Saturday, September 30, 2006

a call to action; a call for help

This was my to-do list before attending the Third US Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions last weekend. There was no room for phone messages so my wife took a picture of it and wiped it clean. After this past weekend she figured there was no way I was going to be able to make positive progress on the list- it’s growing faster than I can check things off.

So I thought I’d take some time to jot down some of the ideas that need more attention. They are in no particular order and this list is as much my way of organizing my thoughts as it is a call for help. Fell free to grab a topic and report back. There is so much to do.

  1. More than 100 million homes exist in America today. Only 1.5 million new homes are built here each year. Building green is great but what sort of system(s) can we put in place to help with the massive retrofit spiraling energy costs will demand?
  1. How can we over come the black and white perception of instant consumers and guilty producers? I think there are a few questions embedded in that one.
  1. A decrease in energy availability is one thing but what about the chaos it will create?
  1. The square as a way to graphically represent the 4 major destabilizing effects peak oil will have on our culture: decreased agricultural production, increased geopolitical conflicts, a contracting economic system currently based on growth and an overall reduction in transportation.
  1. Personal, local, state and national adoption of the Oil Depletion Protocal.
  1. Restructuring the family unit- how to rebuild agrarian families by unconventional means. This is based on a conversation with Peter Bane about the need for tribe-sized units of about 25 humans as the building blocks of the reagrarianization (my spell check just had kittens) of America in response to the failure of the “green” revolution in post peak petroleum America.
  1. Powering down as a “fascinating optimization exercise”. Got this one from Sharon Astyk. In other words, for those of us that like a challenge just how much of modern America can we give up and still be happy? I dare you to make it fashionable.
  1. The real benefits of electricity. I’ve long considered appliances like electric can openers to be insanely stupid. Imagine mining coal (this is dangerous remember) and then burning it (releasing pollution that is bad for our health and changes our climate) in an effort to generate electricity that is transported over many miles at an extreme loss of efficiency so that I can press a button to open a can. Opening a can with a manual can opener is incredibly easy and takes about 3 seconds for the vast majority of the population. The marketing of electric can openers leads me to believe that modern ad agencies could convince Americans to hit themselves with hammers if only someone were willing to pay for the ads. Which leads me to another thought…
  1. Agitprop as possible means towards affecting the change necessary to deal with energy descent. I’m not especially thrilled about the idea of agitating propaganda as a way to motivate change in human behavior but perhaps something useful could come out of a hard look at propaganda and how it’s used by the corporate media currently to keep change from happening. If you learn the language you don’t have to use it but you can at least recognize and avoid its message.
  1. Carrots and sticks. Motivating change with positive and negative feedback loops. What are they and how do they work together?
  1. Peak oil as a justice movement. This is another idea I am borrowing from Sharon. I have audio of some of our conversations and plan to make available the most embarrassing- I meant to say most enlightening portions of that soon. Back to the idea though which is that the biggest instances of change in this country during the previous century came about as a result of justice movements. As a southerner, I can say with certainty that this part of the country is nothing like it was 25 years ago. The idea that a black man and a white man are different in meaningful ways has been rejected by a large portion of the younger population. This didn’t happen because it was a mandated change in thinking by the government or because someone made money from a new product sold to reduce bigotry. It came about largely because people stood up and were no longer willing to accept unjust treatment. What can we learn from that?
  1. Imbedded in that last rant was the idea of focusing a larger portion of our education efforts (meaning our earth community/ life skills education) on the youngest part of our population. One of the very few disappointments of my conference experience was the average age of those attending. I was happy that everyone there was committed to learning more and affecting change but it seems to me that if you can raise and teach a child to be open-minded and objective and if you can raise and teach a child the skills necessary to shrug off dependency on corporate dominance you will have affected more change than if you convert those later in life to these practices. THIS IDEA IS NOT intended to marginalize the participation of older Americans or older humans from all countries, in the movement to reclaim our Earth. The wisdom of those who are older continues to amaze me. They are and will increasingly be crucial to the success of the great turning from industrial society to one of earth centered and community centered existence. That is to say I don’t wish there had been fewer older Americans in attendance but that there had been more young folks there. How can we increase their numbers. How can we structure education practices (home schooling is growing like wildfire) so that children and young adults learn more than how to read & write, how to do basic math and some general facts about the history of white people from the middle ages on. These are important topics but there are other topics that are also important and we aren’t teaching them. Now there is a can of worms…
  1. Why is it that American presidents seem to do their best, most public centered work after office? Would someone please put that question to Jimmy, George and Bill so as to begin a more public dialog about the phenomenon; or perhaps as a way to restructure the discussion of how to fairly finance election campaigns?
  1. Hybrid cars make up less than 1% of the automobiles on the road. Continuing to talk about them as the saviors of our way of life could be dangerous in that it might delay necessary, immediate change. This is not to say that they aren’t better than average cars but talking about them puts average America back to sleep.
  1. The stall of human develop put in place my corporate media, specifically the television. The result of on-demand everything is that many Americans never develop beyond the childish ideas that: everything is possible, there are no limits and, “I can do whatever I want”. Fully formed adult humans seem to understand that some things are impossible, the natural world does have limits that humans most obey, and the rights of others temper our own rights. Can we please talk about how to get rid of the methods by which many Americans are trapped into this lack of development?
  1. Peak Oil meet Climate Change. Climate Change meet Peak Oil. I thought you two might be able to work together, being the flip side of the same coin.
  1. The idea of thresholds. I doubt we need to convince 100% of the population that our species is threatening our very existence. I doubt we even have to convince a majority to get the ball rolling. I bet we only need a small, critical mass to affect change. How many? Who are they- the ones who don’t know yet? How can we reach them?
  1. Victory Gardens. I have written about this before but let me try a new catch phrase. The revolution won’t be televised but it will need to be fed. Food is one of the few, true basic necessities of human life. How about we start by removing our dependence on others for this most basic need? Because of its importance, food has become a central configuring factor around which our cultures have developed. In other words, home grown community potluck dinners are powerful forces in the face of domination by ADM and those other bastards.
  1. In this movement we could all stand a bit of non-confrontational communication training. Apparently there are people who can help us learn to speak in non-threatening ways to others about what we’re doing. This could further the cause. Eric, I think this one has your name on it.
  1. Top down thinking. Bottom up action.
  1. Hispanic immigrants retain much of the wisdom of community that will be vital to thriving in the coming age of energy descent and rapid climate change. Could someone please tell me the best way to involve these people in what we’re doing? Funny to think that right now the nation is talking about the problems of immigration and in fact their sense of community could be a stabilizing factor post peak oil.
  1. The coming movement of population. The Hispanic community is moving north into American society. I see only increased migration of people who can't make a living where they currently live. I spoke of the benefits the Hispanic community could offer but what about the stress put on existing communities as more people are forced to move? In other words, where will those Americans currently living in the Southwest go when air conditioning and pumped-in water both dry up? How will they be received? What has happened historically to large migrating populations who were forced to move because of environmental or economic reasons?
  1. Inspiration and Information as the twin faces of Peak Oil awareness.

