2006 Local Initiatives

We talk a lot here on TOD about the big picture international supply and consumption issues, which is important and necessary. But today I'd like us to start thinking about local solutions. I'm thinking of stuff that does not rely on Federal or State level action/funding. Think of actions that either you can take or that you can lobby for in your local community. I think many of the local solutions not only help reduce energy usage, but could also improve quality of life and improve health.

As a resident of Manhattan's Upper East Side, a very densely populated area where very few people own cars, I'm focusing mostly on building infrastructure for alternate transportation (walking, cycling, etc), local food markets, energy efficiency and raising awareness.

  1. Alternative Transportation: Biking in NYC is both dangerous and inconvenient because there is little to no infrastructure for cyclists. I'm lobbying my company, my landlord, my local officials to create more indoor bike parking to make cycling easier for people in the neighborhood. I'm also going to work with Transportation Alternatives and the local community board to extend more bike lanes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, including finishing the 1st and 2nd Avenue bike lanes, finishing the greenway connection on the East River underneath the Queensboro bridge and banning cars from Central Park.

  2. Local Food Networks: I want to build a Farmer's Market on the Upper East Side. Right now, there are none while the Upper West Side has five. I have been in touch with my new local councilwoman's office and they have been very supportive and have even offered to help me make the connections with people who can make it happen. Building a local connection to food will help reduce the distance food has to travel by truck and support local farms, plus it just tastes better.

  3. Reduce Electrical Usage: I have already reduced my personal electrical usage from 8kwh/day to 4kwh/day through using Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. I plan to keep my daily electrical usage below 4kwh/day with the goal of getting down to 2 kwh/day. With new low cost CFLs (less than $2 each) and my Kill-a-Watt, I plan to start going around to friends houses and showing them how they can reduce energy usage - Save Money, Save the Environment, Prepare for Peak Oil/Energy!

  4. Green Homes/Buildings: While New York's small apartments are far more efficient than the McMansions out in the Suburbs, they still have major inefficiencies with seasonal heating and cooling needs. I plan to lobby my local officials and landlord to make more buildings more energy efficient.

  5. Raising Awareness of Peak Oil: More End Of Suburbia screenings, more mentioning in conversations, including it explicitly in my emails and contributions to public officials. The more minds turning on this issue in my local area, the better.

I look forward to hearing from people across the country on what they have planned for 2006.
I live on the east side, around 82nd/2nd Ave - I'd be interested in helping bring some greenmarket(s) to the area.  Let me know if I can help, though I'm short on time as it is.

(email's in my profile)

Sure thing Damek, anyone else from the UES on TOD? I think we will make some great progress this year on the green market.
Make people acutely aware of how much energy they use by making them hand-carry it!  For instance, pass a law that will only sell 2 gallons of gasoline at a time, and the customer has to carry a gallon fuel jug in each hand a minimum distance of at least a football field, then hand pour the fuel into his tank.  He/she then repeats the process nine more times to purchase the twenty gallons for a normal topping of the tank.  Nobody is allowed to just pull into a gas station anymore--road  markers would show the minimum parking distance on the street or parking lot.

Same thing for fuel oil.  You cannot pay to have someone easily pump it into your household tank.  The tanker parks down the street, and you shlep it home two gallons at time. Rinse and repeat as required til your oil tank is filled.  Must be hand-carried, no little red wagons allowed!

Same idea for natgas and/or propane except your shlepping a large number of five gallon steel containers.  The new conservation law will require that the gas pipelines will be disconnected from every house.  Ever carried two five gallon propane tanks?  You will learn to conserve real quick!

Since people are fighting and dying for fossil fuels, aka Iraq, I think further conservation can be achieved whereby the consumer gets doused with a pint of slaughterhouse blood at the starting time he/she initiates the long distance refueling process.  The next bloody dousing will occur at the twenty gallon milestone.

