Low-Energy Lifestyle: Lessons from Cuba
From the First U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions
Pat Murphy Presentation: Low-Energy Lifestyle: Lessons from Cuba
Audio from this presentation is available as an mp3 file thanks to the Unwelcome Guests show and radio4all.org. Download the following file (26MB) and begin playing from about 13 minutes:
Slide 1 I gave my first talk on peak oil in this room a little over two years ago. Like many people, when I first learned about it, I was very upset. I noted in my talk then that the problem looked serious and no one had any idea what to do. An Antioch attending said, "you should go to Cuba. They've already solved the problem." I wondered what in the world he was talking about. But I did some further research and found he had a good point. That's what I'm going to talk about today.
Slide 2 Lets review the energy situation. First the problem is that we're going to run out of oil and we're going to have to do something about it.
Slide 3 Secondly, the decline could be steep. This is a chart by Richard Duncan which shows energy production per capita. He shows an industrial civilization interval lasting from about 1930 to 2030. This means we might be moving back into a 1930s kind of lifestyle, which I personally don't think should be a matter of concern, and I'm going to explain why.
Slide 4 I don't think so called alternatives are going to fill the gap. I learned a lot from David Blume here, and I certainly have to review my own thoughts on biofuels. There's probably more there to be gained than I may have thought. Nonetheless, even though we have alternatives that are rapidly growing, I don't believe that they can ever replicate the amount of fossil fuel energy we're currently using. So I'm focused on how do reduce the amount of energy we consume.
Slide 5 My view is that the best response to peak oil is to change the American way of life. Let's change our lifestyle. Our presidents say the American way of life is not negotiable. I don't really think it's a question of negotiation. You don't exactly negotiate with a hurricane or a typhoon. If this is the way nature is going to handle it, then we must adapt to it. This is simply a new way of life that is a low-energy lifestyle. It's said that humans have been around for 7,000 or 15,000 years. Charlie Stevens in his Agrarian talk pointed out that we didn't have any trouble with agriculture until 50 years ago. So I don't think there's any question that we're going to become sustainable. It's just a question of how we are going to do it.
Slide 6 There can be a lot of exciting things that can happen everywhere in the country. There's going to be work done in cities, and there will be some innovative things done in suburbia. My goal is just on small local low energy communities. I don't offer this as the solution. I just offer it as the one solution on which I'm focused. I think people are happier and life is better in small towns. I have read reports that state every time you make a survey, people say they would prefer to live in small communities. I think they can be much more energy efficient. The fundamental aspect of small community philosophy is one of cooperation as opposed to the general world of competition. And I think social interaction is preferred to consumer goods.
I only recently moved to Yellow Springs, but I've been visiting it for about 16 years. Every time I came back to Yellow Springs, I noticed that people don't seem to have very many fancy clothes, and they don't have fancy houses, and their cars are a little bit questionable. But they all have a good time, and they're always talking to each other, and they seem to be going to a lot of parties. I think in general social interaction is what humans do best and enjoy most. I once heard a lecture from Humberto Matarana, who wrote a lot on languages. He said if you look at the design of the human hand, it's designed for stroking, not for making tools and technology. So community gives us a cultural view that is satisfied with a low energy lifestyle, and doesn't view the coming change as some great loss.
Slide 7 How do we take the first step? We first should decide about what a low energy place might look like, list some of the main categories, and list some alternatives. Then we can see if we can get there and just how hard that will be. I'm going to talk about this first and then explain what the Cubans did when they experienced peak oil with almost no warning.
Slide 8 A low energy lifestyle will certainly mean more walking and cycling, and less driving. There will be reduced sizes of meals, houses, and cars. It isn't too hard to translate that immediately into better physical health. I think we will have more home economics, where people are actually working in the home, like Harvey Baker talked about yesterday. He told about the way he works, and other aspects of a way of life where you don't live a completely separate life, with parents going off and leaving the kids to be baby-sit by CNN or whoever does that. I think there will be less mobility. People will not move as much for jobs, and that means they're not going to break the bonds of community that they've had and try to recreate it in some different place. I think we're going to have a lot of live, local entertainment. There's a lot of entertainment that goes on here in Yellow Springs, and you saw an example of it last night. These guys are great artists and tomorrow, I hope they will come over and finish remodeling my porch, since they're also great carpenters. But they incorporate both in their way of being. I think there's a higher quality of life, which is a benefit from a lower material standard of living. Many, many social indices show a declining quality of life in the U.S. The faster the GDP goes up, the more these other indices decline. There's a tremendous book called Bowling Alone, written by a sociologist did a study of what he calls social capital, which is another term for community. He shows in a very well researched scientific book, that the more economies have been growing and the more oil we've been using, the worse ordinary life gets.
