Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Minnesota Peak Oil and Global Warming Conference

I recently attended this amazing conference! It is great that Minnesotans are very concerned about preparing for peak oil and Global Warming AND believe in mitigating their effects. 20% of attendees were politicians ( local to state government ) , 40% were government employees, and the remaining 40% were representatives of local organizations. I went primarily as an individual that is embedded in the Green Movement ( also work in community garden , get neighbors involved, and am on its leadership board)

My state is a leader in taking on Global Warming. Minnesota will join the states of California, New Mexico, and Arizona in setting CO2 limits next February! We will reduce CO2 by 20% by 2020 ( which is easy) and 80% by 2050 ( which will require major lifestyle changes ). It is amazing that Tim Pawlenty chose to sign the bill, because it requires Minnesota to do this or forgo building any future power plants.

The Democrats can't get Republicans to back a 15% renewable energy initiative by 2020 - but Minnesota will be at 25% renewable by then. If America passed a 15 percent national renewable mandate on electric utilities, it would result in a 50 percent increase in wind power, a tripling in the use of biomass and a 500 percent increase in the use of solar power, while cutting greenhouse gases 6.7 percent below what they otherwise would be by 2030. It is unfortunate America lacks such visionary leadership when the opportunity is still available. ( John McCain or Rudy Guiliani may change that if Dems don't win in 08 )

Minnesota will also have to adapt to a warmer climate, more like that of Kansas. Therefore we must also allow avenues of prairie species to migrate to our ecosystem. The DNR and the MPCA all state this is of great importance as our environment rapidly changes. Also, since the Federal government has no plan for Global Warming preparedness currently, local governments must deal with them. Therefore local leaders must prepare now, otherwise when disaster hits they won't be re-elected.

Peak oil may already be occurring, though as Julian Darley stated at the conference, peak natural gas will probably hit us first. This just as 1/3 of Minnesotans are late on their winter gas bills. Half of them will have their gas shut off until they turn it back on in the fall - theoretically.

We must relocalize now, the stated goal would be to live our lives within a 5-minute walk. That is a tough goal, but is quite possible if we choose to make it happen.

Mason commented the other day about our interdependency on roads and oil:
" [..] the food you eat, clothes you wear, or the stuff you use was brought to you by roads. [..] the people who work to make/produce stuff use roads to get to work. [Yet] how many metrotransit people drive their cars to work?"

He takes this to the heart of the issue - because we are all interconnected in this web of energy use. Is living carfree futile, just because "others do it." It takes energy to make your food, things you use, and then to transport it - so why not use all the energy you feel like? Many still believe that Global Warming isn't real ( if even aware of it ). Many are also unaware that every drop of oil we use diminishes the wealth and opportunity of future generations. My intention is not to chastise everyone for doing too little, but to ask us each what we can do to resolve these moral issues. What can we all bring to the table to solve this crisis?

Costa Ricans expend 1.3T of CO2 per capita, while American expend 20T per capita. The average Twin Cities commuter puts about 2.6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere every year by driving alone to work. You may think this is a ridiculous comparison until you look at quality of life indicators. Both countries have the same average life-span - and Costa Rica even has Universal Healthcare. So, yes, America could expend 5% of the energy it uses now and STILL lead a quality life. The world would be better for it, and Americans may even be healthier as well!

But those who will find it most difficult adapting are those who usually face the brunt of problems - the working poor. In Nairobi, those who live in the slums of Kibera must walk miles to dead-end factory jobs. They are paid between one and two dollars a day. Yet they walk by roadways of busy cars, matatus, and buses that they will be lucky to afford travel in. ( and these roads are impossible to ride a bike in! Believe me - insane! ) They live in shacks made of whatever materials one can get a hold of.

The poor are always in desperate situations, trying to just survive. I strongly believe in prevention: a sane family planning policy should be in place globally. It should educate everyone, but make participation in effective solutions voluntary. Those mindful of this solution should make this happen whether through NGO or government form.

Regardless the huge obstacles, some progress is being made locally in transit:


In 2005 and 2006, the number of miles traveled for each person in the metro area was recorded as 1 percent below the peak year, 2001, when the Met Council calculated 26.2 miles of driving per person.


In 2006, transit use in the Twin Cities rose 6 percent mainly as a result of higher gas prices, Met Council research manager Todd Graham said. That's a shift of about 7,500 workers from cars to transit, a number that's half of 1 percent of the total number of people driving, he said.