Can’t Assess HSR Benefits Without Looking At Oil

Jul 6th, 2013 | Posted by

Britain’s proposed HS2 high speed rail line has been controversial since the Labour government proposed it back in the ’00s. The Conservative Party was skeptical in opposition but has embraced it now that they are in power. The project is moving ahead but, as tends to happen with major projects, cost estimates are rising and those who don’t understand the importance of fast, electric passenger rail are trying to kill it.

The Economist magazine is one of those critics, and this week laid out its reasons for skepticism. There’s just one problem. One of the most important factors to include in any assessment of HSR’s costs and benefits is the price of oil – and it’s nowhere to be found in the Economist’s article.

THE case for HS2, the proposed high-speed railway, has never looked more dubious. On June 26th Patrick McLoughlin, the secretary of state for transport, revised the estimated cost of the project up from £32.7 billion ($50 billion) to £42.6 billion—or £50 billion if the price of rolling stock is included. In May the National Audit Office could not say whether HS2 represented value for money. Calculations about the productivity lost as businessmen sit on trains turned out to have been based on data from 1999-2001, before the advent of iPads and train Wi-Fi. Lord Mandelson, a former business secretary who once supported the scheme, wrote in the Financial Times on July 3rd that it “has the potential to end up a mistake”. NIMBYs continue to campaign against it.

A big part of the problem is that the UK is mired in the grip of insane austerity policies, pushed by media outlets such as the Economist even though it has produced nothing but a near triple-dip recession and widespread suffering. Government needs to be spending a lot more money to create jobs, and building sustainable infrastructure like HS2 is a great way to do it. Yet in a country where austerity dominates elite thinking, major projects like HS2 are seen as suspect.

The issue about productivity is interesting yet given flawed treatment. Apparently a Department for Transport study claimed that productivity was being lost to delays on trains, but that study was done in the pre-smartphone and pre-tablet era. Yet that doesn’t invalidate the broader point that slow transportation infrastructure has productivity costs. A slower train is still slow, and brings a time penalty. Sure, one could get some work done on a slower train if you have wifi or a cellular enabled device. But you can get a lot MORE work done in your day if your travel time is shorter.

As we have argued consistently at this blog since 2008, the cost of doing nothing is not zero. HS2 will save money by providing an alternative to expanding airports and motorways. It will also add capacity to the overall British rail network, and provide a much needed improvement to rail connections between northern England and London.

Most importantly, HS2 will reduce Britain’s reliance on oil and can help reduce carbon emissions. Although it seems like elite opinion has gotten used to high oil prices, those prices are only going to rise further. When that happens, Britain’s already fragile, weak, and stagnant economy will be pulled back down into recession yet again. The current government has made a series of bad economic policy judgements. Building HS2 would be one of the few smart decisions they would have made in their time in power.

Any assessment of the cost and benefits of high speed rail has to take a holistic view – one that includes the cost of oil – if it’s to be credible.

  1. Paul Druce
    Jul 6th, 2013 at 20:25
    #1

    HSR has a very limited effect on oil. It’s local mass transit, and more importantly, walkability and bicycle friendliness which have major effects on oil. CAHSRA claims 12.7 million barrels of oil per year saved in 2030 with a full system; that’s only 2.5% of California’s current 3,000 trillion BTU used in transportation, almost all of which is currently petroleum.

    James Leno Reply:

    Sorry, but London to Paris, Frankfurt to Berlin, Tokyo to Osaka, etc. are not local transit lines. You can’t walk or bike those distances in a timely manner, if at all.

    Besides, I’d rather have a small 2.5% reduction of emissions with HSR, as opposed to an accelerated increase of emissions without it.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Sorry, but London to Paris, Frankfurt to Berlin, Tokyo to Osaka, etc. are not local transit lines. You can’t walk or bike those distances in a timely manner, if at all.

    Yes, so argue for the advantage of HSR as a means of transportation, not on specious grounds of minimal oil use reduction.

    Besides, I’d rather have a small 2.5% reduction of emissions with HSR, as opposed to an accelerated increase of emissions without it.

    VMT is dropping while car and air fuel efficiency continues to increase; an accelerated increase of emissions is extraordinarily unlikely. This is further ignoring that there will be a major shift towards electric vehicles by 2030, which do not use oil and which will have 60% or more of their electricity from carbon free/neutral sources by 2020 (33% renewable standard plus nuclear and large hydro).

    Joey Reply:

    The vast majority of trips are local and regional, not intercity. If your only goal were reducing emissions, HSR would be very far down the priority list as far as transportation projects are concerned.

    Eric Reply:

    Yeah, but look at people like Richard M here. They argue against any realistic (given existing human constraints) form of HSR, and they argue against meaningful transit links to airports. In their world, you basically need a car in order to travel intercity. And once you have that car, why not use it locally too?

    Joey Reply:

    Our local and regional transit networks aren’t built up enough for that argument to work. Many if not most HSR users will already have a car (a good number will drive it to the station). The reasons not to use it locally are that commuting by car is painful and expensive, and Mississippi Rivers of asphalt are both terrible for cities and in many cases more expensive than building transit alternatives with comparable capacity.

    Eric Reply:

    LA and the Bay Area have extensive transit networks which, for a significant and growing minority, are built up enough for the argument to work.

    Joey Reply:

    LA has a transit mode share in the single digits. SF proper has ok transit (which still leaves a lot to be desired) but transit access is terrible outside of there and a few places in the East Bay. Most people still own cars.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Agree. Anyone that thinks LA has a transit “system” is looking at lines on a map or reading too much Metro propaganda. In the real world it’s a bad joke. Who would build a flat junction in the middle of a busy intersection (Expo and Blue lines) and call it modern transit?

    Matt Reply:

    LA MetroRail is at 360k per weekday ridership. BART is at 410k. I’ll agree light rail has some limitations, although that intersection isn’t really very busy (Expo – Blue) from an auto standpoint. The second phase of Expo should be very fast and future projects just getting under pre construction like Crenshaw, the downtown Connector, and the Purple Line are going to be underground with only a small portion of Crenshaw not grade separated. It is turning into a pretty nice modern system especially as other systems like DC and BART really show their age, and at least it wasn’t built on Indian Guage.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Given that the term “light rail” is a North American invention that has political origins, it is essentially a compromise form of transit. In certain cases it’s a good solution, but I’m afraid it’s often utilized in cases where a “heavy rail” (another invented term) RER style solution, with the capability of running various service patterns (utilizing such practices as timed overtakes) is superior, especially for spread-out metro areas.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Matt

    And LA deployed “heavy” rail where it was indicated, in other words basically all urban subway.

    The Germans have been upgrading light rail(aka articulated streetcars)since the seventies with subway sections in the most congested areas. I am thinking Koln. I can’t afford whatever is the current iteration of Modern Tramway so I dunno what is going on in Dusseldorf, etc.; I don’t know if the Rheinbahn ever built any underground. Anyway the concept works so long as you can obtain reasonable reliability on the street sections. You can gang at least 3 multi-section articulateds and make a decent length train.

    Both LA and San Diego, maybe Portland, should probably consider some downtown tunneling on their “bahns”.

