With oil prices staying high, talk turns to change
Ashland resident who used to work for Chevron warns that the future will be totally different
By Robert Plain
As oil becomes more expensive, some Ashlanders are envisioning a world less reliant on cars.
Imagine an Ashland, and an America, much different from the ones we know today.
Instead of roads lined with cars, people may transport themselves by bikes, bus or light rail. Instead of green lawns fed by commercial fertilizers people may fill their yards with vegetable gardens and other forms of home-grown food. Instead of commuting long distances to work and to the grocery store, people may be forced to live more centralized lives, more reliant on their neighbors.
Whether this possible lifestyle seems pleasant or difficult, more and more Ashlanders are beginning to believe this is the reality to our future as the viability of our most widely used form of energy — oil — is increasingly being called into question.
It’s been termed Peak Oil, and it’s the notion that as more of the world’s population depends on oil to run their daily lives and fewer new reserves are being discovered that it will become increasingly expensive to the point where the world’s population is forced to find another fuel to run the world.
“Eventually, oil production won’t keep pace with demand,” said Len Eisenburg, an Ashland resident and petroleum geologist who used to work for Chevron, searching for new supplies of oil around the globe.
Eisenburg is hosting a lecture at the North Mountain Nature Center on Wednesday night at 7 entitled “Oil and Gas in Our Natural World.” He said his talk is about where oil reserves come from and how it gets from there to our gas tanks. Because the discussion is expected to be well attended, the North Mountain Nature Center is asking people to register in advance, either online at ashlandparks.recware.com or by phone at 488-6606.
“It’s an impending car crash of decreasing discovery and increasing demand,” he said. “It’s a trade-off. We can have as much oil as we want, we’re just going to have to pay for it and accept the political and economic costs that go along with it.”
Eisenburg said there is plenty of oil left in the Earth, but as it gets more expensive to pull from the ground, Americans and others will be increasingly motivated to find other forms of fuel.
“Eventually, the price will really start to prod people to conserve and make other technologies competitive,” he said.
In Ashland, this has already begun to happen.
“The escalating cost of energy is something that we do factor in,” Mayor John Morrison said. “The politics and economics of oil impact every American every day. Even though we are just a little corner of the Northwest, we need to do what we can to help out. Ashland is committed to a course of building conservation into our daily lives and will continue to do that. If a new technological advance comes up that allows us to conserve more, I think we would do it.”
Councilor David Chapman, who said many of his political objectives concern conservation of resources and local sustainibility, thinks developing different forms of mass transit is the best path toward freeing Ashland from the addiction of an oil-based economy.
“I’m hot on mass transportation,” he said. “If we can get people out of their cars more, we’ll save more fuel.”
He said Ashland’s financial support of the Rogue Valley Transportation Districts bus routes in town is a good start, but added that more can be done.
“We have a free bus service, but it doesn’t get you to where you want to go,” he said, noting that it is inconvenient to commute between Ashland and other area towns and that the bus only runs along the main transportation lines.
Most mass transit is based on high-density use, he said. But what Ashland really needs is low density use, he added. He said a system of vans that operate like airport shuttle buses could be the answer.
“Imagine a bunch of little vans zipping around town taking you where you want to go door to door,” he said. “It would be great in our town. The whole key would be a computerized dispatch system” that would alert drivers as to where someone needed to be picked up.
For the future, he envisions a light rail system running on the existing train tracks that could not only link the Rogue Valley together, but maybe even the entire West Coast.
“Imagine if people could take the train from San Francisco to go to a play,” he said. “Or if we could take a train to San Francisco.”
He said such a project would cost millions, but could be done if it is coupled with the railroad’s need to improve the tracks for cargo transport.
There are also efforts afoot on the grass-roots level. A group called the Jackson County Sustainibility Network, which meets weekly in Ashland and Talent, formed earlier this year with the expressed purpose of readying Ashland for a changing economy due to the fear that oil will not continue to be a viable natural resource to use.
“We’re starting to realize we should be relocalizing our economy,” said Michael Dawkins, organizer of the group. “We’ll be forced to get closer to the food we eat and produce more of it locally. There will be so many little paradigms that we will have to change.”
One way the group is preparing for this is by advocating for a sustainability center at the proposed Vogel Park being created by the Ashland Parks Department. At such a park, some residents would be able to grow their own food in community garden plots. There would also be demonstration models for how people could grow their own food, indigenous and otherwise, in their own yards.
“It would be something like North Mountain Park, where you could go to learn things,” Dawkins said. “You could learn permaculture techniques and how to utilize small spaces like yards to grow your own food.”
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dawkins said JCSN is also supportive of more multi-modal transportation options and, most importantly he said, forming a tighter knit community where Ashlanders rely more on their neighbors than on the globalized economy.
Although other small western towns, such as Willits and Sebastapol, Calif., have begun to incorporate relocalization practices into their municipal affairs, Dawkins believes Ashland to be a perfect location to spearhead such efforts.
“A lot of communities just go with the flow, but Ashland doesn’t do that,” he said. “We’ve got a great climate and a good source of water. We’ve got all kinds of things going for us in Ashland. The idea of Peak Oil will resonate more [here] than it will” in other places.