Water is even heavier than gasoline, and much more precious.  Yet, nearly everyone takes it for granted, so much for granted that we even crap in our own drinking water!  The conservation law would require everyone to hand carry all the water they use TWICE the distance of fossil fuels.  Ever hand-carry a five gallon water jug two hundred yards?  People will quickly abandon flush toilets for humanure recycling, and forget long, hot showers!

Very, very few people have purely gravity fed water to their sink and bathroom faucets.  Most of us would not have water at all except for the astounding numbers of electrical powered water pumps that all municipal water utilities employ.  Then very specialized electrical powered sewage pumps are needed to process this waste.  The energy savings potential by making people use water very sparingly is mind-boggling.

Same thing for electricity.  You would be forced to prepay your estimated electrical usage with cash and pedaling time on an exercise generator.  Roughly 50 watt/pedal hrs per 1 kw/hr of electricity.

America would soon be very athletically fit and require nearly no oil and gas imports.  We would quickly stop chasing the false dreams of ever-bigger McMansions and fancy, high powered heavy vehicles.

The cost of implementing this plan would be practically nothing compared to the cost and energy savings.  No, you cannot hire someone to do the heavy lifting for you [gotta show ID], besides, your neighbors would immediately recognize if you hired a 'ringer' to shlep the liquids.  Only exception would be for the aged and the handicapped, but only family members would be allowed to help.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

A very interesting non-economic way of regulating demand, although perhaps not very practical. Perhaps it could be a demonstration project for people to come watch and participate if they like.

While simply taxing gas/oil/Nat Gas sounds like an efficient solution they can be regressive in many cases where the people who consume the most have the least amount of elasticity in their demand.

Here in NYC during the strike, the Mayor instituted a mandatory 4 people per car restriction during the morning commute. It did not cost any additional money and was applied equally to rich and poor alike. I think we will see more non-monetary demand destruction ideas like that in the future. It is seen as fair to have all live by the same rules.

And in answer to your last question - I don't know if they are smarter, but Yeast has been around much longer than us and will survive long after we are gone.

Not a chance in hell that any of these ideas would ever be implemented, Bob. Could we get back to peakguy's suggestion that we talk about things that we can do on an individual and local basis? Not dream up absurd plans for some legislature to pass as a law.

I live in a fast growing suburb and am working to convince the city council to establish a community garden. I don't believe it would necessarily contribute much in the way of foodstuffs to the local community, but I believe the symbolism is at least a move in the right direction.

An excellent idea. (as if I even have to say this). But you'll probably need some ordinance passed, if only to get you cheaper rents. Where I live two of the four gardens are cited in city parks, the other two are on vacant land behind a public building and an older shopping center. Not the most idylic locations but it works.
Sorry, but that is an 'unlimited energy mindset'.  The Hubbert downslope will require radical new thoughts and social cooperative plans to avert violence.  What do you prefer: everyone shlepping fuel and water so they will be too exhausted to fight, or gunfights and machete attacks as we continue to march headlong into a rapid Dieoff?  How much overflowing sewage do you wish to wade through as the NYC infrastructure breaks down?  Google Zimbabwe to see our future.

Remember the fighting and thievery from the 1970s gas crunch?  I waited in line for 3 hours to fill my pickup truck, but some bastard, later that night, took a pipewrench to my locking gas cap, then siphoned my full tank of gas!  Entire big-rig gasoline tankers were hijacked at gunpoint.  This will be nothing compared to what lies ahead.  If the 600 ft underground NYC water supply tunnels collapse, how are you going to keep ten million people from dying of thirst?  It would make 9/11 seem like a picnic.

NYC could pass a law that no streetlamps, electric billboards and store signs are allowed anymore.  The sun sets, it does get dark--> get used to it.  Use a flashlight if you need to go out!  How much energy would that save?  Or do you prefer ever-increasing blackouts and rioting?  Read Richard Duncan's Olduvai Gorge theory on Dieoff.com.

Make elevators only stop at every fourth floor, issue special cards that allow a handicapped-only override.  Charge people some kind of fee to use an elevator--> overcoming gravity is very energy intensive--Have you climbed a rope lately?  Any new buildings in NYC should be required to be seven floors maximum.

