Grass-roots project aims to wean Oklahomans off oil addiction

July 21, 2009
Heide Brandes
Oklahoma City has an addiction.

It’s one that the rest of the nation shares, one that’s hard to shake and one that, as with other addictions, may be assisted by a structured, 12-step program.

This particular problem invades a resident’s life when that person is traveling, dressing, working in the garden, cooking or exercising – basically, doing anything.

“More and more people are aware that we have a problem with oil addiction in the United States,” says Shauna Struby, co-chair of Transition Town OKC, a new collaborative group in Oklahoma City. “The days of cheap and easy energy are over, and we now know that oil is a finite resource, yet 40% of our energy needs are met by oil. If demand is higher, but supply is dwindling and production is dwindling, then we’re facing a future with less energy.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hirsch report, the U.S. will have “an unprecedented risk management problem” from the decline in world oil production. Because the United States is so dependent on oil for transportation, agriculture and industry that “a decline in world oil production will cause increased oil price volatility and result in severe economic, political and social costs,” the report concludes.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, and Transition Town OKC is anxious to show that the future could be brighter than imagined.

“We’re fortunate that we have options,” Struby says. “We do have renewable resources like sun, wind and bioenergy. None of them are used as densely as oil. Oil was a gift, and we were fortunate to have it, but it’s time to look at new options.”

Transition Town OKC is a new group and a project of Sustainable OKC. With more than 30 people involved, the idea is to take the collective genius of the population to create a move from oil dependency to alternative energy. Each city has different needs; thus, each city needs different plans.

“We need to decide on our own path to energy security and local resilience. Transition Town OKC aims to act as a catalyst for our community to explore its own solutions to the energy challenges we face,” Struby says. “Oil is so intertwined with our society that it’s hard to find anything in your house that’s not made of oil. One of the solutions for change is to use less energy and be more thoughtful on what we use.”

However, Transition Town OKC doesn’t want to preach or paint a future of damnation.

“Our goal is to empower communities to make their own plans of transition. A neighborhood can make their own plans to address energy. This is about getting people the information they need to make a plan for their own communities,” Struby says. “Most people understand we are addicted to oil, but they don’t understand how deeply we are.”

Transition Town OKC uses the same model as other addiction programs to address the problem – a 12-step plan.

“Our goal is that in 150 years, we have a clean and absolutely renewable source of energy,” Struby says.

Transition Town is a national movement, and in Oklahoma City, anywhere from 10 to 20 people meet monthly to discuss the initiative. Christine Patton, co-chair on the Transition Town OKC project, is one of those members.

“The meetings are very open, and the goal of the meetings is to move forward with what we are trying to do with Transition Town,” she says.

The group is spreading the word, having presented information to such groups as The Sierra Club and the Unitarian Earth Day.

“So far, people understand fairly quickly that oil is finite, but they are not aware of the scope of the problem. For instance, there is an exaggerated sense of how much energy we get from wind and solar. That’s only one-third of 1% of our energy supply,” Patton says.

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