Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale - Part 3

Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale

Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale has several components. Transportation-related air pollution has increased a chronic lung disease in America. Given our population growth, without change of transportation priorities to include Interstate High Speed Rail and more Rapid Transit, chronic lung disease, traffic congestion and accidents will get much worse. With easy-to-access oil & natural gas gone, we are taking big risks that accelerates Climate Change and catastrophe potential, like the Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak.

21st Century Demographics, Global Impacts On Energy For High Speed Rail

Our 21st Century world is changing in ways that formulated Interstate High Speed Rail rationale. World population is forecast to grow from 7 billion in 2012 to 9 billion by 2043. Though populations are stabilizing in the European Union, Russia and Japan, huge population growth in China, India, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico is driving their economies to demand more energy and wood.

Global consequences from rising demand for fossil fuels and wood deforestation are interconnected. Air pollution from coal burned by China and Korea is carried by trade winds to Japan, America, Canada and Mexico. Smog burned from oil and coal in North America drifts to Europe and Northern Africa. Smog burned from oil and coal in Europe drifts to the Middle East, Russia, India and Pakistan.

Coal and other deep mining operations release methane gas that contributes to the “Green House” warming effect. Airplanes are notorious for emitting carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide high in the sky.

Based on their volume and impact in the 21st Century, scientists categorize carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide as the most dangerous Green House Gases (GHG). Excessive deforestation for wood in Brazil, Central Africa and Southeast Asia reduces the world’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide emissions before they reach the upper atmosphere to create a Green House warming effect.

Its best to think of Deforestation and GHG as “Big Sticks” that will punish the world for lack of course corrections by its leaders.

U.S. Population Also Growing Faster Than Most People Realize

In the “Golden Years of Driving” before 1970, gasoline was cheap and fewer Interstate Highways were congested. New freeways opened every month and people often bragged about driving 80 mph for hundreds of miles. What happened?

American population more than doubled from 1950-2010. Observe this 2012 U.S. Census Bureau snapshot of recorded and forecast population:

1950 – 152 Million
1960 – 179 Million
1970 – 203 Million
1980 – 227 Million
1990 – 249 Million
2000 – 281 Million
2010 – 309 Million
2020 – 334 Million
2030 – 358 Million
2040 – 380 Million
2050 – 400 Million

Moreover, we have grown from 64% urbanized in 1950 to about 82% urbanized in 2017. Most urbanization is in our Top 50 Metro Areas, forming denser 200- to 500-mile long corridors called “Mega-regions” color-coded on the America 2050 Map below.

2050 America Mega-regions, Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale

2050 America Mega-regions

Most travel originates inside mega-regions that generate our greatest economic activity. Anything that congests travel and productivity in mega-regions has a negative impact on our economy. Today, drivers in our Top 35 Metro Areas (2+ million pop.) elbow for room on congested freeways. Based on U.S. Census population forecasts, our Top 45 Metro Areas will have 2+ million residents by 2030, forcing more drivers to elbow for room.

Since 1990, population & urbanization growth rates have destroyed the 1970s-era argument that Outside the Northeast, America does not have enough population density to justify HSR. So the first Big Stick is that America is not building or maintaining surface transportation infrastructure appropriate for its population & urbanization growth rates.

Air Pollution, Persistent Health Problem Due To Transportation Emissions

Air particulates, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons form smog when concentrated above a metro area. Thanks to the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970, fewer industries burn objects that emit four of those villains: air particulates, volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide. Due to their older heavy industries, federal regulation brought air quality improvement to Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Birmingham. Thanks to federal environmental regulation in 1975, gasoline-powered autos have catalytic converters that reduce nitrous oxide, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emissions. Unfortunately, catalytic converters only reduce smog pollutants, not Green House Gases (GHG).

