Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whither Nashville?

"There can be no solution to the problems of community within a corporate-controlled consumer society."
— Pat Murphy
Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change

I had to surrender my carabiner key ring to get through the door to the Mayor’s office, so I guess they were worried I might need to rappel out the window after killing the mayor, except that we were on the first floor, so really, why bother? Was I going to hit him on the head with it? It’s aluminum.

My talking points regarding the city's preparation for Peak Oil are summed up in the memo I left with Jim Hester, aide to the Mayor, and Jenna Smith, Environmental Sustainability Manager for Metro, below. They had already seen the Brookings Report and were also up on the latest NIE on Climate Change. My briefing on Peak Oil seemed to fit right in with the disaster scenario sequence.

We spoke of Cuba in the Special Period, the gas lines and bread lines in the former Soviet Union, the empty filling stations I had seen in Southern Ohio. I told him about the RTE documentary that had aired in prime time in Ireland and the work of Eamon Ryan and the current governing coalition to get the fossil monkey off that country’s back. I promised follow-up DVDs.

Hester walked to the vinyl map on the wall that showed all the council districts, with the photos of the council members around the margins. For a politico like Hester, this is where the rubber meets the road, and I offered the obligatory kowtow to the math he has to crunch every day.

He has 5 solid green votes among 40. He can pick up maybe another 5 if he can show some economic benefits on a green ledger and get them to buy that kind of voodoo. But he needs 21 to do anything, and that last 11 is an ice cliff he has to scale with crampons and axe. Nashville is not Portland or Seattle, he reminded me. “Ahh, yes, Ecotopia,” I lamented.

The scant consolation I could offer was the example of Albuquerque, a nuclear bedroom community like Oak Ridge, plunked down in the arid Goldwater and Sandra-Day-O’Connor Southwest where guns and prostitutes are legal and you can get shot knocking on the door of a trailer to hand out Watchtowers.

Albuquerque currently relies entirely on pumping groundwater to sustain life. Only about 50% of the water pumped from its aquifer is replenished. However, Albuquerque has contracted for rights to 48,200 acre-feet of Colorado River water per year. There is just one hitch. It is in different watershed, and the Sandia Mountains are between it and Albuquerque.

Because the water Albuquerque needs has to cross state lines and be pumped through mountain tunnels, the supply is by no means assured. Notice how eager Georgia is to annex Chattanooga.

To its credit, by resolution and compact, the city has called for an immediate 50-percent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption in new and renovated buildings, and it seeks to eliminate fossil fuels from new construction by the year 2030.

In other words, within 25 years, Albuquerque will not use oil, natural gas, or coal in the heating, cooling, lighting, or construction of its buildings.

Albuquerque City Council has adopted a budget that will invest greater resources in transportation options, promote energy efficient building in both the public and private sector and at all levels of government, encourage automakers to increase production of energy-efficient vehicles and persuade consumers to purchase them, provide additional incentives for investment in renewable and alternative energy, encourage additional mixed-use development, and promote energy conservation on all levels.

Working on a regional basis, Albuquerque has developed alternatives to the commuter car that include Rapid Ride intrastate rail, D-Ride light rail, Alternative Fuel Buses, Bike Rack, Free Parking For Hybrid, Alt Fuel, and Fuel-Efficient Vehicles and more. In 2006, Albuquerque was named one of "the 21 Best Cities for Cycling" in America by Bicycling Magazine.

It is Mayor Chavez's goal to purchase 20% of Albuquerque’s municipal electricity from the wind farm at Clovis NM. Methane gas is already being co-generated from landfills and sewage treatment facilities.

All new city buildings will meet LEED Silver standards for energy efficiency. Public lighting is being converted to LED and CFL, with occupancy activation sensors. Funds have been appropriated for city energy audits and conservation retrofits.

Albuquerque Parks and Recreation has set a goal of 60% canopy cover for the City. 11,000 trees will be planted, “appropriately placed with sufficient species diversity,” and selected and arranged so as to reduce the water requirements of city parks and public spaces.

Albuquerque’s Achilles Heels are population and water. As of the 2007 census estimate, Albuquerque's population was 523,590, the 32nd-largest as well as the 2nd fastest growing city in the USA. Albuquerque has grown 16% in 7 years. At present rates of growth, it will be larger than Baltimore by 2015, San Francisco by 2024, and Detroit by 2029. There will be more than a million residents in 2034, and double today’s population by 2036.

Bicycles won’t fix that.

Still, if Albuquerque can muster Mayor Chavez’s brand of political moxie in John McCain’s back yard, they must be doing something right. Could it be that they appeal to that rare breed of conservative that still remembers “conservation?” It is not a far stretch to appeal to family values involving leaving something more to the kids and grandkids than a dry radioactive wasteland.

Whether Mayor Dean can sell that in the Athens of the South remains to be seen.

Here is the memo I left with the Mayor’s staff.

MEMO TO: Jim Hester
FROM: Albert Bates
DATE: 22 Jun 08
SUBJECT: Nashville’s vulnerability

Nashville is just now beginning to experience the foreshocks of Peak Oil. World demand has exceeded world production with the result that prices for oil and gas have doubled in the past year and will likely more than double again in the next. We may see $200 per barrel oil by year’s end. $1000 per barrel oil is only seven to ten years away.

