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The "peak oil disruptor" - 4 rules to address the "global energy transition"

RMI's charrettes are known for getting people to think outside the box, and exchange ideas in profoundly meaningful ways. Our Transformational Trucking Charrette, which started today in Denver, had three "disruptors," people who are brought in to challenge the lines of thinking and the ideas being exchanged in meaningful, disruptive ways.

Bryn Davidson was one of today's disruptors (think Arnold saying Terminator). He works with his Dynamic Cities Project (a non-profit) to help cities adapt to peak oil and climate change, the intersection of which he calls the global energy transition, "because I see these as the two major forces that are going to drive the transition away from cheap fossil fuels." He focuses on what's at the intersection of these two issues.

Bryn described his start as a mechanical engineer in Alaska. He liked working on buildings and went on to study architecture. "Green buildings are only so good," he noted. "What we need are green cities." And cheap oil is one the problems, he noted, as it's at the "very bones of our cities." Bones is a good analogy. We're talking fossils, after all.

Bryn also described the history of oil use in America. As well as the futures we're imagining or talking about when it comes to the global energy transition. "The future isn't going to be just more of what we've done in the past," he said.

He described several futures: a "techno-markets" future, a "lean and local" future, as well as peak oil in terms of oil fields. Better than Bryn's past (so to speak) was his "future," a presentation on how to transition off oil. He had four rules.

Bryn's Four Rules

First Rule: don't invest in something that could become a stranded asset
Bryn described a town in Maryland that invested $60 million in a new airport as an economic stimulus strategy only to see oil prices go up and the local carrier drop the town as a destination. Don't invest in "something that only makes sense in a future that looks like the past," he cautioned.

Second Rule: focus on strategies that reduce emissions and oil constraints
Bryn described a courier company in Vancouver, called Novex (, who'd been greening itself, helping its owner/operators invest in hybrid vehicles (to become the greenest fleet in America), and were so successful they began buying up other companies during a recent high oil price bump, because "they focused emissions and oil dependence."

Third Rule: Have the highest energy productivity
Bryn described an organic food delivery company whose competitor is the average person who drives to the store to buy, say, carrots. "And that trip in your car to pick up that carrot is the highest [energy] portion [of the trip that the carrot takes]," he explained. The delivery company saw business go up when oil prices went up because, Bryn explained, people decided to use the delivery service to get their groceries. "When their [the delivery company] business grows, oil consumption regionally goes down," he noted. "So they have a net positive impact on emissions and oil dependence because their energy productivity is much higher than their nearest competition's."

Fourth rule: Keep radical options open
Bryn also worked with Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC, Inc), the REI of Canada. He explained that he'd had a discussion with the management about climate change, and MEC's management wanted a distribution system (for a West Coast facility) that could use rail in the future, as their east coast facility could. Rail, they felt, might be more resilient in terms of climate change and other factors. Ultimately, MEC sourced a piece of land with a rail spur that they might use in the future—"understanding that future could be very different than how we're operating today," Bryn noted.

Four good rules to keep in mind. More disruption to follow.

By Cam Burns, Senior Editor, RMI

Editorial Notes: Bryn Davidson is a longtime contributor to EB. The slides from his presentation are available here:

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