Abstract
A vexing modern conundrum is to be solved. The use of oil, gas, and coal is extremely short-lived as a historical phenomenon: a mere blink of an eye at a little more than 1% of total urban history of 10,000 years to-date. Yet current urban civilization is almost entirely based on it. And the fossil-fuel economy poses not only a massive security risk, it also lies at the root of the vast majority of urban sustainability problems. Fresh water depletion, air pollution, widespread human fatalities can be directly traced to the excessive use of these dirty energy sources. Climate change, predominantly triggered by fossil-fuel combustion, only deepens the very questions the impending petroleum peak raises about the survivability of the global urban system. The fossil disease is a complex global pandemic. To many, conquering this pandemic is an extraordinary challenge of technology: of reengineering the manner in which urban civilization is powered, advancing a future envisioned in numerous studies since the 1970s. Yet foremost, this is a cultural, psychological, and political challenge. The global economy is systematically identified with its underlying fossil supply frameworks—it is a fossil economy. It is marked by an incendiary illusion: the celebration of abundance promised as achievable by all, driving virtually all aspects of contemporary culture. Yet it is also marred with enormous pockets of deprivation, and deep cracks of disbelief, criticism, and dissent. Reinforcing this challenge is the psychoeconomical transaction cost of change, the sheer inertia of an infernal development system, however short-lived it inevitably is. Despite all lip service paid to ‘energy savings’ and ‘environmentally sustainable development’ in urban policy documents and brochures across the globe, dominant political and financial interests demand that as much fossil fuel as possible is used, and as quickly as possible, to secure the highest possible profits for the most powerful, and in the shortest period of time. Hence many national governments and international bodies find it so difficult to place fossil-fuel replacement on the global agenda. It is easier to avoid this topic and talk about buffering, mitigating what are little else than subsidiary, flow-on effects and collateral outcomes of an unsolved energy conundrum: air, water and soil pollution, public health problems, deforestation or fresh water depletion. Rarely, if ever, is petroleum abuse clearly noted as a root cause. A historical revolution is in progress: the move from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and other forms of unsustainable energy use generation to a renewable and sustainable power base for urban communities, cities, towns, and villages. Many examples of positive initiatives encourage, and are testimony to the ability of cities and towns to perform as communities, and evolve into settings of greater independence from fossil and nuclear power sources. They carry the promise of greater energy autonomy based on renewable energy, of recapturing regional productivity, advancing local resources, and enabling new industries and employment opportunities.
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DOI 10.1177/0270467606287531
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