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Three Little Words

The four-column headline recapitulating the poll responses of seven in ten Americans reads:


“Burdened by the Weight of Inflation: We are more worried.” (See End Note One .)


It is not the weight of “inflation” that is bothersome to citizens. It is the prospect of – and for a growing number, the very clear evidence of – the crumbling economic, social and physical underpinnings of First World civilization.


That is what is of concern to citizens. And, what really scares them are the lame, transparently foolish ideas that political candidates are suggesting as “solutions” – tax holidays to increase summer driving, talking nation-states into selling their dwindling energy resources at below market prices, drilling wells in more and more difficult and dangerous places….
Over eight years ago we opened Chapter 1 of The Shape of the Future with this sentence:


“Individuals in the world’s richest nation-state are worried about job security and personal safety.” (See End Note Two.)


That was before 11 September 2001. It was before the US of A started the Second Gulf War. It was before the bottom fell out of the shelter market, before the final bitter end of the illusion that somehow the flow of cheap energy could be maintained.


It was clear that Fundamental Change was needed in 1973 but,

The US of A has continued to burn through natural capital, especially Petroleum, at an accelerating and unsustainable rate.

The focus of SYNERGY/Planning is on the Mobility and Access Crisis, the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis and the Helter Skelter Crisis (aka, dysfunctional human settlement patterns).


All of these crises relate to the production, transmission, distribution and consumption of energy during an era in which cheap energy is gone.


Three Little Words
Recently, addressing a work session of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, we outlined eleven strategies for “shaping a functional and sustainable future in Greater Warrenton-Fauquier.” We opened with three little words:

“No Cheap Energy.” There is no longer cheap energy, especially the kind of portable, concentrated sources of energy used to efficiently power Large, Private Vehicles.

We noted that the problem is NOT just rising gasoline and diesel prices or falling house values due to citizens growing isolation from jobs, services, recreation, and amenity.
Rising energy costs are diving up the price of not just mobility and access but of food, shelter, communications, lighting, heating, cooling … almost every aspect of contemporary urban life that supports 95 percent of the population.


In fact, the entire contemporary economic, social and physical Ziggurat of the Community, Subregional, Regional, Continental and First World civilization is now dependent on cheap energy. Cheap energy is gone. Not going, GONE. (See End Note Three.)


For those who have illusions that alternative sources of energy will support continued use of Large, Private Vehicles see “Gas Engines: Here to Stay” at www.CNNMoney.com, 4 May 2008.


We can all agree that renewable energy is “abundant” – solar, wind, tides, geothermal, etc. The problem is that renewable energy sources are dispersed or “thin.” The demand for energy to support urban life is focused or “thick.” In order to produce the energy needed to replace the natural capital that humans have burned through – in particular petroleum – renewable energy has to be converted, concentrated, transmitted and distributed to be used. There is no low cost or low risk energy to replace that which has driven the Industrial Revolution, the technological revolution and the urban revolution. In other words, there is “no cheap energy.”


A Mobility and Access Crisis,Not a Transportation Crisis
These days MainStream Media, especially in Virginia, are full of stories about the impact of gasoline prices and the need for money for “improving transportation.” Those who are seen as being at the cutting edge on the transport issue sagely opine that transportation is at a crossroads and big thinking is needed.


Taking note of the Rebuilding and Renewing America “summit,” A WaPo op-ed in early May highlighted the comment: “Suppose the next president acts with as much foresight as Eisenhower did 50 years ago.” (See End Note Four .)


This sort of thinking in 2008 or 2009 will only make the Mobility and Access Crisis worse. What the US of A needed was the 1924 plan by World War I generals for an “Interregional Highway System.” What citizens got, 30 years too late, was the Eisenhower Interstate system. What the nation-state desperately needs now is an antidote for the settlement-pattern impact of the Eisenhower Interstate System. Citizens do not need some new infrastructure subsidy for the Autonomobile industrial complex.


Without cheap energy any new infrastructure “solution” that supports Large, Private Vehicles is not just impossible but proposing such a strategy would amount to fraud. There is plenty of capacity in existing transport systems for foreseeable needs but for bad decisions by Agencies, Enterprises, Institutions and Households based on Geographic Illiteracy.
This is old news to those who read “Interstate Crime,” 28 February 2005, or the recent four-part series The Problem with Cars.


