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“Beyond Energy Alternatives” the Third US Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions

As promised, I will post about the conference I went to this weekend: “Beyond Energy Alternatives” the Third US Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions. Details are behind an LJ cut for length, but I want to say for the record that it was a fantastic event and I highly recommend that people attend things like that whenever possible. We learned a lot, but we also had a chance to meet with other like-minded people and form connections. 

The conference was sponsored by The Community Solution (http://www.communitysolution.org) and focused on what they called “Plan C”. In this ontology Plan A would be the government’s current plan: continue to depend on fossil fuels and find newer, dirtier more expensive sources.  Plan B would be what the media and others are selling is: alternative energies (hydrogen, solar, fuel-cell, etc.) will save us. Plan C is a strategy of cultural change, conservation, curtailment, and community. The main idea is that through drastic reductions in resource consumption, dramatic conservation and curtailment of energy use, coupled with an increase in local community living we can survive Peak Oil and create a sustainable world. Most of the speakers addressed different aspects of “lifestyle alternatives” (and I use this in the pragmatic sense, not the nasty, neo-con sense that denotes sexuality) which include living simply, living without a car, living without energy, raising your own food, living within a community, utilizing alternative forms to transportation, rural living, basic skills, etc. We examined the data on peak oil but, more importantly, how we can live our lives and help others when things become hard.

 

The conference was organized by Megan Quinn, Outreach Director of Community Solutions (CSI) and Pat Murphy, Executive Director of CSI and took place at Antioch College. Here’s a quick rundown of the speakers and what they discussed:

 

Dr. David Orr (Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College and author of

Gave a talk called Peak Oil, Climate Change and Our Agrarian Future. Like all the speakers, David Orr was pretty amazing. He discussed the concept of Peak Oil in terms of environmental, social and political damage and subsequent climate change and how all of these elements and effects are interconnected. War, terrorism, famine, plague, etc. are all possible and probable results of our dependence upon fossil fuels. He also approached the issue from a social-historicist perspective and discussed how advertising and the selling of the s-called “American Dream” (big car, house in the burbs, etc.) has slowed the response to the crisis. But it was not all negative. He talked about how the best part of “Americanism” is pragmatism and humanitarianism. We’ve come together before (Bill of Rights, FDR’s New Deal, etc.) and we can do it again. What we need to do is realize that we are a part of the fabric of the universe and use less, consume less, produce more and work together toward the future. By the way, in case you’ve never heard him speak, David Orr reminds me of Bob Newhart.

 

Pat Murphy (Executive Director of CSI) gave a talk called Plan C: Conservation, Curtailment and Community. This rather pragmatically outlined what we need to do to live comfortably in a post peak world.

 

Julian Darley, Director of the Post Carbon Institute spoke on Relocalize Now! Amusingly British, Julian talked about ways to plan and think about the future and what actions to take now. Julian’s emphasis was on looking to the past (both in terms of reusing items we have and relearning skills that we once had), looking to the community (forming partnerships, communicating, creating local activity), reducing what we already use, and literally rethinking our ontology. All civilizations are based upon surplus and we are quickly losing ours, so we must change the way we think and act. We need to change the entire infrastructure of society and think smaller and more locally. We must produce more for ourselves, shorten supply chains and learn to live together. We cannot continue to take from the earth, but give back as well and this includes composting, storage and sharing.

Resources:       

                        www.globalpublicmedia.com

                        www.relocalalize.net

www.postcarboninstitute.org

 

 

                       

 

Richard Heinberg, author of PowerDown, The Party’s Over and The Oil Depletion Protocol gave a talk entitled Proactive Responses to Peak Oil: Protocols and Relocalization. This guy really knows it all and, once more, communicates it well using warmth, humor and obvious intelligence. Richard began his talk with a discussion of the media and how even Chevron and BP (who can’t actually use the term “Peak Oil”) are presenting their issues in the media and how things are actually much, much worse than the public is being made aware of. At least 28% percent of the world’s oil production is coming from counties that have shown a 5% or greater decline in production.