Slide 9 So it's contrary to the current American way of life, but you know the American way of life has not always been a way of consuming. I was raised in the Ozarks and we never talked about consuming or things like that. We talked about baseball, and as we got older, whether we'd get a date, and similar aspects, but we didn't really focus on spending and getting stuff. And prudence and thriftiness were always important to us. In terms of our American life style, we're leaving a tremendous legacy of things like nuclear waste and CO2. I had lunch today with a couple of people and we talked about the plans for the new devil word, "sequestration," in which you take all the carbon from the carbon fuels, mix them with some god-awful chemical and pump them into the ocean, where they're supposed to sink and not do any harm. We have to take into consideration our children and grandchildren, and for not bet the world on some exotic technology.
Slide 10 I'm going to touch on the main categories relative to communities and energy. I work in most of these other areas, but I will focus on these top four.
Slide 11 If you look at food in the last century, we have increased the cultivated area by a third, the total harvest by six times. World population has almost quadrupled, and fossil fuel use has increased by 150 times. So the "green revolution," this wonderful thing that we created that was trick the seeds a little bit and put oil and natural gas on the ground to feed the plants. You can triple the yields with these fossil fuels. And it has worked for awhile, but with great devastation.
Slide 12 My sister, who is attending the conference today, said, "You forgot to put something here about health." She pointed out that a third of the people in this room will probably get cancer. And we talked about how cancer is a disease of modern civilization, a civilization based on fossil fuels. Therefore, cancer is partially based on fossil fuels. That is an equation to kick around. Also we have growing obesity rates now. Industrial agriculture operates with tremendous wastefulness in terms of the fossil fuel required. It's inefficient; it injures the environment and wildlife, things that have been covered in great detail by other speakers, and its not all that healthy.
Slide 13 We need to look at the energy intensity of high versus low-energy food. We must reduce frozen and packaged foods consumption. One of the many things that we don't realize is that scattered across the country are many buildings partially buried with machines that are using fossil fuels to keep the green beans frozen until we're ready to eat them in the future. The organic food movement is self-explanatory. It's really been pleasing for me to hear how many people are aware of the fact that on a per acre basis, we can produce more food and better food. In terms of jobs, I think there will be tens of millions of new farmers needed, and I'm going to talk about this later relative to the workforce. Labor intensive farming is better for the soil and more productive. I often ask groups how many people would like to farm. And I've discovered there's somewhere around 15-20% of people who raise their hands. Some people love farming, some people love building web pages. And I don't think there will be any shortage of farmers as long as they are paid what they are worth. There is a great writer, Folke Gunther in Sweden who says that we can get a 5:1 energy reduction in our crops with not too much effort.
Slide 14 Some of the other changes needed are organizations like CSAs. We will use animal traction rather than tractors. Animal traction is much more healthy for the soil. We will use the sun and wind for drying foods. And hopefully everyone will start to take food and agriculture responsibly. We can no longer remain ignorant of energy and health issues. I think someday that people will go to get medical insurance. They will take a physical and someone will measure obesity factors and set a premium of $300 a month for people in poor shape. And then maybe we'll get it. Bad habits can be expensive. Finally, I think food growing and nutrition should be part of the school curriculum.
Slide 15 Here's an example of two different ways of growing. On the left, we have the fundamental choice of fields that are live and interesting to look at, and on the right, we have the miles and miles of what I think are Brussels sprouts.
Slide 16 What about car energy? That's always a big one. By the way, I want to remind you that Charlie Stevens pointed out that we've been doing agriculture for a long time, and he doesn't have any worry about future food supplies. And I said, that's good, because I've been figuring out how we can do all these other things real easy, but I was worried about agriculture. So my mind is now put at ease about food and I'd like to put yours at ease about transportation. We can make cars smaller and lighter, and we can also drive less. I drive a lot less now, because I simply ask myself if the trip is necessary. And it turns out, most of them aren't. There are a lot of times I want to get in my car and go to Young's and get some ice cream but I don't need it. We know from the 1970's that we can drive slower, and we know that we have very high improvements in fuel economy by a 20-30% reduction of the speed limit. We can give up solitary driving. We currently move 1.3 people per trip and we can easily move that to 3 passengers per trip. This, by the way, does affect one aspect of the current American way of life, which is, "I don't want to ride with a stranger or anybody else. This is my time alone." But those are indulgences I don't think we can afford any longer. And we will start the development of better public transportation.
