Various states and cities in North America are adopting legislation to target specific goals reducing their carbon footprints and they are ahead of the game compared to their federal counterparts. The projects highlight a display of creativity and appear feasible if only because they all have clear, measurable targets.
Authorities at sub federal level who are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint or draw up plans to account for peak oil generally are motivated by concerns for their citizens’ welfare. What if peak oil is here to stay? What kind of measures would be necessary to redress the economic imbalances that it causes? Should contingency plans be drawn up? Authorities around the US and Canada thus far have taken various types of action, ranging from conducting internal vulnerability studies, internal policy assessments, creating community vulnerability task forces, and implementing these task forces’ resolutions and ordinances.
The website of the US organization Post Carbon Cities meticulously details most of what’s going on where; at state level, Minnesota and Connecticut are listed as having adopted plans, at regional level there are links to major plans throughout California, one county in Florida and a region in Washington. There are also links to over 20 city projects in the US and Canada.
The most recent addition to this impressive collection of links to laws and task forces is the State of Connecticut’s June adoption of a law creating an energy scarcity and sustainability task force. Connecticut will assess all its official agencies’ petroleum use and has established a grant program for municipalities to plan for energy scarcity and cost increases.
Connecticut passed its law after first assessing in November 2007 that the current world energy situation and its potential impacts on the state of Connecticut warranted a plan.
“Rising cost for oil has and will continue to affect every product, every citizen, every business and every function of Government. Contraction in the state’s economy is likely at current and possible higher oil prices. The state is unprepared for this permanent shift in the international energy regimes. Our society has only once ever faced a contraction of affordable and plentiful oil – - during World War II. Today we have no simple model to remedy the rising situation. There is no short-term fix,”
according to the Connecticut Legislative Peak Oil and Natural Gas Caucus to the governor and legislative leaders.
The June-passed law sets up an energy scarcity and sustainability task force whose assignment initially is to inventorize all Connecticut’s state agencies’ dependency on oil. Subsequently a grant program will be created for distribution to municipalities who come up with savory plans to combat energy scarcity and cost increases.
“Local government officials need to initiate conversations about how to respond to declining oil supplies, commented Daniel Lerch”, a program manager with the Post Carbon Institute in California recently told RedOrbit. His organization is closely collaborating with the Oil Depletion Protocol, an independent association which caters tailor made plans for governments, companies and individuals to scale back oil dependence by 3% annually.
The Protocol’s first signatory was Oakland (CA), which adopted it as early as 2006, following in the footsteps of the European country Sweden, which is also trying to drastically reduce oil dependency. Oakland outlined the effects of peak oil on its citizens as follows;
“Increasingly the price of oil is affecting Oakland’s growth and employment – higher oil prices slow business expansion, impact wages and jobs, and increase production costs. The burning of fossil fuels, one of the chief causes of global warming, threatens the living conditions of future generations of our City residents – Oakland residents suffer from asthma disproportionately in neighborhoods adjacent to freeways and other major sources of exhaust and pollution generated by traffic and the burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, oil still plays a major role in global peace and security issues. To address all of these issues, broad and long-term political efforts are needed. There is a great potential for the City of Oakland to lead a growing green technology industry that will provide alternatives to oil.”
Subsequently, the Oil Independent Oakland (OIO) By 2020 Task Force was set up. It is composed of local, regional, and national experts who include Richard Heinberg (author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies and Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World and a senior fellow of the Post Carbon Institute). The OIO’s recommendations derive in part from successful plans from around the world to reduce oil consumption citywide. The action plan also aims to establish Oakland as a national leader in the green economy and green jobs creation, while seeking to secure Oakland’s energy needs.
The practical recommendations focus on the city’s tranportation because this was calculated to contribute 47% to its total CO2 emissions. The OIO advised the city to be reconfigured into multiple Urban Villages that co-locate residential, commercial, retail, and possibly light industrial. Another top recommendation is to create a Public Transit Master Plan which includes some form of municipal streetcar system. Like Connecticut, the OIO wants to establish an Oil and Gas team charged with management of Oakland’s oil independence activities. A possible local carbon tax and regional congestion charging might also be in the pipeline as well as a massive public outreach and education campaign.
A rather creative approach to environmental challenges is taken by Toronto, the Canadian city. It recently announced that it will be paying citizens who come up with ideas for projects to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 6% by 2012. Toronto’s Live Green Toronto Program has $20 million worth of grant monies available for the next five years. Citizens can apply for such grants if they convince a team of experts of the viability of projects to cut carbon.
The city’s mayor, David Miller, is a strong believer in the project. He said that officials need all the help they can get to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Miller was quoted in the city’s main newspaper, the Toronto Star, as saying that “the plan’s success depends on residents creating change.”
The program runs under the auspices of the Toronto Environmental Office whose professionals have drawn up the specific criteria for the public to receive grants to launch environmentally safe ideas for new projects and obtain funding for equipment and materials needed. In addition to the Toronto Environmental Office, the project works with so called “activators”. These are professional environmentalists working for non-governmental agencies who meet grant seekers and collaborate with them through the first stages of their projects. If a project idea survives these initial stages, a citizen can apply for a grant.
Examples of projects that are sourced in Toronto include a solar heated water system and an inventory initiative of neighborhood trees which aims to plant many trees on private property and public parks.