Building more roads in response to congestion is the economic equivalent of telling an obese man to buy bigger trousers
Who will be the last man to use the last drop of oil in his car? Will he be a tyrant, a president or a billionaire? Maybe the last stash will come from a battered jerry can of petrol, which has been hoarded and squirreled away for years. How much do you think the last drop will cost? How impotent will he feel as he watches the petrol gauge move to empty, never again to be replenished?
What will the world look like on that last day? Will it be a dystopian Mad Max type wasteland, destroyed by wars over the last drop of oil? What are the chances that the last day will be welcomed by a sensitive green society that has prepared for this eventuality for decades?
Human nature suggests that the green image of a tranquil last day is not likely and it is more likely the last day will be preceded by panic and anger. For example, how many people will have starved because the productivity of agriculture will fall precipitously as dwindling petrol supplies dry up? These are not questions we ask ourselves everyday, but surely this day will come and our own children might see it.
The world is involved in a monumental resource battle as the irresistible force of an exploding global population smashes into the immovable object of finite resources.
While cycling around Amsterdam recently, it struck me that cities like the Dutch capital will be among the best prepared for the end of oil. Of course, life there will change in a most dramatic fashion — as it will everywhere. However, by creating a consensus around cycling, urban living, public transport and fuel efficiency, the Dutch are pre-empting the inevitable.
Maybe, every time they cycle to work, they don’t see this decision as training for the last day, but this is exactly what it is. The people of Amsterdam are doing the hard part today to make sure that when the hard part really comes, that they will find it easy. The interesting aspect is the “hard part” isn’t hard at all. In fact, cycling around on narrow streets with few cars gives you an almost childlike sense of freedom.
Contrast this Dutch approach to urban transport within Ireland. In our planning, with our refusal to go high-rise and our increasingly spread-out, car-dependent, commuting model, we are going in the wrong direction. By building more roads and buying more cars in response to congestion, we are fooling ourselves. This is the economic equivalent of telling an obese man that the solution to his fatness is to buy bigger trousers.
The news coming from the energy sector suggests we have precious little time left. Last week, both the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal told us that Russian oil production had peaked. Russia is the world’s second largest oil producer and the implication of this announcement from Lukoil, Russia’s biggest oil company, is frightening. In addition, Mexico — the US’s third largest source of oil — announced that it would not be an oil exporter in a few years. Meanwhile, the North Sea’s output is declining rapidly.
What is the world doing about this? We have responded by bizarrely growing food to use as fuel! This, at a time when there are food riots all over the third world, seems almost grotesquely surreal. Corn — the staple for the world for thousands of years — is now being grown to feed engines, not people! This is not a long-term solution. In fact, the idea of food for fuel should be seen as an indicator of just how serious the energy crisis is and how close we are, not just to an uncomfortable spike in the price of petrol, but also to a monumental shift in the price of all energy.
Ireland should prepare for this now by using planning as the key instrument to change our behaviour. In fact, we should use the slump in the economy to take stock and learn a few lessons.
The major lifestyle lesson of the past few years is that sloppy planning leads to urban sprawl. If you combine this with the deregulation of financial markets, which allows credit to cascade into the economy, you get a housing bubble which results in lots of worthless houses being built in the wrong places.
This is what we have ended up with; loads of empty houses in parts of the country with few people and not enough accommodation in the part of the country with the most people. So we have thousands of once expensive, second homes unoccupied and not enough fairly-priced, first homes for those who need them!
One way to solve this is to build up not out, creating the population density to make new public transport investment in trams and trains affordable. In the 1970s, the Dutch decided to move the old port of Amsterdam out of the city, freeing up valuable land, reducing congestion and giving the new port access to the road and rail network. Dublin could do exactly the same. Dublin’s port is a waste of space. It could be moved and built on. This idea is hardly new, it’s been knocking around for a while, but the energy crisis makes it imperative.
Developments like the Point Village and U2’s tower are the future. Similar ideas are being floated in Cork, down by Pairc Ui Chaoimh, while anyone who has tried to get around Galway at rush-hour will realise that it can’t sustain more suburban sprawl. Creating new towns, with mixed use shops and residential developments in the one area is the only way to respond to the world running out of oil.
There are lots of ways that a government with a clear vision could do this. Give out free bikes, for example. I know this sounds odd but why not? No one could argue that free education did not prepare the society for the challenges of globalisation, why not prepare the population for the coming energy crisis — where oil could be at $200 or $300 a barrel — with free bikes?
The State could also cut public transport fares by half to encourage use. The basic tenet of economics is that people respond to price changes, so use economics creatively. We could reward development that is environmentally logical and penalise development that is not. These are all pretty simple things. Cost these initiatives, figure out how to finance them and do it.
