Eugene Climate and Energy Action Plan
a mix of good intentions, greenwash and self-censorship
avoids critical discussion of Peak Oil implications, Eugene's support for highway expansions, urbanization of farmland and other problems that make these crises worse
The official "Eugene Climate and Energy Action Plan" is at www.sustaineugene.com/eugeneclimate/
It should be self-evident that SustainEugene.org (this website, non-governmental) and SustainEugene.com (official governmental effort) are not directly related nor responsible for the others content or lack thereof. Free speech only exists if you exercise it.
This process -- the Climate and Energy project of the City of Eugene -- has a strange premise, stating that it is intended to develop policies to reduce energy consumption by the Year 2030. This appears to be an admirable goal, but it is actually a distraction from the energy crisis, since Peak Oil means that we will reduce our energy consumption by 2030 regardless of the decisions that the government, corporations and individuals make. By 2030 there will be a lot less fossil fuel flow whether we make better policies or not.
If we are smart, we will abandon support for policies that make the problem of overshoot worse but the reticience to even mention the City of Eugene's support for about a billion dollars in highway expansion in the metro area suggests that the final report for "Climate and Energy" will be more greenwash to pacify the public while business as usual continues to dominate our public resources.
It's nice that the City of Portland issued a Peak Oil task force report, but they also have over ten billion dollars in new and wider highways in the queue for that metro area, roughly a dozen times what they are going to spend on better public transit. A "Peak Oil" plan that doesn't result in a shift away from continued highway expansion is difficult to take seriously.
It seems more likely that economic crash and energy shortage is how we are going to reduce greenhouse gas production -- demand destruction will give us carbon reduction. Few politicians anywhere dare to discuss the limits to growth or to challenge the greed of the road construction / real estate / sand and gravel industries.
There are no cities anywhere in North America that have canceled plans for bigger highways because of Peak Oil and Climate Change.
The City of Eugene's real attitude about overconsumption is shown by
- approval of more big box stores that wreck local economies, are ugly, pay low wages and worsen car dependence (some cities across the country have enacted moratoriums on more big box stores - see www.newrules.org)
- continued corporate welfare while school budgets are cut,
- the police relocation from downtown,
- the EWEB relocation from downtown to the West Eugene Wetlands (instead of using public funds for a large scale energy efficiency and renewable energy program),
- the hideous new Federal Building (partly subsidized by the City via road expansion projects),
- the new Nike Basketball Arena at the University of Oregon (the most expensive collegeate basketball arena on Earth, with a price tag equivalent to all U of O students tuition),
- widening I-5 and Beltline with oversized overpasses (Godzilla's skateboard ramp?) to facilitate continued relocation of the downtowns of Eugene and Springfield,
- support for spending $100 million to tear up and reconstruct Franklin Blvd. even though it was reconstructed only a few years ago for the LTD Bus Rapid Transit route,
- allowing more ugly box subdivision in wetlands that don’t even have proper solar orientation.
If the City of Eugene can't change course on any of these basic points as Peak Oil becomes harder to deny, then no amount of facilitated discussion by mere citizens is going to shift how City Hall operates.
The bottom line is Eugene is not a democracy. The unelected City Manager has more power than the elected Mayor and City Council, and is paid more than all of them combined. There's no accountability, meaningful oversight or independent auditing of how funds are spent. Instead, we get boosterism and childish slogans like "World's Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors" -- not serious efforts to be proactive in the face of an integrated financial, energy and ecological meltdown that will impact everyone everywhere.
In 2006, Mayor Piercy welcomed Peak Oil author / educator Richard Heinberg to speak in Eugene, which was attended by about 700 people (and another 200 couldn’t fit into the room). Shortly afterwards, her administration unveiled plans for yet another parking garage for downtown Eugene. This is environmental schizophrenia, not a serious effort to cope with the crises.
As Edward Abbey said, "Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."
The economic crash from the end of the growth of fossil fuels is much more likely to reduce fossil fuel combustion than fake claims of carbon neutrality or setting goals of reduction of consumption by a date decades in the future.
I look forward to finding a single city anywhere in the US that decides to cancel a highway expansion project because of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Eugfield and Springene are hoping that ODOT will spend about a billion dollars to expand our freeways and reconstruct Franklin blvd and other roads. Buying "carbon credits" might make for good propaganda but it won’t make the area "carbon neutral." "Fact neutral," maybe. Unfortunately, the laws of physics are not subject to political correctness, even if it comes from well meaning liberal progressives.
Interesting that a governmental project allegedly focused on energy can't come straight out and say that we are at Peak Oil, or even provide a link to geologists who think that we have reached this point. The project manager is privately aware of the Association for the Study of Peak OIl, the eminent organization of petroleum geologists and other experts who have been blowing the whistle for years about the timing of the peak. Indeed, the manager asked this writer to describe the October 2009 conference that ASPO - USA held in Denver, but this private knowledge has not translated into any mention of the imminence of Peak Oil in the project materials at the City's website.
We are past the point where setting goals for reducing car use over the next two to four decades is necessary to reduce energy consumption, because oil depletion will cut energy use whether the goal is intended or not. Cars can not burn fuel that does not exist. Electric cars will merely be a sideshow, at best, since factories to make them don’t exist, there's a quarter billion cars already in the US, it takes a lot of energy to make electric cars, there may not be enough "Rare Earth" minerals to provide all the magnets needed by electric car engines, road construction isn't powered by electricity, and the electric grid is already maxxed out with existing uses. Since half of the power grid runs on coal, replacing the coal (for climate purposes and to cope with coal depletion) and increasing use of electric cars doesn’t add up. The future will be about much less consumption, but few governmental bureaucrats, politicians or even paid environmentalists want to admit this in public, since it is unpleasant to contemplate.
The real energy issue is making sure that the region grows most of its own food and is not dependent on long distance transport of basic food supplies. There are some good initiatives underway -- almost all of them have nothing to do with any government -- but they are far smaller than needed. At the rate we are going, the oil will be long gone by the time we have regional food security. The Christian parable about feeding the multitudes with a couple of loaves and fishes is a nice story, but not a practical basis for managing the logistics of keeping the entire community fed, especially as the cheap oil declines.
But at least we’ll have the world’s most expensive basketball arena -- that shows our community’s real priorities. May future generations have compassion for our willful blindness.