A Dry Dipstick
Post Carbon Cities:
Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty
A Guidebook on Peak Oil and Global Warming for Local Governments
By Daniel Lerch
2008, Post Carbon Press
When I read this book, I was impressed with the attractive layout,
the clarity of writing, and the quality of the information it contained.
However, I felt it was a bit too basic, too simplistic. While it was
a good introduction to the problems of Peak Oil and climate change that
are facing communities, I felt it didn't provide the depth of detail
necessary for towns to deal with the multitude of effects we can likely
expect. In short, I felt it wasn't enough for what is needed.
Then reality straightened me out.
Two days after finishing the book, I attended an
all-day "Growth Summit" here in California's Napa Valley. The valley
has a history of collaborative efforts for the good of the entire community,
most notably the preservation of agricultural land that has kept Napa
County a remarkably beautiful area by avoiding the housing developments
that have devastated farmland in other counties of the San Francisco
Bay Area. The most recent example of community cooperation has been
flood control. Residents fought—and conquered—the Army Corps
of Engineers, rejecting the Corps' desire to cement over the Napa River.
The locals not only saved the river, but restored it to a much more
natural state which itself serves as a natural flood control measure.
Even the Corps now loves the project.
With this history, it was only natural that a Growth Summit would bring
together many of the most community-minded people in the valley, all
working together for the future. It did.
More than 100 people gathered at the meeting—city and county
staff, elected officials, representatives of the building industry,
transportation specialists, environmental activists, and just plain
interested citizens. The morning consisted of presentations by the planning
directors of the five cities—and the county—of Napa County,
each discussing their general plans and how those plans addressed the
future. In the afternoon we broke up into discussion groups of a dozen
or so people, all discussing shared guiding principles for the valley's
future. The groups then came together at the end of the day to present
highlights from each group discussion. In short, it was a repeat of
the procedure that has been so successful in past efforts.
And successful it was. Excellent ideas were presented, the group was
enthusiastic about its efforts and the future, and all looked forward
to the next meeting in three or four months. I also thought it was very
The phrase "Peak Oil" was not used once in the general presentations
and discussions, nor in my discussion group. Even the word "oil" was
never heard. Not once. Nor was "natural gas". The word "sustainability"
was used a few times, but usually in the context of greenhouse gas emissions.
There was no discussion of climate change, no talk of fossil fuel and
transportation problems, not a single whisper about the possibility
that the valley's second-largest (next to wine) income producer—tourism—might
be in any way affected by the price and availability of gasoline.
Experiencing this workshop, it became very clear to
me that the Post Carbon Institute is totally in touch with the reality
of the situation. If my experience is representative, the focus of its
book Peak Oil Cities is absolutely right on for most local governments,
and the information in the book is desperately needed by local municipalities.
Post Carbon Cities focuses on the basics: what the energy problem
is, why it is, and what can be done about it. It brings home the effects
that oil and gas depletion—and climate change—are apt to
have (and indeed already have) on local governments. One simple example
that affects all citizens is the accelerating cost—and shortage
of resources—for the very mundane activity of maintaining roads
and sidewalks, which is a problem that local public works staffs and
city budget directors are already well aware of.
The book provides excellent case studies of municipalities, ranging
from regional governments to small towns, that have already started
addressing these problems. It lists the steps communities need to take
and provides information on valuable resources that will help them take
The Importance of Grassroots
Another thing that was quite clear
from the workshop I attended was the effect of local grassroots groups.
Of the six planning directors who made presentations, only one emphasized
the need for sustainability and how integrated sustainability was into
her town's general plan. It was no coincidence that her town—the
small community of St. Helena—had the only organized climate change
citizen's group in the valley, and she gave that group full credit for
prodding the city into action.
Two things became very obvious to me:
A Call to Buy
- The Post Carbon Institute is very much in synch with the level of
awareness of local municipalities.
- A grassroots post-carbon/sustainability group is very important
in prodding local governments to action, and for providing the political
cover needed by sympathetic local officials to act.
I commend Post Carbon Institute. They know what's
needed and they've produced it. I urge those of you who recognize the
energy problems to let your local government know of the existence of
this book. Better yet, buy a few copies and pass them on to those local
officials most likely to be supportive of the cause and ready to take
The book is available through local bookstores, at Amazon.com,
and through www.postcarbonbooks.com.
Mick Winter (www.DryDipstick.com)
is the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change
and Economic Collapse (www.peakoilprep.com)
Copyright © 2008 Mick Winter. This article may be republished
anywhere by anyone as long as it is shown in full (including this notice)
and there is no charge to the reader.