Excerpt from chapter 2
How to cope with Peak Oil by preparing
for climate change

“… a city constantly moves between uncertainty and incomplete knowledge.”
— Saskia Sasssen (van Dalm, 2005)

An epic coal and oil combustion frenzy has powered urban growth for almost a century. This carries two risks: the peaking of the prime fuels feeding this infernal ritual; and dangerously shifting, largely warming, global climate patterns. Of the two, Peak Oil may pose the more imminent risk to cities and human settlement. Some argue, it may well serve to help mitigate climate change, albeit in economically disastrous ways unless coal burning were to be increased to compensate. Many of the measures available to cities in bracing themselves for Peak Oil are similar to those required to confront climate change. They consist of two policy and action realms described in detail in this chapter: mitigation — especially massive fossil fuel use reduction; and adaptation — the preparation of strategies designed to limit the impact of hazards.

When and if Peak Oil arises indeed by 2010 (Campbell, 2004), and no effective global actions were to be taken to slow the consumption of fossil fuels within the next half decade — oil supply disruption hazards would consist of numerous unpleasant prospects. These could well enhance the prospects for regional and global warfare, depending on the severity of shortages; food supply disruptions — food production and distribution being a highly fossil-fuel intensive activity (Manning, 2004); threats to local power supplies and regional communication systems; even the disruption of water and sewage systems, highly fossil-fuel dependent for pumping and processing: up to half of a city’s electricity supply can be taken up to maintain its municipal or metropolitan water and sewage network (Gleick, 1994). But these would merely be some of the short-term impacts of power supply problems; the longer-term issues would include general price rises and reduced urban competitiveness, depending on the locally applied and embodied fuel mix; global and regional economic decline and depression affecting many or all cities. With the exception of typical climate change impacts such as severe weather events; temperature increases or drops; sea level rises or fresh water shortages; Oil Peak risks to many if not most cities would be similar ...

Weather damage to cities and coastal communities has dramatically increased over the past decades; changes attributed to global climate change induced by fossil fuel combustion. This post-hurricane view looks east towards central New Orleans on the morning of Tuesday, 30 August 2005: urban life altered by a climate-change boosted agent of destruction: Katrina.

photo © Smiley N. Pool