    Nathanael Reply:

    San Diego doesn’t need downtown tunneling. I’ve been there recently enough. San Diego’s remarkably light on the car traffic for a West Coast city. And it has zero actual street running on its system (exclusive lanes all the way), and the lights at crossings have train priority.

    The original “downtown tunnel” is on the Green Line in Boston. And yeah, there are places like that where it really is appropriate. Portland may hit that point, I haven’t been there.

    In LA, the final Expo-Blue section from the junction to the downtown tunnel may eventually have to be grade-separated. Probably mostly just by closing streets, LA has an overbuilt street grid.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    @synonymouse: I may be wrong, but I don’t think Düsseldorf has any underground sections of their network. However even in the city center, they have grade separation (except when crossing squares etc.). Köln and Bonn do have tunnels (as does Hannover). In Bonn, however, the “light rail” and the “streetcar” lines do share some stretches, where either they have separated stops, or the “light rail” has the height-adjustable steps (similar to San Francisco) to use the low-floor stop of the streetcar line.

    Hannover has extensive grade separation, and they also operate the longest permissible street-running trains in Germany (75 m; that’s quite a snake).

    In some ways interesting is München, where the streetcar network got cut back seriously with the construction of the subway (U-Bahn), but, be it for cost reasons, be it for demand of mid-capacity lines, the streetcar network got extended again; street-running in the center, a lot grade separation.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    @swing hanger: The origin of the term “light rail” does make sense for the US, as opposed to “heavy rail”, which would be FRA-compliant (in all senses). Europe does not have such a big difference, and in several places the “tram-train” concept is very successful (where “light rail” vehicles are using the mainlines, in mixed operation with intercity and freight operation).

    In Germany, “light rail” would most likely be “Stadtbahn” (as an evolution of the streetcar).

    Andy M Reply:

    @Max Wyss, don’t forget that this concept of intermediate systems was also well know in the US at one point, if not invented there. Interurbans such as the Pacific Electric ran on streetcar tracks in general traffic, but also ran on reserved rights of way and had locomotives to forward freight cars from the mainline railroads (and were thus essentially compatible). Some of the larger systems even had sleeping car and dining car services. Many former interban rights of way are still used by freight railroads today.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Many North American light rail systems – Portland, San Diego, Calgary, Edmonton, Sacramento, Jersey City – are tram-trains running separate from mainline tracks at higher cost due to FRA/Transport Canada regulations. The vehicles used by the early North American systems were developed for early German tram-trains, and the service pattern of running in streetcar mode in city center but in fast rail mode outside it is similar.

    However, the term then got expanded to mean every transit system that’s not mainline rail and isn’t fully separated rapid transit. Nowadays even the Hawaii driverless metro gets this term, which is Wrong, and I’ve heard people (Americans only, I believe) refer to SkyTrain as light rail even though both conceptually and on census forms it counts as rapid transit.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The HBLR in Bayonne runs on the former Central of New Jersey four track mainline. Plenty of space to have trolley tracks and freight tracks. Newark City Subway shares tracks to get to Bloomfield as does most of the River Line.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t object to that, I object to $50 million per km for a small elevated segment and a lot of repurposing old freight ROWs.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    Interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._cities_with_most_households_without_a_car

    Striking that SF is the only western city near the top (amidst cities on the east coast), and the next western cities are East LA (!) (32) and Oakland (36) (as in New Orleans (16), the brothers are so green!;). All of the cities ranked ahead of SF (14) are cities well-served with intercity rail (I think). So one might say we’re the odd man out. And now Richard M will say something of magisterial snarkiness and one cannot fail to add wit and intelligence.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    the brothers are so green!

    Special.

    VBobier Reply:

    People like Richard M would say that Flying is very safe and that airplanes don’t crash in the US, tell that to the 2 Chinese girls who died in SF recently(tell that to the relatives of the dead girls too) and the 182 people that were taken to area Hospitals. The skies are very crowded and the system can not take anymore, the US and CA needs HSR, not more capacity that doesn’t exist and that can not be made, just as the interstates and highways can not be expanded, unless one wants to grow less food and/or have less places for people who buy food to live at. CA’s population is growing, CA is at 40 million now, how is CA going to move more people around on what We have now? CA needs HSR, there is no other viable choice.

    Joey Reply:

    People like Richard will tell you that LA-SF is a low hanging fruit as far as useful HSR corridors go, and that it can be made twice as useful and cost half as much as the current plan. Unless you’d like to supply evidence to the contrary…

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    you are right…nothing like that could happen because of rail

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/fire-continues-to-burn-after-deadly-explosions-in-lac-megantic/article13052357/

    On the same day no less. So rail killed 40 and planes killed 2.

    Do you want to continue to use isolated days and incidents to argument your point or do you want to just admit that planes are the safest way to travel and quit why you are behind?

    PS. At least the plane was carrying passengers and a pilot. The train managed to kill 40 people without passengers and without a crew. That is talent.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    PS. At least the plane was carrying passengers and a pilot. The train managed to kill 40 people without passengers and without a crew. That is talent.

    Anything planes can do, trains can do better…

    VBobier Reply:

    The 182 possible burn victims might object to that apples to oranges comparison, I cited passenger, you put up freight, how many people were aboard the train? 2, an engineer and a conductor, are they injured? Probably not.

    VBobier Reply:

    Now if you want an Apples to Apples comparison, without any messy tank cars from freight, then there is this CNN story where NTSB investigators focus on ‘fractured rail’ in Connecticut train collision and 70 people were hurt and NONE were killed…

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Chatsworth: 25 dead, 135 injured

    VBobier Reply:

    Thanks Paul. Chatsworth Metrolink, well that’s being fixed with PTC, of course that can’t be done to airliners, that could make them vulnerable to a terrorist takeover.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So a passenger airplane crash kills 2 and a freight train crash kills about 40 and you think that supports your case? And there was no one on the train…it was a runaway. Train safety at work

    VBobier Reply:

    And Tule fog can kill too, sure it was just 2, this time, next time it could be higher…

    Joey Reply:

    Two data points support neither case.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They argue against meaningful transit links to airports. In their world, you basically need a car in order to travel intercity. And once you have that car, why not use it locally too?

    In our world, you need a taxi to travel intercity. It’s completely fine; in many transit cities, including London and Paris, the majority of air travelers arrive at the airport by car or taxi. Airports are usually difficult to serve by transit and it’s better to focus on where most ridership is generated, i.e. the working- to middle-class collar neighborhoods between the CBD and suburbia.

    Of course, North America’s biggest transit revival success story, Vancouver, does have airport transit. But people don’t use it in large numbers, and SkyTrain’s mode share for airport access is low. And rail connections to neighboring cities are atrocious: a very slow long-distance train to Edmonton and Toronto 2-3 times a week, and two slower-than-a-bus Amtrak Cascades trains a day to Seattle.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    London is closer to Istanbul than Chicago is to Seattle and Chicago is closer to Seattle than Vancouver is to Toronto. Moscow is closer to London than Seattle is to Chicago. There’s a whole lot of nothing between Toronto and Vancouver and a whole lot of nothing between Minneapolis and Seattle. Fly, even with synthetic jet fuel.

