Eugene's Climate Recovery Ordinance
promotes carbon credit greenwashing, ignores Peak Energy math
by Mark Robinowitz - July 2014
The Eugene City Council’s “Climate Recovery Ordinance” has nice rhetoric but needs specifics and better math to meet its stated goals.
The first section says City operations shall be “carbon neutral” by the year 2020 via “carbon offsets” if the city still burns fossil fuels. “Carbon offsets” involve paying an outside company to allegedly mitigate the impact of burning oil, coal or natural gas.
Carbon credits are a popular tactic of governments and corporations, but they are greenwashing -- the false claim of environmentalism. No financial scheme can put fossil derived carbon back into the ground. A detailed discussion is at CarbonTradeWatch.org and a satirical look is at CheatNeutral.com
I’ve used solar electric panels for more than two decades -- they are great but they do not sequester fossil fuel derived carbon. Solar panels are efficient ways to use fossil fuels, not alternatives to them. They take energy to manufacture, move and install.
Carbon neutrality claims are profitable schemes for consulting companies who sell the sweet lie that giving them money makes polluters eco-friendly. Paying brokers to provide “carbon neutral” certificates might make politicians feel good but cannot reduce the City’s pollution.
Carbon neutral highway widening?
The City’s carbon neutral goal ignores proposed highway widenings and expansion of EUG airport operations.
Mayor Piercy and Councilor Zelenka, the two primary promoters of this ordinance, are the City’s representatives to the Lane Council of Government’s transportation committee, where they voted for over a billion dollars in highway expansions in the Eugene Springfield Regional Transportation Plan. The largest RTP project is the proposed eleven lane widening of Beltline highway across the Willamette River between River Road and Delta Highway. This expansion is ultimately an ODOT and Federal Highway Administration decision, but the City is promoting it.
Peak Vehicle Miles Traveled: 2007 in USA, 2003 in Lane County, 2002 in Oregon
The purpose for the Beltline widening project is safety concerns, especially at the Delta / Beltline interchange. However, the options focused on safety -- called “Low Build” -- were removed from the study in favor of widening plans that could cost over a quarter billion dollars.
Federal law requires federal highway projects to plan for conditions two decades into the future. ODOT officials claim Beltline traffic will increase by about thirty percent by 2035, and therefore a much wider road will supposedly be needed.
However, traffic levels in Lane County peaked in 2003, according to ODOT. Oregon’s traffic peaked in 2002. Nationally, traffic levels peaked in 2007, the same year that domestic aviation peaked, electricity usage peaked and all energy usage peaked.
These peaks happened because the cost of energy went up and therefore their use went down. We have also reached physical limits to energy extraction. It’s anyone’s guess what the cost - and availability - of oil will be in the 2030s, but it’s likely to be more expensive and scarcer.
Peak(ed) Energy: already using a little less
Department of Energy chart: possible 50% reduction of global petroleum by 2030
The ordinance also states that City operations -- and the public -- should use half as much fossil energy in 2030 compared to 2010 usage. This is a good goal, but one that will happen whether planned for or not. We will be lucky to be able to use half of our current consumption in 2030. Now that we are passing Peak Energy we cannot increase our use of fossil fuels even if we want to.
Peak oil production in the USA was in 1970 and has been in decline since. Global conventional oil production peaked a few years ago. Worldwide, we use about a thousand barrels a second, roughly the average flow rate of the McKenzie River at its confluence with the Willamette.
Alaska Pipeline may be finished by 2030
Most of Oregon's petroleum supplies come from the Alaska Pipeline, which peaked at two million barrels a day in 1988 and has declined by three fourths. In 2013, the flow dropped another two and a half percent and is slightly above the "low flow" level where it will be difficult to pump in the Arctic winter.
If you drive a car, ride a bus, take a train, fly in a plane or eat food delivered by truck in Oregon you are dependent on the Alaska Pipeline.
Plans for oil trains into the region are likely our “Plan B” for the end of the Alaska Pipeline, not serious proposals to export oil to Asia.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel
Other types of fossil fuel are also past their peaks. Coal combustion peaked in the USA in 1999. Conventional natural gas peaked in the USA in 1973.
Now that we have burned the cheap, easy to extract oil, coal and natural gas we are shifting to expensive, difficult to extract reserves. Perhaps the most notorious is the fracking boom for domestic oil and natural gas.
There have been countless protests about fracking’s toxic impacts, but the other half of the story is fracked wells deplete far faster than conventional wells. They are very expensive and require tremendous energy inputs. Fracking is not a path toward American energy independence, it is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Two of the three largest natural gas fracking regions in the country are past their peaks.
In May, the US Department of Energy admitted that plans to drill in California’s “Monterrey Shale” were based on resource estimates that had been exaggerated by 96%. PostCarbon.org has details.
Fracking, deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and tar sands extraction in Canada have delayed gasoline rationing. We are in the eye of the energy crisis hurricane, perhaps for a few more years.
Limits to growth on a round, finite planet
The ordinance requires planning to reduce carbon emissions to reach the goal of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the year 2100, when none of us are likely to be alive.
Humanity does not face the question of whether to use less fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, since we have reached the limits to energy growth due to geological factors. How we use the remaining fossil fuels as they deplete determines how future generations will live after the fossil fuels are gone. Will we use the second half of the fossil fuels for bigger highways or better trains?
Here are a few suggestions for the City of Eugene to prepare for energy depletion and climate chaos:
- Integrate peaked energy and climate change together in City planning, especially Envision Eugene and the Regional Transportation Plan.
- Relocalize food production and protect nearby farmland from urban growth boundary expansions. Solar panels and wind farms cannot transport food across time zones and international borders.
- Advocate for an end to clearcutting on nearby industrial forestlands. Clearcuts cause climate chaos, both from the carbon (and methane) releases from logging and the disruption of the hydrologic cycle from deforestation.