Slide 17 I think carpooling and ride-sharing will predominate for a long time, and I think hitchhiking will become an acceptable norm. I wrote a car share paper which is on our Web site. My background is engineering, and so I look at things as design problems. I was very pleased to know that all these permaculture people here, who I admire so much, are also designers. And as an engineer, I feel a more at home with them now. In terms of my design I asked what you could do if everybody had a cell phone, and there are all these cars available to share, and we decide that we want to go somewhere. For example someone here says that they have to leave the conference at 3:15. They would pick up their cell phone and dial a number and get the operator or some computer system, which tells them my mother-in-law is driving through town at that time. She had previously informed the operator or computer system about her trip. So she is called and told to drop in here at 3:15 and pick Charlie up and take him over there. This is, in terms of the technology, just about as trivial as you can get. We put God knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars into airline reservation systems to do something like this, and adapting reservation technology to a personal transportation system would technically be easy. And I think we will see older modes of transportation coming back, and of course, we need a reduction of the speed limit.
Slide 18 Here are some examples to consider when we think about what options are available. This is a car that was first available in 1999. It's the Honda Insight. My wife and I bought a Honda last year. It gets 64 miles per gallon, and it's really sporty to drive. It's a good feeling driving a high mileage car.
Slide 19 This is the Volkswagen Lupa. It gets 78 miles per gallon.
Slide 20 This so called "Smart" car is really cute. I've been going to Europe lately, and these are all over Europe, and they're very attractive. They paint them amazing colors. You see them sometimes go in backwards into a parking spot. It's an incredible car, and I can see Europeans like driving them. The car gets 69 miles per gallon against our U. S. national average of about 22 miles per gallon.
Slide 21 This is a Volkswagen research model. It provides 8 horsepower maximum and gets 235 miles per gallon. It looks futuristic, but it's light and it's low powered, and we could make those available quickly.
Slide 22 Now I want to talk about homes of the future. I used to be a builder, and in the 1970's, I was building houses in California when the oil crisis of that period occurred. That was an interesting time. My builder friends and I we would talk about doing something like building a 2 x 6 wall instead of a 2 x 4 wall to save energy. People would say, "two inches! We're not giving up 2 inches." And you'd tell them it's just around the outside edge of the house. And they'd refuse. But as soon as the crisis hit, people were saying, why not a 2 x 8 wall? So there was an immediate shift in the approach to house design - it just changed overnight. We will have more cohousing and things like eco-villages. When you go to places like Earthhaven and Celo, you see this is already being done. I think the houses will include gardens. Jan Lundberg of Culture Change talks about biological pavement, referring to the lawns on which we put a lot of chemicals and then use machines to mow and keep them flat and green. They will disappear. My wife and I gave up raking our leaves except for the front, because we don't want to offend the neighbors. We let the leaves fall and they seem to disappear, and grass does come back next year. And there are other techniques, things that were common in the past in this country, and they're still common around the world. All are going to be used, including processes like rain water capture and storage.
Slide 23 I'm looking at how to reduce energy use by a factor of 4. Can we decrease house energy by a factor of 4? Today the average new house size is a little less than 2400 square feet. In 1950, the average house size was 1000 square foot. But between now and 1950 the average family size became smaller. The average house around the world is less than 500 square feet.
Slide 24 You may feel you need a McMansion, but if it comes down to it, you'll be able to do everything you're doing in your house in a lot less space. You won't have to work as much because you won't have to make as big a payment. Increasing wall, roof and floor thickness is very basic. In the 1970's, I was building a solar house and I investigated how the Swedes and the Norwegians did it. So there's no rocket science here – just make the envelope thicker. We can also reduce the amount of windows, and we can double and triple glaze the windows. We can use flash and solar water heaters, and thick refrigerators and freezers. All this is 1970 technology. My brother-in-law and my mother-in-law have been using Sunfrost refrigeratiors for years. These are appliances with thick well insulated sides. We can use heat storage in various ways, like passive solar or rock and water storage. These techniques have also been known since the '70s. To me, being a builder and an engineer, shelter design is really pretty straightforward. You make the shells as thick as possible and you don't put as many openings in them. This is some of the work done at the Oak Ridge Cold Climate Development labs. Also, you note one of the big differences is small capacity, single-unit heating systems, rather than these very, very leaky forced-air systems. This is a minor inconvenience, but a major saving. There have been amazing insulation technology improvements since the 1950's, as well as new kinds of glass. Probably the most efficient thing going, if you were going to do any type of energy return on energy investment, is modern insulation.
