Bloomington, Indiana Peak Oil Task Force has Lots of Ideas

Dave Rollo of the Bloomington, Indiana Peak Oil Task Force sent me links to the material prepared by the task force, and wanted me to let others know about the work they have been doing. The main piece of work the group produced was a Final Report of the Task Force.

In this post, I thought I would share with you the executive summary of the final report, including a list of vulnerabilities and strategies identified by the Task Force. The latter includes a fairly detailed list of suggested actions which I thought readers might be interested in discussing. Are these reasonable actions? Which ones surprise you?

Executive Summary of Peak Oil Task Force Report

Oil infuses just about every aspect of our lives. We rely on cheap oil for everyday necessities such as transportation, food, clothing, and electricity. However, oil is a nonrenewable resource. It is widely acknowledged that the world has reached, or will soon reach, the point at which oil production is at its maximum, or peak. Once the world reaches peak oil production, we will not run out of oil but we will run short of oil. At that point, the price of oil will rise and become more volatile. Given the systemic nature of oil, a decline in the availability of cheap oil will have implications for all aspects of society.

The Bloomington Peak Oil Task Force was charged with assessing Bloomington's vulnerability to a decline in cheap oil and developing researched and prudent strategies to protect our community. Since March 2008, the Bloomington Peak Oil Task Force has met bi-weekly to discuss ways in which our community might be made more resilient in the face of peak oil. Specifically, the Task Force examined the following community systems: municipal services, transportation, land use, housing, sustenance, and the economic context.

The Task Force envisions a post-peak Bloomington wherein most residents live within walking distance of daily needs; most of the food required to feed residents is grown within Monroe County; residents can easily and conveniently get where they need to go on bike, foot or public transit; most of the community’s housing stock is retrofit for energy efficiency; and local government provides high-quality services to its residents while using less fossil fuel energy.

While peak oil presents our community with serious challenges, it also presents us with an opportunity to make a great community even better.

The following is a representative, but not exhaustive, review of vulnerabilities and strategies identified by the Task Force:

Economic Context. Bloomington and Monroe County are clearly part of both national and global economies and our reliance on a steady supply of inexpensive goods from as far away as half-way around the world makes us vulnerable to a decline in inexpensive oil.


  • Promote economic relocalization through “Buy Local!” initiatives; encourage a Local Exchange Trading System and cooperate with Transition Bloomington.
  • Examine sector dependence on oil.
  • Develop and deploy sustainable forms of energy.
  • Develop and promote green jobs.

Municipal Services. As the price of oil both becomes more volatile and more expensive, so too will the price of electricity, natural gas, and other energy resources. It will become more expensive for the City to: treat and pump drinking water; treat its wastewater; provide fuel for law enforcement and fire protection; heat and cool municipal buildings; and pick up trash and recycling. Similarly, the City will also experience a general increase in cost of just about anything that relies on energy to produce and transport it.


  • Explore hybrid energy (hydroelectric-solar) generation to complement existing power at the water treatment plant.
  • Encourage more rainwater capture by residents and the City.
  • Offer energy efficiency and water conservation incentives to residents.
  • Expand water storage capacity.
  • Transition all back-up generators to renewable sources of energy.
  • Develop a community compost program.
  • Establish waste reduction goals -- Zero Waste Bloomington by 2040.
  • Explore sludge-to-biogas energy generation at the wastewater treatment plant.
  • Develop a fuel allocation plan wherein, in the event of a fuel shortage, the Police and Fire Departments are given greatest priority.
  • Replace patrol cars with electric vehicles.
  • Investigate police pursuit vehicles that do not rely on fossil fuels and transition over to such vehicles as this technology improves.
  • Explore alternatives to asphalt.
  • Offer carpooling incentives to employees.
  • Reduce the size of the City fleet though partnerships with car sharing groups.

Transportation. Of all sectors, transportation is the most petroleum dependent and the most vulnerable to a disruption resulting from declining world petroleum supplies. Ninety-seven percent of transportation energy is reliant on fossil fuel. In Monroe County, we drive approximately 2.8 million miles per day. That’s like driving one car around the Earth at the equator 112 times in one day.


  • Bring daily necessities closer to where people live.
  • Establish ride and car sharing programs.
  • Increase connectivity & the number of planned “lengthy corridors” for bicyclists.
  • Make bus transportation faster and more attractive.
  • Seek funding improvements for Bloomington Transit.
  • Encourage Bloomington Transit to transition its bus fleet from one relying on diesel fuel to one relying on locally-produced biogas.
  • Work toward a regional Comprehensive Land Use and Transportation Plan involving the City of Bloomington, Monroe County, and Indiana University that fosters bicycle, pedestrian, and transit-friendly changes in land use.
  • Encourage commuter rail between Bloomington and other cities.
  • Encourage bus service between Bloomington and downtown Indianapolis.

Land Use. When it comes to land use, the physical separation of where we live from where we carry out the activities of everyday life – work, food, school, health care, and community – is by far the biggest threat posed by the end of cheap oil.