The Dutch have shown us the way and have been repaid in spades by tourist revenue alone. So why don’t we break the habit of a lifetime and prepare for the coming energy depression? Given the certainty of the last day of oil, we owe it to our children to ready them for the greatest revolution in living the world has seen for centuries.
Good luck with this. Since I’m in Ireland, I have talked about this to many irish and I still can’t understand, neither they can explain to me, where are the advantages of living miles away from the civilization, with no services and stairs in your house. Every home needing 2 cars and lots of petrol and time waste in commuting. Many Irish I know, even prefer duplex apartments to standard apartments the same size because… they have stairs!!!. The biggest accessibility problem looks to be a pro for many Irish people I know. They agree that will be a problem… Read more »
We built Turlough hill in the late 1960’s, we should build a few more and copy Iceland’s approach to energy needs. Hydrogen driven cars are also an option.
Besides, the Irish are too lazy to cycle in great numbers. I could not see Hicos and decklanders cycling anywhere. You would have to give children the free bikes and hope they continue it into adulthood. Most of us live too far from work to warrant a bycycle anyway.
David, peak oil panic is total unwarranted – the U.S. has five times the Saudi oil reserves in shale oil under some of its central states – that should keep them going for another one or two hundred years. Then there is the nuke to fall back on, it can to produce electricity for many different modes of transportation . The energy can be stored in a battery, for all electric vehicles or in hydrogen form for an internal combustion engine – BMW has already announced the Hydrogen 7 – a dual energy source vehicle using hydrogen or petrol. Battery… Read more »
I agree about the Irish being lazy and not cycling. I cannot see that working. I am moving to an apartment only a mile away from my job, so I am doing my bit, but I am in a minority that has this flexibility to move, as I am renting and did not buy a house. I fear that there will not be any change to the current policy unless we have a change, and a serious change in Government because I fear that they lack the vision. We also need to change our own view of things. Irish people… Read more »
I cycle from Sandyford to Thomas St. every day. Good exercise and I don’t have to spend horrendous money on fuel.
BMW has announced a new hydrogen car every year since 1988 and still nobody runs the risk of being run over by one. I used to cycle but had so many near death experiences and three accidents I decided that staying alive was a good plan and stopped. I remember well when Ireland played Russia because some idiot in an Astra opened his door in my face outside Landsdowne. If you cycle into town you have nowhere to hitch your horse to either. An abandoned bike can stay at the bike stands for all eternity. Public transport turns into a… Read more »
Original-Ed, While I agree with you that moving to new fuel services is a must — where will the uranium come from for nuclear power? That too is a finite resource. Further more, there are the tar sands in Canada, Shale Oil in the US, and there is also wide held belief in super deep oil below deep watedr in henceforth untouchable fields. However, for the tar sands and shale oil, the cost of accesing these reserves is prohibitive. It will not stop the problem of high oil prices. The same goes for uranium — it is hard to come… Read more »
Nice article David, keep up the good work. I moved to Holland from Dublin almost ten years ago and one of the driving factors was that The Netherlands offers sustainable city living. Not only can cycle everywhere but there is a fully integrated public transport system so that I can check on one website (9292ov.nl) what is the quickest route from any location in the country to another using public transport. I have a car but I drive maybe once a week, normally when I need to carry stuff in the car. Another point that you ‘maybe didn’t hear about… Read more »
Very suitable topic for 30th April; Queen’s Birthday in The Netherlands. Today you can cycle everywhere even after having 1 or 2 oranjebitters….
Surely the article highlights that nuclear power is the only option open to Ireland to ensure that we have some degree of security of energy in the future. History has shown us that the the energy ‘waste product’ of previous generations have become major economic resources of future generations. Bitumen was a waste product of oil production – which was used to build the roads that became the major economic artieries of the 20th century, natural gas was initially vented into the atmosphere from oil wells – this is now recognised as being the cleanest and most efficient cabron source… Read more »
David, Dublin could be turned into the cycle haven you seek in one swift swoop. All it would take is is to give cyclists the same “right of way” as they have in Amsterdam. Over there, if there is an accident between any other party (whether it be a pedestrian or a driver), and a cyclist, the other party is automatically at fault.