    Eric Reply:

    In every European city transit users are a (significant) minority of commuters and local travelers, so why should they not also be a minority at the airport? Being a minority choice does not mean transit is a failure, either in the city or to the airport.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Because it’s a lower transit mode share than the general one for work, especially for work at major destinations. New York’s overall transit mode share is about 29%, which breaks down as about 67% for people working in Manhattan, 30-50% for people working in secondary nodes like Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City, and much less for people working in the suburbs. The airport access mode share ranges from 10% at LaGuardia to 17% at Newark. Likewise, in Paris the overall metro area transit mode share is 42% vs. 31% for Charles de Gaulle. In London both the overall mode share and Heathrow’s mode share are 37%, and in Tokyo both the overall mode share and Narita’s mode share are 60% (I do not know what Haneda’s mode share is).

    The difference between 42 and 31 looks small, but cities don’t build transit to the average job, but instead concentrate on the most intensive job centers, where the transit mode share is much higher. Paris is building a tram line to railstitute one of its busiest buses, going from city limits to Orly’s center but stopping just short of the airport, since it’s a less important node.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Look at that limited effect that HSR will have on oil in another way—

    12.7 million barrels of oil per year adds up to $1.27 billion per year for oil that we don’t have to import at today’s price of $100 per barrel. If you subtract $530 million per year for estimated HSR electricity consumption in 2035 you have a net saving of around $740 million per year. And by 2030 who knows, but I would guess that oil prices will go up faster than the average fuel efficiency of the vehicles that are actually on the road. And those electric vehicles which derive 60% or more of their electricity from carbon free/ neutral sources—How many will be on the road in California by 2030, and won’t HSR also be getting 60% or more of its electricity from those same carbon free/neutral sources?

    VBobier Reply:

    Well unless the cost of electric automobiles comes down and the battery range goes up, I don’t see people buying a lot of electric automobiles, trains are better, trains can and do haul more people per sqft and move more goods than automobiles or trucks, where available.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Take a wild guess at what electric car prices and ranges have been doing…

    VBobier Reply:

    70-80 miles in the case of the Nissan Leaf($29,650), now one can possibly get about 250 miles in a Tesla($58,570–$106,570), if one has the bucks…

    BeWise Reply:

    One problem, you’re only looking at options available today. In 3-4 years, Tesla plans to release their 3rd gen vehicle that they say will be around $35K, and go 250 miles on a single charge. Both Chevy and Nissan have also said that they both plan to cut the price of the Volt and Leaf, respectively, by thousands of dollars with their next-generation models, whilst also extending battery range. By 2020, it shouldn’t be surprising to see an affordable EV in the low $20K range with a range of at least 200 miles.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And consider from experience from electric rail vehicles as to their robustness and length of life. Those manufacturers who produce an electric car that can be repaired and easily will eventually acquire a reputation that will serve them well and make them defacto standards.

    In salt-free California 20 year old automobiles can still be in excellent condition body-wise and even the steering and suspension pretty good but the tranny first and then the engine goes usually. So it ends up junked because the prime mover and drive train is shot. But electric motors can be rewound or otherwise recycled, bearings and gears replaced. You could keep an electric car for decades. Of course the auto industry hates that prospect.

    But the “green” upside to longlife vehicles is substantial.

    VBobier Reply:

    And I still could not afford it, that’s cause Congressional Repubs/baggers won’t increase the Liquid Asset/Savings limit of $2,000(not changed since 1989, 1972 to 1989 it was $1,500) to $10,000.00 and they want to cut My check by $87.00 a month and cap the check at 2007 levels, yep it’s another horrid Lyin Ryan, His so called prosperity budget…

    I’d be lucky enough to buy a pair of new jeans with His insane budget…

    Some prosperity…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And electric or hybrid cars still have limitations because they’re cars. They cost money to insure, they are mostly limited to current speeds by the limits of drivers (and self-driving cars will be limited to the speeds of driven cars because they’ll have to share the roads with driven cars), they’ll still be cramped on long drives, they’ll still take up too much space in an urban environment, and you still won’t be able to find a parking space!

    flowmotion Reply:

    All true. But most Americans could buy an electric car and drive it until the wheels fall off before someone provides a rail alternative to where they need to go.

    Even if Congress suddenly had a change of heart and dumped the entire highway fund into mass transit, it still would be way too late. Most of the US’s land use is solely automotive and we really have no other choice at this point but to electrify the automobile.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    No argument about that, really, but I meant to emphasize that we can’t continue without rail, and that’s the position too many anti-rail people take about HSR and local transit, too. To listen to them, keeping the auto system running is the No. 1 priority, come hell, high water, or a bunch of “Ay-rabs” who threaten the “American Way of Life.”

    Nathanael Reply:

    - raises hand –
    Yep. I bought an electric car precisely because of the governmental dysfunction which is preventing us from getting more rail. The nearest train station is an hour’s drive away. Even if we see a massive expansion of train service, I’m probably going to be driving an hour to catch a train for a decade or more to come.

    Andy M Reply:

    There is already a tendency for people to seek to live in walkable or transit-connected neighborhoods. The renaissance of old inner cities is well under way with once junked and futureless neighborhoods becoming sought after and fashionable as gentrification becomes the name of the game. This is peak car happening before our eyes. If cities fail to grow their transit systems into all neighborhoods, those cities will instead shrink onto their transit backbones. Decisons being taken today will affect what will be left of those cities in 30 years time. This can already be seen in places like New Orleans for example where businesses and homes along the streetcar lines still seem to be doing relatively fine but if you wander further afield you discover only decay, with abandoned buildings already outnumbering those that still see some use. Give it another couple of decades and those areas will be green fields, or alligator swamps maybe.

    John Burrows Reply:

    If the California Air Resources Board prevails, by 2050 87% of all motor vehicles in California will run on electric motors powered either by batteries or by fuel cells. Being old and somewhat cynical, I have some serious doubts as to whether or not this will happen. But if it does happen and it turns out that by 2050 HSR is saving a lot less than 12.7 million barrels of oil per year because 87% of all cars are running on electricity, then I would be delighted to admit that I had been wrong.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    Considering the sprawl which has become the norm in most American cities, and considering that most Americans like it that way, I think the best option for reducing fuel use is self-driving cars. These cars could synchronize speeds with traffic lights, and communicate with nearby cars, maximizing fuel efficiency. And by turning driving over to a computer network, cars could use smaller engines. For most of my driving in the Chicago suburbs, I can’t imagine a way of replicating the trip by public transit, without spending a whole day waiting for trains and buses, and walking a few hours besides.

    For now, public transit works best for people in center cities, and for people going to center cities. In the case of the latter, we need parking lots near the stations, since we are tied to our cars away from the stations. I’m not enthusiastic about transit oriented development, since that usually implies cutesy downtowns with narrow streets and lousy parking. For the suburbs, each line should have a few stations that are just transit nodes, with fast access for buses, and good facilities for people coming by car.

    The whole transit oriented development thing doesn’t work where I live, anyway. Good transit generally makes communities more desirable places to live. Home prices go up, and homeowners don’t want re-zoning for multi-family housing. Apartment complexes for the masses are built well outside these nice suburban communities. The newer suburbs are also several miles from train stations. The only multi-family housing near the stations is built on converted industrial or commercial property. For now, fast bus service to stations is important, along with parking, and for these it’s necessary to have more parking structures and acres of asphalt, and less of the quaint old-world experience.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Self-driving cars suffer from
    (1) being caught in congestion, making them not particularly useful for successful cities
    (2) not working on unmarked roads in bad weather, making them useless for rural areas

    They’re a solution looking for a problem.