  • Through zoning and other land management tools, encourage the redistribution of land to bring about denser living arrangements, and a closer integration of residential and commercial activity, thus reducing the total amount of intra-city transportation required. We must restructure our community to provide highdensity, multi-use arrangements friendly to transit, bicycles, and pedestrians.
  • Update the City’s land use documents with an eye to peak oil.
  • Target public transit routes to help shape neighborhood development.

Housing. An aging grid, paired with the likelihood that more and more people will turn to electricity to power their cars, means that the grid will be increasingly taxed. In Indiana, the grid is powered by coal-generated energy. Coal relies on oil for extraction and transportation. Absent efficiency improvements, it will be ever-more expensive to heat our homes.


  • Engage in outreach to reduce energy demand through conservation.
  • Work to retrofit 5% of homes for energy efficiency per year.
  • Explore the possibility of local power generation from renewable sources.
  • Establish loans and incentives for installation of renewable energy.
  • Create incentives to make rental units more energy efficient.

Sustenance can be understood as the maintenance and nurturance of health and life. The elements of sustenance include: food, water, waste handling, and health care. At present, these elements are provided by private companies, government, and publicly-owned corporations and are entirely dependent on petroleum. Indeed, less than 2 percent of the food consumed by city residents is produced within the city, its surrounding region or the state.


  • Work closely with the private sector and Indiana University to outline a detailed plan for community food security. Adopt a Food Security Resolution.
  • Plant edible landscapes on public property.
  • Organize City-led horticultural services to include the collection, processing, and distribution of organic waste.
  • Increase local food storage.
  • Train and deploy more urban farmers.
  • Remove or reduce legal, institutional, and cultural barriers to farming within and around the city, and open institutional markets to local food. Establish food-business incubator programs with access to community kitchens.
  • Dedicate public land to intensive gardening and farming.
  • Work toward a year-round regional farmers’ market.
  • Work toward the establishment of a local land trust for the banking of farmland.
  • Work toward providing more local or regional organic food to Monroe County Community School Corporation, Indiana University, Ivy Tech, and Bloomington Hospital.
  • Create a local, publicly-controlled seedbank.
  • Encourage water conservation through outreach and incentives.
  • Create community composting sites.
  • While the City has little direct influence over health care, it can work with stakeholders to advocate for a health care system that is resilient even in the face of peak oil. Specifically, as a community we should: encourage a mobile medical corps for house calls; encourage more neighborhood health clinics and doctors’ offices; and support a concentration of essential medical services to remain in the central city location accessible by public transit and pedestrians.

Just a question...,
Why is encouraging increased reliance on trains so low on the list?

I think we need much more light rail, HSR to link major cities, simultaneously making our cities denser and reversing urban sprawl.

One issue is the cost (indirectly energy required) to build the infrastructure.

Another issue is the time required to build the trains.

A third issue is that one has to believe the BAU will exist for long enough to get a decent payback. Suppose you start planning to build a train now. I would expect by the time you got funding and everything else required, it would not be completed until 2020. The life expectancy of the train, if you could keep everything in place to run it, would be quite long--say 60 years or more. So one question would be whether the world would look sufficiently like today between 2020 and 2080 to get reasonable use out of it. Would passengers still have desk jobs down town to commute to, for example?

A fourth issue would be whether it would really be possible to maintain and operate the trains for many years. Would doors to the train break early on, and not be able to be replaced with parts from overseas? Would the fuel for the train still be available? Would the workers still be able to get to work?

I would add that, having worked in San Francisco for a number of years, buses can be electrified, running off of double trolly leads. In many ways this is more versitile, and equally efficient. The infrastructure could be less problematic since string wires is much less expensive than laying rails. And, the wires could be easily moved from street to street if modifications seem indicated. As a further benefit, existing diesel and NG buses could be electrified at less cost than building new ones, and far less expensively than street light rail.

This is not a put down of street rail, and again San Francisco comes to mind as a city that incorporates electric buses, street light rail (both MUNI projects) and urban light rail (BART) transit. This of course is part of what makes San Francisco a great city!

And, Bloomington is one of my favorites as well... as is Indiana University my favorite MidWestern college. Of course, having attended there I might be prejudiced a bit. But not by much. I never went to U.Wisc., and Madison makes my top few cities as well.

So, go Bloomington! And IU!

Many cities used electric buses for years. Some still do:


This is mature and reliable technology:

Diagram of a 1947 built Pullman Standard model 800 trolleybus, still running in Valparaíso (Chile).


And they're constantly being improved:

With the introduction of hybrid designs, trolleybuses are no longer tied to overhead wires. Since the 1980s, trolleybus systems such as Muni in San Francisco, TransLink in Vancouver and Beijing, among others, have purchased trolleybuses equipped with batteries to allow the vehicles to operate short to considerably long distances away from the wires. Supercapacitors may be also used to move short distances.

Thank you, Ghung. I think that this kind of transportation retrofit is
superb, and merits use here in Bton.

Hi Gail,

Trains are the basis of public transportation in Europe, Japan, and China.

