Wanted: Hard Data on Local Sustainability

Now that New York has had six months since Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC sustainability plan, kicked off and they have released their interim report on their progress, I thought I might take a step back to think about how we evaluate sustainability at the local level.

Here at The Oil Drum, we love good data. We love hard objective data that can not only tell a story, but highlight the importance of a particular issue in a crisp fashion. However at the local level, data is not as easy to locate or not consistent enough to make an objective positive statement. The result, as many have probably realized, is that local discussions become inherently normative, political and frankly, messy.

So, help me find some data at the local level...

This is also because while energy supply can be neatly summarized into a handful of key sources like oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, renewable, hydro, etc, consumption takes many different forms. And while it is very easy on the supply side to compare apples to apples in supply (hey, that's what fungibility is all about), demand/consumption is hardly as clear cut or scientific. Especially at the local level where one person may see waste, another sees useful economic activity.

I'd like to change this a bit.

NYC has developed it's own unique concept of what factors will influence sustainability and what the city can directly impact. But these are not universal. What works in one area may not work in another. But surely there are some objective standards and consistent data that we can apply across all localities.

Let's start from scratch on developing a framework for evaluating local sustainability.

What are the concepts that matter most and what are the sources of objective data can be used to measure this?

Here's a short list of key concepts that I think are important at the local level that I know are available at the city/town/zipcode level.

1. Auto ownership rate - US Census
2. Commute to work distribution - US Census
3. House Heating Fuel distribution - US Census
4. Housing density by unit type - US Census

You get the picture. We need to find some consistent data at the local level beyond US Census data.

Please submit your ideas AND the data source for this below!

Idea: Talk to the Amish.
Data: The Lehman's catalog.

I'm sorry, but my optimism gland is malfunctioning due to car accidents. (See New Scientist, October 22)

The problem with 'hard data' is that it is not useful at the local level. Anything that involves importation of resources is not sustainable. Period. Cities are not sustainable, cellphones, computers, windmills built from anything but wood and brass (things that can be smelted with wood fires) are not sustainable. The problem with being 'rational' about everything is that our value systems have all been co-opted by money. You cannot put a price on your great great grandchildren's birth defects, or their need for tantalum for semiconductors or their desires for diamonds, yet our accountants do just that. They compare the high profits of today to the low return on investment of leaving resources in the ground, and our offspring ALWAYS lose.
Before you can even BEGIN to use data to make these decisions, you first must decide the value of human beings to the future of the universe. What are people FOR, and HOW MANY do we need to do it?
THEN you can start to say we can use 'x' number of boobaroo-brazed,diamond-pointed drill bits to remove 'x' barrels of oil from the ground for 'x' number of years. Or that we can build 'x' number of windmills and solar panels with 'x' tons of 'x' elements from the periodic table, taken from lands in the Third World at the expense of their lifestyles.

Oh, did you mean 'economically' sustainable? In other words, NOT human or natural?

Sorry about the sarcasm, but I've been reading too much of Derrick Jensen's work. http://www.endgamethebook.org/

"Sustainable" means that what you do either is neutral with the environment, or has a Net Creative output for the future usefulness of the human race in the eyes of the universe. Our current cultures all are simply fabrications which allow us to rationalize simple existence, with no caveat that we are supposed to contribute something to nature in exchange for our consumption (Worshiping God for His Gift of Life? Talk about a marketing coup! "Pay me ten percent of everything you make and I will make your soul sustainable.").

'Sucking fewer resources for a longer time' is not sustainability. It's just denial that we are yeast in the petri dish, and the dish is already overflowing with our dying species.

Perhaps it will buy us more time to POSSIBLY figure out a purpose, but if nobody is looking for one, how, exactly, is that going to come about, and WHO is going to listen if someone DOES figure out useful purposes for the humans? Almost all of our religions teach people not to question such things, to 'have faith' that some magical sky buddy will guide us to the future like a 30 second commercial for a travel agent. If you don't know where you need to go, the travel agent can't help you.
The same applies to engineering and research and infrastructure for sustainability. If you don't know where sustainability is, you just end up going in circles, especially if everything is determined by profit and moneychangers. They are happy to watch you spin your wheels because every revolution pays them interest on the money you (and the government) borrow to spin your wheels.

"If you want Change, keep it in your pocket. Spending money just votes for the money."

"You get the picture. We need to find some consistent data at the local level beyond US Census data."