Slide 25 So we currently build high energy houses, some as big as 5000-6000 square feet. You spend a lot of money, and as I said, the average new home is about 2400 square feet.
Slide 26 But all across the country, we find great low-energy homes from Habitat for Humanity. They're less than 1000 square feet. These are still much greater than the average size in the world. Millard Fuller, who is the founder of Habitat for Humanity, once said, "when I started building, we were building houses for something like the lower 40% of the population, and now we're building them for the lower 13% of the population, because we have a maximum of 1000 sq. feet." He was pointing out that people were no longer satisfied with that size. The real tragedy is, they are no longer available, so we're not sure they wouldn't be satisfifactory. Habitat for Humanity is working with Oak Ridge National labs to come up with a zero-energy house. Millard Fuller continues to provide affordable housing of high quality, and now he's going to add a low energy component.
Slide 27 I think cities will become smaller. Folke Gunther, to whom I previous referred, points out that you have to replace each building about every 60 years on average. If you plan it wisely, then you just don't replace them in the same place. He has a model of a city evolving over a period of time by a process which opens up the green areas, and the replacement structure are in a village some distance away. You take that concentrated city and then you shrink it down with a lot of green areas interspersed, and relocate buildings into the outlying areas. You have to spend the money to do this, but you use a little intelligence and redistribute buildings. I believe and hope that small rural towns will grow and flourish, and that lot sizes will shrink so we can be closer. I think we will have a lot of new energy systems. People know a lot about them – these technologies have been around now for a long time.
Slide 28 The big issues will be cultural values, and land use. I think people will live locally and they'll learn quickly to enjoy it. Harvey pointed out the problems of zoning. How can you mix things? And I think these obstacles will collapse rapidly when peak oil becomes well known. Zoning will change. When we finally understand the concept of energy return on energy invested, and we actually use that in everything we do, we will learn to look at things in terms of their energy, and then our analysis will be fairly simple.
Slide 29 Now I get to talk about something I love. When I first heard about Cuba, I tried to figure out how to go there, and of course, the government forbids most travel. But I finally got there through the Global Exchange program. Cuba is unique in the world today. We're talking about our oil use and reducing it, worry if it will be 2% or 3% per year – or even 5%? Cuba reduced their oil use over 50% in one year. Castro announced on that things were going to be a little difficult and one week later, the oil tankers from Russia stopped coming in. There was no idea of "we should take six months and think this through." They got very little warning. Per capita energy use in Cuba is now running between 1/15th and 1/20th of the U.S. per capita use. Cuba is changing from an industrial to an agrarian society. Sometimes you'll hear them speak or write about a modernized peasantry. They realized they had little choice. So they're now deep into and not lamenting the fact that they are moving more and more away from industrialism and more towards agrarianism. In doing that, they put a lot of their efforts into things like biotechnology, not genetic engineering. They asked how can you come up with a better worm for worm castings, and how can you deal with this field over here in west Cuba that has a particular infestation. What kind of biological agents can you use?
Part of the issue is determining what we are going to do in a low energy world. If I'm not worried about the next car or the addition to the house and getting the latest fashion styles, what am I going to think about? Cuba is focused on building human resources. They decided to invest in the people. They have excellent medical care, with far more doctors per capita than we do. Teaching is a major priority for them. So their goal is have really top notch medical care, great schools, and we're many sports programs. So their national strategy is to focus on sports which helps health and team work and is very low energy. You get out and run a few miles every day and you get better, and then you have a contest.
Slide 30 In 1991, the Soviet personnel left Cuba when the Soviet Union collapsed, and ended their subsidies, which were $6 billion annually. Cuba's GDP went down 85% in the first two years. The population lost weight, the average Cuban losing 20 pounds. There was a 30% per capita calorie decline, and there were several thousand cases of blindness from malnutrition. It was very, very tough. There was a huge decrease in the material standard of living. There is a Cuban woman in Dayton who is working at a university here, and she asked me to visit her mother when I last went to Cuba. I did so and had a great time talking to the mother. I asked if I could interview her, because I was making a film on Cuba. She said, absolutely. We talked about everything, but when I asked her what life was like during the special period, she said that she couldn't talk about it. It was just too painful.
So Cuba went through hell, but they came out of it, and I think in conditions that were far worse than anything we're facing.
