Governments and councils are planning for fossil fuel–free cities.
OVER the last two decades, ‘sustainability’ lodged itself in our lexicon. Now, there’s a new concept to digest: ‘resilience’.
Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University, says the two concepts come from “the same tribe”, but resilience shines a spotlight on how we “deal with the resource constraints that confront us”.
In his latest book, Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change, he explores those constraints, and many of the innovative responses emerging from cities around the world.
Peak oil refers to the point in time when oil production is at its highest, and beyond which, begins to decline. Most predictions suggest that the global peak is coming soon, or has already passed.
Professor Newman says the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates the greater difficulties companies now face drilling for oil. “Nobody disagrees that oil is getting harder and harder to find, and we’ve got to do more and more risky things to get it.”
He argues that this fact, along with the need to reduce carbon emissions, means that our cities will need to halve their oil consumption by mid-century.
“Both climate change and peak oil force us to think about different kinds of cities that are able to cope with less fossil fuels,” he says. “We’ve built our civilisation around the cheapness and easy availability of fossil fuels. That era is ending.”
A CSIRO report, Fuel for Thought, released in 2008, estimated that petrol could cost as much as $8 per litre by 2018.
Elliot Fishman, from the Institute for Sensible Transport, modelled the impact of CSIRO’s estimate and found that people living on the city fringe are the most vulnerable.
“It would mean that someone in Cardinia, in Melbourne’s outer east, would spend about 15 per cent of their total income on petrol if they maintained their current travel patterns,” he says.
It’s a troubling finding, especially in light of the state government’s recent expansion of the urban growth boundary. “We’re still developing outer suburban land into cheap housing where people have no options other than the car,” Mr Fishman says. “Where you live has a major impact on your transport costs.”
But buyers and renters are now catching on. “Real estate agents say that more people are asking about public transport availability,” he says.
To reduce car dependence, he recommends householders opt to live close to work and public transport, if possible. You can also cut fuel consumption by working from home one or two days a week, and riding a bike or walking for short trips.
Governments are also beginning to take the issue seriously, especially at the local level. Maribyrnong and Darebin Councils both released peak oil adaptation plans last year. The Queensland Government has produced a series of reports into peak oil since 2005.
Professor Newman argues that once there’s a critical mass, our cities can be transformed rapidly.
He points at the Vauban neighbourhood in the German city of Freiburg, which exhibits many markers of resilience: efficient buildings, walk-ability, good public transport, local renewable energy and a strong sense of place.
“In Vauban, you can see the future and it’s better,” he says. “It is carbon-free, car-free, more local and far more environmentally friendly. It’s much more community oriented and a lot more fun for the kids growing up there.”