What Is Your Government Doing About Peak Oil?

The debate over the global energy crisis continues to inch its away into the public arena. While federal governments still have not taken specific actions regarding peak oil, a number of sub-federal agencies have acted.

As experts wrestle over the question of when global oil demand will outpace supply, a number of municipalities, regional agencies, and even state governments in the U.S. and Canada have commissioned studies and drawn up plans to anticipate the decline of our oil reserves, according to an online report by Post Carbon Cities. The original study was compiled by Daniel Lerch, the organization’s program director and author of Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty.

Grassroots citizen groups that have begun planning for a post-peak oil future—or, at least a future without cheap oil—are clearly more numerous than local governments with such a focus, as indicated by the nearly 150 awareness groups that make up the The Relocalization Network. However, that official peak-oil resolutions been passed at all is a sign that various awareness campaigns around this issue have worked. City and state officials have heard the alarm and responded—at least in a handful of communities.

The Post Carbon Cities report includes a variety of government actions. Some of these may have been implemented internally (e.g., staff reports, internal vulnerability assessments), others externally (e.g., official resolutions, task forces). Examples of practical steps include installing local renewable energy systems, budgeting for energy scarcity, and developing contingency plans for municipal services.

Leaders of the Pack

A quick rundown of the list suggests where different states and regions of the U.S. and Canada stand on this issue. Connecticut became the first state to take action this past June when its legislature passed an act to create the Energy Scarcity and Sustainability Task Force. A month earlier, a similar resolution had reached a vote in Minnesota, but was vetoed.

Maintaining their reputation as conversationists, several West Coast cities have led the pack with peak oil resolutions and measures. Of the 21 cities listed, six are located in California, and three cities—Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco—are in the Bay Area.

A city’s size does not dictate its level of peak-oil preparedness, it seems. Willits, California, (pop. 5,073), possessing a populace nearly 150 times smaller than San Francisco’s, was one of the first cities to declare its support for “sustainable localization” and embark on a path toward energy independence. Willits, as Ecolocalizer reported earlier this year, has inspired other relocalization efforts throughout the country and the world.

Are your local leaders taking action on this issue? Check out the report to find out.

Image credit: Chrichton91 at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

  1. Stu

    I don’t see much evidence that any government anywhere is addressing the peak oil issue. In fact I can say that here in Australia, I have never, ever heard a single politician mention the term “Peak Oil”. I see massive infrastructure projects involving new roads, widening of existing roads, I see more 4wd and performance utes on the road all the time. Australias top two selling cars are the Holden Commodore, and the Ford Falcon, both largish V6 vehicles with pretty crap economy. I just started work a few months ago in a distribution center, booze and groceries. It’s a massive operation. All deliveries and dispatch via truck. The place has every single bit of added electrical and electronic and automated accessory you can poke a stick at………nope…….no energy problems in the future as far as the biggest grocery and beer, wine and spirits company in this country is concerned. If peak oil hits int he next couple or years…..or should I say the beginning fallout of declining production…..because I believe the peak in oil production is already past……if it hits…..then this joint is going to be on the ropes…..same as all food production and transportation and storage in this country. It’s obvious to me that the average person doesn’t give a single thought to fuel, or energy when planing, designing anything…..fuel and energy are just something that is there when you turn the key…….flick the switch………it’s magic…..and infinite in quantity and availibility……thats how people think of it. There is nothing being reported in the msn at all to alter peoples view of this……and there wont be either……until the shit hits the fan……even then……they will ignorantly paint rosey pictures of alternatives. Stuff the governemnt and the msn, we are being kept in the dark……just work out how to reduce your consumption to the smallest possible amount and try to get as many aspects of your life as unreliant on the availability of cheap fuel or energy as possible. Your on your own on this…….when the shit hits the fan ain’t nobody going to help you……..it will be every man for himself.

  2. Randy White

    I was on Portland, Oregon’s Peak Oil Task Force.

    The noted “Alarmist” of the group, I pushed for the city to take decisive action and create a “crash program” and prepare for the emergency that would soon hit.

    As a citizen, getting government to take fast action on Peak Oil is like a seaman first class trying to get the captain of a Battleship to alter their course.

    So, I built Bright Neighbor to do the government’s job for them. It’s a hit in Portland, and we are launching in cities across America.

  3. Stu

    Oh yeah, you would be the noted alarmist in any Peak Oil group if you advocated actually doing anything. Most just talk, email, chat etc. And I suppose everyone starts out like that after they become aware of the problem. But once aware, shouldn’t that involve action. And it’s pretty hard to get others to take you seriously while driving the SUV and commuting 40 miles to work while consuming every plastic disposable item on the market and leaving your giant plasma TV on and computer running when your not using it. Funnily enough, the guy that introduced me to Peak Oil, and convinced me that it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be baaaaad, drives a V8 performance ute, modified to have even more grunt, and use more petrol, has a giant heated spa, two humongous TVs, one of which stays on all the time, even when he’s in his computer room and can’t even possible hear it from there, lives in a massive open plan 4 bedroom house, climate controlled, and walks around inside with singlet and shorts, in winter, drives 56klms to work and back each day, and a zillion other things to numerous to mention that would make this guy up in the top 1 percent of fuel and energy wasters in the universe. And he knows about peak oil……..and believes the shit will hit the fan in the worst possible way, in a few years time. What can you do?