Nashville is more vulnerable than many similar cities its size because it has a much higher carbon footprint than average. A recent report from the Brookings Institution ranks Nashville 95th among 100 U.S. cities for per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use (3,222 metric tons/person). Only Louisville, Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Lexington are worse.

Metro areas with high density, compact development and rail transit offer more energy and carbon efficient lifestyles than more sprawling, auto-centric counterparts. From the standpoint of smart city planning for the turbulent next few years, Metro Nashville is strictly out of luck. Creating high density, compact development, alternative fueled buses and trolleys, and light rail transit will take years or decades and millions or billions, and given the economic effects of the bursting fossil fuel bubble, the declining dollar, and collapse of Metro’s tax base, the likelihood that resources will be available, on a sustained basis over the requisite time, is extremely unlikely. The State and Federal governments will also be in crisis, with far more demands than resources to meet them.

The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. Extreme weather or geological events, political and economic stagnation, or other factors could further exacerbate the dilemma.

Supplies of food, fuel, and other essentials arrive into the city primarily by semi-tractor trailers; to a lesser extent by rail, barge and air freight. All of these supply lines are prone to disruption in the event of a national liquid energy supply shortfall. Most are also especially vulnerable to labor strikes or the practical inability of workers to go to work.

Metro has 3 days supply of food for its population within city limits.

If wholesale deliveries of gasoline and diesel stop, most service stations would run dry within one week, and sooner if people immediately fill up and hoard gasoline and diesel, as they already are beginning to.

City buses do not have a strategic reserve, nor could they provide an immediate substitute for the commuter, school, and other transportation services now provided by private vehicles.

Police, fire, and emergency medical services do not have a strategic reserve, nor does the Tennessee National Guard. It is unlikely that any fuel availability crisis would be local, which means that National Guard resources will be required everywhere simultaneously.

Many other cities that are similarly situated have begun to examine their predicament and make belated but necessary moves to address their vulnerability. Among the options they have chosen to initiate on a crash basis:

• Tasking Emergency Services to prepare plans for sustained energy outages
• Expanding light rail and alternative transit — urging people to DRIVE LESS
• Engaging in regional rail and barge planning for more energy-efficient freight operations
• Stimulating energy efficient retrofitting, alternative energy installations, and recycling
• Issuing a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate land use, transportation, energy, food supply, emergency preparedness, and related areas
• Set an energy descent goal, such as 3% reduction of fossil fuel use per year, across the board
• Begin the process of gradually redesigning the city as a collection of urban villages so that residents can reduce their automobile dependence
• Develop and implement a public transit master plan
• Develop and implement a commercial freight delivery master plan
• Move Metro employees to a 4-day work-week and develop telecommute options
• Inaugurate car-share and ride-share services
• Provide start-up funding for the establishment of a Food Policy Council
• Develop and implement pedestrian and bicycle master plans.

Just at first pass, here are some direct actions the Mayor might take to get the ball rolling:


1. have a contingency for operating government in the sudden absence of gasoline
2. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
3. have a contingency for operating government with unheated buildings
4. training and public education courses, workshops, events and films


1. have a contingency for city functioning with the periodic absence of electricity
2. planning for a business environment that lacks discretionary spending
3. develop a local currency
4. develop a micro-lending incubator system
5. training and public education courses


1. work with Education and Social Services to identify at risk children when school bus service is suspended or restricted
2. work with Health in designing home and neighborhood health delivery systems
3. training and public education courses

Agricultural Extension Services (George Kilgore)

1. provide organic agricultural and nutritional educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal food and water supply and improve public health and welfare
2. create supplemental local emergency food supplies by growing and storing staples in many locations

Metro Soil and Water Conservation (John Leeman)

1. provide rainwater catchment and storage educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal water supply and improve public health and welfare
2. create supplemental local emergency water supplies by capturing and storing water in many locations
3. drought and heat wave planning

City Planning Dept (Michael Skipper, Matt Meservy)

1. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
2. have a contingency for moving people in the absence of gasoline
3. regulation of existing buildings with potentially unusable elevators or other services


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. specialized training
3. develop neighborhood first responder system


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. drought and heat wave planning
3. monitor supplemental local emergency water supplies


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. food and water reserves
3. pharmaceuticals


1. Walkable/bicycle school distances
2. Buses restricted to handicapped, outer zone residents, high risk

Health Services

1. The Havana model – neighborhood based care
2. Strategic petroleum reserves for generators/power
3. Solar powered health modules
4. Home grown pharmaceuticals
5. Malnutrition – Nashville has less than 3-days supply of food
6. Rationing system

Law Enforcement

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. special training
3. more bike patrols
4. replace select cars with golf carts, motorcycles, foot patrols
5. ground helicopters except for emergency operations

Social Services

1. special training
2. replace cars with golf carts, motorcycles, bicycles

Nashville Gas

1. Contingency plan for nationalization of services
2. Rationing system

1 comment:

brother martin said...

The scariest part of this--other than the complete lack of any kind of fuel reserve for police. fire, and National Guard, and of course the 3-day food supply, is the fact that there are only 5-10 people on Metro Council who understand this well enough to be willing to do anything about it.

I don't know if the current occupants are educable, or if more educated candidates are electable, but we are clearly heading for disaster in Nashville if we don't heed this advice.




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