Yeah, especially because the US is only a small part of the world. To me the important question is where your "Local" Location is located and who are your "Locals" there and what is their world view.

BTW, no offense but I'm just so freaking tired of everybody being so obsessed about cars it really makes me want to scream bloody murder! The very first question should be not about cars but access to affordable non fossil fuel dependent mass transportation. I'm not even sure there are many real world examples of such systems. Maybe someone can point me to one?

If your location is Scandinavia?
Oh and try not to get brainwashed by mass media.

Maybe you are in South America or Asia and have access to alternative building materials?
Wonderful bamboo: grow your own house—Simon Velez and bamboo architecture - Reviews:

Brazil is where you are? I've lived with this one personally and even though it still revolves around the automobile it is a very interesting experiment:

I'm sure that there are people who read TOD from all over the world who could contribute their own perspectives and lists which would be very different from each other. I'm very interested in what we can learn from each other, cultural nuances notwithstanding.

Oh and Auntiegrave, "'Sucking fewer resources for a longer time' is not sustainability. It's just denial that we are yeast in the petri dish, and the dish is already overflowing with our dying species." Hopefully that yeast will be Saccharomyces cerevisiae and someone somewhere will brew some good beer with it.

"Sucking fewer resources for a longer time" in a manner that preserves our ability to innovate new resources is the best we can do.

And autarky is not sustainability. Trade is a perfectly valid phenomena, necessary to civilization long before we discovered oil. The larger the trading bloc and the easier transporation, the easier it is to use trade for resources.

Just because the current political atmosphere assumes that transportation costs don't matter, there should be no restrictions on trade, trade balance doesn't matter, currency stability doesn't matter, there is always a military backup, et cetera, et cetera... doesn't mean that the falsity of those things invalidate trade in general.

If need be, we'll mount sails, batteries, and solar panels on our freighters before we stop using them altogether due to environmental reasons or fuel scarcity.

"Sucking fewer resources for a longer time" in a manner that preserves our ability to innovate new resources is the best we can do.

If that's the best we can do.....fine, but don't be surprised if it isn't enough.

Just because the current political atmosphere assumes that transportation costs don't matter, there should be no restrictions on trade, trade balance doesn't matter, currency stability doesn't matter, there is always a military backup, et cetera, et cetera... doesn't mean that the falsity of those things invalidate trade in general.

There is nothing wrong with fair trade, cooperative behaviors, and currency PER SE, but allowing them to become the unrestricted competitive mores of our existence was what killed us.

If need be, we'll mount sails, batteries, and solar panels on our freighters before we stop using them altogether due to environmental reasons or fuel scarcity.

And the banks will loan you the money to do so, and you will waste even more resources to pay them interest so that you can feel like you've 'accomplished' something 'technological' while Nature uses her technology to decay your solar panels, to decay your body with the poisons you put into the atmosphere, to cause defects in the stem cells of your children because you thought pesticides and plastics were a 'fair' tradeoff in order that you could make a 'profit' or be entertained by a better TV.
It all comes around, and now it's coming around now, so go ahead and build your electric cars, your solar sailing ships, your solar powered aircraft carriers and missile-firing drones, and your satellites to watch us all f>>king die in hand-to-hand combat with the solar powered wolves (or in detention camps at the rate our voters are going).
Optimism disgusts me, my chickens, and my longevity-limited children.


Some other potential metrics;
- Auto Miles traveled per year
- Percentage non-car commutes
- Number of car trips per day per household
- Average/Standard Deviation of distance from subway stop (or daily destinations such as grocery, school, etc)
- GDP local production (within 200 miles) per capita
- Agriculture local production (within 200 miles) per capita

Interesting other links, though not strictly empirical data;
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_carfree_places
- http://www.carfree.com/

Visit www.cities21.org and talk with Steve Raney. He is an expert in this field.

Has there been any real world data on "sustainability" ?
I know of NONE

How can there be sustainability if you import your food and energy ?

Has there been any data on food sustainability ?

I have been looking for 30 years and not found any.

Can I feed myself and have extra to trade for taxes etc. ??

Trading your town's widgets for another town's food is perfectly sustainable.

An eventual positive trade balance (we'll denominate it in terms of oil) is highly desirable for sustainability, however.

If you're a retirement community or living off welfare, bad things could happen if those checks stop coming.

In the past I have worked on something called the "US City Rankings" - check out http://howgreenisyourcity.com for the print version.

