CITY ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

13 07 2008

Here’s the full text of a memo that peak oil activist Albert Bates recently discussed with Nashville’s mayor Karl Dean, his aide, Jim Hester, and Jenna Smith, the city’s Environmental Sustainability Manager.  You can read Albert’s account of the meeting on his blog.


Bet you didn’t know we had an Environmental Sustainability Manager here in Nashville!  Well, hey, we’ve got a Human Rights Commission, too, and they’re fully stocked with band aids and handkerchiefs, know what I mean?  As far as I can tell, that’s about the level of clout Jenna Smith enjoys.  This is a pro-business environment, by gum.  Got make Nashville safe for animated billboards!

Well, I’m digressing…the memo!  Here goes. 

MEMO TO: Jim Hester
FROM: Albert Bates
DATE: 22 Jun 08
SUBJECT: Nashville’s vulnerability

Nashville is just now beginning to experience the foreshocks of Peak Oil. World demand has exceeded world production with the result that prices for oil and gas have doubled in the past year and will likely more than double again in the next. We may see $200 per barrel oil by year’s end. $1000 per barrel oil is only seven to ten years away.

Nashville is more vulnerable than many similar cities its size because it has a much higher carbon footprint than average. A recent report from the Brookings Institution ranks Nashville 95th among 100 U.S. cities for per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use (3,222 metric tons/person). Only Louisville, Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Lexington are worse.

Metro areas with high density, compact development and rail transit offer more energy and carbon efficient lifestyles than more sprawling, auto-centric counterparts. From the standpoint of smart city planning for the turbulent next few years, Metro Nashville is strictly out of luck. Creating high density, compact development, alternative fueled buses and trolleys, and light rail transit will take years or decades and millions or billions, and given the economic effects of the bursting fossil fuel bubble, the declining dollar, and collapse of Metro’s tax base, the likelihood that resources will be available, on a sustained basis over the requisite time, is extremely unlikely. The State and Federal governments will also be in crisis, with far more demands than resources to meet them.

The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. Extreme weather or geological events, political and economic stagnation, or other factors could further exacerbate the dilemma.

(Albert doesn’t mention it, but Tennessee is overdue for a major earthquake on the New Madrid fault, which, although centered in West Tennessee, could still cause serious damage in the Nashville area, as well as cut road, pipeline, and rail transportation routes to the western U.S., where most of our food and oil comes from.)

Supplies of food, fuel, and other essentials arrive into the city primarily by semi-tractor trailers; to a lesser extent by rail, barge and air freight. All of these supply lines are prone to disruption in the event of a national liquid energy supply shortfall. Most are also especially vulnerable to labor strikes or the practical inability of workers to go to work.

Metro has 3 days supply of food for its population within city limits.

Three days.  Got that?  If you don’t have a few weeks worth of food stashed at home (in insect-proof containers–believe me, I learned about that the hard way!) and also, of course, a way to cook them, then you, too, could be up poop creek without a paddle.

If wholesale deliveries of gasoline and diesel stop, most service stations would run dry within one week, and sooner if people immediately fill up and hoard gasoline and diesel, as they already are beginning to. City buses do not have a strategic reserve, nor could they provide an immediate substitute for the commuter, school, and other transportation services now provided by private vehicles.

Police, fire, and emergency medical services do not have a strategic reserve, nor does the Tennessee National Guard. It is unlikely that any fuel availability crisis would be local, which means that National Guard resources will be required everywhere simultaneously.

(Got that?  Police, fire, emergency medical services, and the National Guard do not have a gas stash.  If we’re out, they’re out.)

Many other cities that are similarly situated have begun to examine their predicament and make belated but necessary moves to address their vulnerability. Among the options they have chosen to initiate on a crash basis:

• Tasking Emergency Services to prepare plans for sustained energy outages
• Expanding light rail and alternative transit — urging people to DRIVE LESS
• Engaging in regional rail and barge planning for more energy-efficient freight operations
• Stimulating energy efficient retrofitting, alternative energy installations, and recycling
• Issuing a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate land use, transportation, energy, food supply, emergency preparedness, and related areas
• Set an energy descent goal, such as 3% reduction of fossil fuel use per year, across the board
• Begin the process of gradually redesigning the city as a collection of urban villages so that residents can reduce their automobile dependence
• Develop and implement a public transit master plan
• Develop and implement a commercial freight delivery master plan
• Move Metro employees to a 4-day work-week and develop telecommute options
• Inaugurate car-share and ride-share services
• Provide start-up funding for the establishment of a Food Policy Council
• Develop and implement pedestrian and bicycle master plans.

