Texadans meet Transition at the Chamber

By Tom Read

The view from Shelter Point in winter is food for the soul. It's a good place to think about what's happening on our island and in the world.

[A couple of notes to readers: first, this is a somewhat longer post than usual, for which I apologize in advance. Second, I’m off to visit family down south for awhile, and my next posting here will be on April 23. See you then!]

Texadans are lucky that Kevin Wilson volunteered his time last night to speak to our Chamber of Commerce about the multi-sided predicament of peak oil, climate change and economic contraction — and what we might do about it as a community.

Kevin lives in Powell River where he gardens and builds websites, along with serving on the Transition Powell River initiation committee. He’s also a very articulate speaker, and I noticed that the audience of about 40 people paid close attention as he delivered his 20-minute message. It’s quite difficult to compress a topic of such wide scope into so little time, especially when much of the material necessarily involves science and economics.

In addition to its role as a social networking opportunity, our Chamber of Commerce functions like a community forum. Guest speakers include elected officials, educators, public servants and local business leaders. In this instance, we heard from a person who has concerns about the world’s stability, and who shared some provocative thoughts about it.

In a too-brief summary, here’s the gist of what Kevin had to say:

— Our civilization runs on oil, and, yes, we still have plenty of oil. But global extraction of oil is reaching a peak, after which it will go into permanent decline, which means we’ll have to make major changes to our fossil fueled way of life. This is “peak oil.”

—  The process of obtaining energy (in any form, not just oil) also requires consumption of energy. This concept is known as Energy Return On Energy Invested, or EROEI. Kevin cited statistics showing that EROEI for oil extraction has declined dramatically since the early “gusher” days in Texas and Saudi Arabia. Consequently, oil is now a lot more expensive to “produce,” which translates into higher fuel and food prices. That’s another sign of impending peak oil.

— Weather is what you see outside your windows; climate is the accumulated weather cycles occurring over years, decades, and beyond. The planet’s overall temperature is getting warmer, and the result is that our weather is becoming subject to unusual volatility. This damages farming and is already making our food supply more expensive and less reliable.

— Four of the last five major economic contractions (“recessions,” to use the media word) have been preceded by an upward spike in oil prices, and that includes our present economic situation. In 2008, the price of oil rose from $100/barrel (itself a near record) to $147/barrel, a new world record. High oil prices make goods and services throughout our economy more expensive, and make it harder to pay off debts. Oil prices plummeted as industry and consumers reduced their use of oil, and now oil prices are on the rise again. This is part of the volatile economy expected in such turbulent times – lots of ups and downs.

— Our global industrial economy is based on assumed perpetual growth, fueled by further assumptions of perpetual cheap oil and credit. Those assumptions are mistaken. The global economy is therefore not sustainable, and we’ll need to re-invent a network of local economies to provide for our needs.

— Texada Island is historically, culturally and geographically a distinct place, and should logically therefore undertake its own organized effort to transition to a more self-reliant, resilient community.

Kevin did not use visual aids in his presentation, and the topic is complex, so this was a speech you needed to listen to carefully. The key point, I thought, was that oil, climate and global economy are all related in their impact on our industrial civilization, and we ought to do something about this as a community. Toward that end, Kevin described the “Transition Towns” movement (which includes a number of local islands, by the way) that started in the United Kingdom five years ago.

The basic premise of Transition holds that focusing on individual household preparation for these changes, while critical, will not be effective since no household can really achieve total self-sufficiency. Also, that government’s recognition of the overall predicament and its eventual response will arrive too little and too late, but that local community action starting now might be just enough — and just in time — to create a positive path forward.

Food for thought at the Texada Chamber of Commerce meeting, March 26, 2010.


1 Response to “Texadans meet Transition at the Chamber”

  1. 1 Kevin Wilson March 29, 2010 at 21:13

    Thanks for the writeup, Tom, and for the warm welcome at the meeting. I certainly felt that everyone was giving their full attention! It’s a pity I had to leave to catch the ferry home and wasn’t able to hang around and talk afterward.

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