    Everybody expects other people to do the conserving.

  4. Bobby B.

    The “Peak Oil” theory is just that…a theory; and a scare mongering one at that. It originated in the 1950’s with dire claims that the world’s oil would dry up in the early 70’s. When the oil kept flowing the date was moved to the late 70’s, then the 80’s, then the 90’s, then the new millenium, and so on. There may have been a “peak” to the easily accessible shallow earth reserves, but the deeper reserves promise energy for thousands of years. Recent finds in Utah, Colorado, and other states thought to be devoid of oil prove that we have only scratched the surface of what’s truly available. We also have proven reserves that remain off limits due to government restrictions. Given the magnitude of the untapped reserves, it stands to reason that a “peak oil” crisis would be a crisis created for some political purpose.

  5. Larry Menkes

    Good post, Brian.

    Action is happening now in thousands of municipalities and regions. For the record there are over 200 relocalization chapters worldwide. I know because I’m coordinating ECLA PA, the first PA chapter (once called an outpost). And that’s not all. The Transition Towns movement out of the UK is going very strong and catching on here in the US. An older movement based on “The Natural Step” has also taken hold. Sustainable Lawrence (NJ – Ralph Copleman) is one excellent example I know of.

    Instead of complaining (I’m probably not including you here, but some seem to be doing), which I regard as a waste of energy, you could start a chapter of your own. Being part of a group, especially a global group, has may advantages, so it’s important to pick one with a good track record of successes. The Post Carbon Institute is one of the best. Your group can tailor its activities to your unique local needs. You do not want to re-invent the wheel here.

    Here in Warminster, PA, our local chapter has had a decisive impact on the thinking of local government. Just because they know that I exist and act within their boundaries gives them pause.

    There seem to be several keys to effective action. The first, and maybe most important, is to green your own living space: i.e. walk your talk. This will lower your home utility costs and give you extra money to fund your activities. You’ll discover that government action is merely a matter of scale, and you own experience will tell you this.

    The second is for you to understand that your local government regards you as a taxpayer and must listen to you. Your strongest argument to make them act is that (from their perspective) energy efficiency is first and foremost a matter of fiscal responsibility. I don’t care what motivates you most, grandchildren, polar bears, low energy costs, peer pressure, etc.

    Elected officials respond to the money and your vote. At least half of all energy we use is wasted! That means more than half of GHG gasses emitted are from that waste. We can cut the costs and CO2 emissions by more than half without even engaging in Bobby B’s nonsense. Stick to the fiscal responsibility line until that part’s solved. By then, the silly arguments will be over.

    If possible, don’t act alone. Get your friends to participate.

    That’s enough for a start. The Transition Towns Handbook has an excellent tutorial for starting chapters. By the way, The PCI manual, Post Carbon Cities (PCC), is widely used by local govenment in SE PA. That’s been due to the fine promotional work by it’s lead author, Dan Lerch, when the book was released. Alan Hughes, Philadelphia’s Director of Sustainability has and uses his copy. It’s used locally here in Bucks County because I bought, promoted, and distributed dozens of copies.

    Learn as much as you can about the issues of global warming and peak oil. Reading the PCC and TTH books will help a lot. You have to become your local expert. Learn about the psychology of the issues. You will be dealing with emotionally loaded topics in a fear-based culture. You can fall victim to neuroses around this. Also, read Jared Diamonds “Collapse”. It’s very good.

    Don’t spend a lot of time with the peak oil and global climate change debunkers. They will waste your time. They are not rational and do not respond well to logic. The arguments are over, and settled. We are no longer prophets, we’re historians. Bobby B. is clearly ignorant of what’s going on and sounds like he’s in the first stage of reaction, Denial. He’s merely repeating disinformation that is very prevalent in the US, but quite RARE elsewhere. Frankly, I wish he were right.

    Finally, try to understand how change happens. Don’t be discouraged. Try to recall your exponential math. Try this test: would you rather have a million dollars today or a penny a day doubled daily for a month? You are the penny. The number of activists and projects are growing exponentially. We’re getting close to a critical mass. The time for LOCAL action has never been better.

  6. Bobby B.

    Larry, you make my points for me:

    “You’ll discover that government action is merely a matter of scale, and you[r] own experience will tell you this.

    The second is for you to understand that your local government regards you as a taxpayer and must listen to you. Your strongest argument to make them act is that (from their perspective) energy efficiency is first and foremost a matter of fiscal responsibility.”

    “Elected officials respond to the money and your vote. ”

    Ergo, there is no crisis without the solicited support of the governing authority. Of course, it is within each citizen’s right to petition his government for whatever change or program he desires. I do wish you luck.

    Also, I doubt that my “Denial” stage will end anytime soon. I’ve been studying the “disinformation” from both sides for over twenty years and still don’t see the argument as being settled. Any claim to a scientific consensus does not make an experimentally repeatable scientific FACT.

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