In Portland, Transition Movement preparing for a world after peak oil

September 15, 2011
Carrie Sturrock
The Oregonian

Peak oil. 

When Jim Newcomer mentions those words, he gets an "Are you nuts?" look. David Johnson once cleared out a Christmas dinner with the subject. Someone else at the recent Transition PDX meeting said family members think he's "whacked" for discussing it. 

Peak oil is the idea that we've pretty much used up the cheap, easy-to-get stuff and what's left is expensive and energy-intensive to extract -- like from the oil sands in Canada -- at a time when carbon emissions need to be scaled way back. 

Talking about it is a surefire way to make many tune out. It's just not a story people want to think about, says Newcomer, 75, a former U.S. diplomat in Taiwan who taught at Iowa State and the University of Oregon. 

But Transition PDX is made up of people for whom peak oil reality is front and center. The Transition Movement started in Britain in 2006 to prepare communities for "energy descent" and its impact on our car-dependent, consumeristic life with its long-haul food distribution, inefficient housing and the like. 

"From a climate change lens, it's really important," said Michael Armstrong, policy and research manager for Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. "Transition PDX or the peak oil folks, they're thinking about things that collectively have big impacts, and their approach is going to resonate for a certain percentage of the population and not others and that's great." 

The concept of peak oil isn't new to Portland. Newcomer served on a City Council-appointed Peak Oil Task Force, which presented a report in 2007 on potential effects on everything from food to transportation if oil becomes scarce. 

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