The problem is that everyone drives in Ireland so there is no political will to introduce something like that. We are closer to Boston than Berlin after all…
It’s back to Malthus again. And while I do believe man will come up with solutions, it will not be quick enough. The R&D and product development over the last 50 years has been huge and it’s slow. It is very very hard to match the energy density of a litre of gasoline and the way it can propel a 1 tonne vehicle over 20 km at 100kph. Batteries come nowhere near this yet. Maybe in 20 years. But I think we only have 5 – 10 years to crack this one or Malthus’s nightmare scenario will become global. As… Read more »
1. We won’t give up the car until the last second.
2. As a nation we are a follower not a leader and won’t budge on oil until some other country has a serious problem.
3. When we do react it will be piecemeal and in the wrong areas and directed at the wrong places.
Basically we are screwed and if we look to the politicians to move first we are even more screwed.
Philip above scares me. Weighing bees and managing dozens and dozens of people. Sounds like an air hostess to me.
I too cycle every day from Sandyford to town. It is great exercise but it is extremely dangerous, guys and gals in their new cars will almost run you over while 2 mins later you pass them by as they are stopped at the lights. While I do feel sorry for people who commute long distances they did so in order to buy a fairly small house in somewhere in Meath meanwhile i know apts in town with the same square footage were available at the same price. No factoring was made of the extra cost in commute and no… Read more »
Agree with the thread forming here – the problem is not the Irish politicians – although they are not blameless – but the Irish people themselves. Let’s not kid ourselves, Irish people just don’t care and they refuse to look ahead anything more then 1 or years. Of course there are obvious, well known exceptions in the nation but look nations like the Dutch, Danish, Chinese, Singaporeans, Germans etc. Sure they are not perfect but at least there seems to be a communal thread or sense in these societies of having to all club together to lift the tide and… Read more »
Good man David, hopefully articles like this will help people realise apartment prices are a diversion and the challenges facing the world are climate change, food security and energy security. Sure, there are major economic issues right now but thats all just paper money anyways…. Agree 100% on biofuels; the fools in their flexifuel cars are literally outbidding the third world for food and putting it in their tank with an added bonus of destroying rainforests in the process… I would argue we need to hitch our wagon to Europe and launch an EU wide project, largely because the scale… Read more »
I really dispair at dublin/cork/galway going the LA route for transport infrastructure. I know David has a special affinity to the danes and with my wife being Danish I go to CPH every few months. In the past 5 years they have put in a metro which they are extending. Timetables are down to the half minute (thats 30 second accuracy for feck sake) its non driver operated, runs 24 hours a day and has some stations in the middle of fields. When I asked why in these fields, the proud danish response is “there will be houses here in… Read more »
Hello again. I think it is good to see a debate on our reliance on oil and gas energy, and I mentioned about food also in a previous post. In relation to the “Green” politics around nuclear, and the risks, the main Green Party’s in Europe have all ready recognized that nuclear is the lesser of two evils, and it should be developed. Some one in a previous post , I think it was Bobby, mentioned that uranium is a limited supply, and this is true, but advances in technology are being made to enhance the half life of uranium… Read more »
I posted on politics.ie a question to guage public acceptance of the idea of a modern digital solid motor fuel conversions to consume wood – far higher density than land intensive ethanol or biodiesel so no food impact, but comes at the expense of some bulk on the vehicle. No opinions, so no idea if there is a market yet. Conversion would occupy part of the loadbed of a crew cab as an alternative to the petrol powered saloon.
Interested in a couple of posts here: The Original Ed – what battery technology do you refer to that will replace Lithium ion? Do you have a source? Nuclear is not “the lesser of two evils” – I know it is easy to use these cliches but we should stop associating “Nuclear” with “Evil” There are solutions to the nuclear waste problem – granted they are storage solutions but now we are expert in making tunnels we should try it !! A real NIMBY issue about to emerge. I always smile heading to Cork as the signs proudly declare it… Read more »
And don’t forget that the Dutch produce their own oil and gas. And they have considerable reserves in the Southern North Sea and in thier GrÃ¶ningen Gas Field. Plus they have a major oil terminal – meaning that they are likely to be impacted less by supple disruptions. Ireland on the other-hand produces little of it’s own energy needs. Hydro, wind and turf account for little. The Cobh gas field is small and declining and the Corrib field has been delayed a few years. Ireland – you would think – would have learned to develop in a manner that suits… Read more »
B, don’t be giving the wacky airline here any ideas. the last thing I want is are Pilots and Hostesses working from home while us punters are up in the air. The root cause of the incompetence and poor planning etc is not becasue we Irish are stupid. It’s a pure and simple lack of accountability and straight talking. That’s it in a nutshell. Our business/ government/press/ entertainment/ financial/legal legacies remain very intact to this day with a high degree of nepotism, cronyism and faciliated insider activity which keeps new ideas out and allows old ideas to fester and grow… Read more »
Talk about a mad max scenario when oil runs out…..most of the roads and drivers are border line mad max already, you would be insane even contemplating getting on a bicycle on these roads. There is a company in Dublin “GreenAer” importing electric cars called a Reva from India they look great http://www.greenaer.ie They cost 12500 euros and have a top speed of 80km/h and a range of 80km it takes 2 hours to recharge with annual running costs of 406 euros all in. Is it not time to buy shares in Uranium or any commodity for that matter? I… Read more »
Amsterdam vs Bejing? Remember when there were no cars in Bejing? It doesn’t matter what we do if the Chinese follow our outdated and unsustainable examples whether on transport, refrigeration or dam technology. There’s nothing to stop tram lines being overlaid on existing arterial roads. In Brum I remember my Dad telling me he arrived from Ireland and was confused why they were ripping up the tram-lines. Guess what? Birmingham plans to relay them on the same roads! Why can’t you have a tram from outlying areas to the Luas with punitive fares for single car users? In London in… Read more »
Part of me wants the oil to run out, just to see what the world is like.
