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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Peak Oil at SF LAFCo

Such excitement!

A few days ago, the fine folks in the SF Energy Community

(Offnote: I am disabusing myself of the notion of Peak Oil. From what I can gather, it's either upon us or will happen soon enough that the notion is absurd. It's like "Modernism" or its stumpy halfwit encore, "PostModernism". They are not the answers to the problem of contemporary history, and Peak Oil is not the correct understanding of the problem of contemporary civilisation. The problem is energy production and resource consumption combined with massive overpopulation and a rapacious political economy and attendant false consciousness. But - I digress. Suffice to say, Stuart Studebaker has had it up to his eyeballs with Peak Oil which now has become more of a gloomy subculture with pseudo-religious overtones - and that creeps me out. So, from here on, you may consider me an Energy Activist. Attach my name to peak oil, and expect to arrive home to a house with your garbage missing and the pets all pregnant. Or something really bad like that. I digress...)

were able to set up a meeting in front of the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission. This was held beforecity Supervisors Mirkarimi, McGoldrick, and government employees Schmeltzer and Sullivan. Mr Mirkarimi was Chair. First, there was a Media Advisory on the steps of City Hall.

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I was starved, and went down the block to get a small sandwich, and arrived as the speeches were already in swing. first up at the podium was Mr Richard Heinberg. (Picture #1)

He gave a very nice verbal outline of the Obvious Situation, and was well recieved. I would estimate that there were at least 40 people standing and listening.

After Mr H, was was David Room (picture #2) who shared a few words as well. He was followed by Supervisor Mirkarimi, (picture #3) who was forceful in his views which seemed quite sympathetic with the audience at hand. He was followed by someone in a beige suit whose names escapes me (picture #4)

(off note: if anyone can fill in the names I forget - and I forget often - please leave a comment and I'll fix the post itself. I make no pretense to journalism - this is a blog of my bad attitudes and observations.)

Then we all filed into the meeting room. It quickly filled up to standing room only.


Another room was opened and a video feed was sent in and projected so people could at least see the proceedings. I sat up front so I could take pictures. The Supervisors McGoldrick, Mirkarimi and gov't apparatchiks Schmeltzer and Sullivan filed in and took their seats.


After some pro forma agenda stuff regarding the minutes of the previous meeting and such like - all performed under Robot's Rule's of Order and other similar parliamentary hocus pocus - the first to present was Richard Heinberg.


It was a classic Heinberg tour de force of facts and figures that paint a very ugly picture for the 21st Century. If you've read Powerdown or The Party's Over, you're pretty much up on what he has to say. The benefit was that he had several pieces of recent data to support his ideas. Excellent presentation, in his classic low key demeanor.

The Next speaker was David Room.

David's presentation was interesting but was about twice as long as it needed to be. I thought he had a number of good ideas, but didn't seem to have any concrete proposals. The supervisors had to ask him to cut it short, so perhaps he would have gotten to more concrete policy suggestions and strategic proposals, but we didn't get to find out.

The third person was a clear and articulate woman from the San Francisco Department of the Environment. (her name escapes me - anyone?)

Being the natural born clumsy doofball that I am, I accidentally stabbed myself in the hand with a ball point pen at that moment, and was in some pain and didn't really get to concentrate on what she had to say. I do remember it was interesting when I wasn't wincing in pain.

After she spoke, the citizens were allowed to come up and talk to the Supervisors. Most of the speeches were passionate and articulate. A few were off the point, but not absurdly so. One gentleman started railing on about how we don't have a democracy, and seemed completely oblivious to the irony of his statement... But even he had good points about energy and politics. I even spoke - I said who I was and what I do, and that I knew politicians liked specific and useful ideas, so I chimed in with three.

1. Disallow the Registration of SUVs as private passenger vehicles in San Francisco.

2. Subsidise electric bikes.

3. The city should invest in a kind of polysilicate bank, and use these cheap rates of PV to develop its own electrical generation for City Government buildings and public housing. This would do two things - it would permit the City to get into the business of renewable electricity generation, and act as a first step int opublic ownership of city based wind and tide power generation. The localisation angle on this is obvious, as is the direct connection to Public Power, but leapfrogging the gooey disaster that is PG&E - rather than "get control" of PG&E, the city could get into renewable power generation directly, and bypass the whole mess - let PG&E die on the vine as the oil runs out...

Supervisor Mirkarimi was impressed and asked me to email him with my ideas - he's a well known advocate of public power, so I am not surprised that he'd find my idea #3 to be interesting...

More people spoke, and with some more Parliamentary hocus pocus, the meeting was over. At that point I got to take a nice picture of Mr Heinberg.

At that point a bunch of us all wandered down to a vegetarian restaurant run by devotees of Sri Chimnoy. The food was very very good, and the conversation was great.

Mr Heinberg liked me bringing up electric bikes. He said that he thinks electric bikes were likely more efficient than regular bikes. Each calorie you burn pedaling represents 10x as many calories that you don't get to expend, because it takes so much energy just to make food. From a total energy view, the electric bike is much more efficient. Personally, I'm not sure that's all true, but I do find the idea rather exciting. I'd have to do some crazy Odum-like analysis to figure it out, but I wouldn't be surprised if Heinberg is correct.

I made some points to the assembled dinner crowd that we need to get culture workers hip to and working to promote energy awareness - even if they are celebrities and make their living on the commodity culture, they are in positions of great value in our society, as people trust their culture heroes more than politicians. Celebrities sell soap and life insurance, cars and medication - why not energy awareness?

I pointed out Al Gore's movie went ahead because of the entertainment industry, and that culture, as a lens AND mirror of society, will always be out ahead of the politicians. Whether its writers, filmmakers, musicians, actors, DJs - whatever - we need all hands on deck, and the biggest gains to be realised in the slackening of the depletion curve will come culturally.

After dinner, myself and two companions, Dennis and Chuck, wandered over to the Noc Noc club and hoisted a few foaming frosties to our health and did a post-mortem of the meeting. After much convivial and interesting conversation, I found my way to a bus and after a long walk up a hill, I went to bed.

Today, I sent some dead computer gear to be properly recycled, and then Beth, Elizabeth and I had lunch at Kan Zaman middle eastern restaurant. Then it was off to Amoeba, where I purchased some used CDs and then home to a yummy salad dinner.

Monday is my birthday. Yay.

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