They save huge amounts of energy and sharply reduce CO2 emissions.

Rising oil prices does not mean the end of civilization. In particular, the US is so energy inefficient that it has plenty of room to lower energy consumption and thereby offset higher energy prices. Your houses are made of wood when they should have been constructed using stone. The country has zero public transportation. American cars get about half the mileage efficiency of their European counterparts.

Europeans have lived with gasoline prices twice the American level without Apocalypse. We don't use air conditioning even when the temperature is 95 degrees.

So a reasonable long term planning assumption is that electricity will still be available and that trains and trams will still be more efficient than build cars to move people. Both in terms of energy and cost.

In particular, tram systems can be deployed at relatively cost. The French have deployed these in smaller cities where the expense of building a metro (subway) is too high relative to the population.

Hi, Roderick.
Atlanta has been working on building a streetcar system for years now:

Atlanta — Mayor Moves Streetcar
Rail Transit Online, December 2005
The nonprofit Atlanta Streetcar Inc. organization has handed over its proposal to build a 12-mi. (19.3 km) line along Peachtree Street from south of downtown to Buckhead to Mayor Shirley Franklin, who reportedly wants to have the system up and running by the end of her second term.

This week, Atlanta was told that it won't be getting the federal stimulus money for this project as hoped. Americans will soon realize that they are too deeply invested in the wrong transportation systems. As reality sets in, IMO, the same will hold true for healthcare, energy, food systems, education and our relationships with the planet. Having squandered our wealth on short sighted growth, the future of the US will be a long exercize in "too little, too late".

There is no shortage of ideas, of which this site too, tosses out and hashes over again and again.

What we can't seem to focus on and discuss at length is why we have no capability to move on them.

If you search through academic literature on the bus vs. train debate, it's pretty clear that busses are superior to trains. When it comes to heavily trafficked routes, BRT over existing infrastructure is superior to installing and operating a dedicated train line.


Members of the task force regard rail - light rail and inter-urban,
as well as freight, as an essential means for adaptation to post-peak.

They have discussed this need with the Director of Bloomington Transit (the city bus system), Indiana University administrators, city council members and the mayor, as well as
our congressional representative. The city council is forming a committee to explore the possibilities for rail, and advocate for
its implementation.

I hope that this helps,

All best,

Dave Rollo


Many, many years ago the Monon ran passengers as well as freight between Bloomington, Indianapolis, and W. Lafayette. I'm just old enough to remember when they shut down the passenger service. I don't know if the rails are even still there, I remember some talk about doing a rails-to-trails along that line decades ago when I lived in Indy. That's the only rail service I think Bloomington ever had, even the interurbans never made it down there.

Thanks! Yes, this was mentioned to me. The Monon is now a big rail-trail in Indy. Our downtown rail
has been turned into the "B-line" walking/biking trail, but it is banked for rail, and I envision that it may well
turn back to that. The rail that is in use is owned by CSX and is freight only, but there is talk at the University of
using the rail for passengers as well. CSX brings in coal, and takes out limestone, which is used as flux in
various regional coal fired power plants.

Anyway, I appreciate your comment. I fear that much of the monon was lost to development, but should look into this.


Here we go again:

Once the world reaches peak oil production, we will not run out of oil but we will run short of oil. At that point, the price of oil will rise and become more volatile.

If I got a nickel for every time some peak oil pundit made that remark I would be a multi- thousandaire already!

DUH! How about that five- fold PRICE INCREASE since 1998? What about that massive volatility spike in 2008? I guess the REALLY, REALLY LARGE price increases will take place ... when peak oil finally happens in twenty years or so ...

(Whistles past graveyard.)

The time to dither around disappeared about ten years ago. Bloomington, Indiana is living in a dream world. Everyone there should be trying to figure out how to get rid of their cars within a year. Their world - and ours - is about a whole lot poorer ...

It took fifty years to build the current auto- friendly 'Car Habitat'. This cost trillions ... we actually had in our pockets. Much of this is stranded now by high oil prices. Putting up a human- friendly 'People Habitat' (next to agriculture as well as some 'Nature Habitat') will cost us trillions we don't have!

Right now, Bloomington needs a new narrative that doesn't include more and more machines. These MAKE THE PROBLEMS WORSE! A new narrative is something that does not measure 'human progress' by the yardstick of mechanics. Our new narrative must not be deterministic.

Deterministic is the kiss of death. No amounts of small plans will ever change that. What our narrative has created for us is a simple, effective, impossible to shut off or tamper with ... TIME MACHINE! We are as a nation and world hurtling into the past as fast as possible.

We have to figure out how to get and stay here (in the 19th century):

... or we are all going to wind up here (in the 14th century):

Nineteenth Century? Be carefull what you ask for. Not everyone experienced your idealized view of the 1800s.


High price=peak oil is a hard idea to get out of people's head. I suppose if you call $10 or $20 barrel normal for the price of oil, then prices are now high and variable.