David, I don’t know if you watched the RTE News last night. I am referring to the protests in Mayo against the withdrawal of cancer services in that county. I suspect that the reason why Dutch people are able to cycle frequently is many of those Dutch people live in high-density, well-planned cities/towns where there are sufficient economies of scale to provide all essential services such that the vast majority of Dutch people are living no more than 5-10 km of hospitals, schools, universities etc. Given that many Irish people have a strong reluctance to live in high-density housing schemes,… Read more »
Ian, I watched RTE last night and saw do-gooder Liz O’Donnell in Africa. This year the Irish state is going to pay 900,000,000 euros to aid in Africa and this is to increase to 1.4 billion euros in the coming years. Aren’t we great! In a country where we support enough Africans through welfare is it not time we said enough is enough. We criticise the government for wasting money but this is a joke. We have our own poverty, educational, infrastructure and health service problems so why can’t we cut back on this outflow of essential tax generated cash… Read more »
We need a new backbone for our electricity system (probably nuclear in some form but lets research it properly) and supplement it renewables. (All renewables would be great but unlikely; It would take 12 ardnacrushas to just replace moneypoint for example). A big problem here is the new age/pseudo green lobby who are dominating the debate and don’t understand the difference between a mW and a MW. They really want to believe theres enough energy in Irelands grassland to power (and feed) cities but dont trust engineering (or indeed most proper sciences)” I fully agree with this i think the… Read more »
This is a cry for help David in connection with your article in the independent 30/4/08 please reply…………. I bought a franchise as a family business to specialise in Electric bicycles, motorcycles & ultimately cars. We used our SSIA money to do this instead of buying a new car or going on holiday; my son is now doing his leaving cert & has applied to study renewable energy because of what we are doing at home, something that 2 years ago was miles from his mind. We have customers of every description right across the country, but we wanted to… Read more »
Marty, have you also looked at politics.ie as a forum to vent? Not saying it will do any good but I know many councillors and other participants across the political spectrum debate there and use it to some extent as a sentiment indicator – it sounds to me like you have a great product but no infrastructural support which is a killer of a situation to be in and very frustrating. You should also try talking to some of the University innovation centres – with direct connections into the academics they can link you to the ones who have energy… Read more »
Writing to any of the Greenies is like writing to Santa. Santa would reply quicker though and maybe give a more thoughtful and useful answer.
David: You are blaming the pig for the shit in the sittingroom while the dog is standing there wagging its tail. The oil crisis is not based on a diminishing resource base (I have good reason to know that there is still plenty left to exploit). It is simply and solely due to politics, exacerbated by greed. The Fundamental (capital F) cause of the Middle East crisis is the Old Testament and all the tribal delusions of grandeur it has engendered. The Greeks and Romans were wary of religiosity but unable to deal with it. If western civilization fails to… Read more »
Hi David, Your article is once again very insightful! I wish some of our politicians were listening! I fully agree that many of the new road projects are useful but a proper planning and public transport developments would position us better for the future! Once again we have numerous individuals that believe we should go the nuclear route as a solution. I know that you may be sympathic towards ideals like this. but basically people sould be reminded that this is not a sustainable source for the future, it too is in limited supply. Essentially we would move from one… Read more »
Whatever Ireland does about sources of electricity, please, be aware:
The range of comments about how and why Ireland plans infrastructure poorly etc are interesting. I don’t think it helps to blame the public service or political figures. The public service is full of highly capable but underperforming and hugely frustrated people, just like any other hierarchy. And like all hierarchies, personal survival of the leadership is as important as corporate missions, particularly given the career-limiting effects of attempting to change an established status quo. There have been big improvements in Irish wealth levels across the board in the last 20 years mostly due to foreign direct investment. The FDI… Read more »
Was thinking about those green electric cars and bikes. The cost per energy unit KWh is actually no better than a car – in fact, even worse. Take your electric car from greenaer. Gives you about 15Kw for about 1.5 hrs and you cover 80kms. Cost to recharge about 20Kwh-25kwh of energy is about 3-4 Euro. Any old Diesel car has a far greater range and speed will do 80kms to the gallon (sorry for mixing me imperials with me metrics) which is a little under 6 Euro. For that 6 Euro I move 5 people with great comfort at… Read more »
David, putting things in perspective FF have committed to spending â‚¬34 billion with Transport 21 from 2006 to 2015, it’s been reportred the spend is equivalent to over â‚¬100 per second – the price of a bike! If we set aside the budget for 1 day a year, this would fund 100,000 bikes to be provided ‘free of charge’ as suggested….I’m sure the likes of Minister Eamonn Ryan would support this type of intiiative ?
