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Charged Up 

The Post Carbon Institute's Richard Heinberg on the so-called petro-boom, the folly of fracking and the ways we can get back on track

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"As time has gone on and as I've studied the data, I've come to realize that it's more of a process, not just falling off the cliff," he explains.

Part of the process, for those not involved in the higher echelons of government and society where policy decisions are decided, is to live consciously. Heinberg and his wife Janet have started that process at the suburban Santa Rosa home they purchased 12 years ago.

"We wanted to show that this could be done," says Heinberg, as we tour the backyard. The backyard is a dreamy oasis—and one that you'd never guess existed from the street. Herb spirals bloom with thyme, rosemary and lemon balm; a vegetable garden overflows with greens; solar panels generate power, and a water catchment system harvests rain. Apple, pear plum and pomegranate trees shade the yard. In one corner, potatoes sprout in burlap sacks stuffed with straw. What Heinberg is most excited about, though, are Buffy, Scarlet and Azalea, his three chickens. The "pets," he calls them, cluck around our feet, scrambling for insects and bits of scraps. Call it country living, with easy access to a future SMART train station and the amenities of the city.

It's also in close proximity to Loveland Violin Shop in downtown. "I'm a bit obsessed with it, as my wife would tell you," he says with a laugh.

click to enlarge POWER OF IDEAS Heinberg with his books—and his beloved violin.
  • POWER OF IDEAS Heinberg with his books—and his beloved violin.

Living here, with the garden, the chickens and the violins, Heinberg looks to be a man in his element, negotiating a careful balance between the heavy realization that life as we know it is headed for irrevocable change, and the simple joy of everyday living.

If humans look honestly at the crisis at hand, begin sharing, using less, being nice to each other, there's no reason we can't have a perfectly acceptable future, he tells me. But that means facing facts. To make a true transition, the technical piece would be relatively easy, he explains; it involves building lots of solar and wind, prioritizing electric rail and redesigning cites for walking and bicycling. Heinberg mentions his admiration of the Transition Town movement, which started in the United Kingdom and uses permaculture concepts to build resilience in communities to weather gracefully the coming economic and environmental upheavals.

Of most concern is whether the "fossil fuel" industry is successful in making people believe that there's enough oil and gas to keep us going for another century, in the style in which we've become accustomed, he emphasizes. The oil boom in North Dakota (and elsewhere) is going to be short-lived, but it's bought us some time—a few short years—to get to work on renewables.

"If we use that time—maybe it's five or 10 years—to really invest in renewable energy and conservation, than so much the better," he says. "But if we just take those five or 10 years and delay what we ultimately have to do anyway, at the end we'll be in a much worse position than we already are."

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