Peak oil & local government

by Corey Peterson

Local councils have a vital role to play in anticipating oil depletion and protecting their local communities and economies from its impacts.

Yet, to date, this critical issue is barely on the radar of local government authorities in Tasmania.

It must be said, the same is largely true throughout Australia, as reported in a recent edition of Australian Planner. In short, lack of preparation is leaving all Australian cities and local communities extremely vulnerable to the disruptive effects of petroleum supply constraints.

Well, it’s actually much worse than that: virtually every road, every highway, every building, every service that your local government has planned, approved or built in the last 60 years has been based on two assumptions – that oil will continue to be both 1) available and 2) affordable as time goes on. What happens if those assumptions turn out to be false?

Councils can’t be blamed for this whole-of-society problem. Like most households and businesses across the country, local governments tend to assume that ‘the market’ will eventually find ways to stabilize energy prices and carbon emissions – or that state or national government will. Meanwhile, much of the thrust of government decision making has been making us more and more vulnerable (for instance, by focussing on petroleum intensive infrastructure such as more highways instead of rail options).

There are some positive exceptions, but they are too often stand-alone efforts instead of being part of a larger national strategy. While it is true that government is part of the problem, it can also become part of the solution. Rather than focus too much on what is not happening let’s look at constructive things that are happening in some quarters, and how these might inform more far ranging efforts.

To date, two Australia council authorities have dealt with the issue comprehensively: Sunshine Coast (Qld) and Maribyrnong Council (Vic). See the links to their peak oil response programs at the foot of this article. In addition, the Municipal Association of Victoria has collaboratively workshopped the issue and has issued robust warnings about what to expect.

In 2006 Brisbane City Council convened what was probably the world’s first joint peak oil / climate change task force. Its report included 31 recommendations across eight strategy areas.

You and your local council

Every individual Tasmanian and every Tasmanian business is directly linked to local government in a variety of ways, so local government represents the most direct pathway to building community and economic resilience in the face of peak oil.

A key issue at stake is how to identify communities and small businesses that will become vulnerable to spiralling oil prices and how to protect those sectors. Anybody elected to local government in Tasmania would do well to look closely at these issues.

It will be much more sensible for local government to take a proactive stance rather than just react to circumstances that are foisted upon them by fate. In this respect local government has a major constructive role to play in strengthening their local economies through re-localisation and in helping to build community resilience.

[Note: Tasmania has 29 local councils. They need you. You need them. You can contact your local council members via this link.]

References:
Sunshine Coast Strategy Plans Maribyrnong Council Peak Oil Contingency Plan
See this reference also.
What can local councils do about peak oil? (An extract from Post Carbon Cities Guidebook)

(Corey Peterson is President of Sustainable Living Tasmania and has worked as a sustainability project officer in Tasmanian high schools and at the University of Tasmania. )

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