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Santa Cruz Group Gears Up for Life After Cheap Oil
Alastair Bland, Santa Cruz Sentinel
In late May, a small grassroots organization called Transition Santa Cruz convened for an evening meeting at the police station on Center Street. The subject of the hour was how the community could bolster Santa Cruz’s public transportation system and steer residents away from sprawl and dependency on cars for every outing and errand. Led in part by Micah Posner, director of the cycling advocacy group People Power, the discussion quickly veered into a debate over whether or not high-density housing would facilitate a public rail system or do the opposite and lead to more cars on the streets.

One woman, who identified herself as a 30-year resident of the Westside, stood to say that dense residential infrastructure will likely lead to more traffic and congestion, and she scorned the 20-acre Delaware mixed-use development as a disaster in local neighborhood planning. Posner countered that residents of densely populated neighborhoods tend to demand public rail transport, which in turn facilitates the growth of adjacent high-density housing, a virtuous cycle that eases urban sprawl and the need for people to drive cars at all.

But architect Mark Primack, who led the planning of the Delaware project, said city policies are partly to blame for traffic; Santa Cruz, he noted, pointedly favors building proposals that promise to include parking infrastructure in the blueprints—a recipe for cars and congestion that must change.

All of this, however, seemed far beside the point to Julie Voudreau, who stood after an hour of debate to remind the 70 attendees just why they had gathered on this Thursday evening. Voudreau, a member of Transition Santa Cruz’s steering committee, said that drastic change is coming whether we want it or not, that there is no point in discussing whether or not we should be driving, and soon, in fact, the luxury to make such choices will not even exist.

“We’re here,” she said, “to talk about peak oil.”

“Peak oil” is a familiar catch phrase, though the gravity of its truest meaning still eludes much of the populace.

… Among those who believe oil is peaking and that humanity is looking at tough times ahead is David Fridley, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a regular speaker at Transition Santa Cruz meetings. Fridley believes the effects that peak oil will have on the world are going to be unpleasant for many people.

“If you are a typical American and have expectations of increasing income, cheap food, discretionary spending, leisure time and vacations in Hawaii, then the change we expect soon could be what you would consider ‘doom,’ because your life is going to fall apart.”

Fridley, a firm believer in Transition, adds that too many Americans believe in solutions to all problems. Peak oil, however, is a terrible anomaly among crises, he explains, because there is no solution other than to face reality and prepare for a dramatic change of lifestyle. Fridley does not believe in abiotic oil. Nor does he see much hope in solar, wind, water and other renewable energy sources. Even nuclear power only creates electricity.

… Asher Miller has been trying to convey the urgency of peak oil to the public for several years. As executive director of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, Miller believes global peak oil occurred last summer. From here on out, he says, we will see severe price instability of many foods and products as the age of cheap, easy energy comes to an end. Miller likens the last 150 years to a feeding frenzy.

“This kind of thing happens to any species that suddenly finds an abundant food source. Its population explodes and things go way out of balance. Oil was our food source, and we went crazy for a while.”
(18 June 2009)
Update (June 20)
Read the whole article and found that Post Carbon Fellow David Fridley and Post Carbon director Asher Miller were interviewed. -BA

From Crisis Comes Hope

Murray Dobbin,
It’s not the size of the stimulus, but how you use it.
But only if a weary left can lead with new ideas. Here’s a few to start.

It is ironic that Homo sapiens, we big-brained and clever species, can trace almost every tragedy and failing to one generic cause: a failure of imagination. We seem to be an idiot savant species — stunningly clever at so many things, capable of greatness, creativity and sacrifice for others, melding genius and love when we are at our best, and greed and hate at our worst. But whether it is the individual who fails to imagine the consequences of punching someone in a bar or a whole society which fails (like California) to imagine the consequences of starving itself of the revenue needed to function, observers from another world could easily conclude that we are terminally stupid. Or, as John Ralston Saul put, unconscious as a civilization.

Those individuals and organizations who have fought off the madness and ruin of neo-liberal policies for more than 20 years are now presented with the best possible time to present a vision of what is possible. Globalization is effectively dead: what characterized the world for the past 30 years, the suicidal policies of what was called the Washington Consensus, will never return, at least not in its old form. The climate crisis, the damage done to the real economies of the global North, the arrival of peak oil, the inevitable return of protectionism and state intervention mean that we have left that era behind.

… The current situation is not a normal crisis — it is a world-changing shift that could go in any of several directions. It cannot remain static, and without progressive leadership it is certain to go badly. But where is that leadership? It is not coming from the traditional sources. Organized labour is, understandably, preoccupied with saving threatened industries. (No talk there of forcing the Big Three to focus their massive infrastructure and technical know-how on mass transit. And no government commitment to expand it.) Social movement organizations are fighting the usual single-issue battles as if the context had not changed at all. The environmental movement still resists the fact that dealing with climate change without addressing social and economic democracy is impossible. And the political parties who should be providing a vision for a better future are mired in tactical politics. Jack Layton dismisses Michael Ignatieff’s musing about the need for future tax increases as “old school” and suggests that the solution is to “grow the economy.”

The planet will not survive “growing the economy.” In its current trajectory, our world is terminal with the cancer of rampant consumerism metastasizing to every living system we need to survive. 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems are currently degraded. The stupendous “growth” of the last 20 years has seen the rich get filthy rich and the poor get poorer, with 20 per cent of the global population subsisting on two per cent of the world’s resources. Canadian families have wrung up unprecedented debt trying to maintain a middle-class consumer lifestyle that doesn’t even make them happy.

