It’s a basic checklist for anybody who wishes to influence local government on the multiple ways that councils are able to respond to the Peak Oil issue.
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The decline of global oil production will radically change the way our societies are run: our transport systems, how we produce food, where we work and live.
There are a great many things that councils must do, and policies that need to be changed, if we are to have any chance of mitigating the economic effects of peak oil. On the plus side, some of these initiatives already exist (recycling, etc.) but these efforts need to be significantly expanded, and entire areas of policy remain unaddressed.
The continued expansion of road and air infrastructure no longer makes any sense. Forecasts of a massive increase in road travel over the next thirty years are based entirely on historical data, and will soon be rendered meaningless by peak oil. New major road developments run the risk of turning into expensive white elephants. Instead, we must start preparing for a contraction in all travel modes that depend on oil.
Food supplies should be of primary concern. Prices are already soaring globally, partly due to the dash for biofuels. As oil production declines these pressures are only likely to increase, and the dilemmas they pose will only sharpen in the future. In a world of constrained transport, food security will increasingly depend upon local supply. We need to start planning for these changes now.
The most fundamental change needed is in the way people think. Local policy will be fundamental to the transition to a lean-energy future, but councils cannot achieve everything by themselves; the necessary changes will require much greater co-operative spirit within and between communities in future. Hearts and minds are critical; now is the time to change them.
1. Preparing for peak oil
Peak oil means local authorities need to plan for the likelihood of rising oil prices and shrinking fuel supplies. First steps should include:
- A detailed energy audit of all council activities including transport and buildings. This will point the way to immediate cost savings, emission reductions and greater energy security, and better prepare the authority for any short term interruptions to energy supplies
- An in-depth assessment of the impact of peak oil on the local economy, environment and social services including food and agriculture, health and medicine, transport, education, waste, water supply, communications, and energy use
- The development of an emergency plan to respond to sudden interruptions in oil supplies and/or sharply rising oil prices, with a particular emphasis on ‘at risk’ communities
- Set specific targets for reducing oil and natural gas consumption in the local government, business and household sectors, by a significant proportion within a defined period
- Encourage a major shift from private to public transport, cycling and walking, through investment in public transport and expansion of existing programmes such as cycle lanes and road pricing
- Reduce overall transport demand by using planning powers to shape the built environment
- Shape planning rules to encourage the greatest energy efficiency in new and existing buildings
- Promote the use of locally produced, non-fossil transport fuels such as biogas and renewable electricity in both council operations and public transport
- Prevent infrastructure investments that are not viable in a low energy society
- Develop rigorous energy efficiency and energy conservation programmes that help businesses and individuals to reduce their oil dependency
- Support the growth of businesses that supply renewable and energyefficient solutions
- Launch a major public energy-awareness campaign incorporating leaflets, the internet and an expanded network of energy-saving advice centres. The more people understand peak oil, the more likely they are to support or accept demand management measures
- Find ways to encourage local food production and processing; facilitate reduction of energy used in refrigeration and transportation of food
- Set up a joint peak oil task force with other councils, and partner closely with existing community-led initiatives such as the Transition Network and the Relocalization Network
- Adopt the Oil Depletion Protocol and the ‘Five principles’ proposed by Post Carbon Cities
2. Peak oil and climate change
Council policies on peak oil and climate change should be closely coordinated and mutually reinforcing. Most policy options will help mitigate both problems, but where priorities conflict, peak oil must be given adequate weight. Councils need to understand and connect these issues in both strategy and internal and external communication, and should propagate this understanding into the wider local, regional and national government strategic framework
Councils need to develop positive ways to educate the public about peak oil, to effect behaviour change and reduce oil dependency throughout business and the community. Local authorities should distribute educational leaflets to households in their area, focussing on positive solutions and the incidental benefits, such as the impact on climate change. The role of institutions and individuals, and the need for immediate action, should all be emphasized
Where councils already operate a service offering information and advice on climate change and energy saving, its remit should be expanded to include peak oil. If a council does not offer such a service, it should consider setting one up
Councils also need to conduct an internal education and awareness-raising programme to inform all their councillors, officers and employees on peak oil issues and the available solutions towards reducing oil dependency
4. Expand existing initiatives
Many initiatives are already underway at the local government level that will help the transition from pre-peak plenty to post-peak scarcity, for example: road pricing, energy efficiency/insulation programs, promotion of renewables, recycling/reuse. These can all be further legitimised as policies that will help mitigate peak oil; if the general public understand peak oil, they are more likely to participate and support local government initiatives in these areas
Each local authority should consider nominating an officer to develop and coordinate its response to peak oil both internally and in cooperation with other councils. Where possible, councils should set up a task force on peak oil
The council’s peak oil task force should partner closely with existing citizen initiatives which are already working on energy planning to foster community based solutions