Sunday, May 21, 2006

What would be two grass root responses to peak oil in New York ( with References to the Cuba model)?

What would be two grass root responses to peak oil in New York ( with References to the Cuba model)?
While the Soviet Union existed, Cuba was able to trade its domestic goods and strategic location (90 miles from the U.S. is somewhat of an asset) in return for grossly under priced oil. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba lost 70% or more of their energy supplies. In addition, they lost a lot of trade with other countries because a stricter embargo was enforced by the U.S. Essentially, Cuba’s energy and trade crisis was very much a pre-peak oil scenario, on the “small” scale of just one country.
In the best possible situation, we would face the relatively “gentle” hardships that Cubans faced in their energy and trade crisis. Some of these hardships included malnourishment, a severe scarcity of medical supplies and medicine, lack of electricity, lack of air conditioning, lack of public transportation, and the inability to do construction. When I say gentle, I do not mean that it was easy to overcome these problems, or that they were much less serious than they seem. But they pale in comparison to the situations I envisioned when I thought about New York and peak oil. Mass starvation, pollution and disease due to the high population density made up most of my thoughts about New Yorkers and peak oil. People were able to cope and move on; they were not crippled on a large scale by the sudden reduction in energy. Seeing how Cubans dealt with a situation similar to peak oil in both urban areas and rural areas gave me some hope that New York may be able to survive the struggle. Are the grass roots methods that Cubans used to cope with their energy crisis and compensate when the government couldn’t applicable to New York City?
When Cubans realized that the government implementation of food rationing and subsidized meals was not sufficient for survival, they began urban gardening. This mean utilizing every empty lot and all the available space to grow food. Eventually, cities 80% of their vegetable demands, using techniques like perma-culture. This is a response that seems very likely to take place in New York City. New York City is thankfully a city filled with many recreational parks, which could be utilized for farmland. We also have huge Cemeteries, and as morbid as it might sound, if the available land is not enough to support the 8 million plus residents of New York City, cemeteries will be the next resort for farming. To be as sustainable and efficient as possible, New Yorkers will definitely have to harness perma-culture knowledge and incorporate that into their urban gardening the way Cubans did.
Urban gardening may not suffice for New York. The city is undoubtedly much denser then any city in Cuba, so there may not be enough space for all the food we need. The number of parks and other available land is not evenly distributed throughout the city, so food and farming may be more or less accessible depending on where one is located. Staten Island has a lot of green space, but one can almost go for miles in Manhattan without encountering any open space. Cuban cities were only 80% sustainable when it came to supplying enough produce, but they had the rural areas to rely on to make up the difference. New York is surrounded by other towns and cities which may or may not be able to help make up some difference, some with more or less green space available for farming, and some forest, but not a lot of farm land. Who will make up the difference of demand for food and food available? Where will we raise animals and get our animal products from? Will New Yorkers make a mass transition towards veganism?
In addition, the number of crops that can grow at our altitude is probably smaller, because we are not a tropical climate. Our winters are longer, and harsher. There are much fewer people in New York City who are knowledgeable in farming then there probably were in Cuba, which was previously a peasant economy, before it was heavily industrialized. What's more, our diets are much less uniform then they are in Cuba, where there is one homogenous culture, so farming for crops could be a lot more difficult to coordinate throughout the city, because different peoples eat different foods, not everyone would be able to eat everything. On the cultural implications of peak oil: Would peak oil force us to revoke our colorful diversity and multiculturalism? Would that bring solidarity or resentment? Would a loss of multiculturalism bring about less racism?
A second possible grass-roots response to a peak oil situation in New York City would be to endorse and improve efficiency on every level of life. If mandatory composting was implemented and enforced, our waste management demands would go down dramatically. If all our organic waste was composted and used for urban gardening, there would be less need for garbage pick up, and storage. That would mean less use of trucks powered by oil to transport the waste, less electric power originating from oil used in sanitation plants to clean our water, less oil powered machinery and oil fueled cement production for land fills etc. Compost toilets would be essential. Another way to improve efficiency and decrease dependency on oil would be using bicycles to get around our relatively small city. We could also use rooftops to create more green spaces or roofs to grow crops and help insulate buildings in the winter and decrease the “urban heat island” during the summer. Rain water catching devices would have to be installed and implemented throughout the city, to distribute water when electric powered pumps can’t bring water. How will New Yorkers cope with heating problems, a problem that tropical Cuba did not have to deal with? Will we burn some of our organic waste for heat?


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