Will the Near Future be a Harsh Climate for Suburbs?

In this excerpt from her new book, "Before the Lights Go Out" author Maggie Koerth-Baker warns of the converging crises of peak oil and climate change on suburban areas.

Using Merriam, Kansas as an example of the typical American suburban environment, Koerth-Baker considers the impacts of what the current science predicts will be a hotter, wetter world with less and more expensive oil:

"Metro towns aren't self-reliant. Their fates have been tied to the fates of the towns they touch for decades. That interconnection works now because gasoline is cheap. What happens to a metro town when travel from one part to another is no longer easy and frequent, no longer something that can happen daily or hourly? What happens when the parts of a metro can no longer rely on the direct support of all of the others but are still on the hook for funding shared systems? What happens to the city at the metro's heart when it can no longer count on the social support, the financial investments, and the intellectual capital of people who actually live elsewhere?"

We have two problems: our metro lifestyles require energy, but we also want to avoid the negative impacts climate change and peak oil will have on metro communities."

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Irvin Dawid's picture

Linking Peak oil (supply or production) with Climate Change

Maggie Koerth-Baker's first reference to 'peak oil (supply) is on page 5 from the excerpt of her book - it is cited from Scientific American: "Has Petroleum Production Peaked, Ending the Era of Easy Oil?", By David Biello | January 25, 2012. As the title suggests, it's not the 'end of oil', but the end of cheap oil - which most in the USA feel has already occurred with $4 gasoline.

The author does a disservice by linking climate change with peak oil supply. One is essentially fact, the other is questionable theory that essentially is a 'moving target' - the date when half the world's oil is consumed or drilled appears to be constantly moving forward.

She implies the loose connection by writing (on pg. 6), "Finally, there's no equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for peak oil....In contrast, peak oil research is a confusing jumble of individual, often contradictory, papers. .." She does a good job, though, of distinguishing conventional from unconventional oil supplies.

Climate change warns of major changes to our environment affecting flora and fauna. Peak oil supply warns of economic havoc caused by scarce, expensive oil - essentially an economic theory based on natural resource availability reminiscent of British economist Thomas Robert Malthus' warning of mass starvation based on growing population and food availability in 1800.

I am an adherent of peak oil.....demand or consumption - in the U.S. The date hasn't moved yet. It was 2007.
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Peak Oil = peak human population.

I think linking the two is great. Once cheap energy goes away, we may (may) be able to see how dependent the sheer numbers of humans are on cheap energy. Our population growth should begin to slow and then decline, as there will be fewer resources to exploit.

This does not mean our lower numbers in the future won't have severe challenges from the environment we harshly degraded.



Peak Oil and Climate Change

The constraints imposed by climate change are much tighter than the constraints on fossil fuel resources.

As Bill McKibben points out, we have to limit our carbon emissions to 565 gigatons to keep CO2 concentrations below 450 ppm and avoid the worst effects of global warming, but there are now proven world reserves of fossil fuels containing 2,795 gigatons of carbon, five times as much as we should burn.

The battle against the Keystone XL pipeline is the first of many battles that will show that scarcity of fossil fuels will not automatically limit CO2 emissions, that we have to make deliberate political decisions to limit fossil fuel production to avoid severe global warming.

There is enough coal, tar sands, and shale oil to keep the dirty-energy economy growing for decades after oil peaks – and enough to cause very severe global warming.

Charles Siegel

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