Monday, March 21, 2005

Break in case of Emergency





As discussed in previous posts, changing course at this point (as beneficial as it may be) is not viable due to political concerns. What commissioner, councilman or supervisor is going to adopt a “no-suburban housing ordinance”? Which jurisdiction would opt to take a pass on a large economic development project? What politician could stand behind a platform of decline, shortfalls and cutbacks? Unless one is in the midst of a crisis and plan A isn’t working, alternatives will be ignored. Next step would be then to get a plan started that could be implemented as the crisis unfolds. Visualize it as an emergency alarm or fire extinguisher that is only used when there is an emergency.

So I am going to explore that option in this post. Instead of logically unplanning our way back to sustainability while we still have some options, lets look at an option that waits to the last possible minute to implement. There are precedents set for these kinds of events. Most disaster response plans are prepared ahead of time, practiced occasionally and only implemented during an actual emergency. Of course the actual emergency will likely require derivations from that original plan as the conditions change, but the broader concepts remain the same.

A low energy emergency plan would have to have some pre-identified trigger points, general actions to be accomplished and a set of actors or agents to carry them out. It would also be helpful to add an overarching goal for all of the actions to accomplish and a means to make these actions permanent. The first three elements are standard emergency planning elements and more reactionary than planning, while the latter two are really more planning related.

Triggers

To decide when to take action, one needs to be aware that an emergency exists. In an actual disaster, this is obvious; the earth has shaken, the storm has raged or a volcano has erupted. In a man-made crisis, awareness is not so obvious. Economies do not explode overnight. Instead, things happen slowly at first before potentially snowballing out of control. In that situation, being aware and taking the right actions could potentially allow a timely escape to occur. As a consequence it would be helpful to create a set up trigger points, such as unemployment levels, commercial activity, fuel price and availability, state and federal actions, tax income and overall awareness of a problem. For example, the identification of a key unemployment level, energy price and commercial activity (e.g. a certain percentage of commercial failures and abandoned structures along with a specific unemployment rate) could allow the commencement of manual retrofitting programs. Pre-identified trigger points could also be utilized to know when zoning and land use decisions must be altered (e.g. the inability of large scale farming to produce a crop or the isolation of the suburban realm).

General Actions and Agents

Identifying the trigger points is the first step. Deciding the actual actions and the organization or agency to carry them out would be next. As described above, specific actions would be developed for implementation at a certain point in time. These actions would be specific and detail what they were, the length of time and the principle agent or actor. For example, the action to be carried out when commercial failures abound could be the adapting or scavenging abandoned buildings for post peak-energy civilization usage. The principle actors would be the government (which would identify the structures) and the private work crews (that would carry out the action). In the farming scenario described above, the response could be the alteration of minimum parcel size requirements by the government agency to allow the subdivision of large farms back into smaller family-sized holdings and the abandonment of single-use zoning.

Creation and Implementation of a Greater Vision

Rather than be content to mitigate each of the individual crises that will occur over the next several decades separate from each other, the jurisdiction would behoove itself to adopt an overarching vision that each of these individual actions would take. This vision or greater plan would be the framework for all of the specific actions to be taken so they lead to a commonly identified end result and not further into trouble. The vision need not be focused solely on the end result. It could also identify and depict the civilization in transition, neither here nor there at any given point in time, but simply describing the interim goals at a specific point in time.

Ideally of course, you would start planning before there is a problem. Decisions taken in the midst of an emergency would not have clarity or any end goal. The actions would simply be reactionary in nature and ultimately not solve any of the fundamental problems our energy-dependent lifestyle has created

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i understand that different communities will face different problems and therefore need to create different emergency back up plans. having said that, could you focus on some semi-universal specifics?

3/22/2005 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another thought-provoking post. But the pink text! My eyes!! :P

3/22/2005 4:29 PM  
Blogger UNplanner said...

Fixed the pink! Sorry about that. The blog HTML code is annoying to work with. If the blog weren't free I'd be complaining more. But it is free so I am patient with its flaws.

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As to the common specifics, here is one. We are all human and as a consequence, need to eat. As a result, agricultural/food planning needs to take priority in any community. Gone will be the days where food will come from a continent (or more) away. Any emergency plan needs to contain strong mechanisms to:
1) Create or preserve local agricultural operations from non agricultural uses
2) Refocus production away from commodity based agriculture to sustinenance based agriculture
3) Introduce into urban areas some agricultural and gardening activities. You probably won't be able to sustain a city's nutritional needs from backyard or rooftop gardens, but any supplanting will help.
4) Pursue alternative forms of agriculture that recycle nutrient flows rather than consume them in a linear pattern.
5) Return the wastes of the settlement to the fields. Maybe not true humanure, but through intermediary cropping.
6) Have a settlement plan to be self-sufficient in nutritional needs from the surrounding lands
7) Evaluate all processes from an energetic standpoint, not economic.
8) Encourage your agricultural workers to live near their fields
9) Encourage/redirect more unemployed or idled workers into the agricultural sector
10) Educate people about eating lower on the food chain, eating seasonally appropriate foods and simply eating less.
11) Provide training for those entering the farming practice so that they learn appropriate techniques from the start.
12)Take advantage of renewable energy sources such as solar power to can, preserve or dry excess foods for later consumption. Lets return to sun drying our crops and begin to figure out how to harness abundant solar heat to can foods.

Finally, realize if the urban area exists past its carrying capacity. If it does, encourage people to leave. As discussed in previous posts here or elsewhere, deserts are uninhabited for a reason...they are generally uninhabitable, at least without the cheap energy subsidy. That does not bode well for Las Vegas or Phoenix.

3/23/2005 12:37 AM  

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