Leading from the Left

Friday, April 06, 2007

Energy Summit

Last night there was an excellent, and well-attended, town meeting on energy issues at the Century Center in Carrboro. The evening began with a viewing of a new locally-produced movie called "After the Peak. Set in Orange County in tne near future, the film is about life after oil production peaks and we start to see shortages. The film was OK, but even better was the panel discussion which followed.

The panel included Simon Rich, Eric Henry, and Patrick McDonough. Rich is a retired commodities broker, Henry owns a textile operation in Burlington, and Patrick McDonough is on the board of the Village Project. Rich offered compelling analysis the global oil supply, it's limits, and what we might expect once oil reaches a peak.

Eric Henry spoke eloquently about ways in which the business community can do it's part. His textile operation is one of the few left in North Carolina. They survived, in part, by changing their business model and making a conscious decision to run a sustainable business. His facility uses solar energy, produces biodiesel, recycles grey water, and is working with local farmers to produce organic cotton. Henry made a convincing argument that businesses can be both profitable and good corporate citizens.

Patrick McDonough brought the discussion back to a local focus. He shared analysis that was done by a UNC professor comparing fuel consumption at a 'traditional' suburban subdivision (Lake Hogan Farms in Carrboro) vs a compact, neo-traditional subdivision (Southern Village). Both subdivisions are populated with affluent suburbanites with similar incomes, and housing costs in both subdivisions are similar.

Southern Village was, of course, designed as a walkable community; residents can walk to the grocery store, walk to the movie theater, walk to a restaurant or the bookstore. The business center even has a school, a church and office space.

And, guess what? The residents of Southern Village drive an average of 17.4 miles per day LESS than the residents of Lake Hogan Farm. That's alot of gas. If you multiply that figure by 250 work days per year, it turns out that the average Lake Hogan Farm household drives over 4300 miles per year more than the average Southern Village household.

Those are pretty damning statistics. How subdivisions are designed is leading to higher fuel consumption, more air pollution, and global warming. The implications from McDonough's comments are that there are some fairly simple things we can do to change fuel consumption rates....and requiring that subdivisions be designed in a more energy-friendly manner is a good start.