Community Solution: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

* Community Solution: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil; Global Public Media: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil via Resilience [SQ Copy].

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

The Community Solution, 14 May 2006


The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil 53:00
Youtube: Sharni DayJane Norman; Prince Amir, Drago Thorvald.


When Cuba lost access to Soviet oil in the early 1990s, the country faced an immediate crisis – feeding the population – and an ongoing challenge: how to create a new low-energy society. This film tells the story of the Cuban people’s hardship, ingenuity, and triumph over sudden adversity – through cooperation, conservation, and community. – Community Solution: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil is an American documentary film that explores the Special Period in Peacetime and its aftermath; the economic collapse and eventual recovery of Cuba following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Following the dramatic steps taken by both the Cuban government and citizens, its major themes include urban agriculture, energy dependence, and sustainability. The film was directed by Faith Morgan, and was released in 2006 by The Community Solution. The film is a reflection of the peak oil scenario argued by oil industry experts and political activists, including Matthew Simmons and James Howard Kunstler. The Cuban economy, heavily dependent on economic aid from the Soviet Union, suffered tremendously following the end of the Cold War. The nation lost half of its oil imports, and 85 percent of its international trade economy. Director Faith Morgan, together with the non-profit group The Community Solution, seeks to educate audiences about peak oil and the impact it will have on transportation, agriculture, medicine, and other industries. The idea for a film based on the Cuban recovery first arose in August 2003 when Morgan traveled to Cuba as part of the Global Exchange program. Amazed by stories of survival during The Special Period, she learned that the Cuban economic crisis was survived with a fundamental shift in the country’s economic policies, rather than with new energy sources. Morgan began securing funds for the film in 2004 with help from Community Services, Inc. and began filming in the fall of the same year. – Wikipedia: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.


Transcript: Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil


The Community Solution is an organization exploring the peak oil crisis. Its focus is on local community-based solutions that reflect the values of cooperation, conservation and curtailment.

Narrator: The breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s created a major economic crisis in Cuba known as the special period.

Jorge Mario PhD Economist: So we have from 1982 to 1983 a freefall of the economy of 34% of GDP, gross domestic product. When I tell you freefall of the economy, try to imagine an aeroplane suddenly lose their engines. It was really a crash.

N: Cuba lost 80% of its export and import markets. Oil imports dropped by more than half, buses stopped running, factories closed, electricity blackouts were common and food was scarce. People almost starved.

Rachel Bruhnke Environmental Engineer: In reality when this all began it was a necessity. People had to start cultivating vegetables wherever they could.

Narrator: Over the next decade Cuba took drastic steps to find solutions. It is the first country to face the crisis that we will all face, the peak oil crisis.

Pat Murphy: Cuba Program Manager: The Community Solution: Two years ago we learned about a concept called peak oil in which we find that oil production is reaching a peak in the next few years and it will be going down and that implies a major change in our way of life. What we have discovered is that Cuba because their own artificial peak oil was imposed on them when the Soviet Union collapsed is actually a model for what is going to take place in the rest of the world. So we wanted to see if we could capture what is it in the Cuban people and the Cuban culture that allowed them to go through this very difficult time without competing over scarce resources. We think Cuba has alot to show the world about how to deal with energy adversity which I think we will all be facing.


A Short History of Peak Oil

Narrator: In 1949 oil geologist Dr M King Hubbard developed the theory of oil depletion making the prediction that the fossil fuel era would be very short. In 1956 he forecasted that American oil production in the contiguous 49 states would reach peak production in 1970. Production did peak in that year as he predicted. In 1974 Hubbard testified to a Senate sub-committee warning of the dangers of the peak of fossil fuels in an exponential growth culture. The US oil peak in 1970 combined with the crisis in the Middle East led to severe oil shortages and an economic crisis in the country. Americans experienced record high interest rates, long gas lines, the highest gasoline prices in history, recession and a declining stock market. Government films were produced explaning the problem.

When the Circuit Breaks, Federal Energy Administration film released in 1975: We were caught by surprised when the ciris occurred that could recur and recur unless the entire country recognized the dangers of a quiet real energy shortage. Our industrial progress and economic growth was fired by what many seemed to look on as endless energy, but warning signs were there. Housewife: I think its going to end with everybody changing their habits.

