Friday, December 5, 2008

Power vacuums

When a fast crash crisis hits, or the long emergency becomes obvious, your city officials may be clueless. What will they be thinking when oil reaches $300? What will they be doing when city revenue falls by 50%? When a third of the homes sit vacant and need to be maintained? When there is half the resources, but twice the need?

Despite the hard-line view some people hold that we'd all be better off without government, there are just some things that are better done by an organized group. Trash removing, water treatment, fire fighting, criminal catching, bridge maintaining, and street lighting are services we all benefit from - and would miss sorely if they were to decline or disappear. Eventually we may develop local, sustainable alternatives to these services. Until then, we pretty much need them.

In some past crises, people have banded together to tough it out. But not always. As Naomi Klein documents so clearly in her book Shock Doctrine, free-market forces often take advantage of emergencies to seize power, take control of formerly public assets, and begin a regime of "free-market" (profitable) tyranny. They prey on the weakness and vulnerability of people devastated by tragedy.

We can't count on our city officials, shell-shocked by events, to have the situation firmly in hand. They will be looking to the most authoritative voices for guidance. They will be looking for someone with a plan, someone to tell them what to do. In short, ripe for the picking.

So unless you want organized crime to take over your trash collection and police duties, and corporations to take possession of your water facilities and bridges, that someone better be US. That is, your local Resilient Communities group (Richard Heinberg's Peak Oil community solution approach).

Resilient Communities are founded on a disaster response/crisis management perspective. While Transistion Towns (like Boulder) and Post Carbon Cities work to change their cities here and now, Resilient Communities plan ahead for a crisis - which will surely come. Disasters may or may not look like a crisis. Obviously a massive ice storm, tornado, hurricane, regional electrical outage are crises, but a crisis can also be when your city wakes up to the fact that half the residents can no longer afford to get to work or feed themselves. A crisis can be when the local government wakes up to the fact that there will be no energy bailout - the cavalry's not coming - we're on our own.

Members of Resilient Communities identify critical functions that will need to be met in an emergency, important groups that will be able to help, and coordinate with the local disaster management agency to create a coherent plan to meet the basic needs of the citizenry after peak oil or other disaster.

Many city officials can be resistant to change and dubious about peak oil, especially when already overwhelmed by the impacts of the financial crisis. Their single minded goal (aside from keeping their jobs) tends to be economic growth, which is based on assumptions 100% opposite of the geological reality of peak oil. But disaster management is a hot topic in the last few years, and the logic of disaster response is hard to refute - and you're what, creating and coordinating a plan for FREE? You're a godsend! (BTW, consultants charge in the tens to hundreds of thousands to create these things - I should know :).

So step right up! You say you want to help your community, but it's too damn hard? You say you can't create change - your city officials and neighbors have their heads in the sand? You say it's too hard to fight the tide of grow, grow, grow and consume, consume, consume? You say it's too hard to tell your government and fellow citizens their way of life is over, kaput, finished, done for?

I'll tell you what - you might be right. If so, quit fighting and start planning. Get ready to step into the power vacuum and tell your city officials how to feed their people, get homes heated, and get people to their jobs. A crisis could be our one and only chance to direct our cities to a more sustainable and equitable future. As corporations have learned, crisis is opportunity. Don't let them take advantage of it. WE need to seize that day.

More to come on disaster management planning in a later post.


MeadowLark said...

Looking forward to hearing more. Disaster Response was my military MOS. Well, that and Chem-Bio warfare defense.

Hausfrau said...

Meadowlark - Maybe you should be writing the next post!! My experience is strictly consulting/ corporate. :)

MeadowLark said...

I'm better on the training side. I'm I've probably forgotten more than I remember. But I should dust off the disaster response stuff. I feel a major crisis coming on.

Of course, now I don't feel so weird for maintaining my gas mask ;)