Plan C: Community Survival Strategies For Peak Oil and Climate Change
Plan C is a luminous book. Whereas so many other books on curtailing energy usage simply describe ways to cut consumption, Plan C goes way beyond mere description to take a truly penetrating look at how our individual choices make a difference.
Author Pat Murphy's sharp analysis, which draws on hard numbers from the Department of Energy and other sources, allows us to truly quantify the impact of our everyday habits, and to realize that we re capable of making far more of a difference than many believe. Clearly aimed at the broadest possible readership, Plan C contains quite a bit of retread for peak oil followers. For example, it includes that customary dismissal-of-so-called-alternative-fuels section (but done with originality and uncommon prowess), as well as brief primers on peak oil, climate change, growth economics and global inequity.
The book is less conventional, however, in its inclusion of what Murphy calls a searching and fearless moral inventory of the American people. This section uses statistical analysis to assess the quality and health of American society, as measured by levels of inequity, violence and military spending relative to foreign aid spending, among other indicators. Murphy succeeds in giving this moral inventory the objective, nonjudgmental tone of a typical 12-step program; but it will still make uncomfortable reading for just about any American reader. The heart of the book is its middle section, in which Murphy defines Plan C and describes what we must do in order to achieve it.
Plan C calls for a sharp reduction in fossil fuel consumption and a resurgence of small local communities. The concomitant reduction in our standard of living is to be accepted as part of being a global citizen. The three mainstays of Plan C are curtailment (mere conservation isn t enough), community and cooperation.
Plan C has three counterpoints: Plans A, B and D. Plan A represents our current course, in which we do nothing but blindly trust the free market to solve peak oil, climate change and inequity. A great deal more laudable, but still inadequate, is Plan B, in which we maintain the status quo while merely replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. Lastly, there's Plan D, in which we accept that it's already too late to take constructive action at the societal level, and focus solely on preparing ourselves and our families for a drastic die-off of our species. Mercifully, Murphy doesn t consider himself to be a Plan D proponent, though he nonetheless insists that its tenets deserve to be taken seriously.
The chapters in which Murphy spells out the specific steps necessary to implement Plan C are where the book's magic lies. Murphy cites numbers readily available within the public domain to illustrate that the majority (67 percent) of all of the oil used annually per person in the United States is under each person's direct control in the forms of housing, personal travel and food. Thus, by living in smaller homes, carpooling or avoiding automobile use altogether and reducing our consumption of meat in favor of less-fossil-fuel-intensive foods, we can go a surprisingly long way toward both weaning ourselves off of a depleting resource and meeting the CO2 reductions recommended by climate scientists.
The depth to which Murphy has thought through these necessary lifestyle changes is astonishing. He lays out practical suggestions on everything from our diets (eat less, eat local and eat organic); to our use of electronic devices (substitute hand tools and changed practices wherever possible); to transportation (implement Smart Jitney systems that rely on private automobiles and cell phone dispatching); to the very way in which we perceive the world and ourselves (kick the media habit, foster community cooperation rather than competitive anonymity).
Prior to writing Plan C, Murphy served as a co-writer and producer on Community Solutions award-winning documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. (Murphy is the executive director of Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization in Yellow Springs, Ohio, devoted to small community living.) That film shows how Cuba successfully adapted to the sudden drop in its fuel and food imports brought on by the collapse of the former Soviet Union. In both the film and Plan C, Murphy cites the example of Cuba as a stirring tribute to what America might be capable of as it faces the decline of global oil production. And it must be said that our post-oil future could be quite idyllic indeed if we managed to fare half as well as Cuba did during its own artificial peak oil event.
Plan C is an astounding achievement, and one with an enormous potential readership. It's certainly essential reading for any self-respecting peak oil or climate change activist. But it also serves as a rich treasury of real, quantifiable answers for anyone still wondering what he or she can do to help mitigate the multiple world crises now facing us. In Plan C, one finds not platitudes, pontifications or vague suggestions but a wealth of actual, concrete things that can be done right now.
Thus, the book's lasting impression is one of a radiant optimism that is miles away from the cul-de-sac of cynicism that can so easily represent the extent of peak oil commentary.
- Frank Kaminski