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A little time now could be worth a lot of time later

by Matthew Isgro 2009-02-04 13:45

How old are you? Do you know how old your district's City Council representative is? One clue: the youngest is 30. And why do I ask?   I have to answer that question with another question: have you heard of peak oil, or permaculture?

As young people, we will live with the consequences of peak oil and climate change longer than any older generations.  So, technically, we are the greatest stakeholders. As a result, shouldn't we have the greatest say in how we deal with these problems?

Peak oil is a simple idea. In 1956, a geophysicist named M. King Hubbert predicted that 30 years (or so) after a region 'peaked' in oil discoveries (after the peak, the total discoveries of oil reserves will always be less and less as time goes on), it would then peak in its oil production capabilities. So, you start finding less and less oil, but it takes about 30 years for that to affect actual production and then the market.

'Hubbert's Peak' has been tested and proven regionally time and time again. In fact, those stories lead up to what we're dealing with today, which is a global peak in oil production. That is to say, global oil demand exceeds supply. The result is that oil and other fossil fuels (which includes natural gas, coal and uranium) will go through a period of very high-, low-, even higher-, a little lower-, even higher- and higher still-prices. What we've seen so far is the first high and now we're approaching the low. Supply and demand are playing a volatile game of tug-of-war which will ultimately end in a price for fossil fuels—and all that is derived from them—that is simply uneconomical.

Other indicators include a dramatic rise in resource wars, which we already see in U.S. vs. Iraq and Russia vs. Georgia (just look at these regions and their role in either producing or transporting fossil fuels). Because our food is now produced and distributed through a system completely reliant on petroleum (transportation, pesticides, fertilizers), that, too, is entirely vulnerable. Biofuels, also, represent a great threat so long as they actively compete for land (whether forest, grassland, or farm): over-dependence on biofuel threatens the both the climate and food prices.

Climate change is the most direct result of fossil fuel consumption, and it's the one that should concern our generation the most.   Dealing with peak oil is probably the first great challenge we'll face.  Climate change is certainly the greatest and most long-term.

Think of climate change like this. Our population started consuming a lot more energy—an exponential increase—after we discovered coal. The amount of fossil fuels we've consumed has always increased as our population and economies have increased (remember that economies need to grow). We know that the negative results from fossil fuel consumption lead to climate change (among many other problems), but now it's time to add some context for considering how fast things are going to move in the future.

It takes a pretty long time for the consequences to add up to a point where they can tip our entire global biosphere out of wack (about 150 years). The problem is, once we're at that tipping point, it's basically too late to avoid at least a lot of trouble. Things start changing really fast (like ocean currents, plant respiration, species survival, food prices, clean water, health care, etc.), and they keep changing really fast for a while until a final equilibrium is reached. This is when population size and energy/resource availability come back into harmony.

"That's a basic outline of some major players in a game that will challenge that you, me, and everyone else our age and younger for a long time. 

Or will it be a long time? That's the most important question, because there are a lot of really great solutions taking place in our community and many others. They're all getting started, and they can make a huge difference, but it comes back to that matter of time. We're getting to the point where the typical, old-school pace of political change is not going to cut it if we hope to avoid the greatest catastrophes of these challenges, catastrophes which people our age will undoubtedly pay the biggest price for.

There are many in the community who want to do something new.  We want to create a model for public process: how much influence and involvement the public has in government policy developing the Maine State Pier, for example. We want to create a system based on a bottom-up, grassroots approach with a specific emphasis on diversity and inclusion.  Using this system, we'd like to develop a public vision of Portland's long-term, sustainable future, starting with the Maine State Pier.

We are particularly interested in new and creative solutions to some old problems.  We're looking into ideas like Open Space meetings, Permaculutre, and Transition Towns for a start (just Google any one of these if you interested and you'll find plenty).  

We're not yet sure on where we're going. We're not sure because we're waiting to hear from you, as your voice is most important of all to us. An older generation is waiting, also, to be inspired by your ideas and energy. We hope that you'll take the time to join us and share your voice. A little time now could be worth a lot of time later.


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