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Post Peak Oil Isolation

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One of the realities of a post-peak oil world in many communities is going to be isolation. For much of British Columbia for example, the population is so dispersed within hundreds of river valleys separated by mountain passes or long winding roads. Even cities that feel connected today may be difficult to cross without cars.

You may feel secure today knowing that the Safeway is just down the road, and Target is over the other side of town, but how would you get there without a car, and how would the goods get there without trucks? The economy we so enjoy today relies almost in it’s entirety on oil, and lots of it, to get the food and goods we purchase to the stores, to get us to and from work, to get us to the stores, it all revolves around a continuous, cheap supply of oil.

Without oil, we will become isolated. Goods will not get to us, we won’t be able to get to the goods either in some cases. The bananas I buy in the middle of winter in BC for 59 cents a pound will be a vague memory. Consider this example of pricing: following a cyclone in Australia that wiped out about half of the banana plantations on the east coast, the price of bananas went to almost $20 a kilogram, and in some cases more. This was a case where the supply had diminished to increase the demand, but what if the supply wasn’t the limitation… what if the transportation of goods in a timely manner was the limiting factor? Then it would no longer be viable for the transportation to continue, as the food would go off while still in transit, before it could be purchased. 

Dealing with this isolation will require a new breed of frontiersman and women, ready to take on the challenges associated with the limits of distance.  Years ago, the pioneers that inhabited these valleys in the Kootenays knew about isolation, and they farmed and harvested locally accordingly to survive.

Are the cities of today ready to turn themselves back into farmland to produce the food they require to survive? Will our current political boundaries mean anything or be relevant in a changed environment and economy, or will geographical ones make more sense?

I hope we can adapt smoothly to a new reality such as the picture I’ve just painted, perhaps technology will save us from ourselves, but I’d hate to rely on it. What are your thoughts?

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.