Narrator: During this time gas purchases were restricted to every other day. Long gas lines appeared and the speed limit was lowered. President Carter formed a task force that in 1980 published The Global 2000 Report to the President of the US: Entering the 21st Century. The report pointed out that by the year 2000, half of all the oil available in the world would have been consumed. Carter had begun a new energy policy, tax credits were offered for alternative energy and wind turbines began to appear on the landscape. But then Alaska’s Prudhoe bay and the oil fields of the North sea came online. The oil crisis eased and oil prices dropped. Carter’s call for frugality and care was rejected. Ronald Raegan moved into the White House and dramatically cut research and development for alternative energy. It was morning in America again and the country went to sleep for another generation, but the problem didn’t go away as oil consumption continued to increase year after year.

In 1997 petroleum geologist Dr Colin Campbell wrote The Coming Oil Crisis. Three years later he founded the Association for the Study of Peak Oil known as ASPO and held the first meeting on Peak Oil in Sweden in 2002. Dr Ken Deffeyes, a princeton oil geologist published Hubberts Peak in 2001, followed two years later by Richard Heinberg’s seminal The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies. In 2005 Matt Simmons book, Twilight in the Desert challenged the stated oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. A flood of books and magazines began to appear on the market. Twenty-five books were published in 2004 and 2005 and hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines. The long sleep of the 80s and 90s is coming to an end, and with no more preparation than in 1970 global peak oil is arriving.

Megan Quinn, Cuba Project, The Community Solution: Peak Oil is the concept in time when oil reaches its maximum. That doesn’t mean that we are running out, it means we are going to have a continuous decline in production from that point.

Pat Murphy: Peak oil occurs when a reservoir is about half empty. Reservoir pressure drops at about the half way point and so less and less oil will be extracted each year. World oil production grew slowly until the 1950’s then accelerated until the 1970’s, dipped for a few years because of the Mideast crisis, and then began increasing again.In a few years we will hit the ultimate peak when half the worlds oil will be gone. Oil production will begin to decline, at the same time world oil demand will continue to grow, and world population is increasing along with it.

Matt Simmons, Author: Twilight in the Desert. What peaks is not the total oil, its the easy oil to produce. Whats left is the less desirable oil that you couldn’t get out in the first place very fast. It takes more energy to produce and a far smaller quantity comes from each well.

Pat Murphy: Oil is finite, natural gas is finite, coal, uranium, all these are finite fuels so there is going to a peak for all of these and peak oil is just the beginning.

Narrator: The effect on industrialized culture could be extreme. Our economy and our way of life is based upon consuming oil and other fossil fuels. Each person in the US consumes the yearly per capita of 10 barrels of oil for food, 9 barrels of oil for automobiles and 7 barrels of oil for their homes. The major use of fossil fuels is for food production.

Megan Quinn: What peak oil means is essentially a limited supply. World oil discovery peaked in the mid 1960’s and has been declining ever since. Right now we are consuming about five barrels of oil for every one that we discover.That is an unsustainable amount and can’t be continued much longer. But at the same time we have increasing demand throughout the world especially in developing countries like China.

Matthew Simmons: Now in 1993 China had seven hundred thirty three thousand cars on the road and by the start of 2004 they had six million cars, by the end of 2004, they had eight million cars. They have convinced people that its nice to drive.

Megan Quinn: The whole vision for these developing countries is that they are going to be like America some day and that their people are going to be able to consume like Americans have consumed, but that is not going to be able to happen, and thats not even possible for America. Americans won’t be able to consume like Americans today.

Richard Heinberg: Author: The Party’s Over and Power Down: Peak Oil is unprecedented. We have never become dependent on fossil fuels before in human history and we have never experienced a peak in fossil fuel production so we are flying blind as a global community, and so we need examples. We need some sort of laboratory experiment where we can run this and see whats the best way to do it, whats not so good and so on, and Cuba provides us with that because Cuba has already undergone a kind of energy famine.


Cuba’s Economic Crisis: The Special Period

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: After the Soviet Union collapsed oil imports dropped from 13 to 14 million tonnes a year, to only four.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: Cuba in the 80’s had 90 000 Russian tractors, factories and chemical fertilizers we received from the Soviety Union. In 1990 everything changed. There was nothing.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: When the crisis began in the early 1990’s, it was a change in our lifestyle. All of a sudden we saw in a matter of weeks abruptly a huge change. We saw symptoms of malnutrition in children under five years of age. We saw pregnant women with anemia. We had underweight babies at birth.

