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Preparing Together for a Changed World


Presentation made by Richard Heinberg to the Building Resilient Communities: Preparing Together for a Changed World conference, November 13, 2010 in Minnesota.

Presentation made by Richard Heinberg to the Building Resilient Communities: Preparing Together for a Changed World conference, November 13, 2010 in Minnesota.

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  • For examples of criticism see Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, by Tom Tietenburg, 7th edition , p. 151.
    For EIA criticism, see
  • It is like a scales. Although we will still be finding oil, still developing new fields if just slightly more of the world’s production capacity -- maybe just 51% -- is declining. Then production will have peaked. This is why it will be far earlier than most people expect.
  • Our topic tonight is “Resilient Cities in a Post Carbon World,” and we’re very pleased to feature two of the top North American experts on urban sustainability, Bill Rees and Warren Karlenzig, both Fellows of the Institute. Bill and Warren will each deliver some opening remarks, I’ll pose some questions to get the discussion started, and then we’ll open to the floor for Q&A.
    Before we get started, though I’d like to introduce Bill, Warren, and Post Carbon Institute, and then lay some of the conceptual groundwork for tonight’s discussion.
    Bill Rees probably needs no introduction to a Canadian audience of urban thinkers. He is the co-originator of the widely-used "ecological footprint" concept -- and his classic book on the subject, Our Ecological Footprint (with Mathis Wackernagel), is now available in nine languages. Bill's teaching and research really go to the heart of what it means for humans to live sustainably – that is, for human civilization to persist and not consume the planet past the point of no return. He’s a long-time Professor at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. Bill is our Fellow of Ecology and Resilience at Post Carbon Institute.
    Warren Karlenzig is the President of Common Current, a sustainability consulting firm based in California. He’s an internationally expert having developed sustainability plans and metrics with the United Nations, the US Department of State, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, as well as a number of major cities, corporations, and non-governmental organizations. He’s also the author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings. Warren is our Fellow of Urban Sustainability at Post Carbon Institute.


  • 1. Global Warming , End of Oil A Perfect Storm Richard Heinberg PreparingPreparing Together for aTogether for a Changed WorldChanged World Richard HeinbergRichard Heinberg Post Carbon InstitutePost Carbon Institute
  • 2. The economic crisis changes everything before crisis I after crisis
  • 3. “The value of global financial assets including stocks, bonds, and currencies fell by more than $50 Trillion in 2008, equivalent to a year of world GDP.” --Asian Development Bank
  • 4. Comparison of the percentage change in the Case-Shiller Home Price Index for the housing corrections in the periods beginning in 2005 (red) and the 1980s–1990s (blue)
  • 5. Cost of the Wall St. Bailout
  • 6. $100
  • 7. $10,000
  • 8. $1 million
  • 9. $100 million
  • 10. $1 billion
  • 11. $1 trillion
  • 12. US Household Debt and Debt Service as Percentage of Personal Disposable Income
  • 13. People can’t buy stuff if they don’t have money, and government can’t give them all the money they need to pay down debt and get back to consuming
  • 14. “We’re in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime set of economic conditions. The perspective I would bring is not one of recession. Rather, the economy is resetting to a lower level of business and consumer spending based largely on the reduced leverage in the economy.” Steven Ballmer Chairman, Microsoft Corp.
  • 15. The shape of the recovery V
  • 16. The shape of the recovery U
  • 17. The shape of the recovery W
  • 18. The shape of the recovery L
  • 19. Some economic perspective
  • 20. World GDP/capita 1-2003 AD
  • 21. Meanwhile, we were developing economic institutions and theories
  • 22. Growth becomes institutionalized • With continual growth in energy, population, and consumption, it was assumed that economic growth could continue forever
  • 23. Growth becomes institutionalized • With continual growth in energy, population, and consumption, it was assumed that economic growth could continue forever • With compound interest, fractional reserve banking, and debt leverage, growth became necessary to the monetary health of nations
  • 24. When growth ceases, growth- based economies enter survival crisis mode
  • 25. Why did we create a growth economy in the first place?
  • 26. For most of history, humans relied on renewable energy sources
  • 27. The fossil-fueled industrial era— winning the energy lottery
  • 28. Once upon a time…
  • 29. Marion King Hubbert • Geophysicist at Shell lab in Houston, taught at MIT, UCLA • Forecast peak year of US oil production
  • 30. Hubbert’s Peak • From his 1956 paper • For the larger estimate, he predicted a peak in 1970
  • 31. Oil production – lower 48
  • 32. World oil discoveries
  • 33. Global oil production falls when loss of output from countries declining exceeds gains from those expanding
  • 34. The Goldilocks Dilemma • Oil price needed for development of new oil production capacity: $60-70 • Minimum oil price likely to trigger economic recession: $80-$100
  • 35. Past recessions & oil spikes
  • 36. Peak Oil means the end of cheap air travel Peak Oil means the end of affordable travel
  • 37. Peak Oil means Peak Food
  • 38. Evaluating Energy Options • Energy return on investment • Size of resource • Infrastructure requirement • Convenience of use • Environmental impact • Renewability • Scalability • Location of resource
  • 39. There is no credible scenario in which alternative energy sources can make up for fossil fuels once declines begin.
  • 40. • Unemployment • Homelessness • Bank failures • Hunger • Crime • Political instability • International conflict What to expect
  • 41. What to do?
  • 42. Proactive (planning for linear adaptation) Responsive (planning for crisis management) Top-Down (government policy) Bottom-Up (grass-roots organizing) Four response strategies
  • 43. Reduce Fossil Fuels and Develop Renewables (from Paul Mobbs – Energy Beyond Oil)
  • 44. The sustainability revolution will be driven by crisis
  • 45. Resilience The ability to absorb shocks and continue to function
  • 46. Resilience characteristics • Redundancy in critical systems • Dispersed system control points • Dispersed inventories • Balancing feedback loops
  • 47. Building resilient communities Building ResilientBuilding Resilient CommunitiesCommunities
  • 48. Co-op Power • “A regional network of local communities creating a multi- class, multi-racial movement for a sustainable and just energy future”
  • 49. Avego • Uses cell phone and GPS to make hitchhiking (“shared transport”) attractive and functional
  • 50. Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center • Available to small, local growers • Equipment for food processing, packaging, labeling, etc.
  • 51. Organized Squatting • Squatting will happen anyway, but will work better if supported and organized by the community
  • 52. Neighborhood Watch • Helps local government provide essential services without usurping authority
  • 53. Bicycle Kitchen • Access to full tool shop for bike construction and repair • Free parts, consignments, and for-purchase parts and assemblies
  • 54. Community currencies • Especially useful in times of economic crisis • Over 2500 local currencies operating in countries around the world
  • 55. Transition Towns • A bottom-up community organizing model that puts together all of these strategies and more • “Life can be better without fossil fuels…”
  • 56. Community Economic Laboratories • One-stop shop, central location • Car-share, ride-share • Food co-op • Credit union • Job center • Free clinic • Etc.
  • 57. Emphasize what is not at peak • Community • Satisfaction from honest work well done • Intergenerational solidarity • Cooperation • Free time • Happiness • Artistry • Beauty of the built environment
  • 58. A personal strategy • Reduce spending and consumption • Grow your own food • Get to know your neighbors
  • 59. Imagine life after growth, a world without fossil fuels, the best case scenario
  • 60. Imagine life after growth, a world without fossil fuels, the best case scenario Now imagine a path from here to there, and start to build it
  • 61. Remember: crisis = opportunity This is the biggest opportunity of our lifetimes. Who will seize it?
  • 62.