Tag Archives: peak oil

Coping with climate change, peak oil: community resilience needs a change in mindset

Community resilience needs a change in mindset

[This piece appeared in the journal Community and Habitat 2008 No. 13 of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.]

This issue of PRRM’s Community and Habitat journal is focused on the intertwined issues of climate change, energy and food.

Recent events have further highlighted the linkages between these concerns. As oil prices increase, driven up by the decelerating global production levels, a frantic search for alternative fuels is happening now. The search is constrained by the impact of fossil fuels on climate, which in recent years has finally entered the public radar screen. It is now generally accepted that we cannot continue the current levels of fossil fuel consumption without endangering our very survival on this planet. Among the carbon-neutral technologies which have received attention are agrofuels (which is a more accurate term than biofuels because the term pinpoint the true source of such fuels). Today more than a fourth of the U.S. corn production now goes to alcohol production. Given the expected attractive prices for agro-fuels, agricultural lands are being shifted to agro-fuel crops like corn, sugar, sorghum, and exotics such as jatropha. One doesn’t have to be an agriculture expert to predict the impact of these developments on food production. True enough, food prices are shooting up, food shortages rearing their ugly head, and countries with surplus food crops are beginning to scale down their exports.

Locally, the most telling effect of these developments is that the Philippines, which ironically hosts the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is now the world’s biggest importer of rice.

We have collected a number of pieces that look at the different aspects of these intertwined issues. Although we have emphasized adaptation measures, we are not ignoring the analytical search for root causes and vicious cycles, which is ultimately the first step towards long-term solutions.

It is clear now that we must build new types of communities to cope with these serious threats. Among the various terms used to describe such communities, we have chosen the word “resilience” as one which most closely describes the most important feature a community must have to weather the coming shocks. Resilience is also a scientifically-grounded term often used in ecological studies to characterize ecosystems that can survive serious environmental shocks.

Resilience involves reviving forgotten practices that have served us well in times of crises as well as adopting radically new approaches in thinking and behavior. It will involve a major change in mindset for each of us.

The sooner this happens, the better.

Peak oil, climate change and community resilience

Book Review:

Preparing for peak oil and climate change: resilient communities

Two major challenges face the world of the 21st century and beyond, according to Rob Hopkins. Responding to both, he says, will require a major change in mindset if we are to survive the upheavals they will cause. Hopkins wrote The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (2008, Green Books Ltd., Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon, U.K.).

First, the global production of oil has apparently reached its peak and has started to decline. The figure that will probably shake most readers of the book is Figure 3, which shows the world’s crude oil and leave condensate production in millions of barrels per day(MBD). The figure shows three peaks: 74.30 MBD in May 2005, 74.27 MBD in December 2005, and 74.14 MBD in July 2006. After these three peaks, the actual data on production per day until July 2007 and subsequent production forecasts show a steady decline of around -1% per year until July 2009 and a steeper decline after that. The end of the oil era has began.

Second, climatic changes brought about mainly by corporate activities are now making themselves felt throughout the world, mostly in terms of slight global warming that is gradually worsening, increasing unpredictability in the onset of the seasons, and greater frequency of extreme weather events. These climatic changes may also exacerbate natural climate variability

These two global shocks, Hopkins says, are closely intertwined and knowing only one or the other gives an incomplete and lopsided view of the future challenges humanity will be facing.

To prepare, Hopkins says, we should build resilient communities that will be able to respond to these shocks by developing local resources for coping with food, energy and other scarcities.

The Transition Handbook can practically serve as a manual for conducting seminars and workshops on building resilient communities. It contains not only the basic information for the public, policy-makers and the technically-oriented, but also actual case studies and even workshop exercises for participants. By mixing in some local examples and case studies, NGO workers in the Philippines can use the book as an invaluable tool for raising awareness, making specific action plans, and implementing community resilience projects.

A copy of the book is available for room reading at the PRRM Library, 2nd Floor PRRM Bldg., 56 Mother Ignacia Ave., Quezon City.