Paul Potyen: Making the transition
May 16, 2010
Because of the process of economic globalization, our communities — which have been ravaged by what we call "affluence" — are now at the end of very long and fragile supply chain upon which we depend for even our most essential needs. Our community is vulnerable, exposed and at risk.
Here's why: We now are facing three major converging global crises — Peak Oil, global warming and economic instability — that together represent a "perfect global storm," bringing with it massive waves of change. James Howard Kunstler has called this "The Long Emergency."
This is not just an event. We're looking at global, long-term trends here. But they also will give rise to short-term regional breakdowns, interruptions and shortages along the way. This is an important understanding for every community; we need to prepare for long-term crises and short-term emergencies.
This situation is unprecedented in human history. If we were facing only one of these, it would be difficult enough. But the three together introduce dynamics that never have been seen before on this planet. And like the citizens of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina, our communities almost are completely unprepared.
The Hirsch Report (prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy in 2005) states, "The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation … the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions were gradual and evolutionary. Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary." Unfortunately, the massive mitigation that the Hirsch Report speaks of has not yet begun.
In fall 2009, at the conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil in Denver, Richard Heinberg summed it up in a message that should be heard across the world. He said, "The apparent fact that the world has reached the end of economic growth as we have known it is momentous information. It needs to get to as many people as possible, and as soon as possible, if we collectively are going to be able to plan for contraction and manage the transition away from fossil fuels without succumbing to rapid, chaotic civilizational collapse. … We have our work cut out for us."
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And if we depend on our federal government to initiate this effort, it will be too late. We need to initiate an effort on a local scale. We need to move steadily and efficiently to local production of food, energy and goods, and reduce our consumption while improving environmental and social conditions in our own community. We need to develop an exemplary community in Steamboat Springs and Routt County that will be a working model for other communities when the effects of energy decline and economic disintegration become more intense.
If you are interested in learning more about the effort here in Steamboat to make the transition from oil dependency to local resilience, you can begin by attending a free screening of the film "In Transition" at Bud Werner Memorial Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. A discussion with Transition Colorado founder Michael Brownlee will follow. In addition, a lunchtime discussion and presentation is scheduled for June 1 at the library for those who want to take an active role in Transition Steamboat.
I am encouraged and inspired by the many intelligent and creative people I have met and read about in this community who are already taking significant steps in this direction. I look at this transition initiative as an opportunity to create an even more wonderful place for us (and our children) to live our lives.
Paul Potyen is a Steamboat Springs resident.