Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale - Part 3

Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale

Interstate High Speed Rail Rationale is compelling. We have rapid population growth. Without change of transportation priorities to include Interstate High Speed Rail, Rapid Transit, electric buses and bikeways, traffic congestion, accidents and lung disease will get worse. With easy-to-access oil & natural gas now expired, we are taking big risks that accelerate Climate Change and catastrophes like the Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak. America must convert to greener transportation using greener energy without crippling our economy.

U.S. Population & Urbanization Growing Faster Than Most Realize

In the “Golden Years of Highway Driving” before the 1973 Oil Embargo, gasoline was cheap and new freeways opened every month. Americans bragged about driving 80-85 mph since few Interstate Highways were congested. They brag about freeway speed less often now. American population is more than doubling since 1960. Observe this 2012 U.S. Census Bureau snapshot of recorded and forecast population:

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

We have also grown from 64% urbanized in 1950 to 82% urbanized in 2017. Most urbanization is in our Top 50 Metro Areas that are forming denser 100-to-500-mile corridors demographers call “Mega-regions”, color-coded on the America 2050 Map below. Those mega-regions are as dense or denser than European mega-regions in 1990, when their HSR construction boom started.

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 negatively impacts our economy. Today, drivers in our Top 35 Metro Areas (2+ million pop.) elbow for room on congested freeways in mega-regions. Based on U.S. Census Bureau forecasts, our Top 45 Metro Areas will have 2+ million residents by 2030. Without HSR, Rapid Transit and Bikeway alternatives, more urban drivers will elbow for room.

Population growth rates and denser urbanization within a 20-mile radius of most Central Business Districts have long destroyed the argument that Outside the Northeast, America does not have enough population density to justify HSR. To name one example from five corridor examples, San Francisco-San Jose-Fresno-Bakersfield-Burbank-Los Angeles-Anaheim corridor has more than double the population of Brussels-Lille-Paris-Lyon-Valence-Marseilles HSR corridor. Yet, America is not building enough HSR and Rapid Transit lines outside Northeast and California mega-regions that its urbanized population growth rates demand by 2025-40. To open more lines within that timeframe, we must accelerate planning, public input, environmental approvals, funding and land-acquisition for projects now.

Air Pollution, Persistent Health Problem Due To Transportation Emissions

Nitrous oxide, air particulates, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons form smog when concentrated above a metro area. Most Hydrocarbons have been banned from aerosol sprays. Thanks to the Clean Air Act of 1970, fewer industries burn objects that emit 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 remained unhealthy since World War II. 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 that trap air particulates, sulphur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds and amplify photochemical reactions that produce smog. Another insight is 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 for cars & light trucks from 20 MPG to 23 MPG. Excluding Clinton, they practically froze transit funding and starved Amtrak.

Jet fuel contains a high percentage of oil that is burned to generate energy, but emits nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and air particulates. From 1980-2008, airline deregulation doubled regional (sub-500 mile) flights, while maintaining growth for longer flights. Hence, regional flights are the biggest cause of congested traffic and air pollutants surrounding our commercial airports.

Surging population, urbanization growth, lack of HSR, inadequate Rapid Transit, stagnant CAFE standards and doubling regional flights amplified oil consumption, increased traffic congestion, and maintained dangerous smog levels. We have to use all transportation energy more efficiently. As you see on the chart below, High Speed Trains and Rapid Transit Trains are far more passenger-energy-efficient than buses, cars and planes.

Energy Efficiency of High Speed Trains to Other Modes

Energy Efficiency of High Speed Trains compared to Other Transportation Modes; data source DOE

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?

BP_spill_May2010

Small oil spills happen all the time. But as the NASA image above reveals for the BP Gulf of Mexico 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 from politically volatile Middle East and North 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, we will still be impacted by world oil prices.

Since we don’t know how long Risky Oil will last, the prudent thing to do is reduce oil consumption each year and ensure that Risky Natural Gas is well regulated to prevent leaks until renewable energy from Wind, Solar and Biofuel are prominent. That will give our oil & natural gas companies time to ramp up investment in wind, solar, advanced batteries and biofuel without major layoffs.

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

Our 21st century world is changing in ways that form a compelling rationale for Interstate High Speed Rail. 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, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, 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 “Greenhouse” warming effect. Airplanes are notorious for emitting carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide high in the sky. The Word Resources Institute provides this equally insightful chart of Per Capita GHG Emissions by Nation:

Per Capita GHG Emission by Nation

Based on their volume and impact in the 21st century, scientists categorize carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) as the most dangerous set of GHG. Excessive deforestation for commercial 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 Greenhouse global warming effect.

Climate Change, The Biggest Stick

Think of how GHG and Deforestation will punish the world for lack of course corrections by its leaders. The last several years are hotter than the history of the Earth. Antarctica is melting 3X faster than a decade ago. Forest fires, droughts and hurricanes thrive on higher temperatures. Extreme Russian Fires in 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Maria in 2017 are unmistakeable signs that global warming is negatively impacting our world. GHG emissions have driven surface temperature of the Earth 3 Fahrenheit degrees higher than 1900. Higher air and water temperature are melting Arctic and Antarctic permafrost and glaciers. What’s worse, the EPA forecasted global temperature rising 8-12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, if we don’t reverse our GHG growth pace. To prevent widespread calamity, 99% of climatologists say we must dramatically cut GHG emissions to slow global temperature rise.

2000 Year Global Temperatures

2000 Year Global Temperatures

The majority of Americans acknowledge scientific evidence that the rapid increase in carbon dioxide emission (83% of GHG) is 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. It also results from coal mining, when the gas becomes airborne at the surface. 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.

GHG 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

Macro-Economists correlate high fossil fuel consumption with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. That century-old fossil fuel practice is at odds with the race to transition to renewable energy by the large economies of China, America, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea.

By 2016 Wind & Solar at 10% of U.S. Energy

By 2016, Wind & Solar grew to 10% of U.S. Energy generation; Source EIA

India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Iran, Pakistan and Nigeria are watching America and China as models for their Energy-Transportation-GDP growth. In the 2015 Paris Accord, most countries, including China, agreed to move away from coal. Japan and European Union are meeting their obligations to address Climate Change. But all nations are concerned that Trump’s return to Risky Oil & Risky Natural Gas policy represents an economic advantage for America. China will not allow the USA to violate the Paris Accord to its asymmetric economic advantage.

To be most effective, America, China, Europe Union and Japan must collectively influence Southeast Asia, Brazil and Central Africa to reduce their deforestation rates, since rain forests are “lungs for the world.” After Trump, can American energy and transportation policies reduce GHG, yet continue economic growth? Will America influence other nations to slow their fossil fuel demand as well? See Part 4 for insights.

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