Narrator: The impact on food scarcity was disastrous. The average Cuban lost 20 pounds by 1994.

Jorge Mario Ph.D, Economist: We were desperate for everything. We don’t care about first world quality standards on any commodity. We just need food, it doesn’t matter what you bring, we will buy it.

Narrator: Without imported fuel oil it was impossible for Cuba to generate the electricity it needed, resulting in blackouts throughout the country.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: We had at that time power cuts that lasted for many many hours, maybe upto 14 to 16 hours a day. This in a climate such as ours is very difficult because you do need the fridge so the food won’t spoil. You had to cook on a daily basis the food that you were going to eat at that meal, because you just couldnt put things away. It was a very difficult moment.

Narrator: Power cuts were particularly hard in Cuba’s large housing complexes. In a tropical climate with this heat and humidity it was difficult to be without air conditioners and fans. Without elevators people used the stairs, water was carried up on the outside of the building using a pully and rope. When taking a bus people had to wait three to four hours. When the bus arrived at work, often there was no power. So even if they got to work and had electricity there was nothing to do. After work they would have to wait another three or four hours for a bus, and often when the bus arrived, it was full and they would have to wait for another one. The government imported 1.2 million bicycles from China and manufactured half a million more.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: We had to then learn how to use bicycles. Bicycles were distributed all around the country for people to try to get to their workplaces. Doctors went to the hospitals on bikes, without any culture of using bikes. It was just political will, that was it. There was no other way.

Narrator: In 1992 the United States tightened its embargo on Cuba. Any ship that docked in a Cuban port, was denied access to the US for six months afterwards. Almost overnight 750 million dollars worth of food and medical supplies to Cuba were halted. A few years later the embargo was intensified and foreign businesses working in Cuba were barred from entering the US. Cuba’s access to foreign capital was crippled.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: In the case of Cuba, you try to suffocate a country. You deprive the country of access to financial sources, so Cuba cannot have access to the World Bank or to the IMF – for good! .

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: An American dollar reached 150 peso’s and the average salary is like two peso’s. People were making about 2 bucks a month. So money was not useful to get stuff. So we end up being like an experiment, like with controlled conditions. Like nothing or very little can get in from the outside, so everything had to happen from the inside.

Narrator: During the first five years of the Special Period government food rations kept the crisis at bay. These food distributions guaranteed a minimum of food to Cuba’s citizens.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: It was invented when we had no more economic relations with the US and in order to prevent hoarding where the people who had more money would just buy everything on the counter and others would go hungry they invented this ration food distribution system.

Narrator: With food imports reduced by 80% the government supplied food distributions had to be cut drastically.

Jorge Mario Ph.D, Economist: You have at the official state market through subsidies, ration card which has been shrunk to perhaps one fifth of consumption from almost 100 percent.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: Now lets look at this board I want to show you so that you can understand. This is done on a monthly basis.

Jorge Mario Ph.D, Economist: Anyone in the Cuban population is granted through this system 3 or 4 weeks of basic consumption according to United Nations minimum level of calories ingested in a month. To complete the four weeks basic level it could come in the form of subsidized food in your work place – lower prices. So you pay for meals at subsidized prices. So that allows you to pay only on weekends or nights for meals.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: So that would mean in a week you would not have to buy extra. It depends also on your consuming habits.


Surviving Peak Oil: Agriculture.

Narrator: Every aspect of Cuban life was affected by the Special Period but no change was as far reaching as agriculture. Cuba had committed to the green revolution, a system that requires the massive use of fossil fuels in the form of natural gas based fertilizers, oil based pesticides and diesel fuel for tractors and other farm machinery. The country’s agriculture was more industrialized than any other Latin American country and exceeded the US in its use of fertilizer.

Before Cuba’s Loss of Oil
Irrigated Land: Cuba 20%; Latin America: 10%
Tractors per 100 Acres: Cuba: 5.7; Latin America: 2.2
Fertilizer Used (Lbs/Acre): Cuba: 1000; Latin America: 300; US 450.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: In Cuba’s conventional green revolution system was never able to feed the people. We had high yields, but it was alot oriented to the plantation agriculture – open economy. We export citrus, tobacco, sugar cane and we import the basic things, 55% of the rice, more than 50% of the vegetable oil and the lard that we consume. So the system even in the good times, how people here remember, never fulfilled the basic needs.

Narrator: Cuba’s agriculture began to falter as one problem after another halted production, fuel and parts for tractors were almost impossible to find. Seeds, tools, animal vaccines were scarce.

Miguel Salcines: Agronomist, Alamar Neighbourhood Organic Farm: The fall of the Soviet Union forced us to have a survival agriculture. Chemical fertilizers were no longer available. So without all of the corn flour, fertilizers, grains and cooking oil, it was a big blow. Many thought that the situation would only last three to six months. In reality it was a very difficult stage to adapt the economy to these conditions.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: The lack of fuel drove us to have a very big shortage of food.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: So people they end up squatting at places in the city and growing food there without knowing how, because they were engineers, they were doctors, they were not farmers. .

Narrator: A drastic effort to convert every piece of arable land to organic agriculture was begun.


Surviving Peak Oil: Urban Gardens:

Narrator: During the special period Cuba was able to prevent famine through an urban agricultural movement.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Every vacant lot in the city was turned into an orchard.

Narrator: At first urban gardening was an ad-hoc response to the crisis.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: They needed food and they didn’t know how and they just did it, trial and error. If there was some space and they move the garbage, rocks or the dumping and fix those problems, get rid of the garbage and start growing there.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: Another thing during the special period was the identification of idle plots of land that were cleaned up by the community and turned into urban agricultural gardens.

Carmen Cabrera: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: Hearing of the crisis, Australian permaculture experts came to Cuba to assist in learning new ways to garden and raise food.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: In October of 1993 the first two Australians came and so we started to design the rooftop gardening in that place. And after that we got this small project, for us it was alot of money, 26 thousand American dollars and we started to do a train the trainer course.

Rachel Bruhnke: Environmental Engineer: They are one of the largest capacity centers for Permaculture in Havanna and they themselves have trained over 400 people. Not only through these workshops and courses has the community learned about permaculture, but they here in the center have learned allot about the community. For example if someone comes here and they have a health problem, they do whatever they can to help with that, but also they will serve as a kind of a reference point, they will go and look for the specialist and bring them here, so its a mutual relationship.

Patricia Allison: Permaculturist: The people cooperating with and caring about each other are the main factors that we need to encourage. We can all plant fruit trees, we can all have water catchment devices on our roofts, its not the technology, its the human relationships.

Rachel Bruhnke: Environmental Engineer: The neighbours are starting to see the possibilities of what they can do in their spaces and they are starting to create natural gardens on their roofs and also on their patios.

Narrator: Cubans who formerly lived on the equivalent of just $2 a month, found new ways to supplement their income.

Rachel Bruhnke: Environmental Engineer: These grapevines have alot of uses, they provide shade over the patio area, you can also make wine out of the grapes and its very good for the family economy cause if you do it well you can get about ten peso’s for a bottle of wine.

Narrator: Cubans view of agriculture has changed dramatically. Farmers are now amongst the highest paid workers and people from all fields are attracted to the profession.

Nelson Aguila: Rooftop Farmer: I am a musician, I am a mechanic, automobile mechanic, a decider of electronics and nothing of this I am doing, only this, animal farming.

Pat Murphy: So he’s an urban farmer on top of a roof

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: The farmers in Cuba are not the poorest people in the society. On the contrary they have food so they don’t have to spend their money on food, and they sell food, so they make a good living. So it is important to take that into account that its a good way to dignify the people that grow food.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: With a very low cost we were producing food and now we have more than 1000 kiosk allocated in the city that provide you with fresh fruit and vegetables produced in the neighbourhood.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: More than 50% of the total vegetable needs of Havana’s 2.2 million population inhabitants is supplied by urban agriculture.

Narrator: In small cities and towns urban gardens are even more productive providing 80-100% of fruits and vegetables they need. Urban agriculture supplies food locally eliminating much of the need for transporting food over long distances

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: The country have 169 municipalities, so five km around the municipal towns also are considered urban agriculture. So its a national system that has employed more than 140,000 people, its creating jobs, its a growing sector of the economy and it is very important and we are very proud to say that.


Surviving Peak Oil: Sustainable Practices:

Narrator: Cuba eliminated the need for natural gas based fertilizers and oil based pesticides by developing organic farming methods. Fortunately research centers had been studying sustainable agriculture before the crisis. Because of this preparation the transition to an approach to farming that didn’t depend on fossil fuels was implemented nationally within just a few years. Without fossil fuels more manual labour was needed making smaller farms necessary and increasing the number of farmers.

Patricia Allison: Permaculturist: One of the Peak Oil challenges is to reclaim land from the large scale conventional agriculture.
Miguel Salcines: Agronomist, Alamar Neighbourhood Organic Farm: The soil takes millions of years to form and to destroy it takes very little time. One of the problems that chemicals bring to the land is de-mineralization and the disappearance of the microflaura and microfauna, the life of the soil.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: The soil is a living being and in the topsoil in the top three inches of soil is the key. When you add chemicals you damage all of that, so then the soils became almost like sand.

Patricia Allison: Permaculturist: So we are going to be having interesting challenges to rehabilitate the soil.

Narrator: Cuba found that it took from three to five years to make the land fertile and productive again.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: Organic needs some time and some money to establish the system because when you get the soil the soil is so damaged and dead that you need to rebuild the soil. You need to bring back the soil to life and that takes a little bit of time and a little bit of money as well. You have to follow the natural cycles so you hire nature to work for you, not working against nature. If you work against nature you have to waste huge amounts of energy. Conventional agriculture people use this heavy machinery that compacts the soil, huge tractor, huge combine harvester, trucks and things like that, so you have to open the soil again and put more nutrients in. The first ethic: to take care of the land of the earth. This is very important, if we don’t take care of the earth, the earth will not take care of us, and will get rid of us.

Miguel Salcines: Agronomist, Alamar Neighbourhood Organic Farm: So the research institutes began to quickly focus on organic agriculture as much from the point of view of pesticides as nutrition.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: For me its more important how the things that I am eating are grown and produced than what I am eating. So if a vegan eats these heavily pesticides polluted vegetables its not doing much.

Miguel Salcines: Agronomist, Alamar Neighbourhood Organic Farm: The fact that we now use organic materials, today the microorganisms have begun to re-appear and slowly the levels of organic material increase through the systematic application of organic compost.

Narrator: Cuba’s new agriculture uses a variety of soil enhancing alternatives to rebuild and maintain the soil: crop rotation, composting and green manure, which is a process of plowing young vegetation into the soil. Many tons of organic compost are produced, using kitchen scraps, rice hulls and other organic matter. Worm humus is made in long troughs where worms are fed organic waste products. This makes a richer fertilizer than regular compost.

Miguel Salcines: Agronomist, Alamar Neighbourhood Organic Farm:One ton of worms humus is equal to six tons of organic compost.

Narrator: Today, 80% of Cuba’s agricultural production is organic.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: The lack of fuel drove us to use less machinery. We got to smaller farms to combine different crops in one small piece of land preventing pests from spreading.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: If you have one million plants of corn, you will have one million bugs that eats only corn and you have pests.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: We developed many bio-pesticides and many bio-fertilizers. Today we are even exporting to central American countries and other latin American countries, we are exporting bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers. Remember Cuba has one advantage. If the population of Cuba is 2% of the population of latin America, Cuba has 11% of all the scientists in latin America.

Narrator: Its difficult to grow certain crops in Cuba’s heat. So farmers use a variety of mesh covers to cut the sun’s rays.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: We can extend the season just using something as simple as putting a porous fabric over a simple structure that you can remove when a Hurricane is coming and you can build again. Its very simple and these fabric also allows you to control the pests because you not only reduce radiation and the heat, but you also reduce the number of bugs entering into the area.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: In the 80’s Cuba used 21,000 tons of pesticides, chemical pesticides. Now its 1,000. We are using 21 times less pesticides. This is good for the environment, this is good for the health and this is also good for the soil.

Narrator: Cuba uses crop inter-planting to reduce the need for pesticides and make their agriculture more sustainable.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: Nobody fertilizes a forest and nobody irrigates a forest. The forest does it by itself. So if you are able to create something like a food forest your main effort is to pick the fruits and pick the produce. So in that way your effort is less, you work hard in the very beginning, but once the system is established you work a lot less. Its what we call lazy people agriculture, but its because you are working with nature, not against nature. These people in the conventional system works against nature.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: One of the good signs of the crisis was to go back to oxen. We use animal [for agricultural plowing]. Not only did they save fuel, they do not compact the soil the way that a tractor does. They excert less pressure and the legs of the oxen remove the earth.

Narrator: Older farmers who still remembered how to grow and train oxen were setup in training schools. In a little over a year, most cooperatives had someone trained and the process of raising thousands of oxen had begun.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: A pair of oxen is not the same as a tractor. A man can work eight hours in a tractor and have air-conditioning and a CD-player, but you cannot work oxen those hours, because oxen will just go on the floor (lay down) and say ‘thats it’. But you need also to train those people and train the oxen as well. So it was necessary for a change of mind, the change of scale and it was a big effort but how much money they saved in fuel. How much money they saved in parts. How much money they saved in tractors. How much was saved in the pollution of these tractors. After we analyze from several approach they did it because they have to, but from a few years point of view there are many benefits.


Surviving Peak Oil: Land Distribution:

Narrator: To increase food production, the goverment worked with farmers to find local solutions. The result was smaller farms and cooperatives with a high degree of privatization and autonomy. Forty percent of the large state farms were divided into private run cooperatives. Tens of thousands of acres were leased rent-free to small farmers. Decisionmaking was localized with fewer state regulations.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: Two requirements: You grow things there. If you don’t grow things there, we take the place from you and give it to somebody else. And second that the land is delivered to you in usufruct. Usufruct is an old Roman word that means that you can use the land without paying taxes or without paying for it, but if this land is needed for another purpose, you have to give it back to the government.

Narrator: These smaller farms and cooperatives were better able to use the new sustainable practices vital for growing food organically.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: Twelve to fifty percent of the total arable land in Cuba is in the hands of private people. So these are the private farmers. They are by far the highest production per acre and per person. In second place are the co-ops, cooperatives. They are the second and third are the huge government state farms.

Narrator: These new private farms and co-ops also began to function in new ways.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: We have credit and services co-ops. What does that mean? You don’t want to join together with me. Why not? So we are together in a co-op, from credits to buy the goods together to hire the machinery, for this stuff. We don’t have to join our land. So its a way of decentralize land, but centralize shared agricultural services at the same time.

Narrator: Thousands of families moved to rural land. With land rights guaranteed a sense of ownership led to greater productivity, private farmers markets and new export markets led to greater production.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: The communities have changed. Its a local economy. People were exchanging things. Many of these gardens they supply for free to elder people circles, day care centers, schools, working centers, pregnant women and they do it for free. They don’t do it because its compulsory but because they want to do it. They want to do their little part for the society. In most other places people don’t know their neighbours, they don’t know their names, they don’t say hello to each other. Here, no a neighbour knocks on the door and says ‘I need some salt, I need some sugar, whatever, I brought you an avocado’ and they recover this sense of neighbour. For me its not going backwards.


Surviving Peak Oil: Education and Health

Narrator: Without oil for transportation, Cuba’s education was threatened. Decentralizing universities provided people with access to nearby schools for higher education and lessened the impact of fuel shortages.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: The example of the Universities now is to put one in every municipality also, because in my opinion, transportation and housing is right now the biggest problems in Cuba, because these depends more on oil.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: This large building was the most exclusive school in Cuba – the Suc ca ceour – but today it is a university of medical sciences. For your information Cuba had three universities but today has about fifty. Seven of them in Havana.

Narrator: Medical clinics and schools are available throughout Cuba. During the crisis the Cuban government continued supplying its citizens with free healthcare and education.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: Very different from what happens worldwide when there is an economic crisis. The first thing they do is cut down on social services. This was not the case.

Narrator: Doctors, nurses and social workers live within the neighbourhoods wherein they work, part of the social fabric of the community. Cuba’s free medical care helped them in the crisis. In spite of the crisis, they maintained a lifespan and infant mortality rate, roughly equal to that of the U.S.; even though the average Cuban consumes less than one eighth the energy of the average American. Overall the economic crisis improved Cubans health, increased walking and biking reduced diabetes and the numbers of heart attacks and strokes. The Cuban diet changed, fat consumption was reduced, while more vegetables and a wider variety of vegetables were eaten. Cuba actually trains more doctors than they need and sends them to developing countries around the world. They also exchange doctors and medical expertise with Venezuela in return for oil.

