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Newsletter #9, April 2008

Newsletter #9, April 2008

Post Carbon Cities :: Newsletter #9, April 2008


  1. Preparing for energy and climate uncertainty in Ireland and the UK
  2. Funding: Where on earth to find it?
  3. Recent news articles
  4. What can Post Carbon Cities do for you?
  5. One year of!
  6. Upcoming events


1. Preparing for energy and climate uncertainty in Ireland and the UK

Post Dublin tramCarbon Cities Program Manager Daniel Lerch recently returned from a two-week trip to Ireland and the UK, sharing information and strategies from his book Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate. He also met with a wide variety of local officials, planners and citizens working to prepare their communities for a future of expensive energy. Here's a quick look at what some of these leaders are doing to push Europe further and further in its preparations for peak oil and global warming.

In John Gormleyhis opening address to Dublin's Convergence 13 conference, Irish Minister for the Environment John Gormley captured an increasingly common theme in smart government approaches to sustainability: the need for citizens and elected officials to work together on solutions. "Don't tell me what's wrong -- I know what's wrong," said Gormley. "Tell me how to change it." Showing how relatively small government actions can help address big issues like local food security, Junior Minister for Food Trevor Sargent, followed with an example of how Ireland is "skilling up" for a future of expensive energy and global food scarcity: To help spur gardening and self-sufficiency in a country that has decisively turned away from local agriculture over the last few decades, Sargent has overseen the distribution of potato-growing kits to every primary school in Ireland.

Deciding John Harringtonhow to change what's wrong in the big picture is no easy matter, of course. Peak oil and global warming are indicators of much deeper system problems in our global economy and environment. One model for tackling this complex challenge is The Natural Step (TNS), an organizational management framework that integrates sustainability and systems thinking. TNS has already proven successful as a tool for local governments, with over 100 municipalities around the world (largely in Sweden and a few U.S. states) having adopted it in recent years. A new consulting firm called RealEyes Sustainability Ltd. is helping the City of Dublin adopt TNS as a framework for city planning and governance, positioning Dublin as one of the first major cities outside Sweden to fundamentally reorient itself for sustainability. (American planner Sarah James and Swedish Natural Step organizer Torbjörn Lahti are the lead advocates helping U.S. communities adopt the The Natural Step and become "eco-municipalities"; learn more in their book and their upcoming trainings for city officials and staff.)

Actions large and small are of little use without vision and goals -- and the UK in particular is fortunate to now have an excellent roadmap that is serious about both the challenges ahead and the solutions we need to pursue. The Zero Carbon Britain report, produced by the very impressive Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), details how Britain can eliminate emissions from fossil fuels in 20 years and break its dependence on imported energy -- by halving energy demand and installing massive renewable energy generation. CAT Development Director Paul Allen described their straightforward approach: "Instead of forecasting from within existing attitudes, trends and approaches, we 'backcasted,' looking at where we need to be, then seeing what policies and technologies we need to get there."

zerocarbonbritian chart

The result is a sobering call for quick and decisive moves to electrify the transport system, retrofit buildings for top energy efficiency, and invest in a renewables-powered electricity grid with a strong role for local energy production. The centerpiece of the plan is an international "contraction and convergence" strategy which transitions the nations of the world to an equitable global per-capita carbon emissions cap. The 105-page report can be downloaded for free at

Daniel's Daniel Lerchtime in Ireland and the UK included a keynote presentation at the Convergence 13; presentations to local government officials and staff in Dublin and Kilkenny in Ireland, and Belfast and Bristol in the UK; and a important meeting with the UK's Local Government Association, introducing that organization to the challenges that peak oil is creating for cities. Daniel also attended the second annual Transition Network conference, where he spoke to citizen activists about approaching local government officials on peak oil and relocalization. Watch for more details on Daniel's trip coming soon to our weekly blog.

2. Funding: Where on earth to find it?

The impacts of peak oil on cities will be pervasive, and the preparations it calls for are diverse. Peak oil and global warming are not a stand-alone risk that can be quickly framed and addressed as only energy or transportation issues. But if you look for grants to fund local preparedness for broad "energy and climate uncertainty," you won't find any. Funding your city's preparations for peak oil and global warming requires a bit of creativity.

