Peak Oil and Silver City

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I attended a forum on peak oil this weekend here in Silver City. The forum was informative, in that it explained the problem of peak oil, and also some of its complications (e.g. global warming and overpopulation).

The problem with the event, in my mind, was the format. I think the overall thrust is a good one: educating local communities about peak oil is great. If it were truly a first step, I would laud it even more.

But this is the second presentation this group has done in the last six months (that I know of). This forum needed something else: it needed to move beyond information and toward action.

I have a hard time not comparing the forum to the recent tourism summit. That two-day conference was well-structured and meaningful. Goals were established, and a new marketing plan for the Grant County area was developed. All that’s left is follow-up, and I feel confident it will happen. Silver City will need to drastically re-define its image if the area is going to succeed as a tourist destination, especially if peak oil theories hold true.

The peak oil forum, however, provided no real opportunity to take action. One man hit the nail on the head when he said, “We’ve heard a lot of discussion today about preaching to the choir ? why don’t we try and get the choir organized?” This is precisely what needs to occur.

The Southwest Desert Sustainability Project is planning a Global Conference on Sustainability. The two issues are intimately related, and now we are faced with a conundrum. The conference is scheduled for August 2006. Do we, as a community, wait that long before working to develop not just ideas, but measures to combat peak oil problems in Grant County? If not, do we risk taking the wind out of Southwest Desert’s sails?

I hope that this topic does not fall prey to that scourge of Silver City: talk. There are groups all over this town and area who get together regularly to talk about a topic. And that?s all they do.

Peak oil is something that does need to be addressed, and Silver City can land itself on the map if it moves quickly to implement new ideas. The location is perfect for testing responses to diminishing fossil fuels: moderate climate, nominal population levels, an active base of community members, and remote location.

I can?t think of a better place to begin projects that prove sustainability, or prove you don?t need to import huge quantities of commercially-grown food to survive as a community. With cool summers and not-too-cold winters, Grant County offers a great opportunity to showcase homes that don?t need propane or natural gas or heating oil to stay warm, and to look at passive designs that remain cool.

Why not seek some government help to fund such projects? We have two U.S. Senators, who happen to be the chairman and ranking member of the Energy Committee, sitting there in Washington. What about the state?s upcoming windfall in oil and gas money, expected to exceed $700 million for one-time capital outlay funding? Why can?t we tap into that to fund some solar or wind-energy projects, or for development of passive homes? Where?s the money to establish trial programs for new irrigation systems and agriculture techniques?

Currently, Los Alamos, Sandia, New Mexico Tech, and NMSU have the market cornered on such projects. If Silver City wants to become a global leader in sustainable development, that has to change. To do that, the discussion needs to move beyond discussion. Legislation needs to be written and passed. Our civic leaders need to become engaged. Projects need to be started.

Otherwise, we’re just another community that has great ideas.

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