    Eric Reply:

    They would solve a hell of a lot of problems. Your post is a prejudged conclusion looking for obscure potential issues.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They would solve the problem of traffic accidents. They would not solve the congestion problem coming from safe stopping distances.

  2. Keith Saggers
    Jul 7th, 2013 at 06:18
    #2

    HS2 bill passed on first reading in the House of Commons 325 votes to 37.
    Now the bill moves to the committee stage.

  3. John Nachtigall
    Jul 7th, 2013 at 09:17
    #3

    This argument just does not hold up to the facts.

    1. Peak oil is a myth. Between the tar and oil sands located in just Canada and the US we have enough oil to last for hundreds of years. Bonus is that they are domestic reserves so no national security risks.

    1a. The price of gas is rising because of normal inflation like every other commodity, not scarcity. Look at this link of the inflation adjusted price of gas. It is a variable price for sure, but in the same range for 100 years.

    http://www.randomuseless.info/gasprice/gasprice.html

    2. HSR does little to nothing to reduce oil usage. The vast vast majority of trips are local which are not impacted by HSR. The CAHSR authority itself only assumes a 1.2% drop in car traffic miles when the system is fully built out. We had this argument already

    http://www.cahsrblog.com/2012/07/high-speed-rail-and-global-warmings-terrifying-new-math/#comment-159249

    3. Austerity is not a “policy”. It is a result of not being able to borrow cheap money anymore. Greece, Italy, etc. would not have reduced spending but for the fact they can’t borrow the money anymore. The countries that can still borrow money cheaply are cutting back to learn what is an obvious lesson, you can’t borrow money and spend forever.

    StevieB Reply:

    Oil from tar and oil sands is more expensive to produce and increases the price of oil. Costs of oil will continue to increase as production continues to shift to more expensive sources of oil.

    Andy M Reply:

    Oil from tar and sands are being exploited precisely because the oil companies know cheap oil is not coming back. This oil is costly to extract and if the believed the oil price was just going through a brief blip they wouldn’t be betting their money on it getting worse.

    VBobier Reply:

    Inflation is currently at 1.4%, the price of oil is being driven by demand and scarcity(PDF file) on the world oil market and the price is not going down, oil sands and such were looked at years ago and ignored as unprofitable by the oil industry, now that demand for oil has made prices rise to where they are now for the finite oil reserves in the Mideast, more expensive oil is now being mined, inflation has very little to do with it.

    Paul H. Reply:

    Peak oil is a myth? Where is the infinite supply of oil coming from? John, you’ve shown the typical misunderstanding of what peak oil is. It isn’t about running out oil tomorrow, it’s about a depleting finite resource over time. Peak oil is a scientific fact that will happen eventually. I’m inclined to believe it will be relatively soon when we’ll see oil production begin to come down the supply curve and we’ll see GDP come down right with it. Limits to Growth predicted this happening in the 1970s, and M. King Hubbert correctly predicted the 1970 U.S. oil peak in the 50’s. Peak oil is much more of a near term threat to our economy than climate change, but it’s climate change that we hear about in the news. We’ve got it backwards, we should be focusing on electrifying our transportation systems and developing alternative liquid fuels to be able to see the lifetime’s of the current $50-$100 trillion worth of machinery that’s currently built for liquid fuels.

    Anybody that calls peak oil a myth has no clue what they are talking about. It’s much sooner than most people think. By 2020 crude oil production will be in decline, it’s already plateaued.

    As for high-speed rail, to me it’s a catalyst for all of the other electrification projects we need to see in transportation. HSR itself won’t be a huge factor in reducing oil consumption, though it will help, but local governments are seeing HSR as a catalyst to start electric streetcar and light rail lines. That’s the real value of HSR, it leads to so many other beneficial developments in walkability, density, local transit, the net effects of which build a new post-carbon society.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    How some things might look:

    http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/05/30/futurissimo-the-new-city-street/

    This is also in a post below, and is worth replacing here.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1307/S00056/the-decline-of-car-culture-in-the-west.htm

    What peak oil really means:

    “In short, we are scrapping the bottom of the barrel; not in total, there’s still a lot of oil in the ground, but for the rate at which we are consuming it the corresponding production flow is too low because all the easy to get fields are diminishing. The supply demand balance is now determinedly hitting into geological and practical limits. We have to use less.

    “The developing world is outbidding the ‘west’ for this most crucial of commodities. . . .Basically the developing countries can put that same oil to more productive use than we can. Because they are only beginning to base their economies on liquid fuels their uses of this valuable resource are more useful than ours. . . . the fuel an Indian farmer uses to run a pump to irrigate his fields is a more productive use of that fuel than us westeners burn driving to the mall to pick up a latte in an SUV.”

    Nathanael Reply:

    Regarding peak oil, there’s a nice Deutsche Bank report on the future of oil prices. We’re going to see a “sawtooth pattern”. Prices rise until they hit a point of *behavior change*, at which point a bunch of people stop driving, or buy electric cars, or put solar panels on their house, or whatever. Then the prices crash. The people who stopped using oil *do not go back to using oil ever*. The prices then rise again….

    …the whipsawing prices mean that it’s uneconomic for any oil company to invest significant money in exploration or development of very expensive forms of oil. So they don’t.

    Eventually enough people have abandoned oil that the price drops permanently because nobody needs or wants it.

    I think the report was called “The Future of Oil Prices” or something like that.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Got lucky on almost the first try:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/10/05/peak-oil-the-end-of-the-oil-age-is-near-deutsche-bank-says/

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2009/10/07/204770/deutsche-bank-oil-to-hit-175-a-barrel-by-2016-which-will-drive-a-final-stake-into-long-term-oil-demand-spurred-by-a-disruptive-technology-the-hybrid-and-electric-car-that-will-very/

    The report itself:

    https://alumni.insead.edu/IAA/GBR/groups/energy/Documents/DB%20Peak%20oil%20oct09.pdf

    Eric Reply:

    Eventually enough people have abandoned oil that the price drops permanently because nobody needs or wants it.

    More to the point, the rising investment in alternative vehicles and fuels makes them cheaper, which leads to more investment, until (in all likelihood) they become cheaper than even cheap gas.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Hubert’s theories have been completely discredited. He predicted peaks decades ago and total production continues to rise.

    Paul H. Reply:

    What are you talking about?

    http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/us-production.jpeg

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Crude_Oil_Production_and_Imports.svg

    “United States proven oil reserves were 23 billion barrels (3.7×109 m3) in 2010 according to the Energy Information Administration.[3] This represents a decline of 41%, or 16 billion barrels (2.5×109 m3) from 39 billion barrels (6.2×109 m3) in 1970. U.S. crude production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels per day (1.53×106 m3/d)”

    This is easy information to find. When was Hubbert ever proven wrong?

