I wondered recently what would happen if big cities were to start tackling global problems locally (see the post on "Global Federalism"). The idea is that, while many national governments are blocked by fear, business interest, tactical considerations, upcoming elections, competing interests, and more, big cities could become change agents, acting locally to move things globally. Quoting myself:
If cities start acting as global actors towards sustainability, new mobility solutions and traffic strategies, clean energy, water resources management, etc, when you add it all up there could be significant progress even without national policies and international treaties.
The example was climate change. There are many other examples of different magnitude that could be quoted - from the city of New York last week drastically limiting trans fat in restaurant food on health concerns, to organizers in Madrid banning too-skinny models from fashion catwalks, to London Mayor's Ken Livingstone imposing a "congestion charge", a fee to drive into the city that's now inspiring adaptations in congested towns around the world. Mayors have real power, writes Jas Walljasper in this month's Ode Magazine. And, let me suggest, measures taken locally may gain easier acceptance.
Hassan Masum, a Canadian researcher, just sent me an additional example, which he discusses in a paper co-authored with Mark Tovey of Carleton University: peak oil. That's the point (which, depending on the expert you ask, we will reach soon or have just past) where the quantities of oil we pump will reach a peak, and then decline. That won't mean that oil will stop flowing overnight, but clearly there will be less supply to meet a constantly growing demand. That's a big problem, and one that nobody really seems to be willing to tackle at a global, nor at a national level (with a few exceptions, such as Sweden).
Maybe it's at the city/region level that some work on preparing for a post-petroleum economy and society could be done - by involving the citizens. That's the aim of a project in which Mark was involved, seeking to develop solutions to impacts of peak oil at a local level, in the city of Ottawa, Canada. It's called CrudeAwakening. The two authors use it as one of two examples for exploring ways to mobilize and coordinate the "vast amounts of ingenuity" that will be needed to solve problems of this magnitude. Their brillliant article - "Given enough minds" - offers some praxis-based suggestions for creating a sustainable open infrastructure dedicated to collectively contribute to finding solutions to massive problems.