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Planning for peak oil? : An examination of what municipal and regional planners in Greater Vancouver know about peak oil and think about its relevance to planning and a local planning response Larson, Lisa

Abstract

Canadian suburbs and cities are heavily reliant on inexpensive oil and natural gas; they depend on them for many essential needs including transportation, heating, and the import of goods and foods from distant and neighbouring regions. Growing debate around 'peak oil' has brought the future of these fuels into question. Those who believe in peak oil expect that global conventional oil and gas extraction rates will reach a maximum by 2020, after which they will inevitably decline. They expect that without a corresponding drop in demand the prices of these fuels will dramatically increase and result in future disruptions to fossil fuel dependent lives. In this thesis I argue that the likelihood of peak oil and our dependence on cheap oil and gas epitomize the unsustainable nature of our suburbs and cities. I propose that planning, as a profession oriented towards the future and dedicated to supporting our society's transition to sustainability, has a responsibility to help us prepare for a 'post-carbon age'. Through interviews with 26 randomly selected municipal and regional planners in the Greater Vancouver region I examined what local planners know about the peak oil debate and think about its potential consequences and importance to local planning. I also investigated whether they believe peak oil warrants a local planning response and what that response should be. My results indicate that planners in this region have a limited awareness of peak oil, although the majority agree that the issue is relevant to planning. The majority also agree that it could force our lives to change, but that it is difficult to predict how exactly. In addition, my results show that fifty percent of local planners believe that peak oil is something to which local planning should respond. Their general recommendations of what planning might do to address peak oil are similar to those commonly associated with 'sustainability planning'. While they are a good place to start, I propose that more detailed, energy-centric, and comprehensive policies should be formulated under a precautionary planning approach, together with greater awareness of and dialogue about peak oil within public, political, and planning communities.

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