You mean high price = POST- peak oil. Low price means lots of oil relative to consumption. Consumption was high in the late nineties, I don't recall demand destruction - except that $!2 oil excluded that part of the world that couldn't afford it. A high consumption backdrop with very cheap oil can only mean a very large relative oversupply of it. This is viewed in hindsight, of course.

It seems that every single remark in the media about peak oil includes, "then, prices will rise!" That seems to be the predicted outcome of peak oil. It's happed already. Simmons and others have pointed out that the peak would only be noticeable from the vantage point of time past.


Money markets measure supply and demand as well as any other metric. The ongoing housing oversupply is measured by declining house prices. There is no reason not to use the same approach with crude oil. If the supply of houses shrinks relative to demand, the price will rise (cutting consumption, which has happened already with crude oil).

Price triangulates the relationship between supply, demand and actual consumption. Measuring physical misses demand.

Demand is a kind of rationing and its mechanism includes credit formation that allows demand to bid up the price to consumption. Eventually a vicious cycle forms of demand feeding credit that constrains consumption and requiring more credit which raises prices more. That this cycle exists and is entrenched (in a deflationary context) indicates that the money- peak took place long enough in the past to allow the mechanism to take form and become robust.

I use $20 as the baseline because so much of the infrastructure that uses oil was designed and built around that price level starting in the 1950's. $20 oil supports/allows business profits. If infrastructure had been unprofitable @ $20 oil, none of it would have been built. People were just as cheap back in the 60's, 70's 80's as they are now. Thousands of businesses have failed since 1999 leading to millions of layoffs. Before the actual crisis starting with the beginning of the 2d Bush presidency, wages, earnings and hiring have been pretty much flat - or declining in real terms. Much of the failures/layoffs have taken place in the past couple of 'high oil price' years. They have taken place everywhere in the world, including economic darlings China and India. Many businesses failed because of credit shortages (by the businesses themselves or by their customers) but the increased costs of fuel would allocate credit away from commerce toward the oil producers. That is the process of demand using credit to ration consumption.

I went a large, regional mall a month or so ago. Half of the store were boarded up and the rest were sporting "60% OFF - CLEARANCE!!!" signs. There were about ten customers in the mall. This is in Northern Virginia, one of the few prosperous areas left in the country. There was a proposal taped to a vacant storefront to turn the mall into a fake 'main street'. It is near a newly expanded multi- billion dollar freeway interchange. Tens of thousands of cars go by this mall every day.

The mall was built for, by and about $20 oil. $40 oil is a death sentence. The current $75 oil simply kills faster.

Except for the 'Oil Embargo' and Iran Revolution periods in the 1970's and 80's, oil prices have been very low:

As you can see from this chart from the 2009 BP Statistical Energy Review, both the inflation- adjusted and nominal prices have been low for a very long time, since the beginning of the 20th century. This speaks for itself.

Another bit of evidence is the past two years of frantic borrowing, balance sheet expansion, trillions in currency/sovereign backstopping of private risk and trillions more in stimulus resulting in exactly ... what? With the input of raw money, there should be a robust recovery ... no?

M2 is money (cash and depositors' funds in accounts both bank and non- bank) in circulation. M3 is this plus institutional money funds and partial large time deposits. This chart represents the decline in multipliers, the result of declining commerce which tends to generate its own funds (chart from John Williams' Despite historic applications of credit from all directions, the world's economy is at death's door. This is after years and trillion in stimulus ... say what you will but stimulus in its various forms works ... on credit contractions, not on energy crises.

There is much more to the current economic meltdown than questionable credit- worthiness of various entities. Deflation is entrenched in Japan and the Eurozone, as well.

If current conditions don't represent post- peak oil, I don't want to see what the 'real' post- peak brings. It is hard to see things getting much worse.

Looks like a good analysis to me, Steve.
To me, this makes more sense, and is more convincing than Ilargi's post over on "Automatic Earth".

Steve -- A complex relationship for sure. The assumption that future high oil/NG prices will lead to a robust and expanding oil industry generating a least a little relief from PO could well be wrong. Your chart shows that huge price spike in the late 70's which led to over 4600 drill rigs turning to the right. A lot of capex spent with a rather disproportionately low return. IMHO as many as half those rigs were drilling prospects that had very little chance of success. Essentially greed over came common sense. We just saw a similar but smaller event in the world of the shale gas plays. Not so much a matter of bad prospects being drilled but many projects that required a high NG price which turned out to not be sustainable. In my 34 years I’ve seen no another event like the 70’s price spike which ultimately so damaged the oil industry.

But the next price spike might not replicate the past very well. A couple of differences. First, though it might sound counter intuitive, our technical ability to find oil/NG has never been better. Thus we’ll see a much better success rate then we had back in the 70’s. But it also means we won’t have as many prospects pass muster. New technology makes it much easier to condemn a prospect without drilling it first. It really is much easier to identify good drilling projects today. But the real problem is that there aren’t a whole lot left to find. Second, the capital market took a good beating with the collapse of oil/NG prices by the end of ‘08. Again especially true in the shale gas plays. Even if we see a sudden return to high NG prices I doubt we’ll see as strong a rush back into the SG plays. The memory of how quickly prices can turn around will be fresh in everyone’s mind. The boom/bust cycle has always been in the oil patch. But the cycles used to run 10 to 15 years. Now a 3 or 4 year cycle seems to be the norm. That’s just too fast IMHO for the industry to respond in a competent manner. We all know we’ll never drill ourselves out of PO no matter how high prices go. But the domestic energy industry is still a vital part of the economy. We are still the third largest oil producer on the planet. And the industry provides a substantial portion of our job and tax base. But I don’t think we can take for granted those benefits even in the face of PO.

