Government (local)

Local councils have an instrumental role in responding to oil depletion – because it is the tier of government closest to people at the street level. Peak Oil means local councils need to plan early for sharply rising oil prices. They can help to build resilience into local communities in multiple ways.

by Chris Harries

How can your local council respond to peak oil in the best possible way?

Some councils are large and well resourced. Others less so. Some have progressive councillors elected. Some may have already taken steps to address the issue. Most have not done so yet. Some will be much more impacted by high fuel prices than will others.

In short, no one-way-fits-all. So here you go in 7 easy steps:


Remember: Approaching your local government representative is not as forbidding as you may think. Most people have an elected councillor living somewhere in or near their neighbourhood. They are normally quite friendly and approachable and (even where they may disagree with you) will listen, provided that you approach him/her in a courteous, respectful manner.


Here is a sample motion that can be put to any council:

    That a report be prepared to examine the potential impacts of Peak Oil on:

    1) Council’s operations
    2) Local businesses
    3) Local ratepayers

    That the report further examine some of the policies and practices of leading councils in addressing Peak Oil and report on their potential to be used for the benefit of the council and the community.


The article below is a summary taken from an advisory report (pictured).

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.

Click here to download a complete copy of the report.


Summary

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

3. Education
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

5. Organization
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

References:
See also related articles here and here.

This forum was a follow-up to a successful public forum held in 2010. Since then it has become evident that the most responsive arm of government to pressing oil depletion issues has been local government, which has close links with affected communities and businesses.

The forum attracted 80 people, including many local government representatives. A summary of proceedings can be downloaded HERE and a DVD is also available.

Meanwhile, if you would like to be put onto our update list, please click HERE.

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. )

by John Hayes

Planning is a political and a community activity. It should be about visioning how we want to live as a community in the future and how we would like our regions, towns and neighbourhoods to develop so that we can maximise social, economic and environmental benefits and minimise costs and adverse impacts.

Cheap oil has fuelled the outward spread of Tasmania’s towns and cities. Already unsustainable, this pattern of land use is likely to become unaffordable for many in an era of surging oil prices. Peak Oil demands a revision of planning priorities.

Past planning and real estate practice have separated out large areas for a single use – such as residential or industrial – and so have increased many journeys beyond walking and cycling distances. This pattern of land use assumes mass car mobility, cheap fuel and huge public expenditures on road building and maintenance. It tends to maximise benefits for some people but also shifts costs to others, and to future generations.

The reality is that cheap fuel is coming to an end and many Tasmanians will not want to, or will be unable to, travel everywhere by car in future. Many people and local communities will become vulnerable to the increasing cost of oil for transport and food production.

Planning for change in Tasmania

    New planning schemes are to be prepared across Tasmania in 2011, in accordance with recently prepared regional land use strategies. These moves provide an opportunity for all Tasmanians to help create a future that is much less oil dependent.

The broad aim is to develop a hierarchy of centres connected by public transport, and a greater mix of uses, local shops, local industries and workplaces within walking and cycling distances of homes.

Agricultural land and environmental assets would be protected from urban sprawl and urban uses. More compact settlements would help to build more socially cohesive, equitable and healthier communities. Land use and transport would be integrated, to encourage active transport by walking and cycling.

However, the reality is that houses (and people) have been increasing in size and are still spreading out to enjoy the space and benefits that cheap oil has provided access to. Many who benefit from the status quo are sure to lobby strongly for business-as-usual (eg new roads) or against changes in their neighbourhood.

The new planning schemes will also provide for a range of environmental pluses: energy efficiency through standards (or exemptions); domestic wind and solar energy generation; green roofs and rainwater tanks; management of vegetation, landscaping, stormwater and waste recycling; community gardens; working from home; sunlight, daylight and solar orientation; cycle and footpath connections; bicycle parking and showers, and by allowing or requiring smaller lots and higher densities close to urban centres and public transport.

It should be stressed that planning schemes are only relevant where new development (or change of use) is proposed, they do not initiate change. Peak oil and climate change will demand much better integration between state, regional and local policies, to drive concerted action across all levels of government. Positive action will be needed to retrofit, renew and improve many areas.

Tasmania has a long way to go to meet best practice in its land use planning. For an insight into what’s possible it is recommended that readers visit the website of Danish architect Jan Gehl who has been advising on wide ranging changes to Tasmania’s cities to make them more people friendly and sustainable.

(John Hayes is a professional planner. He is an active member of the Peak Oil Tasmania working group.)

© 2011 Peak Oil Tasmania Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha