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Community Peak Oil Prep

March 30, 2006

It’s becoming more and more apparent that living in a small town might be the best bet for coping with Peak Oil and Steven over at Deconsumption has just written a useful article outlining the criteria by which someone might choose a small town to live in. However, for those of us who already live in a small town that fits the bill there is the next stage to consider. 

My town Raglan (score 9.5 out of 10 on Steven’s criteria) is indeed well suited. I’ve talked before about  the changes that Raglan needs to make to get ready. Essentially they can be listed as; Ensure a wide spread of permaculture knowledge, start seedbanking, start a farmer’s market, get a few people exploring alternative fuels, start a green dollar system and take the banking system out of the picture by extracting locally owned investment money from the corporate system and investing it in local people. Continue the great recycling scheme we already have. 

What’s great about this stuff is that even without peak oil we’d be better off making these changes. What’s also great is that many of these changes/initiatives can be made without having to waste energy on getting the local council on board. 

Having said that though there is a small town in Ireland that is preparing for peak oil and they do have the local council on board. My hat’s well-off to Rob Hopkins and the students of Kinsale Further Education College for their Energy Decent Action Plan and especially for the community consultation process that they used and especially-especially for being able to communicate their ideas to the council. 

The section on food is particularly good with ideas like planting food forests on every available patch of public land (another thing that would make a town a better place right now) and encouraging slow-food and organic agriculture – with a detailed strategy. 

I do have some criticisms but as the report was successful at swaying their local council the following comments must be read with the understanding that they are the sort of ideas that might put a council off and even though its important to consider them I myself would take them out if I was having to deal with an organisation like that. 

The best example of what I am talking about is in their youth section. I’m not happy with some of their plans to ‘engage’ youth in the changes that need to be made – especially the ‘young mayor’ idea. This is exactly the sort of fakery that is a contributing factor in the troubled lives of young people in our culture. Teenagers are dying for something real to do and here we are with an emergency on our hands and we’re giving them more pretend stuff. I would rather see their energy put in to something that matters. 

Most of the ideas are very directive which is typical of civilised thinking. I’m not sure how quickly teenagers raised in civilisation can get out of old habits (probably quite quickly if they are taken seriously) but I’d prefer to see them given a lot more leeway to come up with creative solutions to peak oil problems. Then rather than adults expending energy to keep them busy the teenagers (who have the most spare time and energy anyway) could be a net contributor to the problem solving. I’m not sure how this would work in practice but I know that we need to change our approach to this age group if we want to have a successful community. 

As for Education – I’d love to see the schools closed down, the kids put through a permaculture course and the school grounds planted with a food forest. I don’t expect many people would agree with that but at the very least the teaching of permaculture could become a focus of the curriculum and rather than leaving it to the transition year like the Action Plan suggests I’d start teaching it at kindergarten age – judging by my 3 year old’s enthusiasm for the garden this would be very successful (do we need reminding that ‘garten’ is German for garden?). This way the children could plant their school grounds into a food forest themselves. Once they’d done that each class could also become responsible for getting a food forest planted on a patch of public land near the school.  This would be a wonderful way of getting permaculture knowledge into all the homes in the town too, the kids could teach their parents! – how’s that for a revolution? 

I don’t know what to do with their Housing section. I think what they suggest is good but the building industry is so closely tied to the economic growth engine that I think this area is going to be a really unpredictable one. I also worry that too many of our houses will be impossible to get right for a low/no energy future. Even here in the north of New Zealand where we have a benign temperate climate I feel that some houses will become dangerously cold in winter. I shudder to think what will happen in other parts of the world. 

I have no major complaints about the rest of the report, I was surprised to see a section on tourism but upon reading it I can see what they are planning makes some sense. What I really should do now is get off my butt and start talking to other like minded people in town about the report and see what we can get happening.

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