Prices have certainly varied wildly over the past couple of years. They now seem to have settled down for the moment, but when one reflects that not so very long ago $20/barrel was considered normal, the "new normal" of $70-$80 must be considered extraordinarily high, especially under current economic conditions.

We have to figure out how to get and stay here (in the 19th century)

Here we go again with more addled nostalgia. That silly romanticized version of the 19th century never happened - so there's absolutely no possibility of going back to it. We aren't going back to the real - and awful - 19th century either, not with four times more people worldwide as even at the end of the 19th century. No, wherever we're going, it's somewhere else.

Everyone there should be trying to figure out how to get rid of their cars within a year.

Sure you betcha, in the event of a world nuclear war, in which event these conversations will no longer matter and will not be remembered. Short of something approaching that, there's little reason to expect Bloomington traffic to change much between now and December. (Even with the gas lines in the 1970s, the traffic didn't change hugely, especially in smaller cities where there was no overcrowding to amplify the effect of trivial reductions.)

Really, one ought not to underestimate the inertia of the system - enough peak-resource pundits have already made fools of themselves that way. Plus, there's an election in November (yes that's USA-centric, but Bloomington is in the USA), and "they" want to get re-elected above all else. So "they" will beg, borrow or steal wherever and whatever they can to make things look good.

If we've avoided something on the order of all-out war, we can re-visit this in late December; if we haven't, no one need care.

<rant> And then we get the plaintive queries posted nearly every day about how the broader public doesn't get the message ... well, this sort of thing is virtually guaranteed to send them away screaming "insanity", now isn't it? </rant>

In their list I see:

Train and deploy more urban farmers.

Maybe their parks and recreation could start giving gardening classes. Perhaps some could work on

Plant edible landscapes on public property.

These sound like good ideas.

Plant edible landscapes on public property.

Are citizens on the honor system or will these edible landscapes be behind fences? We currently administer public lands at a cost (National Forests, waterways, parks, etc.). Volunteers and perhaps user fees can offest some costs but municiple budgets are already stressed.

Community gardens in our parks are behind fences - mostly to limit deer access. Proposed edible landscapes include community orchards, berry shrub hedges and other perennials that residents may harvest as they like. One of the concerns of the parks department is the potential debris of unpicked fruit, etc. And so, we are hoping to develop
agreement with local neighborhood associations to manage the harvest somewhat, and keep areas tidy to alleviate greater park expenses.

It's fine to hope and plan for tidyness in parks, or for solar power to help process sewage, and so forth. But my feeling is that soon we are going to be faced with making decisions that bite a lot deeper: for example, disconnecting every other streetlight (remember all those coal-fired generator stations?), or encouraging the public to use their pee on their gardens to fertilize their food. Not to mention, actually carpooling (lots of resistance on that one!), making stores pay for the disposal of wraps and plastic on their products, and capturing and using storm water, which presently goes through our sewage plants! How about discouraging lawns (except for playing fields and gathering areas) and encouraging food gardens. Then there is challenging Homeowner's Association's restrictive covenants on things like hanging out laundry, putting solar panels up, growing gardens instead of lawns, and mandates for asphalted driveways? How about all the land in commercial building which must be paved over to provide parking for their peak expected clientele?

How many folks will scream when a business wants to locate in or near a R-1 zoning area? How many will then scream when they can't buy food or visit a doctor within 5 miles and gas is $??? per gallon? Or the local school district has to choose between paying teachers, heating the buildings to 70 degrees F, and running school buses to houses ten miles away?

Bloomington has made a good start, but it is only a start- Peak Oil Lite. God bless them and their efforts!

Personally I find the fact that such a half-assed, milktoast proposal is even newsworthy to be depressing as hell.

Anyway, just thought I'd share a little joy there.

These folks are starting somewhere, which is more than most of us.

I don't think a proposal to use humanure would go over well.

Also, it is hard to say to a group putting one of these plans together that such and such option would be way too expensive. They will figure that out when they go to raise taxes to get enough funds for some of these ideas. Being in the Midwest, Bloomington may not be as badly off as many cities, but I still expect big increases in taxes to pay for expensive projects will be a hard sell.

The great part about a written vision and plan is that it can, and should, be a living document. Of course there will be dead-ends, mistakes, and continual changes -- that's the way a real-world plan works out.

Having a plan that envisions modest structural changes will help people deal psychologically with the changes that are coming, whether those changes come faster and deeper or slower and shallower than expected.