Each community has a unique set of risks and resources -- and this is especially true when it comes to adapting to global warming, as warming's effects will vary widely according to geography and regional climate. Coastal and low-lying cities that are at risk from flooding may want to look to such federal offerings as FEMA's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which provides funds for "hazard mitigation planning and the implementation of mitigation projects prior to a disaster event." Last year, the city of Birmingham, Alabama used money from this program to finance a $3 million floodplain acquisition project, in order to prevent building on land at risk of flooding. Yes, it's most cost-effective to address a disaster before it happens!

Peak oil and global warming are both good reasons to develop local food security. The Department of Agriculture's Farmers Markets Promotion Program can help local farmers gain a foothold in the local economy. "Farmers markets" refers in this case not just to the familiar open-air farmers' markets, but to all kinds of "direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunity projects," including community supported agriculture.

Although public transit funding is notoriously hard to come by in the U.S., bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding can be a little easier to access (depending which State you're in) as it is managed by individual state departments of transportation. And for those using a smart growth lens to look at potential changes to land use, the Environmental Protection Agency's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (application deadline May 8th) may be a useful source of funds. The EPA also offers resources for increasing energy efficiency in government facilities through its acclaimed ENERGY STAR program; the upcoming (April 22) live webcast Leading Your Community and Saving Money, Energy, and the Environment is one example of this program's valuable resources.

Funding from non-federal sources may also be available to communities looking to promote energy efficiency and local renewable energy. Examples of this include matching grants made available to Massachusetts towns through the Renewable Energy Trust, or low-interest loans being made available to local governments in California through the California Energy Commission's Energy Efficiency Financing Program.

A quick word about Canadian local governments: Canadians are fortunate to have an excellent funding resource in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Green Municipal Fund, which invests in "plans, studies and projects that provide the best examples of municipal leadership in sustainable development and that can be replicated in other communities." Their 2008 call for applications under the energy projects category will be launched in May -- they'll be seeking projects that reduce energy consumption in municipal buildings.

Whatever route your pursue for funding local responses to peak oil and climate change, keep this keyword in mind: "uncertainty". We can plan generally for higher energy prices and rising global temperatures -- but it's hard to make specific planning and investment decisions when we don't know if, for example, oil will be $75, $150 or $300 a barrel in five years. Unfortunately, that's the situation we're in: we must plan for uncertainty because the fundamental factors of global oil supply and demand have changed, and nobody knows how the effects of peak oil will percolate through national, regional and local economies. Take energy and climate uncertainty as your starting point when developing projects and pursuing funding -- otherwise the investments you make may prove obsolete (or worse, ill-conceived) in the not-too-distant future.

3. Recent news articles

Building the unbeatable deal
Published 17 Mar 2008 by Post Carbon Cities
Move into Kimberton Village Green, and your heating and cooling costs are paid for -- for the lifetime of the house. Post Carbon Cities talks with Dan Orzech of Earth Rising Homes about the town of Kimberton, the future of building, distributed energy, and building the Prius of homes.
Build green to cut North American emissions, report says
Published 13 Mar 2008 by Reuters
"Green" construction could cut North America's climate-warming emissions faster and more cheaply than any other measure, environmental experts from Canada, Mexico and the United States reported on Thursday. North American buildings account for about 35% of the continent's total carbon dioxide emissions.
The Road to Recovery: Sustainable Transportation
Published by The New Planner
For decades, lion's share of the federal transportation budget has gone to infrastructure for cars. But more state and local governments are finding that cycling is a clean and effective option that lacks some of the health, environmental and economic costs of automotive traffic. The complete streets movement is also considered.
Can San Francisco feed itself from local farms?
Published 3 Apr 2008 by American Farmland Trust
Like other American cities, San Francisco residents rely on distant sources of food that travel an average of 1,500 miles to get to their tables. But the city is surrounded by unique agricultural lands, with a mild Mediterranean climate capable of producing nearly every kind of food enjoyed in the Bay Area. The American Farmland Trust's San Francisco Foodshed Study is looking into whether San Francisco residents could feed themselves exclusively from sustainable farms located within 100 miles of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Two factors mean the end of air travel as we know it
Published 17 Apr 2008 by the Vancouver Sun
The world is starting to be affected by the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil, but many involved in transportation planning are looking the other way. Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl say that planning around airport development is folly for cities.
How Paris is Beating Traffic Without Congestion Pricing
Published 22 Apr 2008 by Streetsblog
The mayor of a global metropolis, elected to his first term in 2001, set out to reduce driving and promote greener modes of transportation in his city. Congestion pricing turned out to be unfeasible, because influential political forces in the suburbs believed, rightly or wrongly, that charging people to drive into the urban core was regressive. Undaunted, the mayor found other means to achieve his transportation agenda.

