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    Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change

    Peter Newman, Tim Beatley, and Heather Boyer

    Half of the inhabitants in the world live in cities. In the following twenty years, the number of urban dwellers will swell to an estimated five billion people. Using buildings that are poorly designed and their ineffective transportation systems, many cities particularly in the United States use up enormous amounts of fossil fuels and emit high levels of greenhouse gases. But our planet is quickly running from the carbon-based fuels that have powered urban growth for centuries and we seem to be not able to check our greenhouse gas emissions. Are the world's cities headed for unavoidable failure?

    The authors of the energetic book do not consider that oblivion is essentially the destiny of urban areas. Rather, they believe that direction is visionary and sensible planning that can help cities meet with the impending disasters, and look to existing initiatives in cities around the world. Rather than responding with fear (as a legion of doomsaying prognosticators have done), they choose expectation. They confront the issues, describing where we stand now in our usage of oil as well as our contribution to climate change. They then present four potential results for cities: collapse, ruralized, divided, and resilient. In response to their scenarios, they say a new sustainable urbanism could replace today's carbon-consuming urbanism. They address in detail how buildings and new transportation systems can be feasibly developed to replace our low efficiency systems that are present.

    That is not a publication filled with blue sky theory (although blue skies are going to be a welcome result of its recommendations). Rather, it's packed with practical ideas, a few of which are working in cities today. It implies these problems are solvable, although it frankly confesses that our cities have issues that may worsen when they are not addressed. And the time to begin solving them is now.

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    Energy Profit Ratios as a Way of Assessing Options

    (From Gever et al, 1991; Lenzen, 1998; Fleay, pers comm., 2006)

    The energy profit ratio is developing as a way of looking at which options are likely to emerge as replacements for oil. The energy profit ratio looks at the energy output compared to the energy input that is required to make the energy. There are a number of assessments of these ratios, which invariably are different based on what they include or exclude. However the best estimates we have found are set out in the table below.

    Process

    Energy Profit Ratios

     

     

    Non Renewable

     

    Oil and gas (domestic wellhead)

     

    1940s

    Discoveries>100

    1970s

    Production 23, discoveries 8

    Coal (mine mouth)

     

    1950s

    80

    1970s

    30

    Oil shale

    0.7 to 13.3

    Coal liquefaction

    0.5 to 8.2

    Geopressured gas

    1.0 to 5.0

       

    Renewable

     

    Ethanol (sugar cane)

    0.8 to 1.7

    Ehtanol (corn)

    1.3

    Ethanol (corn residues)

    0.7 to 1.8

    Methanol (wood)

    2.6

    Solar space heat (fossil back up)

     

    Flat-plate collector

    1.9

    Concentrating collector

    1.6

       

    Electricity Production

     

    Coal

     

    US average

    9.0

    Western surface coal

     

    No scrubbers

    6.0

    Scrubbers

    2.5

    Hydropower

    11.2

    Nuclear (light water reactor)

    4.0

    Solar

     

    Power sateliite

    2.0

    Power Tower

    4.2

    Photovoltaics

    17 to 10.0

    Geothermal

     

    Liquid dominated

    4.0

    Hot dry rock

    19. To 13

     

     

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    "Resilience in our personal lives in about lasting, about making it through crises, about inner strength and strong physical constitution. Resilience is destroyed by fear, which causes us to panic, reduces our inner resolve, and eventually debilitates our bodies. Resilience is built on hope, which gives us confidence and strength. Hope is not blind to the possibility of everything getting worse, but it is a choice we make when faced with challenges. Hope brings health to our souls and bodies. 

    Resilience can be applied to cities. They too need to last, to respond to crises and adapt in a way that may cause them to change and grow differently; cities require an inner strength, a resolve, as well as a strong physical infrastructure and built environment." 
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