Impose an punitive automobile congestion fee like London to greatly reduce traffic, which would allow more bicyclists to pedal in safety, and greatly reduce street maintenance and pollution.  Discourage tourism: why have people travel thousands of miles so they can crap in your drinking water, throwup in Times Square on the New Year's Celebration, then outbid you on imported restaurant food?

Require every window possible to have a hanging planter to grow some kind of food.  Make lights automatically turn off in vacant rooms.  Run clotheslines over streets again.  Tax food based on how many miles it has traveled: Alaskan King Crab, coffee or bananas, very expensive.  Fish from the Hudson River, vegetable and fruits from Central Park, cheap, as it would be heavily subsidized by the imports.

The average American burns their body weight in fossil fuels every four or five days, and a barrel of crude equals 25,000 manhours of hard physical labor.  Jay Hanson's Thermo-Gene Collision dictates that if we don't get a handle on powering down Thermo-plans to get ahead of the Hubbert Curve, then the Genetic tendency towards violence other posters threaten me with will be the order of the day everywhere.  The choice is up to us, if there is still time to get started.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Bob, if you've got some magic wand you can wave that will get city councils, state and federal legislators to pass laws that will benefit us all post peak, start waving it. But if you don't have that wand, try talking about things you can do. A community garden or farmers market isn't going to stop a die off, but it will help some people learn how to survive, post peak. Making up well meaning but draconian "laws" that will never even be considered by any legislature won't help anyone survive, and certainly won't have any impact on die off.
The magic wand will be if everyone takes a few minutes a day to email someone about Peakoil and Dieoff.  Recall how effective the Civil Rights Movement was back in the day, now we can non-violently do the same thing with email!  Just keep hammering away, eventually the tide will turn.

Another grassroots tactic I use is to hand out a small card to strangers that asks them to google Peakoil and read Dieoff.com.  My most effective method to main-vein inject the Red Pill is to tell teenagers that they will have to kill my generation to survive in the future.  Most say they cannot wait to get home to check out Dieoff.com.  Those without computers I refer to books by Matt Savinar, Matthew Simmons, and others.  Jay Hanson started off small, but now even multi-billionaires like Richard Rainwater daily checkout Matt's Lifeaftertheoilcrash.net and Dieoff.com.  Just keep hammerin'.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Do you understand why you don't get any answers to the emails you send? Do you understand that your approach probably causes more damage than good?
Can you give me some information on how the community garden is going for you and what you still need to do?  There's vacant land in my suburb that I believe is city-owned.  I can't even figure this out for certain, because the county insists on me giving them an address to tell me who owns it, but there is no exact address for the oversized lot.  I grew up in a rural area with plat maps of the county, but no such thing where I live now.  If I can confirm that the city owns it, then what do I need to present to the city council?  The word Byzantine comes to mind whenever I start trying to navigate these local bureaucracies' BS.
Hey Charles,

All I have done so far is to contact my district council person. My guess is that this will be a long process. Our council is more likely to jump if a developer wants to destroy some more wetland by putting in another subdivision then they are to do anything proactive. What I've asked her to do is bring it up with the council and to provide possible areas where a garden might be located. She didn't seem to shut down the idea, so I'm hoping to sell it to her and the council as an upscale "in" thing to do. My particular district is the poorest part of an otherwise upscale suburb.

Does your county have a tax-appraisal web site? You might be able to find parcel info there.

It would be.... interesting to see you attempt to impose such restrictions on folks around here.  You would find it unpleasant, but only briefly.  The one thing I could tell you is that I would not be responsible for your death; dozens of others would beat me to the punch.

In all seriousness, such restrictions would cause extreme hardship, disease and illness.  Just the lack of fresh water for washing would be a huge step backwards for public health.  Lack of heat would literally kill people.  Anyone who tries to impose such a regime should be sent straight to prison, though I doubt that they'd survive long enough to get there after the inevitable coup.

Maybe we should just murder all the infidels rather than letting them live their decadent lives of sin.
Efficiency, Fractional Reserve Banking and how saving energy can backfire....

