Sunday, June 21, 2009

Big chunks of great article on the need for Transition

Cover of "The Party's Over: Oil, War and ...Still one of the more accessible introductions ot the topic out there. Cover via Amazon

Cheer Up, It's Going to Get Worse

Transition communities gear up for society's collapse with a shovel and a smile

By Alastair Bland

Three years ago, David Fridley purchased two and a half acres of land in rural Sonoma County. He planted drought-resistant blue Zuni corn, fruit trees and basic vegetables while leaving a full acre of extant forest for firewood collection. Today, Fridley and several friends and family subsist almost entirely off this small plot of land, with the surplus going to public charity.

But Fridley is hardly a homegrown hippie who spends his leisure time gardening. He spent 12 years consulting for the oil industry in Asia. He is now a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, where members discuss the problems inherent to fossil-fuel dependency.

Fridley has his doubts about renewable energies, and he has grave doubts about the future of crude oil. In fact, he believes to a certainty that society is literally running out of gas and that, perhaps within years, the trucks will stop rolling into Safeway and the only reliable food available will be that grown in our backyards.

Fridley, like a few other thinkers, activists and pessimists, could talk all night about "peak oil." This catch phrase describes a scenario, perhaps already unfurling, in which the easy days of oil-based society are over, a scenario in which global oil production has peaked and in which every barrel of crude oil drawn from the earth from that point forth is more difficult to extract than the barrel before it. According to peak oil theory, the time is approaching when the effort and cost of extraction will no longer be worth the oil itself, leaving us without the fuel to power our transportation, factories, farms, society and the very essence of our oil-dependent lives. Fridley believes the change will be very unpleasant for many people.

"If you are a typical American and have expectations of increasing income, cheap food, nondiscretionary spending, leisure time and vacations in Hawaii, then the change we expect soon could be what you would consider 'doom,'" he says soberly, "because your life is going to fall apart." . . .

Fridley says too many Americans believe in solutions to all problems, but peak oil is a terrible anomaly among crises, he explains, because there is no solution. Fridley doesn't even see any hope in solar, wind, water and other renewable energy sources. Even nuclear power creates only electricity, while crude oil is the basis for thousands of synthetic products.

"There is nothing that can replace oil and allow us to maintain life at the pace we've been living," he says. "Crude oil is hundreds of millions of years of stored sunlight, and we're using it all up in a few generations. It's like living off of a savings account, whereas solar energy is like working and living off your daily wages."

The sheer cost-efficiency of oil eclipses all supposed alternatives. Removed from the ground and burned, oil makes things move almost miraculously. A tank of gasoline in a sedan holds enough energy to equal approximately five years of one person's rigorous manual labor.

Historically, too, oil has been very easy to get since the world's first well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859; for each barrel's worth of energy invested in the process of accessing crude oil, 30 barrels are produced, says Fridley. By contrast, ethanol is a paltry substitute; each barrel's worth of ethanol invested in ethanol production produces a mere 1.2 barrels of raw product. Other renewables offer similarly poor returns. "The thermodynamics just don't add up," Fridley says. . . .

Fridley does not see peak oil as doomsday, though he predicts that there might be "die-off," just as marine algae bloom and crash periodically. In fact, Fridley views Transition as a process of world improvement. The environment around us has been falling apart for decades due to our excessive lifestyles, he notes. In our oceans and wildlands, doomsday has already arrived with deforestation, water pollution, fisheries collapse, extinction and other plagues. Peak oil presents an urgent cause to rethink and reshape our lives and theworld for the better, he says. . . .

Forever Growth?

Fridley has seen peak oil coming for years. From his small Sonoma farm, he may be prepared to feed himself, but our world's dependence on oil goes far beyond food production. Even electric machines need crude oil byproduct.

"Every single machine in the nation runs on lubrication," Fridley says. "If that lube isn't there, then what?"

In theory, the world freezes up. A person may first digest this concept as an abstract, distant nebula, like climate change, extinctions, water pollution and other newspaper headlines. However, when the reality of peak oil hits—when it hits a person so that his or her personal life is deeply affected—it hits hard.

"It's hard to internalize," says Miller, who has seen many people react in many ways to being told that the world in which they have grown so comfortable is about to end. "One tendency is for people to believe that there is a solution, that technology will fix it or that the powers that be will fix it."

