Lane County's long term planning
ignores Peak Oil and climate change
Katrina, Lane County and peak oil
BY MARK ROBINOWITZ
Eugene Weekly, September 22, 2005
In the 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana governments crafted "Coast 2050," a plan intended to restore coastal wetlands to buffer New Orleans from the impacts of severe hurricanes. Coast 2050 hoped to spend billions on restoration projects to reverse ecological damage caused by river channeling and oil and gas development that eroded the natural protections sheltering the Crescent City. The Katrina disaster is a severe example of the gap between planning and the failure to implement solutions.
Despite the known risks of flooding to New Orleans, very little planning was done to mitigate the obvious threats. Similarly, our society's leaders know about the pending peak and ultimate decline of petroleum, and the climate shifts from burning oil and coal, yet virtually nothing has been done to mitigate these impacts and shift toward a more sustainable civilization. This myopia is shared by politicians of both parties, who pretend that business as usual can continue for several more decades, even though there will not be enough oil to construct what is euphemistically called "growth."
The Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) has a program called Region 2050, which purports to study how the southern Willamette valley will look in the year 2050, outlining three options to absorb outlying rural areas into the Eugene/Springfield urban growth boundary.
Region 2050 is a theoretical exercise disconnected from reality, since it ignores the fact that by 2050 the oil age will be over. The issue is not when the oil "runs out," but when demand exceeds supply.
Last fall, LCOG predicted gasoline prices would climb to $2.50 per gallon by the year 2025. This mistake was caused by the refusal of local government to include geological reality (petroleum supplies are not infinite) into their long range planning. While it is not possible to predict petroleum prices decades into the future, after we pass the peak of oil production, it is obvious that the era of cheap oil will be over long before then.
In April 2005, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury told the Sustainable Business Conference at the UO that we are now at peak oil. Bush and Cheney have admitted to peak oil, and it is the reason the U.S. took over the Iraqi oil fields.
Any planning for the year 2010, let alone 2050, must analyze the social and economic impacts of declining fossil fuel supplies.
There are two scenarios that are more likely for the Eugene area than the Region 2050 proposals. We might play the role of Houston, hosting refugees from the desert Southwest after climate change combined with energy shortages (no power for air conditioning) make that region less habitable.
A worse scenario is that Eugene will resemble New Orleans if we continue to ignore official warnings that Lane County's dams are not strong enough to survive earthquakes. The city of Eugene's website has a report about "Multi-hazard mitigation" that admits that the dams upstream of the metro area were not designed to withstand a large quake. These failures would obliterate Eugene and Springfield with a "Willamette Valley tsunami." These dams need to be strengthened or removed.
LCOG should stop crafting schemes to pave more subdivisions in the woods around LCC and Pleasant Hill. Instead, our local governments should strengthen the local economy to be more resilient to peak oil and climate change. The region could invest in renewable energy factories (solar panels and wind turbines), instead of Hyundai tax breaks and ultrahazardous liquid natural gas terminals on the coast. The area's RV factories could build buses, which will be more relevant when gas is $10 per gallon -- and they could be powered by biofuels grown on converted grass seed farms. We have the pieces to help the region achieve energy and food security, and a strong economy, but the components are disconnected and denial dominates the planning processes.
Will local governments help prepare our region to survive and thrive after the end of cheap oil, or will they continue to spend our money on more boom and bust illusions?
Growth should not be the premise of land use plan
By Robert Emmons
Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2006
How would you like Lane County to look in 2050? Do you want urban growth boundaries expanded to 50-year "urban reserves,'' allowing hundreds of new subdivisions to be sown on farm and forest land? Or hundreds of miles of new highways and cloverleafs costing billions and spreading congestion and noxious air into the hinterlands?
If so, Lane Council of Governments has the plan for you. Under way since 1999, the 2050 Regional Problem Solving Process seeks an agreement among 10 incorporated communities that will be substituted for state land use mandates. Unfortunately, a committee of planners and politicians has narrowed the discussion by forcing a Sophie's choice among three "preferred growth scenarios." To accommodate the 160,000 new arrivals prophesied by 2050, Eugene and Springfield will expand their UGBs by 8,000 acres; incorporated communities will double or even quintuple in population, or transplants will simply sprout anywhere on farm and forest plots of one and two acres.
No growth was not an option.
The report's data reveal that at least 16,898 acres of resource land will be converted to buildable lots by 2050. Yet 2050 project manager Carol Heinkel says 2050 planning "is a (first) attempt to direct growth based on the capacity of the land and natural resources to accommodate it."
The 2050 growth strategy, however, devalues conservation to accommodate growth. For example, planners assure us that efforts will be made to ``limit adverse impacts on environmentally sensitive lands''; to have ``minimal impacts on farm and forest land'' and to protect ``important natural resources.'' These qualifiers beg the questions: What lands are not environmentally sensitive? What resources are unimportant? Lane County farms, forests and other natural resources have already been unsustainably impacted. Our goal should be to eliminate adverse impacts and to increase, rather than degrade, our natural resource base.
The inherent bias evident in the 2050 literature is no small matter. It reveals the order of importance most policymakers accord land use and environmental issues. That's because planning is premised on the mythology that growth is desirable and inevitable. Since our country has never known anything except the growth model, this is not surprising.
But growth is not inevitable. It's a matter of choice, a matter of policy. Growth projected and encouraged in the Region 2050 process is growth without limits - the growth of the cancer cell.
Consider an analogy from human biology. From childhood we grow until we reach maturity at about age 20. Most of us continue to develop mentally. To continue to expand in girth, however, is to become obese. Obesity leads to multiple problems: internal organs become stressed, as does society at large by the costs associated with the disease.
Likewise, when cities expand their UGBs development spreads onto farms and forests and poisons the natural systems necessary to sustain life. The entire ecosystem and all the creatures it supports are degraded or diseased by growth. Sooner and later, we all lose. But if growth is not inevitable, what choices do we have?
The 2050 plan assumes that the natural environment is a subsystem of the economy rather than the other way around. Clean air and water and abundant productive soil, however, are the foundation of a healthy economy. Finding the humility and good sense to work within natural limits, a developing economy would maintain and sustain indefinitely at a steady state in a closed resource, product and waste loop.
A steady-state economy will rely upon and support local products and local businesses. Businesses will still come and go, and we will continue to produce the food, clothing, shelter and materials necessary for a sustainable existence - but no more than necessary.
In such a system our wants will be more closely allied with our needs.
In order to achieve an economy that develops rather than grows, immigrant and indigenous populations must be reduced and then maintained at a level commensurate with the carrying capacity of the environment. If Catholic Italy and Spain can reduce their populations without draconian measures, so can we.
With those precepts in mind, here is my vision for the region in 2050:
• Residents will be able to safely drink directly from streams, creeks and rivers in Lane County, and those waterways will be free-flowing.
• Local agriculture, not national and international agribusiness, will supply the region with food and jobs.
• The air will be healthy within medical, not political, guidelines every day of the year.
• Lane County's population will decrease by 160,000 so that the above may occur. Better, not bigger.
Robert Emmons of Fall Creek is a board member of LandWatch Lane County.