Richard Heinberg and Post Carbon

December 2013

During the past decade Post Carbon Institute’s influence has grown markedly, thanks in no small part to all our supporters and allies. And we’re proud of the impressive list of accomplishments we’ve racked up (see this) in that time.

Where do we go from here? That depends on what’s needed and what’s possible.
Our mission remains consistent, but our projects tend to shift as global events unfold (for example, my two most recent books, The End of Growth and Snake Oil were written in response to the global financial crisis and the recent North American fracking boom, respectively). We have a general understanding of what likely will drive change over the next decade: peak net energy, climate change, resource depletion, and financial bubbles. However, how these main drivers interact with established economic and political institutions, growing population, and Earth’s already-strained ecosystems will no doubt deliver some surprises—which may upset everyone’s plans and expectations, Post Carbon Institute’s included.
At the same time, what we can do will depend upon our capacity. We’re basically a nine-person nonprofit organization—not so big, in the general scheme of things, even taking into account our 30 Fellows and tens of thousands of loyal supporters. And our staff is already frenetically busy maintaining existing programs.
At Post Carbon Institute, we trace the systemic interactions of energy, environment, economy, and society; show the likely results of current trends; develop strategies for successful transition to a post-growth, post-carbon future; and promote community resilience as the single most important goal that people everywhere can strive toward. In short, we support a fundamental and urgent reshaping of our society so that we can withstand the shocks of the 21st century and learn to thrive within ecological limits. Not a small task.
Because Post Carbon Institute focuses on a range of sustainability crises, any one of which could command all of our resources and more to address, we never find ourselves short of new project ideas. If we could increase our capacity, here are just a few of the things we might do:
  • Seed and support Community Economic Laboratories. This is a project I outlined in Chapter 6 of The End of Growth. Local centers for post-growth economic development are emerging in many places, including my hometown of Santa Rosa, but more are needed, and some coordination would be hugely beneficial.
  • Develop a Resilience Corps. We already have AmeriCorps and Green Corps, so how about a training program for young adults that blends a systemic understanding of the crises at hand with practical, hands-on skills building and community service?
  • Turn disaster rebounding into resilience building. We know more extreme weather, energy shocks, and economic disruptions are on the way. Why not develop a program for encouraging a pattern of recovery that leaves communities more sustainable and resilient than they were before, by emphasizing renewable energy and local food systems?
  • Multiply the impact of community resilience enterprises by tracking, networking, and supporting these efforts, and by helping them access investment and grant capital.
  • Document—and educate the public and policymakers about—the short-term nature of the shale gas and oil “revolution.” We’ve already pioneered this work with our “Drill, Baby Drill” and “Drilling California” reports, and Snake Oil, but more is on the way—stay tuned.
  • Support smarter community resilience building. Help form a learning and collaboration network of groups and organizations that are building community resilience in different locations using different models.
  • Expand the reach of Post Carbon Institute. PCI already has had some success establishing international partnerships, translating information across multiple languages, and developing Post Carbon Outposts in other countries.
  • Increase post-carbon educational offerings. There’s huge potential for increasing knowledge and skills, through formal academia and MOOCs (“massive open online courses” aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web), as well as skill-building locally and virtually.
  • Create a program of Resilience Studies for universities, community colleges, and engaged citizens.
  • Expand our use of creative media (including video, animation, music, and art). We’ve enjoyed some success with a series of animations (starting with the 1.5 million views of “300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds”), using the power of popular culture and social media to reach a growing population of people with messages of resource limits and resilience-building responses.
How many of these projects will we actually take on in the years ahead? That depends on you. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m about to ask for your support. There are a lot of worthy nonprofits out there asking for your dollars right now. I don’t know of any that premise their work on the kind of systemic, integrative, and response-based analysis of energy, economic, and environmental issues that PCI specializes in. If this means something to you—if you’ve found our work helpful in your own efforts to build a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable future—then please consider an end-of-year donation.

Post Carbon Institute

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