Whew. If anybody knows how to write grant proposals or if anyone would like to pay me to quit my job and tackle some of these crucial questions raised at the conference please feel free to contact meJ If not, please weigh in on any of them yourself. They are by no means my own ideas but rather items I heard about and have become interested in having attended this year’s Community Solutions Peak Oil Conference. Take a few and research and write about the implications of these issues in light of what just might be the most exciting period of human history.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

conference summary

A Summary: Beyond Energy Alternatives
The Third US Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions
September 2006 Yellow Springs, Ohio

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” He also said, “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction.” I spent the weekend with genius and with courage, and I am happy to report that they are alive and well and working on our problems. Most Americans are not yet familiar with the coming tide of instability. Asleep and dreaming the American Dream, many are unaware of the issues associated with energy and environment that face our people and all of humankind. Scores of those who are aware of our troubles have convinced themselves that the answer lies in more of the same. But there are those who have another idea.

What a wonderful experience to be able to share a weekend with those who understand the need for change. I am excited and inspired and more full of hope than I have been in quite a while. I come away from the experience better informed and ready for action. I am happy about the friendships that grew out of the conference, and I am grateful for those who came to share the comprehension necessary for the next step. The time has come. We are ready to deploy our weapons of mass sustainability. Sharon Astyk made the remark that with an attendance of more than 250 people, the Third US Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions had more than the necessary number of people required to start a revolution. It is here. The time is now.

There are many well-meaning environmentalists moving to activate change in alternative fuel types, emission standards, pollution regulations and more. I have been dismayed though that these substitutes are at the forefront of the response to a peak in global oil production and the coming climate change. I don’t doubt that the best of intentions are in mind when these “business as usual” suggestions are made. I continue to be skeptical though concerning the effectiveness of the message that “more is still better” and “all is possible if only we believe.” Plan B has been the idea that more, bigger and faster is an acceptable idea and that we need only switch from one fuel source to another. More power plants are not a problem. We’ll just pump the pollution underground. More cars are not a problem. We’ll just fuel them with corn. More of everything isn’t a problem we’ll just… This has been the approach.

So while everyone else is scrambling to perpetuate the status quo, I went to Yellow Springs, Ohio, population 3500, to visit with a group of people who have a different idea. It’s Plan C, and it’s the idea that curtailment is necessary. Maybe we don’t need more, bigger and faster. Maybe if we re-examine the problem, we’ll find a solution so obvious and so remarkable that we will slap ourselves silly for not seeing it earlier. What if we purposely live with less? Alternative fuels are great. They will play a part in the coming energy descent. Of that I have no doubt, but will they save us? No. Misplaced faith in these alternatives could do more harm than good by perpetuating the idea that there isn’t a problem at all. This is why I’ve been in search of another perspective from which to view our problems and now I’ve found it. Here is the idea that we can shrink ourselves into safety, security and happiness. Reduction and relocalization is an idea that is not only acceptable but palatable and actually, quite tasty. Think about it—it’s exactly what we need.

Consumerism sucks. After September 11, 2001, I was told that the best thing I could do for my country was to go shopping. What a joke. There has been no real examination of the problem- we are taking too much. If the practice of consuming as much as possible leads to a better life, then it might be something worth fighting for. But it doesn’t. Americans are fat and sick and disconnected from the natural world and from each other. We are in desperate need of health, we are in desperate need of time spent outside, and we are in desperate need of quality relationships in community with others. We have become desperate people. More than one quarter of us are reported to be seeking a simpler way of life. Given a choice, I think citizens (currently called consumers) of the United States of America are ready to trade in the broken nightmares of increased growth and irresponsible expansion for the happy realities of reasonable limits that will allow them to focus on family and friendship.

On Friday evening, David Orr framed the problem and on Saturday night Vicki Robin tempered our typical response. We were ready for the alternative presented by Pat Murphy and for the vision of Peter Bane. Along the way, it was incredibly inspiring to hear from Richard Heinberg, Julian Darley, Bob Brecha, Richard Olkson, Sharon Astyk, Megan Quinn and Jeff Christian about where we are going and what might be best way to get there. I was able to spend time with some of the speakers and audio of those interviews is forthcoming. So much good thought to share. I told my wife over the phone that I would need to take the rest of the year off to digest, write about and put in practice all I had learned over the course of one weekend. How else could a summary describe the success of this conference? Maybe I could write about how easy it was to talk to strangers or how beautiful the campus of Antioch College was at the being of autumn. Instead, how about a challenge...

When I left the closing remarks of the weekend on Sunday afternoon, I lingered on the main lawn of the campus under the shade of an old oak tree. It was in full fruit and the acorns were beautiful and bountiful. I picked quite a few. Would you like one? Would you like to take a seed and watch it grow? Would you like to be a part of a revolution, because we’ve got one and it is ready to run. I will send you an acorn for care and management. I hope for a progress report now and again. It will not be a hands-off experience. It will require getting a bit dirty, caring for and being responsible about a new (very old) way of being accountable and conscious concerning how you live and what is important in life. I will send you a seed, a physical representation of a weekend spent in planning about how we will respond as individuals and as a community to peak oil and climate change. All it takes is commitment. Join me. Grow trees. Nurture life. Cultivate the spirit of change and the path towards the answer to our problems. I am excited.