But technology and the powers that be run on oil. Santa Rosa author Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute, described peak oil in his much lauded 2003 book aptly titled The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, and indeed, most experts on the matter now agree that the party is over. Transitionists are readying for the new era with open arms while struggling to convince others of the severity of the matter.

In Santa Cruz, several city figures, including councilman Don Lane and the city's climate action coordinator Ross Clark, have stepped up and proven themselves allies of the Transition movement, attending multiple community meetings. San Francisco, too, has acknowledged peak oil, and a city-appointed task force recently submitted to the supervisors a 120-page report detailing the city's vulnerabilities to the crisis.

Savinar has been trying for years to invite government participation in peak oil preparation. In 2005, he sent a letter of warning to each member of the Santa Rosa City Council, advising that they begin aggressively readying the community for peak oil and its aftermath. The letter was articulate and "lawyerly," he says, and included a copy of Heinberg's Party's Over in each package, yet not one councilperson

"And I guarantee that if I was a car manufacturer and I scribbled out a letter with crayons, they would have answered me," he says with a short laugh.

Fridley also believes assistance will not come from the world's leaders. Transition can only be a grass-roots revolution. He points out that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was previously the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Fridley has done much of his thinking about peak oil and Transition.

"[Chu] was my boss," Fridley says. "He knows all about peak oil, but he can't talk about it. If the government announced that peak oil was threatening our economy, Wall Street would crash. He just can't say anything about it."

Thus, world leaders would like to have the populace believe that this oil-age feeding frenzy will continue forever, that the economy will continue to expand and grow. At the 2008 G-8 Summit on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, for example, our leaders declared a resolution to resume economic growth. Fridley says such a goal is impossible, yet no one wants to face the fact.

"Ask scientists if something can grow forever exponentially, and they'll say, 'No.' Then ask how our economy can keep on growing, and they'll say, 'Well, it has to.'"

Elsewhere, many politicians and leaders have been reluctant to address peak oil, and full governmental leadership may never arrive. Levy believes that politicians locally and nationally will be even more reluctant to discuss peak oil than they've been to address climate change.

"Transition is probably going to grow from the ground up before the government comes onboard," he predicts.

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Change SF to Salem O and it's the same story

Dad with a chicken in his lapImage by Alex Mahan via Flickr

A little slowly dawning recognition but mainly deep denial that our way of living (and certainly our caloric abundance) depends entirely on abundant cheap energy . . . the kind that is not going to be around much more.

Report says peak oil could cause food shortages in S.F.

In May, an obscure city advisory group released the results of a 15-month study of San Francisco's vulnerabilities to peak oil, a scenario that assumes the global supply of oil will run thin in the near future and that the world could go the way of Mad Max. Produced by the now-disbanded Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, seven volunteers appointed in part by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi in late 2007, the 120-page report warns that San Francisco [and Salem too] is looking at a grim future if public policymakers and city residents don't start preparing for the post-oil apocalypse right away.

Jason Mark, a local author and urban farmer who sat on the task force, says serious food shortages could be a reality. He recommended in the report that residents be allowed to graze goats in their yards, keep more than four chickens per property, and raise and eat their own rabbits and hogs as supplemental protein sources. He says these tactics — currently prohibited by the health department — would help alleviate pressure on outlying Bay Area farmlands while building agricultural self-sufficiency within the limits of San Francisco. He would also like public golf courses to be converted into productive urban farmland and have the city plant fruit and nut trees along sidewalks.

The lengthy report further warns that if San Francisco [--or Salem]'s leaders don't take peak oil seriously, we can expect "violent fluctuations in energy prices," extreme gentrification, and poverty. But Supervisor Sean Elsbernd believes the city has more important problems to address. He points to the deficit, which he predicts will hit $1 billion in two years: "And they're worried about farming chickens in backyards and planting nut farms? We've got enough nuts in this city already." He calls it "ridiculous" to ask the Board of Supervisors to tackle such global issues as peak oil. [And who does he expect to tackle local preparedness if not local governments?]

Mirkarimi, though, believes this is one matter that must be addressed at city level. "This conversation has to take place soon, but we can't compel the federal or state governments to do anything," the Green Party member says.

Oil supplies, the task force's report states, are fated for "an inexorable decline," and natural gas supplies will careen into an "unstoppable descent." If we don't brace ourselves now, it warns, adjusting to life in San Francisco [-- or Salem] after the energy crash will be "enormously difficult, painful, and expensive. There is no time to lose." . . .

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