Plan C

by Richard T. Stuebi

I have a great deal of respect for Matthew Simmons, founder of the energy investment bank Simmons & Company International. Simmons is a frequent speaker, and one of his most often-quoted lines is that, when it comes to the possibility of declining oil production in the near-future, “There is no Plan B.”

Late last year, a non-profit organization from Southern Ohio named The Community Solution wrote a white paper in which they described a so-called “Plan B”. In their Plan B, new technologies are pursued aggressively in the vision of enabling society to transition to an alternative energy future. This presumably would represent the majority view of the clean-tech community, including the readers of this blog.

According to The Community Solution, the fly in the ointment is that Plan B only slightly slows the inexorable path to human extinction implied by “Plan A” (status quo consumption). The Community Solution essentially argues that Plan B is unsustainable, that Plan B still implies too much consumption of resources for the planet to bear forever.

For The Community Solution, the only true path of enduring sustainability comes with “Plan C”, what they call “Curtailment and Community.” Much lower consumption of all resources, much more local economic and social interaction.

In a video, The Community Solution points to Cuba as an example of how Plan C can work. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Cuba no longer had its industrial and economic benefactor, and oil import quantities fell by more than 50%. Out of necessity — some might say desperation — agriculture, commerce and transportation all had to be reinvented on the fly to cope with a dramatic curtailment in energy resources.

In my view, Cuba has many fine things to recommend it: food, music and cigars come to mind. However, economic policy under the Castro regime is not one of Cuba’s long suits. It is doubtful that the average American will be impressed by Cuba’s energy “revolution” in the past decade and say, “Gee, that’s wonderful — I’d like for that to happen here.”

Selling Plan C to the U.S. seems pretty much like a lost cause to me, and in any event I don’t think Plan B is necessarily as doomsday as The Community Solution portrays it. Although I agree that we’re far too materialistic and our society would benefit from more modest values, I do not endorse Plan C, and instead I vote for Plan B. What do you think?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

5 replies
  1. Jeremy Stieglitz
    Jeremy Stieglitz says:

    Great question, and this notion of trajectories and trade-offs has very much been on my mind lately. To me, the debate still seems to paint the future with either “techno-enabled” optimism contrasted with peak oil catastrophic collapse, leaving little room for anything in the middle of that spectrum. My own personal view is that our collective global lifestyle is a bounced check – totally unsustainable, regardless of what kind of technology improves various aspects of supply/consumption of energy and power. Yet I do believe in markets, and expect that market forces will press this trajectory to a “middling” path. Unfortunately, markets tend to put a small premium on life, and those 2-3 billion on the edges of sustainability today could be wiped out by a 5x-10x increase in the cost of food.So, I guess it depends on what you consider the middle? (median or average?) It also depends on what/where you are trying to get to. The 20th century was about drawing down environmental and ecological assets, whether we want the 21rst century to be “neutral” or “recovery” of those assets means different paths from here.

  2. Fritz
    Fritz says:

    I agree with you that Plan C is unpalatable and is an impossible sell to citizens of OECD nations. It's not going to happen.However, the energy available to sustain a "Plan B" type of economy simply is not available unless something miraculous like practical fusion happens. Technology and economic growth is absolutely dependent on increasing energy supplies. Plan C, then, will happen by default, and lack of planning will create very rough times for almost all of us.

  3. Cliff Figallo
    Cliff Figallo says:

    The idea that some "we" is going to "sell" a sustainable lifestyle to American and Western cultures is missing the point. Plan A is clearly unsustainable, but right now even Plan B is unsellable. Just look around and notice the lack of adoption of available alternatives.Some kind of Plan B may be viable if it's adopted in time, massively. But if, as it appears, we are continuing with business as usual until climate impacts convince people that the shit has hit the fan, then some kind of Plan C (not necessarily Castro's brand) may become the only acceptable path.Cooperation, collaboration, simpler lifestyles, sharing of resources and major assets – you can live comfortably enough. Fifty years from now, if floods, drought and sea level rise have become "normal," you're not gonna have to pry American's away from watching the NFL on energy efficient HD TVs. Let's stop worrying about what an overconsuming culture will "buy" in the future we're facing. We either change, or many less of us will be around.

  4. Magdyno.com
    Magdyno.com says:

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  5. Magdyno.com
    Magdyno.com says:

    Poor LEV/EV performance is slowing consumer adoption due to following Customer Problems:  Limited range between charges  Expensive battery only lasts one year  Limited warranty due to power train problems  Slow acceleration from stop  Slow acceleration from cruising speed  Can't climb steep hills High torque output produces heat in the motor windings that must be removed to avoid motor damageImportant issues for LEV/EV consumers in rough order of importance are: Cost (Battery life is a major cost component)  Range (how far on a single charge) Noise  Torque (acceleration from stop and hill climbing) Reliability Weight EfficiencyDifferent customers are with different priorities Military and Police – silence, range, speed  Industrial – range, reliability Some EU markets – reliabilityOpportunities for futureMany designs use conventional motors, however, market needs better reliable, high performance and cost effective EPS suppliers  Smaller size More efficient  Cost effective Better torque characteristics More durable Better controller characteristics Better controller reliability

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