If you are interested in growing one of these important Oaks please email me: aaron"AT"groovygreen"DOT"com

Thanks to Michael for creating the image at the top of this post. This post was orginally published at Groovy Green.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

odds and ends (and beginnings)

Posting will be light this week. I'm headed to the Community Solutions conference on Thursday and currently my family is a bit under the weather here at the Acorn Ranch. Speaking of which acorns are coming into season. I just finished reading Stalking the Wild Asparagus in which Euell Gibbons estimates more calories have come from acorns during human history than from grain. Regardless of whether or not that's true it is that time of year, time to collect the prevalent little nuts. If you want to try your hand at cooking acorns check out Stalking or click here for a review of the process that includes another strategy- letting others eat them first.

For those of us looking for more information and inspiration concerning living more sustainably we have a new site to visit. Farmlet is the documentation of Kevin and Rebecca's journey towards a more self sufficient way of living. This couple is growing a 5 acre farm in northern New Zealand with the hopes of living a lower impact lifestyle. They also describe their project as "conscious" which I think hits the nail on the head. If only individual citizens of this planet (especially those in the U.S.) would take responsibility for the way they live. Farmlet has invited us to share in the process. I recommend you take them up on the offer.

Matt over at Fat Guy on a Little Bike has recently joined forces with Groovy Green but has his own stuff too. Born to be Wild or an even more recent post about his Visit to an Apple Orchard should serve as a good introduction. I'm looking forward to working with him.

Steve at Deconsumption revisits his Timeline for the Unfolding Crisis. More reading at peakoil where Ibon posts Losing Faith in Peak Oil's Transformative Power. And if you're looking for a more upbeat selection its happy 4 year farmiversary over at Pocket Farm. Me? I'm just happy to be feeling a bit better. What a wonderful new perspective always seems to reveal itself after my health is temporarily taken from me. That and I feel a little delirious.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

opec suspends production quotas

"In March 1971, the balance of power shifted. That month the Texas Railroad Commission set proration at 100 percent for the first time. This meant that Texas producers were no longer limited in the amount of oil that they could produce. More importantly, it meant that the power to control crude oil prices shifted from the United States (Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana) to OPEC." (source)

U.S. crude oil production peaked in 1971. Now fast forward to the present and the most recent OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria- Septemeber, 2006.

"Nigerian President Edmund Daukoru said that output quotas no longer applied. 'We stopped thinking of quotas a long, long while ago, and if the conference wants to return to quotas, we will do what is necessary to balance demand and supply against prices,' Daukoru said after OPEC ministers ended their formal meeting. Asked to clarify that this meant that there was no quota, Daukoru said: 'There is no quota, no, either up or down.'"(source)

When I read that OPEC has suspended production quotas I was highly surprised and a bit stunned. My wife asked me what it meant and I told her I didn't know. It is not however a decision that should be taken lightly. I found out about it from reading Jeff Vail and I share his sense of unknown implications. He says fasten your seatbelts. I'll add put on a helmet.

Monday, September 11, 2006

community solutions

The Third U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions is coming up. It's to be held on September 22-24, 2006 in Yellow Springs Ohio. Speakers include: Richard Heinberg, Julian Darley, Peter Bane,Vicki Robin, David W. Orr and many others. I'll be there as well. Endless discussion of peak oil statistics isn't of much interest to me. Nor is sitting around trying to guess the exact date of the arrival of the peak. The response of our communities to this coming era of human history, now that blows my hair back.

The truth is Hubbert's Curve is fairly simple to understand. We're nearing a point in time when less, not more petroleum energy will be available to human beings. We're not almost out of oil but we are about to begin experiencing a gap between what is available and what is being demanded by industrial society. The United States in particular has used oil energy to create a pattern of living that isn't sustainable without oil. There are no substitutes or combination of substitutes that will allow us to continue living in this manner indefinitely. It stands to reason then that we will have to change. That is what I am interested in.