He talked about falling oil prices and the myth of the new discovery in the Gulf of Mexico and then he went on to discuss the Oil Depletion Protocol (also called the Uppsala Protocol) itself. The basic idea of the protocol is that no country, district, individual or whatever should seek, produce, import, or above all consume any amount of fossil fuels above the national depletion rate. It’s more complicated than that, but basically it will work to stabilize the oil industry and the economy and help as adjust to the decline. It also helps to create new opportunities for growth in renewable/sustainable energy and agricultural production alternatives. It can work hand in hand with the Kyoto Protocol as well. There is much more here, but I really don’t have time to outline all of it. Here are some resources:

            www.richardheinberg.com

            www.oildepletionprotocol.org

 

           

 

Richard Olsen, Director of the Sustainability and Environmental Studies Program at Berea College gave a talk and power point presentation called: Facing the Perfect Storm: Building a Culture of Survival at Berea. Berea College in Kentucky has an absolutely amazing program for giving students an actual experiential education on sustainable living – and best of all it is ONLY for low-income students. The built an ecovillage and sustainability house. Check it out: www.berea.edu/SENS/CCP .

 

Jeff Christian, Director of Buildings Technology Center at the Oak Ridge National lab described building zero energy houses in his talk Zero Energy Housing – A Habitat for Humanity Project. This talk was pretty pragmatic and detailed about the concept of what it actually takes to build a zero energy house. www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/v38_1_05/article08.shtml

 

Dr. Robert Brecha, Professor of Physics and Electro-Optics at the University of Dayton described the sustainability of straw-bale housing in Reducing Home Energy Use by 75% - a Strawbale Example.    

 

Vicki Robin, the co-author of Your Money or Your Life gave a wonderful, inspirational talk called The Freedom of Limits: Living Simply in a Post Peak World. This talk was a fantastic change of pace in that she talked not only about Peak Oil but about the beauty of simplicity and living simply. Frankly, it was also nice to get a feminine perspective, too. As with Julian’s Darley’s discussion of words like duty, honor and respect and how they need to return to our society in order to survive in a post peak world, Vicki talked about our need for limits. All resourced are limited in nature and we need to both respect that and find freedom within it. Freedom is essential to the American way of life, but it has often been greatly misinterpreted to imply personal selfishness. We naturally push against oppression (as well we should), but we also need to recognize that there is great freedom within the limits of a workable ecosystem and a workable society.

Vicki’s approach was both personal and human and, most of all, joyful. Living simply brings happiness to all and is built upon the concepts of enoughness, frugality, soulfulness, intentionality, ecology, justice, economy and balance. It is not directly political and can fit into any spiritual ideology. It appeals to both the American sense of self-reliance and humanism. She talked about finding passion going with it and using that passion to find your place in the post-peak world. Again, there is so much more here, but please feel free to ask me or to visit some of the following websites:

           

            www.simplelivingamerica.org

            www.simpleliving.net

            www.newdream.org

            www.simplicityforum.org

            www.yourmoneyoryourlife.org

            www.newroadmap.org

           

 

Permaculture was discussed by Peter Bane, a permaculture expert and activist, in Peak Oil and Permaculture. Again, there is so much here that it’s overwhelming, but Peter talked about permaculture (permanent, sustainable agriculture that uses and creates ecosystems) and where the food of the future will come from. He talked about our future food supply in terms of fairness, equity and sustainability and how we need to think creatively and use the resources we have (including our own urine) to create the farms of the future. These farms can take place anywhere from vertical farming on buildings to forest farming to traditional open-field farms. It involves use of planetary resources and new and creative thinking that can fully utilize the process of growing. He talked about small, scale communities and cellular life and the powerful synergy of plants, animals, humans, wind, sun, soil and air. Again, there is far too much to say here, but here are some resources:

            www.permacultureactivist.net

            www.earthaven.org/permaculture.php    

 