Also reach out to Warren Karlenzig at http://greenacity.com/

You should check out the following data sources we used:

Metro congestion - Texas Transportation Institute (latest data released 9/07)

Sprawl Index - SmartGrowth America (latest data released 2002?)

If you have questions about the above study, send me a message.


Not too sure that I want to post on this LOCAL site...but I will take a stab at it and give my views.

First you seem to have originated as the NYC site of TOD..and therefore the references to New York..but you might consider that many folks in the outback might not be too hot on whats doing in New York.

Talking about NYC will not endear you IMO to those who live on the REAL local level and I use the term generically to refer to those in the vast 'flyover' forgetting about the problems of LA and NYC..which are going to die real real fast anyway and the true sustainability will have to be by those who have the ground and land to produce food.

For as another key poster noted in his TOPIC post..we are truly in the Agriculture Age..not much ag in NYC or LA..they just get what we produce and add static to the grand picture of how things really are down where the body meets the dirt.

Ok..no offense. I have been to both and lived in LA for some months attending very long schools and worked in upstate NY for long months. So I am not some country dude who doesn't 'get it'.

Thanks for the concern and I believe it can be productive but whose prism are we going to be looking thru? Those with the background? Those who are scientists? The politicians? The News media? Or those who produce food and tend the soil?

I think you got your work cut out for you. Good luck.

I do no graphs,nor compile data. I just give my observations as to my region,Southern Upper Mississippi Valley Region.

On TOD I hear a lot of conjecture but only a few tell us how it is where they reside and whats happening.

Whats it really like then down in the bowels of NYC? I was there many years ago and it seemed they mostly spoke foreign languages and I felt I was no longer in the US. Upstate I could handle. I went to school with some guys from NYC and they had never seen a cow. They never drove. They talked a lot but the southern boyz hammered them in Pinochle,Golf, and bowling.They hated those Rebel flags on their pecan pie down there Atlanta at The Johnny Reb Cafe,way before it went bad. They didn't care for Mammy's Restaurant much either. A resolute bunch that finally almost went mad in the south for lack of pizza(hot pies).

airdale-we drive pickups and get poor gas mileage,we kill game and some eat it,some raise vegetable gardens and eat that,most are like some of those boyz from NYC..they don't want to do much work anymore,,some are old school and survive well and some are very high tech farmers and don't do so well at it,many do just like city folk..mow huge yards and waste tons of money on stupid shit,a lot cook meth and raise pot..and get caught and have bad teeth as a result..a few still take snuff..well actually a lot who are jocks and big games turkey hunters..very few are like airdale but my folks were here before theirs and so they are not my peers. I tolerate most though and kin to most. We will have about a fast 50 percent die off IMO. Then the rest go slowly as they just won't and don't "get it". They will cluster up in the churches and try to figure it out but it will be too late. Again IMO.
Its a crap shoot if you don't read TOD.

How weird is this post? NYC is "local" to the folks who live there. And human beings have been trading food and other things over pretty long distances for at least 8000 years -- long before anyone thought it was fashionable to worry about "sustainability."

The difference is the scale of things.

A few thousand people living in a big forest and fishing the rivers don't make much of an impact -- might even contribute positively to the overall balance of things. When any species becomes totally dominant, then balance fails.

Human beings have become destructively over-dominant. And it appears we can't reason ourselves off the peak, so we will just have to all slide down. Too bad.

Yeah,,,I thought so..NIH(not invented here)..so goodbye..it didn't last long.

Sorry but I have nothing further to add to 'nothing on the screen for New Yawkers.

Yep us out here in forest and down trading hides on the riverbanks..we don't know reality do we? Not the New Yawk reality. Glad that I don't.

BTW when it said LOCAL then I thought perhaps MORE than NYC..I must be wrong.

Back to your local programming.

Hey guys, as you can see I'm the only one writing anything for TOD Local and I'm from NYC. Deal with it. Send in your fully completed html posts anytime.

At first I thought you were as snarky as me, but you were not. The truth is, most people see history through a pretty thick filter of the modern trade paradigm. People have not been trading 'food' for thousands of years. Up until the last 100 years or so, most food has been local, and travelers found food along the way. Only petroleum (mostly) transport has made long-distance food possible. Long distance trade in the past was always for hard goods or dried spices.

I will leave a less cranky bit of off-the-cuff data in the main thread...cheers.