Just at first pass, here are some direct actions the Mayor might take to get the ball rolling:

Office of Emergency Management

1. have a contingency for operating government in the sudden absence of gasoline
2. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
3. have a contingency for operating government with unheated buildings
4. training and public education courses, workshops, events and films

Office of Community Development

1. have a contingency for city functioning with the periodic absence of electricity
2. planning for a business environment that lacks discretionary spending
3. develop a local currency
4. develop a micro-lending incubator system
5. training and public education courses

Office for Children and Youth

1. work with Education and Social Services to identify at risk children when school bus service is suspended or restricted
2. work with Health in designing home and neighborhood health delivery systems
3. training and public education courses

Agricultural Extension Services (George Kilgore)

1. provide organic agricultural and nutritional educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal food and water supply and improve public health and welfare
2. create supplemental local emergency food supplies by growing and storing staples in many locations

(Storing staples? No, no, not the little metal thingies you use to fasten pieces of paper–grains and beans, dude!  We’re talking about getting beyond vegetable gardening here, talking about reintroducing subsistence farming….which is what most of mankind has done for thousands of years…we just had a little hundred-year break from it, that’s all, and now it’s ending…time to get back to work!)

Metro Soil and Water Conservation (John Leeman)

1. provide rainwater catchment and storage educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal water supply and improve public health and welfare

2. create supplemental local emergency water supplies by capturing and storing water in many locations
3. drought and heat wave planning

City Planning Dept (Michael Skipper, Matt Meservy)

1. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
2. have a contingency for moving people in the absence of gasoline
3. regulation of existing buildings with potentially unusable elevators or other services

Emergency Medical Services

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. specialized training
3. develop neighborhood first responder system

Fire

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. drought and heat wave planning
3. monitor supplemental local emergency water supplies

Corrections

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. food and water reserves
3. pharmaceuticals

Education

1. Walkable/bicycle school distances
2. Buses restricted to handicapped, outer zone residents, high risk

Health Services

1. The Havana model – neighborhood based care
2. Strategic petroleum reserves for generators/power
3. Solar powered health modules
4. Home grown pharmaceuticals
5. Malnutrition – Nashville has less than 3-days supply of food
6. Rationing system

Law Enforcement

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. special training
3. more bike patrols
4. replace select cars with golf carts, motorcycles, foot patrols
5. ground helicopters except for emergency operations

Social Services

1. special training
2. replace cars with golf carts, motorcycles, bicycles

Nashville Gas

1. Contingency plan for nationalization of services
2. Rationing system

Got all that?  “How to operate government with the periodic absence of electricity”?!  Now, maybe the electric grid going down is at the extreme end of things, but we are approaching the point of diminishing returns on the trucking business, as well as the airline business, and from what we have seen so far, things are happening faster than predicted…and yes, I know Y2K was supposed to do the same thing, but that was narrowly based on one computer program, and what we have now is widely based in a spectrum that runs from a flatlining real estate market to diminishing fuel supplies and increasing fuel prices to freakier weather to diminishing food supplies and increasing food prices to extremely tight credit to snowballing devaluation of the dollar….and, here in Nashville, we have a Metro Council that is more concerned about making sure English is the city’s official language than where next week’s meals are coming from.  Hey, guys, wake up!  The Mexicans are going home!  There’s no more work here!

I’m not kidding about Metro Council’s obliviousness on this issue.  Elsewhere in his story, Albert recounts Jim Hester’s appraisal of the Council:  five green votes, five that could be persuaded if they think the economics will work, and thirty-one people who are totally clueless and think the gravy train is just gonna keep on running.  This is a recipe for disaster.  The good news is that Albert Bates has just written a platform for anyone who wants to contest any of those 31 seats.  The bad news is, there’s not a moment to lose.

music: David Rovics:  When It All Comes Crashing Down








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