    “Hubbert is most well known for his studies on the capacities of oil fields and natural gas reserves. He predicted that, for any given geographical area, from an individual oil field to the planet as a whole, the rate of petroleum production of the reserve over time would resemble a bell curve. Based on his theory, he presented a paper to the 1956 meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio, Texas, which predicted that overall petroleum production would peak in the United States between the late 1960s and the early 1970s.[6] At first his prediction received much criticism, for the most part because many other predictions of oil capacity had been made over the preceding half century, but these had been based purely on reserve and production data rather than past discovery trends, and had proven false.[7] **Hubbert became famous when this prediction proved correct in 1970.**”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._King_Hubbert

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Jeez, I look at that wikipedia graph, and I look at the growth portion of it, especially after 1965, and I wonder how we could have been so stupid. We’ve burned what probably could have been a 1,000 year supply of a valuable resource in less than 100 years. Would have had better transport and nicer cities and towns to boot.

    How did we become so stupid?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/oil-industry-republicans-congress_b_3252170.html

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Lets start with this informative article

    http://stevemaley.com/2012/01/26/whats-wrong-with-peak-oil-theory-consider-peak-gas/

    my favorite quote

    “Hubbert was imaginative and innovative… [but he had] no concept of technological change, economics or how new resource plays evolve. It was a very static view of the world.”– Peter Rose, King Hubbert’s boss at the U.S. Geological Survey. [4]

    Also a good explanation (I left the google reference to get you past the paywall)

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=5&cad=rja&ved=0CE8QFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424053111904060604576572552998674340.html&ei=69PaUZfSOoO-yQGw6oD4Bg&usg=AFQjCNGweGLn_SJyFYePatLpcQxA6zWmbw&sig2=CFxJpcL6IuV5oGTMDJs0wQ&bvm=bv.48705608,d.aWc

    favorte quote:

    By 2010, U.S. oil production was 3½ times higher than Hubbert had estimated: 5.5 million barrels per day versus Hubbert’s 1971 estimate of no more than 1.5 million barrels per day. Hardly a “minor deviation.”

    In short, the man forgot about technology. Even the graph you presented showed a recent uptick…welcome to the age of oil sands.

    Paul H. Reply:

    There is no information anywhere that justifies your belief that there is “enough oil to last for hundreds of years.” Sorry to break this to you John, but we’ve peaked. We are at the global peak today, it is showing itself in a plateau that oil production has been in for the last 6 to 7 years.

    The United States will never again achieve the 1970 oil production peak which was over 10 million barrels a day. It will never happen again. Fantasies about the tar sands will only put us back further from doing what we actually need to do: transition away from oil for transportation altogether. Anybody quoting Daniel Yergin about peak oil has no clue what they are talking about. Yergin is funded and backed by America’s biggest oil companies so they can get people like yourself to defend the belief that “America has nothing to worry about! Drive on!” It’s sad, dishonest, and ultimately will be devastating to our country when there are oil shortages and we haven’t prepared for them.

    Also, much of the oil in the ground today WILL NEVER BE PRODUCED for the simple fact that it costs too much energy to extract. Energy returned on energy invested is something you need to understand if you’re going to debate oil production and its future implications for modern industrial civilization. The numbers on tar sands and oil shale don’t work. There won’t be enough net energy to run our current society on these forms of oil. Let alone what will happen to our atmosphere in the attempt to extract all of it. We’ve known about the tar sands and oil shale’s for a long time now, they aren’t new discoveries. They are only economic to produce when the cost of a barrel of oil is $100+ which happen to be prices that crush our economy.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9b/Net_energy_cliff.gif

    Technology does not replace energy. Any fool that thinks so doesn’t understand the fundamentals of energy. Yes there has been a recent uptick as $100/barrel prices has made unconventional oil possible to extract, doesn’t mean we will ever re-achieve a new peak in oil production. But the oil companies want you to believe that, that’s good for them but terrible for the rest of us because it keeps us from planning for what is really going to happen.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Never is a long time Paul. There was a time 10-20 years ago where most of the nat gas in the ground would never be produced…opps, that was wrong. There was also a time when solar energy was 10X the cost to produce, now it is more like 4X. Technology matches on in all areas.

    And before you leture me on the oil debate I should mention that I received a bachelor and Master degree in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. While I am not a petrolum engineer, I had to take more than a few classes on that subject and the subject of mining in general including an entire class on the economics of energy and mineral extraction. That school and others like it produce the people and technologies that keep pushing the state of the art forward. You learn quickly that the difference between a rock (worthless) and ore (worth something) is the price of the commodity you are looking for and the price to extract it. If you keep lowering the price to extract it then guess what, rocks become ore.

    Technology does not replace energy, it allows for the production of energy at cheaper and cheaper prices. 20 years ago oil sands were unprofitable at any price. Now they are profitable at the current $100 a barrel which is not “killing our economy” and as I explained earlier leads to gas prices that adjusted for inflation are no worse than what we have paid in the past.

    Tar sands and oil shale are woring right now despite your assertions. I know the enviromental crowd hates them, but the truth is, if it was not profitable to extract them, then the private companies would not do it. The proven reserves in the oil shale alone assuming only 20% reovery is 1 trillion barrels which is the same as the proven reserves of all other oil. That is just 1 source. As technology gets better that recovery rate will increase and cost will go down.

    In short, enjoy the fact that you are wrong and the energy cliff is not coming. You can belive or now, but when the disaster does not happen you can thank the “dirty” oil people that made it possible.

    Paul H. Reply:

    I’m actually very optimistic about natural gas, so I this can be a point of agreement between us. The problem is, we don’t use natural gas for transportation at all. If we start to use natural gas for transportation, we will use the resource base much faster than we currently do. We can cut those 50 to 100 year projections in half, probably much more. Natural gas can be a bridge fuel to a post-carbon society, but we will run into the same depletion problems as we are facing in oil today.

    From what you’ve been writing I would say you should stick to engineering and not try to lecture anybody about fossil fuel extraction and consumption. You’ve shown a complete lack of understanding of what energy return on energy invested is. You’ve also seem not to understand how energy works for our current economic system. Our entire economic system in the United States relies on cheap oil. Cheap oil is gone, and no amount of technology will ever bring us back to cheap oil. If oil goes down below say $80 or $90 a barrel, all of those tar sands and oil shale’s you are saying will support growth in oil consumption will be unprofitable to produce. Oil prices have to be at or over $100 a barrel to make those sources profitable, once oil gets too far over $100/barrel people begin to not be able to afford that oil and the economy starts to shrink. Now, we can choose not to tie oil consumption and economic growth so tightly, but that would require us to build out a lot of infrastructure that doesn’t rely on oil to run.

    The tar sands and oil shale’s will not be our savior. The fact that these sources are even being produced should tell you how perilous the oil situation really is. This is the bottom of the barrel stuff, there isn’t any oil that is extractable after this at any price. The energy return on them won’t support our current standard of living. The price to extract them is becoming unaffordable to the majority of Americans.

    Again, stick to what you know John. Clearly energy isn’t something you understand. When the energy cliff does happen, I only hope you’ll have learned from it and help those who are trying to change the current energy-economic system to something that is sustainable.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So how do you explain that the oil in these sources is being profitably extracted right now at the prices that exist right now? Is it a mirage?

    And how do you explain that the US ecomonic system is not in free fall despite the end of “cheap oil”? Must be another mirage.

