Thursday, 2 September 2010

"The Power of Community: how Cuba survived peak oil" ~ a documentary about sustainability in an oil famine

There is much talk these days of dwindling oil supplies and increasing use of the term 'sustainability', yet there is a great deal more talk than action: some individuals are making changes to their lifestyles to reduce use or find alternatives, but most continue on as usual.  To seriously contemplate severe oil shortages invites anxiety, yet there are societies which have managed to adapt their lifestyles accordingly and done so with flair.

Cuba is one of them.  This documentary is an eye-opener and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It includes the historic context, factual discussion and presents solutions that have worked.  In the absence of an official trailer I've embedded a clip from YouTube.  Other related clips become apparent once it has played.

Here is the movie website which provides good background information:
The crisis which precipitated this drastic change in Cuba's economy occurred when the USSR collapsed.  They had been Cuba's main source of many supplies including oil.  With ruinous trade sanctions from America still in place they really were left high and dry.  The population got a good deal leaner and there were nutritional problems which had to be addressed.

After initial turmoil the Cubans made an astonishing turn-around: making do with less, finding alternative energy sources, creating their own green revolution in which the intensive growing of vegetables and fruit became paramount.  Crops came to be grown in every possible place and were tended and harvested with an absolute minimum of oil-dependent machinery and techniques.  Not surprisingly, organic agricultural techniques have become dominant as they are much less oil-dependent and much more sustainable in terms of resources.  Social services including medical care were prioritised and made available free of charge and remain so with the result that the population has the same life expectancy as Americans.

To the eyes of many Westerners their circumstance would look and seem threadbare.  That's a very superficial measure of anything.  The reality is an astonishing achievement which others would do well to study and apply while they have the opportunity and leisure to do so.

Conversion to sustainable energy sources and environmentally 'friendly' lifestyles often seems to require large financial investments and personal sacrifices, and yet these people are just getting on with it.  Bravo!  It took a massive supply crisis to get that change rolling, but they did it.  Imagine what they could have achieved if they'd had twelve months to prepare for it.

Imagine if we had twelve months to prepare for such an event.  I'd be astonished if many other societies would do as well given the insularity of many and our lack of practice in working things out collectively.  The success of a society in a time of crisis lies in the ability of its members to find ways of co-operating, and balancing the good of the individual within that of the community in which they live.

What can the rest of us actually do to become more skilled and able to survive in what seems sure to be an oil-scarce future?  For me it's about small steps in knowledge and skill which have gradually helped me become less dependent on factory produced and store-bought goods.  As with the Cubans this change has been forced on me by financial constraints which I didn't envisage.  I've had to learn to make do with substantially less than I would previously have thought possible.  This has been a source of satisfaction which I hadn't expected.   

I share things I've learnt in the At Home Chronicle which is one way I can contribute to others.  If we all take small steps in a similar direction and keep on taking them it must make a difference: "Many drops of water, many grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land."  Come on everybody!

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