Wednesday, October 19, 2005

peak oil talking points

A friend recently emailed this comment:
During the testimony last night, there were two people who spoke urging the County Council to consider the impacts of Peak Oil on how and where new development should occur. To my knowledge, this was a first. While it is encouraging that normal citizens are becoming aware of the issue, I felt like the speakers did not do a good job of explaining the problem for the council and the rest of the audience. They may as well have been saying "don't bother with planning, Jesus is coming". Perhaps our little cadre could develop some talking points for raising the issue before uninformed audiences.

This has spurred some activity to try and come up with ways to deftly present Peak Oil in public forums, which is a tricky concept to explain to anyone out of the gate -- much less local government types who need something useful and actionable.

In other words, if the problem is framed too far outside of the mainstream, it will be ignored, even if valid.


"In 10 years, cars will be harvested for their organs and goats will rule suburbia. Also, 3 out of 10 of you on the council will be dead from starvation."

Not inflamatory, but still useless:

"Gasoline shortages will force people to live closer to food producing areas."

Has a chance:
"With the price of gasoline rising, local government should invest in mass transit, bicycle paths and walkable communities."

So, readers, I open it up to you. Please let me know in comments what you think are some effective ways to usefully inform local government of impending energy shortages.


At 2:13 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger UNplanner said...

As you well know, I tried to speak to planning commissioners/county supervisors from an official staff standpoint (and one charged with investigating this matter no less) but alas, was quashed right at the starting gate. It was my job or my presentation. Oh well.


The problem with a public citizen speaking on oil depletion/energy matters is that the public comment part of any public meeting is limited to 2-5 mins at most. Anything longer and you will be cut off. 2-5 mins is not enough to get the message across. PO is not as easy to explain as trying to inform these officials that a particular intersection needs a traffic light or that a particular project is bad or good for the community.

If you have the misfortune of living in a jurisdiction that is particularly backwards-looking, you really have your work cut out.

Plus as I blogged later ( ) the planning "process" is usually a joke anyway. For the most part, decision makers have their minds made up anyway and public opinion is but window dressing to give the appearance of a democratic process. In reality only the threat of (1) legal action and (2) withdrawl of electoral support will force decision makers to sit-up and take notice.

In the case of an obstinate elected/appointed body the only way to get through to them is challenge a plan, parsing energy concerns in legal lingo (this is easier in some states than others) or mounting a grass roots effort to elect more progressive candidates. In some jurisdictions you could also start an inititive or recall effort as well.

Pretty crappy options but otherwise unavoidable.

At 4:08 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger head lem said...

Hurricanes Katrina & Rita provide a quick ramp up into the question:

The Federal and State Governments let down local communities during the hurricanes, shouldn't we have a Plan B with regrds to Food, Water, Medical Care, Shelter and ENERGY ??

At 4:14 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about pool some money and 'buy' time with community planners and other officials. This is how companies basically get their agendias onto the floor. Wine and dine them, then hand them a fully worked out plan that they can use (because they will also have to convince their collegues). The more complete is, the less work they have to do. Instead of trying to convince a whole city council, try convincing one. You get a lot more time over dinner to discuss the issue as well. Then they can 'invite' you to a council meeting to present your case. Gotta use the channels that are there, which isn't cheap.

At 11:00 PM, October 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree there is now way to convince people during a 3-5 minute conversation. However, it is possible to sway them a little by appealing to their self interest. Suppose the council chair is a fiscal conservative. Pointing out that low density residential development generally costs more in to provide public services (schools, police, utilities) than it produces in revenues may be effective. Quality high-density development near arterial roads and services is a money maker for local government.

At 12:12 AM, October 20, 2005, Blogger UNplanner said...

Fiscal conservatism by itself maybe. But when mixed with social/ideological conservatism, watch out. The supes in my own county were philosophically opposed to setting limits of any kind. The free market will provide and government shouldn't tell landowners what to do with their God-given land.

Their solution for an overburdened community sewer system was more growth (more users would be able to pay more).

People are generally are stubborn and not predisposed to drastic changes. When the leadership is over populated with those extra stubborn types, you may as well be arguing with a brick wall.

Wait, a brickwall arguement would be better. The brick wall won't call you a godless commie enviro-wacko.

In these circumstances, change the leadership or change your location.

At 11:13 AM, October 20, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Unplanner, I am aware that changing the system at this point is tilting at windmills at best.

Still every little bit helps.

For me, I have seperated the personal and the civic.

Personally, I think we are screwed.

I'm not going to stop trying to affect the outcome for the better, however.

Thanks everyone for comments so far. I will post more on this and wrap it up down the line.

At 9:10 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

One little fact is that there is going to be some amount of petroleum and natural gas available far into the future; the question is what price it will command.

It's probably going to be much easier to sell highly efficient systems, RE systems and the like on the basis of reduced or eliminated uncertainty of operating costs than avoiding some apocalypse.

At 12:45 AM, October 21, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...


Yeah -- we need need efficient stuff. A lot of mitigation can happen there if the post-peak years are gentle enough on the down slope.

At 4:51 PM, October 21, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

One other thing you could do is promote the use of e.g. landfill gas.  If you've got a landfill nearby, the methane production might be worth enough at today's prices to be worth looking at.  Clean it with something like the CO2 Wash process and you've got high-quality fuel which can be used or sold for a profit; burned in a cogenerator, it would yield power and heat.  If you've got enough power and heat, you're going to do okay.

At 5:13 PM, October 21, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

As time goes on the price shocks and fuel shortages will start to take a toll on the average citizen. Along with that realization the primary Peak Oil meme (oil is finite, someday we will have to do without it)will begin to imbed itself in the collective psyche. Only then will the government officials be willing to consider planning for a oil free future. We can't directly appeal to the officials, we must continue to inform our peers.

At 12:45 AM, October 22, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Certainly, there is plenty of room to "do without" as well.

We've got it pretty good in the USA. Drive 10 minutes past tijuana and you see cardbard shacks built onto clay hillsides.

At 12:37 PM, October 22, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

The high-tech equivalent of cardboard walls isn't so bad, and saves a ton of energy too.  Look at ThermaSAVE.


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