Reviews of Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis
Matthew Easter – Nottingham City Council – January 2009
The report 'Preparing for Peak Oil-Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis' has proved an invaluable source of guidance to Nottingham City Council as it starts to determine the potential effects of peak oil on the delivery of services. It has proved extremely useful to officers in undertaking an initial review of the impact of increased energy prices and fuel scarcity on services. It has also given officers the confidence to write a full council motion regarding Peak oil and the need to factor this into council decision making and forward planning processes. This motion was supported by all parties.
The report is particularly useful in that it clearly states the headline actions that local authorities should take to respond to a diminishing energy supply in order to increase its resilience as well as the wider community’s resilience. The five principles for local officials that help structure how we might make the necessary transition to an increasingly post fossil fuel way of operating are proving essential as we begin to incorporate this thinking into our strategic planning.
Lucy Care, Cabinet Member for Planning and Transportation Derby City Council - July 2009
...The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre has recently published a booklet on Local Authorities and the energy crisis. It’s available on their website, at www.odac-info.org and called “Preparing for Peak Oil”. This says remarkably little about the over-used and guilt-inducing subject of climate change, but leaves the reader better motivated to take action, both personally and for their local area, to cut their dependence on fossil fuels. Quite an achievement.
What it presents is information on those fossil fuels. It gives the history of oil discoveries and use (we’ve used up more oil than has been found every year since the mid-80s). It reports on the Government’s predictions of gas supplies (we’re importing nearly a third of our gas now and will rely increasingly on other countries who may or may not want to sell us gas in the future). Prices of both these commodities are certain to rise as global demand outstrips supply...The woes don’t even end here. Food prices are linked to fuel from fertiliser manufacture, the transport of crops to factories and the use of some crops for biofuels. Food will get more expensive too.
What is the way out? Amazingly it is all those things we’ve already talked about doing to combat global warming; cutting our energy use, investing in renewables, and building a more locally based society. But peak oil and gas mean we must stop talking and start doing – and critically we’re doing it for us, now, not for people on the other side of the world for some time in the future...
Rob Hopkins - Transition Culture - November 2008
‘Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis’, prepared by the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre and the Post Carbon Institute. 2008. 41 pages. Free download here.
The whole question of how to communicate peak oil to local government, and how to support and encourage their creative and rapid responses to it, is huge and very timely. ‘Preparing for Peak Oil’ is an excellent guidebook for anyone who wants to bring their local authority up to speed on energy depletion and climate change issues. It is clear, well presented, and achieves an excellent balance between presenting the hard facts about peak oil alongside some positive and inspiring examples of change, as well as some clear and well thought through thinking tools.
It begins with an overview of the peak oil issue, as well as the impacts of ‘peak everything’ on electricity and natural gas, doing a thorough job of undermining the unquestioned assumptions about the future of cheap energy supplies on which most local authorities appear to base their planning for the future. Having woven climate change into the peak oil discussion, it refuses to shy away from the key issues, and does so very skillfully. While some may favour a more softly softly approach, feeling that for now, it is just enough to raise awareness, the authors here address the impacts of peak oil on road and airport expansion and on food security head on.
The report pulls together what is happening at a government level with regards to peak oil responses (not a great deal, apart from Ireland and the state government of Queensland in Australia), and then what local governments are up to. The UK examples given (Woking, London) are actually more responses to climate change rather than peak oil, and although they are visionary responses to reducing the carbon impacts of energy generation, as the authors point out, some of them, especially London’s transport measures, are also good ‘peak-proofing’ measures (it has been argued by some that Woking’s shift to gas fired CHP, although clearly preferable from a climate perspective, does little to reduce vulnerability given the perilious state of the UK’s gas supplies).
There is then a large section on transport options, which argues for a huge increase in cycling provision and in public transport, and one can see the enthusiastic hand of David Strahan (one of the contributors and a big biogas enthusiast) in the section on biogas buses, with the inspiring story of Lille in France, where 120 buses now run on biogas made from local food waste. The efforts of many towns and cities in the US to develop peak oil resolutions and action plans are relatively well known by now, (Oakland, San Francisco and so on), which were also documented at greater length in the more US-centric Post Carbon Cities report, produced also by Post Carbon last year. These are inspiring, and highlight how little is happening at that level in the UK, although Bristol City Council are now the first such authority to set up a Peak OIl Task Force, with others now set to follow.
The final section is, for me, the most useful. Daniel Lerch has created 5 principles for local authorities which anyone approaching their local council will find hugely useful. His 5 principles are;
- Deal with transport and land use right away
- Tackle private energy consumption
- Attack the problems piece-by-piece and from many angles
- Plan for fundamental changes.. and make fundamental changes happen
- Build a sense of community
They would make a great backbone to any presentation to a local authority, and for the activist, they are the most useful part of this report.
