The end of cheap oil will close many of the economic doors that have been open to communities or that communities have pried open over the last 50 years. Just as surely, new doors will open, or open wider, to those who have eyes to see them. A number of initiatives are already acting on that mix of opportunity and threat, showing us how to build vital communities when energy is dear.
"Oil has generated an unprecedented energy surplus; the efforts of a small fraction of the workforce have been able to supply a substantial portion of the energy required for the colossal range of goods and services that we associate with modernity. We are unlikely to see oil's like again. Instead of a single energy source to replace oil, there will have to be a bundle of them, each of which will require more people and infrastructure than oil does.
"Oil is the means by which our way of life since 1945 has come to disregard geographical distance, permitting ever greater gaps to emerge between the producers and consumers of an overwhelming number of products and services. That is also where most people and businesses will first feel the pinch of a sustained jump in oil prices, especially in commuting, food, and tourism. These are also the places where there are prospects for local and regional initiatives in the coming years.
"In 10 years, and monumentally in 20 years, we may well be looking at a triple dilemma. There will be an aging population with a lot of equity and few liabilities that is reasonably insulated from rising energy and rising prices on consumer goods. The major sources of population growth will likely be new Canadians and Aboriginals who will have little of that security and nothing to inherit from baby-boomer parents. Finally, a significant portion of the housing stock that one would expect to be middle-aged will in fact be obsolete.
"In the balance, more transactions will take place among people who live and work closer to each other and among neighbouring communities. The national economy will become more clearly a matter of intra-community and inter-community transactions, not the national and international transactions that currently absorb the attention of economists. While our communities' ways of life will be sorely tried, they will become more intense and important than they have been for generations."