    Just like Hubbert was wrong about peak oil so are you. You refuse to face the simple fact that these sources you hate are not just profitable now, they will get even better with time. If there is one guarantee it is that oil companies would not do something if it was not profitable

    Paul H. Reply:

    John, the price of oil today is $103 a barrel. This is easy information to find. If you’d take those blinders off you could easily find this information. Instead you quote Daniel Yergin and call it good. That’s just lazy.

    If you haven’t noticed, our economy is in a pretty crappy spot at the moment. We’re in mountains of debt, and we’re printing money like mad. You think oil prices at $100/barrel have nothing to do with it? You realize that in July of 2008 oil prices hit the highest price ever at $147/barrel and the economy completely shattered 2 months later in September. You think that was just a coincidence? Oil and the economy are tightly interlinked. In fact, oil price spikes have been apart of every economic recession since the 1970.

    http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/recessions-and-oil-spikes.png

    Hubbert was not wrong about peak oil. He correctly predicted the U.S. oil production peak 15 years before it happened. You’ve been wrong about everything you’ve posted on this thread about oil.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So oil caused the latet recession? I heard there was a little thing called the housing market that had an impact. Credit implosion? Ringing a bell?

    I know oil is $100 a barrel, it proves my point. Gas in not unaffordable, the economy is slowly on the mend (not crashing) and there is no general panic.

    And yes, for the record, it was a coincidence and not a cause. The worst recession in several generations was not caused by $147 oil. Oil gets high right before crashes because of the economic cycle. It is a predictor not a cause.

    Hubert’s prediction is only correct about 1 thing. He misse on Nat gas, he missed on total production, and in the future he may miss on his 1 hit if things keep going the way they are going.

    Paul H. Reply:

    You wondered how tar sands and oil shale’s are profitably extracted right now. I told you that these sources were profitable over $100/barrel. You didn’t have a point here, I’ve always said that these sources of oil were profitable at these prices. What I also said was that people start to not be able to afford oil at these prices. Also, there has NEVER been an economic recovery with oil over $100/barrel. It’s never happened. What evidence do you have that we’ll someone have great economic growth with oil prices this high? You have none.

    Oil has a huge part to do with the economy. Anybody that says other wise doesn’t realize what oil does for out day to day lives. It’s the master resource. It moves 95% of everything in this country. We have a huge oil subsidy in all of our food. It wasn’t the single factor, but was probably the last straw in a over-burdened system of high credit, high debt and over-inflated home prices. Oil had a huge part to do with every economic recession, it’s usually what bursts the system.

    Paul H. Reply:

    “we’ll someone” should be “we’ll some how”

    Nathanael Reply:

    John, you’re a complete ignoramus.
    1. Peak oil already happened. It’s actually peak *cheap* oil. We can always produce more and more expensive forms of oil, but after a while solar is cheaper, and we’re getting there very fast.
    2. The price of oil has been going up FAR faster than general inflation. Since the *1950s*. Go look it up some time.
    3. HSR does reduce oil usage. Go look it up sometime.
    4. Austerity *IS* a *DELIBERATE POLICY*. We’re talking about the United Kingdom. They can *PRINT THEIR OWN MONEY*. No borrowing involved. The “borrowing” crap is bullshit spread by people trying to mislead you.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In short, everything you said is outright false. I wouldn’t hire you to dig ditches, you’re that ignorant.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Oh Nat, you are hurting my feelings.

    1. Oil in the sands can be profitable exacted at less than $100 per barrel and is enought to last for more than 200 years at current growth rates,

    2. If you had bothered to look at the link I put in for gas you would see that inflation adjusted the highest price for gas was back in the 1910s

    3. I did look it up. The CAHSR authority itself in the business plan anticipates a reduction of 1.2% by 2040…not impressive.

    4. If you print unlimited quantities of your own money, you get runaway inflation instead of depression, a different route to the same end state. Look it up some time. Start with Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina and expand out to most any 3rd world country both Latin America and Africa.

    As a side note, I don’t think you have to be very knowledgable about world economic theory to dig ditches, but lucky for me that is not my career so I think I am safe

    Eric Reply:

    The US has printed about $2 trillion since in the last 6 years (“quantitative easing”), without causing noticeable inflation. That’s because the risk right now is deflation, not inflation. In short, I don’t think you’re the one to be lecturing here on economic theory.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    That 2 trillon has also caused no noticable recovery. This has been the worst economic recovery in recent history. In fact after that “stimulous” employment continuedd to declone for more than a year.

    So maybe we did not do enough. Look at Japan, they spent 200% of GNP on debt and they got 2 (going on 3) decades of deflation.

    Not to say that rapid inflation does not happen some of the time also (see the previous examples).

    So wow…this is a great policy. It either costs a lot of money, does not work and causes inflation. Or costs a lot of money, does not work and does not cause inflation. Super awesome

    VBobier Reply:

    You can thank Repubs/baggers obstruction in Congress for that, like killing the the Presidents Jobs bill, being against this and that. The best form of payback is to vote Repubs/baggers out of office in Nov 2014 and vote only for Democratic Candidates.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The first 2 years Obama was in office the Dems you so admire had a lock on both houses and the presidency. They could have done anything they wanted…and they did. The problem is it did not work.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    There have been arguments that it did work, but that the level of spending was too low! Sounds hard to believe, but that’s the case that’s been made by some economists.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Early on, an argument was made that the money had been given to the wrong people. It went to banks, which used it to pad their reserves.

    An alternative that was talked about, at least outside government, was that the money should have been distributed to households throughout America, perhaps with a provision that the money had to be spent or invested in 6 months, you couldn’t just keep it. It would have been a substantial sum, something like $75,000 per household. Some people would have used it to pay debts, some would have used it to pay off or pay down a mortgage, some would have paid for education with it or started a business with it, and of course some would have frittered it, but overall, that money would have gone back into circulation, a lot of banks would have gotten it anyway in debt repayment, and people would be relatively debt free in many cases and wouldn’t be shackled with the debts they hold now, including mortgages. That would free up the money that’s being used to pay down debt for other things–and many people are doing just that.

    It’s a good thing, really, but while that load of private debt is being worked down, that money that’s paying the debt can’t be used for a new kitchen, air conditioning, a car, a vacation, clothes. . . .

    Would the economy have been better stimulated with people spending that money instead of banks hoarding it?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    As I recall that’s why they used it on “shovel ready” products which this administration defined as things that will START within 5 years. Not to mention the bailout of AIG and the car companies. It just does not work, the world economies are past the “new deal” age where you can use government spending to get out of recession.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    How much went to “shovel ready” projects, how much went to the car companies, and how much went to AIG and the other banks? If only, say 5% goes to infrastructure, and another 10% goes to the car companies, what becomes of the money going to the banks? What do they do with it? They certainly–and understandably–have been reluctant to make loans, yet that money doesn’t do much just sitting there. . .

