
The trouble with focusing on supply side economics and energy is that they both ignore demand. In relation to economics, the lack of effective demand for the plethora of consumer products will prove to be the downfall of this past generation’s experiment with supply side economics. With respect to energy, we must recognize that demand side management is critical to any possibility of a sustainable future. Liberal economics (laissez faire, the so-called free market) cannot deal with the problem(s). We need a planned economy to effectively retrofit the infrastructure and to rebuild our communities to be walkable, therefore eliminating the terrible daily waste of oil/energy resources for transportation purposes.
I have to differ with rosy scenarios regarding the contribution that photovoltaics can make. I’m not an electrical engineer or an electrician, but it is my understanding that PVs don’t have the oomph (be it voltage, amperage, and/or wattage) to contribute very significantly to the current and recommended increased usage of electricity. Sure, PVs and wind might be able to contribute to lighting applications and a few very high efficiency appliances, but they can not power our transportation, industrial, business, and home heating and air conditioning, hot water, agricultural inputs, refrigeration, drying, and cooking needs.
We could go full throttle to the building of nuclear power plants, but I am highly leery of their toxicity and safety issues. Even if we pursued the path of electrification with the maximization of nuclear power, it will require a tremendous overhaul of our transportation infrastructure, and other applications currently met by oil products, coal, and natural gas.
First of all, nuclear is not a “free market” technology. Government programs paid for most of the resources for development of such. Then, there is the waste issue. Is it not the Federal Government who is going to or proposing to pay for the waste depository at Yucca Mountain (Nevada)? Also, there is the issue of bringing back the so-called Price-Anderson legislation. This was legislation in which the Federal Government provided insurance for nuclear power plants and related operations. No private insurer would underwrite the risks, thus the Feds had to step in.
Perhaps a better scenario could be realized if we started very soon with a planned economy that focused first on economic and energy demand side management and also retrofitted infrastructures with respect to very scarce and relatively clean (I view carbon resources, if appropriately used, to be cleaner than nuclear) energy applications.
The potential for solar thermal hot water is immense. Imagine all hot water demanding properties on the planet equipped with such devices. Imagine all the (community/worker owned) jobs involved with the production, installation, and distribution of these units. I list distribution last, because all efforts need to be made to maximize the localization of such production and installation, as well as any other products for which going towards relocalization may be possible (e.g. food).
Passive solar design combined with electronic environmental sensors and controls (also relevant to solar water heating and weatherization projects).
However, priority to upgrading housing and housing ownership conditions for the poor should take precedence over these type of projects.
Relocalization is part of the plan (and not just for food). Instead of reversalism, the term that the author Staniford has coined as being emblematic of the relocalization paradigm, let me offer the following "re" words that imply a gradual evolution to a future which incorporates the best of the past, for your consideration, response, and action.
Little to no beneficial change will occur without an almost religious change from the paradigm of economic growth and standard of living to one that emphasizes community redevelopment and quality of life. This is an important educational component of an alternative ecological economic plan.
If we can be successful and realize the educational/reform component, the next (concurrent) step is to reorganize to one of cooperative (or at least partially so – we will probably need to compromise on the divide between one dollar/one vote and one person/one vote as the dominant paradigm of economic organization) communitarian local and regional economic entities, at least until the day that we are all nearly equal in terms of ownership of the means and goods of production and distribution. How to assure the transition from inequality is problematic. However, as the entire economic system begins and proceeds to fail, those wealthy seeking to avoid total financial ruin will welcome the opportunity to accept the quality of life paradigm, foregoing their opulent, ostentatious, enslaving, ecocidal, genocidal, and suicidal "standard of living" modus operandi.
We need coordinated regional planning agencies that agree on the fundamental mission of a global ecological economy that have the three basic pillars of equity, humanity, and sustainability. These “planning” agencies would work together and with the local/regional economic entities to determine how resources are allocated to and within communities based on the relocalization paradigm and other governing principles. The vehicle, That I envision here is a Peoples’ Equity Union with “branches” in all communities/neighborhoods.
Many communities will need to be physically rebuilt to make them liveable and walkable (i.e. new urbanism, retrofitting residential communities built in the oil/automobile age by renovating, building or otherwise appropriately employing community economic and cultural centers making necessities and other important quality of life amenities, available to all within walking distance of their homes Also such a plan should include housing and other built environment improvement and ownership opportunities for all. Included in such a plan would be neighborhood work stations which would aid in the ability of office workers to telecommute in their occupations as we transition from a supply-side nightmare to a sustainable, equitable, and quality of life economy.
Imagine all the jobs!
But jobs are not enough, restructuring equity arrangements and reallocating resources in an equitable, humane, and ecological manner need to be a fundamental part of the plan.
With respect to electric vehicles, my thoughts are that they may be a small part of a longer term solution and probably restricted to rebuilt/walkable urban and suburban neighborhoods for the use of the elderly and/or infirm. The top priority with respect to fossil fuels and other energy resources is demand side management. The chief priority in planning the role of the automobile is to reduce automobile use by 80% in the next 20 to 40 years. We are currently burdened by a terrible oversupply (including owned and overstocked inventories at factories and dealerships) of fuel inefficient and poorly designed internal combustion vehicles. If these vehicles weren't so poorly designed, there could be a significant opportunity to convert a minority of them to hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. But they are very poorly designed. Perhaps the current population of vehicles should be deconstructed and parts reused or recycled. New vehicles should be exclusively, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric, except maybe for long-term transport and work vehicles..