There is something deep in human psyche that causes us to sit and wait, and to find-fault with the few proposals that are floated while doing little else. Once the crisis hits it shifts to "where is the gov't?" and "why won't anybody help us?" I wrestle with this myself -- it is far easier to coast in a rut than to forge a new path.

I agree, you have to start somewhere, and this is the kind of document I would be happy to see here in Toronto. My hat is off to this committee.

What impresses me most about it is that it is so forward thinking. It anticipates scaling up the mitigation response over time, not only in the percentage decrease in fossil fuels, but in the aim to insulate houses at a 5% per year rate. While I would love to see zoning and building code amendments mandating size limited passive homes with guaranteed sunlight easements, I'm sure this was far easier to pass and will prepare the building industry for such a possibility in the future.

Continuing with my thoughts on residential building and services, I think humanure is coming whether we like it or not. I suspect Bloomington's water/sewage infrastructure is as old as Toronto's- and ours essentially requires complete replacement over the next twenty-five years. I think we will see a gradual failure of the sewage treatment system from a lack of capex, resulting in patchy services leading to do-it-yourself and private sector (hopefully small-scale) alternatives. (I'm getting the honey wagon ready right now!) Bloomington is ahead of the curve by at least 5 years...maybe they've got a plan?

Dear jaywfitz,

First, I applaud you for reading the entire report.
The executive summary is but a brief over-view.

I'm curious, does every section of the report strike you as "half-assed, milktoast?"
For instance, does the recognition that a growth-based economy as untenable in the future fit in this category? Here in the midwest, challenging the assumption of infinite economic growth is perceived as pretty bold - yet every member of the task force agreed - including a member from our local chamber of commerce. That we could introduce
that concept, and have a vote for adoption of 8-0-1 on the council, with the mayor's backing - I was surprised to say the least.

I wonder, also, about our recommendation of reducing
community liquid fuel use by 5% yoy. Perhaps other communities have
set goals for greater reductions. If you know of them, please share.


Dave Rollo
Bloomington City Council

Sure, questioning that growth can continue forever is indeed pretty bold. And now?

I'm sorry to be so consistently negative. Actually locally I'm dealing with similar issue here in Hawaii and it's becoming a huge problem. Sustainable living in Hawaii was never threatened so much by development as it currently is by advocates for "Sustainability." That's a side issue, and probably not of interest here--but details I'd offer if any were interested.

The major problem one faces as much a part of the manner in which our political system functions as anything else. Any advocate for "change" faces a situation where the deck is stacked against them. It's very difficult indeed to propose meaningful solutions in the context of a larger society that hasn't even recognized a problem. The difficulty I've found with incremental approaches and ones that are "politically" acceptable in the larger context is that, well, they aren't solutions at all--and there's a notion as that they're still justified by the fact that they're "steps in the right direction." Perhaps not, actually, maybe just smaller steps in the wrong direction.

The main problem with political solutions that aren't solutions is that there's only so much time for the discussion of such issues. Proposals that aren't adequate but are politically acceptable shoulder out of the discussion "real solutions." This is a real cost that must be accounted for to justify political expediency. While recommending 5 percent reductions in fuel use is lovely, of course it's only a suggestion--and? Well, now what? You've got a proposal, at the end of the day which seems to achieve nothing but allow BAU to continue AND for local governance to be able to say "see, we've dealt with that issue." So I'm not surprised at all that such a thing would pass. The same thing has happened here, as the proposal has filled the need to appear as progress is being made on an issue, where, at the end of the day, especially in the nuts and bolts of application, BAU will continue. And certain development interests will land some very cherry projects at public expense.

It seems to me evident that the only real change can and will only happen at the personal level. That's difficult, and most of us will drag our feet. The great danger in proposing solutions that aren't really solutions to my mind is that they diffuse very comfortably the personal angst we should all be feeling--and is a forthright thing to feel, as it's that which will engender real meaningful societal change. While we provide surrogates for the direct personal action we should be engaged in we're retarding progress, not aiding it.

I hope I'm wrong about your efforts. I'd be interested in how it all plays out. Locally the drive towards "Sustainability" has resulted in profiteering by local construction unions(new compliance issues), new fees, new costs, new regulations--none of which are significant burdens to "unsustainable" development but a complete endgame to necessarily "no impact, low margin, sustainable lifestyles" especially such as small scale agriculture, which is about the only game in town for us our here in the middle of the Pacific. New taxes and fees on the backs of sustainable households to pay for parkways and greenspace is where we're heading.

Your proposal is very similar to ours. Again, if anyone's interested in the particulars I'm more than willing to discuss in detail how it's all worked out and how its been nothing but a boon for development interests and very difficult for those who actual have been engaged in working for a better future. The cost of building a chicken coop to compliance(required now, wasn't before) has tripled and been made wholly unaffordable. The profitability in building waterfront eco-mansions has been greatly accentuated. This of course should really be no surprise, I guess, as it was developers who drew the draft. . .We're the least sustainable State in the Country and now getting worse.