Slide 31 On one of my trips, I talked to an economist and asked what the difference was between Cuban economics and other economics? He said, if we screw up, somebody dies. So we can't screw up. We come up with economic systems and we model them and we run a test, and then we do it. There is no sitting around, talking and theorizing. Everything has to have an immediate practical result. When food supplies decreased, one of the first thing Cuba did was to introduce private farms and farmer markets. Cuba had been operation off the Communist model. They had collectivized into huge farms. They studied that for a few months and then announced that approach was gone forever. We are no longer going to do that in the food part of the economy. So the farms became much smaller. They began a major breeding program for oxen and converted to animal traction. They showed that you can get more food per acre by labor-intensive animal traction, than you can in any form of industrial agriculture. They use their limited oil resources to generate electricity. The private automobile usage decreased rapidly.
Slide 32 Today their economy is growing at a steady rate. The food production is up to 90% of the pre-crisis period. I don't have a number here, but probably the agriculture energy inputs are down 90-95%. They're doing very little new housing. It's a country that uses cement block. Most of the building is remodeling. This is something we too will face. Cement is highly energy intensive. The transportation is basically everybody sharing vehicles. Medical care and education are above the previous levels. When we were there last, they had reached their national goal of a classroom size of 15 students per teacher. I don't know what ours is now, but I think its 20 or higher.
When you have oil supplies dropping and transportation going to hell, the medical care is very important because the first thing people want is to live. You've got to have good medical care. And the second thing people want is that their children have a good life, which means good means education. So as long as you maintain those two priorities, then good things will happen. These are not our national priorities. Our national priorities are something else.
Slide 33 The Cuban food changes were very interesting. They became involuntary vegetarians. Older Cubans do not always like the new diets. Traditionally they liked pork, but pork was in short supply. I asked one man his views on the food. He said he did not like it but he knew it was a healthier diet and his daughter was eating in a healthier way and enjoying it. They've increased their vegetable and starch consumption. They have decreased their wheat and rice production, because this is a green revolution crop and requires a lot of energy inputs. But in recent years, they've learned how to grow rice without high energy inputs. So rice is making a comeback.
Slide 34 The urban gardens are fascinating. Small farms are everywhere. A huge part of the land is under cultivation. If a person sees an empty plot of land in Havana and wants to farm it, they just write a business plan and submit it to the government. The government reviews the business plan and if it is reasonable – it's theirs to farm.
In the rural areas, education for farmers was improved. Cuba realized that they had to stop the drift from the country to the city, and make it go the other way. One of the things they did was make country living more attractive. Originally the University of Havana was centralized. They decentralized it and distributed it out into the provinces. Cuba is always focusing on how can we decentralize, moving things out of Havana, and into the rural areas. Farmers, by the way, are very well paid. The average successful farmer makes more than the average engineer, and close to what the average doctor makes.
If you think about farming and energy, you realize you can't keep driving and hauling tomatoes hundreds of miles to Havana. Then you realize that if you move the farm to Havana, You don't have to transport the food. How do you move a farm? One way is to build raised beds on parking lots or poor soil, haul in some good soil and start planting. Where they didn't have good soil, they would build raised beds. The last time I was there, I visited a farm and asked why they didn't have raised beds, because we saw raised beds in many places. I was told that raised beds are used when the soil needs building up. The particular farm had good soil, so they didn't use the beds. Things have been designed so that rather than moving the food around the country, you bring in soil grow locally. And they do this very successfully.
Slide 35 This is a beautiful farm. This is what they call the modernized peasant. I call it the modernized agrarian, because "peasant" to us is pejorative. He earns more money than an engineer. This particular farm is a feminist farm. There were 13 women that founded the farm and it as a collective. They make joint decisions. I pointed out that I had seen a large number of men working. They said they let men in but they can't vote. So it's a feminist farm but the men work there under different rules. There was a lot of entrepreneurship like this in Cuba.
Slide 36 Oxen replaced many of the tractors. They started a huge breeding program and training for oxen. Tractors really compact the soil, and the oxen are much easier on the land.
Slide 37 This is one of the amazing rooftop gardens. Much of their theory is based on permaculture, introduced from Australia. I asked how that happened. They said that during the Special Period, some Australians arrived to help, carrying their sleeping bags and bringing boxes of food, because they didn't know what they were going to find. They thought maybe they were going to come into a famine zone. The permaculture people came to help and as a result permaculture is well known in Cuba.
Slide 38 This is a rooftop food system. It's a combination of rabbits, chickens, and hamsters. And this is the covered area and on the right is grass growing areas for the rabbits. The rabbits' poop goes to the chickens, and the hamsters clean up everything underneath. The grower markets meat to the neighbors. This is a local system in Havana that is providing the needs for the neighborhood.
