Learning from An Oil Crunch in Cuba
The documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil explores the events surrounding Cuba’s unexpected and sudden loss of oil and what individuals and governments did to work together and rise above the crisis.
In the early 1990's when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost half its oil overnight. Rapid, large scale economic and social depression erupted in a matter of weeks. According to the documentary, Cuba lost approximately 80% of its imports and 80% of its exports. Fossil fuels, oil based products, food and medicines all fell from use. Industrial and agricultural systems were paralyzed.
Fidel Castro gave one week's notice of imminent energy crisis and the country slipped into sharp decline, general breakdown, food shortages and transportation chaos.
Over the course of about four years, Cuba was able to recover. Agriculture, organics and local living practices flourished. Kiosks were set up in all communities to provide easy access to locally grown produce and grassroots services bloomed. 2006 was declared "The Year of the Energy Revolution," with the government giving out energy efficient lights and appliances, and initiating an education program. Organic urban gardens sprung up throughout the capital of Havana and other urban centers, on roof-tops, patios, and unused parking lots. To assist rural areas, 200 rural schools, as well as some residential properties, were provided with solar panels.
Relocalization, permaculture, and innovative modes of mass transit had to be rapidly developed. Permaculturists arriving in Cuba at the time began to distribute aid and taught their techniques to locals. Massive changes in diet occured with many Cubans adopting a vegan diet simply out of necessity. Small homes were built in rural areas and land was provided to encourage families to move and assist in food production for themselves and to sell in local farmers' markets. 1.2 million bicycles were purchased from China and distributed.
Referred to as the “Special Period,” the solution was not found in seeking new energy sources, but rather in the people of the country changing their lifestyles from industrial-sized consumption to something simpler and more sustainable.
This video with Megan Quinn of The Community Solution discusses the documentary and its many ideas, proposals and models for successful, sustaining, regenerative, community-orientated management of oil crises.
Photos by Alejandro R. Socorro Castro