Jason Bradford has had a wide-ranging career in ecology, agriculture, economic development and climate change advocacy.
Bradford, 50, lives with his family on an organic farm in southwest Corvallis.
He has 100 acres of property, mainly cultivated in hemp, but he also has an oversized family garden plot and a root cellar and a greenhouse under construction on his 3-acre “homestead.”
His work and life experience has given him a unique perspective on the challenges that face the planet’s residents. And he has thought a lot about how it all adds up, summarizing his thoughts with Post Carbon Institute collaborators Asher Miller and Rob Dietz in the “Crazytown” podcast as well as his recent report “The Future is Rural,” available on the institute’s website (see information box).
A key point made by the report is that fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas — are not going to be here for the long term. And, Bradford says, renewables (wind, solar, hydro, etc.) are not going to be able to make up the difference. The end result, he says, is that the U.S. might have to made do with 10% of its currently available energy.
For a relatively simple example of how that might play out across the country, consider Hawaii. Having just 10% of the energy means 10% of the tourists. And hotels, restaurants and beach umbrellas. It also means that it will be a huge challenge supplying the islands with the food commodities it does not grow. Hawaii will be different, clearly.
“Our society is energy-blind.” Bradford said. “People think that they can just flip a switch and that (the energy) is always going to be there. We might have to move more by foot and bike a lot. We have the capacity to move goods by rail and barge,” which are more energy-efficient than long-haul trucks.
“Replacing trucks will be tough,” Bradford said. “They have given us just-in-time delivery. They are time-efficient but not energy-efficient. Time is money. When energy is cheap, time is so valuable.”
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Bradford remains convinced that American society is not adapting quickly enough.
“I doubt that they are going to do anything,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to function if you made our economy reflect the full price of carbon. Anything we want to do is penalizing you economically and politically. You are not going to be elected. You are not going to be popular.
“And we can’t talk about what it’s like to live with a tenth of the energy,”
As an example of the challenges, Bradford cited the recently completed transportation system plan update for the city of Corvallis. The four-year process was paid for by a $1 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The plan is expected to guide city transportation efforts for the next 20 years.
“Why are we doing this?” Bradford asked. “We should be making it super hard to drive and super easy to bike. Everything is business as usual. It’s nutty to us, but if you stand up and say that to the City Council they say you’re the one who is nutty. We’re applying bandages and we think we are being helpful.
“We need to have a serious conversation and freak each other out. Finally, maybe, people will wake up and change. Right now, it’s like watching a slow train wreck.
“It’s hard to talk about these things honestly. When they get really bad enough and enough people get it … what kind of things will you have in place? If you have systems in place, your region might be OK.
“But we’re probably not going to do anything.”