Buffalo After Peak Oil

June 9, 2008

As the events of the global oil production peak take shape, people will be forced to live more locally, whether they want to or not. There are a many scenarios that could take place, but in order to avoid the more violent and panicked of public reactions to the crisis, we need to act today to maintain some kind of order and stability in our communities.

I believe a city like Buffalo has a chance to survive the converging crises we face, but only through concentrated and principled action. Buffalo used to be a city that could handle a sudden loss of cheap oil. Rail lines – used for freight transport, long-distance passenger lines, and more localized commuter services – ran throughout the city and its surrounding suburbs. Buffalo can do itself and its citizens (and their children) an immeasurable service by using what is left of the world’s endowment of fossil fuel resources to rebuild this rail network, to connect various areas of the city and to reconnect the city to the agricultural centers around it. These networks will become invaluable as the reality of oil depletion puts an end to the system of food transport that relies on vast, unsustainable trucking lines.

Additionally, the barren spaces of the Buffalo cityscape that were previously condemned as a special cancer of the Rust Belt region should be embraced as a gift — and then quickly demolished to make way for the city-based agricultural areas necessary for local food production. As I see it, it’s either that or the blighted abandoned homes and buildings need to be quickly renovated and retrofitted to make room for the hordes of suburban refugees that will be driven to live closer to the urban center as gas prices make it impossible for them to live where they do now. We are approaching a day where, if our current behavior continues, people will literally be going to work to make money to afford going to work. Long before it gets to this point, the people with 45-minute commutes to downtown Buffalo will need a place to live near their jobs. This could carry additional benefits in that it would free up land on the formerly agricultural exterior of the city to be reploughed and brought online as the Buffalo food sources of the future.

A good first step would be the adoption of a local oil depletion protocol. The national governments of the world don’t seem ready for such a step, so we must take over for them on a local level, as we will have to in other areas when depletion really kicks in. An oil depletion protocol would be a public, binding agreement as to how the remaining reserves of fossil fuels will be used by the city. This would create a forum for planning out the city’s future, as well as preventing panics and hoarding by confronting the problem head-on before it is too late. We must call on our leaders to begin talking seriously about this issue, with immediate action in mind. We cannot afford to lose the few years of cheap energy we have left to waste and business-as-usual consumer habits.

This will be hard work, but there are able bodies in this city. It’s a city of workers, many of which haven’t had anything valid or valuable to work on for some time. If Buffalo is lucky in any regard, it is in this: the spirit of the city is one that tends toward the maintenance of order and survival through trying times. I don’t believe that, for example, the people of a place like Phoenix could survive through what Buffalo has in the past fifty years and still come up smiling at the end of the day. Yet we have done just that, year in and year out.

We will need that spirit again, very soon.

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