Data does matter. It's the best way that you can measure any kind of change. It's also the best way to paint a picture of a community. If you can't get it at the local level (and many times that's true), try getting it at the State level.

Most States keep very good data regarding agriculture and health. For health and behavior indicators (i.e. eating fruits and vegetables, excercising, and TV watching) go to Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS - every State has one). Your state office may even be willing to "localize" the survey; giving you information regarding certain counties and regions.

While not specifically addressing sustainability, BRFSS does address behaviors in the community that are affected by and indeed affect policies regarding sustainability.

Lesa Dixon-Gray

First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win.
~Mahatma Gandhi

There's also the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - they also have a site for Climate Change and Public Health. I'm betting they'll have a Peak Oil and Public Health site up by the end of 2008 (their leader just published a great article on the subject in the Journal of the American Medical Association).

Lesa Dixon-Gray

First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win.
~Mahatma Gandhi

It's good to have data, both quantitative and qualitative.

Here are some other thoughts for data points:

  • % of children who walk to school
  • farmers markets area by hours open per week in relation to population (gives some idea how good the informal, local food network is)
  • day versus night population
  • average walkscore (see walkscore.com, it would benefit from further refinements, but the concept is sound)
  • average household % of windows facing the equator and other passive solar factors (such a house is much more flexible when it comes to adjusting for heating fuel scarcity)
  • insolation (affects viability/cost of solar systems)
  • potential vegetable garden space relative to population
  • distance from source of public water supply

    I'm sure there are lots more.

    It would be a really neat idea to put together a series of lesson plans that could be used in schools so kids could gather neighborhood/household data and learn about sustainability that way. Statistics across the curriculum, anyone?

  • Municipal water systems will have data on monthly usage, sometimes even broken down between commercial and residential customers.

    Municipal wastewater treatment districts may have data on volumes of wastewater treated per month. If they are running anything through anaerobic digesters to produce methane (they should, if "sustainable" means anything at all), then data on methane production should also be available.

    Municipal refuse collection and landfill systems should have some data available on the volume of refuse collected (it should be decreasing as a community moves toward sustainability). They should also have data on the volume of materials collected in their recycling programs (this is a particularly significant sustainability metric).

    Municipal street departments, county or state highway systems, or regional planning agencies might have data on sidewalks, trails, and pathways for pedestrians, and on bike lanes, paths, and trails. They might also have data on the amount of vehicular traffic.

    Municipal parks & recreation departments should have some data available on the acreage of public parkland and greenspace within the district. Looking at larger regions (counties, say), one might also need to check state and federal forest, park, and wildlife agencies for properties under their jurisdiction.

    The above will most likely either administer or be in contact with the organization that administers any community gardens in the area. The amount of acreage under cultivation and number of participants is an important metric.

    To get a handle on the amount of farmland being worked, numbers of people working in agriculture, and agricultural production in the surrounding area - including types of crops grown, start with your local Cooperative Extension office. They will either have or be able to connect you with a wealth of data.

    State and federal wildlife agencies should have some information on the status of protected wildlife and wildlife habitats within the area.

    There may be a local or state agency that monitors local air quality, and thus would have some data for you. For example, here in WNC ozone is an issue, and there are monitoring stations with online real time and historical data.

    If you are looking for any local economic data, your local Chamber of Commerce is the place to start. If it exists, they'll have it.

    For any population data that you can't get from the Census bureau, try your local public health agency. They should have data on local birth rates & death rates.

    The electric and natural gas utilities serving the community just might possibly have data on the amounts of electricity and natural gas supplied to the community each month. Getting a handle on heating oil, propane, gasoline, and other fuels is more challenging - perhaps the local government of Chamber of Commerce could be persuaded to conduct a survey?

    Getting a handle on the installed capacity of renewable energy systems (wind, solar, etc.) is difficult, but there may be a local or state agency compiling this data. Start with the local Chamber of Commerce, then maybe your state's energy office. There might also be some local green building or green energy groups around that might know how to find this data.

    NOAA maintains local data on heating and cooling degree days, number of days of sunshine, precipitation, etc.

    The USGS maintains some data on local watersheds at water.usgs.gov

    And one final note:

    Maybe the very first place you should check is your local library. Librarians have good research skills, and have been locating and supplying local data to people that need it for a very long time. They may be willing to spend some of their time doing some of the research for you, for free! What a deal!

