Will these communities continue to thrive when changes in global climate lead to changes in the local climate even as the supply of fossil fuels continues to dwindle?
The latest scenarios from climate change scientists indicate a rise in global average temperature of 4oC between the middle and end of this century. Such a sudden and dramatic increase in global temperature could reduce, to nearly zero, human habitat on Earth. During that time, the climate in the Southwest doubtless will be characterized by unprecedented extremes in temperature and precipitation.
According to recent data, models, and analyses from climate scientists, one event could save our species, and many others, from extinction at the hand of global climate change: terminating the world’s industrial economy would reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to prevent frying the planet beyond the point of habitability.
The industrial economy of the United States is underlain by inexpensive oil. Inexpensive oil allows the delivery of food to stores, water to taps, heating and cooling to every home, and happy motoring along our renowned interstate highway system. There are no comprehensive substitutes for crude oil, which is a finite material.
After passing the world oil peak in May 2005, the price of oil skyrocketed beyond $140 per barrel before the dire recession we’re currently in destroyed demand thus causing the price to plummet. Every recession since 1972 has been preceded by a spike in the price of crude oil, and the world’s industrial economy nearly failed five times after the summer spike of 2008, beginning in mid-September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed.
Decisive action by the federal government and the Federal Reserve shored up the stock markets, kept the oil pipelines flowing, and maintained an over-burdened electrical grid. Even so, the industrial economy hangs by the barest of threads. We are still threatened by swings in price and availability of oil, a debt-based economic system that sets a new record with each passing day, massive unemployment, financial bankruptcy at all levels of government, ballooning entitlement programs, collapsing pension programs, and an unrelenting mortgage crisis.
At some point, even heroic attempts by federal, state, and local governments will fail to maintain the industrial economy of the United States. Demand for oil will outstrip the dwindling world supply, thereby causing widespread power outages, bank failures, governmental default, and inability to access fossil fuels. Even the world’s large oil companies and the International Energy Agency admit we are approaching the end of the world’s supply of crude oil too late to develop ready energy alternatives. All “alternatives” require oil for construction and maintenance and, unlike crude oil, they have little bearing on the industrial economy. At this late juncture in the industrial era, the primary question for our species is whether economic collapse will save the living planet we need to survive.
As we pass from the industrial age to the post-carbon era, the mantra of real estate agents comes to mind. But the important factor isn’t so much “location, location, location” as “community, community, community.”
Obviously, other factors are important, too. Humans cannot live without clean air, potable water, and food, or even without the shelter from the elements. But strong communities are pivotal if we are to prepare for, and then thrive during, the post-carbon era. Strong communities will be needed to develop the means to secure and deliver water and food into a future characterized by declining energy availability.
Before 1949, Sedona and other communities acquired all their water from Oak Creek and shallow wells adjacent to the creek. In the wake of WWII, the population boomed from a few hundred residents to the current 15,000 on the seemingly limitless water provided by numerous wells drilled to depths of hundreds of feet. What happens when the fossil fuels needed to extract and deliver groundwater become intermittent and then unavailable?
Will the citizens of Sedona and Oak Creek rally together, shoulders to the collective wheel, and develop a viable set of living arrangements for an ambiguous future? Will these communities create safe, durable supplies of water and food?
The 5,000-member community of Willits, California, is located in the northern end of California’s central valley. In addition to the human population of about 5,000 people, another 5,000 people live within the zip code. People in the community, led by Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL), have been preparing for the end of the age of oil for five years. (Willits Economic LocaLization @ http://well95490.org/) They have organized the community, solarized the municipal water system, and developed local systems of food production and delivery. A leading light in the Transition Towns movement (http://www.transitionus.org ), Willits could serve as a model for Sedona and Oak Creek.
Learn more about sustainable communities on April 7, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. at the Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, west Sedona. As part of Water Awareness Month, Sustainable Arizona is hosting Guy McPherson in a discussion of our future prospects in a post carbon world.
Dr. McPherson’s appearance is thanks in part to a grant from the Sedona Community Foundation. Visit SustainableArizona.org for the calendar of events.