I believe a return to mixed-use, walkable communities will go a long way towards reducing the amount of energy we need. It will also make it possible for us to leave the volatile Middle East, drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit into the atmosphere and get our overweight population out walking and talking again. I am not interested in arguing about whether or not the American people are willing to voluntarily make this change. The truth is it's inevitable. 90% of the world’s transportation runs on petroleum. When there is less oil available there will be less transportation of people and goods. Period. Those who can't afford the rising prices of anything shipped from far away will have to learn to get by with what is at hand. Relocalization is not an If but a When.

It stands to reason then that those communities who begin to focus on relocalization before it is a necessity will have a leg up on those who don't. Likewise individuals who recognize the need to live more locally will have a much better chance of thriving in a post peak oil world. Another reason I think relocalization is an excellent focus for our communities is the fact that it involves so many other issues. As Paula from Adaptation Blog put it, "Is Peak Oil awareness a prerequisite for relocalization efforts? I don’t think it is. Peak Oil is just one more reason why it’s necessary, one of possibly hundreds." I mentioned up above the removed dependency on the Middle East. I'm sure our men and women serving in the military would appreciate that and imagine if we could spend the 300+ Billion dollars we've spent in Iraq on education or maybe health care? Relocalization is itself a safeguard against terrorism. Large, centralized systems for distributing food or generating electricity are grand targets for those who would like to disable our country. Damage to small, decentralized systems would affect far fewer individuals and therefore decrease not only the impact but also decrease the lure of attack. Personal relationships with small, local businessmen, farmers, government officials, etc. would mean less control by large, global corporations looking to shirk responsibility for improper actions. More travel by means of muscle, either walking or biking, would result in physical and mental health improvements as well as helping to reestablish a human connection with nature. And let's not forget the improvements in air quality as less travel by motor vehicle would be necessary.

All of these are reasons to move away from globalization and towards relocalization. They represent as best I can see the most reasonable response to peak oil as well as the other problems facing industrial society. I have been and will be focusing more time on relocaliztion as a way to help myself, my family and my community prepare for the post peak world.

More information on the upcoming conference:
General Info / Speakers / Registration / Last Year's Highlights

September 11, 2007

What's even more troublesome than an unwilling victim is an unwilling person you're trying to help, and the fatal mistake of "9/11 truthers" is that they're trying to change the minds of people who don't want their minds changed. Ordinary people will not become powerful because it's too much responsibility. Almost everyone in the gang that ruined America and turned southwest Asia into a radioactive wasteland will retire to a huge house with servants, and most people will tell themselves whatever they have to, to make it safely to death without learning anything. - Ran Prieur


What do you really know about 9.11.2001 ?




Educate yourself but beware, Geraldo might call you a communist.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

breakfast

Keaton had oatmeal for breakfast. And some peaches.

I collected food from my garden, a neighbor's garden, the woods and the hen house. Figs, grapes, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, nasturtiums, a pear and an egg. Ummmm.

Friday, September 08, 2006

hard working pear tree

Just in time to introduce my daughter Keaton to eating fruit, this young pear tree is ready with its first crop. This heavily laden young tree has been bent over with the weight of fruit for some time now. We are grateful.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

don't go back to sleep

Today the price of oil is down to a 5 month low of $67 and change per barrel. This is probably due in large part to the recent announcement that Chevron has discovered an oil field deep below the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. But before we all roll over and go back to sleep let's look at what was found.

"
Today the U.S. consumes about 22 MMbbls/d. By 2010, we'll likely be consuming about 25 MMbbls/d. At that consumption rate, those 15 billion barrels of crude would only give the United States a 21 month supply!"

You can read more from Luke Burgess on the topic by clicking here. If you prefer audio on the topic you can listen by clicking here and scrolling down.

Remember a peak in oil production doesn't mean we've run out of the stuff. It only means we've used about half of what exists. There will be future finds and they will be important. But let's not use those discoveries as an excuse to hit the snooze button and roll over for a few more years of ignoring reality. Let's use them as a way to delay the end of oil and respond reasonably to a future which will run on increasingly less fossil fuel energy. In other words this new find should not be taken as a sign that there is nothing to worry about but rather as a wake up call that oil is getting harder to pump. The new discovery is more than 5 miles below sea level!

Now is the time for transition not complacency.

Friday, September 01, 2006

happy labor day

I hope you get to take it easy and do a little swinging.