Bountiful Bristol Bulletin

a year of change? by andykisaragi
December 31, 2006, 3:28 pm
Filed under: government, media, peak oil


Here we are at the end of another year – a year in which, for whatever reason, climate change and environmental issues have finally made it to the top of the mainstream agenda. For me it’s been a year for figuring out exactly what the issues are and exactly how I can make a difference. Whilst climate change is obviously an issue of massive importance which needs to be talked about, it seems to be serving as a distraction from the equally pressing issue of peak oil and how we are going to continue to live without abundant supplies of fossil fuels. Becoming carbon neutral without drastically reducing our consumption of energy makes no sense when the supplies are dwindling – no matter how noble the intentions of such things as emissions trading (which are dubious at best), they simply increase our investment in an unsustainable way of life.

It’s clear that the environment is just being used as a public relations tool by big business, and especially our two aspiring prime ministers. This was demonstrated by the pre-budget report, widely reported as containing many green initiatives. “Drivers pay for greener Brown” ran the Metro headline (bit of a classic that one – almost up there with “Teenagers smoke to have smaller baby” and my favourite from this year “Global warming is fault of man”) – but all that happened was the lifting of a freeze in fuel duty which had previously kept prices falling in real terms. I’ve already written here about the blatant contradiction between the ‘green’ tax on air travel and the massive airport expansion apparently required for our economy to enjoy continued growth.

The problem is political intertia. Economic growth is one of the basic principles of our society, and as our economy is entirely based upon oil, there’s no way it can continue indefinitely. Drastic changes are required, but drastic changes do not sit well with politicians who know that if they suggest too much of an upheaval, they won’t get voted for. Our political system is not adaptive enough to cope with the changes ahead.

Adaptive systems are built from the bottom up, from the interactions of individual agents, without central control. They are not organised; they self-organise. As people begin to take an active part in their community, they become these agents required for our society to be adaptive.

The city of Portland, Oregon, now has a Peak Oil task force – an astonishing accomplishment when peak oil is still an issue which is firmly off the agenda of the mainstream media (actually, having written this a couple of days ago, I did hear someone talking about it in passing on Radio 4’sCorrespondent’s Look Ahead yesterday – though she only referred to it as the theory of peak oil before swiftly moving on to another topic. Encouragingly though, the phone-in show afterwards featured many callers talking about peak oil and energy security – we’re talking about it, even if the media is not). This has come about due to bottom up, grassroots action on the part of individual concerned citizens and is now resulting in real political action by the city council. I’m not convinced that this will yield many really practical solutions – having bubbled up through the community, this bottom-up action has hit the city council level and flipped into a top-down planning situation which to be honest I believe will be pretty ineffectual at actually getting things done. Indeed the two guys in this interview start to veer off into serious waffle territory when asked about what their action plan might actually consist of. But no matter – these large, very visible projects – whatever their eventual practical effects are – bring the issues into the public eye, and hopefully will spur more and more people into taking the small, personal steps that will make a real difference. We just have to make sure not to fall into the trap of thinking, “good, there’s a task force working on it, now I just have to sit here and wait for them to come up with the solution”. If we do that, we might as well all be sitting at home waiting for the Rapture. It might happen, and if it does then we won’t have much to worry about any more – but it’s foolish to rely on it happening.

I hope that the prevalence of these issues in the media combined with the lip service paid to them by poiliticians and big business will spur people into real action, as they begin to realise that we can’t rely upon these large entities to carry out the real changes required to prepare us for the uncertain future.

For my part, I feel that community media is extremely important, which is why I have got involved in this blog (and have other ideas in the pipeline, watch this space). I’m also off to CAT later this year to do a Masters in Sustainable Architecture and gain some practical skills in areas of increasing importance. These areas constitute the niche I can see myself fitting into to become an Active Agent of Adaptation. It requires no huge effort on my part – just a furthering, and focusing, of my own interests. We all have something we can offer – it’s just a case of thinking about how to apply it. Gardeners out there can get in touch with Nadia to take part in her GROFUN scheme – or if you’re further afield, to start your own. Artists and performers, get involved with a community project like Artspace Lifespace, or start your own – these projects are just as important as the more obviously practical ones like GROFUN as they foster community connections and remind us of the value and uniqueness of our own localities.

In 2006 we began, collectively, to wake up to some of the real challanges we face as a species. Lets make 2007 the year we all started, together, to put in place some real solutions.

Also: Happy New Year!


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