Murphy: Plan C
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Pat Murphy, Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change. Gabriola Island, [British Columbia, Canada] : New Society Publishers, 2008. 316 pages.
Part I of the book does a good job of describing peak oil and climate change, and why it will have enormous impacts on human society. The author discusses economic growth fueled by cheap energy, wars fought for, and with, petroleum, the coming end of the private car, why alternative energy will not be enough to maintain our current American way of life, and how corporations and the media have manipulated public perception of the truth.
In Part II, the author pleads the case for personal change as the way to save humanity. Cheap energy and too much stuff have led to our excessive use of resources; the only way to reduce use of resources is by curtailing our consumerism. One chapter discusses why buildings are huge energy hogs, both in embodied energy (everything required to create that building) and operating energy. A brief discussion of ways to make existing buildings more efficient follows.
In his discussion of transportation, most of his energy is devoted to promoting the Smart Jitney system - using personal cars as unlicensed taxicabs matching passengers and drivers through a not-yet-created computerized system. He is very passionate about this being the answer to our future transportation needs and barely touches on other options such as mass transit, walking, bicycling, or using draft animals.
Agribusiness is lambasted as an unsustainable means of producing food due to the high petroleum inputs. He points out the increasing worldwide consumption of meat means more grains are raised for livestock instead of being eaten directly by humans, at a high resource cost. Despite the wide variety of products in the grocery stores, they really are just variations – highly processed ones – of the same few ingredients. He recommends people center their diet on more nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods, and minimal meat, as well as on locally grown foods in season.
In Part III, he recommends that individuals change their lifestyles to curtail their energy use. Machines used in the homes are examined, showing which ones require the most energy and how to reduce their use. To reduce resource use, diets will need to change, and individuals and communities will need to practice water conservation. As part of the change in lifestyle, he recommends ditching the media habit, especially since so much information is controlled by just a few powerful entities.
He promotes localization so communities can supply their own resources and goods rather than having them brought in from great distances. Gardens, both small and large, in and near population centers could produce the food. Local power generation could be supplied by smaller, more numerous, power plants and creative home power generation methods. (He cites Climate Energy & Honda’s Micro-sized Combined Heat and Power co generation system for homes.) Retail and manufacturing could return to local communities, as well as local banking options.
In the final chapter he discusses the importance of rebuilding community and relationships. Unfortunately, this discussion never gets to the level of suggestions on how to actually change relationships on the ground. Yes, many of us are aware that it is not good that we are isolated and distrustful of our neighbors. It would have been helpful to have concrete recommendations on how to change that in a meaningful way. Simply choosing to trust your neighbors may be ill-advised if your neighbors do not have the same altruistic desire to better the community but rather the desire to break into your home for their own personal gain while you are on vacation.
This book does a good job of addressing the multitude of issues facing humanity and goes into quite a bit of technical detail about each one. It also confronts the problems associated with commonly recommended solutions such as green technology. Although it discussed how solutions might come better from local options, it did not address how to go about the arduous task of actually forming community. Community doesn't just spring up; it has to be built. An additional chapter exploring recommendations on how to form community where there is none would greatly enhance the book.
-- Notes by CC