4. What can Post Carbon Cities do for you?

The Post Carbon Cities program's mission is to help local governments understand the challenges posed by energy and climate uncertainty, and to provide resources for elected officials, planners, managers and others to develop plans and responses appropriate to their communities. Are we doing our job? How can we help you develop your community's plans? Would you like to see us offer events, trainings or online tools? Tell us how we can help you! Contact Laurel with your suggestions.

5. One year of!

A year ago this month we launched the Post Carbon Cities website at In this short time we've caused quite a splash in the peak oil and city planning worlds, most notably with a spot in's "Top Ten Websites of 2008" ranking. With daily news items, regular resource and event postings, and our semi-weekly blog, is the place to go to learn about local government responses to declining global energy supplies.

Program highlights of the past year:

  • One of the first features of our website was a tracking page of local government responses to peak oil. The list has gained a map and grows every month -- be sure to check it out regularly and find out what your colleagues across the country are doing about energy uncertainty!
  • Laurel Hoyt joined Post Carbon Cities in September, taking over the reins of the website and supporting other program activities. Laurel now also heads up our semi-weekly blog.
  • In October we published Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty, written by Program Manager Daniel Lerch. It's the premier peak oil guidebook that's written specifically for city planners and local officials.
  • Daniel immediately took the book on the road with a six-week whirlwind Northeast tour, which included major presentations to government, university and public audiences in New York City, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montréal, Cambridge (Mass.), Providence (R.I.), and Hamilton (Ont.). See for articles, video and other resources from the tour.
  • In January, Daniel traveled to Spokane, Washington to help launch that city's first-in-the-nation joint peak oil / climate change task force.
  • And just last week Daniel returned from another action-packed tour, this time to Ireland and the U.K., with major presentations at a top Irish environmental conference, the City Council of Dublin, and the U.K. Local Government Association (see details above).

We're starting off our second year strong, with big presentations at two major events: the 100th annual American Planning Association conference in Las Vegas and the National Solar Energy Conference in San Diego (see below). We're also pleased to announce that Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty has proven popular with individuals and government agencies, we're now on our second printing!

6. Upcoming Events

American Planning Association's 100th National Planning Conference
Apr 27 - May 1, 2008 | Las Vegas, NV
The Energy Planning track is a first at this, the 100th national APA conference. Daniel Lerch will host the session "Responding to Peak Oil and Energy Uncertainty" on Wednesday, April 30, joined by John Kaufmann of the Portland (Ore.) Peak Oil Task Force and Jennifer Sarnecki of Southern California Association of Governments.
Solar2008: National Solar Energy Conference
May 3 - May 8 2008 | San Diego, CA
The largest and most inclusive solar and renewable energy conference in the United States. Daniel Lerch will speak in the plenary "Community Solutions" session this conference on Wednesday, May 7, together with Ed Mazria, founder of energy efficiency advocacy group Architecture 2030.
ICLEI Local Action Summit 2008
May 14 - May 16, 2008 | Albuquerque, NM
ICLEI runs the widely-popular Cities for Climate Protection program. This is the premier event for U.S. local government staff and elected officials who are advancing climate protection and sustainability at the local level.

To stay maximally up-to-date on Post Carbon Cities' doings, point your RSS reader to our feeds -- choose to see news, or blog posts, or everything.

Photo credits:
Tram in Dublin, Ireland by Naureen Shahid
John Gormley from
Madison, Wisconsin capital by David Raboin / istock.
Overland Park Farmers' Market by Frank Thompson
Road to Nowhere by Rick Harrison

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© 2009 Post Carbon Institute

Post Carbon Cities: Helping local governments understand and respond to the challenges of peak oil and global warming.
Post Carbon Cities is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the United States.