Monday, September 11, 2006

community solutions

The Third U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions is coming up. It's to be held on September 22-24, 2006 in Yellow Springs Ohio. Speakers include: Richard Heinberg, Julian Darley, Peter Bane,Vicki Robin, David W. Orr and many others. I'll be there as well. Endless discussion of peak oil statistics isn't of much interest to me. Nor is sitting around trying to guess the exact date of the arrival of the peak. The response of our communities to this coming era of human history, now that blows my hair back.

The truth is Hubbert's Curve is fairly simple to understand. We're nearing a point in time when less, not more petroleum energy will be available to human beings. We're not almost out of oil but we are about to begin experiencing a gap between what is available and what is being demanded by industrial society. The United States in particular has used oil energy to create a pattern of living that isn't sustainable without oil. There are no substitutes or combination of substitutes that will allow us to continue living in this manner indefinitely. It stands to reason then that we will have to change. That is what I am interested in.

I believe a return to mixed-use, walkable communities will go a long way towards reducing the amount of energy we need. It will also make it possible for us to leave the volatile Middle East, drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit into the atmosphere and get our overweight population out walking and talking again. I am not interested in arguing about whether or not the American people are willing to voluntarily make this change. The truth is it's inevitable. 90% of the world’s transportation runs on petroleum. When there is less oil available there will be less transportation of people and goods. Period. Those who can't afford the rising prices of anything shipped from far away will have to learn to get by with what is at hand. Relocalization is not an If but a When.

It stands to reason then that those communities who begin to focus on relocalization before it is a necessity will have a leg up on those who don't. Likewise individuals who recognize the need to live more locally will have a much better chance of thriving in a post peak oil world. Another reason I think relocalization is an excellent focus for our communities is the fact that it involves so many other issues. As Paula from Adaptation Blog put it, "Is Peak Oil awareness a prerequisite for relocalization efforts? I don’t think it is. Peak Oil is just one more reason why it’s necessary, one of possibly hundreds." I mentioned up above the removed dependency on the Middle East. I'm sure our men and women serving in the military would appreciate that and imagine if we could spend the 300+ Billion dollars we've spent in Iraq on education or maybe health care? Relocalization is itself a safeguard against terrorism. Large, centralized systems for distributing food or generating electricity are grand targets for those who would like to disable our country. Damage to small, decentralized systems would affect far fewer individuals and therefore decrease not only the impact but also decrease the lure of attack. Personal relationships with small, local businessmen, farmers, government officials, etc. would mean less control by large, global corporations looking to shirk responsibility for improper actions. More travel by means of muscle, either walking or biking, would result in physical and mental health improvements as well as helping to reestablish a human connection with nature. And let's not forget the improvements in air quality as less travel by motor vehicle would be necessary.

All of these are reasons to move away from globalization and towards relocalization. They represent as best I can see the most reasonable response to peak oil as well as the other problems facing industrial society. I have been and will be focusing more time on relocaliztion as a way to help myself, my family and my community prepare for the post peak world.

More information on the upcoming conference:
General Info / Speakers / Registration / Last Year's Highlights


PeakEngineer said...

Great post, Aaron. I can't go to the conference, but I would love to hear your perspective on it. You seem to have the same attitude I do toward Peak Oil solutions, one that sometimes seems like a minority in this community. I'm much more interested in figuring out how to reshape my life than calculating the exact date of the peak or how ravenous the 'zombie hordes' will be.

Puma said...

You hit upon what interests me the most as well: how will we respond? What will be the differences between the rural, suburban, and urban areas? How will they interact and how will the relationship between such areas change? The thing is, folks like me who live in a rural area with an already-strong sense of local farming, CSAs, organic co-ops, and old-time New England toughness will stand a better-than-average chance of handling all of this well. There are old women in my town who have been putting on pot-luck suppers at the Grange for decades.

But what about the cities? What will happen to those millions - millions - of people, mostly poor, who do not and cannot have the resources, land, knowledge, and opportunities that I have? One thing I know, and that is we should never underestimate a person's drive to survive, nor second-guess what lengths they will go to to protect themselves and their children... a population on the move perhaps? Will it resemble the dust bowl migrations? I worry greatly that it will not - that it will manifest as something perhaps more immediately intense, and much more violent. It is disquieting to remember that these changes will happen slowly - I selfishly wish they would happen suddenly - to minimize the ability of multitudes of pissed-off, armed, desperate people to migrate near to me and my community. I want it to be hard for them to overwhelm my little town. Will it come to that? Human nature being what it is, will I have to defend myself and my own?

I know how this must sound - but is this not a valid concern? And is it not on all of our minds? I believe it is important to voice our fears and speak the truth about what might happen.

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." - old Yankee saying I grew up with.