Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change by Pat Murphy

Heavy on the moralising, light on cheer, a new book on low-carbon living has Phil England reaching for the classics

It was only a few issues ago that we reviewed Plan B, a book by former White House policy advisor Lester R. Brown. It laid out a comprehensive action plan for solving not only climate change and peak oil but also overpopulation, poverty and environmental degradation. Brown costed it at $190 billion a year – a sixth of annual ‘defence’ spending – and pointed out that this would address our most pressing security threats. Hot on its heels comes a rival plan from fellow American Pat Murphy, director of the inspiring film The Power of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, which has been shown by countless Transition Town groups across the UK.

Murphy argues that renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances only go so far, and that we also need voluntary behaviour change and more local, community-oriented lives. Practically, he advances some interesting ideas about an advanced car-sharing scheme (the ‘smart jitney’), retrofitting housing to the zero carbon Passivhaus standard and moving down the food chain to a more plant-based, unprocessed, local and organic diet.

While adopting low-carbon lifestyles affords great benefits in personal wellbeing and environmental protection, Murphy isn’t the best person to sell the message. His tone is often moralising and pessimistic, painting a picture of painful sacrifice rather than joyful gain. Others do this much better – our own Tom Hodgkinson, Transition Town pioneer Rob Hopkins and Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation to name a few.

Nor is the wider context for community and individual action addressed. There is no mention of the need for a global agreement – whether Contraction and Convergence, Oliver Tickell’s Kyoto II and/or an Oil Depletion Protocol – or national frameworks such as the UK’s (pioneering but currently fatally flawed) Climate Change Bill and Tradeable Energy Quotas. Rob Hopkins is clear we need all these mutually reinforcing responses. For scaling the benefits of your carbon-conscious lifestyle up to community level, Hopkins’ recent Transition Handbook is a much better place to start.

Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change by Pat Murphy  (New Society Publishers, £11.99)

This article first appeared in the Ecologist July 2008

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