Monday, December 27, 2010

Movie Review: The Power of Community:How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

The documentary The Power of Community:How Cuba Survived Peak Oil looks at how Cubans survived their "peak oil," i.e., when fuel oil imports were cut off after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

With no imports of fuel oil, power cuts lasted up to 16 hours a day, and they had no choice but to abruptly change. Power for everyday necessities like water pumping for indoor plumbing and refrigeration was at best non reliable and at worst non existent. They had a food scarcity, and the average Cuban lost 20 lbs by 1994.

Here are some inspiring ways Cuba dealt with their "peak oil" experience.

  • The government imported bicycles, which were not a part of the culture, and citizens had to learn how to use them. 
  • They developed mass transit service overnight with creative solutions like old trucks with covers acting as buses.
  • People in small towns turned to horses and mules for transportation.
  • In the early days while in crisis mode, they had to have food distribution so the wealthy did not just hoard what was for sale, and relied on “survival agriculture” using no chemical inputs (which were not available).
  • There was a drastic effort to convert every inch of arable land to agriculture. Therefore, urban gardening flourished. It's a growing sector of economy, creating jobs (organic farming is more labor intensive, therefore there are more jobs).
  • Farmers now among the highest paid professionals
  • Many kiosks are located throughout city that sell food grown using urban agriculture
  • 80-100% of food in smaller towns is provided by urban agriculture
  • Working against nature, in conventional agriculture, you have to use huge amounts of energy. They strive to create a “food forest”—self sustaining like a forest, and then you pick the produce as you would forage in the woods.
  • In some rural areas, it is less expensive to use solar panels than to connect to grid. More than 2,000 rural schools have supplied with solar panels. 
  • The use of solar hot water is an example of variety of small solutions used across the country.
  • Cuba imported fuel oil before the crisis, since the quality of their crude oil is poor. Now, crop waste like sugar is used to produce electricity. During harvest, 3-4 months out of the year, 30% of energy is from biomass sources.
The average Cuban consumes 1/8 of the energy of the average American, but their infant morality rate and lifespan are about equal. Obviously Cuba is very different from us, politically, geographically, culturally, and in the climate. But this movie provides great examples of baby steps and grassroots action, adding up and make a difference. Humans are extremely adaptable to change. Because of embargo, everything has to happen from the inside, making this a fascinating isolated, controlled experiment in how to survive peak oil, when it comes for the rest of us. 


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