Guest Commentary

Expect the beginning of the end of Tucson as we know it to arrive next year

For a writer, there are few experiences more thrilling than words that generate action. I was therefore elated when the group Sustainable Tucson grew from my column about the impending Tucson apocalypse (Guest Commentary, April 27, 2006).

Lest you think low gas prices are cause for apathy, I'm calling for more action.

Considerable evidence indicates we passed the world oil peak near the end of 2005. Oil supply follows a bell-shaped curve, so we have been easing down for slightly more than a year.

Now that we've burned the inexpensive half of our planetary endowment of oil, we need to prepare ourselves to fall off the oil-supply cliff. This will occur in 2008. The economic, societal and political implications are profound, and discussion of them is curiously lacking from the mainstream media.

A series of recessions triggered by the high price of gasoline will be followed, within a decade, by a depression that will make the Great Depression seem like the good old days.

We will not recover from this depression before runaway greenhouse effects doom our species to extinction. At the very least, we can expect oil prices to exceed $400 per barrel within a decade. At those oil prices, you can kiss goodbye the days of happy motoring, the use of fossil fuels to deliver water and air conditioning to Tucson, and the U.S. dollar.

In light of this knowledge, and the cheerful demeanor with which I pass it along, people often ask my advice as they plan for life without fossil fuels. (All energy sources are derivatives of oil, so expensive oil signals the end of our ability to extract and deliver coal, natural gas and uranium, and seriously impedes our ability to manufacture wind turbines and solar panels.)

In an attempt to further the much-needed discussion about the looming post-carbon era, I offer the following Tucson-centric perspective.

This country's ever-expanding economy since World War II, coupled with a profound sense of denial, suggests that relatively few people are prepared for the post-carbon era. As a result, you can expect increasing civil unrest in the decade ahead. The rule of law is likely to give way to anarchy. Local heroes are desperately needed.

Do not expect corporations or elected officials to bail us out. Rather, the collapse of the economy will render them meaningless. The federal government, and then the state government, will join Wal-Mart in simply fading away from your life. We will need plenty of local heroes to step into the breach. If you are honest, compassionate and interested in serving others, this city needs you.

In the very near future, you can expect to see a much smaller population than currently resides in Tucson. If you are committed to remaining in Tucson--and if you don't own a horse, you won't have much choice in five years or so--your task is a daunting one. You will have to secure your water supply by harvesting water. You will need enough water to grow your own food, too: $400 oil spells the end of Safeway and Trader Joe's, and disruptions in the delivery of food, water and electricity to the Old Pueblo will begin next year. Bombing Iran will exacerbate these problems, but I'd rather not think about that.

As an enlightened citizen, you'll be forced to live in two worlds. You'll work and play in your "normal" life, saving money for a rainy day and supporting those you love. But in the back of your mind, you'll know about the new world ahead, and you'll be planning to be part of a smaller community that lives close to the earth. You'll be learning how to harvest rainwater, grow your own food and live with far fewer resources.

As you plan for your own personal post-carbon future, please advocate for the city's nascent efforts in sustainability. Implore city leaders to prepare for the days, less than a decade from now, when we have no fuel for private automobiles, no food-delivery system for the 3,000-mile Caesar salad on which we have come to depend and no water pumped across the desert to feed our insatiable desires.

While you're learning new skills and advocating for action from local government officials, consider joining the pioneering actions of Sustainable Tucson. Read all about them at

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