I will not dispute that saving energy is a good thing, as an individual I do it as often as I can and it certainly saves (my landlord) money. However, as I understand, the money that it saves, unless it is reinvested in the preservation or rebuilding of natural capital, is simply used to use more energy. If deposited in a bank they will lend out some larger amount (6+ times) for people A) starting businesses, B) buying McMansions, C) doing other energy consumptive things. Now some of this probably goes into people buying/retrofitting for more efficiency (which still uses more eMergy than not retrofitting in many cases--depending on the time scale) and into people investing in natural capital (like wilderness preservation, conversion of conventional to organic farming, etc.) but is less likely to be the case unless these people preserving/improving natural capital can get some money out of the deal.

Until a bank (and there already are many socially responsible banks, and a lot more funds, and not to mention to the Permaculture Credit Union) is formed that exclusively invests in natural capital restoration and parallel systems construction (still using energy here, but at least its with a much better goal in mind than simply buying a prius) some of whatever money you save with efficiency improvements will only end up buying more energy.

So keep it in mind (as well as jevon's paradox) and keep retrofitting; by some accounts, getting into action at this stage is potentially more important than the effect.

I, my town or my country only need to be more efficient then other people, towns or countries to outbid them for oil from the massive ammounts left on the hubbert curve downslope.

Think about the famous joke of two hikers outrunning a bear...

The nice thing about this way of competing for energy is that it is constructive and non violent.

Time for the "Victory Garden" to become popular again. Also Tilapia can be used in a symbiant recirculating system to produce food without waisting fertilizer. The veggies produce O2 and the fish produce fertilizer for the plants. Focus should be placed on using electric based tools. Electric chain saws, electric weedeaters, and buying solar panels to recharge them. The key is going to be in more people buying alternatives, (solar is my personal favorite) and making it more profitable for the companies to make more and develope the industry further. They make refrigerators and freezers that work on 12 volt so an inverter is not even needed. they are big, well insulated, ugly things, but don't use much juice. There is a roofing material, which resembles shingles in appearance,made of photolytic cells,  that if you covered the avg. house with would produce more electric than the avg. house uses. Think if every house in the us had a roof like that. Buy a motorcycle to go back and forth to work. Car pool.
Great ideas Turk, which of these ideas can you do in 2006? Do you plan to have a personal garden? Install solar panels? Replacing your roof? Buying a motorcycle?

I want to people to share what they are actually doing, not just what they think others should do.

Ok, interesting stuff folks, but enough of the big picture "everyone should do X" and please write down things that YOU will be doing in your LOCAL community to help prepare for Peak Oil. This is sort of like writing your peak oil to-do list for 2006.
My plan for 2006 is to keep emailing public officials, the media, and other shakers and movers.  I encourage them to read and study Dieoff.com, then spread the Peakoil news.  I ask that they study books, websites, and forums such as TOD and Yahoo:Dieoff_Q&A or AlasBabylon.  Most hit the delete button as I never even get a reply, but I did get an answer back from a local reporter once.  I consider that as a breakthrough achievement.  He said he would look into Peakoil, but he strongly doubted if his editor would let anything like Dieoff be published.

I have long ago emailed the National PTA asking that Dieoff.com be taught in school.  No reply yet, but I keep hammering away.  I believe it is vital to help prepare our youngsters for the daunting postPeak challenges ahead.  My hope is that they will give up pointless video games and hanging at the mall for physical fitness by hiking or biking, and joining the local 4H Club, Humane Society, A.S.P.C.A, horticultural clubs, the local zoo, or Boy Scouts to increase survival skills.  Any fostering of an appreciation of Nature can easily offset thousands of hours of TV advertising.  My participation in the Arizona Boy Scouts, combined with all the hiking and camping in the incredible beauty of this state far outweighs any classroom mind control.

On a personal level, I have alerted all my friends, family, and neighbors to Peakoil and Dieoff--they think I am now nuts and avoid discussion with me.  They will come around with the passage of time.  I do not use heat or A/C here in Phx, but I swamp-cool during the hottest months.  Wish I had the money for PV panels, maybe someday.

