Peak Choice for Eugene
Adding Peaked Oil and other
Limits to Growth on a Finite Planet
to the City of Eugene
Climate and Energy Action Plan
An Uncensored Citizens Alternative by Mark Robinowitz
Eugene's energy plan fails to address coming oil shortage
BY MARK ROBINOWITZ
Appeared in print: Monday, Sep 27, 2010 - Register Guard
On Sept. 15 , the Eugene City Council adopted a Climate and Energy Action Plan intended to reduce greenhouse gas generation and energy consumption.
The plan has many good ideas that would make our community more resilient to energy disruptions, but it assumes we still have a choice between conservation and business as usual. After Peak Oil, our choice is different: We must choose whether we will try to mitigate the economic and social consequences of fossil fuel depletion.
The plan's goals include cutting Eugene's energy usage 50 percent by 2030. However, that goal will be reached whether we plan for it or not, because global oil production has peaked.
A 2009 U.S. Department of Energy report estimates world oil extraction will decline by half over the next two decades. We cannot burn fuel that does not exist.
The report states that energy prices are likely to go up, but fails to consider the full impact of the end of cheap oil. As oil production declines, even those with money may be unable to acquire these fuels with their accustomed ease.
Since 2007, the so-called recession and higher energy prices have reduced North American oil consumption by nearly 10 percent.
We are at global Peak Oil, meaning the world's oil fields are both half empty and half full. They are half empty, so we must recognize limits to endless growth on a finite planet and shift our plans to recognize physical reality. But the wells are also half full, so we have lots of energy remaining that could be used to mitigate the decline.
That choice will not be made as long as vague claims of sustainability substitute for the courage to admit the full scale of the crisis.
Nearly every drop of liquid fuel used in Oregon and Washington comes from the Alaska Pipeline via five refineries in Puget Sound. When the Pipeline shuts down due to "low flow" -- it takes a minimum flow to keep the oil from freezing in the Arctic winter -- what part of the world will give up some of their energy usage so Cascadia can power food deliveries?
In response to my complaints that Peak Oil was not mentioned in the city's draft plan, the final version added a mention that Peak doesn't only mean a decline of oil; it admitted that renewable energy cannot replace all of the fossil fuel we use. Fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables.
In response to the final plan, I created an uncensored citizen's alternative, "Peak Choice for Eugene: Adding Peaked Oil and Other Limits to Growth to the City of Eugene Climate and Energy Action Plan." The full report is available at www.SustainEugene.org.
A focus of the city's plan is the energy consumption of buildings, which rivals transportation as the main energy user (coal and natural gas for electricity and heating, not oil). Some green building practices are cheap and should be required for building permits. Proper solar orientation is a design issue not an additional expense, as solar electric panels are.
The Eugene Water & Electric Board is spending $85 million to relocate its maintenance yard to the west Eugene wetlands. That sum could have put solar hot water systems on more than 10,000 homes and businesses. If EWEB had chosen that path, we could have built a factory to make the panels and created living wage jobs to do the construction, electrical and plumbing work.
The plan refused to mention Eugene's biggest infrastructure plans during the rest of the oil era — the Regional Transportation Plan, which mandates widening Interstate 5, the Randy Papé Beltline, Highway 126 and other major roads.
The governor's Transportation Vision Committee estimated in 2008 these projects would cost about $1 billion. These expansions assume endless increases in traffic, even though Peak Oil caused Peak Traffic.
Oregon Department of Transportation is studying several options to widen Beltline highway.
The "braided ramps" option would be the largest expansion, with 11 lanes at the river crossing.
Now that oil production is declining, we need transportation triage. There will not be enough resources to widen highways and improve bus and train service. We should fix broken bridges, not widen them, and expand bus and train service.
Lane Transit District managers ignored warnings that Peak Oil was imminent, and they got caught with budget shortfalls when oil prices went up. Then they cut service and raised fares despite increased ridership.
Reversing these cuts is a bigger priority than demolishing local businesses on West 11th Avenue for an overpriced express bus to Wal-Mart.
The most important energy issue is relocalizing food production, not the illusion that electric cars could replace existing vehicle fleets. Most of our food is brought from distant locations on trucks, freight trains, cargo ships and airplanes, which are not powered by solar panels and wind turbines.
There are many efforts in our region to relocalize agriculture that need the support of everyone who eats. If the city of Eugene wants to help local food, it could drop plans to double the cost of community garden plots to $120 from $60.
Lowering greenhouse gas emissions is not the only reason to reduce the distance our food travels. We will need local food to ensure that everyone can eat as the world's cheap oil is replaced by expensive, difficult-to-get oil.
Mark Robinowitz is author of "Peak Choice for Eugene" at www.SustainEugene.org.
"When politics enter into municipal government, nothing resulting therefrom in the way of crimes and infamies is then incredible. It actually enables one to accept and believe the impossible..."
-- Mark Twain, letter to Jules Hart, 1901-12-17
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Tenth Edition
"Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing. Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash."
"Some people see things as they are, and ask, 'Why?'
Others dream things that never were, and ask 'Why not?'"
-- George Bernard Shaw