There could be tremendous amounts of work generated by the reconstruction of neighborhoods and the rearrangement (read reallocation) of production, distribution, and communication systems to make them neighborhood friendly. In addition, a great potential for work lies in the field of deconstruction of transportation and related infrastructure adaptation. Parking lots could be torn up and converted to community gardens. Streets (and rail systems) could be torn up and converted to walking and bike paths and others altered to be less wide, restoring the liveability of housing located on these very noisy busy passageways. Parking garages could be torn down and replaced by mixed use developments. Highways could be dedicated mostly to bus travel, long distance transport, and perhaps some, if not many, of them torn down and reclaimed as natural and agricultural land. For automobile usage, it would be optimal to encourage the development of car-sharing cooperatives. All vehicles left in use must be quiet, and all vehicles slower (with the exception of busses, trains, and long range transport). With respect to transport and distribution systems (and production systems) relocalization and neighborhood telecommunications (including teleconferencing facilities) should be the major goal, greatly reducing the need for long-range transport.
Another Iteration of “the Plan”
There is No Alternative to Socialism
We need some perspective.
Fossil fuel use is about 150 years old and automotive use about 100 years old. Look how absurdly, the personal automobile dominates our life and is destroying any hope for a future.
We need to deal with more than incremental adjustments from the modern automotive age. If we want to continue the many benefits of precious fossil fuels, the many opportunity costs of those fuels, to personal automobile usage, then we need to set as a goal (here in the USA) and realize it, to reduce the use of the personal automobile by 80% in the next 20 to 40 years.
It is not encouraging, because Obama explicitly stated the other day that the automobile is such an important part of American history and culture and needs to remain so. This is a statement of a myopic politician beholden to special interests.
If you've never lived in the Northeast (USA) where much of the city, town, and village centers were built before the automobile, it may be hard to imagine a future with the greatly reduced automobile use, but it is very possible and absolutely desirable.
The key is the walkable neighborhood. That is, neighborhoods for everybuddy where everyone can get what they need within walking distance of their residence. This will take a major shift in the way that resources are allocated and products distributed to communities. The major over-supply side mall outlets (for those products and services that have utility) could become regional warehouses and older town and village centers, where they exist could be explicitly brought back as outlets for these products. Where the town and village centers do not exist, such as here out West (I'm in Eugene, Oregon), where the mindless assumption of the automobile has led to the mindless, endless residential districts with their equally alienating and squandering strip malls and malls, communities could be rebuilt (think of all the jobs) to provide community centers and outlets.
Of course, this will not happen in the absence of a complete commitment to neighborhood/inter-community/inter-regional/worldwide ecological economic resource planning and allocation and redevelopment.
This Plan is too bold for American Politicians. This Plan is Socialism. With advances in communications technology, much progress, in the development of community centers, could help greatly increase the amount of tele-commuting that could help people work from and/or near their homes.
The resource allocation issue could be handled with a reformed economic system, an equity union, with a "plan and implement" modus operandi for economic operations. Reforming the financial system to take the fundamentally inflationary Capitalist aspect of "discounting the future" (i.e. assuming that money in the future will be worth less) could lead to a system of ecological economical redevelopment where only true growth in wealth would occur and be shared and could occur under the aegis of a mission emphasizing peace, equity, humanity, quality of life, and sustainability.
Removing the gluttonous oil resource use by the USA and Capitalist automotive oriented allies would slowly rescind the need for the hegemonic occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the world acting in concert would stand much better prospects for peace.
The Ecology of Redevelopment
A big part of my redevelopment plan (aside from the financial systems reform) is the REBUILDING of neighborhoods to make them liveable, and walkable for the necessities of life (that is, assuming a goal of a much less harried pace than today, but also assuming that people will have responsibilities, obligations, and desires). Such a plan would include a massive education program in retraining workers and training in youth in the building trades. Human resource management would be utilized to try to maximize the match between where the primary contractors/instructors and student/workers lived and the neighborhood building projects.
Communities would be rebuilt to emulate mature ecological systems, in that they maximize the efficiency of energy and resource input into the community so that once resources enter a community, they stay in the community for the maximum amount of time possible. Once all communities are sufficiently rebuilt (a timeline of 20 to 40 years?) under such guidelines, they would evolve to ongoing day-to-day and maintenance communities and the amount of heavy labor required would decrease and the amount of leisure time increase greatly. Again, (day-to-day and maintenance) workers would be employed in, surrounding, and/or as close to their residency as possible and it would be a priority for real and capital assets to be owned by the workers and the community patrons who ideally would be one and the same. The Neighborhood Equity Union would replace credit unions and of course, other forms of financial institutions. Parks and gymnasiums would be an important part of the plan as leisure time increased and the healthy aspects of physical labor decreased.
Concurrent with rebuilding, and the reallocation of production and distribution resources, would be efforts to make office, communications, knowledge and intelligence based labor into primarily home and/or neighborhood based vocations. Occasional travel would be necessary and desirable, but quiet bus and train travel and car-sharing cooperatives could be employed to fill this need along with family visit and recreational needs and desires. With respect to the former, extended families would be encouraged to reunite geographically.