    It seems to me ironic but in the city you don't really need a car but in the country you can't live without one. City life is however unsustainable and country life is not due to low density and possibility of subsistence farming/gardening and raising of rabbits, etc. for meat. In the city we live vertically. If a house is too high then you need elevators and water and sewage has to have electric pumps as well and gas heating and electric systems are needed.

    Some could argue that these are needed anyway and that the per capita costs are lower in a city , it being so much more efficient to store people by the million in apartment buildings and bundle sewage costs, have huge water works, etc. Some would say then that an optimal city size is 100,000-300,000 or similar or perhaps 30,000-50,000 all depending on technology and they would make compaerisons to towns in 19th century. http://www.trivia-library.com/a/15-cities-with-largest-population.htm A million people lived in cities back then. Now we have infrastructure built out so we could keep the people there instead of destroying the countryside by returning them all to village life. Evacuating the city to the countryside or the suburbs to the city are a couple of suggestions. For example if the city is more efficient for living and more environmentally friendly in a complete sense and using city dwellers as seasonal farm labour to bring in the crops and plant it might work somewhat, eliminating most suburbs and bringing farmland back to the edges of the cities so that regional food supply would be acessible and reliable.

    Population density would have to be higher, mixed zoning typical. Essentially even small towns would have to retun to this pattern. A white picket fence and your own plot of land is a relative luxury when it takes arable land away from the community, thereby ensuring hunger. This was realistic with a smaller population but must be anbandoned except where the land is used intensively for gardening and/or plots are very small.

    Obviously a country boy ain't gonna like this message and a city boy either and miost especially as suburban who treaures his "best of both worlds". but if the city boys become Mutant Zombie Bikers roaming the countryside raping and pillaging this will help noone so a new model has to be developed where all cooperate. There will not exist a national market for fruits and vegetables anymore but only for grains and cattle due to the freshness factor. So reional production of produce will be critical and a return to regional cuisine and culture in this sense (catfish and watermelon anyone?).

    “Without a video the people perish”-Is. 13:24

    I glanced at the NYC plan and find that being in Habmurg they have a similar plan for energy which is a bit of a laugh. Anyway, one city cnanot do it in isolation, perhaps the norhteast USA/Canada could attempt it as codependenca on the surrounding area and specialization is critical. It is certainly a good start of course and NYC is always a rollmodel (I think of Rudi Giuliani's role model effect worldwide with policing methods for cities). The next step would have to a New York/New England plan for sustainability and say in a couple of years in light of massive energy price increases/shortages this seems likely to actually occur quicker than we think. I give it 5 years till the coasts start to work together in the same way as they are doing now already in climate concerns. The more conservative regions will drag their feet on topics which could in anyway go against individual right to have a bigger car, plot of land. Essentially if the left wing forces this stuff through at the local level in the liberal states they will have an advantage against the "flyover states" and lead the pack. The obvious logic of the solution will however be obvious to everyone in a few years and gain momentum winning the day by middecade 2010s.

    “Without a video the people perish”-Is. 13:24

    Data comes later if I can find it:

    Percentage of population within 1000ft of non-traffic-deterred mass transit. (utility goes up as the square of this number)
    Percentage of population within 1000ft of traffic-deterred mass transit.
    Bike ownership rates.
    Recycling rates.
    Energy use per capita in residential zonings.
    Energy use per acre in agricultural zonings.
    Energy use per square foot of space in industrial/commercial zonings.
    At the local zoning office, divide residential and commercial via lines. The dimensionless ratio of the total line length to the area of whichever is larger provides a measure of homogeneity: The Zone Mix Factor(tm). ZMF is either a number or the word "completely," indicating nonexclusive zoning.
    Trade balance

    Brittleness of environment, measured by I know not what.

    Daily + seasonal temperature variation, and average degrees (weighted so that positive is easier) towards room temperature.

    The desert southwest is going to face cascading failures due to lack of oil and lack of water and lack of plants - pump failures, AC failures, crop failures, livestock failures, sanitary failures, transportation failures, food failures.

    Brittleness: If even an isolated, educated indidivual can't physically survive there on subsistance agriculture on the best the stone-age has to offer, it's going to be exceedingly risky in times of energy crisis.

    Local data on sustainability is going to be hard to find at a national level. There is exploding change taking place in the United States and most persons are unaware of this underground movement. This revolution is the return to local food production, chemical free farming, and solar power.

