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Peak Oil Decision Making

“Every decision made in any level of government should aim to reduce the use of fossil fuels and energy in general, rather than increase them”.

Would it even be possible to implement and follow a policy such as this?

It seems that whatever we do these days, it involves a lot of money, equipment, and inevitably fossil fuels. This isn’t where a policy should primarily be aimed, although there would clearly be savings to be found, rather the policy level should be on the long-term outcome of a decision. The question needs to be asked – “Will our annual fossil fuel use increase as a result of this decision?”

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How should it be measured? Do you base it on equivalent barrels of oil for the service per capita? Or should it simply be a measure of consumption for the region in question?

Municipal decisions that might reflect a peak oil reality:

  • Purchasing fuel efficient trucks
  • Reducing the level of service on snow plowing
  • Retrofitting heating /cooling solutions for transfer

But it goes beyond these measures to asking tough questions about the infrastructure that we are building, water treatment plants, sewer pump stations, arenas, community centres, aquatic centres, roads and pretty much everything else that municipalities are involved in. All of these use huge amounts of energy, supplied by fossil fuels and hydro power in most cases, in some parts of the world these are powered by nuclear  plants or topped up by wind or geothermal sources.

In the future, we will be beyond talking about peak oil, and into the post oil era – it is likely that there will not be the abundance of energy we currently possess, and we will have to decide how we are going to use that which we have available. There is not a massive untapped surplus of hydro generating power out there in the mountains, or tidal opportunities, or geothermal. It seems likely we’ll be stuck with wind and solar, neither of which are reliable sources of large amounts of energy without investment in massive infrastructure, (which takes a lot of energy to produce, install, operate and maintain).

To believe that a non-petroleum infrastructure is possible, one would have to imagine, for example, solar-powered machines creating equipment for the production and storage of electricity by means of solar energy. This equipment would then be loaded on to solar-powered trucks, driven to various locations, and installed with other solar-powered devices, and so on, ad absurdum and ad infinitum. Such a scenario might provide material for a work of science fiction, but not for genuine science. The sun simply does not work that way.

Source: Systemic Collapse: The Basics – Countercurrents

I’ve often said that the roads we are paving today will likely never be paved again.

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Likewise, there may not be enough energy available to make the ice for the arena and keep it cold through October and November, as we wait for the winter to come upon us. In the future, we may not be able to keep plowing the roads all winter, we may not even be able to stockpile the sand used for traction on the roads. We talk about an infrastructure deficit now that will not ever be resolved, in the future it will be even harder to fix the crumbling infrastructure due to a lack of energy as well as a lack of money.

Decisions made today can determine how much energy a community will require in the future. The decision to expand the boundary of a municipality, upgrading water treatment technology, building roads and bridges, or upgrading or replacing a building – all of these may impact the energy bottom line.

We need to develop policies that clearly state the need to curtail our energy use at every level of government. While federal and provincial (or state) governments are in the pockets of big oil, this will never be a priority presented for mainstream discussion.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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