Slide 39 This is another urban garden. The big tower behind is the equivalent of our pyramid or Washington Monument. Behind it are all the government buildings. This would be like having a huge farm on the edge of the Potomac River in Washington. The farm leader was very charismatic. I asked how he ran the farm, was it a collective? He replied that he ran the farm, that he was the president, the CEO. He explained the bonus payment system. It was really like talking to an American manager. They have a chart of the bonus system along with production charts. One level of worker gets 300 pesos a month, managers get 400, and the president gets 500. I asked how he got to be president and he said he was elected by the workers. If the people don't like him then he does not get re-elected. He was on his third term and planned to run for re-election again. This was very different than the feminist farm. What was apparent in Cuba was major innovation in both farming and organization. I think that the problem was too big for a government solution so the people designed their own way of doing things.
In Cuba, there is a constant effort to push everything down to the local level. There are a series of organizations, in a city or neighbor area, and after a while, if it doesn't work, organizations will be formed at the neighborhood level. The strategy is to push everything out as far as possible from the top and get it down to the neighborhood and to the village level.
Slide 40 The housing situation is poor. You can't move to Havana now unless you have a guaranteed space, which is very hard to get. There has been a major effort to develop the rural areas. There is more square feet per person available in the rural areas than in Havana. The house sizes are small, maybe 1/4th the amount of square feet per person of the U.S. This factors into my view of how to cut energy use by four. So there is about a 4:1 ratio. 80% of the Cubans own their own homes free and clear. Presumably 67% of Americans own their home, but they really own it with a bank. The Cubans own their own homes without a mortgage. The homes are much smaller, simpler and of course much more affordable.
Slide 41 This is a contemporary eco village. We are far out in the country, but there is still a very dense, compact sort of rural housing. These are probably 900 square feet per house. There are a few individual houses scattered around, but they are trying to keep things clustered because you don't want to take up too much soil. And you don't want to have a lot of space, because you have to heat it and it takes more materials to make it. They are reducing their standard of living, going to a low-energy way of life.
Slide 42 Their furnishings are very simple. We might have a Kitchen-Air range and $10,000 worth of cabinets. They have a sink and a cook stove. Things are at a minimal level. They have fairly simple wooden furniture and some wardrobes, but very few built-ins.
Slide 43 Transportation is fascinating. As I said before, everything is used. On one of my last trips, I was driving around Cuba on a Sunday and I noticed people in dump trucks who were standing and jammed in very tightly. The people were on their way to the beach – hitchhiking is an accepted alternative. All the young people hitchhike, and in some cases, it is illegal not to pick up hitchhikers. They have a highway patrol represented by people in yellow suits. All the license plates have a designation and a color. If there is any government vehicle passing by, the highway patrol stops it and loads it with people who want a ride. Sometimes people pay for rides and other times they don't.
Slide 44 This is a Cuban invention. They have a lot of these trailers, probably from Bulgaria, and they wondered how they could get mass transportation. They were not going to go down and start digging tunnels into the ground to put in subways. They used sheet metal to put these conveyances together. It is called a "camel" and it carries 300 passengers. The fare is a peso which is a few pennies. They are always packed.
Slide 45 If you go to the country, you see other examples of entrepreneurship. Someone put sides on the truck, put a tarp over it, welded stairs on the back, and had a bus.
Slide 46 You also have in the country horse-drawn units, and all have a legitimate taxi license.
Slide 47 Cuba had to innovate rapidly when their oil supplies were halted. There was no time or money for light rail or any other development. They had to do something quick and cheap. They added incentives to agriculture, incorporated some free market principles, paying people well if they did well. It was a major change from the socialist system. The government stopped regulating many things. The change was much more of a social transformation than a technical one. There was no major move to solar panels or wind turbines although there are a few such devices. The transition worked to a great extent because of the Cuban focus cooperation. Competition is not their principal social driver, but rather cooperation, certainly an example of community spirit. I once wrote a long letter about Cuba to an energy web site pointing out what they had achieved. I got a response that they were socialists, and that's the only reason they survived and Americans won't do that. This was an amazing retort. I then sent these same people the address for the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, which is a great place for community information. Messages came back pointing out they too were socialist and communists. Some people would rather die than modify the American economic way of life.
Slide 48 The medical system did not collapse. Free medical care remained a top priority. Cubans have the same lifespan as Americans, and they have far more doctors per capita. There is much more effort on prevention. The doctors must live in the neighborhoods that they serve. People tell us stories about the a doctor walking down the street, and bumping into a man carrying a chunk of pork and smoking. The doctor gives a lecture on heart disease and diet. So they're really involved in prevention, because they cannot afford to do lots of bypasses.