So, again. Hope I'm wrong. Please appreciate the cautionary tale from somewhere else of how unintended(ahem) consequences may work against the stated goals of the project.


I share your frustration, actually nearly on a daily basis.
There is much green-washing, and much "soft" sustainability, that
the word has nearly lost its meaning.
Please understand that the report the task force issued was just the beginning. Yes, we are short on time, but ask the average citizen
if they know about, let alone understand, peak oil. It is barely
in the lexicon.

This is actually one complaint that I have re those who follow, and
write and discuss peak oil - it is, to a large extent, voices in an echo chamber. Reaching out to average folk, without coming across as
nerdy, wonky, or alarmist, paranoid, etc., is very tough.

The report is a political document, absolutely. It is meant to reach a broad audience about a topic that they know little about, but will fundamentally alter their lives. As a elected representative, I have to make the case that the measures that we suggest can be justified.
For change to be long lasting and significant, the case has to be made and backed up with policy reports with buy-in from other elected officials. This is occurring. Peak Oil is invoked regularly at
council meetings now, and by the mayor.

So, what will be the outcome of the recommendations in the report?
Already, I expect that economic relocalization will significantly
speed up - especially in the food sector. Food security, as detailed in this report and elsewhere, is finding resonance in the community.
The 5% reduction in fuel use will begin first in municipal government, and will be under the direction of the new city sustainability director.
These are not BAU measures - they are serious changes in policy.

The mayor thinks highly of the report and wants to get working on
topics of food, housing retrofits, and public/alternative transportation. Not expanding roads, but making streets bike friendly
is happening. Yes, this takes time, and as a society it is very
late, but it is happening.

A major task for me in the next year is to work for off-grid/off diesel water production. This will be extremely difficult to acheive, but water plant/production failure is clearly one of the greatest risks for communities in the future.

All for now. Yes, I am skeptical of the issuance of countless plans, with no show. But, having a plan that has the backing of most of the representatives in the legislative and administrative branches of local government allows us to hold their (and myself included) feet to the fire.

Good luck in Hawaii. Keep up your efforts.

Hi Jay,

I completely agree with your assessment, but I also know that these people are cutting-edge for the midwest. Just about every time I've brought up peak oil in conversation since I moved to the midwest (spending time in both Indiana and Michigan), the response has been "Peak what?". Besides, if they actually proposed the sorts of things that you and I know are necessary, they'd be run out of town.

Hi Dave! Thanks to the thoughtful responses by both Daves, actually.

Here's my take--and a way to add much more value to your "plan." This would have helped us a great deal.

Firmly define "sustainability" and quantify in no uncertain terms what level of resource consumption at today's real and available technology is actually "sustainable." That's a number, of course, and a knowable one. That number could be expressed in dollars, or in BTU's, or tons of carbon emitted but that number needs to be stated. Without real criteria it's all just talk. Such numbers would have been very helpful here for us, but no one remotely wanted to discuss such issues, for obvious reasons. Once you start talking numbers "sustainability" is no longer an ideology where some people feel one way about it or another--it's a quantity and one either passes muster or one does not. This is more important than many think, but it's especially important if we recognize that if we're ever going to have anything that resembles a sustainable economy, we must protect real sustainable businesses from green spin business that profits on the current fashion. Sustainable business practice is a competitive disadvantage when compared to those who subsidize their profitability by squandering the public good. Unless we are willing to quantify such practices we'll not make the transition at all, for the businesses we need for the future will never get off the ground until collapse is fully upon us.

I'd suggest this step and this focus would make something very substantial out of your efforts. It's too late for us here at this point.

I agree. To me one of the main obstacles is the "grow sustainably" rhetoric.
Real sustainability involves recognizing limits. Peak oil is one, the capacity for
the atmosphere and oceans to absorb CO2 is another, soil, metals etc.

Unless we challenge the growth imperative, we are simply worsening the situation.

And, I like your suggestion for quantification of throughput - energy, materials
etc., with the intent of defining exactly what we mean by "sustainable."

Realizing that growth has limits is key. I think once you start talking quantification, that becomes very obvious. Those numbers when they're crunched and presented are going to be a huge stunner. I will say, however, that it's not impossible as it might seem to offer those kinds of numbers as any in the business world must think along those lines to some degree. You're just adding real costs to the equation that some others may take for granted--and gives them a notion of what's "sustainable" that's about an order of magnitude out of whack with reality.

Firmly define "sustainability" and quantify in no uncertain terms what level of resource consumption at today's real and available technology is actually "sustainable."

David J.C. MacKay takes a stab at this in Sustainable Energy -- Without the Hot Air. He says, "The average American uses 250 kWh/d per day." That's total per capita energy use. He goes on: "Can we hit that target with renewables? What if we imagine imposing shocking efficiency measures (such as efficient cars and high-speed electric trains) such that Americans were reduced to the misery of living on the mere 125 kWh/d of an average European or Japanese citizen?"