Another talking about gardening and inspiration was given by Sharon Astyk called large scale gardening: The Primary Post-Oil Model. This talk was not what I expected it to be because, in her own words regarding Peter Bane and her other predecessors on the podium: “What he said.” So, instead of talking about the idea of the large scale garden, Sharon talked about the purposeful way she chose her life. She lives on a farm with her multigenerational family and will soon have no electrical power (by choice). She does everything herself in traditional ways. One of her major concerns is with the idea of using only your fair share and producing more than you consume. She and her family are trying to live in no more than a family of the same size in India would have and she’s working on not buying anything new. Another aspect of this is our societal obligation to protect its most fragile members: the handicapped, the elderly, the children and all those who cannot fully take care of themselves.

What impressed me most is that she was like me, a city girl with an advanced degree in English and no experience whatsoever. But she did it. She’s also Jewish and left us with a beautiful thought. She spoke on Rosh Hashanah. She told us that in the Jewish tradition, on the first day of the New Year God designs out fate and writes it down. But we have ten days to atone – to change, to repair, to restore and prepare. We do this by examining ourselves and by changing our ways to really live in harmony with others. We’re in those ten days right now - both literally, as Yom Kippur is around the corner and, more importantly to the greater audience, as we approach the peak. This is our time to make changes. www.victoryathome.com

 

 

Pat Murphy detailed new transportation in The Smart Jitney” Radical Rapid Transit Transportation Reinvention. This was both radical and fascinating. Pat had gone to Cuba and studies the Cuban approach to transportation in the period of post peak decline. Mass transit and public transportation are partial answers, but they often use the same (if not more) energy per rider as cars. Hybrids and pluggable cars are also partial answers, but they take up energy. Murphy’s answer is called the “Smart Jitney”. It would save resources by utilizing the existing fleet of vehicles and allow quicker, more efficient transportation for all. It would change the American epistemological views of cars and even the way we view turning 16 as a rite of passage to adulthood. Essentially, the era of the private care is over and, given our suburban infrastructure, it is time to move on. Some places (like in Oregon) are already doing this.

            The Smart Jitney, if you will, is a high-tech answer to the Cuban model of large-scale transportation in private cars. (In Cuba, most of these are converted vans, horse carts, min-busses, etc.) Murphy’s American model would use an almost Expedia.com-like (or Kayak.com-like) model of electronic (cell phone) communication that would allow people to schedule pick-ups and drop-offs. Basically, people would ride together as much as possible sharing the costs of gas and repairs. Using a cell-phone, you would call to schedule a ride giving your time needs, destination, preferences, etc. There would be safety precautions, etc., some of which involved direct communications and surveillance. Honestly, some of Pat’s ideas were not terribly warmly received by the audience, but then, again, most of the audience had never lived in a major city or been dependent upon public transportation. That really changes your outlook on things.  

 

There were breakout sessions including a showing of the film about Cuba’s community plan for dealing with Peak Oil and sessions on organizing municipal energy for preparedness, starting a re-localization network, small scale farming, the smart jitney, building sustainable housing and more. These were led by the various speakers and really gave us the opportunity to discuss (in small groups) the issues at hand and to network more thoroughly. My husband and I split up for this and I went to the re-localization workshop (with Julian Darley) and he went to the farming one with Peter Bane.

 

The conference closed with a nice talk by Megan Quinn about the importance of hope (Beyond Despair: Creating the New World), some closing remarks by Pat Murphy and then Richard Heinberg played the violin. Yes, folks, the author of The Party’s Over plays the violin – and well. Julian Darley plays, too, which gave my husband (a bassoonist) some hope that there is a place for music in the new paradigm!

Okay, I’m tired of typing now, but please contact me if you want further information on any of this.


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