    Andy M Reply:

    Exactly, the “can’t borrow any more” myth is being spread by neo-Austrian economists. There is no data to back it up. On the contrary, every dollar in your wallet is somebody’s debt. If somebody has debt, somebody else must have credit. Pay back all the debt and there won’t be any money left. Give all the money to the government to repay debt and there will be no debt left. These two statemenmts essentially say the same thing. Money can only exist because there is debt. It’s the ying and yang of monetarism. Having credit means having the muscle to invest and do things and create jobs. The neo-Austrians would have us believe the government is borrowing money “from nobody”. This is utter tosh.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, debt, credit and income do go hand in hand, I have income, so I can borrow for larger purchases what I need, but since I have no credit score I can only do pay day loans currently, plus My income is limited in scope.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Between the tar and oil sands located in just Canada and the US we have enough oil to last for hundreds of years.

    You hate Native Americans. What the fuck did they ever do to you other than existing?

    And you also hate everyone living in coastal floodplains. What the fuck did they ever do to you other than existing?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They picked the wrong womb.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So you admit there is plenty of oil then?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t know what you mean by “admit” when I never thought peak oil was such a big deal. Yes, there’s plenty of oil to go around. So what? There are also enough nuclear weapons to kill hundreds of millions of people; it doesn’t mean they should be used.

    wdobner Reply:

    Even if you choose a simplistically literal interpretation of Hubbert’s work and the theories that followed to dismiss peak oil, you’re still going to find oil extracted from the Earth being overtaken by alternatives. You may be correct that his math was off due to his not taking improvements in technology into account. But it is the cost of oil extracted with those technologies which drive the demand for alternatives today. So even if he got the amount of oil to be extracted wrong, the impact will likely be the same simply on the basis of the ever-increasing real cost of oil.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Oil is a limited resource there is no doubt. The “chicken little” attitude is just annoying. It’s annoying with out, it was annoying with the over-population crowd, and it is annoying with the global warming patrol. They assume that we are just going to roll over and die without fixing the problem.

    History has shown that humans are pretty damn clever and keep figuring ways to keep things going thanks to technology. Is it disruptive? You bet, but its a hella sight better than the alternative which is stagnation and quitting.

    Yes, alternative energy will overtake oil. Who knows what technology will have provided 50 years from now, but it will be a lot better than what we have today. People like Hubbert and Malthus and the like keep getting the press and the attention while people who invent the technologies to solve the problems go nameless in history. Then it just replays again because it is a cooler headline to say “world doomed” rather than “world saved, carry on”.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    people who invent the technologies to solve the problems go nameless in history

    You’re right, nobody’s heard of Watt, Siemens, Diesel, Edison, Ford, or Tesla.

    Sadly, a lot of hipsters think the way you do about Tesla specifically and act like he’s some obscure cheated inventor, rather than someone that a top-selling video game named a building after.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I see your point, but who is more famous…Malthus for being wrong

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusianism

    or Norman Borlaug for sovling the problem

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

    it is good he got all the awrds, he deserved them, but he should be a household name along with Edison.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Public health and development people don’t get as much credit as industrialists (with a few exceptions like Pasteur). Fewer people have heard of John Snow than of Siemens or Benz, too.

    And Malthus was a very good analyst of pre-industrial economic and population history. Yes, he was wrong about the application to industrial history. Newton and Einstein were also wrong about things.

    Paul H. Reply:

    Making human population over 7 billion people possible is a remarkable achievement. But he didn’t solve a problem, he created another massive problem. How do you feed this many people with a shrinking fossil fuel subsidy?

    Malthus wasn’t wrong, he was early. He didn’t anticipate fossil fuels. Doesn’t mean he was wrong and that we don’t live on a finite planet with finite resources. John, I’m wondering how many times you can be wrong and look completely foolish in just one thread. You’re making quite an effort.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Making human population over 7 billion people possible is a remarkable achievement.

    Too bad abut the side effects. Mass extinction, collapse of the holocene ecosystem, seemingly unavoidable collapse of human civilization, etc. Oh well.

    Better luck for those trying next time around … and they’ll need it, especially with all the cheap and accessible energy sources and materials depleted.

    Paul H. Reply:

    Yeah, but Richard we have the tar sands! (But not really, it’s Canada’s… wait, it probably still is ours See: Military). And the oil shale’s! It’s a bright, glorious, and prosperous future! Except for the pollution, and the less-dense energy sources, and the intermittent electricity of solar and wind, the massive and destructive climate events, the utter mis-investment in suburbia and the car culture in general. But there’s NOTHING to worry about! Everything will be A-OK in the USA!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Forget the military, Harper is exporting oil to the US and China voluntarily.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Paul if you cant admit Malthus was wrong there is nothing more to argue about here

    Paul H. Reply:

    Malthus was early. He wasn’t wrong.

    “That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,

    That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and,

    That the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus

    What he is saying is still true today. Yes we found a lot of fossil solar energy that increased food supply and therefore has increased the population vastly, now in depletion we will likely see the population become “equal to the means of subsistence”. Meaning, if we start to lose food production, for any multitude of reasons (oil depletion, climate change, water scarcity) the population will decrease.

    The principles of Malthus’ arguments are still true, he’s saying whatever the Earth can provide will determine the population of humans on the planet. This should be logical for people but some how the magical thinking comes in really strong when talking about these subjects, like some how we will control nature itself when in reality it’s going to be, and always will be, the other way around. The human economy does not contain the environment, the environment contains our economy. This is what modern economics has gotten completely wrong. It sees energy and the environment as a subset of the economy, but really our economy is a subset of the planet and it’s resources.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Malthus was right about every agrarian state. What Borlaug did was give India 40 more years to go through the demographic transition. The world has enough agricultural productivity for 7 billion people, not for 25 billion, and the persistent growth even in countries that aren’t fully industrialized is as predicted by Malthus, who proposed the spread of birth control as a way of preventing a Malthusian catastrophe.

    In industrial states, Malthus’s mistake is that there are sources of wealth other than land and natural resources (Adam Smith made the same mistake, by the way). So population growth leads to proportional increase in food prices, without any gain in living standards deflated to the cost of food, but so much of the basket of goods consumed is not food but rather manufactured goods and services. This explains how, in the last 15 years, commodities have been getting more expensive (since cheap oil has peaked and Indian agricultural productivity has plateaued) while world living standards have increased. People don’t have more food, but they have more refrigerators to put it in.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Well put

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornucopian

  4. Paul Dyson
    Jul 7th, 2013 at 10:16
    #4

    HS2 is hugely expensive and represents a clear dilemma – enhance what you already have or build new. That’s a tough call and the debate has become emotional rather than economic. Do you bring the supposed benefits of HSR to the (formerly) industrial north in the hope that you’ll revive their fortunes or do you pragmatically upgrade the rest of the system to improve speed, comfort and reliability to dozens more cities around the sceptered isle.

    Another point, as I understand it the system as proposed does not link with HS1 and so the continent is still cut off from those north of Watford. I have seen a proposal to build a link under Euston but it seems doubtful it will happen. Is there any dirt left below the surface that can be tunneled, by the way? You’d have to dig deep I imagine.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    A connection for running through to HS1 would be great … the day the UK joins Schengen.

    There would not really be a need to serve a London station when linking from HS2 to HS1, which means that the link could be done in the outskirts of London (however, I am not very familiar with the network around London, so, this could be not very realistic either).

    DK Reply:

    That’s pretty much the reason for the “stratford international” station.