Slide 49 Cuba has tremendous health care, a great education program, and a healthy diet. They have free education through high school. Higher education is limited but it also is free. Men retire at 60 and women at 55. The food supply is very healthy and adequate but it is not plentiful and it's not rich. Sometimes it's very, very plain. There are very few material goods. They cannot afford consumption. So it's an example of genteel poverty, except I find them a very happy people.
Slide 50 It's definitely a low-energy lifestyle. They changed from an industrial priority to agrarian. Of course, they're not out of the woods yet. Things are still tough, and the United States' pressure makes it even more difficult.
Slide 51 Community Solutions' view is that peak oil is coming, and denial is going to be short-lived. It will change our way of life, and I'm here to talk about what we will do. We're educating and modeling the transition. Our focus is to build a model village, where we use materials and energy more like Cuba than what we are currently doing. We plan to use 1/4th the energy. And I don't think that's difficult once we get through the psychological problems.
Slide 52 I want to give you a personal example. My wife and I moved here a couple of years ago from California and we determined to live simpler. We moved into a 600 square foot apartment from an 1800 square foot house. We thought this would be tough, but we moved in, and about 2 weeks later, I had forgotten that we had ever lived in more space. We have our furniture stored, and every once in a while we go shopping by visiting the storage place see possessions that we'd forgotten about and pick the ones we need. We now have chickens. We're raising eggs for the neighborhood. If the neighbors complain, we give them some eggs, and they back off. We're gardening, and the next door neighbors offered us their yard to use next year. We replaced a furnace in the house with efficient units and we're going to do more. We're going to be building six-inch walls on the inside and figuring out how to design and build window covers, because we're going to get down to that 4:1 level.
Slide 53 I think it's important to remember what Albert Einstein said. We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
And he further said that this mess that we're living in is really a disastrous byproduct of the scientific and technical mentality. That's the mentality that says we can't live without machines, that this is the only way to live. Machines run on fossil fuels. They won't last forever and they will always pollute. What we're calling for here major changes and a different way of life. I'm real happy with the idea of windmills and solar panels and all the rest of that, but I'm not going to wait till we figure out how much energy they can supply. Question and Answer Session
Q: I read that when Russia had its collapse, the Mafia came in when they started to privatize things. Why did that not happen in Cuba?
A: What happened in Russia was they bought into the free market and structural readjustment and all those other World Bank terms, and they didn't have any of the limits that the U.S. has have, and when you have rampant winner-take-all economic, you normally get something like a Mafia to develop. I think that's what happened. Russia had no way to control the grab for resources and they've ended up in this ghastly mess.
Q: What about North Korea?
A: I really don't know anything about it. There's a writer named Dale Pfeiffer who writes for From the Wilderness, and he's written a long essay on North Korea as well as one on Cuba. But I wouldn't be able to even comment on the North Korea situation.
Q: How does Cuba deal with hurricanes?
A: I can comment on that. The Cubans have an amazing early warning system and a way of dealing with the damage that occurs, because those hurricanes come through and destroy whole swathes of the country. So when they get their hurricane warnings, which are broadcast on television, the hurricane passage is watched very carefully. Food and water are moved to those areas, so when the hurricanes do come through, there's very little loss of life. Basically they are well prepared for them.
Q: How do they handle pollution, and also, we've seen some films on the infrastructure, that it looks pretty bad in most places.
A: If you mean the infrastructure such as buildings and roads, yes it is very bad. In Havana they are doing triage for those buildings that are starting to deteriorate. They decide to save one and let the others collapse. You have to be really careful on the roads. I think they are letting a lot of these industrial artifacts go as they focus on food and rural development.
They are focused on pollution control. I should mention that Cuba is very busy reforesting the nation. They were at 12% at the revolution, and they are now at 17 or 18%, and heading for 24%. The main river that runs through Havana has been cleaned up quite successfully. But the main contribution is that so they don't use many pollutants, particularly agricultural ones. So if you don't dump fertilizers on the crops, it doesn't have that big an effect.
Q. Castro stopped the dollar usage last month, because of some of the things the United States did.
A. Yes, that's already happened. I am not sure of the details.
Q. Question on diet and protein deficiency.
A. As I said earlier, the diet is up to 90% of its previous levels. Meat is expensive, so if there is a protein deficiency, I wouldn't be surprised. In terms of sugar, they are trying to get away from being nothing but a producer of sugar for the West. They are reducing the acreage for sugar crops and increasing the acreage for vegetables.