I piss in the backyard grass every chance I get to save water, but my long time girlfriend is in deep denial and refuses to let me yank out the toilets.  I even bought a real nice camping porta-potti with blue juice trying to induce her to go halfway, but no dice, even though I offered to be the person to empty it into the sewer cleanout, clean it, then refill it with more blue juice and water.

Saving water is vital to my thinking, I never even wash my 10 year old vehicle since I discovered Dieoff.com.  Rust is not a problem here, just clean the windows every now and then, but I make sure I park it outside during the infrequent times it rains here.  Speaking of which, you would not believe how big the car-wash industry is here in Phx!  Because the sun is always shining here, people freak when they start to get a layer of dust on their 'Chrome Penis'-- off to the carwash!  The level of vehicular vanity requires many to buy very expensive aftermarket upgrades such as wheel and tire 'bling', lift kits for Hummers and SUVs that never go offroad anyhow, or body slamming and rear wings for pocket-rockets.  Silly shit if you ask me.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Having studied peak oil and related topics rather intensely over the last six months, I heartily agree that it is important to closely monitor developments (hats off to TOD!) and is even more important - and prudent - to take action.

It can be rather daunting to contemplate what to do under the circumstances we face.  The good news is that there are many aware people who are collecting information and techniques and starting intentional communities to put those practical ideas to work.

So the first suggestion I have is to link up with such a group, even if they don't have a presence in your local area.  My partner and I, under the auspices of the Post Carbon Institute, have started a local post-carbon "outpost" in our community (Sacramento California).  On the board of PCI are such notables as Julian Darley, Richard Heinberg, and James Howard Kunstler.  We've been very pleased with the support provided by the institute which has included hosting a web site, consulting on getting the group started, and an excellent handbook.

I am fortunate to have a large enough back yard to have a couple large ponds (20,000gal +) in which are some very happy fish. 2006 will be in fine tuning the ponds and finishing the third and last one. 2007 will be building greenhouses and learning hydroponics. Then the last will be to cover the roof with the solar roofing material. I have had Motorcycles all my life and havent put insurance on my car or truck for over a year. If my development would allow it I would have a couple cows out there too. This is my "Great Depression" insurance. I may not be able to afford to drive anywhere, but I'll have electric and food.
"Be the change you want in the world" - Ghandi.  This wisdom helps guide my action plan for 2006:

  • learn a new paradigm for living: permaculture

  • acquire a plot in a community garden

  • work with my neighbors to "glean" fruit and nuts which otherwise are wasted

  • start a worm compost bin

  • move my bank account to a local credit union

  • purchase local products from local business wherever possible

  • reduce, reduce, reduce, reuse, reuse, recycle
  • My plan to reduce energy consumption in the United States is to move to Australia.
    You might wish to investigate further whether moving to Australia will accomplish this goal.  Jared Diamond's "Collapse" discusses Australia and its severe ecological problems.  It may be the most fragile continent on the planet in ecological terms, and less suitable to a sustainable low-energy lifestyle.
    Nuclear winter combats global warming. Which is why Australia. And if we don't blow ourselves up, Australia is still a good place to raise a kid anyway.
    When choosing where to put our energies promoting and implementing changes, it's helpful to remember that getting a person to make a behaviour change requires a lot of work sustain their commitment to the change. They are likely to replase.  But getting folks to make a fixed change to their system means that the change itself changes the behaviour.

    So, for example, one can choose to promote getting people to leave their cars at home and take the bus (change their behaviour for getting to and from work), or one can promote getting people to accept the condition of to living closer to where one works (change where they live).  For example, one can ask people to take shorter showers (change behaviour), or one can install their low-flow shower heads for them (change infrastructure).  For example, one can turn down the heat or wear sweaters (behaviour), or one can put in a ground-source heat pump (infrastructure).  And of course, it's best of all if one can convince folks (and ourselves) to do both!