Nevertheless, the Transportation Sector remains America’s largest contributor to Smog and GHG because:

• population growth translates to more people purchasing vehicles
• decades of Rapid Transit underinvestment has conditioned more people to drive
• decades on HSR non-investment forces more people to drive between cities who otherwise would not
• sprawling metro areas require longer drives that consume more gasoline
• more vehicles per household consume more gasoline

Most people in our Top 50 Metro Areas don’t know that smog levels have not reached a healthy level. It remains so bad that the EPA estimated 125 million Americans live in areas of Non-Attainment for National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Moreover, persistent air pollution from oil-burning transportation is linked to chronic lung disease and therefore, rising health care costs. Most city-dwellers passively accept Stay Indoor Alerts as a way of life, rather than a societal choice.

In 2013, the American Lung Association ranked metro areas for ozone pollution. This problem is a nightmare for California, Las Vegas and Phoenix, which dominate the Top 25 for air pollutants. Thats because warm, dry climates surrounded by mountains amplify photochemical reactions that produce and trap smog.

Another insight is obtained from New York Metro Area. It has 25 times the population of Bakersfield Metro Area, yet lower smog due to having one of the world’s largest electric-powered rail transportation systems.

America Importing Less Oil, But Risky Domestic Oil Increasing

In 1956, a scientist named M. King Hubbert predicted that America would reach maximum oil production between 1965-70 by developing what is called Peak Oil Theory. Peak Oil is the point of maximum oil production followed by depletion of oil due to falling reserves and discoveries. His forecast was based on the population growth rate depleting oil and oil industry technological capability, of that time, to discover oil.

Based in part on Peak Oil Theory, multi-year legislation that passed under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter tried to reduce our oil consumption rate via transit investment and forcing the automotive industry to adopt Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to increase fuel economy.

Despite surging population growth from 1980-2008, Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II only increased the CAFE standard from 20 MPG to 23 MPG. Excluding Clinton, they practically froze transit funding and starved Amtrak.

Jet fuel contains a chunk of oil that is burned to generate energy, but emits substantial air pollutants. From 1980-2008, airline deregulation doubled sub-500 mile flights, while maintaining steady growth for longer flights. Hence, regional flights congested traffic and increased air pollutants surrounding our commercial airports.

Surging population & urbanization growth, lack of HSR, inadequate Rapid Transit, cuts to regular bus service, stagnant CAFE standards and doubling regional flights amplified oil consumption, increased traffic congestion, and maintained dangerous smog levels.

Do Not Become Over-Dependent On Risky Oil

America has only 5% of world population, yet consumes 24% of world oil production. As late as 2008, 50% of the oil we consumed was imported. The percentage of imported oil was high because Peak Oil Theory was correct at predicting that oil several hundred feet from the surface is declining. Many economists call this kind of easy to access fossil fuel, “Cheap Oil.” In 2011, 33 of the 48 largest oil producing nations hit Peak Oil Condition. Turns out, Peak Oil Condition only applies to Cheap Oil less than a thousand feet from the surface.

In recent years, oil & natural gas companies pioneered technology to drill thousands of feet underwater and underground. The industry calls such oil and natural gas tightly packed in deep underground shale, “Tight Oil” and “Tight Natural Gas”. Today, those companies have created a boom in American oil & natural gas. In 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that such companies pushed U.S. oil production to 61% of the oil we consume. If the trend continues, the EIA estimates America can become oil self-sifficient around 2030.

Is that really good news?


Small oil spills happen all the time. But as the NASA image above reveals for the BP spill in May 2010, the pursuit of Tight Oil in deepwater has catastrophic risks compared to Cheap Oil close to the surface. Imagine a similar deep underground catastrophe polluting water aquifers. Minimizing the probability of catastrophic spills requires expensive technology and rigorous safety inspections. That is why it is more accurate to call Tight Oil & Tight Natural Gas, “Risky Oil & Risky Natural Gas.”