    The reason you will not find hard data is because this movement intentionally avoids Federal Government notice, which would like to put a stop to it. Some examples of government activity against grass roots food production.

    a. The Center of Disease Control is on National Public Radio stating that the bird flue disease vector will be facilitated not by corporate factory farms but by backyard chicken flocks.

    b. The Department of Agriculture is attempting through grants, coercion, and threats to document every chicken, lamb, goat, cow, and even blueberry bushes through the National Animal Identification System. Government has only two purposes in registration. Taxation and/or confiscation.

    c. The Food and Drug administration has a long history of supporting corporate farming by creating food labeling laws that allow glutamate to be used under the description of "spice" and "natural flavorings." Glutamate is very harmful to the human nervous system.

    d. Many Federal agencies work against the availability of raw milk, Nature's best source of vitamin D and A and many other nutrients that are necessary to human health.

    Food is the basic foundation of all civilization, so that any discussion of sustainability must begin here. Part of this hidden revolution of which I speak is a departure, still in its infancy, away from petroleum. The future will be powered by photovoltaics, firewood, ethanol, wind power, mules, horses, and oxen, and to a lesser degree by methane and hydrogen. And for all you folks who pay to do physical work at the health club, do not discount human physical work. All this will be supported by the lead acid battery, possibly the most recycled item on the planet. How do I know this future? Because I am already strongly forging a path in that direction. Join me in this successful future.


    I sent a version of what follows to Glenn a few days ago. Not to have it considered as a posting, but just to describe some of the different situations around. This posting asking for local data looks like a place where this may fit as a lengthy comment(s).

    Our little town recently appointed someone as Energy Coordinator. I don't know what his charge is, but assume it's to coordinate conservation of energy and to identify and exclude forms and uses of energy that are harmful.

    My wife and I have the only wind turbine in town and I'm pretty sure that we'll be contacted to participate somehow. So, I guess I'm trying to have other people's ideas in hand as something useful to present beyond showing a bit of data on the amount of power our little turbine generates and describe our reasons for spending the money for a turbine.

    Our situation is probably fairly seldom encountered here in the US. Here's the scoop:
    I live in a very small town; the actual statistics are: Area=16,751 acres, Altitude= 1,967, population = 328, population density = 12.5 people/sq mile.
    Further, its an aging population with few young people and very few births each year. One last year as I recall. There is no industry or businesses other than folks who work as carpenters, wood sawyers, farmers and the like. There's a pretty well formed organic farming and CSA movement here, but during the winter months those are shut down. We're about eight or ten miles from the closest food store and people who work travel in all directions to do it and that makes car pooling look like a low yield possibility. I see no possibility for public transport. The housing stock ranges from over 100 years old to less than a year. Probably everyone uses wood for heat to some extent. Winters are long and tough with many, many feet of snow and long stretches of sub-zero temps. Most of the year-round residents garden or raise animals of some sort and I'd guess that a fair number supplement the food bill by hunting also. In short, we're a pretty self sufficient bunch. By the way, we all love it here.

    Some of the things of concern here are electricity outages during the winter, being able to get out to get food, keeping roads clear enough for folks to come and go to jobs and let emergency vehicles do their job. Lots of folks live some distance off the main roads and have to keep their own driveway clear of snow. Either plow it themselves or pay someone else to do it. Some winters we get hit with back to back two footers within a few days span and the snow plow operators get pretty backed up.

    Leaving out the omnipresent suggestions of car pooling, wear a sweater at home, install or upgrade insulation, ride the bus, hot water on demand, efficient light bulbs and etc. I come up with a very short list of possible energy saving items for our particular situation. Here's what I can come up with:

    I can imagine suggesting that building codes and the permitting process be reviewed so that alternative housing built by the owner will be readily approved unless its really egregious. I'm thinking of things like earth bermed, solar assisted houses, masonry heaters, and things like that.

    Putting together a workshop to show folks how to build and operate their own wind turbine. We live in a very good wind area so using a turbine is feasible. Especially during winter months.

    Reviewing the rules governing the frequency and extent of winter-time snow plowing. I imagine it costs a fair amount to keep the roads plowed. This is probably going to be stricken off the list first off, but who knows, it might be worth a look.

    Look at installing a steam generator at the little school- we have heaps of wood hereabouts. Though it has probably few than 20 students and, looking at the current birth rates I can't see it staying in operation too much longer.

