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Moving New York City Toward Sustainable Energy Independence

Dan Miner, Beyond Oil NYC
…The newly released Sierra Club report, “Moving New York City toward Sustainable Energy Independence” [PDF] asks the PlaNYC initiative to address this issue, and urges the City Council to resurrect the bill, drafted in 2004 by its own Environmental Committee, which would create a City energy shortage contingency plan. San Francisco and Portland, Oregon have already passed similar bills, and are already developing their plans.

The report recommends creating such a plan in the short term, and over the long term, rapid deployment of decentralized, renewable power, and other measures that will enhance PlaNYC 2030 implementation. By cutting energy costs, creating jobs, and slowing global warming while buffering the impact of energy shocks, the approach is a win-win solution. New York’s example could lead the U.S. toward energy independence. We don’t have to wait for future disasters, let’s start moving beyond oil today. The full report is available online at

Campaign partners that have endorsed the report so far include: American Littoral Society NE Chapter, Asthma Free School Zone, Carbon Tax Center, Galapagos Art Center, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Nos Quedamos, NY Divinity School, the Pace Energy Project, Sane Aviation for Everyone, Sustainable South Bronx, The Gaia Institute.

Sierra Club NYC Group, energy committee chair; Coordinator, Beyond Oil NYC.
(May 2007)
The 50-page report in PDF is available online, as is a summary.

Rob Hopkins (Transition Totnes) Interview (part 1)

Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle, Ecological Options Network via Transition Culture

…EON: What’s the process like? Is this where you meet with officials and get them to make the plans or are these people outside of any kind of government structure or bureaucratic structure thinking for themselves?

RH: Well, the process of doing a Transition Town is one of trying to engage all the different sectors. I think people like Lester Brown talk about the challenge that peak oil presents is requiring a response like a wartime mobilization. The Hirsch Report talks about a crash program. The scale of what we have to do is something we’ve never ever done before.

As environmentalists, I think the tools that we’ve had up to this point are inadequate. We’ve never managed to have mainstreaming engagement on very much really, so we’re really looking at new ways of doing it. And when we start in a town, really the first stage is awareness raising – trying to get people switched on to the idea of peak oil, oil depletion.

For me, I think peak oil is a much more powerful tool for engaging people in thinking about these issues than climate change because with peak oil, as Richard Heinberg puts it, “People are more instinctively interested in what’s going into their car rather than what’s coming out of the exhaust pipe.” It’s a fuel-in problem rather than an emissions-out problem.

Peak Oil as ‘Evolutionary Driver’

Peak oil is very powerful because it’s like putting a mirror up to a community and saying, where’s the resilience gone in this community? Where is this community’s ability to withstand shocks? Particularly when we look back to the Thirties and Forties, we see that actually we had resilience, we had a vibrant local economy, we had local food, and we had local agriculture.

Here in Totnes for example, we had a man called George Heath who had a market garden right in the center of the town of Totnes, a series of glass houses running down the south-facing slope. On the other side of the street, he has a shop on the high street. He took the scrapings from the manure of the cattle market that was held next to him every Thursday. He composted that and then it came out the perfect post-carbon, zero food model. When he dies in 1980, it’s now a car park, the biggest car park in Totnes.

So you don’t have to go back very far. Besides, I suppose the first stage of doing the Transition Town process is the awareness rising, which here we did for about a year of talks, film showings, networking with existing groups, trying to do talks with as many diverse groups as possible. And then I like to think about it as being…do you know those toy volcanoes that children have where you put vinegar and bicarbonate soda in and then they froth up all over the table and stain the carpet and those things?… it’s a bit like that.
(7 May 2007)
Part 2 of the interview is now posted.

Pushing the planet to its limit

Maurice Bridge, Vancouver Sun
Gateway project, sprawling suburbs widen the province’s ecological footprint, says UBC planning professor
University of British Columbia Prof. Bill Rees, the man who coined the term “ecological footprint,” still tries to keep his own footprint as small as possible, but he says no one can do it alone.

He uses a grim analogy to make his point: North Americans may use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, but if we push the planet beyond its sustainable limits, we will all go down together, just the way the first-class cabins on the Titanic went to a watery grave just as quickly as the steerage cabins.

It has been more than a decade since he popularized the term as a way of personalizing the equivalent amount of land in continuous production required to feed individual consumption. Since then, that area has been increasing, and in developed nations it ranges from 4.5 hectares to 10 hectares per person.

Japan and most of the European countries are at the low end of the scale, while the U.S., Canada and Australia are at the top.

Rees, who teaches at UBC’s school of community and regional planning, estimates that North Americans consume 3.5 to four times their reasonable share of global resources, and personal measures like using a blue box aren’t going to change that.

“It’s very difficult for a person living in a North American city to have a sound lifestyle, because the context in which we live demands it,” he says.

“Look at our area; we can’t afford a house in town, so people are forced to live in the suburbs, and because of low densities, this becomes a self-feeding situation.

“Once you have a low-density suburb, it’s not viable for transit, and a car becomes absolutely necessary.”
(7 May 2007)