Among the world’s emerging nations, only Brazil has built a sustainable biofuels economy where autos are powered by an ethanol-oil blend. Fast growing China, India, Southeast Asia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico want autos, which are predominantly oil-powered.

As the world’s most oil-addicted nation, America must face facts. Peak Oil has hit volatile Middle East and Africa, combined with increasing oil demand by emerging nations will eventually drive up oil prices, even if Risky Oil lets America achieve oil self-sufficiency by 2030. Nor do we know how long Risky Oil will last.

So the best & practical approach is to reduce Oil consumption each year and ensure that Risky Natural Gas is well regulated until renewable energy from Wind, Solar and Biofuel are prominent.

Climate Change, The Biggest Stick

Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the extreme 2010 Russian Fires and Pakistan Floods are unmistakeable signs that global warming is impacting our world. In fact, GHG emissions have driven surface temperature of the Earth 3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than 1900. Higher air and water temperature are melting Arctic and Antarctic permafrost and glaciers. What’s worse, the EPA (before Trump) forecasts global temperature rising 4-6 degrees Celsius by 2100, if we don’t reverse our GHG growth pace.

More ominously, a 2009 study by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says that global warming is irreversible in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. The study examines the consequences of allowing carbon dioxide (CO2) to peak beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts/million and then completely halting emissions after the peak. Simulated impacts in the study included more droughts and forest fires around the globe, higher ocean temperatures contributing to more powerful hurricanes, and a rising global sea level that significantly changes shorelines by 2060.

In 2013, an even scarier climate change report jointly published by many esteemed scientists worldwide says, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased to unprecedented levels in the last century than in the last 800,000 years. To prevent widespread calamity, 99% of climatologists say we must dramatically cut GHG emissions to slow global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 or face more frequent Hurricane Sandy and Katrina-like events, droughts, forest fires and floods.

2000 Year Global Temperatures

2000 Year Global Temperatures

The majority of Americans and even the Pope acknowledge scientific evidence that the rapid increase in carbon dioxide emission (83% of GHG) can only be man-made. But many people don’t know that methane emission (10% of GHG) and nitrous oxide emission (5% of GHG) are equally worrisome.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is emitted during extraction from underground and when not burned completely. Methane is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is a prominent emission from burning coal and jet fuel. Nitrous oxide is 310 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat because planes emit it high in the atmosphere. The EPA says that globally, about 40% of nitrous oxide emissions come from flying and the other large chunk comes from coal burning.

Green House Gas Emissions By Leading Nations

From the latest available data from the World Bank, Global Carbon Project and AP Research, six nations produce 60% of global carbon dioxide emissions:

China:       1.357 billion pop. – CO2 Emissions 11.0 billion tons
America:   0.316 billion pop. – CO2 Emissions 5.8 billion tons
India:        1.252 billion pop. – CO2 Emissions 2.6 billion tons
Russia:     0.145 billion pop. – CO2 Emissions 2.0 billion tons
Japan:      0.127 billion pop. – CO2 Emissions 1.4 billion tons
Germany: 0.080 billion pop. – CO2 Emissions 0.8 billion tons

The Word Resources Institute provides this equally insightful chart of Per Capita GHG Emissions by Nation:

Per Capita GHG Emission by Nation

Macro-Economists correlate high fossil fuel consumption with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. That century-old practice is at odds with the race to transition large economies to renewable energy. We must also influence Southeast Asia, Brazil and Central Africa to reduce their rates of deforestation, since rain forests are “lungs for the world.”

The emerging nations of India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria and Southeast Asia are primarily watching America and China as models for their Energy-Transportation-GDP growth. Most countries agree to move away from coal, but they are concerned that our Risky Oil and Risky Natural Gas boom appear to be a economic advantage for America. No country wants to unfairly sacrifice their GDP growth to America or China.

Can American energy and transportation policies reduce GHG, yet continue economic growth that influences other nations to slow their fossil fuel demand as well? See Part 4 for insights.

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