by Richard T. Stuebi
I have a great deal of respect for Matthew Simmons, founder of the energy investment bank Simmons & Company International. Simmons is a frequent speaker, and one of his most often-quoted lines is that, when it comes to the possibility of declining oil production in the near-future, “There is no Plan B.”
Late last year, a non-profit organization from Southern Ohio named The Community Solution wrote a white paper in which they described a so-called “Plan B”. In their Plan B, new technologies are pursued aggressively in the vision of enabling society to transition to an alternative energy future. This presumably would represent the majority view of the clean-tech community, including the readers of this blog.
According to The Community Solution, the fly in the ointment is that Plan B only slightly slows the inexorable path to human extinction implied by “Plan A” (status quo consumption). The Community Solution essentially argues that Plan B is unsustainable, that Plan B still implies too much consumption of resources for the planet to bear forever.
For The Community Solution, the only true path of enduring sustainability comes with “Plan C”, what they call “Curtailment and Community.” Much lower consumption of all resources, much more local economic and social interaction.
In a video, The Community Solution points to Cuba as an example of how Plan C can work. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Cuba no longer had its industrial and economic benefactor, and oil import quantities fell by more than 50%. Out of necessity — some might say desperation — agriculture, commerce and transportation all had to be reinvented on the fly to cope with a dramatic curtailment in energy resources.
In my view, Cuba has many fine things to recommend it: food, music and cigars come to mind. However, economic policy under the Castro regime is not one of Cuba’s long suits. It is doubtful that the average American will be impressed by Cuba’s energy “revolution” in the past decade and say, “Gee, that’s wonderful — I’d like for that to happen here.”
Selling Plan C to the U.S. seems pretty much like a lost cause to me, and in any event I don’t think Plan B is necessarily as doomsday as The Community Solution portrays it. Although I agree that we’re far too materialistic and our society would benefit from more modest values, I do not endorse Plan C, and instead I vote for Plan B. What do you think?