X, it sounds like you’ve experienced Joyce’s pain in dealing with Ireland – the sow that eats its own farrow. Dealing with Irish professionals is a nightmare. They focus purely on their cut, and often bring very little expertise to the deal. Fcuk em. The article is very good. But a lot of the price rises we’re seeing are caused by speculators looking at the ridiculous debasement of the dollar and deciding to get out of paper assets and in to the hard stuff. The rises will partly reverse soon enough, and any urgency over sustainable energy use will dissipate.… Read more »
“I suppose what I am saying here is we cannot avoid fuel oil in the next 10-20 years. We just need to use a lot less of it. And do not knock biofuels…from compost digesters etc. (waste food, cow poo etc.) no biofuel crops! I cannot see how electricity for small motive power applications will be a practical route unless we can beat the ESB conversion efficiency and futhermore it adds nothing to the environment to have electric vehicles as long as the ESB is burning oil” agree with most of this, On the electric cars/ESB vs petrol/diesel cars, Im… Read more »
David, I always appreciate your articles and blogs. Majority of the time I agree with your synopses but on this occasion, I respectfully disagree for the following reason. With regard to your position on the world’s oil reserves running out or what swampy and his eco-nuts will refer to as ‘peak oil’, peak oil is a scam designed to create artificial scarcity and jack up prices while giving the state an excuse to invade our lives and order us to sacrifice our hard-earned living standards. Publicly available information such as the Club of Rome strategy manuals from 30 years ago… Read more »
Peak plagiarism! See below:
Regarding Peak-oil. Peak-oil concerns the peak in our oil production. Once we hit the peak we will enevitably see a drop-off in rates. The only way we can avoid this is by increasing production – but that only postpones the peak. People who say that peak-oil is fantasy are like the people who were (last year) encouraging the property market. Some have axes to grind or are just a bit nuts – choosing the evidence that they want and consider everything else as being propaganda. (Believe me – i did the same for the house price bubble) The only real… Read more »
Good on ya SpinstaSista! He’s not the only moron on this site that knows nothing and has no fully formed opinions of his own. I hope Alex Jones gives Julian Arnold a bollicking for this but he is nothing but a conspiracy theorist anyway, arrested once for operating a bullhorn without a permit.
i recommend Canada. there is a good mix of entrepreneurism, social responsibility, and forward thinking.
Canada has a stable political and social climate and is a great place to do business.
I will no doubt be relocating there ( i am a canadian living in Dublin). For all the tax i pay in this country i cannot get my son the medical care he needs.
Glad to see there’s so much open mindedness and objectivity here on this site.
Julian, The global conspiracy argument doesn’t stack up on so many levels. But it does have an appeal to our ‘something for nothing/get rich quick generation’ … it gives us the easy way out… we can say “its all ‘their’ fault.” The elite dont need a secret society to guide policy and make up science as you describe; its neither practical nor necessary. …If a shift occurs whether its good (travel, computing, medicine etc) or bad (flooding, crop shortages, disease etc) rich people be able to take advantage of it or at least escape the worst of its consequences. To… Read more »
Garry, I appreciate your comments, a breath of fresh air and I thank you for sharing your viewpoint. My position isn’t normally as politically charged, I rarely post on any forums of a political nature. I agree not all wealthy business-people are that conscientious but neither are all of them out to pillage all they can (Bill Gates?). My only real reservation of late is that if we go to far to the left, particularly eco-left, we will smother the creative energy and business acumen we’re going to need if we are going to progress human kind without wrecking the… Read more »