It's available at EB.
Published on 26 Aug 2007 by San Francisco Chronicle. Archived on 26 Aug 2007.
After oil supplies dry up, what's Plan B?
by Erica Etelson
At this point, you might be asking yourself: When oil becomes scarce, how will I get food? That's a very good question. Here are a few more: Will my garbage get picked up? How will my water district purify and deliver water and treat sewage without petrochemicals? What if I need an ambulance? What if my home is one of the 7.7 million that rely on oil for heating? Which of my medications are made out of petrochemicals? How will I get to work? Will I even have a job anymore?
But don't just ask yourself. Ask your elected officials, your public utility district and your grocer. Ask the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and American Airlines. Ask GM. If you have one, ask your financial adviser or stockbroker which companies will still be in business after peak oil hits. Odds are, he or she will give you a blank stare.
While the United States blindly carries on with business as usual, countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Ireland are taking steps to assess and mitigate peak oil impacts. Oil-rich Iran has begun rationing and has already cut oil consumption by 25 percent. But here at home, demand for oil is ever on the rise, and there is no talk of conserving reserves for essential goods and services or to develop an alternative energy infrastructure.
Instead, we are on course to squander every last drop on long solo commutes, leisure travel, mountains of plastic junk and the senseless transglobal shipment of unsustainably grown food.
That's where local government comes in. Small but growing numbers of municipalities are initiating a process that federal and state leaders should have begun 30 years ago, when domestic oil reserves peaked. They are, in short, figuring out Plan B.
In May, Oakland appointed an Oil Independent Oakland by 2020 Task Force. In June 2006, Portland, Ore., formed its own Peak Oil Task Force, which got busy fast: By March of this year, it had released its first major report, urging the city to "act big, act now," even without further study or analysis. The report prompted the city to pass a resolution to accelerate oil and gas conservation measures to halve Portland's fossil fuel consumption.
Last year, San Francisco passed a resolution to assess the city's vulnerability to oil depletion and to develop a transition plan. Other cities, from Austin, Texas, to Bloomington, Ind., are confronting the stark reality and trying their best to figure out how to soften the blow.
Cities are looking at options such as local food cultivation, urban redesign to minimize transportation needs, locally controlled electricity, rainwater catchment systems (to ensure local access to water for food cultivation), energy-efficient mass transit, and the preparation of emergency plans for sudden and severe food, water and energy shortages. They are embracing bio-regional sustainability - a concept once dismissed as an ecotopian fantasy that is suddenly starting to look like our last best hope.
But cities cannot solve the peak oil problem on their own. They don't have the revenue needed to build light-rail networks and wind farms or to store massive grain reserves. During a recession, they will be in no position to guarantee income supports for millions of laid-off workers. But the more they do now, while they still have a revenue stream, the better off their residents will be.
If the peak oil doomsday scenarios are to be averted, it will require coordinated action at every level of government, by every sector of the economy and by every community and citizen in the nation. We are heading into a political era in which the need to come together to invent and support life-sustaining social and economic systems will trump all else.