His conclusion: "North America’s non-solar renewables aren’t enough for North America to live on. But when we include a massive expansion of solar power, there’s enough. So North America needs solar in its own deserts, or nuclear power, or both." By "a massive expansion of solar power," he means a huge deployment of concentrated solar power in the desert southwest. To come up with enough solar power to sustain the current North American energy consumption level, the total area covered by the collectors would equal or exceed the land area of the state of New Mexico. By "nuclear power," MacKay means nuclear power provided by fast breeder reactors using uranium extracted from the oceans.

So one could make the case that even the present level of energy consumption in North America is sustainable -- provided that one is willing to make the assumption that it would be possible to scale up an immature solar technology to a truly colossal scale. Alternatively, one could assume that we could make use of "two technologies that are respectively scarcely-developed and unfashionable: ocean extraction of uranium, and fast breeder reactors."

Failing either of those assumptions, one could instead assume that Americans will be "reduced to the misery of living on the mere 125 kWh/d of an average European or Japanese citizen." This assumption at least cuts the magnitude of the problem to be solved by half, but would still require a huge ramp-up of solar and/or nuclear.

None of these assumptions include the additional assumption that we could reasonably expect provide for a perpetually growing economy by increasing energy consumption in North America beyond the current 250 kWh/day.

I agree, MacKay's book is about the best out there so far. It's exactly the kind of thinking that we need to engage in.

I haven't read the full proposal, just the executive summary, so this is off-the-cuff.

No peak oil study I have yet seen has really attempted to address these fundamentals:

  • infrastructure breakdown (water pipes, sewer, electrical lines, paved roads, concrete bridges, etc.)
  • massive unemployment which leads to the notion of entrepreneurship vs. being an employee

For instance, everyone talks about creating jobs when we should really be discussing how to teach people to work for themselves with multiple revenue streams.

Edit: Just had a conversation with my wife. She has several clients with Axis II personality disorders...they can't get their stuff together to get to their court appearances then lie when asked why not.

So one more thing to add is:

  • mental health

P.S. And many of the peak oil plans seem to think electricity usage during a depression is going to increase rather than decrease...such odd thinking.

As a purely tactical matter, I suggest that any official plan based on an assumption of a perpetual economic depression will be politically stillborn. Even reality of the simplest 2+2=4 variety poses a problem: thus, for example, every "recovery" plan carrying any political weight seems to be based in part on making housing ever more unaffordable in order to restore an illusion of notional wealth.

Tactical responses in the political realm ARE exceedingly difficult.
(at least those in the interest of the public good).
The inability of leaders at high levels of government to come clean
is an enormous obstacle. But, as the IEA whistleblowers described

Public officials (those that understand our dilemma) are frozen with fear that admitting
PO will instill panic in the markets, as well as reveal our
true intentions (if they weren't already obvious) in Iraq and central

And so, we, even at a local level, are in an era of multiple political catch 22s, e.g.:

Mention PO, and either people have no idea what you are speaking
about, or they are depressed and angry. Enter your political opponent
who promises that there are no such problems.

Take a stand against growth, explaining that marginal costs are exceeding gains, and you have the chamber of commerce screaming at you about being "anti-jobs."

As many good writers have explained here on the Oildrum, economic growth
is likely over now anyway, whether we like it or not. Accepting this
idea, and bringing forward a coherent plan that engages people instead
of paralyzing them is a work in progress, as some have written on this thread. Rob Hopkins has certainly laid a lot of groundwork, local
reports and plans offer starting points. Perhaps it is possible to build a parallel path to BAU that offers hope, is demonstrable,
so that as the current system collapses, there is a possibility of
stepping from the current path to the alternative without
the complete chaos that Savinar are expecting.

Two brushes that I have had with current and former high level
individuals at the federal level (Bill Clinton, and Sec'ys
Locke and Chu) where I have had an opportunity to talk of PO
were similar: they are very uncomfortable speaking about it.
Clinton, who to his credit had brought it up in several speeches
prior to my meeting him, and I was sure to thank him for his
courage, said after a long pause "we have to explain this to the public in some way that gives them hope." But, his affect didn't convey the hope that he wished to offer. I think this is why we are still
seeing denial at high levels.

I think leading by example is key. If we 1) quantify what sustainable business is 2) make an effort at the civil level to encourage even subsidize such projects others will recognize the viability and will follow. If we can bend rules and offer incentives to big box stores surely we can offer incentives to sustainable small business. . . As it exists, it's extremely difficult for anything remotely sustainable to compete with the unsustainable. Tax incentives, however, won't work. Sustainable business is going to be very low margin at least initially, and the kinds of economic burdens imposed by conventional taxation, required compliance and fees etc., push many marginal but visionary project into the realm of impossibility. Most of you would be shocked in how much paperwork there can be in growing a potato.

I think this is why we are still seeing denial at high levels.

Denial is strong at all levels. Americans are deeply invested in their world view and are not prepared to deviate from their rationalizations and justifications. I fear that some black swan event will have to occur before most folks' defense mechanisms begin to erode. That's when the blame starts. In short, something big will have to scare the crap out of people before meaningful progress can be made. Until then, we're mainly just preaching to the choir.