Geographic Illiteracy is a terrible thing. It is the cause of the Mobility and Access Crisis, the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis and the Helter Skelter Crisis. Those who have access to facts and still propose more spending on more facilities without Fundamental Transformation of human settlement patterns are guilty of fraud. Period.


No, that’s not the end of it. It goes beyond fraud to deceive the public with the claim that transportation just needs more money. It’s treason. The argument leads to consequences that subvert the economic, social and physical freedom of the citizens of the US of A.


A Few Aphorisms
Recognizing that the Commonwealth of Virginia is going through another convulsion of political wrangling over the transportation “problem,” we offer a few aphorisms on the path to sustainability.


You will note that these aphorisms are on the “path” to sustainability, not on the “road.” With the demise of cheap energy, streets within urban fabric (inside the Clear Edge) are more important than roadways and expressways. As you all know there is a profound difference between “streets” and “roads.” Streets serve Balance, Roads serve scatteration. (See GLOSSARY.)


Here are some words to keep in mind:

  • New development must consist of redevelopment inside the Clear Edges around the Core of New Urban Regions and inside the Clear Edges around urban enclaves in the Countryside. (Countryside exists in both New Urban Regions and in Urban Support Regions.)
  • New development must result in Dooryards, Clusters, Neighborhoods and Villages that are functional components of Communities with a Balance of J / H / S / R / A.
  • The key to addressing the Mobility and Access Crisis is to create a Balance between the vehicle travel demand of the settlement pattern and the capacity of the Mobility and Access system.
  • No amount of money, regardless of source and no new or rebuilt transport infrastructure will create functional Mobility and Access without Fundamental Transformation in human settlement pattern and Fundamental Transformation in governance structure.
  • Any Mobility and Access system that will meet future economic and energy constraints in a technology-driven democratic society with a market economy will be based on shared vehicles and not on Large, Private Vehicles.
  • A functional pedestrian access system, like a functional education system, a functional health system, access to water, food and air as well as a Cluster, Neighborhood, Village, Community, Regional, Continental and Global system to provide safety and security are Agency responsibilities. (See GLOSSARY for definitions of capitalized words.)
  • In a democracy with a market economy, the cost of energy and the impact of vehicle use requires that any VEHICLE Mobility and Access system must be based on the concept of the user pays.

There are intelligent responses to the Mobility and Access Crisis but citizens do not yet want to listen to them. This is because just listening, much less understanding, geographic reality would challenge – and require transformations from – the assumed parameters of self-interest that has molded the Mobility- and Access- related actions of citizens, Households, Agencies, Enterprises and Institutions for the past 90 years.


Human settlement patterns are organic systems. Like all organic systems, human settlement patterns are subject to rules also known as natural laws.
Citizens will not solve problems facing contemporary civilization if they fail to acquire a comprehensive Conceptual Framework and an efficient vocabulary with which to understand human settlement patterns.


They must also come to realize that what is good for one is not good for all and that there is a finite limit to natural capital.
The end of cheap energy is at hand. Recent elections in South America , Agency responses to a Cyclone in Burma and food riots across the Globe suggest time is running out to make a commitment to Fundamental Transformation in settlement patterns.
— May 19, 2008


End Notes
(1). Page D 1, WaPo, 14 May 2008, based on a “Washington Post poll.”
(2). In nearly 790 pages this book documents why Fundamental Transformation of human settlement patterns and Fundamental Transformation in governance structure is necessary to achieve a sustainable trajectory for civilization. No one has yet contradicted the basic findings of this book or suggested why human settlement pattern is not the controlling factor in the current unsustainable trajectory of civilization. Nearly a decade after publication, the leadership of Agencies, Enterprises and Institutions continue to ignore the impact of settlement patterns on sustainability.
(3). Rich Thornton called our attention to a recent book by Michael T. Klare titled “Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy.” It is worth reading. You can see a summary of the authors’ views in “Portrait of an Oil-Addicted Former Superpower: How Rising Oil Prices Are Obliterating America’s Superpower Status” at www.TomDispatch.com. This website bills itself as “a regular antidote to the MainStream Media.” There are a number of other interesting posts by Tom Englehardt and guest authors, many of whom you will recognize.
(4). See Op Ed “A Transportation Crossroads” by Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation in WaPo, 9 May 2008 .  The Foundation sponsored a “summit on Rebuilding and Renewing America.

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