In May, an obscure city advisory group released the results of a 15-month study of San Francisco's vulnerabilities to peak oil, a scenario that assumes the global supply of oil will run thin in the near future and that the world could go the way of Mad Max. Produced by the now-disbanded Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, seven volunteers appointed in part by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi in late 2007, the 120-page report warns that San Francisco is looking at a grim future if public policymakers and city residents don't start preparing for the post-oil apocalypse right away.
Jason Mark, a local author and urban farmer who sat on the task force, says serious food shortages could be a reality. He recommended in the report that residents be allowed to graze goats in their yards, keep more than four chickens per property, and raise and eat their own rabbits and hogs as supplemental protein sources. He says these tactics — currently prohibited by the health department — would help alleviate pressure on outlying Bay Area farmlands while building agricultural self-sufficiency within the limits of San Francisco. He would also like public golf courses to be converted into productive urban farmland and have the city plant fruit and nut trees along sidewalks.
The lengthy report further warns that if San Francisco's leaders don't take peak oil seriously, we can expect “violent fluctuations in energy prices,” extreme gentrification, and poverty. But Supervisor Sean Elsbernd believes the city has more important problems to address. He points to the deficit, which he predicts will hit $1 billion in two years: “And they're worried about farming chickens in backyards and planting nut farms? We've got enough nuts in this city already.” He calls it “ridiculous” to ask the Board of Supervisors to tackle such global issues as peak oil.
Mirkarimi, though, believes this is one matter that must be addressed at city level. “This conversation has to take place soon, but we can't compel the federal or state governments to do anything,” the Green Party member says.
Oil supplies, the task force's report states, are fated for “an inexorable decline,” and natural gas supplies will careen into an “unstoppable descent.” If we don't brace ourselves now, it warns, adjusting to life in San Francisco after the energy crash will be “enormously difficult, painful, and expensive. There is no time to lose.”
Mirkarimi has read the entire report, and believes the issue to be “very timely, considering our dependence on oil.” Yet months will probably pass before a formal hearing takes place. Then, he says, tedious discussion will surely follow, and it's far too early to tell whether San Franciscans will get to try their hands at milking goats and skinning hogs. For now, it takes diesel to bring home the bacon.