How to prepare communities for Peak Oil

I’m seriously thinking of putting together a small presentation for my City Council.

In it, I will introduce the possibility of Peak Oil and it’s worst case scenarios for our City.

I don’t believe scare tactics will ever work to really make people understand just how serious Peak Oil and the subsequent Decline will be… so instead, I will present positive steps that the City can take to mitigate the effects and come out looking “progressive” and “prepared”, something which is terribly lacking in most communities in North America.

I will take my cues from Randy White of the Portland Peak Oil Task Force… here recently posted his steps to help cities prepare for Peak Oil.

These aren’t the recommendations of the Task Force itself, those are coming in a few months. But it’s never too early to start thinking like this.

I’ll present these as how I would present them to the City Council, some don’t really make sense, because of the differences in municipal control, I guess, between here and Portland… but every single point he mentions is achievable through community/municipal plans.

#1: Change school curriculum for High schoolers in grades 9 – 12 to prepare for a fast changing world

While Cities can’t necessarily “change” school curriculum, the City can certainly influence those age groups through their teachers (by simply encouraging school trustees to encourage teachers in the district to focus on this type of event). Make it known that the City has a plan and anticipates a fast changing world, create posters and banners and get them into the community to start a dialogue. In our town, where forestry job losses are a key and ongoing concern, this would not be a huge leap.

#2 Create awareness campaigns and encourage homeowners to buy products and services from local companies that can help convert parts of or their entire lawn(s) to food gardens

Again, for Port Alberni, and really any city of this size, this is a no brainer. Make sure the City promotes and supports local business. The “new wave” of thinking comes into promoting both agri-business in the region, as well as residential gardens. Port Alberni receives the 2nd largest amount of rain and the mildest climate in Canada… as well as very sunny summers. This means we could have both a very long growing season and can store vast amounts of water for irrigation.

Water Barrels are a start.. but city wide rain-water capture into a central reservoir would be a giant leap (and would also take stress off of the storm drain system)

#3 Continue fostering growth of Farmers Markets and Community Supported Agriculture

Port Alberni is lucky to have a Farmers Market every Saturday. In the summer it is very very productive, and the merchants often run out of their produce by 10AM. This activity needs to be expanded and encouraged and that means expanding the amount of agriculture ongoing in and around Port Alberni. Vast amounts of arable farm land are not being cultivated because there is no “market”. When, in fact, there is, if we as a community support it.

Create “food preparation, storage and nutrition” classes for citizens

This is an easy one, especially with our excellent Parks and Recreation department. These classes would be hugely popular for both young and old and could be used to attract new residents to the valley. It could also be a wonderful way of transferring knowledge from the older generation to the new.

Expand business and residential composting programs

“Expansion” would be easy, because Port Alberni has NO composting program. This is a travesty. We should have a composting program. The city could collect residents compost, take it to the dump, and sell bags of it once it was ready. If the city doesn’t want to do it, then it should support a local business to do it instead.

Mandate energy efficiency inspections for homes and buildings

As part of the building inspection regime, energy efficiency must become a major considerationg. If a home is being bought, it must be upgraded to a minimum of energy effficiency. There could be many areas that this would affect, from insulation in the walls, upgraded heating, upgraded plumbing, alternative energy, or other things. The point being that the City makes it clear that energy efficiency is a top priority, and the City will help as much as it can to make that transition easier, especially for low-income families by providing tax-breaks, engaging in partnerships with local businesses and contractors and the like.

Mr. White also advoates creating neighborhood volunteer programs and incentives to boost volunteer participation and assistance. I think these are things that people in Port Alberni could really get behind and support. We are, after all, the Community with a Heart.

Offer consulting for businesses and citizens looking to prepare and make changes for Peak Oil

Mr. White suggests this as a way to both increase awareness about the effects of Peak Oil, as well as have the City generate revenue in order to pay for the other programs it would be implementing.

Assess local food production abilities

This would useful in general and should be done in conjunction with the Regional District.

Encourage neighborhood grown food swaps

In a small City like Port Alberni, this could be done at the Farmers Market as easily as it could be done at the neighbourhood level… but what this really is is changing the mindset of people so that neighbours automatically share what they have their their friends and neighbours. It’s not a big leap.

Create program for sustainable year round water usage for urban farming

Create action plan including rainwater harvesting and efficiencies based on existing water system. Port Alberni already promotes water harvesting with rainbarrels. However, I don’t think it has ever considered harvesting the vast resources that literally drop on the City every year. If we could develop a system that could capture rainwater throughout the city and hold it in reserve specifically for irrigation of residential gardens, it could be a truly breathtaking and inspirational program.

Create or expand neighborhood introduction programs

Again, Parks and Rec could be encouraged to put on something like this for no increased cost to the City.

Continue to encourage use of public transportation, biking, walking, and carpooling

I don’t know if Port Alberni specifically encourages this sort of thing. Obviously there are walking corridors being considered, but I think carpooling initiatives would be especially well received in our city that is comprising more and more “working-out-of-towners”

Foster neighborhood co-op owned fueling stations

Pair farmers making alcohol in their own micro-refineries / distilleries with neighborhoods that purchase the fuel from their own alcohol fuel co-op. (Fact: Alcohol can be used as a fuel)

I had never thought of this sort of thing, and don’t know if it could fly in Port Alberni as we don’t have any alocohol producing farmers… if only you could run cars on Marijuana, we’d be set.

Create “Wisdom of the Elders” program

Like a “Big Brother / Big Sister” program, match eldery citizens that survived the Great Depression with today’s youth leaders. This is a good idea just generally and could be expanded to include Native leaders and elders as well. The transition from Peak Oil could be a hard one, and could end up mimicing the Great Depression… experience and knowledge is key to helping us get through hard times.

Create a re-use storage program

Instead of recycling, collect used plastic containers and glass from citizens and businesses normally setting them out on the curb. Clean out waste product from these containers and begin storing them in empty city owned wearhouses for future use and distribution to citizens.

An interesting thought…

Anyway, that’s what Randy White has to say about preparing communities for the worst of Peak Oil. Whether the worst really happens we will likely not know until it happens. But it never hurts to be prepared, and the measures outlined above are, for the most part, very common sense and certainly not overly ground breaking.

If Port Alberni were to embrace these values, it could promote itself as the best place in the world to live, not only because of it’s climate, community, and natural beauty, but also because it is prepared and it understand and accepts what the future will bring.

2 thoughts on “How to prepare communities for Peak Oil”

  1. Good on you, Chris. Some of us have been kicking some of these ideas around in an informal way, but the general frame of mind right now is not particularly receptive to abandoning the wasteful way we live. There was a seven year old boy at a gathering Saturday night, and he couldn’t wait to get home to his ATV. Nice kid, but like many kids and their parents, he’s locked in to consumption, mobility and a life removed from the nature in the midst of which he lives. Let me know when you’re giving the presentation, though Monday nights generally aren’t good if it’s before 8:00. I’ll perhaps try to bring some of the other people who would want to support your presentation.

    I also ordered a bunch of seed garlic so I can tear up another patch of lawn. I’ll have to show your mother your proposals, as I think she’s wondering whether or not I’ve gone off my rocker.

    Be well.

    Dan

  2. I would be very interested to know how your report goes. My grandparents had a Victory Garden during World War II. We should certainly have the capability to revive these if needed. It sounds like Port Alberni may be in an ideal position to show, at least in many ways, how a sustainable society can work.

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