I’m copying and pasting a post that I’d once made on a prior blog site that I’d created, it’s also the only post I ever made on that blog and since I have no plans as of this time to continue to write on my other blog I will post what I wrote here instead, especially since this remains a topic and subject matter that I care about and take interest in.
- If you are a reader by nature then feel free to go straight into the reading below.
- If you prefer learning through videos, but are still interested in information regarding this issue, this is the link to the video covered in this post The Power of Community.
This post will be covering the issues addressed in the documentary, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”. In 1993 the Cuban economy crashed, which resulted in something along the lines of an artificial peak oil crisis.
M. King Hubbert is the theorist that first brought about the idea of peak oil. Even before the crisis in Cuba the United States had gotten a taste of some of the hardships that might be faced during an oil crisis, when in 1973 an embargo on oil was passed as a result of the Arab-Israeli War. Some of the effects of this embargo included gas purchases being restricted to every other day, long gas lines, and lowered speed limits.
Jimmy Carter had begun to address the issues related to peak oil, but this progress was short lived as Reagan’s presidency put an end to the fledgling progress began during the Carter years.
What is peak oil?
The point in time in which oil production reaches its maximum (meaning to say that the reservoirs have become half empty). The oil does not run out, but production does begin to decline. Oil is a nonrenewable resource in the sense that it took millions of years for the remains of dead plants and animals to become the energy sources that they are today, and when these sources have been used up, it will take millions of years for these resources to become available once more. Unless new scientific advances change this inevitable fate, there will be an impending global oil crisis yet to come. To make matters worse this insatiable need for oil is only growing as countries like China try to follow in the footsteps of the United States.
“The Special Period”
Cubans often refer to their past oil crisis as “the special period”. This crisis began when oil imports from the Soviet Union dropped from about 13 or 14 million gallons per year down to only about 4 million. The average Cuban lost about 20 lbs during this crisis and blackouts became a commonplace occurrence all across the country. Workers also had to wait 3-4 hours for buses to take them to their jobs. The Cuban government imported 1.2 million bicycles and manufactured half a million more.
To make matters worse the U.S. also enacted its own embargo on Cuba. Import of food went down about 80%, money became useless. In order to keep the population from starving the Cuban government created food rations and also began to provide subsidized meals.
Surviving Peak Oil
- Agriculture: It is in the agricultural sector that Cubans saw the most drastic changes. In the time of this oil Cuba’s green revolution began. Before the crisis Cuba’s agricultural industry was the most industrialized out of all the Latin American countries and exceeded the United States in fertilizer use. The sudden shortage in oil caused the agricultural industry to falter and resulted in the food shortages. Due to these struggles people began to grow food throughout the Cuban cities. Nearly all arable land was turned into organic gardens.
- Urban gardens: Vacant lots throughout the cities were converted to orchards. It was through the process of trial and error that these urban gardens succeeded. Permaculture experts from Australia visited Cuba to assist the people with innovative new ways of growing food and this newly acquired knowledge spreed throughout the community. During this time of hardship farmers were seen as some of the most successful members of society. In the city of Habana over 50% of the produce was supplied by the urban gardens. For smaller cities and towns the yield of local gardens accounted for 80-100% of produce. This change in food availability reduced much of the need of transporting food over long distances.
- Sustainable practices: The newly adopted organic farming approach eliminated the need for natural gas and oil based farming methods and became implemented nationally within a few years. The new methods worked with nature rather than against it. One of the key components was ensuring that farms had healthy topsoil (the soil situated at around the top 3 inches of the land). Past farming methods were greatly damaging to topsoil because adding chemicals damages soil turning it into sand. Some of the methods of improving top soil included crop rotation, composting, and green manure.
- Land distribution: 40% of large state farms were divided up into privately owned cooperatives. Land was leased rent free and tax free to small farmers. In return these farmers had to show the state that they were growing food on these pieces of land or else this privilege would be taken away.
- Education and healthcare: Due to the lack of transportation universities became decentralized. Originally Cuba had 3 universities, but this number went up to about 50 after the crisis. In spite of the hardships faced by Cubans during this time the government continued to provide its citizens with free education and healthcare. The average lifespan and infant mortality rates in Cuba was almost equal to those of the people in the United State despite the economic challenges they faced.
- Transportation: Many large vehicles were converted into city buses and government cars were required to pick up anyone needing a ride. As for the people residing in rural areas, many turned to using mules and horses for their transportation and as mentioned previously bicycles became one of the most commonly used modes of transit.
- Housing: 85% of Cubans own their own home, but most of these houses are small and simple. Cubans living in rural areas often have more land available to grow food and often those living in the cities can only afford to live in apartments, which seemed acceptable to many as there still remained a draw to live within the hustle and bustle of city squares.
- Alternative energy: The government provided many of the rural schools with solar panels, as this was less costly than connecting them to the city grids. Many sugar mills were utilized for an additional purpose, to function as power plants. Crude oil, which is very bad for the environment was also used during this time, as there were very limited resources for acquiring oil and survival was what was most important.
Our society today lives in unsustainable ways and the security of oil supplies are getting more risky with each day that passes. The world is changing and we too must change in order to adapt. One of the ways that we can do so is through rebuilding our communities. It’s great to think about issues globally, but action must take place at a local level, each person much contribute their part in their own way, no matter how small.
- A change in oil supplies can turn a nation dependent on fossil fuels upside down.
- Societies can develop more resilience by learning to rely more on local resources.
- Community is at the heart of any social fabric and can help to bring people out of the darkest of times.
The Power of Community-How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (2006), produced by Community Solutions and directed by Faith Morgan.