    Get a smaller, more fuel efficient school bus. I imagine that all kinds of safety rules have to be met for a vehicle to be used for that purpose, but perhaps a review of those rules would yield something.

    So, can it be that us folks living out here in this corner of heaven are embarking on a low yield project or am I especially unimaginative? Do any of the other TOD devotees live in a similar situation and most of all, does anyone have ideas!

    RE: Snow plowing

    Back in the olden days, snow was not a transportation problem, it was a transportation solution. Everyone would look forward to the roads being snow covered, because they then could bring out the sleds and sleighs and do some serious hauling. Runners on frozen water are nearly frictionless, and the weight of a load can be distributed across the length of a couple of runners. Big rollers would be hauled over the roads to pack down the snow into a solid sheet of ice. Farmers and tradespeople would wait until then to haul the really heavy stuff that would break down a waggon or the horses that hauled it.

    The thing is, though, that this required two types of vehicles - warm weather waggons and cold weather sleds.

    We have found it convenient to have just one type of vehicle, which we fool ourselves into thinking is "all weather", and then go to enormous lengths to try to keep the roads open in "all weather" for these vehicles - except when we can't, because the weather wins the battle. Then our convenient vehicles don't look so convenient after all.

    At what point are we going to find that we have no choice but to give up fighting against nature, and start living harmoniously with it?

    Kind of like what Micheal Pollan says in 'Omnivore's Dilemma' about specialized industrial farming vs. the complementary nature of a traditional, multi-animal, multi-crop family farm. 'We took a solution and broke it into several problems.'

    Bob Fiske

    This may be of interest ....


    I was wondering when somebody was going to mention the Post Carbon Network! That would be my first source for data.

    Also check out:

    After that: try to identify the specific data you're looking for, and ask for that. You're question is awfully broad right now. There are plenty of experts you can draw upon for specific subject areas.

    You're taking on a Herculean task...maybe even a Quixotic one. I admire your guts to even tackle it.

    Energy consultant, writer, blogger www.getreallist.com

    We have a fair amount on what transpired with getting the peak oil resolution passed in San Francisco here, too:


    Mind you getting a resolution passed is one thing. Changing what a city does is quite another thing.

    For transportation, I would use VMT per capita which is available by city from the Federal Highway Administration.

    Electricity consumption by source is available by utility from the Department of Energy.


    I don't have any data, but please don't beat me over the head for that.

    I live and toil in Oklahoma, and am mis-represented in the Senate by Jim Inhofe. We have built a group which is working on their own sustainability while trying to spread the word on the whole variety of sustainability issues. Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman have adopted the Mayor's group sustainability plans, which we consider significant because it would be impossible to have urban sustainability without the government participation. We have developed programs for Buy Fresh, Buy Local which, although originating in other places, have to be implemented locally. We have nine Chapters spread across the State, and are working on more. We have an annual conference which I hope to get adapted to the larger "fair" setting of MN, WI, and others. Just as all sustainability must be local, it involves some innovation as to gain acceptance as we have experienced in OK.

    Working on State goals, and local action, could be enhanced by regional groups, since, for one example, just as a lot of the mercury deposited in the US comes from Asia, ours is spread to the East by the same winds which brought Asia's pollution to us. CA's spreads to AZ, AZ's to NM, NM's to OK, etc. The solutions may be local, but the problems are across the country and the world.

    Just some observations, but it takes the whole chain for us to effectively pull together.

    Most of the data for sustainability is simply historical fact that we can seek and use. Variations for modern scientific knowledge and better tools should be applied, but it goes something like this:

    1 man without powered assistance can work and tend 1 acre of land (42,000 ft^2), providing food for a small family in the process.
    1 man with a mule can tend some 20 acres (about half of which is grazing for the mule) and sell enough to provide for mule habitat and replacement mules periodically.

    Various soils, tools, wind power, climate changes, etc., can adjust these numbers, but they are the basic starting point for civilization. Hunter-gatherers use more land per person, but need fewer people. Variations of the theme can be used as grassland/savannah management, etc.

    For sustainable cities to exist, they would need to provide usefulness to the surrounding land in exchange for food. In a food-short society, I'm pretty sure the farmers don't need advertising agencies, investment advisers, or telephone salesmen. They DO need doctors, scientists, plumbers, writers, etc., to protect the world from asteroids, to support the best systems of land management, and if for no other reason, to provide humanure. Labor could help instead of making farmers enslave 14 children (my grandparents) in order to feed the city dwellers.