    It was designed for “regional eurostars” bypassing central london on their way north. There wasn’t the demand for them then (what with the new low cost flights) but with HS2 cutting Birmingham-Paris and Manchester-Paris times drastically to about 3 hours it starts to make sense…

    Andy M Reply:

    The regional Eurostars were never meant to do anthing useful. They were a gesture of goodwill to get the people of the North to not be too angry about so much money being spent on something that would only benefit the South. Maybe if the customs and security restrictions could be realxed, they would make sense, but at the time they were ordered that possibility was definitely not on the table.

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Andy M:

    The time when they were initially planned for and ordered was before the likes of Easyjet that grabbed the market for north-of-London to/from the continent.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    It might be worthwile looking at the comments by Nick Kingsley of Railway Gazette about that recent article.

    Upgrading the WCML does not provide sufficient capacity enhancements, and already regional services suffer.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    But HS2 serves Nottingham, Leeds etc. which are not WCML points. Would it make more sense to spread the same amount of money around the Midland, ECML, Western and Eastern routes and the cross country lines for that matter? And what about the northern suburban routes which suffer from overcrowding?

    Andrew L-A Reply:

    Manchester is, and the plan is to go there too.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Like the WCML, the ECML was already upgraded, and upgrading it further would also not provide sufficient capacity enhancements.

    The Midland route is, in actual fact, being upgraded under a separate program. As is the Great Western Route.

    Don’t get confused: In Britain they are already committed to a lot of “conventional rail” upgrades. HS2 is strictly *on top of* these upgrades. It’s not like the US where rail supporters, too often, squabble over scraps.

    DK Reply:

    Yes that is the argument (upgrade the existing lines or start afresh).

    The problem is we’ve already tried upgrading the existing West Coast Mainline. It was enormously expensive, (vastly over budget at £10bn), hugely disruptive for a decade, and only managed to push out the time the line is full by about 15 years. Compare that with building HS1 on time and under budget.

    PS HS2 will link to HS1 via the existing (non high speed) North London Line.

    PPS As to the oil price issue that’s less relevant to the british discussion. The argument isn’t motorways vs train lines. It’s what’s the best way to add more train capacity. It is linked to the airport issue though. The hope being to cut the large numbers of flights between London and Manchester, Edinburgh etc.

    Joey Reply:

    Compare that with building HS1 on time and under budget.

    At this point HS2 is neither.

    nick Reply:

    how can you say that hs2 is over budget ? the new budget is £42 billion which includes further risk and probably because of the extra mitigation that that nimbies want – the same ones who now complain about the higher cost !

    hs2’s revised budget is £42 million mainly to include any possible cost increases – it may well be built for less than this amount.. so it is a little bit early to say it is over budget and before it can be built joey it does have to be voted on by parliament so you are a little but premature in saying that hasnt been built on time – have you got a time machine perhaps ???

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    how can you say that hs2 is over budget ?

    1. Is their mother tongue English?

    2. If the answer to 1 is “yes”, then they’re over budget.

    Simple, and wrist-slittingly depressingly accurate.

    nick Reply:

    So in other words Richard no actual evidence that a project that hasn’t even started is already over budget. Your comments are always so negative. I find your 3rd sentence quite worrying. Don’t do it life is worth living

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Dear “nick”,

    Whatever.

    jimsf Reply:

    I wonder if tossing around comments about “english mother toungue” would slip by unnoticed if instead it were “spanish mother toungue” or “hebrew mother toungue”

    All that bitterness is going to give you cancer.

    Eric Reply:

    It’s a symptom of sickness, not a cause.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If it were “Hebrew mother tongue” it would be equally accurate. The Tel Aviv subway is an embarrassment in nearly every conceivable way.

    Joey Reply:

    The per-km (or mile or furlong or whatever you prefer) costs of HS2 have increased to near that of the mostly underground Chuo Maglev project in Japan. There’s no reason for conventional, mostly above-grade HSR to cost that much.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It’s not remotely “mostly above grade”. Look at how many sections of HS2 were undergrounded by local concerns.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It has a gigantic underground tunnel extending across much of London, and then dives underground again when it hits the Greenbelt, and so on…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The map from a few years ago, when London-Birmingham was supposed to be £15 billion, showed a line that was about 10% underground.

    Joey Reply:

    Okay, I was unaware of that particular development – is it really going to be 59% below grade? That seems idiotic given the terrain. Still, one would expect they could do better on cost than a line through the Japanese Alps and using proprietary, untested technology.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Re proprietary, the technology is owned by the company building the line, and has had a test track for 15 years that’s now being extended to a longer test track and will be incorporated into the line.

    nick Reply:

    nevertheless the current trend if for less car traffic but higher passenger growth. in order to allow this trend to continue we need the extra capacity of hs2. reducing motorway traffic by 5% requires probably a doubling of railway capacity. by the mid 2020’s the railway in the uk will be unable to cater for any further growth, this is why we need hs2. more capacity, higher speeds and economic regeneration.it is a complete no brainer and my respect for the economist dimishes further each time they run an anti hs2 article.

    Nathanael Reply:

    HS2 is not a dilemma, not in Britain.

    They *ALREADY* upgraded what they already had (the West Coast Main Line and the East Coast Main Line). The upgrades were through-the-roof expensive and took a very long time.

    At this point it’s blatantly more cost-effective to build new than it is to upgrade them again.

  5. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 7th, 2013 at 18:17
    #5

    Perhaps off topic, but with a tie-in–decline of car use and the generational shift isn’t just in the US:

    http://wardsauto.com/europe/decline-car-culture-under-scrutiny-france

    More on the subject, and on “mythical” peak oil, too:

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1307/S00056/the-decline-of-car-culture-in-the-west.htm

    And someone finally mentioning that driving is no longer fun:

    http://mikethemadbiologist.com/2013/07/07/a-hypothesis-about-peak-driving/

    http://mikethemadbiologist.com/2012/08/24/an-alternative-hypothesis-for-why-generation-y-isnt-buying-cars/

    How to get people out of cars, possibly without a huge transit investment (well, maybe not):

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/06/20/new-report-outlines-how-ca-can-kick-its-addiction-to-oil-foreign-and-domestic/#more-84649

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Just stumbled onto this, and it’s interesting, even if it is from the Huffington and Puffington Post:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/oil-industry-republicans-congress_b_3252170.html

    Radio/television version, which ironically has an ad for Shell Oil leading in, at least for me:

    http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/robert-f-kennedy-jr/518d29ba02a760508000009c

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And just checked out this–most interesting or at least novel story, about how American transit agencies are fighting a “patent troll” that holds some supposedly dubious patents on systems to track vehicles in motion–a company that allegedly has no actual production facilities of any kind, is registered in Luxembourg, and doesn’t have website.

    http://www.nationalcorridors.org/df3/df07082013.shtml

  6. Andy M
    Jul 8th, 2013 at 04:37
    #6

    Actually, the Labour government only approved HS2 in their final death spasms. Probably as a strategic ploy to win some extra votes while making the succesor Conservative government look bad by having to cancel it almost immediately. Labour’s HS2 proposal was not well thought through, for example focussing too strongly on Heathrow. The Con/Lib government was the first to put forward and approve a serious and achivebale HS2.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    According to polls, the Con/Lib government has 2 more years left in it.

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