    For us personally, the main energy-saving commitments will be to keep our living space small and urban (in spite of pressures to move); to upgrade our building's envelope to make it more efficient (and resilient to temperature fluctuations if  shortages happen); and to not shade out the little plot of usable land we have for growing food (practicing permaculture).

    These are all pretty doable.  

    The interesting thing is how few people will do them!  Convincing folks to put in composting toilets and buy electric cars would be a non-starter for most people.  But getting them to down-scale their extravagant plans for a kitchen reno while, upscaling their willingness to put in a super-efficient heating system, that's more possible.  

    The key ingredient for green markets is making sure the produce is organically grown.  Conventionally grown produce is heavily dependent on fossil fuel inputs.  Artificial fertilizer requires natural gas, pesticides are made from petroleum, etc.  As these become scarcer, natural fertizers will grow in importance once again.  These "organically" grown plants are stronger and naturally more pest resistant.   This will be much healthier for the local environment as well as the consumer.

    Supporting and helping local organic markets will help make the transition to less fossil energy easier in the localities that do this.  As more growers and markets spring up, economies of scale will hopefully help bring down prices.   Eventually I suspect organic produce to be much cheaper than "convential" produce as the price to farm artificially becomes more prohibitive.

    Food and transportation will be major hurdles, but this along with encouraging construction of bike trails, lock posts for bikes at businesses and other public buildings will go a long way in easing the transition in the localities that adopt these with enthusiasm.

    The problem with "organically" grown produce is the reduction (depletion) of minor elements in the soil. The vegitables we eat today, while good for us, are less good for us pound for pound the they were a decade or two ago. To supplement this, the application of some type of "fertilizer" is necessary. This requires mining of those minor element, which in turn requires an energy source. Damn it this is a vicious cycle....
    I don't see this as a viscious cycle.  After all, it's not like we're going to have ZERO energy.  Plants do require certain trace elements which must be replenished in the soil.  In the case of organic farming, this is usually done with the application of rock dust - finely ground quartz - or with a mineral mined in Utah known as Azomite - which is approved for organic production.  While the energy required to acquire rock dust (or Azomite) is not zero, it's important enough to warrant expenditure of a modest amount of energy compared to say, drilling for oil.  Ultimately, you could beat pieces of quartz together to generate enough dust (about 2 lbs/10 sq feet is needed) to replenish an individual plot.
    Yes, products like this help replenish soil, but leaching out of the plants rootzone often happens quickly. Reapplication in your typical outside garden type invironment is necessary to keep levels where they are most benificial. In my experiance, many times foliar applications of liquid forms of micro's seems to reduce total usage. There is lees chance of leaching if the plant absorbs it directly thru the tissue. Runoff then has the chance of being picked up by the root system before it leaches past where the roots can pick it up. I live in florida so have had much experiance with this problem. Sand just doesn't hold anything in it. My solution is going to be the creation of a closed system. I am just about done with my fish ponds, and next will be the hydroponic greenhouses. This is the only way I have been ably to get the math to work ie consumed energy, and raw materials vs. finished product. I plan on sending water samples off for annalysis, those results will give me a basis of what I need to add to the system, and unused plant parts will be thrown back into the pond for consumtion by the fish. If you have had sucsess with a different method, I would be interested in hearing some more of the particulars. Amounts used, results gotten, how they were done.
    I am very lucky to live in an area with excellent topsoil for starters and use the square foot gardening method.  I  garden in a raised bed (120sq') and have added about 12 lbs of granite dust (free from a local counter-top manufacturer), plus compost generated by my worm-bins, along with about a mix of peat moss and vermiculite.  Not very scientific, but the results have been great.
    There is a coop that delivers fresh organic fruit and vegetables to my community - and I'm sure they could do the Upper East Side too.  They deliver in bulk and local members take turns sorting and bagging it.  It is a little labor intensive, but easier than growing it yourself.  Food coops went out of favor in the 80's as stores offered a larger and more varied selection, but it can be a social as well as eco friendly alternative.  Check them out at: