Summary: Peak Choice for Eugene

The City of Eugene’s Climate and Energy Action Plan has many good ideas for reducing energy use but fails to include how energy depletion will force shifts, since we cannot burn fuel that does not exist.

Reduce Energy 50% by 2030

The CEAP has a goal of reducing Eugene’s energy consumption 50% by the year 2030. But we will use half as much energy by then whether we plan wisely or not. World oil flows will decline that much in the next two decades and shortages will have more impact than price rises. In addition, global Peak Coal will happen by then and US Peak Natural Gas was 1973.

Oregon does not have any oil, our geology is volcanic, which does not create "petroleum traps."

The oil we use in Oregon comes from the Alaska North Slope, which peaked in 1988, 22 years ago. Now, the flow through the pipeline is about a third of what it was at its peak. Globally, the supergiant oil fields are mostly in decline and the newer fields are smaller. Much of this newer oil takes more energy and money to extract than older, conventional fields.

Net Energy: Energy Return on Investment

The report has almost no mention of Peak Oil, preferring instead the euphemism that energy prices are going to go up. But as oil declines even those with money may be unable to acquire these fuels with previous ease.

The words "Peak Oil" are there as a reference to a City of Portland plan to respond to Peak Oil -- a plan that got lots of national attention, but failed to make substantial budgetary shifts to prepare. The City of Portland formally endorsed plans to widen I-5 to 12 lanes across the Columbia River shortly after adopting the "Peak Oil" report, so their plan didn’t cause shifts.

After complaints that the draft report avoided Peak Oil, the final report included a mention that Peak doesn’t only mean a decline of oil, but also that renewable energy is not going to be able to replace all of the fossil fuel we use.

An excellent report on "net energy" that the CEAP author told this writer about (but did not reference in CEAP) is "Searching for a Miracle" by Richard Heinberg, on-line at Mayor Piercy gave the introduction to Heinberg’s speech in Eugene in January, 2006, and this could be included in a revised report.

A related analysis on the interaction between Peak Oil and Climate Change is "Future Scenarios" by David Holmgren, co originator of the permaculture concept.

The Oil Wells Are Half Full and Half Empty

As we pass Peak Oil, the world’s oil fields are 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 courage to admit the full scale of the crisis.

Buildings and Energy

Buildings use as much energy as transportation, but most do not use oil. Instead, they use natural gas and electricity from coal, dams, more natural gas, nuclear reactors and wind turbines.

The best way to encourage greener buildings is to require efficiency as a condition of the building permit. Some greener efforts are very cheap - such as orienting a building properly for solar gain. Good design is much cheaper than solar electric panels but it is not required for new construction.

The $85 million that EWEB is spending to relocate its maintenance yard to the West Eugene Wetlands could have paid for solar hot water systems on over ten thousand homes in Eugene. For that much money, we could have built a factory to make the panels and train technicians for living wage jobs to do the necessary construction, electrical and plumbing work.

Peak Food

The most important energy issue is relocalizing food production. Almost all of our food is brought in from distant locations on trucks, freight trains, cargo ships and airplanes. Solar panels, wind turbines and biofuels are not going to be able to fuel this ceaseless flow of food delivery. Instead, we will have to reduce the distance our food travels - not just because of greenhouse gas emissions, but because we will need local food to ensure we can all eat as the cheap oil is replaced by expensive, difficult to get oil.

There are good efforts in our region to relocalize agriculture, but they are not sponsored by government. If the City of Eugene wants to boost local food, they could drop plans to double the cost of community garden plots from $60 to $120.

Land Use and Transportation

The CEAP does not mention the biggest infrastructure plans for transportation during the end of the oil era -- the Regional Transportation Plan’s for widening I-5, Beltline, Route 126 and other major roads. The 2008 Governor’s Transportation Vision Committee estimated these projects would cost about a billion dollars. These expansions assume endless increases in traffic despite energy decline.

After Peak Oil and Peak Traffic we need to choose transportation triage -- to prioritize fixing broken bridges over widening them, to expand bus service and trains instead of bigger highways.

Lane Transit District is planning another Bus Rapid Transit line on West 11th that would demolish locally owned businesses for an express route to Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, LTD is cutting service on existing routes and raising fares since LTD managers ignored warnings that Peak Oil was coming and got caught with budget shortfalls when oil prices went up.

Regarding land use, the single biggest shift the City could do would be to emulate Hood River, Oregon, which banned very large big box stores, which are hard to serve with transit and drain local economies.

Consumption and Waste

The main issue about overconsumption is that the so-called recession has already reduced U.S. oil consumption by nearly a tenth. Unemployed people use less energy than those who are still working.

Garbage is easier to prevent than to regulate. Few politicians suggest we should ban frivolous wastes of oil based materials such as styrofoam cups and plastic bags.

Health and Social Services

Economic decline is going to make access to health care more difficult. The cost our society spends to fund the health insurance industry is the cost that could cover the uninsured - single payer health care.

Natural Resources

Clearcutting changes the climate through carbon emissions and disruption of rainfall patterns.

Eugene gets its water from the McKenzie River watershed, damaged by clearcuts on corporate timberland and federal forests. Portland doesn’t allow people to hike in the watershed they get drinking water, but Eugene is silent about timber companies clearcutting and spraying poison from helicopters.

Green Economy: 
A Smaller, Steady State Economy

A "green" economy is going to be a smaller economy. Renewable energy will last longer than fossil fuels, but solar power is diffused and hard to concentrate for a growth based money system. We must abandon the myth that endless growth is possible on a finite planet. But the way "money" is loaned into existence via debt creation requires endless exponential growth. Since energy creates money, not the other way around, reaching Peak Energy means Peak Money. That is why this is not a cyclical recession, but a permanent shift - financial climate change.

graph from the August 2010 edition of Oilwatch Monthly

North American oil use declined about a tenth since the peak.  It's rebounding a bit but still less than two years ago.  Peak Money will have more impact on oil consumption reduction than any Climate Action Plan.