Cuba and US Today:
Average Life Span (years) Cuba: 77; America: 77.4
Infant Mortality (per 1000 births): Cuba 6.3. America: 6.5
Energy Used (BOE) per person yearly: Cuba: 7; America 57.
Doctors per 1000 people: Cuba: 57, America: 28


Surviving Peak Oil: Transportation

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: When we look at other developed countries, everything goes around making the automobile more efficient. How much energy do you need to produce a car? You have to spend energy on producing a car and later you have to find the fuel to make the car move. So think about reducing the number of cars.

Narrator: During the worst of the crisis there was very little fuel for cars. The freeway and country roads were almost empty. Cuba needed to develop a mass transit system overnight. With few resources they had to be innovative. Old trucks were made into buses with canopies to keep off the rain and steps welded on the back. Another solution was the camel. A trailer pulled by a semi-tractor that can carry upto 300 people. In Havana and other provinces carpooling and hitch-hiking are common. Government cars are required to pick up anyone who needs a ride. The loss of fuel for transportation also affected small towns and cities. There people turned to horses and mules for transportation. During the first years of the special period bicycles were a necessity. This was not easy for Cubans who had been used to cars and buses.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: It requires more consciousness and more awareness about the use of the bicycle. The bicycle is something that we have to use, because we don’t have fuel or we don’t have buses in the city. The point is that the bicycle never contaminates, is more healthy and for short distances its very practical.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: But if you have to move twenty kilometers a day, back and forth, 40 km a day on a Chinese bicycle with no gears. All steel. After five years you hate it. And that is what happened in Cuba. Like at some point when there were more camels and buses, people just quit because they were sick of it.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: One day people start thinking about the end of the car, what would be a moment in the life of a car. So one day the car appeared and one day the car will disappear. The car will be something that we will remember as a moment in the development of mankind.


Surviving Peak Oil: Housing

Narrator: Since the special period began its been difficult to build new housing because of a scarcity of tools and materials.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Cement production requires a lot of fuel, and that is why the cement production has been reduced.

Narrator: Everyone in Cuba has a place to live and 80% of the people own their own home. But most houses are small with few amenities. In the countryside that means a small house with a living room, kitchen and two or three bedrooms. Rural housing has the advantage of more open space where people can grow vegetables and fruit and raise livestock.

Nancy Gabrerar: Homemaker, Community Volunteer: This whole meal comes from our garden except for the rice. The beans, pork and lettuce, all of it we planted and raised in our garden.

Narrator: In Havana if you don’t live in one of the old single homes, it may mean living in a dilapilated building with your relatives in a crowded apartment. Even so the city is a place many people want to live.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Havana already has the values that many architects and urban planners in the world would like to recover. Many people have come and said ‘you should preserve this city we want to recover’. After the big sprawl many people are looking back to the traditional city and for ways to live in a traditional city in a more human way.

Narrator: But living in a city without adequate transportation causes major difficulties.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: The other problem here is that here is there housing and they have to go to the city. They have to come and go and commute and they have to spend time looking for transporation between the city and their neighbourhood.

Narrator: To reduce the long commutes, new mixed use developments include schools, places to work and places for recreation, within walking and biking distances of people’s homes.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Everybody must use the same space. The design provides a common space for everybody. This is a way to keep your community alive.


Surviving Peak Oil: Energy Alternatives

Narrator: At the start of the special period 95% of Cubans were connected to the national electric grid. The other 5% lived in remote areas. Photovoltaic and wind energy are too expensive to meet much of Cuba’s energy needs, but for areas not connected to the grid, small scale wind and hydro systems as well as solar panels are used. Priority is given to schools and clinics.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Recently more than 2,000 rural schools were supplied with solar panels to have electricity. It was less costly to give them the solar panels rather than to connect them to the grid.

Narrator: In Los Tumbos, solar panels powered the school, clinic, community center, even people’s homes.

Rachel Bruhnke: Environmental Engineer: They have here the panels up on the roof and they are recharging the light battery right now for the compact fluorescents. They can put this radio on and there is another for their sons who live right there.

Narrator: Small solutions have been developed throughout Cuba such as using the sun to pre-heat water.

Danial Gonzaels: Bio-Climate Architect: People in Cuba used to shower with hot water, so they use traditional oil or energy, whatever they have to heat water. So if we can have solar heaters, its better.