Although this is an excellent document, one I would find extremely useful when doing work with local authorities, I do two small criticisms of it. The first is that although it has been prepared by the UK based ODAC, and has had input from a range of UK based people, it does still often have more of a US feel than it need have. Daniel Lerch writes of ‘Local Officials’, not a term used so much here to describe those working in local councils, and other than a couple of pictures of London red buses, most of the pictures could be from anywhere, and some certainly appear to be from the US. If it actually is the UK focused document it is presented as, it needs to feel a bit less ‘universal’. It might have been more engaging if those some of the pictures were of actual examples of solutions on the ground here in the UK.
The other thing is more of an aspiration for future revisions and editions of this document. This first version, coming from two organisations who are not local authorities themselves but are attempting to create a document to enable constructive dialogue with them, sometimes reads like a layman’s idea of what local authorities ought to be doing. I would be great to see, as this work deepens, the document evolve to be based more on what those in local government feel they need, capturing the stories of those within local government trying to bring about these changes, their successes and failures, the nature of the obstacles that they encounter. In short, over time, it would be great if the ownership of this report were gradually transferred to those in these organisations trying to push for change. My sense is that it would make it a far more powerful piece of work.
Small criticisms aside though, this is a superb document, and one which many of you working with your local authorities (Step 9 of the 12 Steps of Transition is “Build a Bridge to Local Government”) will find highly useful. At present, when most local authorities sit down to write their future development plans, they begin with a line that rises from left to right. They assume that the future will feature more of everything, more energy, more economic growth, more housing, more cars etc etc. This guide is a long-overdue riposte to this kind of thinking, and we should do all that we can to place it in the hands of our local representatives as soon as possible.
As they grapple with the implications of climate change and the imperatives of "going green", Scotland's local councils, as an integral part of their responses to these twin "missions", also need to come up with sustainable transport and energy solutions.
To help councils formulate their thinking, two organisations, the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC) and the Post Carbon Institute, have got together to produce a guide aimed at local councils, outlining the implications of "peak oil" and the kinds of responsible options that are available to councils.
The ODAC is a charity aiming to improve the world's understanding of what the scenarios and options are as oil becomes scarcer, while the Post Carbon Institute has a similar focus but specialises, in its own words, "in helping communities make a smooth transition to the post carbon world".
The starting premise of the report, entitled Preparing for Peak Oil, is that oil production will peak and go into sustained decline in the next few years (just as it has already done in the UK North Sea). This in turn will create a deficit in fuels for transport and will result in large spikes and turbulence in energy prices, and hence in the price of gas and electricity.
The purpose of the report "is to summarise which local authorities are doing what, and to draw together the most promising policies for tackling peak oil, so that all British local authorities can benefit from best practices being developed both at home and abroad".
The most obvious starting point for local authorities, the report's authors suggest, are for them to: a) conduct a detailed energy audit of all council activities and buildings; b) develop an emergency energy supply plan; c) introduce rigorous energy efficiency and conservation programmes; d) encourage a major shift from private to public transport, cycling and walking; e) promote the use of locally produced non-fossil transport fuels such as biogas and renewable electricity, in both council operations and public transport; f) set up a joint peak oil task force with other councils and partner closely with existing community-led initiatives.
The key point for councils to take on board, the report urges, is the fact that it takes years of advance planning to make a smooth change from a situation of plentiful oil to one of constrained and diminishing supplies.
There is plenty of talk about tackling climate change; some might say too much talk and not enough action. But what is rarely factored in is the twin problem of global oil production reaching a peak, known as peak oil. Why argue about whether climate change is being caused by man-made emissions when we know that oil production will go into a sustained decline within a few years? Weaning the world off oil will be no easy task and we need to tackle it at all levels.
To help UK local authorities formulate their thinking, the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC) and the Post Carbon Institute have joined forces to produce a guide outlining the implications of peak oil and the responsible options available. Local authorities should, among other things, conduct a detailed energy audit of their activities and infrastructure, introduce rigorous energy efficiency and conservation programmes and encourage a major shift from private to public transport, cycling and walking. The guide also recommends that they set up a joint peak oil task force with other councils and partner closely with existing community-led initiatives.
The key point for local authorities to take on board is the time it takes to make a smooth transition from a situation of plentiful oil to one of constrained and diminishing supplies. As a quote from Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency, poinst out, “The really important things is that, even though we are not yet running out of oil, we are running out of time.” Let’s hope that this report is not only read but acted upon.
Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis report
Copies of ODAC's report aimed specifically at local government in the UK Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis (PDF, 2647 Kb) can be ordered, free of charge, from ODAC for either members of local government, or Councillors. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (please give details of your role) or telephone: +44 (0)20 8144 8359.