The End of Suburbia is a documentary concerning itself with predicting the effects of the coming peak of oil production. It consists of interviews with leading peak oil educators including Richard Heinberg, Colin Campbell, Michael Rupert, and James Howard Kunstler. The movie paints a very dark story, and calls on America to relocalize into walkable urban centers rather than continue the folly of suburban sprawl. Additionally it calls for relocalization of our economy, a reversal of globalization, ending the "3000 mile ceasar salad", and other practices which result from abundant cheap energy supplies.
The core of the story is Peak oil, which is the theoretical construct studied by some scientists which predicts production from oil fields as they age. What's been observed over decades of oil production is that once the easy oil is pumped out of a field it is harder and harder and harder to extract the oil. The United States went past its peak of oil production in 1971 and its thought that the world went past its peak of oil production a year or three ago.
Economics 101 "supply and demand" theory says that a commodity with rising demand and decreasing supply will see an increasing price. Right? The history of oil usage is an ever increasing rate of use. That is, except for a short period in the late 70's to early 80's, immediately after the oil crises of the 1970's (and the Carter Administration years). The last few years have seen a wide range of fuel prices leaving us with gasoline cost far higher than recent history. The higher price hasn't been adequately explained to us. It's my belief that the root cause is production peak issues as predicted by the peak oil theory.
This is the sort of problem that The End of Surburbia asks the viewer to ponder. The movie doesn't dwell on questioning whether the peak oil theory is right or wrong. Clearly the people behind this movie assume that it is a correct theory, and their job is to put viewers through a thinking process about the folly of suburbia, the vast amounts of energy wasted to fund the suburban lifestyle, the vast amounts of energy wasted in globalization, and to ponder how we might survive through the coming crisis spawned by less energy availability.
The issue with suburbia itself is the low population density and the unwalkable nature of modern suburbs. Low population density means mass transit is an uneconomic unprofitable business which cannot survive (in most cases). Part of the reason for this is a concerted effort by General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil to destroy mass transit (street car) systems all over the country replacing them with cars on rubber tires fueled by gasoline.
A byproduct of unwalkable cities is that we as a people have gotten out of the habit of casual exercise. We can't walk to the store, we can't walk to work, etc, instead we drive everywhere. Lack of casual exercise is a likely culprit in obesity.
The "3000 mile ceasar salad" is a way of describing a key flaw in globalization. Globalization is about shipping goods all over the world to serve a global search for the lowest price. The "3000 mile ceasar salad" is when globalization means the ingredients for your ceasar salad at lunch are shipped from 3000 (or more) miles away. An example of globalization is availability of fresh fruit in grocery stores all year long even when the fruit is out of season. This is enabled by cheap shipping costs in turn enabled by cheap abundant energy (fossil oil) supplies. If fuel costs continue rising it will make global-wide shipping expensive, making it unprofitable to ship ceasar salad ingredients across the world.
These are the things discussed in The End of Suburbia. It is an excellent movie, very informative, and for some it was a life-changing experience to watch.
Reposted from: http://www.7gen.com/blog/david-herron/review-end-suburbia
I was just in Prague for the last 1 1/2 weeks. Most of the time I was spending 12+ hrs/day in a pair of conferences (open source software).. but I did manage to see quite a bit of the city.
Prague is an old city having been settled over 1000 years ago. That sure gives an interesting perspective on "history" considering that "historical" buildings in California tend to be about 100 yrs old, having 1000+ years of history behind a city puts a very different spin on it.
Today it's a thriving city, they had a revolution to throw out the communists and they've been going gangbusters ever since and there's a lot of westernization going on. Well, if the number of signs pointing to McDonalds restaurants is any indication. But for me what I appreciated the most is the extensive mass transit system.
Everywhere I wanted to go (except for the Prague Castle area) there were street cars or subway lines.. these were entirely electrically driven. Meaning that the whole visit I was riding in EV's.
The city has a bit over 1 mil people.. and pretty much the whole of the city is 4-5 story tall buildings. I think this kind of population density is key to having decent mass transit. All my life I've lived in suburbia in the U.S. and never had access to decent mass transit. In Prague, though, it was just go to the station, hop on, ride a little ways, hop off, real easy and quick. Most of the time the trains ran frequently enough I could walk into the station and within a minute or so the next train would arrive. I think that to support a decent mass transit system the population density has to be high enough there is enough ridership etc.
In terms of the dream of having more EV usage this was nirvana, of sorts.
Of course this is a different kind of EV than we're usually talking about. These are trains, with medium size cars that can hold perhaps 100 people at a time. The train cars are hooked directly to the electrical mains full time so there's no worry about battery technology etc. These kind of trains are proof that an EV, if given sufficient power, can perform any transportation task.
Not only did the trains run very frequently, I never saw them running empty, and during rush hour they were pretty darned full. It's not like the trains made it so there were no cars on the road, because they were there. But without the train systems their roads would have been horrible especially in the old town with it's maze of twisty narrow streets. (The old town of Prague is amazing)
On Sunday afternoon I was in a little park pondering the traffic and a history lesson struck me. After WWII the U.S. had 'won' the war and not had any damage to speak of on our soil. Sure some soldiers etc died but it's not like we had our cities bombed out like in Europe. As a rich country having a huge economic boom after the war and not needing to rebuild our cities, etc, we had enough wealth to adopt a very wasteful sort of transport - the car, frequently driven solo. In Europe on the other hand, especially the Eastern Bloc, they were poor, hugely affected by the war, etc, and couldn't afford to switch transportation methods. In the U.S. the cities tore up their street car lines in favor of building roads and highways for cars, while in Europe they preserved the street car lines. Well, okay, I've only witnessed Brussels and Prague but both have decent mass transit systems, both are built to the same population density, and both are very walkable.