Local Government in a Time of Peak Oil and Climate Change

Our friends at the Post Carbon Institute have released another installment in their Post Carbon Reader series.  This one deals with local government responses to energy and environmental crises. Sure seems like some common sense ideas for our local government.  But how many of you get the feeling that we have a “business as usual, nothing we can’t overcome, it’s all going back to the way we like it” mentality?


Local Government in a Time of Peak Oil and Climate Change

By John Kaufmann

In Post Carbon Cities, Daniel Lerch lists five principles to help guide local government planning efforts in the face of peak oil and climate change:

  • Deal with transportation and land use (or you may as well stop now). Incorporate peak-oil and climate change considerations into all transportation and land-use aspects of policy-making and infrastructure investment decisions.
  • Tackle private energy consumption. Improving government operations is insufficient to address the magnitude of the problem. Create strong incentives and support for innovation, and aggressively engage the business community.
  • Attack the problems piece by piece and from many angles. Meet goals with multiple, proven solutions, and enlist the entire community in the effort.
  • Plan for fundamental changes—and make fundamental changes happen. Change internalized assumptions about the future availability and affordability of energy.
  • Build a sense of community. Strengthen community resilience by encouraging relationship building among citizens, businesses, and government agencies.

To these can be added five principles to guide local government management efforts:

  • Don’t expect to find one grand solution. There are no solutions, just intelligent responses—and there will be many little responses that will help communities adapt and muddle through.
  • Don’t try to do everything all at once. Focus on a few big issues requiring several years of lead time and issues that are immediate problems. Other issues can be dealt with as they become ripe.
  • Consider how energy affects everything and everybody. Government needs to consider how businesses, institutions, and households are affected by high energy prices and energy-supply shortfalls, not just how its own operations are affected. These impacts are significant to the community and the local economy, and will shape what the government needs to do and what it can do.
  • Connect the issues. Climate change, peak oil, diminishing water supplies, topsoil loss, biodiversity loss, and most all major challenges of the twenty-first century are ultimately intertwined. Worsening conditions in one area could affect the ability of society to respond in another area. Conversely, there are synergies to be gained by dealing with these challenges in an integrated fashion.
  • Expect the unexpected. We must avoid making irreversible commitments based on past experience or current projections, expecting the future to be more of the same. We are entering a period of what is likely to be rapid and nonlinear change. We must reconcile ourselves to the idea that there will be no business as usual anymore. We must be able to adapt and reverse direction as conditions change.

Planning for Crisis

In developing strategies and actions to address these challenges, governments should ask four basic questions:

1. How will peak oil and climate change affect the community? What are the expected impacts, and when will they set in?

2. What can government do to cushion the community against the long-term negative consequences of those impacts?

3. What should government be prepared to do in the case of emergencies (e.g., fuel shortage, fuel price spike, prolonged heat wave, drought, wildfires, flooding, etc.), some of which are inevitable?

4. How will future government activities be funded as economic volatility and prolonged recession keep tax revenues from rising as quickly as in the past?


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