… We need, on the left, to once again become the source of Big Ideas. Our defensive politics of the last 25 years has dulled our imaginations to the point of stagnation. We are leading from behind. So-called ordinary Canadians are desperate for a vision of the future they can grasp on to and believe is possible. We have given them more of the same: the politics of despair, telling struggling working people that things are actually worse than they already think they are.

We are obsessed with “stimulating” the economy. Instead we need to have a national conversation about starving the beast. Capitalism must grow to survive and no matter how we tweak this perverse system, growth will ensure its continued social and environmental destruction. Growing the economy in the face of this crisis is madness: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Fortunately, there are people thinking about this under the umbrella notion of “prosperity without growth.” Amazingly, the British government has put together a whole website full of ideas and debates about what this might look like. A project of the Sustainable Development Commission, it suggests that creating conditions for people to flourish, “Includes tackling systemic inequality and removing incentives for unproductive status competition; sharing available work and improving work-life balance, and reversing the culture of consumerism; Building a sustainable macro-economy which is no longer structurally reliant on increasing consumption.”
(19 June 2009)
Recommended by EB contributor Bill Henderson.

Hats off to Newfoundland/Labrador premier for capturing the flag from the oil patch

Press release, Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP)
OTTAWA, June 18 /CNW Telbec/ – In stark contrast with the Conservative Party’s feeble defence of the forest industry yesterday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams’ has captured the flag from the oil patch.

Dave Coles, whose union represents 420 Hiburnia workers takes his hat off to the Premier:

“Joy to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for having a leader like Danny Williams. The ten per cent equity stake he negotiated for Hiburnia South shows up the Conservative party in places such as Alberta, where they virtually give black gold away. Williams’ tenacity gives the worker and their families a more secure future.”

This deal reveals desperation in the oil patch. The US Energy Information Administration, which keeps track of world oil supplies, says “peak oil” will arrive much faster than anybody anticipated. China is becoming an oil guzzler, and may soon surpass the United States in oil consumption. Briefly put, the world is running out of oil.

That gives Newfoundland and Labrador, and other places enriched with oil and natural gas, enormous bargaining power.

Coles points out: “Few governments of resource and energy rich jurisdictions are prepared to use their power in the way Williams did for Newfoundland and Labrador.The CEP salutes Williams for standing up to Big Oil
and giving us all some good news in these dark times.” …

Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP)
(18 June 2009)
Haven’t heard much from any union about peak oil – this is one of the first signs. Union leader Coles cheers local authorities for getting a good price for fossil fuel resources. -BA

Greenpeace hands out fake copies of International Herald Tribune

AFP via Grist
Greenpeace supporters handed out mock copies of the International Herald Tribune in several countries Thursday to press world leaders to agree on ambitious efforts to tackle climate change.

The eight-page mock-up included everything from an environmentally friendly Garfield comic strip to a horoscope (Sagittarius: ‘There is a limit to what you can do with the resources available to you’).

There was even a full-page, but fake BP advert bearing the slogan: “We changed our logo. We can change the world”.

The paper was handed out in Brussels’ European quarter shortly before EU leaders were to begin a two-day summit at which the environment is on the agenda.

The fake International Herald Tribune from GreenPeace is POSTED HERE:

Heads of state agree historic climate-saving deal
COPENHAGEN – World leaders gathered at the Copenhagen Climate Summit took an historic step to halt climate change and global warming today. The deal will force ambitious cuts in global carbon emissions, end deforestation and help fund climate protection measures in the developing world.
The intense negotiations spilled into the early morning hours with […]

Atmosphere named world heritage site
PARIS – The World Heritage Committee has officially declared the Earth’s atmosphere as the newest addition to its famous “World Heritage Sites.” Finally taking its place alongside such wonders as Chichen-Itza and the city of Fez, the atmosphere had long been rejected from inclusion in this list for what has been cited as […]

Exxon finally comes clean
DALLAS – After years of waging a disinformation campaign denying climate change, ExxonMobil, the American oil and gas giant, has announced that it is converting fully to renewable energy, following the positive outcome of the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.
(18 June 2009)

Blowing the green whistle on sports

Mark McIntosh, Grist
If you watch sports on TV, you may be thinking from your perch on the couch that they are a relatively inexpensive, practically carbon-neutral diversion from life’s occupations. But sport is big business, facing many of the same environmental challenges as the manufacturing, agriculture, and energy sectors.

Whether it’s golf, baseball, football, basketball, soccer/futball, hockey, auto racing, rugby, cricket (yes, cricket!—remember, it’s huge in other parts of the world) or countless others, they individually and collectively have an enormous impact on the environment.

Grist has decided to take your carbon-based guilt and extend it to one of those few places that serves as a distraction from it: your favorite sport. In regular articles, I will venture forth and examine with a green eye (meaning both financial and environmental) some of the major sports the world has to offer. Within that context, I will try to unearth the good, the bad, and the ugly of operational practice that have profound impacts on the environment, both on a local and global scale.

While no sport or team is identical in how it operates, some themes are universal—including energy use, waste management, water consumption, pesticide use, land use, transportation, carbon emissions etc. Facing the sports community is a host of challenges—from complying with existing and future environmental rules to meeting high consumer expectations—all the while focusing on good business practices and a strong balance sheet.
(18 June 2009)