I've been reading the occasional posts on Unplanning Journal, a blog authored by a county planner in central California. The planner rightly points out that planners everywhere assume that energy supplies will grow without end. In fact, so deep is the faith in ever-growing energy supplies that planning documents either never mention or give just perfunctory mention to energy issues. The planner garnered considerable attention recently with his post of a summary of his conversation with an energy company executive espousing a bleak outlook for natural gas (READ: electricity) supplies in North America. (The planner's inquiry was part of his regular work of planning for countywide energy needs over the next couple of decades.)
Most revealing for me are his suggestions for relocating population away from major urban centers post peak oil, something he regards as an inevitability given how unsustainable cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas are. There is also his outline for an emergency response plan to energy shortages since he has come to believe that municipalities will not plan ahead given their deeply held belief that energy supplies will continue to grow indefinitely.
It is the tone of these suggestions that is most compelling. They are expressed in the neutral, rational manner you'd expect from a planner providing information on a plan for, say, a new highway. But, that very tone rattles the nerves since what is being contemplated is so enormous and disruptive. We need to recognize that the Unplanner is merely engaging in the kind of thinking every community will be forced to engage in if we all simply wait for the inevitable decline of energy supplies. Do we really want to temporize when oil prices are three and four times what they are today? And yet, it seems, given the inertia of planning departments everywhere, his suggestions might well become a template for how to react to the coming energy crisis--after its arrival.
Let's hope his message reaches his fellow planners before then.
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