Q: I assume they don't use air conditioning there in a very widespread way, but it must be extremely hot and humid for half the year. What is a typical day like in July for a worker? A: Hot and humid. For a while I lived in Texas, and it was really hot and humid. I even spent time in Houston before air conditioning. And I used to play tennis with my brothers in the summer and I'd maybe lose 3 or 4 pounds. But if you're raised in that, like in India or other hot places, it doesn't affect you that much. The farmers work day is 6 to 6 _ hours a day, and they stagger the time. They'll work early in the morning and take off during the heat of the day, and then work in the evening.
Q: David Blume has brought up some amazing things about alcohol, and I'm curious if the production of alcohol as a fuel has been something that they've capitalized on.
A: I don't remember anything about that; I don't know whether they're doing it or not. David? David Blume: It has not been a major part of their efforts, and also it hasn't been going on that long. Cuba is really reluctant to get very dependent on the United States. A lot of American farmers want to sell to Cuba, and some of that is being allowed. Pat Murphy: Also what's being allowed – even though they are horrible Communists – is shipment of drugs to the U.S. They have some really good drugs for AIDS, so the embargo has been lifted in that case. You can bring drugs from Canada into the United States.
Q. Air traffic question
A: Well, they have an airline but I'm not sure how frequently it flies. What they have tried to do is make the rural areas somewhat self-sustaining, so in some places, for example, they'll have boarding schools because you just can't ride these buses back and forth. They tried to move services out in the rural areas and make them self-sustainable, so that there's no need to drive to Wal-Mart, if they had any.
Q: How much of their agriculture is being done by ox power, and the second question is, what evidence did you see of the young people, say, teenagers, especially, or even younger, being involved in agriculture?
A: I had a great experience of being at a clinic in the mountains on a coffee plantation visiting the nurse. As she showed us the clinic we heard some raucous noise, which sounded like teenagers. We went over to the area and found a group of teens having lunch. They saw us and came running over. They were a lot of fun. They had three teachers there. I started talking to the teachers, and I said, "what are you doing?" and they said, "we're out here picking coffee." That was part of the curriculum. Every student in Cuba since the special period puts in one month a year in the fields, and then sometimes people will go for a second month. It's part of the Cuban curriculum to actually work in the fields.
On a previous trip, we had four teachers in our party. At one point after we visited a school, they all started crying. They were moved and said that the school was an example of why they began teaching. They were from California and education is very difficult. I asked one of the teachers of the coffee pickers about how Cuban education was changing. He said that they had discovered, particularly with high school students, that moving them through classes is not what's needed. They were changing this so that the students can identify with a single adult or a few adults, and move through their high school years with these teachers. The teachers get support on the subjects from other staff but the focus is on having teachers work with the same students for years.
Q. What is the ratio of tractor to oxen.
A. I think the majority of traction is oxen, but there's still a lot of tractors. It takes a while to breed the oxen.
Q: I saw Frances Moore Lappe's film on the organic revolution in Cuba and it was really encouraging, and a couple of nephews of mine have gone there and come back, and a niece too, and I keep hearing these encouraging reports, and I'm very glad. What I'm worried about is some of the stuff that I hear about the plans of our government wanting to overthrow the Cuban government, especially when Castro leaves the scene. I'm just worried about it – I don't know if you want to comment on that.
A: I'm worried about it myself and the Cubans are really worried about it. Just before the U.S. elections, there was a speech by the president of Cuba, who is not Castro, in Havana. We were right down the street interviewing someone. He told the people to be prepared, that they just assume it will get worse if Bush got elected. But they don't know what to do. They're just going to live with it.
The thing we came back from Cuba with is an amazing sense of hope, because we all worry about peak oil, and you can talk about die-offs, and get really depressed. When you go down there and see a nation that went through it and almost overnight transformed who they were it is impressive. No more industrialism. We're agrarian people and we're going to focus on sports and education and medicine. We're going to eat more vegetables and drive fewer cars. They are a relatively happy people. They really enjoy life, and that's what I see as a great model. And the other thing I noticed, like when I hear Harvey talk, is I had a sense of deja vu. It seemed I had heard things before and I realized that when we talk about community and when you ask the Cubans what they're doing, you're having the same conversation. So they're deep into community at the local level and it runs throughout their culture.
What do you think? Leave a comment below. See our commenting guidelines.
Sign up for regular Resilience bulletins direct to your email.