Bruno Enriquez: Energy Analyst: If you have to obtain the hot water from the solar heater, it is 60 degrees, you can save half of the fuel you use to heat the water to boil.

Narrator: Before the crisis, Cuba relied on imported fuel oil to generate electricity. Without this they had to modify their power plants to burn their poor quality domestic crude oil.

Guillermo Leiva: Energy Engineer ECOSOL Solar: Our crude oil is very bad thing for the environment, but we had no choice. Its a matter of live or die.

Narrator: They also began using cropwaste to generate electricity.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Sugar mills have been turned into power plants, because you mill the sugar and then you have the bagasse, you burn the fibers, you produce heat and then you produce electricity. So you can turn the sugar mill, during the season or after the season, into an additional power plant.

Narrator: And right now in Cuba, during the time of harvest, which is three or four months during the year, thirty percent of the energy that is generated in Cuba, comes from the renewable source of biomass.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: This is what we call the energetic sovereignty. We do not depend on oil imports to produce electricity.


Cuban Perspectives:

Bruno Enriquez: Energy Analyst Cuba Solar: The problem is what the people said about Cuba in the United States is not what we are doing here. Many people over there think how can they survive if they don’t have anything. Okay, come here and you can see how we can survive. And in this way we can begin to understand each other and to know how to think.

Cuba and US Today:
Energy Used (BOE) per person (yearly): Cuba: 7; US 57.

Miguel Coyula: Urban Planner Architect: Mankind is burning in one century all the oil accumulated by nature during millions of years and that is absurd. Completely absurd. I don’t see that countries who depend largely on imported oil are thinking about alternative sources of energy. They are just planning for the next week.

Bruno Enriquez: Energy Analyst Cuba Solar: If I am in Cuba, I say ‘people we have problems, we must turn off all the lights that we are not using’ and everybody say ‘okay we are going to turn off the lights’. But if I say in the United States ‘people we must turn off all the lights’ people say ‘why, I pay?’. The problem is we must change how we think.

Rachel Bruhnke: Environmental Engineer: You know the idea of Peak Oil is that things are going to change and there is going to be less. I think Cubans understand that on an international global level, because island people have that innate sense of a limited resource. And also they realize in terms of energy if they want to be politically independent, they have to be economically independent, and to be economically independent, you have to be energy independent.

Guillermo Leiva: Energy Engineer ECOSOL Solar: Is oil going to last in the next ten to fifteen years. Who knows, maybe not. Maybe in Cuba .we find an enormous oil tank underground for fifty years more. Oh wonderful, we have fifty years more, but the security of supply is getting more risky day by day.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: And then there is this hope to find in the big waters of the Mexican Gulf good petrol, but people don’t think about that as an asset that is going to improve their life here. No, no. We are going to sell it, because people know that we don’t need that to live. You know what I mean? Okay we need money to develop but its like something to sell, not something to use or waste.

Bruno Enriquez: Energy Analyst Cuba Solar: The sun was able to maintain the life on earth for millions of years. Only the problem is now when we change the way we use the energy. The problem is that the sun has been enough to sustain the life and now we cannot sustain the kind of society we have on our planet. The problem is with our society, not with the energy.

Roberto Perez: Foundation for Nature and Humanity: So there are infinite small solutions. You fix one little problem here, and one little problem there and life is better. You think globally and you act locally. This is very important, because otherwise you give the impression for people that this is scientists, presidents and they don’t have to do anything. That they will fix the problem, but people have to start from scratch and start to do small things. Baby steps. Crisis or changes or problems can trigger many of these things, that these are sustainable, alternative, whatever it is called, but its basically adaptive. We are adapting to changes and that is the success of human beings.

Bruno Enriquez: Energy Analyst Cuba Solar: What we must know is that the world is changing and we must change the way we see the world. And one of the things we need is more friendship, more love, because we have only one world. The world is onely one and it is for all of us.

Rita Pereira, Lawyer: I think we can learn allot from each other and reflect more on how to be happy with less and how you really don’t need that much to be happy. I think that that is a world challenge. Cuba has modest experience with that that maybe some other people could learn from and I think it will be a time for sharing and a time for cooperation and a time for more solidarity and for working together. I think maybe we will have a better world.